Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Morality Test for God

Let’s frame the question of God’s goodness another way.  There are countless ordinary cases where we judge a human to have acted rightly or wrongly.  Very roughly, when someone is in a convenient position to do something about some serious instance of pointless suffering, and she knows about it, and she is a morally decent or good person, we expect her to do something.  Or we do not expect her to act (or fail to act) in a way that brings about serious pointless suffering in others when she knows that the action will bring it about and a choice is available to her to pursue some other course of action that would not cause it.  Furthermore, if serious, pointless suffering occurs, and she could act to prevent it at some risk or harm to herself, we very often label that action as heroic or supererogatory.  And we hold those sorts of acts, such as running into a burning building to save someone, in high moral esteem.  You’re a good person if you strive to avoid causing unnecessary harm to others, and you’re an even better person if you work to alleviate or prevent harm to others at great cost or risk to yourself. 

This is all making very short work of a huge number of issues in moral theory, but I just need to get a basic idea across.  We have a set of expectations about what morally good people do, what morally wicked people do, and what morally heroic people do.  And we form out judgments about a person’s moral merits on the basis of their fulfilling or failing to fulfill those expectations.    

Suppose a human stood by and watched someone drown, did nothing while someone was swept away and crushed by a tsunami when it was easy to save him, or she did not act to stop an instance of child sexual abuse, or she set up an apparatus that would kill or maim some innocent passerby, and so on, would we consider that human to be good?  If a person labors endlessly to help the unfortunate, educate children, house the homeless, or give medical care to the sick, would we consider that person to be morally good?    

God is, by most accounts, good.  So here’s the problem.  There are countless instances where, if a human acted with regard to some instance of suffering or tragedy the way God apparently acts, then we would readily and without doubt condemn that person as morally wicked.  That is, if a person acts like God acts, there would be no doubt in our minds that that person was morally evil.  We can ask this question about cases of apparently pointless suffering: 

If a human did what God is allegedly doing right now, would we consider that a morally good action? 

Some examples may help.  If a person unleashed a virus on the planet that killed or maimed millions of people, we would think that person was evil.  If a person could have prevented the suffering of those millions of people and didn’t, we would think that he is evil.  The same goes for cases of famine, drought, war, genocide, and so on.

If working tirelessly to aid refugees, feed the starving, house the homeless, prevent disease, spread literacy, cure cancer, and end war are morally good, then why doesn’t God do any of them?  If ignoring human suffering, tolerating child abuse, being indifferent to injustice, and allowing the propagation of ignorance and hatred are morally bad things, then why does a good God do them? 

If the answer to the morality test question is no, then God fails it.  If God fails the morality test, then we have (another) serious challenge to the claim that God is good.  In general, if we gather enough serious challenges to the claim that X is good, then I think we are justified in rejecting the claim that X is good.  At the very least, as the gap grows between what God does and doesn’t do and our normal associations with the label “good,” the more it seems like something has got to give. 

The problem of evil is complicated, and I won’t pretend to capture all of the issues here.  All I want to do is bring out a different way of thinking about it.  There is a profound cognitive dissonance in the way that we talk about God’s goodness and our ordinary moral judgments.  On a regular basis we ascribe moral goodness or moral wickedness to innumerable human cases, but we often fail to notice that God is doing none of the things that we praise, and he is doing what we’d normally consider to be evil.  Yet we insist that he is good.  The believer should take this question to heart: 

If God is good, then why doesn’t he do the things that we consider to be good? 

It’s on this question that I really want to focus.  Experience has taught me that raising these issues provoke people to raise all sorts of tangential matters.  Some reactions are predictable:  how can we know what is really good or evil?  Lots of those instances of suffering are caused by humans and not God.  We must not hold God to the same moral standards that we apply to humans.  God does act in morally good ways everyday through the acts of those that love him, And so on.  Some of these are off topic, and none of them really answer the question. 

God’s defenders will be quick to point out that the same standards of moral behavior should not be applied to God here that we apply in ordinary situations.  But we must be particularly careful not to succumb to the temptation of ad hoc defenses, special pleading, confirmation bias, or bogus redefinition.  We can acknowledge that God, if he were real, would be special.  But the theist who would pursue this line is in danger of redefining his terms into incoherence.  Imagine the ardent defender of Kim Jong Ill or Muammar Gaddafi: 

Yes, I know that Kim Jong Ill has systematically starved, abused, tortured, killed, and neglected the North Koreans, but he really is good.”   

“It seems like Gaddafi has brutally oppressed dissidents, sponsored terrorism, assassinated his political opposition, and engaged is terrible nepotism, but in fact, he’s exceedingly virtuous and moral, and those actions are actually the extraordinary manifestations of goodness as it applies to him in his vast moral superiority to us.”

These sorts of redefinitions don’t work in any other cases.  And what’s often driving the defender is confirmation bias, dedication, over zealousness, spin, emotional investment, or malevolence.  We can only sustain the claim X is good in a case like this by utterly undermining the meaning of the term.  If we must redefine the term entirely in order to sustain attributing it to X, then we should rather conclude that X is not good.  If what you actually mean when you say “God is good,” is that God is indifferent, callous, or evil, that’s fine.  Let’s just be clear by what our terms mean.  I can argue that God is cheese too.  Those behaviors aren’t what “good” means.  And if that’s what you mean, then you really aren’t entitled to call God good, which is my point here. 

What can we say about the overall result of applying the morality test to God?  The results are grim.  In general, God does none of the things that good people are supposed to do, and he either actively commits or by omission allows to happen countless events that only the most callous, murderous, insensitive, morally bankrupt human would commit or allow to happen.  That is, by our ordinary moral standards that we apply to countless actions on a daily basis, God is a moral monster. 

What are the possible responses to this dilemma for the believer?  First, and obviously, the believer will insist that it is not fitting to apply the same moral standard to God.  Owing to his infinite power, his knowledge, or his moral perfection, the ways that God’s goodness manifest themselves are not comparable or measurable by the human standard.  Some of this is to be expected and to an extent, it is right.  Were there such a being, we would expect the manifestation of his goodness to be different—it would transcendent our ordinary standards. 

This approach is reflected in John Hick’s soul building defense, or Van Inwagen’s view in“The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence,” in Philosophical Perspectives, 5:  135-165.   

Very generally, these arguments suggest that once we unpack the details of what it would be for an infinitely powerful, knowledgeable, and good being to create a world, we might well come to expect the world to be, more or less, just as we find it in terms of the amount and distribution of seemingly pointless suffering.  That is, theodicists like Hick and van Inwagen think that the gap between the world we find ourselves in and the sort of world that God would create isn’t nearly so wide once we consider the requirements of creating a regular universe that fulfills the variety of God’s diverse goals, and once we appreciate how different a being of God’s capacities relationship to the world would be.    

I don’t think that Hick or van Inwagen argue that the state of suffering  in the world serves as favorable evidence for the existence of a good God, but I haven’t looked at them closely for just that question.  I think their views are that if we have sufficiently strong independent evidence for a good God’s existence, then we can see that the suffering in the world is consistent with his goodness. 

They might be right, but the problem with their account is that the world that they would have a good God create is indistinguishable from a world with no God at all.  Or at least the differences between the world God would create and a Godless world are too small to make it possible for those of us living in one of them to be able to tell which one we’re in.  When we put the question to them:  If God is good, then why doesn’t he do any of the things that good people do?  their answer seems to be:  when you’re THAT good and powerful, your actions cease to resemble ordinary good or evil actions altogether.  But now we are losing our handle on the claim because of the redefinition problem above.  On what grounds can we still confidently assert that God is good?  What does it mean to say that he is good now? 

This is not yet a devastating argument against God’s existence or goodness.  There is much we do not know, and God, if there were one, would no doubt be mysterious to us in many ways.  But it is a very substantial prima facie strike against views that God is real and good.   Unless the morality problem can be dealt with in some specific ways that I will detail below, God’s failure on the morality test should lead us to conclude that there is no God (where being morally perfect or infinitely good is an essential property of being God.)   

Here’s the problem from another angle.  If we had some other, independent grounds for thinking that God is real and that God is morally perfect, then our conclusion that God is real and morally perfect could withstand some of the challenge.  In general, the conviction or confidence that we attach to the conclusion that God is real and good, like anything else, should be proportional to the quality and quantity of evidence we have.  A rational person proportions the strength of their belief to the evidence they have.  If that evidence is only weakly in favor of the conclusion, then we should only provisionally accept it.  If that evidence becomes weak enough, or if the evidence mounts in favor of rejecting the conclusion, we should do so. 

In the big picture, the evidence in favor of God’s existence is weak, and the evidence for God’s moral perfection is even worse.  Neither the cosmological nor the teleological arguments give any indication of the moral status of the first cause or the designer.  Quite the contrary, if one were to look at the state of the universe and try to draw some inductive conclusion about the moral character of the responsible party, only utter moral indifference would seem plausible.  When confronted with the problem of evil, theists have spent centuries just trying to argue that God’s goodness is possibly compatible with the amount and distribution of suffering we find.  That is, the strongest response that many theodicies have been able to muster to the problem is that there might be a good God out there.  Even worse, skeptical theists have retreated to the meager position that we just can’t know what the function of suffering is in God’s plan.  For our current purposes, those answers amount to a tacit concession that God’s goodness cannot be generalized or inductively inferred from the state of the universe. 

The ontological argument has some more potential, if it were successful, to prove the moral perfection of God.  It’s a deductive argument that proceeds from an analysis of the superiority intrinsic to the concept of a great, perfect, or ultimate being.  So it could potentially prove, if successful, that God must necessarily be morally perfect.  The problem is that by widespread concession, the ontological argument doesn’t work.  See Graham Oppy’s The Ontological Argument for the best thorough and recent analysis.  And even if there was some version of the argument that we found compelling, the problem of God’s failure to act in all of the morally salient circumstances under consideration would raise a serious question about that argument.  If the ontological argument proves that God is morally perfect, then why is it that God doesn’t do any of the things we associate with moral virtue?  This conflict could be taken as an indicator that there is something seriously amiss with the allegedly successful ontological argument. 

Recently some theists have alluded to a moral argument for God’s existence that alleges to show that God, a morally perfect being, exists from the presence of a moral sense in us, or from the existence of moral facts.  These arguments have yet to be defended in any plausible form in the open forum of philosophical peer review as far as I know.  Until they are, I’m not sure that we need to take them very seriously.  There is a reason that this alleged indispensible connection between moral facts and God escaped all of the greatest moral theorist in history (Kant, Hume, Mill, Aristotle, Plato, Hobbes, Rousseau, Rawls, Epicurus, and so on), namely, it’s implausible.   Furthermore, God’s failure on the morality test that I am outlining here will be a substantial blow against the premises that might be put forward in such an argument.  We can state the question a new way:  If the existence of moral facts, or a moral sense in us, proves the existence of God, then why doesn’t God seem to appreciate or adhere to any of those facts? 

