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Posted by on Jun 9, 2014 in Biblical Exegesis, Jesus, Theology | 58 comments

Winell on the ridiculousness of the Atonement

Marlene Winell, an ex-Christian, in Leaving the Fold, wrote,

The most serious demand for unquestioned belief is, of course, the atonement.  First the believer is to suspend familiar notions of justice, such as punishment for the guilty as opposed to an innocent party.  You are then expected to accept the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin; that wrongdoing must be paid for, and not necessarily in proportion to the crime.  A father’s sacrifice of his innocent son is supposed to be not only just but generous and wonderful.  Then the temporary three-day death of this one person is supposed to wipe out all the wrongdoing and ineptitude of a species.  And finally, you should believe that all you need do to erase responsibility for your actions and enter a haven of eternal reward is to believe.  It’s no wonder that once a convert has wrapped his or her mind around this story, anything can be accepted as truth.  The rest of fundamentalist doctrine can be easily swallowed, including Jonah.  (Marlene Winell, Leaving the Fold)

This is great stuff, and concisely shows some of the insanity involved in believing the atonement to be a coherent doctrine and concept.

  • Pingback: La ridiculez de la expiación | Teocidas.com()

  • Luke Breuer

    Is this great stuff? Let’s examine.

    (1) First the believer is to suspend familiar notions of justice, such as punishment for the guilty as opposed to an innocent party.
    (2) You are then expected to accept the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin; that wrongdoing must be paid for, and not necessarily in proportion to the crime.
    (3) A father’s sacrifice of his innocent son is supposed to be not only just but generous and wonderful.
    (4) Then the temporary three-day death of this one person is supposed to wipe out all the wrongdoing and ineptitude of a species.
    (5) And finally, you should believe that all you need do to erase responsibility for your actions and enter a haven of eternal reward is to believe.

    (1) The truth in history is that the innocents are most-punished. See the many genocides of the 20th century, continuing to the 21st.

    (2) In the Bible ‘blood’ is merely a symbol for life-energy, or potential for thriving: Gen 9:4.

    (3) Giving graciously is “generous and wonderful”! If I sacrifice some of my opportunities in life to help you, I (a) was not obligated; and thus (b) was being “generous”.

    (4) A person dying ≠ a god dying. The ancient non-Christian myths know this quite well.

    (5) Define ‘believe’, given Mt 7:15-24, Mt 13:24-30, Mt 25:31-46. It does not mean ‘mental assent'; it was ‘faith in faith’ which was the very target of Jonathan Edwards’ famous Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

    But perhaps I’m all wrong?

    • Andy_Schueler

      Re 1 – so your response to the statement that the believer “suspends familiar notions of justice” is to point out that history is full of unjust events? So what is unjust magically becomes just if it happens often enough or what is that supposed to mean?
      Re 2 – blood being “merely symbolic” is an absurd interpretation of jewish and christian religious traditions – jews slaughter animals regularly and spill *literal* blood for religious purposes and christians celebrate *literal* blood that has been spilled (assuming that their beliefs are true) on a weekly basis.
      Re 3 – If Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected afterwards, then nothing was “sacrificed” and nothing was “given” by this event. To “sacrifice” means to give up something valuable, but Jesus didn´t “give up” his life if he is in fact alive right now.
      Re 4 – “A person dying ≠ a god dying”. Why is that the case and how do you know this to be true?
      Re 5 – From the sermon you link to: “So that, whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men’s earnest seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest, that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, till he believes in Christ, God is under no manner of obligation to keep him a moment from eternal destruction.” Now you say that “believe” doesn´t mean mental assent, which is simply wrong – it does mean just that, at least it does so in english. So, at most you could try to argue that “believe” is a mistranslation (or that english doesn´t have a word for what the biblical authors meant here)

      • Luke Breuer

        (1) Jesus is said to have taken the punishment on himself that is deserved by others. He is the perfect example of my (1), the most innocent, the completely innocent. He took on this punishment voluntarily. For Winell to maintain his (1), he would have to disallow any paying down of debts not your own. That’s a pretty terrible kind of world. Furthermore, there’s the meta-issue of “Why was the universe designed this way?” which is kinda begging to be answered by Winell’s point.

        (2) I never meant ‘life-energy’ to be just symbolic. Symbols are often very real (e.g. statues), while still pointing to something/someone else.

        (3) Separation from the Godhead, no matter how brief, is a cost. “My God, God, why has thou forsaken me?” By your logic, no matter how much suffering Christians experience in life, if they go to Heaven after, they sacrificed nothing and their life on earth served no purpose. This is not an automatic position; it has to be defended. For contrary positions, see 1 Cor 3, 15:58.

        (4) I don’t ‘know’ it to be true; it fits in with the rest of my belief structure. You, for example, do not ‘know’ that abiogenesis happened on earth. But it makes an awful lot of sense for you to presume it, given the evidence you have, now.

        (5) There are beliefs that lead to action, and there are beliefs which do not. Ja 2:14-26 gets at the difference. Not all self-reported beliefs are self-reported or even consciously introspected properly; see The Unreliability of Naive Introspection, or see “the heart is deceitful above all things“.

        • Andy_Schueler

          Re 1 – This has nothing to do with paying debts that are not your own. The correct analogy would be that you raped someone and are sentenced to ten years in prison for it, and someone else who doesn´t know you and who never raped anyone voluntarily offers to go to jail for ten years so that you can walk free. We don´t allow such things – because it would be completely unjust.
          The christian tries to have his cake and eat it too – on the one hand christians accept personal accountability (for EVERY situation that doesn´t involve Jesus) and on the other hand they flush the concept of individual accountability down the toilet when it is about Jesus. That doesn´t make any sense.

          Re 2 – No idea what you are talking about.

          Re 3 – And yet, this is precisely one of the standard responses to the problem of evil, that all finite suffering pales in comparison to eternal bliss in heaven. But that cuts both ways, if any finite suffering doesn´t mean anything in the grand (eternal) scheme of things, then finite sacrifices don´t mean anything either. If you disagree with this, then you have to give up the standard response to the problem of evil as well (if you want to be consistent at least).
          But in any case, assuming that the gospel accounts are true – the “cost” paid by Jesus is not exactly a big one, not even compared to other finite sufferings.

          Re 4 – I can explain to you exactly what the word “abiogenesis” means conceptually. I cannot prove that any specific model of abiogenesis describes something that actually happened on this planet, but I can explain in great detail what it means. Can you explain what “A person dying ≠ a god dying” means conceptually?

          Re 5 – Consider two scenarios:
          a) I believe that it would be the morally right thing to do to boycot Amazon – but don´t do it because I´m a hypocrite and not willing to pay the cost of boycotting Amazon.
          b) same as above except that I am not a hypocrite and actually do boycot Amazon based on the belief that it is the right thing to do.
          The word “believe” does refer to mental assent in both cases, in the exact same way, I´m just being a hypocrite in the former scenario but not in the latter – but that is a completely different subject.

          • Luke Breuer

            (1) Except that we do this all the time. You know all those school shooters, and the little tiny pricks of pain and suffering often caused them by other humans? (For an illustration, see Bang Bang You’re Dead.) Rarely are those evils ever properly rectified, in this life. Indeed, a big Christian theme is that if every evil were properly rectified by the evildoer, the evildoer would die, for it is an impossible task.

            I would point out that prison time does not fix the consequences of rape. It does not make the pain and suffering of rape disappear, and likely does nothing to assuage them. How does one fix the consequences? You seem to be critiquing the Christian answer, without providing your own. Here, I would offer the valid critique I received when I was a creationist: even if the current model of evolution is wrong, it will be used until something better is presented.

            (2) Sin against another human being is a theft of life[-energy], a theft of opportunity, a theft of potential. ‘Blood’ is the symbol for this. The sacrifice of animals for sins is [in part] the admitting that those sins truly damaged other people.

            (3) “pales in comparison” ≠ “doesn’t mean anything in the grand (eternal) scheme of things”

            (4) You still don’t know that life on Earth started via abiogenesis vs., say, panspermia.

