Monday, September 24, 2012

Could it be Satan?

A redated post.

My daughter is writing a paper on the problem of evil, and asked me what I thought of the attempt to explain natural evil as a species of moral evil. In the literature on the problem of evil, moral evil is thought to be the result of the actions of creatures do wrong. Examples of this would be Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews, the party purges of Stalin, the murders of Ted Bundy and Jack the Ripper, but also would include less dramatic evils such as the sins I have committed today. Natural evil is evil that does not result from the actions of creatures, such as earthquakes, floods, being struck by lightning, illness, old age, etc.
In the case of moral evil, a solution looks to be available. God, it seems, has an interest in free obedience, and by free I mean that obedience that is not determined or controlled by God himself. (See my discussion of Star Trek in a previous entry). But in order for God to open the way obedience that is free in this sense, God must refuse to control the outcome of our choices, but if he does that, then he risks the possibility that disobedience. I realize this involves rejecting the claim that free will and determinism are compatible. If freedom and determinism are compatible, then God could have created the World of Mr. Rogers, the world in which everyone freely does what is right.
Plantinga’s Demon Scenario
For the sake of this discussion, I will assume that the problem of moral evil is answerable in terms of human free will. This still leaves the serious problem of explaining natural evil. In Alvin Plantinga’s The Nature of Necessity, he mentions the idea that all evils are broadly moral evil, because while some evils are the result of human free choices, other evils are the result of the free choices of non-human creatures. He writes:
But another and more traditional line of thought is pursued by St. Augustine, who attributes much of the evil we find to Satan, or to Satan and his cohorts. Satan, so the traditional doctrine goes, is a mighty non-human spirit who, along with many other angels, was created long before God created man. Unlike most of his colleagues, Satan rebelled against God and since has been wreaking whatever havoc he can. The result is natural evil. So the natural evil we find is due to free actions of non-human spirits.1

Now, Plantinga points out that for Augustine, this appeal to Satanic agency is an attempt to provide a theodicy, that is, to provide a true explanation for why God permits suffering. A defense, on the other hand, is an attempt to refute some version of the argument from evil. That may involve providing the actual explanation for the existence of evils, but it may not. The argument from evil Plantinga is discussing here is often called the logical problem of evil; it involves the claim that theists, in believing both that there is a God and in also being a realist about the evils in the world, the theist is implicitly contradicting himself. All we need to refute this argument is to provide a possible scenario according to which God and the evils in this world co-exist. Plantinga therefore claims that the demon scenario meets this requirement, and therefore, he claims the logical problem of evil stands refuted.

Over the years, and largely due to the work of Plantinga, attention has shifted from the logical problem of evil to the probabilistic or evidential problem of evil. The idea is that while it is possible that God existence is compatible with the suffering and evil we find in the world, nevertheless, it can be argued that evil in the world makes God’s existence improbable, or that that evil and suffering is strong evidence against the existence of God. In response to this argument, Plantinga says:
(The demon scenario), for example, involves the idea that the evil that is not due to free agency, is due to the agency of other rational and significantly free creatures. Do we have evidence against this idea? Many people find it preposterous; but that is scarcely evidence against it. Theologians sometimes tell us that this idea is repugnant to “man come of age” or to “modern habits of thought.” I am not convinced that this is so; in any case it does not come to much as evidence. The mere fact that a belief in unpopular at present (or at some other time) is interesting, no doubt, from a sociological point of view; it is evidentially irrelevant. Perhaps, we do have evidence against this belief, but if we do, I do not know what it is.2

I recall a conversation in my office with Plantinga when I was a fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame in which Plantinga told me that even though he presented the scenario as a possible scenario, he considered demonic influence to be the real explanation of many of the evils in the world. Certainly this explanation has biblical support, as is evident from reading Job or the Gospels. It also has the support of an obscure popular British theologian from the middle of the past century, a guy by the name of..uh..uh..Lewis. (See the Animal Pain chapter of The Problem of Pain).

Atheist philosopher Keith M. Parsons, in his book God and the Burden of Proof, however, offers two criticisms of the demon scenario as a defense against the problem of evil. He writes:

But how is this even possible? What would it be like to bring about natural evils? Natural evils are caused, so far as we can tell, by the same fundamental laws of nature that explain all other natural phenomena. Earthquakes are caused by the same tectonic processes that produce majestic mountain ranges; pathogens and parasites evolved according to the same kittens and butterflies, weather systems that bring balmy breezes to one region bring tornadoes to another. The causes of natural evil are thus so intimately involved with (and often identical to) the causes of all other natural phenomena that to cause natural evil, it would seem necessary to cause nature.
But in that case, what becomes of the doctrine of God as creator? At best we would seem to have a kind of dualism reminiscent of Manichaeism—a heretical movements in the late Roman Empire that viewed the cosmos as the creation of eternally opposed good and evil principles. If the demon scenario is thus inconsistent with the doctrine of God as creator, it cannot be of any use to Plantinga, not even as a bare possibility.3


He goes on to say:

A further difficulty with Plantinga’s argument is his assumption that free will could have the sort of absolute value he thinks it might have. As we saw earlier, ordinary moral judgments do not grant such a value to the possession or employment of free will. For instance, if I knew that a terrorist, of his own free will, planed to plant a bomb on an airliner, I would feel obliged to do everything in my power to inhibit him from exercising his free will in that way. How then is it possible that God could be justified in allowing Satan to run amok? How is it consistent with the goodness of God not to have placed greater restrictions on Satan’s freedom?4

So I’m going to put the question to my commentators, having presented both sides of the argument. Are at least some natural evils due to the influence of Satan and his minions? Or not?

1 Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974) p. 192. He references “The Problem of Free Choice”’ in Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 22 (New York: Paulist/ Newman Press), pp. 71ff.; and Confessions and Enchiridion tr. and ed., by Albert C. Outler (Philadelphia: Westminister Press), pp. 341-6.
2 Plantinga, p. 195.
3 Keith Parsons, God and the Burden of Proof (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989) pp. 123-124.
4. Parsons, p. 124.

157 comments:

Jason said...

Considering that it took me 167,068 words (including parenthetical footnotes {wry g}) to reach an answer to this question that I could understand and be satisfied with, I don't think I can possibly justify my answer in a comment.

But for what it's worth: I _am_ sympathetic to Keith's criticism (as far as it goes); and to the questions he himself is (perhaps somewhat rhetorically) asking.

Keeping in mind the vastness of the topic and the (relative) paucity of commentary space-time {s!}, these are the comments that occur to me:

a.) I think the term 'natural evil' is a non sequitor. I don't hold tornados, for instance, morally responsible for their behaviors.

b.) I do think there are rebel spirits messing around in our Nature (along with perhaps an unknown selection of what Lewis once called 'neutrals'); and that they tend to congregate around destructive natural reactions, ramping up the effects where they can, where not outright instigating them. (Sidenote: Gregory Boyd, in _God at War_, notices that during the tornadic incident reported by the Gospels on Galilee Lake--the Greek is literally a 'whirl of wind', and the visual and audible cues are consonant with a tornado hitting the lake--Jesus rebukes the wind in exactly the same way He exorcises possessing devils. To this I suppose I could add the nearly universal human intuition on such things throughout history, from which we still derive the term 'dust devil'.)

c.) I don't think rebel spirits are necessarily to blame for all such 'natural disasters'. (Though I note, in passing, that the word 'disaster' itself holds much the same implicit meaning: hostile star.)

d.) I strongly suspect, though I am not entirely sure, that a significant amount of what we would call 'bad' evolutionary development, can be traced to the tampering of these spirits in genetics.

e.) At the same time, I _am_ entirely sure that the Problem of Pain in regard to animals is somewhat moot. To whatever extent animals are unconscious, then (by tautology) they are not consciously suffering whatever is happening to them--which doesn't excuse malicious tampering with them. (If someone rapes a hole in a wall, then an evil is still being committed, though the hole itself isn't conscious. The intention is what counts.)

While I do believe some animals are in fact conscious, particularly individuals of them (and I strongly suspect it in other cases), I don't believe all animals everywhere have always been conscious. A body can go into all sorts of odd reactions when it is suffering (whether pain or pleasure), which we (as conscious act-ers ourselves) can sympathize and empathize with. But the fact that we can imagine how _we_ would feel if it was happening to us, does not mean the animal (or a plant, for that matter) is necessarily 'feeling' it, too.

f.) I also consider the question of suffering in animals to be a philosophical smokescreen. I _already_ know that _I_ suffer in ways I believe to be unjustly afflicted on me. (Though I don't believe all my suffering is unjustly afflicted on me. On the contrary, I believe some of it is very justly afflicted on me. I even pray and hope for certain sufferings to be induced in me. So do the vast majority of humans throughout history, today and every day; as should, but probably won't, be manifestly obvious. {g} 'Suffering', per se, is important, but it isn't the crucial problem.)

Adding a definitely suffering animal to the mix doesn't add to the principles involved in the questions and answers already raised by my own existential evidence.

g.) Relatedly, I find theodicy to proceed a lot more smoothly when I stop asking why God would allow a rebel angel or a dictator or mass murderer do whatever they've succeeded in doing, and start instead with why God allows _me_ to inflict injustice (however 'big' or 'small' it may seem)--and rigorously stay on _that_ question until I've worked out as many answers as I can figure.

h.) The answers to which, I find I can sum up in a principle: God loves His enemies, too.

i.) Which brings me back to the point, that the problem of evil, as pressing as it is on us, is not what I would call a first-order philosophical question. It's more like 350th in line. _Any_ cogent answer to it requires a whole bunch of other questions to have been settled first insofar as possible.

(A brief summary of questions to be answered would include God's existence, characteristics, relationships to us and to the evident field of Nature, and intentions toward us and Nature, including toward any enemies of His. If the question of God's existence is answered in favor of atheism, for example, then the mediant questions leading to the problem of evil will change somewhat, and the answers will in many cases change radically. Ditto if the question of characteristics is answered in favor of pantheism, etc.)

j.) In passing, I think that a Fall of Mankind is also implied by the available evidence, and that this has its own contributions to our situation throughout human history. (I mention this because I didn't see it mentioned in Victor's overview. {s}) I'm more than a little agnostic as to historical details, although I think Gen 1&2 works well enough in getting across the basic principles, one of which is that it _is_ historical somehow. (i.e. there's clearly a whole lot more to the story than what's shown there, but not _less_.) By 'the available evidence', btw, I don't mean scriptural authority: I'd believe the same thing if I had never heard of Genesis.


(Most of what I've said above isn't argument but conclusion; which apart from argument, I know can only look like mere assertion. I'm not asking anyone to believe it, certainly not on what appears to be my mere say-so. {s!})

'kay, back to "work" work...

Ross said...

Dr Reppert's initial post made me think immediately about Greg Boyd's book "Satan and the Problem of Evil" where he develops his Warfare Theodicy. He takes the idea that "natural" evils are possibly caused by agents (Satan and his Demons) an fleshes it out. It is a thought provoking work....

Thats my $0.02

Ross Parker

Johnny-Dee said...

I think there is plausible room to affirm that some apparently "natural evil" is the result of demonic (or other malignant immaterial beings). If theism is true (no less Christianity), there is no problem with sayign immaterial beings can interact with the material world. Moreover, it is not ad hoc for theists to appeal to evil supernatural entities since they are apart of the theistic worldview.

What I think is difficult is to say that all "natural evil" is the result of demonic forces. Elsewhere, I have laid out some initial thoughts on how natural evils still might (realistically, not just as a logical possibility) be the result of free will.

Darek Barefoot said...

I don't think we need to see natural disasters as the work of Satan (directly, anyway) to account for them. They must be seen in terms of the biblical doctrines of creation and the fall into sin. Man was given supremacy over the material world, and therefore man's alienation from God entailed the alienation of nature.

According to Genesis, God prepared the universe in successive steps until, with the creation of man, it at last began to reflect the divine image. It is apparent, however, that while God completed his own part of the project, he intended further progress to be made by man himself. God's creative works were "very good" and "complete," not in that there was nothing more to be done with them, but in that they had been brought to the ideal stage for man to play his divinely appointed role regarding them. God put all creation in subjection to man and woman, and we tend to assume, incorrectly, that this refers to the power human intelligence has always afforded man over his environment. Instead, the Bible says that the mandate over creation has never been carried out except insofar as Jesus is poised to exercise it (Heb. 2:8-9).

Having creation in subjection means more than tinkering clumsily with the created order as man does now, often with destructive results. Paul in Philippians says that Jesus will transform the bodies of believers to be like his own “by the exertion of the power he has even to subject all things to Himself (Phil. 3:21).” Holding creation in subjection, then, means being able to glorify it, having the means to alter physical reality from the inside out in ways undreamt of by man in his present state. We at best can dimly conceive of how unfallen man, equipped with powers no human except Jesus has ever wielded, was supposed to have beautified the natural order. Instead, because of the fall into sin nature was crippled at the moment of birth and left "groaning" in misery, awaiting liberation under the coming kingdom of Christ, the "last Adam" (Rom. 8:19-22; 1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus controlled natural forces at will; sinful man cannot. In Christ, God will restore tenancy of creation to humakind, but not until the drama of redemption has unfolded. That drama entails the call to faith and must play itself out against the backdrop of a fallen and dangerous world.

None of this may be a sufficient explanation of natural disasters/tragedies in purely logical or philosophical terms. For some of us, it is spiritually satisfying albeit mysterious. But the atheistic alternative has its own mysterious and distinctly unsatisfying aspects. It stipulates a dangerous and indifferent universe, but does not explain why part of that universe--namely us--feels a sense of alienation and tragedy, what I call "cosmic discomfort." To me, the Christian account is much the better one on that score alone.

Daryl said...

Firstly I have a problem with the terms we are using. Moral evil is evident, it is human thought/action in rebellion against the will of God. If God intends us nothing but good then any rejection of His will can only do us harm. Calling the events of nature "evil" involves a whole other set of suppositions. Evil to whom? Of course we consider ourselves the most important things in the universe so we intepret anything that occurs as it relates to us, I am not so sure that is God's perspective. How can we know if an earthquake is evil? It is as if Job decided to tell God how the universe needed to be run. Perhaps the earthquake, or the possibility of earthquakes, is an unavoidable consequence of creating a world where our lives are possible. There are so many perimeters that if changed slightly would exclude life altogether perhaps excluding the possibility of natural disaster would exclude much more.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Is there anything more idiotic than philosophizing when it comes to answering the big questions?