The failure of God on the morality test gives us strong prima facie evidence against God’s existence that weighs heavily against these alleged independent grounds.   

So we do not have the independent, substantial arguments we need to establish the goodness (or reality) of God that might withstand or overcome God’s abysmal failure on the morality test.  God’s failure on the test should sustain the conclusion that there is no God until some answer is forthcoming. 

Once again, the central question is clear and straightforward, and it ought to have a clear, non-evasive answer:  If God is good, then why doesn’t he do any of the things that good people do?  There is a great deal more that a good human could do, if she had the power and the knowledge.  God is alleged to be a great deal more powerful and knowledgeable than we are.  So if there were such a God, a great deal more of those good acts or ends would be achieved. 

Many of the traditional answers to the problem of evil come roughly in the form of saying, “There could be some good, absolving reason for why a good God does not do what someone with moral virtue would do.  So possibly God is good.”  But notice that just restates the problem rather than answer it.  It is also possible that there is no good, absolving reason for why a divine being hasn’t done what a virtuous person would do, in which case there is no God.  The mere possibility that there is a good reason isn’t enough to solve the problem.  It is possible that there is an infinitely evil and powerful being, but there are absolving reasons that prevent him from making things vastly worse than they are right now.    

139 comments:

David said...

You say:
"This is all making very short work of a huge number of issues in moral theory,"

I think this must be true or the question would have been satisfactorily resolved by "the greatest moral theorist in history (Kant, Hume, Mill, Aristotle, Plato, Hobbes, Rousseau, Rawls, Epicurus, and so on)". If we are still talking about it it must be less obvious than you make it out to be.

In the vein of the arguments you almost dismiss:
"Were there such a being, we would expect the manifestation of his goodness to be different—it would transcendent our ordinary standards."

It seems to me that actually knowing what the "good" is at the detail of the individual is a hard thing, though you assume it is perfectly clear in your test.

I agree these are hard questions, but according to Job his suffering brought him to a richer understanding of God. So we must ask from a divine perspective how do we judge the good?

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks David. I don't really understand most of what you've written here or what points you're making. And I don't see anything resembling an answer to the question either. You are arguing that it's hard to figure out what's right and wrong? Ok. Is it so hard that we can't draw reasonable conclusions about right and wrong behavior? Not at all. Imagine the serial killer defending himself in a trial: "Surely you don't think you can judge me or condemn my actions when I tortured and murdered those 50 people--Kant, Hume, Mill, and Hobbes weren't able to resolve what right and wrong is, afterall."

So how about an answer to the question?

Havok said...

Steve Maitzen has an interesting paper titled "Ordinary Morality implies Atheism", which shows that ordinary morality (the sort you seem to be appealing to in your post) is not compatible with theism.
(This link has more some comments)

Matt McCormick said...

That looks interesting, Havok. Thanks for the reference. Moral philosopher James Rachels has also argued that believing in God is incompatible with moral autonomy, and thus undermines our capacity to be moral here:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/james_rachels/autonomy.html

There are some very puzzling things about the paper, but it's interesting.

Patrick said...

“If working tirelessly to aid refugees, feed the starving, house the homeless, prevent disease, spread literacy, cure cancer, and end war are morally good, then why doesn’t God do any of them?”

How do you know that God doesn’t do any of them? Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry.

“If ignoring human suffering, tolerating child abuse, being indifferent to injustice, and allowing the propagation of ignorance and hatred are morally bad things, then why does a good God do them?”

Those complaining that God tolerates injustice and doesn’t instead punish the wicked should ponder if they themselves escaped punishment if God did just this. What seems odd to me is that on the one hand for atheists a theocracy is the worst nightmare. Yet, at the same time they complain that God doesn’t establish a worldwide dictatorship in which every transgression of His commandments is immidiately punished.

Paul Rinzler said...

Patrick, Jesus didn't heal *all* sick people, as he could have. There are so many things he didn't do that he could have. For instance, he could have told people about the existence of germs, which would have helped far more people than he ever healed.

Jesus healed a few people here and there. The objection remains: why doesn't God (or why didn't Jesus) do the good things that they are presumably capable of? Why did Jesus just do a piddling few miracles that helped a few people when he could have benefitted all humanity with a snap of his fingers?

Those Bible stories just make no sense for this reason.

David said...

Matt,

I apologize for my lack of clarity. I am claiming your premise is overly simplistic.

I am claiming that as far back as Plato we have known that humans seem to do best if they have some challenges but not too much. This is the same truth any parent realizes. Your perspective of a God that takes action based on a very simplistic and human view of goodness ignores this even while you acknowledge a divine perspective must be different than our own.

These are difficult questions, but certainly not so difficult that we cannot deal with the animals in society.

The answer is that your premise is flawed. You simplify the question then complain it cannot be answered.

Hope that clears things up a bit.

Patrick said...

Paul Rinzler

In my opinion, with respect to the problem of evil atheists fail to take all the elements of Christian doctrine into account. They proceed on the assumption that there is an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, but that there is no afterlife, no ultimate justice and no Devil. But this is unfair. If we take into account that people will be comforted in the afterlife for their suffering, that all injustice will be judged and that there is evil caused by the Devil, things look somewhat different.

The basic charge against God is why He doesn’t interfere in this world more conspicuously. The answer I suggested in my previous post is that God’s failure to do so indeed creates suffering, but that there may be even more suffering if He didn’t fail to do so, and that this has to do with God’s righteousness, another concept that in my opinion atheists don’t take into account. It seems to me that atheists imagine a God who would only interfere in this world to provide us with blessings such as health, wealth and happiness. But when it comes to righteousness, He is supposed not in any way to meddle with our lives. But I think you cannot have God’s blessing without God’s righteousness. This means the more conspicuously God interferes in this world blessing us, the more conspicuously God interferes in this world judging us, and the latter may be quite a painful experience.

In the Bible we can read of events when God interfered in this world quite conspicuously. But we also have to see that for some people this interference had rather unpleasant effects. This applies e.g. to the rebelling Israelites during the Exodus or to Ananias and Saphira in the church in Jerusalem.

It may be that the degree to which God interferes in this world is such that it results in the least amount of suffering, whereby we not only have to think of suffering in this life but also of suffering in the afterlife.

Suffering in the afterlife may also be the reason for God’s failure to save people’s lives. Maybe if these people went on living their suffering in the afterlife would increase, as they would commit more sins and as a consequence their punishment in the afterlife would be more severe.

Paul Rinzler said...

Patrick, thank you for your reply. Your reply is in quotation marks below.

“In my opinion, with respect to the problem of evil atheists fail to take all the elements of Christian doctrine into account. “

That would be an excellent critique if it is correct. Let’s see.

“If we take into account that people will be comforted in the afterlife for their suffering, that all injustice will be judged and that there is evil caused by the Devil, things look somewhat different.”

Your first element above is compensation for suffering. Obviously, it would be more moral – and certainly more rational - to prevent the suffering in the first place than to have to remedy the suffering in the afterlife. Especially when the person suffering is not given the free will choice to not suffer or to suffer and then be compensated later: now *that's* immoral!

You second element doesn’t help, either. Not all suffering is the result of a human’s action that would be judged in the afterlife.

Thirdly, even if the Devil causes suffering, that doesn’t suggest why God shouldn’t prevent it.

“The basic charge against God is why He doesn’t interfere in this world more conspicuously. The answer I suggested in my previous post is that God’s failure to do so indeed creates suffering, but that there may be even more suffering if He didn’t fail to do so, and that this has to do with God’s righteousness, another concept that in my opinion atheists don’t take into account. It seems to me that atheists imagine a God who would only interfere in this world to provide us with blessings such as health, wealth and happiness. But when it comes to righteousness, He is supposed not in any way to meddle with our lives. “

But it’s because we benefit in some fashion that an action is moral to begin with, so you can’t dismiss blessings from moral behavior. When I act morally and save someone from harm, for instance, I have given them health (I have prevented them from being injured, for instance), and the reason it is moral for me to do that is because there is a benefit that it is proper for me to give to that person in danger. Same thing applies to God.

“But I think you cannot have God’s blessing without God’s righteousness. This means the more conspicuously God interferes in this world blessing us, the more conspicuously God interferes in this world judging us, and the latter may be quite a painful experience.__In the Bible we can read of events when God interfered in this world quite conspicuously. But we also have to see that for some people this interference had rather unpleasant effects. This applies e.g. to the rebelling Israelites during the Exodus or to Ananias and Saphira in the church in Jerusalem.”

But it’s only painful for the people who might try to do evil. For the person receiving God’s blessing by him preventing some harm, it’s not painful at all. It’s properly – righteously, I might say- painful for the right person. So why doesn’t God do it?

The other problem is why God intervening back then was OK, but him not intervening now isn’t.

“It may be that the degree to which God interferes in this world is such that it results in the least amount of suffering, whereby we not only have to think of suffering in this life but also of suffering in the afterlife.”

This is a totally and completely unsupported guess and hope on your part.

“Suffering in the afterlife may also be the reason for God’s failure to save people’s lives. Maybe if these people went on living their suffering in the afterlife would increase, as they would commit more sins and as a consequence their punishment in the afterlife would be more severe.”

You’d have to claim that for everyone, though, because what about those people who, if their life was saved, would have their afterlife bettered? There’s absolutely no support for your idea.

Patrick said...

“Your first element above is compensation for suffering. Obviously, it would be more moral – and certainly more rational - to prevent the suffering in the first place than to have to remedy the suffering in the afterlife.”

As for suffering caused by acts of men, assuming that God endowed man with free will and that He accepts decisions taken by free-willed agents, I don’t see how this can be the case and that there would never be suffering caused by acts committed by free-willed agents. If you take the view that having free will is better than being just a puppet in God’s hands you cannot blame God for allowing suffering caused by acts committed by free-will agents.

As for natural evil, the question is if this kind of evil is more likely to draw men to God or to estrange them from Him. My impression is that the former is the case. But if that is the case, this kind of suffering might result in less suffering in the afterlife, and therefore God might have morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering.

But you may still maintain your point that we are not given the free will to not suffer or to suffer and then be compensated later. Now, can it be totally ruled out that before we were begotten, God had asked us whether or not we wanted to come into being? The church father Origen held the view that the soul exits before the begettal, and although this view was in general rejected it can in a sense be regarded as a Christian point of view.

“Thirdly, even if the Devil causes suffering, that doesn’t suggest why God shouldn’t prevent it.”

Humans may not be the only free-willed beings created by God.

“But it’s only painful for the people who might try to do evil. For the person receiving God’s blessing by him preventing some harm, it’s not painful at all. It’s properly – righteously, I might say- painful for the right person. So why doesn’t God do it?”

God may also be concerned about people who might try to do evil and intent on preventing their eternal damnation, as expressed in Ezekiel 18,23.