            (5) Ok? The Bible has lots to say about hypocrites. For example:

            “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Mt 21:28-32)

          • Andy_Schueler

            Re 1 – “Except that we do this all the time” – Name ONE example then.
            “I would point out that prison time does not fix the consequences of rape. It does not make the pain and suffering of rape disappear” – of course it doesn´t, punishment cannot accomplish that and that is also not the reason for why we punish people. Consider these three scenarios:
            a) John rapes Anna, gets caught afterwards and sentenced to ten years in prison.
            b) Melinda does volunteer work at a rape crisis center to help people like Anna and fight against rape culture.
            c) Jim is completely innocent and voluntarily takes the guilt of all rapists on himself, then he tortures himself by crushing his balls in a bench vise so that all rapists are free of guilt.

            Those are three completely different situations, punishment occurs in a) and this punishment doesn´t have the purpose of “fixing the consequences of rape”, scenario b) is about “fixing the consequences” (as far as this is possible) and it doesn´t have anything to do with “punishment” (Melinda voluntarily “sacrifices” time and effort to help rape victims, but she isn´t being “punished”). And c) is simply completely stupid and pointless – yet this is also the only one of the three that is analogous to the sacrifice of Jesus.

            Re 2 – So you hurt innocent animals to admit that you hurt someone while you have been hurting someone. Dunno, admitting that you hurt someone without torturing innocent animals seems to be the better course of action.

            Re 3 – Doesn´t address what I said, if you accept that eternal bliss is a solution for the problem of finite suffering, then finite sacrifices become meaningless as well, unless you try to eat your cake and have it too.

            Re 4 – Irrelevant, I know what “Abiogenesis” means conceptually, and I know what “Panspermia” means conceptually. Can you explain what “A person dying ≠ a god dying” means conceptually?

            Re 5 – Red herring. The point was that “belief” refers to mental assent in any case, no matter how this belief influences your actions.

          • Luke Breuer

            (1) You seem to be saying that what Jesus ostensibly accomplished on the cross couldn’t have been accomplished that way. What I’m challenging you to do is give any account of how what Jesus ostensibly accomplished on the cross could be accomplished, given that you think the Christian account doesn’t make sense. Or a different question: can a rape lead to a greater good, one that is impossible without the rape and which the victim could consider ‘worth it’?

            (2) I agree. But people need to start somewhere, and it can be remarkably hard to convince them that they’ve hurt someone. Hosea 6:6 “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

            (3) Infinity is not a number; as t → ∞, the good/suffering ratio can → ∞, but only at infinite time, which is not a time, but a mathematical limit.

            (4) It means that the resources made available by a god dying and staying dead for three days is potentially infinitely more than the resources made available by a mere contingent being dying and staying dead for three days. How are these resources used? To redeem creation. To redeem that incredible amount of suffering.

            (5) I don’t care how you define ‘belief’, I care how the Bible uses it. I have demonstrated how it uses it, and how it calls some forms of ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ dead and useless.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Re 1 – You ask me to give an explanation for how what Jesus accomplished on the cross could be accomplished by other means. I´ll happily try to do that as soon as you tell me what it even is that Jesus allegedly accomplished on the cross. An innocent man being crucified is utterly pointless violence that doesn´t accomplish anything of value afaict, if you disagree – tell me what positive thing it did accomplish.
            “Or a different question: can a rape lead to a greater good, one that is impossible without the rape and which the victim could consider ‘worth it’?” – No.

            Re 2 – “But people need to start somewhere, and it can beremarkably hard to convince them that they’ve hurt someone”, if you try to convince me that I have hurt someone (assuming that I actually did hurt this someone), but you fail and I don´t believe that I hurt this person despite your efforts to convince me otherwise, do you genuinely believe then that me torturing a little kitten (or any other example of cruelty against innocent animals) would make it easier for you to convince me?

            Re 3 – “Infinity is not a number; as t → ∞, the good/suffering ratio can → ∞, but only at infinite time, which is not a time, but a mathematical limit.” Still doesn´t address my point, which simply is that you can only pick one of the two:
            a) eternal bliss is a solution for the PoE
            b) finite sacrifices are meaningful
            – if you want to be consistent, picking both is having your cake and eating it too.

            Re 4 – So your answer to why John doing x and Jim doing x is not equivalent if Jim would be a God would be “because Jim would be a God”?

            Re 5 – And I don´t care about the biblical contradictions. Belief refers to mental assent for the “dead and useless” belief and it also refers to mental assent for the not dead + not useless belief, the difference is about actions, not beliefs, and the Bible is just contradicting itself as it does so often, by saying that salvation is only conditional on belief in Jesus in some places while saying that it is conditional on DOING certain things in other places.

          • Luke Breuer

            (1) Solving the problem of evil. Making the suffering of our rape victim not gratuitous. You have claimed it is impossible. Well, that’s fine, but then Jesus’ death allegedly does something you claim is impossible. And I’m going to take a possible solution to gratuitous evils over throwing up my hands and declaring them gratuitous.

            (2) Is the animal sacrifice of the OT more barbaric than animal slaughter practices used in the first half of the twentieth century in the US? IIRC bleeding animals out slowly is painful. Anyhow, maybe someone being forced to sacrifice one of his own animals (that is, his capital) and watch it suffer, might just be willing to believe that this was because he caused another human being to lose life-energy (blood) and suffer. Yes, torturing animals is bad. But standing by while people are tortured is worse.

            (3) Where did I assert a)? You are the only one who has used ‘eternal’ and ‘bliss’ in this conversation. Please point to my own words which led you to believe I was asserting a).

            (4) Well, if you want to say that having insane (possibly infinite) resources is necessary to the difference between ‘man’ and ‘god’, I might be able to work with that.

            (5) I care about you interpreting the Bible (or sermons) so as to make concepts like this contradictory. Let’s ignore the sermon for now: can you assemble Bible verses on belief/faith that demonstrate the contradiction(s) you claim exist(s)?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Re 1 – ??? So John raping Anna is an instance of gratuitous suffering before a completely innocent man voluntarily got crucified, but after the completely innocent man voluntarily got crucified, Anna being raped is no longer gratuitous suffering. What The Fuck? Srsly – what the fuck does one have to do with the other and how is Anna´s suffering no longer gratuitous?
            Remember that you asked me to “give any account of how what Jesus ostensibly accomplished on the cross could be accomplished”, alright, let me preliminarily try this: “by making some balloon animals”. I´ll explain to you how making balloon animals solves the PoE as soon as you explain to me how crucifying an innocent dude solves it.

            Re 2 – I repeat my question, do you honestly believe that me torturing some innocent animals would make it easier for you to convince me that I have hurt someone? Seems pretty much maximally counterproductive to me.

            Re 3 – I didn´t say you did. So you disagree with this standard response to the PoE then?

            Re 4 – John voluntarily lets himself be tortured for the misdeeds of others. Jim voluntarily lets himself be tortured for the misdeeds of others. Assume that John has average ressources at his disposal while Jim is by far the richest, smartest and most powerful man that ever lived. Does that mean that John doing x and Jim doing x is not analogous? If it would be analogous, why would it no longer be if I multiply Jims ressurces by infinity?

            Re 5 – One example: take Matthew as quoted by you earlier and contrast it with John (e.g. 3:16 or 3:18 or 5:24 or 6:40). Countless further examples here:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_fide – sections “passages used to defend sola fide” and “Passages used to argue against sola fide”. If you can come up with an interpretation for how all of these verses tell one coherent story / all support the same message, without raping the text, I will be impressed.

          • Luke Breuer

            Let’s do (1) and (5); I don’t think the rest makes sense unless we can reach some kind of accord on them.

            (1) What seems under discussion here, at the core, is whether what currently seem like gratuitous evils are, actually, gratuitous. We must take first-person, subjective perspective into account, here. Why? Because the definition of ‘gratuitous’ is necessarily subjective. Only from a first-person, subject perspective is there a concept of ‘the good’, a concept of what goods balance out/exceed what evils. Charles Taylor argues in Sources of the Self that a person’s sense of ‘the good’, a person’s aesthetic, is the more important part of the person’s identity. I agree. This makes the question of what constitutes ‘gratuitous’ deeply personal.

            Can a person’s ‘aesthetic’ be considered at least his/her universal prior probability, perhaps plus the set of percepts he/she has experienced in life? I’m not sure, but I’m trying the idea out. Ultimately, there is this mysterious quality of ‘goodness of fit’, which Michael Polanyi gets at in Personal Knowledge as an inescapable part of science, making it irreparably subjective, but not thereby unable to [hopefully] approach objectivity through increasing intersubjectivity. Everybody could be wrong, but everybody is the best we’ve got, unless God is there to disagree when everyone is being stupid.