Several philosphers in Vic's blog have argued that "evil" comes from "evil beings," or that pains in nature originate from "beings that inflict pain."(Such "answers" "explain" nothing and only move back the question one step further.)

Vic also seems to want to play round with the phrase "free will" as if that solves anything. Every variant definition of "free will" simply raises different kinds of theological questions whose answers remain problematical.

So I have yet to see philosophy settle any of the big questions or debates. See:

http://intelligentdesign.edwardtbabinski.us/brain_mind.html

I will say that Jason's mention of the etymology of the word "disaster" provided me with a new bit of trivia. Thanks Jason! Though piling the etymology of "disaster" on top of the phrase, "dust devils"--as if building a tower of such babel amounts to anything--seems ludicrous.

Jason, there is no philosophical proof (nor any "science") in either the Bible or etymologies of the Oxford English Dictionary. See this article to learn more about "wandering stars" that the ancients interpreted as gods who watch mankind:

http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/geocentrism/cosmology.html

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, Why can't you be satisfied as a philosopher with simply trying to get more people to acknowledge which things they know the MOST about, and which they know the LEAST about, rather than tying to get others to agree with you concerning your "Christian" beliefs about so many things both seen and unseen, in nature and supernature, in this life and the next?

Your work thus far also seems to be assuming that there are only two choices, 1) no meaning whatsoever to life, or, 2) meaning lay in accepting the dogmas, doctrines and holy book of one particular religion.

Have you studied some of the multi-sided, maybelogic philosphical questions that folks like Robert Anton Wilson and Raymond Smullyan raise in their works? Check them both out on the net.

Wilson recently wrote at his site:

I don't believe anything, but I have many suspicions.

I strongly suspect that a world "external to," or at least independent of, my senses exists in some sense.

I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignity, like Internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology.

I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.

I more-than-half suspect that all "good" writing, or all prose and poetry that one wants to read more than once, proceeds from a kind of "alteration in consciousness," i.e. a kind of controlled schizophrenia. [Don't become alarmed -- I think good acting comes from the same place.]

I sometimes suspect that what Blake called Poetic Imagination expresses this exact thought in the language of his age, and that visits by "angels" and "gods" states it an even more archaic argot.

These suspicions have grown over 72 years, but as a rather slow and stupid fellow I do not have the chutzpah to proclaim any of them as certitudes. Give me another 72 years and maybe I'll arrive at firmer conclusions.

END OF WILSON QUOTATION

--------

Here are also some further interesting comments from a former fundamentalist contributor to Leaving the Fold, Will Bagley, who writes:

For me, everything on the spiritual path does not require faith of any kind.  You learn from your own experience each step of the way.  Even if you want to, you cannot know something as true until your experience reveals it to you. It is of course possible to hypnotize yourself into believing some particular dogma or other is true, but that hypnosis does not add up to any kind of knowing.  Merely memorizing that 2+2=4 and believing that equation to be true does not mean that you can add and does not mean that you know “why” it is true.  This is why fundamentalist spirituality of any kind, Christian, Moslem, Jewish, and even Buddhist is filled with memorized slogans, like “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior?”  I did experiment one time with answering a fundamentalist Christian with nonslogan words and found that they did not register and made the person very uneasy.  I was not using the secret handshake of the tribe to get “in.”  The word “conjure” is French meaning “with knowledge” and means that a formula only has the power to evoke reality when it is used with a genuine understanding of what it means. (A related thought is this: The word “idiot” means “one who is sacrificed” and there are 18 idiots that need to be sacrificed in one Sufi system in order to arrive at enlightenment or sanity).  Another kind of faith emerges from study, practice, and meditation, and arises from experience itself. 

The second thing I do not believe in is trying to prove I have the answers concerning the major questions about this life and the next, in both the seen and unseen worlds.

One thing however does appear to be quite true in a very experiential way anyone and everyone can understand. It is this: What you decide is true affects how you see “reality.”  There are some interesting experiments you can do to feel this and which are mentioned in a lot of Sufi and Buddhist training manuals.  Try to imagine for one week that the universe is merely physical and that everything happens because of physical laws governing essentially random and meaningless causes.  Get deep into this belief system, believing that you are merely a body and when the body dies you will be completely annihilated and that aging and death is inevitable and that there is not supreme Being running the show and that life on Earth is a freak improbable happening and that we might be the only lifeforms around and will probably be completely annihilated something when our Sun goes supernova.  Feel that if something happens to you, it is pure coincidence with no higher meaning.  Notice what life feels like when you live this view out.

Next try out the view that there is a personal God watching you and judging your every move and that depending on how good or bad you are that you will go to heaven or hell forever and that everything that happens to you is this God blessing or cursing you for things that you have done or even merely thought to do and that every disaster, every death, every disease, etc. is this God punishing someone for “sins” or for the sins of their parents and that if you repent hard enough and beg for forgiveness thatü something this God will forgive you if you are “sincere” enough.

You can note how each belief system feels just by the use of active imagination, even while simply reading the above descriptions. You may notice that some parts of you empathize with parts of both stories.  For instance, it might feel like a relief to know that when you stub your toe that it is merely an accident and that God is not trying to tell you something through this or a relief to feel try when you do something wrong that it is not counted and weighed upon Judgment Day.  Yet it also might not feel good to know that “evil people” can get away with shooting and annihilating “good people” and that there is no justice woven into the universe at all and that everyone that you love will be less than a memory and that some people that you love, dying very young, will never have had any kind of meaningful existence, and for some of these their entire short existence may be just pure pain.

There are, of course, many views about what reality is, not just two.

There's a view that God exists and created the cosmos, but does not ensure human immortality. Or the view that God exists and intimations of his existence have appeared in all the world's religions, no one of which is "inerrant" in its holy book and traditions.

If you play around with beliefs, you might develop some “ontological flexibility” and also question whether it's wise to look through the lens of one particular belief so fervently as to exclude the possibility of entertaining multiple beliefs or living with a wider range of questions.  

Having said all this, Dogen Zenji, an advanced Zen master, once said, “The universe is a bright pearl.”  What could he have meant?  What kind of space was he coming from?  What happens to our mind when we try to feel what it would mean if it were true?

Some capitalists say, “Time is money.”  What could they mean?  What kind of space are they coming from?  What happens to our mind when we try to feel what it would mean if it were true?  How would Dogen Zenji and the capitalists view paying our rent every month? *smile*

END OF THE PARAGRAPHS I WAS QUOTING FROM WILL BAGLEY

http://www.edwardtbabinski.us

http://www.intelligent-design.us

Victor Reppert said...

Ed: For an agnostic, you certainly do like to pontificate!

:)

Victor

Dave said...

I don't buy the standard free will defense, but if Satanic agency exists, it is as plausible a candidate for causing moral and natural evils as any other finite agent capable of acting in the world. It's just a question of the scope of their power.

The Bible also assigns the creation of natural evils to God (Romans 8:18-25 for example). His purposes in willing these evils are many. Sometimes it is to punish, sometimes to cause repentance. But it's very clear that it has moral purposes.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Dear David,

In the response before this one you wrote about "God's moral purposes" that you believe lay literally everywhere in nature, from God creating evil and pain and suffering to demons doing it. Nice to know both sides are on the same painful page, creating pain and suffering, for all of those "moral purposes" you wrote about.

Actually, I don't know what to make of nature and wouldn't even begin to hazard a guess concerning what "moral purposes" lay behind any particular pains or messiness in the cosmos, either the physical cosmos or the biological one.

Take the fact that today's astronomers speak in terms of a messy astronomical past filled with orbital perturbations, even a treacherous future filled with bleak possibilities for our planet and/or solar system:

Articles from New Scientist

"Birth of the planets: The Earth and its fellow planets may be survivors from a time when planets
ricocheted around the Sun like ball bearings on a pinball table" 24 August 1991 issue 1783

"Jupiter drifted towards sun in its youth" The giant planet drifted tens of millions of kilometres towards the sun in its youth, a new study suggests, perhaps even helping to form the Earth. 26 September 2004

"Wandering Jupiter took trek towards the sun" 25 September 2004

"Planet formation is violent, slow and messy" A new view of planet formation is revealed by observations of nearby stars - it suggests Earth-like planets might
be common. 19 October 2004

"Did a planetary wobble kill the dinosaurs?"... A wobble in Mercury's orbit could have wiped out the dinosaurs...to see when the next potentially catastrophic planetary wobble will be... www.newscientist.com/channel/life/dinosaurs/dn931

"New moons suggest brutal beginnings" Five new moons
circling Neptune, and two tiny moons newly discovered around Saturn hint at violent pasts 18 August 2004

Or a nearby star could go nova, or simply pass near our sun. Also, there's the fact that hundreds of
asteroids cross the earth's orbital path each year, and the geological record contains impact craters throughout geological time.

Even our genes apparently have undergone loads of perturbations due to mutation-facilitating ALU
sequences, according to this week's news. ("Scientists track 'stealth' DNA elements in primate evolution" 02 May 2005)

Not to mention living with the knowledge of other kinds of perturbations, like several major (and many minor) periods of extinction in the past.

Not to mention the fact that a third to a half of all fertilized human eggs simply don't survive. Even of those humans who get to emerge living from the womb, half of them used to die by age seven (according to Buffon, writing 200+ years ago).

In nature some species lay several thousand eggs, that vast majority of which don't survive. Plant seeds face a similar rate of death. Some bacteria divide so fast
that they could fill the oceans and land in a few days, but their death rate is likewise enormous.

Speaking of "purpose" all I hazard to say is that each organism appears to be tested by nature beginning with prefertilization "sperm wars," then during the zygote and
early embryogenesis stages when a third to a half of them all don't survive, and there's the missing twin syndrome later on in pregnancy, a quite common failing, such that perhaps 30% of all single births were once twins in the womb, and then after birth
during childhood more testing from mother nature takes place with a large childhood mortality rate (which if you survive that test, your odds of surviving to old
age are greatly enhanced), all the way up to adolsecence when human beings begin another breeding
cycle, and then social and sexual selection plays a further testing role. Such a rigorous testing plan
occurs throughout nature for every individual of every species. And the tests are basically all reproductive in the end, whether or not your genes are passed along. I don't see exactly how "moral" such a testing pattern is, but that pattern is far more plainly visibly than the one you mentioned, of pains because caused by God and demons for "moral" purposes.

I am not denying moral purposes exist, but I am saying that some plans appear plainer and more easily grasped than others.

Cheers,
Ed

CenterUniverse said...

The introduction of evil/death and suffering into the word began in the book of Genesis with the fall of man account.

Satan is not the cause of evil, but he preys on the weak minded to influence it.

We must understand that this is a fallen cursed world we live in, infected with years of degeneration.

Satan is the not the ruler of hell, nor will he ever be, he will however be one of its victoms at some point in time.

ThanX <><

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Victor,

I’ve been following your site for a few days. This has led me to a brief study of Lewis’s Argument from Reason, his disagreement with E. Anscombe, and the life and thought of Wittgenstein.

The reason I am writing is to suggest that your daughter might wish to read about the problem of evil in chapter 21 of my book, “Calvinism: A Closer Look; Evangelicals, Calvinism, and Why No One’s Answering the Problem of Evil.” (‘No One’ should not be taken literally, of course.) The book is a free online read at my website, xCalvinist.com.

In chapter 21 I interact with some of Prof. James Spiegel’s views from his book “The Benefits of Providence.” Spiegel explores questions about natural evil and moral evil, the idea that evil has no ontological being, the idea that God could have created creatures who could only choose good, and so forth. (Spiegel’s views remind me very much of what Voltaire objected to in Leibniz’s Optimism.)

Also, in chapter 9 I discuss Satan’s direction of natural calamity (the wind which smote the house of Job’s eldest son) and moral evil (his inciting of the Sabeans) in Job chapters 1 and 2. However, as to whether I would go so far as to ascribe **all** natural calamity as either divinely or satanically directed, I don’t think I actually address that specific point.

Incidentally, relative to the length of some of the chapters in my book, the two I have recommended are relatively short.

Gordon Knight said...

Strange bedfellows, but Plantinga's idea is analogous to one of Hartshorne's, who I think holds that free will goes "all the way down." Even the protons and neutrons have it! so natural forces are not really "natural" if you mean by that devoid of the influence of freedom.


The tricky thing is, why is the FW of a proton worth respecting?
Hartshorne has an answer by limiting the scope of divine power to non-coercive influence.

But we can ask Plantinga, if the demons are really demons (damned individuals, totally without hope) what good does it do to respect their freedom?

It can't be that there is some universal moral rule:"always respect another's free choice" since nobody believes that. It has to be a utilitarian reason, soul-making maybe.

Maybe P. agrees with Origen, even the devil will be saved.

unkle e said...

Yes, Satan could be a cause of some natural evils. But the problem I see is this.

If we follow Genesis literally, we can agree with Plantinga that Satan and the Fall caused all the natural evils. But that cuts us off from science and, I believe, from some clear truths.

But if we follow John Polkinghorne, Ken Miller and others in saying evolution is God's process of creating the human race, then much that we might call evil (e.g. animals and people preying on each other) is inherent in God's creation, not a Satanic corruption.

There may be some way to argue that God planned a benign evolution and Satan corrupted it, but I think that would just be sophistry.

For me it is an unresolved problem.

BeingItself said...

Suppose Satan, by his free will, causes a flood so he can drown a school bus children. So, according to this proposed theodicy, Satan's freedom is an overarching good that more than makes up for the horrendous suffering of the children and their friends and family. Therefore, if I have the opportunity to thwart Satan's plans, I should refrain, because of the overarching good of Satan's free will.

If God refuses to save the children, then ought not I do the same?

Cole said...

Well, according to Job Satan had to get permission from God before he struck job with boils and killed his family. Job's response: "The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord". God does use Satan to cause suffering but this is only with God's permission. Therefore, the ultimate credit and responsibility for the suffering goes to God. I just don't see love as bringing natural disasters upon people and breaking the arms of children and ripping the skin off babies as being a loving thing to do. I think it's brutal and insane. Especially when you could prevent the whole thing to begin with. I guess I just have a different concept of love than Christians. Neither do I see any justification for the abuse of children. Children should never be treated this way plain and simple.