Patrick said...

“The other problem is why God intervening back then was OK, but him not intervening now isn’t.”

Maybe God indeed still wants to intervene miraculously in this world, but is prevented from doing it by people’s unbelief, as was also the case with Jesus according to Mark 6,1-6. Atheists complain that God doesn’t work the miracles nowadays that He supposedly worked when Jesus and the Apostles were on earth. But it may be that just the atheists’ arguments against the possibility of miracles might just have brought about the lack of miracles they point to.

Supportive of the idea that God’s miraculous interference in this world could also be expected today is the following biography of the Lutheran theologian and pastor pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Blumhardt), which contains descriptions of well-documented miraculous events:

Dieter Ising, Johann Christoph Blumhardt: Life and Work: A New Biography, Translated by Monty Ledford, Eugene 2009.

“This is a totally and completely unsupported guess and hope on your part.”

You may say that my claim is mere speculation. But what is important is that you cannot refute my claim. It could be true, and that’s all that is required to solve the logical problem of evil.

“You’d have to claim that for everyone, though, because what about those people who, if their life was saved, would have their afterlife bettered? There’s absolutely no support for your idea.”

There are three kinds of persons that have to be looked at here. There are, first, those who haven’t accepted God’s salvation and never will accept it, second, those who have accepted it and, third, those who haven’t accepted it but may accept it when confronted with it. The persons belonging to the first group are certainly better off if their life is not saved, as the longer they live, the more sins they commit and the more severe their punishment in the afterlife will be. But also the persons belonging to the second group are better off, as they are sooner in a position to enjoy the heavenly bliss and are spared the suffering they would experience when continuing living. Only the persons belonging to the third group would be better off if their life is saved. But it could be that such people’s lives are always saved. You may again say that this is mere speculation. But, as explained above, this objection doesn’t invalidate the argument.

nietzschesbulldog said...

"You may say that my claim is mere speculation. But what is important is that you cannot refute my claim. It could be true, and that’s all that is required to solve the logical problem of evil."

And that's all you need to know about genuine theology. "I may be pulling this all out of my ass but there's no evidence so I'm right." Nice of you to wear your intellectual dishonesty right out there on your cassock Patrick, or should we call you Marylin McCord Adams?

Rosemary said...

You forgot an important test: Do you want your child to follow the murderous moral examples set by the Yahweh God in the Old Testament?

Brian Lynchehaun said...

"You may say that my claim is mere speculation. But what is important is that you cannot refute my claim. It could be true, and that’s all that is required to solve the logical problem of evil."

That's not how logic works. You strike me as someone who is well-read in theology, but not educating in thinking.

Allow me to demonstrate the invalidity of your argument:

My claim: I will have a million dollars in 2 seconds time.

Your response: that's mere speculation.

My rejoinder: Aha! But that doesn't mean that I *won't* have it, therefore I *could* have it.


Not that my rejoinder is (to use the technical term) bullshit. My original claim wasn't that I could have a million dollars in the next two seconds, but that I will have a million dollars in the next two seconds.


Logical problems are only solved when all the potential negatives are ruled out, not when all the potential positives are not ruled out.

Of course there 'could' (logically) be a heaven. It's also *logically* possible that I'll turn into a tomato in the next 10 moments.

But that's not an argument that I *will* do so.


Likewise, an argument that says "goodness is consistent with the existence of god, and evil is consistent with the with existence of god" is merely an argument that says "neither the existence of good nor evil tells us anything about the existence of god". Your insistence on pointing to possibilities seems predicated on your inability to see that your points are irrelevant.

Lee said...

Patrick wrote "In my opinion, with respect to the problem of evil atheists fail to take all the elements of Christian doctrine into account."

Which particular version of Christian doctrine would you be referring to? And "all the elements" of Christian doctrine? Life isn't long enough for anyone to even begin to sort through all of the conflicting doctrines that exist under the umbrella of "Christian".

If I wanted to be a Christian (which I don't) where would I even begin? There is really no such thing as "Christian doctrine." It's a morass of conflicting teaching based on obscure texts and culture-bound traditions.

akakiwibear said...

Matt your argument is based on the assumption that the actions or inactions you identify as immoral can be attributed to God ... but can they?

Is this the teaching of mainstream Christianity? ... or is it a convenient straw man for atheist argument? I suggest the latter.

1) Your theology is flawed.
You can’t use the Genesis creation myth to attribute a world that is hostile to humanity to God without giving equal weight to the Genesis account of the fall from grace which places the blame for the adversities of life on a choice by the first people.

If you choose to step out from under an umbrella into the rain you can scarcely blame the umbrella for you getting wet!

By ignoring the fall from grace you are simply being intellectually dishonest when you blame God for our non-Eden like world.

Selective quoting – or selective use of the source material – is simply fallacious argument.

2) Your science is flawed.
You give examples of conduct which you identify as immoral if it were the action of a human – OK.

However you present no evidence to support your position that these actions – or more specifically inactions – should be directly attributed to God. Effectively you argue that because an immoral situation arises then it can only do so if sanctioned by God. Why?

This is not a teaching of mainstream Christian theology?
You base your “blame God” thesis on the position that God is all good and therefore everything should be good. This weak argument and you present no evidence for causality or that God plays a direct role in and is accountable for every single event that occurs.

Your position is quite irrational and contrary to the evidence.
For example it denies the science of evolution which provides an explanation for the existence of harmful viruses.

Unlike you, mainstream Christianity does not deny evolution but adopts a firm position that theology cannot be at odds with scientific fact. You seem happy to present argument that is at variance with scientific fact.

Your morality test can only have substance if you can convincingly demonstrate God as the source of the immorality. This you have failed to do.

Sala kahle - peace

Silly atheists said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Silly atheists said...

Every scholarly article I have read about the Problem of Evil agrees that if the Argument from Evil is a successful argument, then what is demonstrated is that God, if such a being exists, is morally indifferent to our suffering. This is an important point I think, because it opens the door to at least four defeaters:

1) Perhaps we have independent reasons to think that God is morally perfect (i.e. Moral argument, ontological argument)

2) Perhaps we are not in a place to rationally judge the probability that because I see no morally sufficient reason for evil x, that therefore, probably there is no morally sufficine treason for x.

3) Perhaps God will supply people with an overwhelming defeater of His existence in the face of evil. This would be like a person who is on trial for murder, and there is very convincing evidence that he committed the murder, but that person knows with confidence in spite of the evidence, that he did not commit the murder and that there isn't any evidence that he can identify to convice the court otherwise.

4) Perhaps all theodicies and defenses fail, and perhaps the moral argument fails. What if God were to show us somehow that He is not indifferent to our suffering. What could that look like? Has God allegedly shown us in any of the worlds religions that He is not indifferent to our sufferings? I bet one religion comes to mind when we ask ourselves this question...If that religion is true, then we should not give up belief in God on the basis of the evil we observe in the world.

Patrick said...

Rosemary

In my view the moral example that God set according to Psalm 103,8 is indeed worth striving after. As for the murderous moral example God set in the OT, God then did exactly what atheists accuse Him of failing to do nowadays: He interfered in this world and punished the wicked.

Patrick said...

Lee

Whatever doctrinal differences there are within Christianity, the doctrines I refer to can be found in all major Christian churches. It applies to Roman Catholicism, the Greek Orthodox Church, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Baptism, Methodism and many more churches.

Havok said...

akiwibear: Effectively you argue that because an immoral situation arises then it can only do so if sanctioned by God. Why?
I took Matt's argument to be more along the lines that, if a morally perfect being sits by and does nothing while a person drowns, for example, then why should we behave differently?
And if we can be condemned for idly watching someone drown, when there was minimal risk to ourselves if we tried to save them, then why is God not also condemned for doing the same?

Havok said...

SillyAtheists I don't think your points are viable:

1) would mean that "morally perfect" is not what we generally mean when we say morally perfect - you might as well say morally grue, for you're not using the terms as they're normally understood.
2) Invokes moral scepticism, which among other things gives you no reason to praise God either, nor call God good, since you would seem to give up any knowledge of God's morality.
3) Has not occurred. Your courtroom analogy fails because, if the evidence were that strong, then surely one may come to suspect that you may be mistaken about your own memories - plenty of studies show how fallible memory is.
4) Why would we take some demonstration as indicating interest in our plight, rather than the putative super-being simply messing with us? If all theodices fail (which I think they do) and the moral argument fails (which I think it does), then there seems no reason to think this being is "good" rather than capricious, evil, indifferent, whatever.

Havok said...

Matt: That looks interesting, Havok. Thanks for the reference.
No problem. I recently stumbled across it myself, and found the argument to be quite good, and illuminating when it comes to discussions similar to your original post here.

Matt Moral philosopher James Rachels has also argued that believing in God is incompatible with moral autonomy, and thus undermines our capacity to be moral here
The Rachels argument is quite interesting - I ran across it in "The impossibility of God". It does seem to require that autonomy be a requirement of morality and moral behaviour, and I think a theist may be able to argue against that point. As Rachels points out, I think, a theist may also be able to provide an account of "worship" which does not entail the surrender of moral autonomy.
It is interesting that it shows what a theist likely must deny or give up in order to maintain their claims.

The Atheist Missionary said...

The clear thinking in this post is almost as refreshing as my Moosehead lager ... but not quite. Cheers to Prof. McCormick.

The Atheist Missionary said...

Professor, you are a very bad man for recommending books that end up costing me over $100 (i.e. Oppy's The Ontological Argument). Shame on you. :)

akakiwibear said...

if we can be condemned for idly watching ... then why is God not also condemned for doing the same?. Your point suffers from a similar problem to Matt’s original post.

Your underlying assumption is that everything that happens is under God’s direct control ... why should it be? What evidence is there that allows us to assert that God does indeed exert a direct influence on every event?

Certainly mainstream Christianity does not teach that, so it looks to be an argument dreamt up as a straw man by atheists.

There is a basic lack of logic to your position – take it to its logical conclusion:
If God directly intervened to prevent any negative outcome, then for example –
Drowning would be impossible because we would breathe water and air and any other substance we could be immersed in.
Burning would be impossible because fire would not be hot.
Falling to our death or to sustain injury would not be possible because gravity would let us down gently.
We would not die so the world would be able to support an infinite population .... etc etc.

You are proposing a world in which the laws of physics apply intermittently or don’t exist in the form we know them - a world which clearly does not exist!

So like Matt you attack a false theology, one which is contradictory to established scientific fact – mainstream Christianity insists that its theology be at one with scientific fact
... but well done for overcoming the straw man in a close fight!