            Now, can a person have a ‘wrong’ aesthetic such that (a) he/she is still a good scientist; but (b) sees gratuitous evils? It seems so. But is (b) immediately and permanently subjective, uncorrectable? Not clear. We can replace the contents of (b) with “sees an unjust society” for person A, and “sees a just society” for person B. Can we at least approximate and say that the agree on is, and disagree on ought? I’m going to try. Person B will not attempt any change in society, for it is already just according to him/her. What about person B?

            We need to split person A into two categories: (i) “see an irreparably unjust society”; and (ii) “sees a reparably unjust society”. Only a person A(ii) will attempt to fix things. I want to suggest that the fewer gratuitous evils person A(ii) sees, the more evils he/she can fix/heal in a subjectively, personal, aesthetically, meaningful and satisfying way. All of the people we are discussing are the same on (a); they only differ on (b). And yet, that difference, I claim, will produce profound differences in behavior. In essence, the difference is that between Christian and Death in George Herbert’s poem: who gets to tell the final story?

                                          Christian, Death

            Chr.   ALAS, poor Death ! where is thy glory ?
                      Where is thy famous force, thy ancient sting ?
            Dea.   Alas, poor mortal, void of story !
                      Go spell and read how I have killed thy King.

            Chr.   Poor Death ! and who was hurt thereby ?
                      Thy curse being laid on Him makes thee accurst.
            Dea.   Let losers talk, yet thou shalt die ;
                      These arms shall crush thee.

            Chr.                                                 Spare not, do thy worst.
                      I shall be one day better than before ;
                      Thou so much worse, that thou shalt be no more.

            Something tells me you’ll have one if not a plethora of things with which to disagree, so I’ll end this post with this partial definition of ‘faith’, which I developed two weeks ago. You may see how it can be seen in the light of having an ‘aesthetic’, or conception of ‘the good’. It might even require trusting that seemingly gratuitous evils are not gratuitous; the saying is not without merit: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” It is also probabilistically falsifiable with various instances. It certainly seems like some concepts of ‘the good’ cannot be reified!

          • Andy_Schueler

            Well, so far, I think I understood what you tried to convey, but this comment here is a random string of words to me – I have absolutely no idea how any of this addresses anything I said in any way.

          • Luke Breuer

            Then I shall ask a question: Is an evil ‘gratuitous’ according to an objective standard, or merely according to a subjective standard?

          • Andy_Schueler

            “Gratuitous” means “without good reason”. So for every moral cognitivist view of what is “good”, a “gratuitous evil” would be “objectively gratuitous” in the sense that it happened for no good reason independently of what any subjective being thinks of it.
            And what does this have to do with anything?

          • Luke Breuer

            I think Jesus’ death is required for these two reasons, among others:

                 (1) we fuck people over in ways we cannot repair
                 (2) we get fucked over ways that cannot be repaired [in any other way]

            As to your “without good reason”, I’m afraid that is underspecified, if we say that ‘reason’ = ‘logic’ + ‘axioms’. I’m reminded of Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, which still hasn’t arrived to my library. Grr.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I think Jesus’ death is required for these two reasons, among others:

            (1) we fuck people over in ways we cannot repair
            (2) we get fucked over ways that cannot be repaired [in any other way]

            Substitute “Jesus’ death” by “making balloon animals”. Make that substitution and read what you wrote again. Now I presume that those words no longer make any sense to you after you made the substitution, because making balloon animals has literally nothing to do with “solving the problem of evil” or “fucking people over in ways you cannot repair”. And now you know how I felt when I read your words without making this substitution.
            Why you think that Jesus’ death has anything to do with this is a complete mystery to me and you didn´t give any reason for why it is supposed to have anything to do with this.

            As to your “without good reason”, I’m afraid that is underspecified, if we say that ‘reason’ = ‘logic’ + ‘axioms’.

            Why?

          • Luke Breuer

            Substitute “Jesus’ death” by “making balloon animals”.

            Oh, I fully understand. This is why I ended my reply to Jonathan this way:

            LB: Now, precisely how the rips and gaps in the fabric of reality are ‘healed’ or ‘fixed’ is a mystery. But I don’t think it is so hard to imagine that they could exist and it could cost to take care of them.

            What I seem to be getting from you, Andy, is something close to a flat refusal to consider that maybe there are no gratuitous evils. Note that there are three options:

                 (1) There are no gratuitous evils.
                 (2) There might be gratuitous evils.
                 (3) There most definitely are gratuitous evils.

            You seem a lot closer to (3) than (2); surely we can consider (2) the null hypothesis, and ask what moved you from (2) → (3)?

            I’m happy with you making your substitute, or better, leaving it a content-free symbol ready to be filled. The question then becomes, can it be filled? You just haven’t convinced me that the answer is “No.”

            Why?

            Not all of the axioms are not givens. I could better explain this if you’d set out a formal existence for an evil you know is gratuitous—and how you know it is gratuitous.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Oh, I fully understand. This is why I ended my reply to Jonathan this way:

            LB: Now, precisely how the rips and gaps in the fabric of reality are ‘healed’ or ‘fixed’ is a mystery. But I don’t think it is so hard to imagine that they could exist and it could cost to take care of them.

            I have some idea of what you could mean by “fabric of reality”, but I have no idea what “rips and gaps” in said fabric are supposed to be.
            But whatever they are supposed to be, lets just assume that they exist, now, why is Jesus’ death relevant for such “rips and gaps” while making balloon animals is not relevant for them?

            What I seem to be getting from you, Andy, is something close to a flat refusal to consider that maybe there are no gratuitous evils. Note that there are three options:

            (1) There are no gratuitous evils.
            (2) There might be gratuitous evils.
            (3) There most definitely are gratuitous evils.

            You seem a lot closer to (3) than (2); surely we can consider (2) the null hypothesis, and ask what moved you from (2) → (3)?

            If you mean a “there are no gratuitous evils” in the sense that gratuitous evils do not exist and that cannot exist, then yes, that I would categorically deny because doing something evil for no good reason is a logically coherent concept and thus absiolutely possible.
            If you mean that gratuitous evils are possible but never happened, I would reject that as well. Strictly speaking, it is certainly a possibility that nothing that ever happened counts as a gratuitous evil, but seriously entertaining this possibility leads to moral nihilism afaict. For events like a person dying of an infectious disease or a developmental disorder (to take one arbitrary example), one could entertain the possibility that a super-powerful alien species or some God would have annihilated our entire planet if those events would not have happened (or whatever other ridiculous scenario along that line you could think of), thus making them “not gratutitous”.
            But if one would seriously entertain such BS, how could you ever reach ANY moral conclusion? Maybe a super-powerful alien species will destroy our planet if you don´t rape the next woman that crosses your path, and maybe they destroy our planet if you do rape her – any conclusion would be completely arbitrary. What this would mean for morality is comparable to what seriously entertaining last thursdayism would mean for science,

            I’m happy with you making your substitute, or better, leaving it a content-free symbol ready to be filled. The question then becomes, can it be filled?

            I´ll just grant you for the sake of the argument that it can be filled. Now, you are not merely asking this question, you assert that Jesus’ death answers it. And I´ll respond by saying that Jesus’ death doesn´t answer it but balloon animals do. How do we settle this now? How is my answer any less satisfactory than yours? I cannot tell you how balloon animals turn any gratuitous evil into a non-gratuitous evil and am instead merely asserting that balloon animals can do just that, and you do the same with Jesus. Where is the difference?

            Not all of the axioms are not givens. I could better explain this if you’d set out a formal existence for an evil you know is gratuitous—and how you know it is gratuitous.