BenYachov said...

Plantinga is a Theistic Personalist. Nuff said.


Augustine & Aquinas both believed before the Fall of Man there where "natural evils" that took place in the world that had nothing to do with the Fall of Satan or Man.

For example predator animals hunted prey even in Eden. They would not have bothered Adam and Eve pre-fall but proverbial lions ate proverbial lambs.

It is the nature of a natural world such as ours that things achieve their own perfection at the expense of other things.

We have had this discussion before. Both here and over at Biologos.

Animals are living material non-intellective beings
only, so we don't know if their "suffering" is the same as ours.

Nor is their suffering given their material nature anymore morally significant than that of comets inflicting "suffering" on the planet Jupiter when they crash into the Jovian atmosphere.

But then again I reject all Theodicy as a Classic Theist.

I doubt Satan's fall inflicted entropy on the Cosmos. Entropy was there from the beginning & I don't believe entropy corresponds to sin.

BenYachov said...

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.

-Job 13:15

I strongly believe in this verse.

God owes me nothing. I owe God everything. All the good I received from Him was not owed to me & is Pure Gift from Him. He has no obligations to me so if He chooses not to interfere when Satan or others want to have a go at me I cannot coherently fault Him for failing to give me what is not owed me.

But I can trust because of His metaphysical and ontological nature as Goodness Itself that He can bring good out of any evil He allows and give me sufficient grace to have faith in Him.

God can build my soul by allowing & using suffering. He can also do so without any suffering. He is not obligated to do one or the other but it is part of His Goodness that He allows evil to bring good out of it.

I'm telling you people REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL by Davies.

Awesome book. Saved my faith.

BenYachov said...

God is Metaphysically and Ontologically Good. He is in fact Goodness Itself. But He is not a moral agent who has moral obligations to us nor given His divine nature as Substantive Existence Itself can He be coherently conceived as such.

Thank God for that!

BenYachov said...

As Brian Davies says all modern Theodicy presupposes God is some type of moral agent who has to give a moral account as to why He allows evil. Theistic Personalist religous apologists like Plantinga argue to try to morally vindicate God for allowing evil.

If God is not a moral agent in the first place then the point is moot. The Problem of Evil becomes a non-problem. At best there is still a Mystery of Evil(i.e why does God allow any particular evil?).

But if God is not a Moral Agent then no problem.

Cole said...

Ben,

That section seems like it takes a very low view of man. This is one of the things I had to get away from. If God owes me nothing then He can do whatever He pleases with me. Like torment me day and night forever and ever. I think this is just barbaric. The way I see it today is that it's not a matter of me not deserving love because I'm a worthless sinner. Rather, I deserve to be treated with respect and loved even though I have flaws and may need correction at times. My Higher Power still loves me and does not abuse me. I do not deserve to suffer forever.

BenYachov said...

>If God owes me nothing then He can do whatever He pleases with me. Like torment me day and night forever and ever.

No he can't. Remember he is metaphysically and ontologically good.

Thus he can't coherently be evil.

He can't do evil to you or anybody else as an end in itself.

He can inflict evil according to his justice or allow evil to be afflicted on you by his permissive will and bring good out of it by grace.

But he can't do anything evil to you as an end in itself.

Go read Davies book and learn more.

God not being a moral agent & not owing you anything does not translate into God is immoral and evil.

BenYachov said...

Of course Job shows us that not all those who suffer do so because God is punishing them.

Job was innocent and God vindicated him but still told him He didn't owe him anything. But he brought goodness out of his evil by giving him back everything he lost and more.

God can and will do this in this world or the world to come.

BenYachov said...

>That section seems like it takes a very low view of man. \

We are low compared to God. Even the sinless Virgin Mary is less than an Atom before Him.

That is just common sense.

>The way I see it today is that it's not a matter of me not deserving love because I'm a worthless sinner.

Well first of all neither you nor me deserve existence. God generously gave it to us anyway unconditionally.

Second mortal sinners cruelly spurn God's Grace & Laws and earn their own punishment.

If you reject Goodness Itself(i.e. God) then you should not be surprised at the unfortunate consequences of that choice.

It's like a starving man sitting in front of a banquet refusing to eat & yelling at the food like an idiot saying "You should be able to nourish me without me having to eat you!!!".

This all having been said in your particular case Cole(since I was speaking generally), God is not a boot trying to stomp on you. You are no worst or better a sinner than the rest of us.

The Classic Theistic God loves you. How do I know this? He created you therefore he loves you.

End of story.

Ilíon said...

"Over the years, and largely due to the work of Plantinga, attention has shifted from the logical problem of evil to the probabilistic or evidential problem of evil. The idea is that while it is possible that God existence is compatible with the suffering and evil we find in the world, nevertheless, it can be argued that evil in the world makes God’s existence improbable, or that that evil and suffering is strong evidence against the existence of God."

It's a fine "solution" to the so-called "problem of evil" to end up arguing that there is no such thing and 'good' and 'evil', after all.

And, for that matter, what about the non-addressed "problem of good", which anti-Christianity can't even begin to grapple with?

=====
AND, as I keep pointing out, we already know, via reason, that there is a Creator-God, and that he is good -- that he is Goodness Itself -- so this pretend argument about evil is just a smoke-screen and red-herring. Until, and unless, the so-called atheists admit that atheism is fale, they have nothing to say -- and it is foolisn, and immoral, for "theists" to pretend that they do have anything to say.

Walter said...

Second mortal sinners cruelly spurn God's Grace & Laws and earn their own punishment.

Christianity postulates that Yahweh requires perfection, and since human beings are imperfect by design, then we are told that God is "just" in punishing us forever for built-in failings that we have no control over. All you have to do to "earn" hell is experience the normal range of emotions as a human being and you will automatically fall short of perfection.

The biggest problem orthodox Christianity faces is not the Problem of Evil, it is the Problem of Hell.

BenYachov said...

@Walter

>Christianity postulates that Yahweh requires perfection,

Wrong again Walter. Sorry dude but your former Evangelicalism is not historic Christianity. God doesn't command the impossible. We can by Grace achieve
relative perfection, in this life or the next. Obviously we can't achieve absolute perfection since there is no logical way we as creations may become uncreated in nature. Thought we may participate in the Uncreated. Like a coal in a fire that in a sense become both fire & coal.

Nice try. But this criticism doesn't work my friend.

>and since human beings are imperfect by design, then we are told that God is "just" in punishing us forever for built-in failings that we have no control over.

Sorry no, we are only punished via our moral failings. God is not a moral agent but we are and we have sufficient Grace to choose the good & act good. Your latent belief in total depravity here is noted but as a historic Catholic Christian I must reject both Calvin's & Luther's novelties.

>All you have to do to "earn" hell is experience the normal range of emotions as a human being and you will automatically fall short of perfection.

Nonsense! Temptation is not sin nor are actions preformed without sufficient reflection & or full consent of the will mortal sins. Walter your Evangelicalism was simply wrong. Catholicism simply doesn't suffer from it's defects.

>The biggest problem orthodox Christianity faces is not the Problem of Evil, it is the Problem of Hell.

Hell is not a problem if you choose Grace only if you obstinately believe you can as I said before sit there starving before a banquet yelling at the food like an idiot saying "You should be able to nourish me without me having to eat you!".

Damnation is the simple consequences of simple cosmic physics. You refuse to eat you starve. You refuse to breath you choke. You refuse to know Goodness Itself/Perfection Itself/Love Itself you spend eternity deprived of it by your own fault & will.

What's the problem here then? There is no problem.

Also as I argued logically & you failed to answer me logically. Damnation is better then Annihilation.

A damned soul who chooses inordinate self love over love of God will not by nature crave the loss of the only thing it has left. Even if that soul spent it's life trying to convince itself Annihilation would be better. In the afterlife it would know better.

I pray neither of us get first hand knowledge of this.

Cheers Walter.

Walter said...

Hell is not a problem if you choose Grace only if you obstinately believe you can as I said before sit there starving before a banquet yelling at the food like an idiot saying "You should be able to nourish me without me having to eat you!".

And how pray tell does one choose or reject Grace? Lemme guess, if you accept the authority of the Catholic Church then you're choosing Grace, right? And if you don't you're rejecting Grace, is that your view? Is a Jew who remains unconvinced that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah rejecting Grace? Is a devout Muslim who loves God but is convinced that God has no son, is he rejecting God's Grace?

Hell is a serious problem and I think it is why many Evangelicals are moving towards broader and far more inclusive views on salvation. There is also a move to lessen hell's horrors by claiming that God does not really send you there kicking and screaming to a place of active torment, you send yourself and lock the door behind you because Hell is apparently perceived as heaven for those of us who "cruelly" spurn God's generous Grace by not uncritically swallowing the dogma of one of a multitude of human institutions on earth who claim that they are the gatekeepers to heaven.

Syllabus said...

"The biggest problem orthodox Christianity faces is not the Problem of Evil, it is the Problem of Hell."

If that's the biggest problem that Christianity faces, then we've got very low-level problems indeed.

Syllabus said...

"And how pray tell does one choose or reject Grace? Lemme guess, if you accept the authority of the Catholic Church then you're choosing Grace, right? And if you don't you're rejecting Grace, is that your view? Is a Jew who remains unconvinced that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah rejecting Grace? Is a devout Muslim who loves God but is convinced that God has no son, is he rejecting God's Grace?"

Yeesh man. I'm not a Catholic, but even I know that's bull from their perspective.

Walter said...

Yeesh man. I'm not a Catholic, but even I know that's bull from their perspective.

Then answer the question: how does one reject Grace?

Syllabus said...

"Then answer the question: how does one reject Grace?"

In a variety of different ways. But the most obvious and common is pride. I assume you know the theological definition of that one. The choice can be both implicit and explicit.

Walter said...

Syllabus, explain how the sin of pride causes one to reject Grace.

Syllabus said...

"Syllabus, explain how the sin of pride causes one to reject Grace."

This isn't obvious? Grace is, by its nature, other-centred. That is, it is focused on an object or subject external to ones self. Receiving it involves the concession that one is a). not perfect and b). not the centre of the universe. Pride, by its nature, is the worship of one's self and pursuit of the gratification of one's self above all others. It's a self-improvement project.

Given those two clarifications, I think it should be fairly obvious how pride causes one to reject grace. Ben might phrase it differently, but I suspect he'll agree to most or all of the principles involved.

BenYachov said...

>And how pray tell does one choose or reject Grace?

Choosing what you know to be evil & your concious says is bad is a start.

What this is hard to figure out?

>Lemme guess, if you accept the authority of the Catholic Church then you're choosing Grace, right?

Obviously!

>And if you don't you're rejecting Grace, is that your view? Is a Jew who remains unconvinced that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah rejecting Grace? Is a devout Muslim who loves God but is convinced that God has no son, is he rejecting God's Grace?

Some are invincibly ignorant & they are not at fault for their non-belief. Some OTOH reject out of a malice against following the truth. Ultimatly God knows which is which.

Again, why is this hard?

>Hell is a serious problem and I think it is why many Evangelicals are moving towards broader and far more inclusive views on salvation. There is also a move to lessen hell's horrors by claiming that God does not really send you there kicking and screaming to a place of active torment, you send yourself and lock the door behind you because Hell is apparently perceived as heaven for those of us who "cruelly" spurn God's generous Grace by not uncritically swallowing the dogma of one of a multitude of human institutions on earth who claim that they are the gatekeepers to heaven.

None of this actually answers my analogies on being angry at food for it not nurishing you unless you eat it etc....

Hell is a consequence of rebelling against one's nature. It's not some bullshit moral volunteerism crap.

Oh and Origen taught long before the Evangelicals thought of it that Hell consists of mostly spiritual pain over physical.

Dude they haven't done anything the Holy Church hasn't done first & better.

Walter said...

This isn't obvious? Grace is, by its nature, other-centred. That is, it is focused on an object or subject external to ones self. Receiving it involves the concession that one is a). not perfect and b). not the centre of the universe. Pride, by its nature, is the worship of one's self and pursuit of the gratification of one's self above all others. It's a self-improvement project.

I see. So salvation is attained by rejecting selfishness? Hmmm.

Is the Muslim or Jew guilty of the sin of pride? How about an atheist who honestly believes there are no gods, is his belief an intellectual or a moral failing?

BenYachov said...

>Given those two clarifications, I think it should be fairly obvious how pride causes one to reject grace. Ben might phrase it differently, but I suspect he'll agree to most or all of the principles involved.

Mostly likely. Classic Theist Protestants are almost Catholic.

I forgot your not Catholic Syllabus. I didn't notice.

Anyway would you like to be?:D\

Just putting that out there. No pressure.

Cheers and God Bless Brother.

Walter said...

Hell is a consequence of rebelling against one's nature. It's not some bullshit moral volunteerism crap.

A serial killer is not rebelling against his nature since it is his nature ti kill.

BenYachov said...

BTW Syllabus I think Walter is trying to find out if you are an inclusivist Christian or a restrictivist.

Oh are you Protestant or Eastern Orthodox?

Just asking.

Syllabus said...

"I see. So salvation is attained by rejecting selfishness? Hmmm."

No. Salvation is not, in and of itself, attained by rejecting selfishness. But it's a start, and a necessary first step towards salvation.

"Is the Muslim or Jew guilty of the sin of pride? How about an atheist who honestly believes there are no gods, is his belief an intellectual or a moral failing?"

As to the first, I have no idea. Some probably are, and some probably aren't. If they are, and they refuse to reject it, then they very well may not be saved (but I make no claim to actually know one way or the other - that's known only by God).

As to the second, it's much the same answer as the first. But I suspect there are many more people who dishonestly believe in and God and believe that there is no God than those that honestly believe those things than many people would care to admit. Again, that one's up to the One who is Goodness.

BenYachov said...

>A serial killer is not rebelling against his nature since it is his nature ti kill.

Bullshit! A serial killer is a person with a defect in his mental nature.

There may be serial killers who consciously choose to take pleasure in killing & are sane and then there are those like TV's Dexter who watched some asshole chainsaw his mother to death while he was 3.

BenYachov said...

Serial killers either have moral privations(which they are responsible before God) or mental ones in which case they are tragic & need to be helped and locked up for life.