Sala kahle

Havok said...

akiwibear: What evidence is there that allows us to assert that God does indeed exert a direct influence on every event?
I don't think I'm assuming that if God existed he DOES exert influendce on every event, but that God could do so.
If i'm watching someone drown, and was not involved in them getting into their present predicament, then I have not exerted any influence, direct or indirect, on the event. I would be praisworthy/blameworthy because I could exerted influence

akiwibear: There is a basic lack of logic to your position – take it to its logical conclusion:
Which to me merely points out the absurdity of positing an omni-whatever deity, given the world we see around us.

akiwibear: You are proposing a world in which the laws of physics apply intermittently or don’t exist in the form we know them - a world which clearly does not exist!
It looks like you may be onto something there - the world we might expect should "God" exist doesn't appear to be the world we have, therefore "God" probably doesn't exist :-)

akiwibear: So like Matt you attack a false theology, one which is contradictory to established scientific fact – mainstream Christianity insists that its theology be at one with scientific fact
If you could go ahead and answer Matt's questions as to why we are morally blameworthy for not doing something "good" when it was within our ability, but God is not blameworthy in the same circumstances, then your argument might have force. As it stands, I don't see it :-)

Matt McCormick said...

Silly, I think you're getting carried away with yourself if you call a series of sentences that begin with "Perhaps" defeaters. Those claims don't "defeat" anything I've said because I haven't denied that they are possible. Magical elves and dragons are possible. Recall the question: If God is good, then why is it that he doesn't do any of the things that good people do? The answers: perhaps there is a good reason. That's pretty paltry.

Akakiwibear, it's not that I don't know about the doctrine of original sin. It's just that any minimally decent moral person with a bit of sense would reject the notion that if a person's distant ancestors made some bad decision, then their relations for thousands of years all deserve eternal torment, even though they had nothing to do with the so-called mistake. And as long as we're playing make believe (Adam and Eve weren't real, of course), I'd have to reject the notion that two innocent humans who don't have any knowledge of good evil to be able to judge some how deserve eternal torment (and all their descendants) for eating from tree on the basis of an arbitrary and capricious command. If a human father did that to his kids, you'd scream in moral outrage at the offense--which was my point.

akakiwibear

akakiwibear said...

Matt,
I am pleased we are both playing make believe; so I don’t have to scream in moral outrage at the offense.

The issue I take is with you ignoring the fall from grace while you seem to attribute God’s role in creating a hostile environment for us to the creation myth.
You can’t base an argument on one part of the myth and ignore the bit about Adam & Eve getting biffed out of the garden.

Like you and all mainstream Christian theologians I can’t take Genesis at face value. To build an argument around it is frivolous, so let’s park that one – I think we probably agree more than either of us would freely admit.

However, I do take real issue when you attribute the unleashing a virus to an unkind act of God when it is clearly the product of evolution.

Of course we should find anyone guilty of an immoral act (at the very least) if they released one, but I would hope we would first try to gather enough evidence to convict - before we do the WMD thing again!
I appreciate that it is hard to convict evolution, but picking on God is hardly a substitute for evidence.

Sala kahle - peace

akakiwibear said...

Havok, what a fun response!
answer Matt's questions as to why we are morally blameworthy for not doing something "good" when it was within our ability, but God is not blameworthy in the same circumstances, then your argument might have force. As it stands, I don't see it :-) I figured you did not see it ;)

Present the evidence that links God to the doing the morally blameworthy and then we can discuss apportioning blame!

Sala kahle - peace

Havok said...

akiwibear: Present the evidence that links God to the doing the morally blameworthy and then we can discuss apportioning blame!
The example of watching someone drown would seem to suffice as an example.
If I can save them with little to no risk to myself (I can swim, etc), but don't, then surely I'm morally blameworthy for simply letting them die without acting.
God can save the drowning person with absolutely no risk to himself, but doesn't, yet it seems that God is not blameworthy in this case.

Matt's original post included a number of other examples, eg.
"If ignoring human suffering, tolerating child abuse, being indifferent to injustice, and allowing the propagation of ignorance and hatred are morally bad things, then why does a good God do them?"

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for being polite, Akakiwibear. I'm glad you're not taking Eden seriously. On the God hypothesis being considered, God is the creator of the universe, so if there are viruses, or tsunamis, or whatever, that are part of that act of creation, then they are on God's shoulders.


This claim is weird: "I do take real issue when you attribute the unleashing a virus to an unkind act of God when it is clearly the product of evolution."

Are you suggesting that since evolution produced it, then God can't be faulted for doing anything about it? Suppose a child has a brain tumor and it's going to kill her. The doctor has the skill and the knowledge to remove it and save her life. But he refuses. And following your line, he says, "Oh, I can't be blamed for not preventing her death--nature put that tumor there. It developed naturally. And I can't interfere with the natural course of things."

Would you think that this is a good doctor? Suppose then you found out that the doctor had deliberately been blasting the little girl's house with radiation and that had caused the tumor?

MM

Patrick said...

Matt

I think one basic flaw in your argument is the idea that acts as such are morally right or wrong. But this is definitely not correct. Whether or not a specific act is morally right or morally wrong often depends on the circumstances. I think most people agree that there are circumstances when killing a person is morally right. It certainly makes a difference if a murderer kills a person out of greed or if a policeman kills a person running amok. I assume most people regard the former as morally wrong and the latter as morally right. So, you cannot simply point to the fact that God commits or doesn’t commit certain acts and say that if a person behaved the same way we would consider this person’s behaviour as morally wrong. It may well be that with respect to God there are different circumstances, which have to be taken into account.

The point I make here is that one has not only to look at the act, but also at the motive why the act is committed or not committed. I tried to show that God’s motive for the way He acts could be the idea that there is as less unnecessary suffering as possible. We certainly regard a person that acts according to such a principle as moral.

Patrick said...

Matt

You wrote: “… it's not that I don't know about the doctrine of original sin. It's just that any minimally decent moral person with a bit of sense would reject the notion that if a person's distant ancestors made some bad decision, then their relations for thousands of years all deserve eternal torment, even though they had nothing to do with the so-called mistake.”

You obviously confuse original sin with original guilt. As for the difference the following link is very informative.

http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/12/william-lane-craig-original-sin-and-original-guilt.html

Patrick said...

Matt

You wrote: “Suppose a human stood by and watched someone drown, did nothing while someone was swept away and crushed by a tsunami when it was easy to save him, ... would we consider that human to be good?”

The question is if it is necessarily “easy” for God to help people. To answer this question let’s look at Isaiah 59,1-2:

“Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (NIV)

So, it may be that people’s sins are an insuperable obstacle for God, making it impossible for Him to help them. It may be that for a perfectly just being it is impossible to help a sinner, as such an act would result in no longer being perfectly just.

Havok said...

Patrick: So, it may be that people’s sins are an insuperable obstacle for God, making it impossible for Him to help them.
That seems like a fairly large restriction on God's omnipotence - one that many people are likely to refuse.

Mann: It may be that for a perfectly just being it is impossible to help a sinner, as such an act would result in no longer being perfectly just.
Which may mean that the attributes of omnipotence and perfect justice may be incompatible, and a being which is posited to possess both is incoherent :-)

akakiwibear said...

Matt, this is getting interesting.

so if there are viruses, or tsunamis, or whatever, that are part of that act of creation, then they are on God's shoulders.. This seems to be a reasonable position to take.

There is no mainstream theology that sets as an expectation that God will ensure our freedom from disasters. The whole expectation is a straw man ... but ...

... but could God have avoided the disasters by creating the world differently? – can we assume that an all powerful God could have created a physical environment that held no perils for us?

If the answer is yes – and I assume we agree that it should be yes – then why did a God not do so?
The simple answer is “I don’t know”. All fields of human learning, from science to theology, have frontiers – this seems to one of those for theology – it’s OK to not know all the answers!

Does not knowing the answer release God from the moral obligation to have done so? Perhaps, perhaps not ... it does mean we can’t reach a definitive answer as to the moral merit or otherwise of God creating a world which contains perils for us.

... but just for fun let us contemplate such a world.

The world would function according to a set of natural laws – God would not run every event through direct intervention because then there would then be no laws of nature that could be relied on by living creatures to ensure their survival.

Now, if we extrapolate the concept of a peril free world to its logical conclusion we get a world that seems to me to be unattractive and in fact quite impractical.

The planet is absolutely stable and uniform from a geophysical, meteorological and biological perspective.

The laws of physics as we know them do not exist and those that do create no peril to us. For every force there is no equal and opposite reaction – not sure how we move?

Let your mind roam – build a world with no natural perils!

Perhaps God could have created such a world – perhaps you might enjoy it.

With no threats to overcome we would not need to be inventive. In fact we would not need to be able to think much at all – very simple life forms would be as successful as those with the latent ability to solve problems.

... in such a world we would never have this debate – there would have been no need to be intelligent enough to do so.

Is God morally guilty for creating a world with challenges, some of them even dangerous?

Sala kahle – peace.

Patrick said...

Havok

The concept of omnipotence seems indeed very problematic to me, from a philosophical as well as from a Biblical point of view. As this concept is, together with the concept of omnibenevolence, one of the premises of the atheistic argument against God’s existence based on the problem of evil, once it has to be abandoned, the argument is invalidated.

From the omnipotence paradox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence_paradox) one can see that an all-powerful being is a logical impossibility. One consequence of this paradox is that omnipotence and omnibenevolence are incompatible concepts, as an all-powerful being would also have to be able to decide to be no longer perfectly good.

Moreover, the Bible doesn’t assign omnipotence to God, as it says there are things that God cannot do. E.g. according to 2 Timothy 2,13 God “cannot disown himself” (NIV).

Patrick said...

There are other attributes that the Bible assigns to God that must be taken into account when looking at the problem of evil. One of them is, as pointed out before, the idea that God is perfectly just. God may have reasons to allow suffering because of being perfectly just.

A good example of the suggestion that God’s being perfectly just might justify suffering is Jesus’ work of redemption. If God was only perfectly good and all-powerful (whatever you mean by it), then Jesus’ suffering was unnecessary, as God could have forgiven all men their sins out of sheer love and generosity. But being perfectly just, God has to punish sins, either by punishing the sinners or by punishing Jesus on their behalf.

Havok said...

Patrick, a problem which comes up when abandoning some of what are the traditional divine attributes, is whether the resulting being is worthy of worship.
Also, there is a problem of just which attributes to abandon - why abandon omnipotence instead of omnibenevolence, for example?

Patrick: But being perfectly just, God has to punish sins, either by punishing the sinners or by punishing Jesus on their behalf.
This I never understood - how is it remotely just to punish an innocent party, even if the innocent party offers themselves up for the punishment.
That is not Just :-)

Havok said...

akiwibear:
- why would an all powerful God have had to create a physical environment at all?
- Why would such an environment have to be subject to laws/regularities, rather than direct intervention?

You seem to be assuming a great many things in pointing out some supposed absurdity :-)

akiwibear: Is God morally guilty for creating a world with challenges, some of them even dangerous?
Sure God would be, especially if we can imagine a world where such dangerous challenges don't exist. It seems that lots of Christians do imagine this world, and call it "heaven" :-)

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks all for all the thoughtful comments. To keep us on track: I thought of a useful analogy to my argument today:

Smith: My brother is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jones: Really? Does he have a good freethrow percentage? Does he play in the NBA? Does he score a lot of points in a game?