            Take the sum of all natural evils, everything from developmental disorders and infectious diseases to volcano eruptions and killer tsunamis. These events cause suffering and death indiscriminately, what any given human being ever did or didn´t do, or would have done if (s)he would not have died when they actually did die or suffered the way they actually did suffer, is completely and utterly irrelevant for when and how an earthquake happens – what is relevant for an earthquake are things like fault lines and continental drift, completely non-moral (not “immoral”. non-moral / completely indifferent wrt the wellbeing of humans) processes.
            For most of our history, such natural evils didn´t even serve the purpose of “giving us a challenge”, in the sense that they provide some obstacle for us to overcome and grow in the process (which itself wouldn´t be a very good justification for why such natural evils exist assuming that a creator deity could have prevented them), because for most of our history we had no way to record such events and preserve them for future generations, meaning that most of our ancestors that were hurt and killed by them had no idea what happened to them, why it happened to them, and couldn´t even transmit the knowledge that it happend at all to future generations.
            And that seems to be “gratuitous” evil to me. The only scenarios I could imagine how this could not be gratuitous would be ridiculous stuff like aliens annihilating our entire planet if those natural evils wouldn´t exist, and again, if I have to seriously entertain such possibilities, then I see little point in talking about any moral issue at all – seriously entertaining such possibilities does lead to moral nihilism.

          • Luke Breuer

            I have some idea of what you could mean by “fabric of reality”, but I have no idea what “rips and gaps” in said fabric are supposed to be.

            The difference between things being ‘right’ and things being ‘wrong’ is whether there are “rips and/or gaps”. You yourself wanted to apply a kind of rationality to judge whether an evil is gratuitous or not. If the rationality can ‘grasp’ how the evil could lead to a greater good, then it is not gratuitous. However, if the rationality cannot grasp this, I think it’s not too much of a stretch to see the evil as somehow “not fitting into” the rationality. One way to view this is that the attempt to insert that [ostensibly gratuitous] evil into the rationality causes a rip or a hole in it, or a contradiction of sorts.

            Another way to think about this is what ‘happens’ to scientific theories when data are presented which don’t seem to match them. Is the theory wrong? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, the data weren’t understood properly. What we get is an evolution of scientific theory, of human understanding of how nature works. Well, who is to say that “moral rationality” doesn’t also evolve? Maybe apparently gratuitous evils are signs that our current model needs fixing. This would be equivalent to asserting a confidence in the ultimate moral rationality of the universe, mirroring our extant confidence in the ultimate scientific rationality of the universe.

            But whatever they are supposed to be, lets just assume that they exist, now, why is Jesus’ death relevant for such “rips and gaps” while making balloon animals is not relevant for them?

            Jesus is posited to fix/heal that which can be fixed/healed in no other way. That’s the ‘why’. The ‘how’, as I said, is deeply mysterious. No Christian, to my knowledge, has penetrated very far into the ‘how’.

            doing something evil for no good reason is a logically coherent concept and thus absiolutely possible.

            What about Socrates’ “Nobody knowingly does evil.“? And furthermore, how does the fact that an evil was done “for no good reason” mean that it is immediately ‘gratuitous’?

            Strictly speaking, it is certainly a possibility that nothing that ever happened counts as a gratuitous evil, but seriously entertaining this possibility leads to moral nihilism afaict.

            Would you explain how this so ‘leads’? The rest of that paragraph didn’t really make sense to me.

            I´ll just grant you for the sake of the argument that it can be filled. Now, you are not merely asking this question, you assert that Jesus’ death answers it. And I´ll respond by saying that Jesus’ death doesn´t answer it but balloon animals do. How do we settle this now?

            We would have to research the ‘how’, and see what explanation fits better.

            Take the sum of all natural evils

            Can you make the case without natural evils? You know my stance whereby natural evils are metaphorical dark matter to my Standard Model, which has human-caused evils—or more precisely, moral-agent-caused evils.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Maybe apparently gratuitous evils are signs that our current model needs fixing. This would be equivalent to asserting a confidence in the ultimate moral rationality of the universe, mirroring our extant confidence in the ultimate scientific rationality of the universe.

            Which means in other words – maybe we´ll find out tomorrow that rape is actually a good thing, that genocide is noble, that the weak and only the weak should suffer while the strong should thrive, that anencephaly is actually a blessing for parents, that the indiscriminate killing caused by a killer tsunami is worth celebrating and so on and so forth. Seriously entertaining this is the moral equivalent of seriously entertaining that we will find out tomorrow that all of science is spectacularly and completely wrong and the moon is actually made of green cheese, the earth a flat disc, all biology is BS and humans are actually fungi and not apes, all of physics is BS and light actually propagates through luminiferous aether, all chemistry is BS and phlogiston actually does exist etc.pp. and science just seemed to work so far because a trickster god was fooling us.

            My question would be – yes, all of that could be the case, just like it could be the case that you have three invisble magic penises attached to your head, but why should anyone entertain the possibility? And how does seriously entertaining such possibilities not lead to moral nihilism in the case of morality and radical skepticism in the case of science – in other words, why are we still talking about anything if such possibilities should be considered?

            Jesus is posited to fix/heal that which can be fixed/healed in no other way. That’s the ‘why’. The ‘how’, as I said, is deeply mysterious. No Christian, to my knowledge, has penetrated very far into the ‘how’.

            You are mixing up two different categories:

            1. “Fixing / healing” gratuitous evils.

            2. Denying that there are any gratuitous evils in the first place.

            You cannot assert both because they contradict each other, if there are no gratuitous evils, then “fixing a gratuitous evil” is equivalent to saying “fixing that which doesn´t exist in the first place”.

            You have to pick one. And if you pick the first, I would deny that this is possible, I don´t think it is possible, not even for God allmighty, just like even God allmighty could not microwave a burrito so hot that even he could not eat it. To illustrate with an example: Ali proposes to Aisha, Aisha rejects him and Ali gets angry, rapes her and throws a glass of sulfuric acid in her face. Assume for the sake of the argument that this is an instance of gratuitous evil. Now, “fixing” this might be possible to some degree, helping Aisha with therapy, counseling, plastic surgery etc.pp. is a possibility. But “fixing” things like that doesn´t magically turn a gratuitous evil into an evil that was not gratuitous. What turning it into a non-gratuitous evil would mean is, that it was actually good that she got raped, and that it was good that she got acid thrown in her face. Asserting that helping Aisha with therapy, counseling, surgery etc. entails that her suffering becomes “good” after “fixing” things like that is completely absurd – but that´s what you suggest when you say things like “Jesus’ death solves the PoE / turns gratuitous evils into non-gratuitous evils”. It´s like saying “You got raped, and it is a great thing you got raped because Jesus, but it would not have been a great thing without Jesus”.

            What about Socrates’ “Nobody knowingly does evil.”? [1] And furthermore, how does the fact that an evil was done “for no good reason” mean that it is immediately ‘gratuitous’? [2]

            1. I don´t see the relevance, from this perspective, all evils done by moral agents are ultimately caused by ignorance and would not have been done without said ignorance – so what? How is this relevant?
            2. Because that is the definition of “gratuitous”.

            Would you explain how this so ‘leads’? The rest of that paragraph didn’t really make sense to me.

            You ask me to entertain the possibility that there are no gratuitous evils and that all evils ultimately contributed to a greater good and were “worth it”. So I respond with this question: how do you know then that you should not rape, torture and kill as much as you can, and promote disease, famine and warfare as much as you can, because there is some completely unknown reason (weird super-powerful aliens for example) that makes these actions ultimately good and totally worth it, which even your victims would acknowledge? You cannot strictly prove that this is not the case, and entertaining such possibilities means that moral knowledge is categorically impossible, in principle and completely. This is moral nihilism.

            We would have to research the ‘how’, and see what explanation fits better.

            The explanatory power of the “because balloon animals, duh!” hypothesis is exactly zero and the explanatory power of “because Jesus, duh!” is exactly zero. Seems like a draw.

            Can you make the case without natural evils? You know my stance whereby natural evils are metaphorical dark matter to my Standard Model, which has human-caused evils—or more precisely, moral-agent-caused evils.

            I could, take my Aisha example above. I also disagree with your classification of natural evils as something that you simply cannot explain. Earthquakes and viruses are not magic. They are not utterly mysterious things that just happen for completely unknown reasons and that just seem to be completely indifferent wrt human wellbeing and thus causes of gratuitous evils – we know what they are and we know why they happen. Your problem is not that you have no explanation for them, your problem is that you must show that the explanations we do have must be completely false.

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

            All that needs to be said to Luke Breuer in this case is:

            1) “It´s like saying “You got raped, and it is a great thing you got raped because Jesus, but it would not have been a great thing without Jesus”.” – really well put Andy

            and

            2) The Stephen Maitzen appeal to moral paralysis. Since evil can never be gratuitous, God has a greater good in store for all evil that happens, like the goodness of a polio injection for a child. Yes there is pain, but it is for a greater good. To deny the greater good is morally wrong; therefore, we should allow the injection, or allow moral evils to take place. In other words, if you see someone getting beaten up, leave them be because to save them will deny the greater good that would necessarily arise.