Syllabus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Walter said...

What I want to know is why is it considered sinful pride to reject religious dogma? Ben pretty much laid it out that accepting God's Grace means accepting Catholic dogma. The flipside of this is that if I reject the claims of orthodox Christianity then I am somehow "cruelly" spurning God's outstretched hand of friendship. I think that it is hardly a moral failing to reject religious claims for intellectual reasons. The heart won't accept what the mind rejects as nonsense.

Syllabus said...

""I forgot your not Catholic Syllabus. I didn't notice.

Anyway would you like to be?:D\"

Very much. But I can't, at this time, bring myself to do it.

"Just putting that out there. No pressure.

Cheers and God Bless Brother."

Thanks, and likewise.

"BTW Syllabus I think Walter is trying to find out if you are an inclusivist Christian or a restrictivist."

I fall more or less where von Balthazar did, for all his faults. I'm an inclusivist, and I think it's logically possible that all can be saved, but I know humanity too well to think that it's likely.

"Oh are you Protestant or Eastern Orthodox?"

Anglican, So somewhere in between. :) Like Peter Kreeft likes to say, it's almost impossible to decide whether Anglicans are Protestant, Catholic, both or neither."

Syllabus said...

"What I want to know is why is it considered sinful pride to reject religious dogma?"

That will likely vary from person to person. Some people reject Christ because the only version they've been taught is some uber-Calvinistic version where God creates the majority of people for the express purpose of damning them forever. Others will reject it because they want to be the captain of their own soul. I have no idea which. That's between God and the person making the decision.

"Ben pretty much laid it out that accepting God's Grace means accepting Catholic dogma."

I suspect what he meant was that accepting Catholic dogma means accepting God's Grace. There's a world of difference there.

"The flipside of this is that if I reject the claims of orthodox Christianity then I am somehow "cruelly" spurning God's outstretched hand of friendship."

That depends entirely upon the motive. Invincible ignorance, and all that.

"I think that it is hardly a moral failing to reject religious claims for intellectual reasons."

As long as they are actual intellectual reasons, sure. But rare is the person that makes decisions based solely upon rationality. There are all sorts of things involved in any commitment to any position. The sociologists use a phrase to describe this: "plausibility structures". It's a multi-faceted thing.

"The heart won't accept what the mind rejects as nonsense."

Then I would make sure that I am taking on the most intellectually developed case of the thing I am rejecting. That is the only reasonable thing to do.

And again, whatever position you take, there's more than intellect involved.

BenYachov said...

>What I want to know is why is it considered sinful pride to reject religious dogma?

A Jewish Catholic by the name of Roy Schoeman once in a talk he gave about his conversion told how he prayed "God I will follow you whatever you are! But please don't be Jesus or Catholic".

He overcame his malice by Grace.

>The heart won't accept what the mind rejects as nonsense.

Then one needs to examine one's self to see that it is really the mind and not a rebellious heart. Also to see that the reasons of the mind are valid reasons.

It's still not hard.

Walter said...

Then I would make sure that I am taking on the most intellectually developed case of the thing I am rejecting. That is the only reasonable thing to do.

Then should you not take on the most intellectual developed case for every world religion that exists?

And again, whatever position you take, there's more than intellect involved.

It sounds like you want to say but can't quite bring yourself to say is that everyone deep down believes the truth of Christianity, but we reject that truth out of malice or pride. This is not true. I can tell you for a fact that life would be simpler for me if I could force belief but I cannot - I simply do not believe the vast majority of religious claims. If it makes religionists feel better to attribute my unbelief to a moral failing, then I suppose that there is little I can do to change your mind.

Peace.

Syllabus said...

"Then should you not take on the most intellectual developed case for every world religion that exists?"

Yes, and I very much enjoy it when others make cogent arguments for their position. I've changed my views more than once based on conversations I've had or books I've read. Were these decision always for purely intellectual reasons? Probably not, but I do try to make sure that I'm aware of all the cards in my hand.

"It sounds like you want to say but can't quite bring yourself to say is that everyone deep down believes the truth of Christianity, but we reject that truth out of malice or pride."

And where the hell did you get that? I thought I stated explicitly that I don't claim to know the specifics of any one person's decision to believe in x or y. Moreover, I said that there are reasons for rejecting "Christianity" that I consider totally valid.

"This is not true. I can tell you for a fact that life would be simpler for me if I could force belief but I cannot - I simply do not believe the vast majority of religious claims."

I'll take your word for it.

"If it makes religionists feel better to attribute my unbelief to a moral failing, then I suppose that there is little I can do to change your mind."

Again, I specifically stated that I have no idea why this particular person or that rejects any religion or belief set. I leave that between them and God. I did say that there are multiple reasons why people reject belief systems. That should be fairly uncontroversial.

I have no idea why you do or do not believe, and I have no reason to not take you at your word. So, I do take you at your word. The rest is between you and your Maker. No mind-changing is required.

BenYachov said...

What Syllabus just said.

BenYachov said...

>"This is not true. I can tell you for a fact that life would be simpler for me if I could force belief but I cannot - I simply do not believe the vast majority of religious claims."

Do you pray? Or do you just sit there yelling at the banquet food?

Start by praying.

Like the old Jewish joke goes God says "Yeh Marty I'll like to answer your prayer to win the lottery but will you at least meet me half-way and buy a ticket!"

Walter said...

Do you pray? Or do you just sit there yelling at the banquet food?

Start by praying.


When I was a Christian I prayed. As a deist I do not pray in the same sense. I might exclaim my gratitude for a beautiful sunset, but I do not make personal requests of an impersonal Creator. You see, I know of no purely philosophical argument that purports to show that the Unmoved Mover must be a personal deity. Belief in a personal deity belongs in the realm of revealed religions.

Syllabus said...

"When I was a Christian I prayed. As a deist I do not pray in the same sense. I might exclaim my gratitude for a beautiful sunset, but I do not make personal requests of an impersonal Creator. You see, I know of no purely philosophical argument that purports to show that the Unmoved Mover must be a personal deity. Belief in a personal deity belongs in the realm of revealed religions."

I would think that a First Cause that both balanced the Big Bang in such a way that 14.7 billion years later intelligent life should come forth and imbues that intelligent life with a sense that some things should and should not be is, in some sense, concerned with that intelligent life. You're certainly welcome to disagree, of course.

Daniel Anderson said...

"Are at least some natural evils due to the influence of Satan and his minions? Or not?"

Hmm...interesting question. I admit, I am skeptical of the notion when I consider how interlocked so many things in nature seem to be. Then again, however, when I consider things like Chaos theory and consider how a spiritual free agent could put forces in motion to cause natural disasters, then perhaps it could work. I mean, if a butterfly can do it...

I don't really see it working with tectonic plates though. We wouldn't have life on our planet without them!

Walter said...


I would think that a First Cause that both balanced the Big Bang in such a way that 14.7 billion years later intelligent life should come forth and imbues that intelligent life with a sense that some things should and should not be is, in some sense, concerned with that intelligent life. You're certainly welcome to disagree, of course.


I do agree, but that does not necessarily entail that such a First Cause is interested in me personally, or that such a being would desire relationships with people as if we were peers.

BenYachov said...

>When I was a Christian I prayed. As a deist I do not pray in the same sense. I might exclaim my gratitude for a beautiful sunset, but I do not make personal requests of an impersonal Creator.

It's not just asking for stuff though you can do that. It's instituting a relationship.

>You see, I know of no purely philosophical argument that purports to show that the Unmoved Mover must be a personal deity. Belief in a personal deity belongs in the realm of revealed religions.

Why does God need to be personal in the unequivocal human sense to have a relationship? All you need is Intellect and Will which God has even on philosophical grounds.

> does not necessarily entail that such a First Cause is interested in me personally,

Yet He created you and actively causes you to exist here and now?

>or that such a being would desire relationships with people as if we were peers.

The relationship is for our benefit not His.

im-skeptical said...

Syllabus,

"I suspect there are many more people who dishonestly believe in and God and believe that there is no God than those that honestly believe those things than many people would care to admit."

That's quite a mouthful. Are you saying that most atheists are not intellectually honest - that the actually do believe in God? If so, what is your basis for making this claim?

Walter said...

"...does not necessarily entail that such a First Cause is interested in me personally"

Yet He created you and actively causes you to exist here and now?


If I had the power to actively cause an amoeba to exist, it would not necessarily mean that I desired a relationship with that amoeba, even if I cared about its continued existence.

im-skeptical said...

Ben,

Just got a copy of the Davies book. I'm hoping it sheds some light on what seems to be a baffling philosophy. I'm particularly curious about the idea that God is not a moral agent, yet he is responsible for our existence and the world around us that is so full of bad things. He even sent his son to help save us. This is hard for me to understand.

Cole said...

"Well first of all neither you nor me deserve existence. God generously gave it to us anyway unconditionally."

Well, my Higher Power didn't create the physical realm. I don't think it can be shown that your God did either. No need to debase humans to a low level. One can find humility without doing this.

Daniel Anderson said...

Walter, for me those things are normally solved in the person of Jesus.

If you feel you have good reason to not trust the gospel message, then being a deist seems perfectly logical.

I would be too if it were not for the fact that the person of Jesus is too compelling for me to put aside. From the trilema I choose Lord.

BenYachov said...

Good on you im-skeptical. It is important to actually learn the views you don't agree with if only to learn something new.

Cheers.

im-skeptical said...

Ben,

" It is important to actually learn the views you don't agree with if only to learn something new."

I agree, but it seems to be a one-way street.

BenYachov said...

>If I had the power to actively cause an amoeba to exist, it would not necessarily mean that I desired a relationship with that amoeba, even if I cared about its continued existence.

To have any type of relationship you need intellect and will or primitive cognition like with a higher animal.

Since when does an amoeba have any of that? That is a really bad analogy.

Rather a human can have a relationship with an Animal on the animal's level. God can have a relationship with us on our level and raise us up a bit too.

BenYachov said...

>I agree, but it seems to be a one-way street.

How so?

Walter said...

To have any type of relationship you need intellect and will or primitive cognition like with a higher animal. Since when does an amoeba have any of that? That is a really bad analogy.

Is it? Any intellect that we possess would be so far below that of a divine Creator that the thought of any personal relationship becomes ridiculous. The only relationship possible would be that of an owner and a pet.

Walter said...

I would be too if it were not for the fact that the person of Jesus is too compelling for me to put aside. From the trilema I choose Lord.

I believe that Lewis's Trilemma leaves off another possible option: Legendary Embellishment.

im-skeptical said...

Ben.

"How so?"

Well, I don't get the impression that many of the people here are interested in the intellectual reasons that atheists give for their lack of belief. Instead, they chalk it up to intellectual dishonesty or rebellion. There have been many excellent essays explaining people's rationale. Try looking up "Why I am Not a Christian".

BenYachov said...

>Is it? Any intellect that we possess would be so far below that of a divine Creator that the thought of any personal relationship becomes ridiculous.

The relationship is for our benefit not God's. Your acting as if God gets something out of creating us and relating to us or is supposed too. He doesn't, His actions are pure charity and gratuitous benevolence on His part.

You of all people know better than to anthopomorphize God like that.

>The only relationship possible would be that of an owner and a pet.

The problem with that analogy is owners don't uplift their Pets. God causes us to be partakers of the Divine Nature.

True he could have made us as pets but that would still be way more good than He owes us.

Walter said...

You of all people know better than to anthopomorphize God like that.

It's seems to me that the anthropomorphizing of the Creator is exactly what you are doing. I envision an Prime Mover that is about as far from being a person as you can get.

>The only relationship possible would be that of an owner and a pet.

The problem with that analogy is owners don't uplift their Pets. God causes us to be partakers of the Divine Nature.


The last part is pure dogma. Give me philosophical arguments that show we will partake of the divine nature, don't just assert it as true simply because your faith tradition claims that it is.

Syllabus said...

"That's quite a mouthful. Are you saying that most atheists are not intellectually honest - that the actually do believe in God? If so, what is your basis for making this claim?"

I wrote many, not most. And I tarred atheists and theists with the same brush, so I'm not painting atheists/agnostics/non-theists with any brush with which I am not willing to paint theists.

What I mean by believing dishonestly is this: I think that many of the people who believe/disbelieve in God do not do so because they've thought through their positions, but because they've found that it is emotionally or psychologically advantageous or pleasurable to do so. That is, they don't really care about whether it's true or not, they just like doing it. This goes for both groups.

As to the reasons why I think this, I have internal and external reasons. My internal reasons is that I have believed things for the sole reason that I enjoyed believing them. This was the case with my belief in God, for a while. Now, I'm a lot more aware of the psychological nature of belief, and while I would be lying if I said that I believe solely because of logical reasons, I'm at least very self-conscious of my motives for believing, and I try to regularly check myself in that regard. Externally, I know and have conversed with theists and atheists who hold their positions simply because they like how it feels or they want to get back at their parents or they want to rebel against authority or something like that. They don't care overmuch about whether their beliefs are rationally defensible, they just like them. Again, I find this in both theists and atheists.

So that's what I meant by that statement. Now, granted, I could probably have used a less inflammatory word than "dishonest", but I stand behind what I meant by it. And I'm not saying that these people outnumber the ones who believe "honestly" or whatever, I'm just saying that there are more of them than many would care to admit.

Syllabus said...

"I believe that Lewis's Trilemma leaves off another possible option: Legendary Embellishment."

There's precious little room for that, either, given that 1 Corinthians 15 alone dates to something like 15-20 years or less after the ministry and death of Christ, and that the creed contained therein is of a style that bears the mark of an oral tradition. That's leaving aside the Synoptic and Johannine gospels, which - there are good reasons to think - are on the whole trustworthy.

BenYachov said...

>It's seems to me that the anthropomorphizing of the Creator is exactly what you are doing. I envision an Prime Mover that is about as far from being a person as you can get.

Sorry no, I am not making an unequivocal comparrison between God's will & intellect vs Man's. God is as far from being a human person as you can get but that doesn't exclude Him having intellect and will. Besides it's you who are predicating God's relationship with us based on what He could get out of it. Not I.

>The last part is pure dogma. Give me philosophical arguments that show we will partake of the divine nature, don't just assert it as true simply because your faith tradition claims that it is.