Smith: No, he's so great that he doesn't have to do any of those things. Those puny measures of greatest can't capture him. What is greatness anyway? Besides, you really suck at basketball and you aren't the greatest of all time. So you deserve to lose. And sometimes when people lose games it's because of external factors.

Jones: Well, if none of the standard measures apply, on what grounds do you say that your brother is the greatest?

Smith: Well, he COULD be the greatest. You can't prove he's not. One time he scored a whole bunch of points in a game. I have a defeater for your skepticism: Perhaps he's the greatest of all time.

I know that folks are now going to argue that being the greatest basketball player of all time and being infinitely morally good are not analogous. Fine. But is being infinitely good different in ways that defy any kind of rational grounding, evidence, or justification? Is it a special feature of being infinitely good that nothing, even in principle, can count as counter evidence to it? Then what's the difference between being infinitely good and infinitely evil exactly?

Patrick said...

“Patrick, a problem which comes up when abandoning some of what are the traditional divine attributes, is whether the resulting being is worthy of worship.”

I don’t see why God should only be worthy of worship if He is omnipotent, especially as an omnipotent being is a logical impossibility. Isn’t a pefectly loving and perfectly just being not worthy of worship? Isn’t such a being even more worthy of worship than an omnipotent being, even if the latter was possible, as it would indeed be difficult to reconcile the amount of suffering with the existence of the latter?

“Also, there is a problem of just which attributes to abandon - why abandon omnipotence instead of omnibenevolence, for example?”

It is not an arbitrary decision which attributes can be assigned to God and which can’t. First, you cannot abandon something that hasn’t been there in the first place, as there cannot be an omnipotent being. Second, from a Christian point of view, as the Bible obviously doesn’t assign omnipotence to God, disregarding such an attribute is clearly justified.

Moreover, being loving and being just are moral qualities. Being powerful is an attribute that belongs to a different category. Therefore it is not an arbitrary decision if the former attributes on the one hand and the latter attribute on the other hand are treated differently.

“This I never understood - how is it remotely just to punish an innocent party, even if the innocent party offers themselves up for the punishment.”

Jesus is not a third party, as He Himself is God (Philippians 2,5-11, 1 John 5,20). In Jesus God so to speak took the punishment for people’s sins upon Himself. Moreover, according to the Bible (John 5,22-27) Jesus Himself will be the judge on the Last Judgement, so He is clearly no third party.

GearHedEd said...

Patrick said...

"Whether or not a specific act is morally right or morally wrong often depends on the circumstances."

Well, so much for God's vaunted "Objective Morality", then. You just killed it.

akakiwibear said...

Patrick, I found your questions on the tri-omni stimulating - thanks.

A quick thought - It is a human construct that we can only see in human terms.
That limited interpretation of the tri-omni character of God limits the "omni" part - so we immediately have a contradiction embedded in the concept.

sala kahle -peace

GearHedEd said...

Patrick said,...

(from wikipedia) "... an all-powerful being is a logical impossibility. One consequence of this paradox is that omnipotence and omnibenevolence are incompatible concepts, as an all-powerful being would also have to be able to decide to be no longer perfectly good."

Patrick's response," 2 Timothy 2,13 God “cannot disown himself” (NIV)." doesn't address the same issue.

Timothy points out that trying to disprove God through saying that He can't engage in logical impossibilities is NOT the same as the objection raised in the wiki article. There is no logical difficulty in God deciding at some point in time to no longer be "good".

Apples and oranges.

The Ellipsis said...

You make an excellent point. I confess, it's late where I am and I only skimmed your post. So, if you already mentioned what I'm about to say, please forgive me.

It turns out that there is actually a theory that moral principles can be tested scientifically. Basically the idea is that one can take a principle, measure how much convenience, inconvenience, relief, suffering, happiness, sadness, etc. it causes, and judge it against alternatives to find whether it is the superior moral. This is, of course, provisional, as human nature is arguably inconstant, and different principles may be better at different times, as well as new ones may arise. But this, however, does refute the claim that god has endowed on humanity some perfect set of morals. It proves that humankind is capable of having universal morality without it being inherent, preexisting, or static.

Patrick said...

“Well, so much for God's vaunted "Objective Morality", then. You just killed it.”

From my example of a murderer and a policeman committing the same act yet their respective act being judged differently you may see that from a moral point of view judging the same act differently doesn’t result in abandoning objective morality. I think there should be no disagreement that the motive behind an act is at least as important as the act itself.

I made the point that this also applies to God. As for God’s inactivity in view of people’s hardships I made the suggestion that this could be due to God’s preventing further suffering or due to God’s inability to do anything about them, whereby these explanations are not mutually exclusive. As a consequence one can formulate two objective moral principles applicable to God as well as to humans, namely “It is moral to prevent unnecessary suffering” and “It is not immoral not to help if you are not able to do so”.

Silly atheists said...

Hello McCormick,

As a Christian theist, I currently do think that the argument from evil, is a successful argument to reject belief in a morally perfect being. However, as Tooley points out, there is a parallel argument from good that a person could run to conclude that there doesn't exist an infinitely evil being either. Thus, without considering any other evidence and arguments, I agree with the atheist that if god exists, such a god is morally indifferent to our human situation.

Do you agree with this position?

The Ellipsis said...

You seem like a very tolerant christian, and I personally appreciate that. But I'm afraid that I don't quite understand what you mean by morally indifferent. Do you mean to say that a god would have to be indifferent to the morals of humans? That if he exists, he must not care how moral we are? Or do you mean that he doesn't abide by our set of morals? Frankly, though I would agree with you to a point, it doesn't seem like this describes the christian god. I am agnostic, because I've seen a million logical flaws and counterexamples for things that exist in the bible, but I still think that there could be a god who is different than the christian one. It just seems to me that the christian god wouldn't be "morally indifferent", without there being several contradictions in the bible. Doesn't it state numerous times just how much god loves and concerns himself with humanity?

Silly atheists said...

Hello Ellipsis,

I appreciate the tone of your blog. I agree that the Christian God is not one that would be morally indifferent, and thus, without any other considerations, the argument from evil would undercut the Christian notion that God loves us, that God has a purpose for us, that God is interested in our lives, and is actively involved, etc. But, it would still be rational to hold to a kind of deism, wherein there may a creator and designer of the universe, but this god is not concerned with the evil that befalls us in any manner (i.e. morally indifferent).

I think the argument from evil allows for a kind of deism then, wherein God created everything, but is unconcerned and uninvolved with human affairs, and is morally indifferent. But of course, there may be other considerations that would defeat what the argument from evil demonstrates, and since I called myself I a Christian theist, I must think there is at least one such consideration, which in fact I do. I think a well-informed atheist would agree that if Jesus was truly God incarnated, and that same atheist shared a historical understanding of what we know about the kinds of radical claims and teachings Jesus made, and accepted that Jesus was resurrected from the dead as a divine vindication of those claims, then we would know that God is very concerned and involved with our human predicament. In fact, I can't think of a way for God to show us He is more concerned and involved then by becoming incarnate as a human being!

I hesistate to bring up this point however, because I do not mean to defend it as true here(although I am convinced by the historical case for the resurrection), and I do not want to get side tracked too much from the point I would like to make which is conditional: If Jesus was who he is conceived of as being in the Christian religion, then God is not morally indifferent, and thus we have a rebutting defeater to the argument from evil.

Also, I would like to encourage you as a philosophically minded person to consider what follows logically if there are errors in the Bible. Does it mean that God doesn't exist, or that Jesus didn't rise from dead? Clearly not. All that would follow is that a Christian would have to give up the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, which is significant, but, an error in the bible doesn't mean that God doesn't exist.

The Ellipsis said...

Well I am glad to speak with a deistic theist, however I have a couple of points to raise. The first is that you seem to be saying that if Jesus was god incarnated, etc. etc. (Christianity is accurate), then god is morally concerned about us (Christianity is also accurate). This, however, isn't rationally acceptable. If 2 claims affirm each other, then there still must be some kind of outside evidence to support at least 1 of them. And yes, there is historical evidence to suggest that Jesus existed (albeit most of it was written ages after his life), however we have no proof of his godliness. Sure, there are historical sources that say this, but think if in a million years, someone found the book "The Night Before Christmas". That would certainly not prove that Santa Claus exists. So, in short, the accuracy of Jesus' story *would* prove that god is morally concerned, but since it cannot be proven itself, it cannot prove anything.

The other point I would like to mention is in regards to your comment about the accuracy of the bible. It's true, just because one point it makes isn't true doesn't mean that they all aren't, necessarily. But look at it this way: If you buy an encyclopedia that says China is located in South America, and is lead by Abraham Lincoln, would you not be lead to question other claims in the book? My point is that the bible saying something was true never really proved anything, but with certain stories in it proven untrue, it is even less likely for others to be true. So if the bible cannot be accepted as proof of anything, how can you be sure of the story of Jesus? Or of certain properties of god that aren't stated elsewhere? Sure, the bible being refuted does not refute god's existence, however it does refute the existence of the Christian god. And I am aware that there are other historical texts which mention Jesus, (though they probably don't all completely affirm the bible's take on him) but just as I said for the bible: Just because a source claims something to be accurate does not make it true. Especially if this idea contradicts the laws of physics.

The Ellipsis said...

Alright, fair enough, but if I see you on another post I'll hold you to that! :-) And yes, I do agree that if one could prove the resurrection story, it would be an indication that god isn't morally indifferent. This is, of course, granted that Jesus had a primarily moral impact on society. Otherwise, it could be argued that god had other motives for incarnating and resurrecting himself in mortal form, as well as performing miracles, etc.

Matt McCormick said...

The Jesus resurrection story, even if true, wouldn't significantly alter the sort of moral conclusion I'm arguing for. One paltry, ineffective, and tiny event (in the scale of all the pointless suffering that has occurred in the history of sentience) shouldn't significantly change our assessment of the moral status of a being that could have, should have, but didn't do any more. Think of it this way, when Michael Jackson paid his child molestation victims off with lots of money (or the Catholic church for that matter) does that alter the moral status of Jackson's abusing the kids in the first place? A big reward for your troubles, heaven, salvation, or whatever, don't change the fact that an infinitely powerful, knowledgeable and good being didn't have to allow that stuff to happen in the first place. Jesus and heaven don't "make it all better."
MM

The Ellipsis said...

Hmm, I agree with McCormick. Even though the Jesus story would prove that god is somewhat concerned with us, it wouldn't prove that he is an all- around nice guy. If there is a god, did he not cause the Holocaust, or Stalin's regime, or the black plague? As for things like Sodom and Gomorrah, I feel kind of guilty for using those as examples. It's likely that those events are fictitious or exaggerated, (though I haven't checked)and I don't think it apt to use an example of god to disprove him. But still, if god exists, then he certainly has caused much strife. And to what end?