          • Luke Breuer

            What’s the most rigorous and well-explained form of 2) out there? Surely there’s been some academic back-and-forth on the issue?

          • Luke Breuer

            Which means in other words – maybe we´ll find out tomorrow that rape is actually a good thing, that genocide is noble, that […]

            I don’t see how that follows as a “good and necessary consequence” of what I said. Please help me see how you got there, how my thinking forced what you said to follow.

            You are mixing up two different categories:

            1. “Fixing / healing” gratuitous evils.

            2. Denying that there are any gratuitous evils in the first place.

            Make it “seemingly gratuitous” and the problem is solved.

            1. I don´t see the relevance, from this perspective, all evils done by moral agents are ultimately caused by ignorance and would not have been done without said ignorance – so what? How is this relevant?

            2. Because that is the definition of “gratuitous”.

            1. Is it possible that the ignorance is always culpable?

            2. What? I thought the definition was more along the lines of “nothing sufficiently good can come out of it that couldn’t be gotten a better way”?

            You ask me to entertain the possibility that there are no gratuitous evils and that all evils ultimately contributed to a greater good and were “worth it”. So I respond with this question: how do you know then that you should not rape, torture and kill as much as you can, and promote disease, famine and warfare as much as you can, because there is some completely unknown reason (weird super-powerful aliens for example) that makes these actions ultimately good and totally worth it, which even your victims would acknowledge?

            Because shedding one believe does not lead to shedding all beliefs? I still hold onto “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Were I to shed that, maybe I could agree with Lenin in Lenin: Selected Works:

            What does it matter if three-quarters of the world perish, as long as the remaining one-quarter is Communist?

            So I’m not sure why shedding the idea that there are ‘gratuitous’ evils leads, necessarily, in the way you describe. Does it, or were you perhaps just citing that as a danger?

            The explanatory power of the “because balloon animals, duh!” hypothesis is exactly zero and the explanatory power of “because Jesus, duh!” is exactly zero. Seems like a draw.

            Yeah, until you do said research and see whether it matches any extant literature, like the Bible.

            Earthquakes and viruses are not magic.

            Neither is consciousness.

            They are not utterly mysterious things that just happen for completely unknown reasons and that just seem to be completely indifferent wrt human wellbeing and thus causes of gratuitous evils

            Huh? Who said they were? Who intimated they were?

            we know what they are and we know why they happen.

            LOL, we know a little bit.

            Your problem is not that you have no explanation for them, your problem is that you must show that the explanations we do have must be completely false.

            No, I don’t. I really don’t. That there is partial knowledge of ‘how’ in no way defeats the idea that there is a telos to be discovered, or anything like that.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I don’t see how that follows as a “good and necessary consequence” of what I said. Please help me see how you got there, how my thinking forced what you said to follow.

            Because shedding one believe does not lead to shedding all beliefs? I still hold onto “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

            I repeat my question, how do you know that rape, genocide, plagues and famines are not actually absolutely necessary for the greater good and totally “worth it”?

            Make it “seemingly gratuitous” and the problem is solved.

            Which problem?

            Yeah, until you do said research and see whether it matches any extant literature, like the Bible.

            Right, and you should totally research the hypothesis that balloon animals solve the problem of evil by playing World of Warcraft. I´ll explain to you what balloon animals and WoW have to do with anything here as soon as you explain how you “research” the hypothesis “rape, genocide, plagues and famines are totally not gratuitous evils but rather totally worth it because Jesus” by reading the Bible.

            Neither is consciousness.

            Relevance?

            No, I don’t. I really don’t. That there is partial knowledge of ‘how’ in no way defeats the idea that there is a telos to be discovered, or anything like that.

            What you have to demonstrate is that the natural processes that are involved in causing earthquakes, anencephaly, ebola etc.pp. are not completely indifferent wrt human wellbeing. And such a demonstration automatically entails that everything we think we know about these processes must be false. I´m neither a developmental biologist nor a virologist, but I know quite a bit about things like anencephaly or ebola – and pretty much all of the stuff I think I know would have to be completely false in order for your idea to become plausible (except for trivia like the size of an ebola virus for example).

          • Luke Breuer

            I repeat my question, how do you know that rape, genocide, plagues and famines are not actually absolutely necessary for the greater good and totally “worth it”?

            Because I think people are made up of the choices they make, and the choices to do these horrible things scars a person terribly. Not all evils are turned to greater goods for all people. Much if it, in my view is based on choice.

            Which problem?

            Your alleged contradiction was predicated on appearance necessarily matching reality. Appearance does not necessarily match reality.

            because there would be no gratuitous evils in the first place, you cannot “fix” what doesn´t exist.

            You can fix perception.

            Relevance?

            Relevance of your “not magic”?

            What you have to demonstrate is that the natural processes that are involved in causing earthquakes, anencephaly, ebola etc.pp. are not completely indifferent wrt human wellbeing. And such a demonstration automatically entails that everything we think we know about these processes must be false.

            How does this follow, this “everything”?

          • Andy_Schueler

            Because I think people are made up of the choices they make, and the choices to do these horrible things scars a person terribly. Not all evils are turned to greater goods for all people.

            That is not an answer to my question. You assert that there are no gratuitous evils and that all evils are “worth it”. If I accept that, why should I try to prevent ANY evil then given that I might actually make things worse? Why should I try to prevent famines for example? You say that not a single famine so far was a “gratuitous evil” but rather “worth it”, if that is true, why should the next possible famine then NOT be “worth it” unlike ALL others before, and why should anyone try to prevent it?

            Your alleged contradiction was predicated on appearance necessarily matching reality. Appearance does not necessarily match reality.

            Wrong. The contradiction I am pointing out is that you assert that Jesus “fixes” gratuitous evils on the one hand and assert that there are no gratuitous evils in the first place on the other hand. It can´t be both. It´s like saying “global warming is not a problem but actually a good thing, global warming also doesn´t even exist”. It can´t be both, it can only be one of the two or none, but not both.

            You can fix perception.

            So…. what you assert is that it looks as if there are gratuitous evils but there actually are none, and our inability to correctly perceive this is fixed by crucifying an innocent man, but this “fixing” doesn´t actually involve any change in perception at all but rather boils down to mere faith?
            Sure, did you know that the earth is actually flat? Your perception is just broken, but it can be fixed by making some balloon animals, this won´t actually change your perspective at all, but if you have faith that the earth is actually flat because balloon animals, then you´ll believe it anyway. How would this be even an iota more ridiculous than what you are suggesting ?

            Relevance of your “not magic”?

            Natural evils are sufficiently understood to demonstrate that they are the result of natural processes that are indifferent wrt human wellbeing. What you assert is just as ridiculous and just as transparently false as the claims that the earthquakes in Haiti are a punishment for the haitian people practicing Voodoo and serve the purpose of “leading them to Jesus”. Such claims rely on a magical worldview where natural events like tsunamis are seen as the result of whimsical Gods, Demons or whatever. Earthquakes don´t care about what any human ever did or didn´t do, they are completely indifferent wrt human wellbeing, and demonstrating that they are is all that is needed to establish the evidential problem of evil.
            Also, tu quoque.

            How does this follow, this “everything”?

            If your wellbeing and that of other human beings is ultimately what determines whether you or your children will contract ebola or not, whether it kills you or not and how much you´ll suffer etc.pp. then pretty much all scientific “knowledge” about ebola must be complete BS – with the exception of trivia like the size of an ebola virus.

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

            Exactly, Andy. I can make little sense of these claims…

          • Void Walker

            Luke….you’re making my head hurt.

            I think a big problem with you is that you’ve not tasted the worst the world has to offer. Perhaps if you experienced *intense* suffering your pov regarding it would change, no? Let’s face it: you’re a privileged american, making a damn fine amount of cash, married and in love, shelter and food, access to pretty much anything you could ever need/want, etc etc. Step away from your comfort zone and into hell before you attempt to speak with such authority.

            You’re trying to argue that some suffering is in fact *not* gratuitous. Why? Is it because there is some evidence that this is the case? Nope. You’re only making this argument because your faith requires that you do. How is *that* truth seeking, Luke?