Pay attention Walter. I already admitted God could have created us as like unto pets & that would still be more good then He owes us.

Cole said...

Given that Christ threatened people with eternal suffering I would have to say He was a lunatic. What makes it even more creepy is that He did this with a humble attitude.

BenYachov said...

@im-skeptical

>Well, I don't get the impression that many of the people here are interested in the intellectual reasons that atheists give for their lack of belief.

Not true if we seem jaded it's because we have had to put up with the brain dead shit of the likes of Paps or BI.

Sure on occasion BDK would come in and say something very intelligent on the Mind & supervalence. Or Matt the young atheist philosophy student might stop by.

But mostly it's Gnus all day and all night. Tedious! Fundamentalists without god-belief! Double tedious!

>Try looking up "Why I am Not a Christian".

I read that as a freshmen in college. I didn't find many of his arguments to impressive even as a philosophical illiterate.

For example, Jesus was morally inferior to Socrates because He supernaturally killed a fig tree?

Seriously?

OTOH I learned from Russell either God created the Universe, the Universe was always here or the Universe came into existence un-caused.

Well later in life I learned from Aristotle and Aquinas even if the Universe had no formal beginning it would still need something Purely Actual to keep it in it's eternal existence. So gone was the idea a eternal universe mandates either Atheism or Pantheism.

I also learned from Classic Philosophy from nothing nothing comes. So the later example given by Russell is about as rational as postulating 2+2=5 being possible.

I find most post-enlightenment arguments for Atheism merely point out the deficiencies in the post-enlightenment's inferior concept of God.

Classic Theism and Classic Philosophy of Nature rules!

Paley and Descartes not so much. Who am I kidding not at all.

Cheers.

BenYachov said...

>Given that Christ threatened people with eternal suffering I would have to say He was a lunatic. What makes it even more creepy is that He did this with a humble attitude.

Rather Christ points out if you are starving & sitting in front of the banquet you need to eat or continue to starve.

So you analogy is off there Cole.

Cheers.

Walter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Walter said...



There's precious little room for that, either, given that 1 Corinthians 15 alone dates to something like 15-20 years or less after the ministry and death of Christ, and that the creed contained therein is of a style that bears the mark of an oral tradition

The fact that Paul is passing on an oral tradition about post-easter Jesus sightings does little to instill confidence in me that Jesus bodily resurrected. Assuming that I were to accept the resurrection, I still would not accept claims of Jesus' deity. At best, I would shift from deism to unitarianism, a move many would see only as a lateral transfer.

Cole said...

Ben,

I wasn't giving an analogy but just looking at the Bible where it says that "these will go away into eternal punishment." It's speaking of the time Jesus returns in His glory with His angels.

Syllabus said...

re: Why I Am Not A Christian

Russell was an outstanding logician and a brilliant mathematician. He was, however, a singularly incompetent philosopher of religion. Read the transcript of the Russell-Copleston BBC debate. His defence against Fr. Copleston basically boils down to denying that words like "universe" have any real meaning, and Copleston could and should have torn him a new one with the weak-ass rejoinder to the moral argument he gave.

Someone like Quentin Smith, Sir Anthony Kenny or Michael Tooley would be a far better recourse if you're looking for good logical arguments for atheism/agnosticism. Or, if you want to go old school but good school, Tony Flew.

BenYachov said...

@Cole

Those who go away into eternal punishment are starving of their own free will and refuse to eat the banquet. Hell is their starvation. Christ sending them there is their refusal to eat.

The logic is solid. Christ is not a lunatic for send them to Hell. They are moral lunatics for sending themselves & Christ merely confirms their will.

Syllabus said...

"The fact that Paul is passing on an oral tradition about post-easter Jesus sightings does little to instill confidence in me that Jesus bodily resurrected. Assuming that I were to accept the resurrection, I still would not accept claims of Jesus' deity."

If you assume that that's the only bit of the Pauline epistles you have to work with, maybe. But it's not. References to Christ's divinity are all over the epistles ("He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped" and so on). The only reason I mentioned I Corithians 15 specifically is that it contains a recognizable creed. So, if you think that the creed in 1 Corinthians is valid, then you have to deal with the claims made in the rest of Paul's works.

And besides, if you take the central, most difficult-to-believe claim of the Gospels - that Christ rose bodily from the dead - seriously and believe it, I don't see why you would think that Christ's claims to divinity are spurious. Seems to me that once you admit that, the rest follows pretty hard on behind.

Cole said...

Ben,

I don't think anybody would want to suffer forever when they can enjoy eternal love and joy. It would be very easy for someone who enters the horrors of hell to finally repent of their own free will and be taken up to heaven after seeing that it really is true and that Christ is Lord. I would repent in a heartbeat.

Syllabus said...

"It would be very easy for someone who enters the horrors of hell to finally repent of their own free will and be taken up to heaven after seeing that it really is true and that Christ is Lord. I would repent in a heartbeat."

Easy? Sure. About as easy as it would be for a life-long heroin addict to suddenly give up the needle of her own free will and go to rehab to endure the torment of withdrawal.

Cole said...

Sylabus,

That's where the miracle working power of Christ comes in. All that is required is repentence and faith of the addict's free will. The rest Christ would do.

Syllabus said...

"That's where the miracle working power of Christ comes in. All that is required is repentence and faith of the addict's free will. The rest Christ would do."

You miss the point. Repentance and faith, in this analogy, IS the act of giving up the needle and going to rehab.

Even given that, it may be possible that some people might do it. But they would by far be the exception rather than the rule.

Cole said...

Syllabus,

If a person knew that Christ was Lord while they were in hell feeling the horrors and pains of hell and knew that all they had to do to get relief is exercise theire free will and repent and believe or remain forever in this state no one would choose eternal suffering. I know I wouldn't. The fact remains that Christ humbly threatened people with eternal suffering making Him a lunatic.

Samwell Barnes said...

Ilion, the translated edition:

AND, as I keep needlessly pointing out, I already know, via whatever mental mechanisms I pretend to be error-proof, that there is a Creator-God, and that he is good -- that he is Goodness Itself (although "Goodness Itself" is a conception of God that logically and historically only fits within the classical theistic tradition that I loathe, but oh well...I have my own history and logic) -- so this pretend argument about evil is just a smoke-screen and red-herring. Because, you see, I already know that God exists, which means that everyone else deep down knows too. Until, and unless, the so-called atheists admit that atheism is false based on the fact that I'm Ilion, damn it, and I always know what I'm talking about, they have nothing to say (because again - in principle - I'm always right, a fact that any rational person will quickly perceive) -- and it is foolish, and immoral, for "theists" to pretend that they do have anything to say. Because, as I know, we all know that God exists. In fact we all know deep down that I'm right about everything under the sun, which means that there is no need for me to argue, let alone argue strenuously, for anything I say.

Walter said...

And besides, if you take the central, most difficult-to-believe claim of the Gospels - that Christ rose bodily from the dead - seriously and believe it, I don't see why you would think that Christ's claims to divinity are spurious. Seems to me that once you admit that, the rest follows pretty hard on behind.

Because I believe that the New Testament presents Jesus as a special, divinized man and agent of Yahweh, but not as a Deity coequal with Yahweh. Thom Stark will soon be releasing a book that deals with this very issue.

Before I reach the stage of worrying about who or what Jesus was I would need to first become convinced of his bodily resurrection - and I'm not convinced.

Syllabus said...

"If a person knew that Christ was Lord while they were in hell feeling the horrors and pains of hell and knew that all they had to do to get relief is exercise theire free will and repent and believe or remain forever in this state no one would choose eternal suffering."

So, by your logic, if everyone who is addicted to heroin were to see how happy the non-addicts were and how good their lives were, they would immediately give up heroin. I hope you can see the flaw in that statement.

"The fact remains that Christ humbly threatened people with eternal suffering making Him a lunatic."

Read the Gospels again, Cole. Christ didn't use hell as a club, first of all. It's one thing to threaten someone with a gun to their head. It's another to say that, if they don't turn their car or jump out, they're going to go over a cliff. Christ is the second, not the first, thus making Him less of a lunatic and more of a loving friend who warns people whom He sees will end in disaster of the consequences of their action or inaction, as the case may be.

I really insist that you should stop thinking of hell as a punishment and start thinking of it as the natural consequence of a certain course of action. It'll help immensely.

Cole said...

Syllabus,

As someone who use to be addicted to drugs and alcohol I can say that what the addict is looking for is relief and happiness. He continually goes back to the substance because this is where he finds it. If an addict experienced the pains and sufferings in hell and knew that all he had to do to get relief is repent and have faith and then they could be the happiest they could ever possibly be forever and ever, everyone of them would exercise their free will and repent.

Syllabus said...

"Because I believe that the New Testament presents Jesus as a special, divinized man and agent of Yahweh, but not as a Deity coequal with Yahweh. Thom Stark will soon be releasing a book that deals with this very issue."

Eh? So you're a Jehovah's Witness? :D

That's a rather outré point of view, I must say. Interesting, but I'm not sure it holds up to too much scrutiny.

"Before I reach the stage of worrying about who or what Jesus was I would need to first become convinced of his bodily resurrection - and I'm not convinced."

Fair enough. For further reading I recommend NT Wright's magisterial 6-volume (3 of which are out) work Christian Origins and the Question of God, particularly volume 3, The Resurrection of the Son of God. They're absurdly long and detailed, and quite high-level, but they're probably the best treatment of Christian origins that Christianity has produced to date. Not easy reading, but worth the effort. Luke Timothy Johnson has also produced some worthwhile stuff, and Boyd/Eddy's book The Jesus Legend is worth a gander.

Syllabus said...

"As someone who use to be addicted to drugs and alcohol I can say that what the addict is looking for is relief and happiness. He continually goes back to the substance because this is where he finds it."

And I assume he keeps going back there because he thinks that these things will offer him more relief than not doing so, yes?

"If an addict experienced the pains and sufferings in hell and knew that all he had to do to get relief is repent and have faith and then they could be the happiest they could ever possibly be forever and ever, everyone of them would exercise their free will and repent."

Again, if that's true, then why would every heroin addict not go to rehab immediately? That seems terribly naive.

And that presumes that their abuse of their soul and free will throughout life has not left them in such a state that they are unable to turn. Which I think is likely what people in hell - presuming any people are in hell - are most likely like.

im-skeptical said...

re: Why I Am Not A Christian

Russell is only one. Keep looking.

Cole said...

Syylabus,

The addict doesn't do it immediately because they haven't hit bottom yet. They have not reached the point where the pain of doing the drug becomes so great that they look elsewhere. Addicts are searching for the greatest high they can possibly feel. If addicts knew that they could experience eternal bliss while suffering in hell by believing that Christ was Lord or remain in their state of pain forever everyone of them would choose the eternal buzz.

Syllabus said...

"Russell is only one. Keep looking."

And the fact that I mentioned four others, who represent the best in their field, doesn't clue you in that I have?

"If addicts knew that they could experience eternal bliss while suffering in hell by believing that Christ was Lord or remain in their state of pain forever everyone of them would choose the eternal buzz."

Again, by your logic, every person who is addicted to heroin or whatever, when informed by an ex-addict that living clean is a far better life than living as an addict, would immediately go to rehab.

And you're assuming that the Love of Christ is another buzz, rather than the "ultimate clean life", so to speak.

And believing that Christ is Lord is totally not the only thing needed. The devils believe that and they tremble.

Syllabus said...

To recap some of the arguments:

Tooley's Probabilistic Argument from Evil, Smith's argument against a first instant of the Big Bang and therefore against creatio ex nihilo and the kalam, Kenney's arguments against Aquinas' Five Ways, Flew's arguments from evil, J. L. Mackie's argument from gratuitous suffering, arguments purporting to prove the absurdity of creatio ex nihilo, Gerd Ludemann's hallucination hypothesis, Bart Ehrman's apocalyptic prophet Jesus interpretation, J. Dominic Crossan's social revolutionary Jesus interpretation.

And, as a minor footnote to these excellent minds, the mythicist ramblings of Carrier et. al that have been dead and buried since the beginning of the 20th century, Christopher Hitchen's non sequiter of an inchoate argument in god is Not Good, Sam Harris' obtuse books, and the spectacularly inept "central argument" of Dawkins' The God Delusion.

These enough for yah?

Cole said...

Syllabus,

Listen to how crazy what you are saying sounds. If anyone was suffering in hell and knew that they was going to stay there forever if they didn't repent and believe every one of them would do so. Nobody wants to suffer forever. Especially if all they had to do is repent and believe thereby making them complete and whole and the happiest they could possibily be with no more inner emptiness to fill with drugs and alcohol. No more reason to fill the void with drugs and alcohol. They are complete in heaven free from all the suffering.

Papalinton said...

Syllabus
"And besides, if you take the central, most difficult-to-believe claim of the Gospels - that Christ rose bodily from the dead - seriously and believe it, I don't see why you would think that Christ's claims to divinity are spurious. Seems to me that once you admit that, the rest follows pretty hard on behind."

That is why the christian mythos is a 'belief'. Believe one unfounded and unevidenced claim then all the other spurious claims seems ordinary. That is the essential and central core of christianity, itself an amalgam emerging from a peculiar interpretation of the plethora of contemporary religious traditions in the Middle East at the time.

Is it just ironic or is it fact Islam has no pretense about its view on the divinity of christ. In fact they categorically reject it. According to their facts, Christ was only a terrestrial-bound prophet, as god [Allah] definitely did not have a son. Even Jews, to this very day, who were right there on the spot when this purported son of god was supposed to have lived among them, reject the notion that Yahweh had a son called Jesus. They did then, they do now. So where is the evidence? Why aren't Jews convinced? Why aren't Muslims convinced?

Syllabus, do you think it is Satan that is blinding the eyes of the Jews and the Muslims and everyone else who is not a christian about this so 'obvious' a fact? What's your take on their refusal to accept this clear and unambiguous evidence? I might also add, after 20+ years as a christian, I too imagine this claim as a somewhat foolish adherence to unsubstantiated mythos. I subscribe to the findings of research by Robert W Funk, Bible scholar and Chairman of the Graduate Department of Religion, Vanderbilt University, one of so many great scholars, when he notes:

"If the evidence supports the historical accuracy of the gospels, where is the need for faith? And if the historical reliability of the Gospels is so obvious, why have so many scholars failed to appreciate the incontestable nature of the evidence?