Most theists will argue that god kills people, or tests people, to see how good they are, or to punish them for not being good enough... Even if they had good intentions! Here's my problem with this: God is supposedly omniscient and omnipotent. That means he knows EVERYTHING, and can do ANYTHING. So if those are true, why would he need to test us? Would an omniscient god not already know what is in our hearts? Would an omnipotent god not be able to look into our hearts without creating some elaborate experiment? And why would he punish us? Could an omniscient god not have foreseen our evilness, and caused us to not exist in the first place? And could an omnipotent god not have simply ended our existence before it even began, rather than using such mundane methods as murder? Could an omnipotent god *who loves us* not have simply ridden our minds of evilness, or otherwise changed them to be how he would like, without having to punish us?

My point here is that a god who is all-powerful and all-knowing would not need to cause such suffering among mankind. Practically speaking, there is absolutely no point in him doing so. The only fathomable explanation is that this god somehow like watching us suffer, or something along those lines. Whatever the explanation, though, it is clearly immoral of him to do when there are far more effective and less harmful ways of achieving the same thing.

Matt McCormick said...

Think of it this way, while Jesus was worrying about the amount of wine at a party enough to miraculously create more, and withering fig trees, and replacing cut off ears, and other irrelevant party tricks, there were millions of people all over the planet, just like now, dying of starvation, disease, famine, cancer, sexual abuse, child rape, and so on. In the grand scheme of things, bringing some obscure preacher with a tiny following back from the dead is a trivial, ineffectual, and capricious thing for the all powerful creator of the universe to be devoting his attention to. And promising everyone that if they will just start believing, or accept Jesus into their hearts, or whatever, that everything will be better in heaven, doesn't make the cosmic scale of the moral neglect and indifference significantly different in any way. In fact, if he really did bring Jesus back from the dead, it raises more problems than it solves--so he IS able and willing to fix things, but just not any of the really important ones? WTF? I'm just amazed that so many people, including smart skeptical people who ought to know better, find the Jesus solution satisfying. I chalk it up to a deep latent affection for religiousness and their intense desire to believe the nonsense.

Mathea said...

Professor, I tried to make your point recently (i.e. the sacrifice of one human life to atone for all the sins of mankind seems wholly disproportionate). The Calvinist I was discussing this with rejected my "metaphysical get out of jail free card" analogy by suggesting: The destruction of the most holy, perfect being possible was the only sacrifice worthy to redeem anyone, let alone all of God's elect I told him to pay a visit to a children's cancer ward - that makes an afternoon on the cross look like a walk in the park.

Havok said...

Patrick: I don’t see why God should only be worthy of worship if He is omnipotent, especially as an omnipotent being is a logical impossibility.
Well, there are some conceptions of omnipotence which are not quite so difficult as the tradional view, but they all seem troublesome.
I thought that God was worthy of worship due to being the greatest being imaginable, or some such thing. Lose some of the divine attributes (or impose limits upon them), and the claims of worship worthiness become more troublesome.

Patrick: Isn’t a pefectly loving and perfectly just being not worthy of worship?
Why would it be?
Perhaps we should look up to such a being, listen to what it says, etc, but why worship it?
(I doubt ANY being is worthy of worship, including the apparently incoherent God of traditional theism, but perhaps that's just me. Also, see the link to James Rachel's argument from morality which Matt linked to above).

Patrick: Isn’t such a being even more worthy of worship than an omnipotent being, even if the latter was possible, as it would indeed be difficult to reconcile the amount of suffering with the existence of the latter?
Perhaps such a being would be a more appropriate figure of adoration, but I still find the claims of "worship" difficult to swallow.

Patrick: Jesus is not a third party, as He Himself is God (Philippians 2,5-11, 1 John 5,20). In Jesus God so to speak took the punishment for people’s sins upon Himself. Moreover, according to the Bible (John 5,22-27) Jesus Himself will be the judge on the Last Judgement, so He is clearly no third party.
Which doesn't save your claim. God did not deserve the punishment, and yet God punished himself. This is not Justice (though perhaps it is merciful?).
The exact same result could have been achieved, and would I'd argue have been more "just", had God simply forgiven people. This sequence of events avoids the unwarranted punishment of an innocent party, and yet has the same "undeserved forgiveness".
No, your solution is still not Just :-)

Patrick: As for God’s inactivity in view of people’s hardships I made the suggestion that this could be due to God’s preventing further suffering or due to God’s inability to do anything about them, whereby these explanations are not mutually exclusive.
If you claim that God always has sufficient reason to allows people to suffer, meaning there is no gratuitous suffering (which any theodicy positing an all loving deity must do, I would think), then you run into a problem of when, if ever, we are obligated to help alleviate the suffering of someone else. After all, if they're suffering now, then God must have some reason for the suffering, and if we intervene we could interrupt "God's plans" (using our supposed free will), whereas if we do nothing, then the person suffering will gain all the more.

Patrick said...

“There is no logical difficulty in God deciding at some point in time to no longer be "good".”

How can a perfectly good being ever decide to be no longer good?

Patrick said...

Ellipsis

You wrote: “If there is a god, did he not cause the Holocaust, or Stalin's regime, or the black plague?”

The Holocaust and Stalin’s regime were accomplished by humans and not by God.

You wrote: “Most theists will argue that god kills people, or tests people, to see how good they are, or to punish them for not being good enough... Even if they had good intentions!”

As far as I can see God only tests believers. God punishes people for committing sins, and I don’t see what’s wrong with it.

You wrote: “And why would he punish us? Could an omniscient god not have foreseen our evilness, and caused us to not exist in the first place?”

In this case no man would ever have existed.

You wrote: “And could an omnipotent god not have simply ended our existence before it even began, rather than using such mundane methods as murder?”

God did even something better than that. He let the vast majority of people die before they reached the age of accountability, i.e. before they could discern good from evil (see Genesis 2,16, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16) and consequently before they could commit sins. In my view this means that the vast majority of people who have ever lived are in Heaven.

You wrote: “Could an omnipotent god *who loves us* not have simply ridden our minds of evilness, or otherwise changed them to be how he would like, without having to punish us?”

That’s exactly what God according to Ezekiel 11,19-20, Romans 8,29, 2 Corinthians 5,17, and Galatians 5,16-18 wants to do.

The Ellipsis said...

Okay, I'll respond to these one by one...

Doesn't it say numerous times in the bible that god is, essentially, in charge of anything? It isn't very fair to go attributing all of the good things to god and the bad things that happen to humans. If God knows everything, and can do everything, then he was completely aware of the holocaust before it ever happened, and was capable of stopping it then. If god exists, it was a clear decision of his to let the holocaust happen.

As for the second point, it's possible that god only does test believers, but why? If he knows that they're faithful to him, then why test them? Sure, the idea is that he needs to see if they truly are faithful, but again, he shouldn't need to test them for that. Doesn't he know everything, wouldn't you argue that there is no limit to his knowledge? So if your idea of god is true, then he does *not* need to test us to learn about us.

Now I'll address the rest of the points at once, because they're all under the same idea. What I'm saying is that, in regards to the evil people, why does god need to torture or murder them? Since he knew that he would want them dead before they were even bored, being omniscient, why would he allow them to exist and go about their evil ways in the first place? It seems far more practical, as well as merciful and humane for god to simply prevent the existence of evil people as opposed to allowing it only to murder them, and likely send them off to hell. I'm not saying he'd have to let no men live, because I agree that nobody's perfect, but he could have just prevented the ones he knew would be evil (enough that he'd have to kill later) from living, and replaced the with people he wouldn't.

The second part to my point is a little abstract, and I think you may not have gotten the notion. When I said that it makes more sense for god to rid people's hearts and minds of evil, I didn't mean doing so by worldly methods. As an omnipotent being, who can do literally anything, shouldn't he just be able to snap his fingers and be able to turn Ted Bundy, for instance, into a compassionate (and sane) human being? I mean, this seems so much easier! It's like being able to just give a criminal a pill that will instantly rehabilitate them, rather than having to murder them or sentence them to life or anything. So, if god wants to do this like you said, then why does he kill and torture people to punish them? If the could just transform their mind like that, then he wouldn't need to make any human being go through anything! If he wanted someone to learn a lesson, to change their ways, etc. then he could simply make them think a different way and be done with it!

So my question is, if god could just do this to solve problems, which is more practical, efficient, humane, and merciful than killing people, why does he still do the latter?

Patrick said...

“I thought that God was worthy of worship due to being the greatest being imaginable, or some such thing.”

But you cannot imagine something or someone whose existence is impossible, and that’s what applies to an omnipotent being.

“Why would it be?
 Perhaps we should look up to such a being, listen to what it says, etc, but why worship it?

[…]

Perhaps such a being would be a more appropriate figure of adoration, but I still find the claims of "worship" difficult to swallow.”

In my view “adoration” and “worship” is more or less the same. From passages such as Psalm 50,7-15, Isaiah 29,13, Amos 5,21-24, Matthew 5,23, and James 1,27 one can see that God is not mainly interested in religious ceremonies but in a loving relationship with man and in righteousness.

Patrick said...

“Which doesn't save your claim. God did not deserve the punishment, and yet God punished himself. This is not Justice (though perhaps it is merciful?).”

In my view (ultimate) justice simply means that all sins and iniquities are punished.

“The exact same result could have been achieved, and would I'd argue have been more "just", had God simply forgiven people.”

But if God acted like this there would be no (ultimate) justice, as sins and iniquities would go unpunished.

“If you claim that God always has sufficient reason to allows people to suffer, meaning there is no gratuitous suffering (which any theodicy positing an all loving deity must do, I would think), then you run into a problem of when, if ever, we are obligated to help alleviate the suffering of someone else. After all, if they're suffering now, then God must have some reason for the suffering, and if we intervene we could interrupt "God's plans" (using our supposed free will), whereas if we do nothing, then the person suffering will gain all the more.”

I don’t suggest that God objects to us helping other people. Looking at Isaiah 58,6-7 or Luke 10,25-37 this is clearly not the case. Unlike God, who is perfectly just, we have no duty, in fact not even a right, to judge people (James 4,12), so, again unlike God, we are free to help people without being concerned with their righteousness.

As for the idea that God must have some reason for a person’s suffering, that’s not quite what I suggest. It’s more that God has some reason for not alleviating a person’s suffering, but this doesn’t mean that God wants this person to suffer. To illustrate this point think of a physician who fails to alleviate a person’s suffering because the person refuses to call on him. In the same way God may accept a person’s rejection of Him and therefore fail to alleviate this person’s suffering.

Havok said...