          • Luke Breuer

            I claim that whether we see an instance of evil done to us as ‘gratuitous’ or not makes every difference for how we think and act.

          • Void Walker

            That’s all I get?! Aaaaargh!

            Couldn’t you go a little more in depth?

          • Luke Breuer

            If you’d do something more than just interrogate me, yes. :-p (That is, share some of your own thoughts on the matter! Let this be a symmetric discussion, instead of a critical analysis of what Luke Breuer thinks.)

          • Void Walker

            Hmm….fair enough.

            We both know suffering, to an extent. The highs of life are butt fucked (without lube!) by it’s deepest, darkest lows. At the core of your faith is a loving, compassionate figure. I mean, WAY more loving than the most loving person you know of. By a factor of 4000000. Let me put it this way for you: imagine if your mother was “in charge” of reality. Surely she would cease all suffering from the outset, correct? What loving mother would desire for her children to suffer, after all? I’m sure you agree with this. It is then quite puzzling that an entity who’s capacity to love exceeds all, even yo momma, would allow for horrendous suffering simply because it can “teach” us a thing or two. Really, Luke? Really? We’ve had this discussion so many times man….it always ends the same way. I’m hoping for some novelty in your reply.

          • Luke Breuer

            The highs of life are butt fucked (without lube!) by it’s deepest, darkest lows.

            Is this an objective or subjective evaluation?

            Let me put it this way for you: imagine if your mother was “in charge” of reality. Surely she would cease all suffering from the outset, correct?

            Only if no greater good would be served by it. You see, Void, I realize that tremendous good can come out of suffering, based on choice. Unlike many people, I refuse to let my imagination make claims about shit I know virtually nothing about, like what an omni-max deity could or should have done instead. People can’t even imagine how software could work properly, even though that is often entirely in the land of logic. How on earth can they expect to reason correctly about what an omni-max deity could or would do?

            Pain is, first and foremost, the signal that something is wrong and ought to be dealt with accordingly. If you were to program a robot, you’d give it something like pain sensations of various levels. Now you might not call it ‘pain’, but what’s the difference? The idea would be that the robot would quickly stop doing the things that are painful. And if some part is damaged, it would need to be properly ginger, just like a real human being. So pain and suffering can be bearers of true information. And they’re not even that bad when at low levels, unless you want to say that a stubbed toe is as much an argument against God’s omni-maxness, as is the Holocaust.

            What loving mother would desire for her children to suffer, after all? I’m sure you agree with this.

            No, I don’t. The worst kind of suffering, in my experience, is due to human–human relationships. I can hurt people and I can bless them, entirely within the mental realm. You would have a “loving mother” somehow prevent any and all hurt in this realm, and not just in the cancer/broken bone/mauled by bear realm. And yet, I’m not sure what relationships would look like in such a reality. I’m not sure there would be relationships in such a reality. For a person to be a little more left out than everyone else would be to cause him/her suffering. When I try to construct such a reality, it gets awfully weird—almost a choice between solipsism and undifferentiated oneness.

            would allow for horrendous suffering

            What’s the maximum amount of suffering that ought be allowed? Pick a level. Is it zero, or greater than zero? I want to see if that word ‘horrendous’ has cognitive content important for your argument, or whether it is 100% emotional.

          • Void Walker

            “Is this an objective or subjective evaluation?”

            It’s a rational approximation of the amount(s) of both A: the amount of death/suffering seen daily, and B: human nature, at it’s darkest.

            “Only if no greater good would be served by it. You see, Void, I realize that tremendous good can come out of suffering, based on choice.”

            Here we go again. You believe in heaven. Heaven is the eternal residence of (many) humans. Heaven is devoid of suffering, pain, and death. I’ve mentioned this before, but imagine all the unborn babies “growing up” in heaven, right now. They will be *formed* in this perfect environment. Why, if you grant this, would Yahweh have started out with the sinful mess that he did; suffering and death laden, for millions of years, if he *could* have just gone the “heavenly” route from the outset? The children being “formed” in heaven will not have experienced suffering *or* death, so by your own logic they will not be as “fully formed” as we, surrounded by “redeemable” suffering. Do you not see some problems with this, Luke?

            “Pain is, first and foremost, the signal that something is wrong and ought to be dealt with accordingly.”

            Indeed. It’s when this “warning” carries on for hours on end that is shifts towards suffering, obviously. How about this: “Hey, God. Pain is a good thing, it tells us when shit is going sour. But, um….that whole intense suffering bit? Yeah….why is it even in the equation?”. Pain is one thing, dude. Intense, prolonged suffering is a wholly different matter.

            “No, I don’t. The worst kind of suffering, in my experience, is due to human-human relationships”

            I digress. Natural disasters, cancer, dementia, etc. come to mind. True, people *can* be absolute COCKS to each other, and I do concur that relational pain is up there, but in *my* experiences, the greatest “evils” are caused by nature, which, wouldn’t you know it, was created by God according to your model of reality.

            “What’s the maximum amount of suffering that ought be allowed? Pick a level. Is it zero, or greater than zero? I want to see if that word ‘horrendous’ has cognitive content important for your argument, or whether it is 100% emotional.”

            100% emotional?! You heartless bastard! Kidding :-p

            The word “horrendous” sees it’s very roots in emotional thinking. I concede to that. Let me ask you, though: can/does God empathize with a human being who is in pain or suffering greatly? When you answer that, we’ll dig deeper.

          • Luke Breuer

            It’s a rational approximation of the amount(s) of both A: the amount of death/suffering seen daily, and B: human nature, at it’s darkest.

            Until I see an accounting sheet of positives and negatives, I’m not sure I’m going to believe you. And even if you’re right, was the world darker or lighter 200 years ago? 500 years ago? 1000 years ago?

            Why, if you grant this, would Yahweh have started out with the sinful mess that he did; suffering and death laden, for millions of years, if he *could* have just gone the “heavenly” route from the outset?

            I simply do not have a good answer to this. I can move forward without good answers to every possible question. I choose to move forward despite not knowing everything. Perhaps you see this ‘unknown’ as a show-stopper; I do not.

            Indeed. It’s when this “warning” carries on for hours on end that is shifts towards suffering, obviously. How about this: “Hey, God. Pain is a good thing, it tells us when shit is going sour. But, um….that whole intense suffering bit? Yeah….why is it even in the equation?”. Pain is one thing, dude. Intense, prolonged suffering is a wholly different matter.

            Enter: human rebellion. Insistence that what is false is true, and continued action on it, despite resultant pain and suffering. I’ve just seen so much true rebellion, where a person is on a knife’s edge between moving closer to the truth or moving further away. This would be those small ∆v situations, if not Lagrangian points themselves, where only a dv would be required—an infinitessimal push. Maybe my perception is off. But maybe it is not. It’s kinda your perception vs. mine, isn’t it?

            The reason that things are so sucky, under my view, is that God lets us try pretty hard to create worlds that have lots of suck. Why? I don’t know, but I do know that much in the way of fantastic knowledge and wisdom can be gained in this world. Yeah, sometimes it hurts. In fact, ask any successful scientist and you’ll very likely get regaled with periods of absolute suck. Or ask a performance pianist. Those birth pains seem to accompany many pursuits of excellence.

            I choose to be thankful for what I’ve been given, try to use it extremely well to help others, and also increase my own ability to help others. Anything else, honestly, is shunning of responsibility and fear of pain. I want to be sensitive to where people are at, and merely expect consistent small ∆vs in the direction of ‘the good'; the resultant change in direction will look different on a person-by-person basis, making it very iffy to compare one person to another. Instead, you compare a person to his/her former self.

            in *my* experiences, the greatest “evils” are caused by nature

            Some people are able to move through terrible cancer while having fantastic relationships with other human beings, such that it doesn’t suck more than the great relationships. There is a lot of subjective, anthropocentric thinking and judging that goes on here, Void. Now, remove the fantastic relationships. Then yeah, cancer and such seem great. It’s almost as if these evils are pushing us to find goods that can outweigh them. And you know what? The more such goods can be found, the fewer are the evils which seem ‘gratuitous’. Who is to say that some evils will never be removed from the ‘gratuitous’ category? Such a person, I worry, would be making that happen, via the belief → reality self-fulfilling prophecy phenomenon.