Walter said...

Eh? So you're a Jehovah's Witness? :D

That's a rather outré point of view, I must say. Interesting, but I'm not sure it holds up to too much scrutiny.


Having read the rough draft of Thom's book on Jesus, I believe that it holds up very well, but I doubt that lifelong Trinitarians will accept it without a fight.

For further reading I recommend NT Wright's magisterial 6-volume (3 of which are out) work Christian Origins and the Question of God, particularly volume 3, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

After reading Robert Price's critical review of Wright's book, I think I'll pass on that one.

http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/rev_ntwrong.htm

BenYachov said...

@Cole
>I don't think anybody would want to suffer forever when they can enjoy eternal love and joy.

Actually Cole people go to Hell because they choose to love a lesser good in a disordered way over and against the Greatest Good of God. Sinful pleasures, passions, pride, hatred extreme love of self before others & God etc....

Here is a poor analogy. It's like throwing over the love of a good woman for a trolop. Sure she seems exciting at first. Adventurous, other things I can't mention in polite society. But in the end she has VD & the personality of a total bitch and it's not cute anymore!

>It would be very easy for someone who enters the horrors of hell to finally repent of their own free will and be taken up to heaven after seeing that it really is true and that Christ is Lord. I would repent in a heartbeat.

Actually after death after it seperates from the body an unrepented soul's rebellous will would become fixed & that person truely couldn't make themselves repent. Indeed they would be so far gone they would find the concept sickening in their pride.

That is the nature of the soul it is mutable in this life but after death it is fixed on either salvation or damnation according to the Will moved by the intellect. The horrors they feel will largely be self-inflicted & they will feel the great loss of not having the Beatific Vision.

But that is why we must love & trust God so we don't come to that end. IF we choose to love and trust God now we won't come to that end. We should not presume we have Heaven in the bag but we shouldn't dispair & think Heaven impossible or too remote a possiblity to Hope for. Either is a sin of pride that leads away from God.

You I can tell suffer from an excessive fear of Hell. Don't have an inordinate fear of Hell. Fear and Love God instead of fearing Hell. The Devil may have his mere hour because God will have His Day.

OTOH maybe you should disregard what I just said? Maybe it's not my place to confuse you or "correct" you on what I think are your theological, doctrinal or philosophical errors?

Maybe it's a presumption on my part? Maybe you should keep doing what you are doing now and love the Highter Power & take comfort in Him?

I mean, I know your Higher Power is the Creator Trinity. You may need only know you love God as best as you can in your present state & understand Him.

As THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING says God cannot be apprehend by intellect He can only be grasped by Love.

Keep loving the Higher Power & we are all still all pulling for you friend.

Oh and take the Meds. You da man.

Peace! Pray for me a sinner.

Cole said...

Hey Ben,

The cloud of unknowing is a bunch of bullshit. Everytime someone sees your God allow babies to get their brains bashed in or think about people being tormented forever they say we just don't understand the mysterious ways of God. That's a cop out. It's because deep down in your heart you know such things do not square with a God of love and compassion. My Higher Power can be understood just fine. Love, compassion, and justice. Not creating peoples wills so that they forever remain in pain and suffering. Your God is a lunatic plain and simple. And I will keep taking my meds and doing what I'm doing. I don't wish anybody the kind of suffering I've been through. Especially eternally.

BenYachov said...

I can't respond logically to an emotional response Cole. But what can I do?

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING is awesome. It's a good spiritual treatise on Contemplation and Prayer. You should read it. I think you would like it. But if you are not into it then ah well.
Don't read it.

>It's because deep down in your heart you know such things do not square with a God of love and compassion.

Rather my intellect and heart are on the same page. Classic Theism has brought me great peace & Thomistic Philosophy has shown me the untapped riches of my Faith.

God is most unlike what I used to think He was & it's awesome.

Cheers.

Keep praying to & loving the Higher Power.

Papalinton said...

"After reading Robert Price's critical review of Wright's book, I think I'll pass on that one."

Yes, rather. Price doesn't equivocate on the rehash that Wright seems to have indulged in.

See here

Syllabus said...

"Listen to how crazy what you are saying sounds."

I don't think it is crazy, I think it's realistic. I've seen people choose the immediately gratifying over the ultimately good enough times to know that it's a common part of human nature.

"If anyone was suffering in hell and knew that they was going to stay there forever if they didn't repent and believe every one of them would do so."

Assuming that they want to repent.

"Nobody wants to suffer forever."

If they believed that the alternative was even worse, then I think they might just choose that.

"Especially if all they had to do is repent and believe thereby making them complete and whole and the happiest they could possibily be with no more inner emptiness to fill with drugs and alcohol. No more reason to fill the void with drugs and alcohol. They are complete in heaven free from all the suffering."

Then, if I take your logic as sound - when it's actually a bit too naive - why are drug addicts still drug addicts when clean life is clearly much better? If it's so OBVIOUS that clean life is much better than like as an addict - which I assume you believe it is - then why do people still stay addicted?

People choose the immediately gratifying thing over the ultimately gratifying thing all the time, Cole. Surely you've experienced this.

Syllabus said...

""After reading Robert Price's critical review of Wright's book, I think I'll pass on that one.""

Price? Really? I mean, if you quoted a Crossan review or a Borg review, then I'd be more inclined to listen, but Price? By all means take Price's advice if you like, but I can't take him seriously while he indulges in that mythicism crap.

And even if you think that Wright's works fail, it's widely acknowledged that he's one of the best NT historians in the world, and he has seriously impressive credentials. If you're going to disagree with him, at least read the books and form your own opinion.

Walter said...


And even if you think that Wright's works fail, it's widely acknowledged that he's one of the best NT historians in the world, and he has seriously impressive credentials. If you're going to disagree with him, at least read the books and form your own opinion.


Syllabus, I was a Christian for over thirty years, so please don't assume that I am unaware of the standard boilerplate apologetic arguments for the resurrection. That is why it is hard for me to want to waste time and money on books that rehash the same arguments that I have known for decades. Does Wright offer a fresh argument that I haven't heard ad nauseam? I doubt it.

Syllabus said...

"please don't assume that I am unaware of the standard boilerplate apologetic arguments for the resurrection."

I'd point out that what Wright does isn't apologetics, it's historical analysis. And very thorough analysis, at that.

"That is why it is hard for me to want to waste time and money on books that rehash the same arguments that I have known for decades. Does Wright offer a fresh argument that I haven't heard ad nauseam? I doubt it."

I meant that bit at the end as more of a "don't just take Price's word for it" than a "read it, you might find something new". But still, I think it's at least worth a gander. The third book is a look at the theme of resurrection, looking at its development throughout ancient Hellenic cultures, ancient Jewish cultures, and the iteration within the Early Church. Wright's basic thesis is that there is no other equally plausible explanation for the development of the early Christian belief in the resurrection than that the disciples saw - or at the very least, thought they saw - the bodily risen Jesus. If you've heard that one before, and don't want to spend the time reading through the 800+ page book (with footnotes), then don't read it, by all means. But at the very least, don't dismiss it out of hand. It's pretty solidly recognized as the best contemporary work on the subject around.

But hey, your life, your choice. No skin off my back.

Walter said...

I'd point out that what Wright does isn't apologetics, it's historical analysis.

Sure. Historical analyses that comes to all the "right" conclusions in supporting the canonical Jesus of orthodox faith. I'm sure the book is highly lauded by the faithful, but let's not pretend that Wright is engaging in a purely neutral analysis - as if he doesn't have a vested interest in the results of his analyses confirming what he already confesses to believe.

Syllabus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Walter said...

And Price, Carrier, Funk et al don't? Because that would just be plain naivete. Of COURSE Wright comes from a certain perspective.

Indeed we all do, but I gurantee that if I recomended to you an 800 page book by Ehrman who comes to completely unorthodox conclusions about Jesus, you probably wouldn't be scrambling for your checkbook. Anyway, according to Price's review, Wright is regurgitating George Eldon Ladd's same arguments made decades earlier in a book that is only 170 pages long, and can be purchased for $3.

Syllabus said...

Sorry for the repost


"Sure. Historical analyses that comes to all the "right" conclusions in supporting the canonical Jesus of orthodox faith."

Heh. That's actually funny, because if you knew more about Wright's body of work, you'd know that he's been courting controversy about the "orthodox" interpretation of stuff from eschatology to justification to the atonement since square one. It's not like the guy just toes the party line. He's constantly getting flak from scads of more conservative Christians for stuff like the New Perspective on Paul, preterism, and the like.

"I'm sure the book is highly lauded by the faithful,"

As well as by his sparring partners like Crossan, Borg and others.

"but let's not pretend that Wright is engaging in a purely neutral analysis - as if he doesn't have a vested interest in the results of his analyses confirming what he already confesses to believe."

First off, genetic fallacy.

And Price, Carrier, Funk et al don't? Because that would just be plain naivete. Of COURSE Wright comes from a certain perspective. So does Bart Ehrman. So does DA Carson. So does Marcus Borg. Snidely dismissing the works of any of these people solely because they hold to the view they hold is amateurish at best. The works have to be taken on their own merits. Even the works of people like Carrier, as far out-there as they are, have to be evaluated on the merits of the work, not on the psychology of the historian doing the work.

Syllabus said...

"Indeed we all do, but I gurantee that if I recomended to you an 800 page book by Ehrman who comes to completely unorthodox conclusions about Jesus, you probably wouldn't be scrambling for your checkbook."

Maybe not, but I might petition my library to get a copy. And I wouldn't trust a review by, say, Norm Geisler implicitly.

"Anyway, according to Price's review, Wright is regurgitating George Eldon Ladd's same arguments made decades earlier in a book that is only 170 pages long, and can be purchased for $3."

So check out the claim. If I were to tell you that Price is just rehashing the works of 19th century German Biblical scholars that have been refuted decades ago, would you accept my assertion uncritically?

BeingItself said...

The evidential problem of suffering ought to convince everyone that either there is no god, or that god is either not all good or not all powerful.

But, of course, it doesn't. The dogmatic believer can always make up something idiotic, like Satan acting freely, to assuage his cognitive dissonance.

This Satan hypothesis is just so transparently idiotic. It is no better than the creationist appealing to the Omphalos hypothesis. You guys are cut from the same cloth.

Cole said...

We have a free will choice:

Eternal happiness

or

Eternal pain and suffering


Gee let me think about that one. It's a really tough decision.

Syllabus said...

So why don't drug addicts choose the clean life?

Walter said...

So why don't drug addicts choose the clean life?

Because drugs provide an escape from life's problems.

Syllabus said...

"Because drugs provide an escape from life's problems."

In other words, because people think that taking drugs will make them happier than not taking drugs? I agree, at least at the beginning. I think that's much the same reason that people choose pride over Grace. But once you've been shooting up for decades, it's much, much more than that.

Walter said...

But once you've been shooting up for decades, it's much, much more than that.

Indeed it is, it becomes a serious addiction. Does such a person deserve help or abandonment?

You see Lewis's version of hell may be a little easier to stomach than Jonathan Edward's but it is still fraught with problems. Fortunately the whole concept is not based on empirical evidence or philosophical argument, but instead is based on dubious secondhand "revelations" that can be safely ignored.

BenYachov said...

Wrong again Walter it is based on philosophy.

An Aristotlian/Thomist Hylomorphic view of the soul allows us to reconcile Edward's and Lewis' views of Hell.

The Will of a Hylomorphic soul that separates from the body at death becomes fixed. Thus if you die in a state of rebellion you remain in a willed state of rebellion. You cannot will otherwise and your pride will make it so that willing repentance will seem like "Crawling back on my hands and knees & well I won't give that damn YHWH the satifaction!".

Hell becomes both a prison sentence and Hell is also locked from the inside.

Syllabus said...

"Indeed it is, it becomes a serious addiction. Does such a person deserve help or abandonment?"

I agree in majority with what Ben says. Trying to redeem the person who has consistently chosen against Good is a different matter before death than it is after death, and even after the resurrection of the body. Decisions have consequences, and sometimes irreversible ones. I think that, in some sense, there's probably nothing left to redeem in the people who have consigned themselves to hell, much in the same way that it's possible to repair a vase that has been broken into several pieces, but it's impossible to repair a vase that has been ground into dust. There are things that God can't do, and that's been consistently held by theologians throughout history.

Now, if what you're advocating is that God coerces people to choose the Good - that is, that He supplant their wills and personhood, that He treat them as objects rather than subjects - then I would answer that He cannot do that for the same reason He does not do it during life. The will, the personhood, the ability to choose, is an ontological good. It is part of the imago dei. To supplant or eliminate an ontologically good thing is an evil action - not a morally evil action, but still an evil action. It would be tantamount to rape. God cannot do evil, for reasons that you should be aware of. Therefore, for God to supplant the will of His creatures, before or after death, is impossible for God because of His nature. Assuming for the sake of argument that God is Goodness itself (since your criticism of hell seems to be that it is incompatible with a God who is Love and Goodness, I think that should be fairly easy to do) here's a syllogism:

1). God cannot do evil actions.

2). Acting against a good thing is an evil action.

3). The free will of creatures is a good thing.

therefore, 4). God cannot act against the free will of creatures.

A corollary to 4 is 5). God cannot rescue creatures from a situation they have freely chosen if they choose not to accept His assistance.

This seems to follow logically. So, I think self-condemnation is an entirely philosophically sound idea. Though, I admit, I have other reasons that strictly logical reasons for believing it.

Walter said...

Wrong again Walter it is based on philosophy.

An Aristotlian/Thomist Hylomorphic view of the soul allows us to reconcile Edward's and Lewis' views of Hell.


Philosophical arguments for hylomorphism is no way point to the existence of a place of eternal suffering. Hell is a product of "revealed" dogma. Deists such as myself only believe that which is revealed through natural theology, or a direct communication from God that is not filtered through fallible human prophets, institutions, or supposedly inerrant oracle books.

BenYachov said...

Just like my argument Eternal Hell is better & than Soul Annihilation.



BenYachov said...

@Walter

>Philosophical arguments for hylomorphism is no way point to the existence of a place of eternal suffering.

Rather they show why Lewis view of Hell is compatible with Edwards. It shows why you can lock Hell from the inside..