Patrick: In my view (ultimate) justice simply means that all sins and iniquities are punished.
Punishing innocents in lieu of the guilty does not appear to be justice as anyone actually understands it. If I'm a mass murderer and am sentenced to death, assuming that the sentence is considered just, is justice served if you are killed instead of me?

Patrick: I don’t suggest that God objects to us helping other people.
I'm not talking about that. I'm stating that because God is generally conceived as perfectly good, and a perfectly good being would not allow gratuitous suffering - there must be a reason for it - then we are in no position to decide whether suffering is for God's purpose or not - we end up having no obligation to help people, and are not morally "bad" for watching someone die.

Patrick: In the same way God may accept a person’s rejection of Him and therefore fail to alleviate this person’s suffering.
Which seems to undermine your previous claims of God being perfectly good. A perfectly good God would surely alleviate suffering/evil unless there was some reason for it (the FWD and other responses to the problem of evil are attempts to justify this).

Patrick said...

“Doesn't it say numerous times in the bible that god is, essentially, in charge of anything?”

For all I know nowhere does the Bible say this.

“It isn't very fair to go attributing all of the good things to god and the bad things that happen to humans.”

I didn’t attribute all the bad things that happen to humans. I particularly referred to the Holocaust and Stalin’s regime, and, proceeding on the assumption that humans are free-willed agents, they were clearly caused by humans.

“If God knows everything, and can do everything, then he was completely aware of the holocaust before it ever happened, and was capable of stopping it then. If god exists, it was a clear decision of his to let the holocaust happen.”

But why should God only have prevented the Holocaust from happening and not all the evil that is accomplished by humans? But if He did so, this would result in the loss of man’s free will, as God would even have to prevent evil thoughts from happening. C. S. Lewis explains this very well in the following quote (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil):

“We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.”

Patrick said...

“As for the second point, it's possible that god only does test believers, but why? If he knows that they're faithful to him, then why test them? Sure, the idea is that he needs to see if they truly are faithful, but again, he shouldn't need to test them for that. Doesn't he know everything, wouldn't you argue that there is no limit to his knowledge? So if your idea of god is true, then he does *not* need to test us to learn about us.”

I don’t think that the testing of the believers’ faith is necessary for God, but for the believers as a means to grow spiritually.

“Now I'll address the rest of the points at once, because they're all under the same idea. What I'm saying is that, in regards to the evil people, why does god need to torture or murder them? Since he knew that he would want them dead before they were even bored, being omniscient, why would he allow them to exist and go about their evil ways in the first place? It seems far more practical, as well as merciful and humane for god to simply prevent the existence of evil people as opposed to allowing it only to murder them, and likely send them off to hell. I'm not saying he'd have to let no men live, because I agree that nobody's perfect, but he could have just prevented the ones he knew would be evil (enough that he'd have to kill later) from living, and replaced the with people he wouldn't.”

According to the Bible we all deserve death (Romans 5,12-14).

“The second part to my point is a little abstract, and I think you may not have gotten the notion. When I said that it makes more sense for god to rid people's hearts and minds of evil, I didn't mean doing so by worldly methods. As an omnipotent being, who can do literally anything, shouldn't he just be able to snap his fingers and be able to turn Ted Bundy, for instance, into a compassionate (and sane) human being? I mean, this seems so much easier! It's like being able to just give a criminal a pill that will instantly rehabilitate them, rather than having to murder them or sentence them to life or anything. So, if god wants to do this like you said, then why does he kill and torture people to punish them? If the could just transform their mind like that, then he wouldn't need to make any human being go through anything! If he wanted someone to learn a lesson, to change their ways, etc. then he could simply make them think a different way and be done with it!


So my question is, if god could just do this to solve problems, which is more practical, efficient, humane, and merciful than killing people, why does he still do the latter?”

The Bible passages I mentioned are not about wordly methods to change people’s hearts and minds but about a divine act having this effect. But even to do this God, respecting man’s free will, is dependent on man’s consent to such a spiritual intervention.

Patrick said...

“Punishing innocents in lieu of the guilty does not appear to be justice as anyone actually understands it. If I'm a mass murderer and am sentenced to death, assuming that the sentence is considered just, is justice served if you are killed instead of me?”

According to the Bible we can only expect God’s forgiveness if we repent, accept God’s rule over our lives and strive to live according to God’s commandments. But if that is the case, as a consequence of this the amount of righteousness in this world increases. Wouldn’t a perfectly just being prefer a world with a greater amount of righteousness?

Your objection is in fact an assault on the argument against God’s existence based on the Problem of Evil. You say that it is impossible for God to forgive sins, as He would no longer be perfectly just if He did this. But this means that God cannot be omnipotent. And the idea that God is omnipotent is one of the premises of the argument from evil.

Actually, your objection is based on the same idea as my explanation for God’s inactivity in this world. I pointed out that it might be the fact that God is perfectly just that prevents Him from helping people in this life. You go even further and suggest that the fact that God is perfectly just prevents Him from forgiving people their sins and consequently from alleviating them from the suffering in the afterlife. If your idea is valid, mine is all the more.

If your idea is correct it means that only people who die before they reach the age of accountability can go to Heaven. For the rest of humanity the only thing God can do is to reduce their suffering in the afterlife. But wouldn’t allowing suffering be the best means to accomplish this goal?

Patrick said...

“I'm stating that because God is generally conceived as perfectly good, and a perfectly good being would not allow gratuitous suffering - there must be a reason for it - then we are in no position to decide whether suffering is for God's purpose or not - we end up having no obligation to help people, and are not morally "bad" for watching someone die.”

As you are forced to accept my explanation for God’s inactivity in view of suffering in this world, you are also forced to accept the idea that God is unable to prevent gratuitous suffering. In fact there would not be any gratitious suffering, as any suffering in this world would serve the purpose of reducing suffering in the afterlife. Consequently, we could not blame God for such behaviour. Moreover, we humans would indeed have no obligation to help people, but we would at least have a motive: we can reduce the degree of our punishment in the afterlife.

Such a motive would be rather selfish. Wouldn’t a perfectly good God prefer a world in which people would help other people out of altruistic motives?

“Which seems to undermine your previous claims of God being perfectly good. A perfectly good God would surely alleviate suffering/evil unless there was some reason for it (the FWD and other responses to the problem of evil are attempts to justify this).”

My idea that God accepts people’s rejection of Him is a variant of the FWD!

Havok said...

Patrick: Wouldn’t a perfectly just being prefer a world with a greater amount of righteousness?
A prefectly just being must behave in a just manner. What you seem to be proposing, that punishment can be taken by an innocent, is not just.

Patrick: You say that it is impossible for God to forgive sins, as He would no longer be perfectly just if He did this.
No, I'm saying that the sacrificial atonement - Jesus taking on our sins, is not just.

Patrick: But this means that God cannot be omnipotent. And the idea that God is omnipotent is one of the premises of the argument from evil.
If God is not omnipotent (even in a suitably restricted sense), then it is surely not the greatest being which can be imagined. Christian theism denies that this is the case, as far as I'm aware.

Patrick: I pointed out that it might be the fact that God is perfectly just that prevents Him from helping people in this life.
I'm not sure how that would work - at best you seem to have just thrown the idea out there.

Patrick: You go even further and suggest that the fact that God is perfectly just prevents Him from forgiving people their sins and consequently from alleviating them from the suffering in the afterlife.
No, I simply stated that punishing the innocent instead of the guilty is not seeing justice done, and that a perfectly just being, as you've claimed the Christian God to be, could not do so.

Patrick: If your idea is correct it means that only people who die before they reach the age of accountability can go to Heaven.
Or perhaps the whole idea is ridiculous and your notion of God doesn't exist?
Even the idea of people getting to heaven if they die prior to your "age of accountability" (and, presumably, those suffering from mental disorders, etc). How is it Just that these people get a free pass to heaven simply because they died prior to some arbitrary age (or were "lucky" enough to be mentally disabled), while those of us who were not so lucky face eternal torment.
The more depth these things are looked at, the more ridiculous they seem to become.

Patrick: As you are forced to accept my explanation for God’s inactivity in view of suffering in this world, you are also forced to accept the idea that God is unable to prevent gratuitous suffering.
You've not forced me to accept anything, Patrick. You've mentioned that perhaps being perfectly just makes God unable to alleviate suffering, but that doesn't mean it is likely.

Havok said...

Patrick: In fact there would not be any gratitious suffering, as any suffering in this world would serve the purpose of reducing suffering in the afterlife.
How would that work?
And if you admit there is no gratuitous suffering, then we end up again with we humans having no obligation to help anyone (because their current suffering will help alleviate suffering in their next life) - we have no moral obligations to help anyone.

Patrick: Moreover, we humans would indeed have no obligation to help people, but we would at least have a motive: we can reduce the degree of our punishment in the afterlife.
So you reject what seems to be termed "ordinary morality" - from the Maitzen paper linked in an earlier comment:
"I won’t define “ordinary morality.” Indeed, I don’t think it has a sharp definition. But I will indicate from time to time some of the obligations that belong uncontroversially to it. There are hard cases of course, but here I’m referring to cases we typically regard as easy, such as the obligation we at least sometimes have to prevent easily preventable, horrific suffering by an innocent person. To allude to an actual case, if you can easily and at no risk to yourself prevent the total immolation of a small boy who is about to be set on fire by his abusive father, you ought to prevent it. That obligation is the sort of thing I mean by “ordinary morality,”"

Patrick: Such a motive would be rather selfish. Wouldn’t a perfectly good God prefer a world in which people would help other people out of altruistic motives?
Which runs afoul of Matt's original claims - that a different standard is applied to God - God is good even though He does nothing to help suffering, while we are bad if we do nothing to help suffering.
You also seem to be contradicting yourself. If our only motivation to help people is to reduce (presumably our) suffering in the afterlife, then the motives would not be altruistic.

Patrick: My idea that God accepts people’s rejection of Him is a variant of the FWD!
But your claims still run afoul of ordinary morality, whether God can be perfectly Just & punish the innocent, and even whether the divine attributes are composable (perfect goodness seems to be at odds with perfect justice, for example, not to mention the omnipotence fiasco you've just washed your hands of) :-)

Conversations with Christians said...

The problem of evil is a problem primarily for the Christian conception of their their gods, which they claim are "all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful."

We can assume what Christians claim as good, and then apply it to their gods. So there is no meta issues with using such standards to test their gods--it would be odd if these standards did not also apply to the Christian gods.


So, this morality test only applies to the possible existence of Christian gods or any other gods and goddesses that are claimed to have the properties of all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful. It does not apply to Zeus, Krishna, or any other gods and goddesses of many other religions in reference to their existence.

Patrick said...

“No, I'm saying that the sacrificial atonement - Jesus taking on our sins, is not just.”