            Let me ask you, though: can/does God empathize with a human being who is in pain or suffering greatly?

            Somehow, yes. The controversial Christian book The Shack gets into this issue quite deeply. Randal Rauser wrote Finding God in The Shack, BTW.

          • Void Walker

            “Until I see an accounting sheet of positives and negatives, I’m not sure I’m going to believe you. And even if you’re right, was the world darker or lighter 200 years ago? 500 years ago? 1000 years ago?”

            Okay, I’ll get a team of *top men* on that one, right away good sir. :-p

            “Perhaps you see this ‘unknown’ as a show-stopper; I do not.”

            You are correct, I do indeed see it as a show stopper. In my opinion, this argument is crushing to the core tenets of Christian belief.

            “Enter: human rebellion.”

            So your answer to my contention is, once again, free will? This is what it *seems* like, at least. Am I correct? After all, rebellion simply oozes free will, by nature.

            “Some people are able to move through terrible cancer while having fantastic relationships with other human beings”

            Yes, and others die alone shrouded in misery, drenched in their own tears. I knew one such person. It was utterly tragic.

            “Somehow, yes. The controversial Christian book The Shack gets into this issue quite deeply. Randal Rauser wrote Finding God in The Shack, BTW.”

            Dude….did you just….seriously….use The Shack? The same book that “argues” that, prior to her being raped and killed (or was it just killed? That isn’t so bad! :-/ ), the only solace a little girl found through God was christs spirit giving her a fucking HUG before she died? Aaaaaaaargh! Hate that contrived little “opus”. Hate it so fucking hard, yo.

            So basically, God could “feel” the pain of a little girl being raped to death, but because FREE WILL (yaaay!) he cannot intervene, not even a little bit? Hmm.

          • Luke Breuer

            Your recollection on The Shack differs from mine; I thought God was somehow with her so it didn’t suck nearly as much as one otherwise might think it did? Indeed, I recall that God somehow told her that soon all the pain would be over and then heaven-stuff would begin. So we’d be back to the pregnant woman being told to PUSH, and soon the pain would be gone and wonderfulness would begin.

            As to rebellion, yes: free will. It is an axiom of my system of thought, and yes, I cannot give a logical construction of LFW at this time. I choose that, over your despair, a despair which seems only guaranteed to make the thing despaired of, come to pass. Beliefs turn into reality, yo!

          • Void Walker

            “Your recollection on The Shack differs from mine; I thought God was somehow with her so it didn’t suck nearly as much as one otherwise might think it did?”

            Oh yes, the problem of a little girl being raped and beaten is, like, SO solved because God gave her some metaphorical comfort food. Wait…no it isn’t, because God *could* have prevented the act to begin with. But hey, she wasn’t a pharaoh who’s heart needed a good hardening, so imposing on the wonders of free will simply couldn’t happen, right? Please don’t tell me you cannot see *some* problems with this….it’s absolutely absurd. Yahweh only seems, through the course of the bible, to have intervened when it served his own ends. When a little child is about to be raped and beaten to *death*, he sends his son/himself down to give her a hug. The problem of evil is promptly defeated!…….or not.

            “I choose that, over your despair, a despair which seems only guaranteed to make the thing despaired of, come to pass.”

            And believing that an invisible overlord will ultimately undo all the wrongs of the world is somehow rectifying the problems? I despair because I don’t see much hope of the world becoming a *much* better place. That isn’t to say that we can’t at least give it the old college try, and attempt to make things a little less shitty.

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

            Compensation is NOT moral justification. See Stephen Maitzen on this.

          • Luke Breuer

            Specific citation? Also, what’s the difference between ‘compensation’ and ‘effect’? The former seems artificial while the latter is just cause & effect.

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

            http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/01/04/ordinary-morality-presupposes-atheism-not-god/

            Also, I talk about it on the podcast 53 here, with the specific time, so you only have to listen to the pertinent 5 minutes:

            http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/12/08/new-counter-apologetics-podcast-segments-available/

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

            I think that is a really powerful point not made often enough.

          • Void Walker

            When cornered with arguments like this, theists often retreat into ambiguity. The world as we see it is at odds with a maximally loving God, plain and simple.

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

      I know you have discussed much of this with Andy, but the atonement rally is problematic for a number of reasons, some of which follow:

      a) retributive theories of punishment entail punishing those who did the deeds. Sacrificing innocent Jesus did not do this and remains illogical

      b) the above is immoral as any court or moral system will tell you (see Ezekiel 18)

      c) b) renders the bible contradictory

      d) imputation, as a defence, requires either complicity or culpability. Either we have an unjust Father or a sinful Saviour

      e) If all three persons in the Trinity are divinely equal in sharing that essential divine nature, then why does only one person, the Father, of the Godhood need propitiating? The Father sends the son to die, and it is the Father’s wrath which is turned away. There is no mention of this appeasement in terms of the other two persons of God. The holiness and justice of these two are not deemed as requiring such penalty.

      f) But if the Christian replies that Jesus does actually need propitiation, despite the evidence, or lack thereof, in the Bible, then how does Jesus propitiate himself? This renders the term and action rather meaningless or nonsensical. To be subject and object of this action is odd. Can Jesus “quench his own wrath by punishing himself”? This is made all the more odd when he is punishing himself for something that he/God has designed and created!

      g) If the penalty for sin is, indeed, death, then how exactly does this work? God cannot die. So this death must be for only the human aspect to Jesus, which appears as a concept in early Christianity, ratified by the Chalcedonian Creed. If it was merely this aspect, his humanity, why bother having the incarnation? Why not another perfect Adam-type person? This cannot be a valuable sacrifice precisely because Jesus was God, because nothing about the Godhood died, unless you see Jesus’ nature as being contingent! This would go against the Gospel of John and Christological theology.

      h) If the divine nature is unable to die, then the divine nature cannot pay for the sin. If it is only the human nature, then surely a human nature is unable to cover the massive cost of those supposedly infinite (in quality) sins!

      i) Romans 6 refers to spiritual death being the payment for sin. If this is the case, than Jesus somehow spiritually died when he physically died. This means that Jesus was cut off from the Godhood for some time. What an earth could this actually mean?

      • Luke Breuer

        You might like this recent reply to Andy; there I attempt to tackle the gratuitous evil problem slowly and rigorously. I will also attempt to reply to your comment here slowly—meaning not quote-chopping and trying to address everything you’ve said all at once.

        Have you heard of Augustine’s Privation Theory of Evil? See, for example, G. Stanley Kane 1980 Evil and privation as well as Bill Anglin, Stewart Goetz 1982 Evil is Privation. I have both; I’m not sure if you have easy access to them through a library system or could use some help in that regard. Anyhow, the rough idea is that evil is like rips or gaps in the fabric of reality. If this is a valid way to look at things, or even approximately valid, we could note that there could be a ‘cost’ in order to repair these rips and fill in these gaps. That ‘cost’ could be paid by a being.

        Note that I haven’t bought into any theory of the atonement at this point. I’m merely positing that (a) evil results in real, ontic damage; (b) there is a price to be paid in order to fix that damage—if it is even fixable. Here, I must dispel a stupid-ass conception of forgiveness that is unfortunately all too prevalent in Christianity: that “Jesus paid it all”, and therefore no human action is required. It is easy to dispel: consider what would happen if a took a sledgehammer, waited for a pastor of a church to get into his/her car, then took a good whack or two, then asked for forgiveness and then walked away. Or suppose I break someone’s arm and then do the same. It is clearly not loving to not try and repair the damage done. There just isn’t a question when you make it sufficiently real, sufficiently concrete. Things only get mixed up in the more abstract realms when you don’t think clearly in the physical realm, or where the metaphors aren’t very deep.

        Next, we have the question of whether creation matters to God. Here, I must dispel one of the attributes of the Philosophers’ God: impassibility. It simply is not true unless you utterly twist and contort not just the OT, but the NT as well. See Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb (and the insane twisting that goes on there to maintain impassibility), or Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Under impassibility, Mt 5:48 + Rom 12:15 constitute a contradiction. I could add more verses if quibbling over the analogy in Mt 5:48 happens.

        Ok, so now we have a creation which, if things go wrong, God can get sad. If things go well, he can get happy. The non-terrible concept behind impassibility is that a human need not be rationally compromised when experiencing emotional states. It used to be that people of character were known to be sufficiently immune to emotional intensity up to a certain level; that level has been lowering so much that one ought not be surprised by a book titled The Death of Character.