>Hell is a product of "revealed" dogma. Deists such as myself only believe that which is revealed through natural theology, or a direct communication from God that is not filtered through fallible human prophets, institutions, or supposedly inerrant oracle books.

How do you know philosophically that is the case or have you recieved a revelation to that effect?

Syllabus said...

"Just like my argument Eternal Hell is better & than Soul Annihilation."

I agree, but more for philosophical reasons than for strictly biblical ones. Annihilationism or conditionalism do the same thing at bottom that Calvinism does - place God's will and man's will in opposition such that the most powerful has to win. Thus, God will only treat His creatures in ways that allow Him to maxiamlly express His will and sovereignty, rather than His Goodness - and places those in opposition. It's a sort of run-amok Ockhamism.

Walter said...

Syllabus, I think the weakness in your argument for hell is delineating God's offer of assistance to this life only. Show me why God cannot offer post-mortem assistance to those in need, especially since after death we will be in a fuller possession of the facts than we are in this life where we see through a glass darkly at best. And I think that your and Ben's view that a person becomes locked into their choice of accepting or rejecting God at the moment of death is also more a product of religious dogma than sound reasoning.

I don't know if I am going to comment too much more on this subject because I fear that our worldviews and moral compasses are simply too far apart.

Walter said...

How do you know philosophically that is the case or have you recieved a revelation to that effect?

Deists place reason above revelation. Simple as that.

Syllabus said...

"Syllabus, I think the weakness in your argument for hell is delineating God's offer of assistance to this life only. Show me why God cannot offer post-mortem assistance to those in need, especially since after death we will be in a fuller possession of the facts than we are in this life where we see through a glass darkly at best."

I don't think He can't, but that's not what I argued for in any case. I argued that God cannot, because of His nature, supplant the will of His creatures, as that would be an evil act.

Now, whether or not people can choose God after death is something that I won't pass judgement on - and here is one place where I expect Ben and I will differ. He, as a Catholic, has a view that he believes is passed to him by an authority inspired by the Holy Spirit. While I think that that authority is one of the better ones out there, I don't share his belief that it's inspired by the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals, and thus don't think it's ultimately authoritative.

So, when it comes to post-mortem offers of redemption, I think that God might very well offer them - indeed, I think He will do so IF He knows they would be of any effect. What I doubt is that people will always accept the offer. Some might. I don't have enough information to conclusively state that none will.

"And I think that your and Ben's view that a person becomes locked into their choice of accepting or rejecting God at the moment of death is also more a product of religious dogma than sound reasoning."

Again, this is probably a matter of slight difference between Ben and I. I suspect that it's something more like this: in life we form habits. These habits get stronger and stronger as we age, provided we don't make a drastic effort to change them. Eventually, it's possible to have such a deep-seated habit that breaking free of it by an act of the will would be impossible, or near enough. Indeed, the person with the habit will resist external attempts to cure them of this habit, and will not even have the desire to break it. I've seen this happen, and I'm sure you have too.

Now, to tie this back to Hell, I think that the habit of pride - to take the most common example - is a very strong one. At the early stages, if the desire to resist it and change it is present, then God will work with that. Even in the late stages, the possibility to desire the change of habit can exist. But, at a certain point, I think that ones desires and will have been so changed that they no longer desire to break the habit of pride, and will violently resist any efforts to bring about this change. At this stage, the only way God could make the habit change would be to completely supplant the desires that the prideful person has inflicted upon themselves by their repeated choices. And, since that would involve acting against that person's free will, it is something that God cannot do. To bring back the vase analogy, a vase that has broken into several pieces can be repaired; a vase that has even broken into a hundred pieces can be repaired, though with more difficulty. But a vase that has been ground into dust is by that point irreparable - there's not really anything left there to repair. I think that situation is analogous to the situation with God and the person who has chosen pride over God all her life and has therefore left herself with no desire to change.

"I don't know if I am going to comment too much more on this subject because I fear that our worldviews and moral compasses are simply too far apart."

That's your decision. But I don't think they're as far apart as you think.

BenYachov said...

>Deists place reason above revelation. Simple as that.

That doesn't answer the question & by definition philosophy is formed from reason.

It also doesn't make sense.

"Deists place reason above that which does not exist (i.e. revelation)."

Is what you are really saying.

Walter you (& I will include myself) need to learn even more philosophy. Especially Thomism.

BenYachov said...

>And I think that your and Ben's view that a person becomes locked into their choice of accepting or rejecting God at the moment of death is also more a product of religious dogma than sound reasoning.

Rather it's Aquinas' philosophical reasoning that assumes the truth of hylomorphism & a hylomorphic dualism.

Maybe the latent Cartesian dualism many people have confuses the issue.

Walter said...

>Deists place reason above revelation. Simple as that.

That doesn't answer the question & by definition philosophy is formed from reason.


Correct. Philosophy is a product of human reasoning.

It also doesn't make sense.

To quote one of your taglines: "it's not that hard"

"Deists place reason above that which does not exist (i.e. revelation)."

Pay closer attention to what I wrote. I said that deists do not accept revelation that does not come directly to them in the first person. A revelation from God is only a revelation to the first person who receives it. When that person passes this message to a second or third it becomes an anecdote about a revelation, and it is not incumbent upon the second person to believe a story about a revelation that could be the product of human deception or delusion. This is the methodology of deism concerning divine revelation.

im-skeptical said...

Syllabus,

"And, as a minor footnote to these excellent minds, the mythicist ramblings of Carrier et. al that have been dead and buried since the beginning of the 20th century, Christopher Hitchen's non sequiter of an inchoate argument in god is Not Good, Sam Harris' obtuse books, and the spectacularly inept "central argument" of Dawkins' The God Delusion.

These enough for yah?"

Yes, it's enough for me to see that you are not willing to listen to anyone who is not a philosopher or theistic scholar. That's a shame because there's so much more out there. Philosophy may be a discipline of reasoning, but clearly not all philosophical reasoning is correct.

But you evidently have read more than many of the others I talk to. So I think my comment about it being a one-way street is still largely valid.

Syllabus said...

"Yes, it's enough for me to see that you are not willing to listen to anyone who is not a philosopher or theistic scholar."

Not at all. I'm perfectly willing to listen to people making arguments in their own field against certain claims of religious folk. For instance, the arguments of Coyne, Miller, Collins et al against Intelligent Design are valid, because they're dealing with a scientific theory on the level of science. That's entirely valid. But you can't deal with philosophical ideas by using science. That's just a category mistake. It's in much the same vein when philosophers or mathematicians make inferences to design from the improbability of part x or y of the human body evolving simply by chance. They're using mathematics to make judgements about biology. That's largely a category mistake. It's like me saying that, because no catcher caught the ball, therefore you did not make a strike in bowling. It misunderstands the problem.

The existence of God is not a scientific question, in the sense of being demonstrable by experimentation, empirical observation and the scientific method. So, when people like Dawkins claim that the existence of God is a scientific question, and refuse to listen to people who try to correct them, I'm disinclined to take him seriously. There are no scientific arguments for or against the existence of God, nor should we expect there to be. God's not the sort of thing that could be found using the tools of science.

As for Christopher Hitchens, I admit that he's probably my favourite atheist author. The man was a fantastic writer, and a brilliant and ballsy journalist. However, god is not Great was basically just a rant. It didn't contain any substantive arguments against religion. All it basically said was that religion poisons everything/leads to violence, and is therefore false. So, while I agree with many of his criticisms (though not all, since in his vigour to make his point he misconstrues facts that one can easily verify) I don't think he at all makes anything resembling a cogent argument against the truth of a religious creed.

As for Carrier - look, there's a reason that the majority of NT scholarship regards mythicism as bunk. It's well documented. Even Ehrman, who is by no means a conservative Christian, is pretty dismissive of the mythicism rampant among many internet atheists, and is visible in films like Zeitgeist. You can believe that the Jesus presented in the Gospels wasn't divine - like Crossan, Borg, Ehrman and many others - and still be taken very seriously. It's much harder to be taken seriously when you start off claiming that the Jesus in the Gospels is a mash-up of Mithras/Dionysius/Horus/Isis or whatever. Once you look into the supposed parallels, you find that they're strained at best. And, besides, it's fairly well established that one has to look at the Gospels against the backdrop of Second Temple Judaism, not pagan Hellenistic or Egyptian cultures.

And I'm perfectly willing to listen to people who aren't theists. That entire list is either agnostic or atheistic, and those are all arguments that I take as being serious arguments, though not necessarily successful ones.

"That's a shame because there's so much more out there. Philosophy may be a discipline of reasoning, but clearly not all philosophical reasoning is correct."

Obviously not. But philosophy and history are pretty much the only disciplines that can adjudicate the truth or lack thereof of the central claims of Christianity. When I want to argue about YEC, I look to the sciences. When I want to argue about God or Jesus, I look to philosophy or history. To do otherwise is a category mistake.

Syllabus said...

Actually, as a follow-up, I concede that science could prove or disprove certain claims of religion, like creatio ex nihilo. All it would have to do in order to disprove that one is show that it's possible for the universe to be infinite in the past, or that it is infinite in the past. So far, cosmology has shown the exact opposite. Does that prove God exists? Not at all. But it's certainly consistent with the idea that he does.

BenYachov said...

>Correct. Philosophy is a product of human reasoning.

You just had to say that.

>Pay closer attention to what I wrote. I said that deists do not accept revelation that does not come directly to them in the first person. A revelation from God is only a revelation to the first person who receives it. When that person passes this message to a second or third it becomes an anecdote about a revelation, and it is not incumbent upon the second person to believe a story about a revelation that could be the product of human deception or delusion. This is the methodology of deism concerning divine revelation.

Then how do you know this method is valid? Also how do you know the second or third persons might not have good reasons to believe the testimony of the first?

It seems taken to it's logical extreme this just leads to radical skepticism. In the realm of radical skepticism you are prohibited from believing anything. But contradictory you must trust the method of radical skepticism or how can you rely on it? How do I know the method of radical skepticism is reliable?

In the end you have to ask yourself.

What is my philosophy of knowledge and certainty & is it consistent.

BenYachov said...

Given radical skepticism you can't even believe in any first person revelation given first hand?

Didn't some famous Atheist have a near-death experience where he encountered God as a Bright Red Light & yet when he woke up claimed publically to still not believe in God.

Is radical skepticism justified?

Walter said...


Then how do you know this method is valid? Also how do you know the second or third persons might not have good reasons to believe the testimony of the first?


How do you know the first claimant is not lying or deluded? If I come to you tomorrow claiming that God has spoken to me and He has a message for you, it is *not* incumbent on you to believe me. This is not even close to radical skepticism. And nothing I said precludes a second or third party from believing if they so choose, it simply is not obligatory for them to believe a claim of revelation without proof - or at least very strong evidence - that God did indeed give the first person a message to "pass on."

BenYachov said...

Then why don't you believe the Virgin Mary spoke to the children at Fatima?

They said the BVM spoke to them. They said she would give a sign. On the day in question a crowd of people witnessed a spectacular solar phenomena. Including many non-believers.

This lead to the theorizing of the now discredited cognitive theory of Mass Hallucination as a possible natural explanation as too what everyone saw.

Walter said...

Then why don't you believe the Virgin Mary spoke to the children at Fatima?

Because I am not obligated to believe. God did not speak to me. For the record, many a Protestant Christian doesn't believe that Fatima was a real revelation from God or Mary's ghost either.

BenYachov said...

>Because I am not obligated to believe. God did not speak to me. For the record, many a Protestant Christian doesn't believe that Fatima was a real revelation from God or Mary's ghost either.

So 70,000 people seeing this phenomena on cue isn't some type of "proof" or "strong evidence"?

But you are not a "radical skeptic"?

K'ay.

BenYachov said...

In the end I need a more pronounced philosophy of knowledge & the Deist doctrine of skepticism toward divine revelation here than merely QUOTE"A revelation from God is only a revelation to the first person who receives it. When that person passes this message to a second or third it becomes an anecdote about a revelation, and it is not incumbent upon the second person to believe a story about a revelation that could be the product of human deception or delusion. This is the methodology of deism concerning divine revelation."END QUOTE

It's far too general to be of any use. I mean I partly agree with you Walter. Muhammed walks up to me say Allah spoke to him threw the Archangel Gabriel I don't feel the need to believe him.

But there is more going on in the claims of Christian revelation than merely talking to God.

im-skeptical said...

Syllabus,

Thanks for your reply.

"But philosophy and history are pretty much the only disciplines that can adjudicate the truth or lack thereof of the central claims of Christianity."

I think you're wrong about that, at least in principle. Would you say that if science were able to prove conclusively that no miraculous event ever occurs, it still wouldn't be able to present a cogent argument against the claims of Christianity? What if science eventually shows where the universe really arises from, and it's not God?

As for historians, I realize that Carrier holds a minority view, but he does back it up with reasonable evidence. And it's also true that the existence of Jesus the man has not been definitively established. But I understand how it would be upsetting to a Christian to learn that he was only a myth.

Walter said...


>It's far too general to be of any use. I mean I partly agree with you Walter. Muhammed walks up to me say Allah spoke to him threw the Archangel Gabriel I don't feel the need to believe him.


In other words, my methodology is great for rejecting the claims of Islam or the Latter-Day Saints, you just don't like it when it is turned against claims of revelation that you have chosen - or have been indoctrinated - to believe.

Syllabus said...

"I think you're wrong about that, at least in principle. Would you say that if science were able to prove conclusively that no miraculous event ever occurs, it still wouldn't be able to present a cogent argument against the claims of Christianity?"

First off, which branch of science are you talking about? Cosmology? Taxonomy? Zoology? Astrophysics?

Secondly, I don't think that science - by this I mean disciplines which operate by the scientific method and deal exclusively with the empirically verifiable and repeatable - is the kind of thing that could demonstrate that miracles don't occur, and there are several reasons for that. First of all, science is descriptive. not proscriptive. That is, science tells is how things generally operate in more or less closed systems. It doesn't operate according to Laws that are some sort of inviolable Platonic form to which reality must accord. They describe thing like what happens when you drop an apple, or what happens when you heat a kettle to boiling.

Which brings me neatly to my next point. Scientific laws operate with certain parameters; that is, they for the most part describe how things happen within a given system. For instance, take Newton's First Law of Motion: an object at rest will stay at rest UNLESS acted upon by some outside force. In this case, the first clause describes the normal state of an object, and the second describes what happens when the state of affairs that normally takes place is broken. Do you see the analogy? Science is inductive. It takes very accurate and precise measurements from 99 tests, and from these makes an inductive inference about what will probably happen the 100th. So they work very well as descriptors when you're dealing with a closed system. But science tells you nothing about whether or not anything lies outside that system. You can say that there is nothing other than what "science" can observe, but you didn't get that from science. That's metaphysics.

"What if science eventually shows where the universe really arises from, and it's not God?"

That's seems like Science!-of-the-gaps, first of all. And statements about whatever is logically prior to the universe cannot use spatial or temporal language in any sense but an analogical one. And again, science deals with the physical universe, and it does its job very well. Anything that lies on the other side of the initial singularity is not something that can be described by science, in principle. Saying otherwise is like saying that my unaided eyes can see all the way into the ultraviolet spectrum. It's just not within the purview of the tools I'm using.

"As for historians, I realize that Carrier holds a minority view, but he does back it up with reasonable evidence."

Have you actually read his work and looked at the sources he quotes? I'd hardly call the comparisons he draws between Christ and, say, Horus anything other than starkly incredible.

As far as the "reasonable evidence" bit goes, to which parts are you referring, specifically?

"And it's also true that the existence of Jesus the man has not been definitively established."

In the same way that the existence Socrates as a man, Hannibal as a man and Siddarta Gautama as a man have not been established. And who are you getting this statement from?

"But I understand how it would be upsetting to a Christian to learn that he was only a myth."

You were doing far better before you started being condescending and trying to give a psychological explanation for my rejection of Carrier's claims. Kindly don't do it again. I think I've paid you the compliment of answering your questions honestly and not being overly combative. The least you can do is not resort to patronization.

BenYachov said...

>In other words, my methodology is great for rejecting the claims of Islam or the Latter-Day Saints, you just don't like it when it is turned against claims of revelation that you have chosen - or have been indoctrinated - to believe.

Not at all. I am saying Catholic claims of revelation claim more then just "God is talking to me so please believe me".

In the case of Fatima it was "BVM with God's permission is talking to me & said she will give a sign tomorrow".

Tomorrow comes & on cue a spectacular solar phenomena is witnessed by 70,000 people.

Your answer? Well Protestants don't believe that.

K'ay.


Walter said...

In the case of Fatima it was "BVM with God's permission is talking to me & said she will give a sign tomorrow".

Tomorrow comes & on cue a spectacular solar phenomena is witnessed by 70,000 people.

Your answer? Well Protestants don't believe that.


I was answering your charge of radical skepticism when I claimed that vast amounts of Protestants disbelieve Fatima as well. For my part, I could care less about Fatima.

BenYachov said...

Like I said...K'ay.

im-skeptical said...

Syllabus,

"You were doing far better before you started being condescending and trying to give a psychological explanation for my rejection of Carrier's claims. Kindly don't do it again. I think I've paid you the compliment of answering your questions honestly and not being overly combative. The least you can do is not resort to patronization."

I'm sorry for offending you. I was not trying to do that and I wasn't trying to be combative. I noted that the ones you called "excellent minds" were all philosophers or theistic scholars, (not theists) and the others were seen as rambling, inchoate, obtuse, inept.

I mentioned Carrier specifically because I have read some of his writings, where he outlined parallels between the Jesus stories and those of other gods or demi-gods of the time, and they are numerous. I don't remember anything specifically about Horus, but he does talk about parallels with Osiris and others. I doubt that Jesus was purely mythical, but I think you could make a case for that. Either way, his life story has clearly been embellished with mythical elements.

"In the same way that the existence Socrates as a man, Hannibal as a man and Siddarta Gautama as a man have not been established. And who are you getting this statement from?"

There is real historical evidence that those people existed. But if you exclude the Bible, the evidence for the existence of Jesus is pretty slim. There is a majority view that he probably existed, but nothing I know of that establishes it as fact.

Syllabus said...

"I'm sorry for offending you. I was not trying to do that and I wasn't trying to be combative."

Fair enough. No harm done.

"I noted that the ones you called "excellent minds" were all philosophers or theistic scholars, (not theists) and the others were seen as rambling, inchoate, obtuse, inept."

I'm still not sure what you mean when you say "theistic scholars". Would you elaborate on that?

And I don't necessarily think that the others ARE inept, rambling, etc. Carrier, for instance, is probably a decent classical historian when it comes to Hellenistic culture, which I understand is his field. I haven't read anything of his in his field, but he's probably not incompetent. His theories on Christ's existence, however, are rather far-fetched. For a treatment of the whole "Jesus myth" idea and whether the Gospels are reliable or not, I would recommend Boyd/Eddy's book The Jesus Legend. And I would further recommend that you examine Carrier's ideas about comparisons, read the comparisons he draws, and then verify the sources themselves. It's often the case with people who draw these comparisons that they stretch the comparisons way too far. But don't take my word for it. Check it out.

Similarly, Christopher Hitchens - may he rest in peace - was an excellent journalist and writer. His arguments in god is not Great, however, were less than skilful. His other stuff, like the anthology Arguably, contains some well-argued essays of his. That book, however, was unworthy of him.

Richard Dawkins is a decent scientist - though he hasn't actually done much science or published in peer-reviewed journals recently - and a very good science writer. The Selfish Gene was a thoroughly enjoyable book. The God Delusion, however, was torn apart by religious and non-religious people alike for setting up straw men, ranting and the like. Read Terry Eagleton's review of the book to see what I mean. As a science writer, I give Dawkins his props. When he tries to do philosophy or comment on religion, he's just waaaaay out of his depth and makes a thorough mess of things. Still, if he were willing to learn and improve his mistakes, that would be one thing, but he has repeatedly maintained that he has no interest in learning philosophy or sophisticated theology so as to improve his arguments. That makes me doubt his sincerity.

Is it now a bit clearer why I don't think that these writings by these people are up to snuff? It's not because I think that they themselves are incompetent. Rather, many of them are just not well-informed enough about the field that they're criticizing, or the angle from which they're criticizing it. Carrier, for instance, is an expert in Ancient Greece, not first century ANE culture, so he may not be qualified to talk about it in the same way that, say, Marcus Borg might be. So I don't mean to suggest that they're stupid; rather, they're not working in their fields when they make these criticisms.

"I mentioned Carrier specifically because I have read some of his writings, where he outlined parallels between the Jesus stories and those of other gods or demi-gods of the time, and they are numerous."

Sure, the comparisons that he draws are numerous, but I would maintain that when closely examined, they don't hold up to well. So, again, I would encourage you to look up the cited stories in primary sources, read them against the relevant parts of the Gospels that they are supposed to parallel, and then see whether the comparisons are as strong as claimed.

Con't

Syllabus said...

"I don't remember anything specifically about Horus, but he does talk about parallels with Osiris and others. I doubt that Jesus was purely mythical, but I think you could make a case for that."

If you mean the whole "dying and rising" bit, then I would maintain it's not actually that close. I'd know better how to answer if I knew the exact ones that you're quoting.

"Either way, his life story has clearly been embellished with mythical elements."

I think that you have to come to the table with methodological naturalism or materialism in order to say something as strong as "clearly".

"There is real historical evidence that those people existed."

Less so than you might think. Socrates is only really known through the writing of his pupil Plato. The earliest biography of Gautama comes several centuries after his death.

"But if you exclude the Bible, the evidence for the existence of Jesus is pretty slim. There is a majority view that he probably existed, but nothing I know of that establishes it as fact."

As historians establish such things, it's actually one of the better-established facts about historical persons. But I would also just say that the methodology that historians use to establish such things is different from the methodology that, say, chemists use. Since history is forensic, you can't use strictly empirical methods to establish it. That doesn't make history less reliable, though.

Syllabus said...

Also, I'd point out that reading these pagan elements into the Gospels is a bit spurious. If Christ were, say, an Athenian figure, teaching in the Hellenistic world, then the idea that He was a composite figure might hold some traction, as these things were more acceptable in that world. However, the first century Jews were pretty hostile to the incursions of pagan ideas. They were strongly monotheistic, and vehemently opposed demi-god ideas and other religions in general. Given that the Gospels were written in Jewish milieus - especially Matthew, which is written explicitly to Jews to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah - it's a huge stretch to suppose that they can be read against all these other mystery religions or dying and rising gods or whatever. It would be like me reading, say, Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal against the backdrop of Peter Singer's article that promoted infanticide. It's just the wrong context.

Now, even when read against the Jewish backdrop, alternate explanations can be given, and have been given. But at least they're getting the context right.

Walter said...

However, the first century Jews were pretty hostile to the incursions of pagan ideas.They were strongly monotheistic

I am not sure that I fully agree with this part. Have you heard of the Two powers in Heaven heresy? Also, it is my belief that certain concepts like an eternal hell for the wicked and Satan as God's arch-nemesis come from the influence of Persian religious ideas, encountered during Babylonian captivity, as well as Greek philosophy. Second Temple Judaism did not exist in a vacuum.

im-skeptical said...

Syllabus,

Too much to cover.

Did Socrates exist? As with Jesus, there is no proof. But there is evidence in the accounts of various people who knew him (not just Plato). Contrast that with evidence for Jesus. One book. The gospels were not even written by witnesses to the events, according to the best information available.

"Carrier, for instance, is an expert in Ancient Greece, not first century ANE culture."

That may be the case, but he has written quite a bit about the origins of Christianity. My guess is he did a little research.

"reading these pagan elements into the Gospels is a bit spurious."

You mean things like the virgin birth? As I understand it, stories like that were a dime a dozen in those days.

"However, the first century Jews were pretty hostile to the incursions of pagan ideas."

I can't disagree with that, but the pagans of the Roman empire certainly were not. The Romans established the early church. They turned many of the old pagan holidays into Christian holidays. Ever hear of something called Easter? They introduced many of the legendary stories about the life of Jesus, including things like the virgin birth.

Syllabus said...

"I am not sure that I fully agree with this part. Have you heard of the Two powers in Heaven heresy? Also, it is my belief that certain concepts like an eternal hell for the wicked and Satan as God's arch-nemesis come from the influence of Persian religious ideas, encountered during Babylonian captivity, as well as Greek philosophy. Second Temple Judaism did not exist in a vacuum."

Yeah, I'm aware of the theories about Satan having been an import from Zoroastrianism. They're interesting, but I'm not sure I'm convinced. In any case, they CERTAINLY were not open to the idea of God becoming a man, or worshipping a man, or the resurrection not being something that wouldn't happen at the end of time. And they were, for the major part, strict monotheists. Especially in Northern Palestine, where Christ was from.

"Did Socrates exist? As with Jesus, there is no proof."

In the rigorous sense of, say, mathematical proof, no. But historical epistemological considerations are different in kind than scientific ones.

"But there is evidence in the accounts of various people who knew him (not just Plato). Contrast that with evidence for Jesus. One book."

Ahem. Surely you know that the Gospels were written separately and only gathered into the canon we know today quite a good deal later. Even the Q hypothesis - which is somewhat speculative - only accounts for certain recurring themes in the Synoptics. There are different tangents in the Gospels that, even granting that the author of Mark took some information from Q and the authors of Luke and Matthew took stuff from Mark, still are peculiar to the specific Gospels. But again, huge topic.

"The gospels were not even written by witnesses to the events, according to the best information available."

No, they're the written form of oral traditions that came from people who were - purportedly, at the very least - eyewitnesses. And what is this best information, or people like the author of Luke who either knew eyewitnesses or got the stories from first-hand sources. And what is this best information available that you speak of?

And besides, the Gospels are hardly the only things we have to go on. There are the Pauline and other epistles, which in some cases are as close as 15-20 years after the life of Christ. The creed in 1 Corithians 15, for instance, bears mark of being a sort of rabbinical transmission (the whole "what I received I passed on to you" bit), and that at least establishes that there were people 15-20 years after Christ's death that thought He had died, risen from the dead, been seen by witnesses. Does this prove that Christ rose from the dead? No, it doesn't, but it does confirm that not too long after the "supposed" events portrayed in the Gospels, people certainly thought He had, and were worshipping Him.

"I can't disagree with that, but the pagans of the Roman empire certainly were not. The Romans established the early church. They turned many of the old pagan holidays into Christian holidays. Ever hear of something called Easter? They introduced many of the legendary stories about the life of Jesus, including things like the virgin birth."

Ohhhhhh dude. That's just plain silly. All the Gospels were written AT THE VERY LATEST by the last years of the first century or the first years of the second century, - look it up; that's a fairly uncontroversial fact -, a good 200 years before the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity. And there are decent reasons to suppose that they were written during the later third of the first century.

And yeah, sure, the Church took pagan holidays and made them Christian celebrations. The took Saturnalia and made it Christmas, and so on. But they didn't invent the events they were using the days to celebrate out of whole cloth.

Syllabus said...

i'm skeptical:

It seems to me like at this point we're just spinning around the same points and going back and forth. I don't really see this producing any more useful things. So how's about we just call it a day, so to speak? If you want, you can check out some of the stuff I recommended, and I'll see if I have time to check out whatever you might recommend. Sound good?

Ilíon said...

"In the rigorous sense of, say, mathematical proof, no. But historical epistemological considerations are different in kind than scientific ones."

People really ought to get over this false trope. 'To prove' simply means to test something by the appropriate metric or criterion.

One doesn't prove a new automobile design by subjecting it to mathematical equations, one proves it by physically driving it on a proving ground.

Likewise, one doesn't prove that there lived a man named Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, by chasing after the impossible standard asserted by selective hyper-skeptics, who then wave their dainty little hands to dismiss all the evidence. One proves that Jesus existed by means of the same criteria which proves that Julius Caesar or Euripides lived.

Ilíon said...

"The took Saturnalia and made it Christmas ..."

Christmas is *not* a baptized Saturnalia. December 25 was chosen as the "official" date of Jesus' birth for Jewish reasons, not for pagan reasons, and not to wean converts from paganism.

Besides which, Saturnalia was a Roman celebration, and the Roman were always a thin minority in their empire. The early Christians were Jews and Greeks. neither of whom celebrated Saturnalia.