        I don’t think it is such a stretch to think that God could feel pain or at least suffering. Jesus could clearly experience both. Freud allegedly argued that mental suffering is ~100x as bad as physical suffering, so I don’t think Jesus’ example was strictly required, except for a stupid evidentialism which requires objectively measurable quantities instead of trusting the self-report of other beings. Whatever; we have Jesus, he was scourged and crucified, and it sucked.

        I don’t believe Jesus’ physical pain fixed much of anything. The vast majority of the evil-as-privation (2nd para) seems to be entirely mental/cultural. It might be reified via known sociological mechanisms (see social fact), but it is made real inside people’s brains. Just look at the animosity in Syria or Iraq or Ukraine or between conservatives and liberals in the US, or probably the UK. A debt of wrongs is kept around in people’s heads, and it is a real debt; see my Kagan vs. Craig comment, 2.

        Now, precisely how the rips and gaps in the fabric of reality are ‘healed’ or ‘fixed’ is a mystery. But I don’t think it is so hard to imagine that they could exist and it could cost to take care of them. Do you? Or perhaps I lost you up above, somewhere?

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

          “evil results in real ontic damage”.
          This makes no sense to me, and is key to your argument.

          • Luke Breuer

            I break your arm because you won’t get my message. Real ontic damage. :-p

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

            But that is physical effect, not moral effect. It is ascribed moral value, but that is abstract in ontology.

          • Luke Breuer

            Is the harm done by rape any less physical, in the particle-and-field sense? Something wrong was done. It doesn’t matter if it were subjective, as every viewpoint is by definition ‘subjective’—once again, I reference Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge. In the case of the broken arm, things can likely be done to compensate for the damage caused by another human being. Medical help, any required assistance to do activities you want to do, and money would at least be a start. At the very instance your arm is broken, you have fewer opportunities in life. These things can restore those opportunities, even if the restored opportunities have to change a little.

            In a sense, pain and suffering are indications that your personal idea of how the world ought to be has been punctured. A major question is whether this ‘ought’ leads you to actions to make it more likely to obtain, or whether you just bitch and moan and let more of ‘the bad thing’ happen to other people. Something is only ‘evil’ based on a subjective, first-person viewpoint. So yeah, the moral ontology is person-specific. I don’t see a problem, there. We can reach intersubjective agreement on that matter, just as we can reach intersubjective agreement on the fact that physics is mostly done (we’d be wrong, but hey, we still got that all-important intersubjective agreement).

          • Void Walker

            “or whether you just bitch and moan and let more of ‘the bad thing’ happen to other people.”

            This ignores suffering that is out of our hands. Natural “evils” like cancer, earthquakes, terminal illness and the like aren’t choices and certainly cannot be undone at the drop of a hat. What of natural “evil”, Luke? Why did God set in motion processes that ultimately eventuated death and suffering, and why can we do nothing about them? If you argue that we can, I’d enjoy some supporting evidence. If you assert that one day a cure for cancer and better powers of prediction wrt plate tectonics could quell the tide, I would add that for millions of years this requisite technology did not exist, and that because of that millions, if not billions, suffered and died thanks to Gods “design”.

          • Luke Breuer

            This ignores suffering that is out of our hands. Natural “evils” like cancer, earthquakes, terminal illness and the like aren’t choices and certainly cannot be undone at the drop of a hat.

            Science should just give up since it doesn’t have all the answers. It’s totally and utterly invalid to start from what we know, and stretch toward what we don’t. I mean, hey, maybe reality just ain’t rational all the way to full description. Maybe it just has weird-ass fractures that mathematics just can’t capture. Why try, given we cannot explain everything perfectly, right now? Why try, given that there seem to be huge gaps, right now?

          • Void Walker

            “Why try, given that there seem to be huge gaps, right now?”

            Again, you’re equating the processes of science with your own theological inquiries. Do I need to tell you how much disparity there is between the two? On the one hand, we have science, ever marching forward (sometimes quite awkwardly!) in a search for better understanding of the universe in which we live. On the other hand you have a set of beliefs that run under a variety of lofty assumptions regarding both human nature and the nature of reality. The demarcation is, in my opinion, quite clear. I don’t think theists do “research” in the same manner that scientists do. Your method of attack simply doesn’t work for me, Luke.

          • Luke Breuer

            All I can say, Void, is that I can make sense of and help fix/heal more and more evils, the more I go through life. And as long as that derivative is positive, that gives me reason to continue what I’m doing that seems to be aiding it. Surely this make sense, to you?

            I will point out, by the way, that science is explicitly not anthropocentric, meaning that it attempts to never look at suffering like we do in conversations like these. And so, if you ask whether a piece of information is useful to science, then you might just shave off bits that are (a) not useful to science; (b) useful to that first-person perspective on life that is so important to actually living life. I have Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self to thank for this point.

          • Void Walker

            “All I can say, Void, is that I can make sense of and help fix/heal more and more evils, the more I go through life. And as long as that derivative is positive, that gives me reason to continue what I’m doing that seems to be aiding it. Surely this make sense, to you?”

            This makes much sense to me, and I admire your tenacity and resolve, but lets face it: there simply aren’t enough people like you in this world to make a notable difference.

          • Luke Breuer

            It certainly looks that way from some perspectives. But humans can be surprising beings in a positive sense as well as a negative sense. The Enlightenment and Renaissance showed that, including the Founding Fathers of America. Maybe there is a way to provoke people into doing what I said, a way of showing them that there are much more fantastic ways of living that are open to them and available—not too far away, not too hard to move toward before good results are seen and can be used to self-reinforce the process, in a positive feedback-type way.

            What could be more worthwhile than to do the above? I was introduced to the idea that maybe people like MLK Jr. and Gandhi felt that their current world was simply not worth living in, and so they were willing to give up to their lives in order to make it vastly different. Both succeeded. Why not act the same? Why not refuse to see the world as it is as “ok”, and say that either it ought to become better, or it’s not worth living in?

          • Void Walker

            I agree that human beings can do some wonderful things, but in my opinion we’ve nearly run our course. I honestly have great difficulty seeing *any* hope. I wish more people were like you in the most positive ways, but lets face the ugly truth here: this is not the case, at all. Human beings can be violent, selfish, destructive animals and they are, and have been, running both human, and non human life into the ground since the advent of agriculture (the greatest mistake we ever made, in certain ways).

            Also, it’s so fucking *hard* to get people moving towards a positive end. In your opinion, what could honestly be done about this that hasn’t already been done, and failed miserably?

          • Luke Breuer

            What I believe needs doing is creating more continuous steps between less-good reality A and more-good reality B, with forgiveness and repentance available to ease the transition from A → B. You see, many people can envision a better future, but suck at figuring out how to go there. They often harbor all sorts of false beliefs that utterly stymie the path. Oh, and they often say that other people need to change. Contrast this to GK Chesterton, who answered the question “What’s wrong with the world?” very simply: “I am.”

            I’ve been exploring this idea of making the fabric of reality more ‘continuous’, with fewer ‘jumps’ that only some people can make in their minds. It also applies to learning in general, and I think it also applies to societies, to help everyone feel like they’re on the same team. Ideally, every person is friends with people above and below his/her station/expertise/social status/etc. Then it is easier to climb the ladder. It means that smaller and smaller efforts turn into measurable rewards, which encourage further climbing.

            Another thing that’s needed is more people to be willing to share what really matters to them. Critically, absolutely critically, is that they are not stomped on when they do this, when they share their hopes and fears and dreams. So often, such information is used to oppress, to mock, to subject to misery (by sadists), to control. That needs to stop. We need to let people show their true selves without being taken advantage of as a result. Too much of this happens, especially online. It is terrible, and it has to stop.

            I could wax poetic, but I’d actually like to hear some of your ideas. Given your strong reaction, surely you have a number of detailed thoughts you can explain, on why things suck so bad and why any solution is going to have to be pretty ingenious?

          • Void Walker

            “I could wax poetic, but I’d actually like to hear some of your ideas. Given your strong reaction, surely you have a number of detailed thoughts you can explain, on why things suck so bad and why any solution is going to have to be pretty ingenious?”

            Hmm. I’ll email you, this may take some thought. Gonna turn in man, ttyl.