Like with respect to the argument from evil one basic flaw here is that not all of God’s attributes are taken into account. One of these attributes is the idea that God is gracious (Psalm 103,8). But as grace and justice are incompatible with each other, how can God ever express the former? In my view the only way out for God was to take the punishment of people’s sins upon Himself. If He just forgave people their sins without dealing with these acts legally, He would not be perfectly just, as there would be sins that go unpunished. Would we accept a legal system in which crimes would to a large extent go unpunished even if the defendant’s guilt had been established before Court?

So both God and man benefit from the work of salvation. God is able to express fully His character and man can achieve salvation. Why then should one object to such an idea, especially as it results in an increase of righteousness in the world?

With respect to the work of salvation Jesus is not only a victim but also a beneficiary of it. He is rewarded for it in many ways (see e.g. Isaiah 53,10-12, Philippians 2,8-11). If this is the case why should one object to such an idea?

“If God is not omnipotent (even in a suitably restricted sense), then it is surely not the greatest being which can be imagined.”

Is restricted omnipotence really omnipotence? As I pointed out before, an omnipotent being is a logical impossibility. A logical impossibility cannot even be imagined, and therefore an omnipotent being can’t possibly be the greatest being that can be imagined.

“I'm not sure how that would work - at best you seem to have just thrown the idea out there.”

I pointed out before that being perfectly just God could not simply forgive people their sins without dealing with these acts legally. This means that if your view about Christ’s work of salvation is correct it is entirely impossible for God to forgive people their sins and consequently to prevent suffering in the afterlife. But why should He nevertheless be able to prevent suffering in this life?

Looking at the question whether or not God helps sinners we also might ask if we regarded a legal system as just that not only doesn’t punish guilty defendants but in addition to this helps them and cares for them?

“No, I simply stated that punishing the innocent instead of the guilty is not seeing justice done, and that a perfectly just being, as you've claimed the Christian God to be, could not do so.”

But if the innocent takes the punishment voluntarily and even benefits from it, as I pointed out above, I don’t think that the objection is valid.

Patrick said...

“Even the idea of people getting to heaven if they die prior to your "age of accountability" (and, presumably, those suffering from mental disorders, etc). How is it Just that these people get a free pass to heaven simply because they died prior to some arbitrary age (or were "lucky" enough to be mentally disabled), while those of us who were not so lucky face eternal torment.”

You can only commit immoral acts if you are able to discern good from evil (see Genesis 2,16). Consequently, people who are unable to do so such as infants (Deuteronomy 1,39, Isaiah 7,16) cannot commit such acts. But if there are no such acts there is nothing to be punished.

For us who belong to the rest of humankind (from a historical point of view a small minority) we have the possibility to repent and ask God to forgive our sins.

“You've not forced me to accept anything, Patrick. You've mentioned that perhaps being perfectly just makes God unable to alleviate suffering, but that doesn't mean it is likely.”

But neither does it mean that it is unlikely. As the question here is whether the existence of God of the Bible is likely in view of the amount of suffering in the world the only thing I have to show is that it is not unlikely.

Patrick said...

“How would that work?”

I think we can leave this to God. He is certainly able to do it.

“And if you admit there is no gratuitous suffering, then we end up again with we humans having no obligation to help anyone (because their current suffering will help alleviate suffering in their next life) - we have no moral obligations to help anyone.”

I suggested that God could have two reasons for not helping people: Either He is unable to help due to being perfectly just, or He doesn’t help as it would increase the person’s suffering in the long run.

As I pointed out earlier these two explanations are not mutually exclusive. But if the former explanation is correct, the latter becomes irrelevant, as even if God was willing to help people He would be unable to do so.

Contrary to what I wrote earlier it could furthermore be that God is not able to help people who haven’t accepted His salvation but may accept it when confronted with it. As we are not in a position to know whether or not a sufferer will ever accept God’s salvation we are obligated to help people if we are able to do so. It could even be that we are supposed to be God’s tool to help a person who later would accept His salvation.

One might object that this does not apply to sufferers who have already accepted God’s salvation. First, we often don’t know or at least don’t know for sure if a person has accepted God’s salvation. But even if we know it for sure it may again be the case that we are supposed to be God’s tool to help this person.

But it might be objected that by helping a person who has accepted God’s salvation we contribute to an increase of this person’s suffering, as he or she is prevented from enjoying the heavenly bliss sooner. But we do not only have to consider the sufferer’s well-being, but also that of those who in some way or other may later benefit from one of this person’s acts. Consequently, by helping this person we may indeed contribute to a decrease of the overall amount of suffering in this world. The same also applies also to a situation when an infant is in need of help.

Patrick said...

“Which runs afoul of Matt's original claims - that a different standard is applied to God - God is good even though He does nothing to help suffering, while we are bad if we do nothing to help suffering.”

As I pointed out before God may be unable to help whereas we may not. Consequently there is no double standard applied here.

“You also seem to be contradicting yourself. If our only motivation to help people is to reduce (presumably our) suffering in the afterlife, then the motives would not be altruistic.”

I don’t see to which of my statements you refer, as I agree with the second sentence. I pointed out that if as a consequence of God’s inability to forgive our sins there was no salvation available for us we could only help people out of selfish reasons. On the other hand if you know that you are forgiven and that therefore you don’t have to be afraid of any punishment in the afterlife you can help people out of altruistic motives.

“But your claims still run afoul of ordinary morality, whether God can be perfectly Just & punish the innocent, and even whether the divine attributes are composable (perfect goodness seems to be at odds with perfect justice, for example, not to mention the omnipotence fiasco you've just washed your hands of) :-)”

I don’t see that my claims run afoul of ordinary morality, as all the principles that can be deduced from them and which I’m listing in the following are compatible with it.

- It is moral to prevent unnecessary suffering.
- It is immoral not to help if you are able to do so.
- It is not immoral not to help if you are unable to do so.
- It is moral to respect people’s free will.

As for the divine attributes perfect goodness is not at odds with perfect justice. God can judge people and nevertheless love them.

Havok said...

Patrick: But as grace and justice are incompatible with each other, how can God ever express the former?
If they're incompatible, then a being cannot be perfectly Just and have perfect Grace, and so God, if He is defined as being both perfectly Just and having perfect grace, does not/cannot exist.
Case closed?

Patrick: In my view the only way out for God was to take the punishment of people’s sins upon Himself.
Which as I continue to point out, is not Just. It may indicate God's grace. It may indicate God's love. it completely goes against God's "perfectly Just" nature.

Patrick: If He just forgave people their sins without dealing with these acts legally, He would not be perfectly just, as there would be sins that go unpunished.
Sins are going unpunished - you cannot just substitute another entity and claim that Justice has been served. A judge on the bench cannot find someone guilty of murder, sentence them to death, then substitute themselves for the criminal, and claim justice has been served.

Patrick: Would we accept a legal system in which crimes would to a large extent go unpunished even if the defendant’s guilt had been established before Court?
In your account, how is the crime being punished? There is no punishment for the criminal (sinner)!

Patrick: Why then should one object to such an idea, especially as it results in an increase of righteousness in the world?
Because it appears to be incoherent.

Patrick: With respect to the work of salvation Jesus is not only a victim but also a beneficiary of it. He is rewarded for it in many ways (see e.g. Isaiah 53,10-12, Philippians 2,8-11). If this is the case why should one object to such an idea?
And here I thought Jesus was God in Christianity. Both passages seem to argue against that claim - How could God be further exalted? :-)

Patrick: Is restricted omnipotence really omnipotence?
No idea - I'm not the one trying to justify the existence of some imaginary being :-)

Patrick: A logical impossibility cannot even be imagined, and therefore an omnipotent being can’t possibly be the greatest being that can be imagined.
Which is why theologians and philosophers have come up with other, more complex and nuanced definitions of omnipotence.

Patrick: I pointed out before that being perfectly just God could not simply forgive people their sins without dealing with these acts legally.
Which would be salvation through works accompanied by some time of punishment if the works were not "up to scratch", or something similar. No problem with that.

Patrick: But why should He nevertheless be able to prevent suffering in this life?
Because for much of the suffering in reality, there is no "reason" for it. Any suffering in an afterlife, if such a thing occurred, would be directly attributable to our behaviour now. It seems on Christianity, there is no such justification for suffering in the here and now.

Patrick: But if the innocent takes the punishment voluntarily and even benefits from it, as I pointed out above, I don’t think that the objection is valid.
Regardless of whether the innocent takes the punishment voluntarily, or benefits from it, it is still not Just. The guilty party has gotten of "scott free" as it were.

Havok said...

Patrick: I think we can leave this to God. He is certainly able to do it.
Sorry, punts to mystery simply aren't good enough.

Patrick: Either He is unable to help due to being perfectly just
Which, as you seem to be demonstrating in your comments above, is troublesome for the existence of God - you seem to accept that something cannot be both perfectly Just and have perfect Grace (or be perfectly loving etc).

Patrick: He doesn’t help as it would increase the person’s suffering in the long run.
So I have no reason to help, as it would increase the person's suffering in the long run. Except of course, if I did nothing to help I would be morally condemned, whereas you're giving God a free pass. This seems to me to be the essence of Matt's post - why the double standard?

Patrick: But if the former explanation is correct, the latter becomes irrelevant, as even if God was willing to help people He would be unable to do so.
And yet the definition of gratuitous suffering seems to be that it is undeserved suffering. In such cases, God's Just nature would not prevent him from intervening (which leaves us with the former, with the problems it has).

Patrick: Contrary to what I wrote earlier it could furthermore be that God is not able to help people who haven’t accepted His salvation but may accept it when confronted with it.
Why would that be?

Patrick: As we are not in a position to know whether or not a sufferer will ever accept God’s salvation we are obligated to help people if we are able to do so.
But said suffering could assist in the person accepting God's salvation, so we're obliged to not step in and help.

Patrick: It could even be that we are supposed to be God’s tool to help a person who later would accept His salvation.
Which poses problems for our free will and God's moral praiseworthiness.

Patrick: First, we often don’t know or at least don’t know for sure if a person has accepted God’s salvation.
God would surely know, if he existed?

Patrick: But even if we know it for sure it may again be the case that we are supposed to be God’s tool to help this person.
Which doesn't apply in cases where "we" are not around to lend a hand. God could step in in those instances, but doesn't appear to - hence he's morally blameworthy (if he exists), which is a contradictory to God's perfect moral praiseworthiness, and therefore God doesn't exist ;-)

Patrick: As I pointed out before God may be unable to help whereas we may not. Consequently there is no double standard applied here.
Your points don't seem to save your argument, as indicated above.

Patrick: - It is moral to prevent unnecessary suffering.
Which is a problem, as no suffering can be unnecessary if God (as Christianity seems to define it) exists.

Patrick: As for the divine attributes perfect goodness is not at odds with perfect justice. God can judge people and nevertheless love them.
As you yourself seemed to accept above, the attributes do indeed to be contradictory.

Take a look through the Maitzen paper I mentioned above "Ordinary Morality Implies Atheism" :-)

The Ellipsis said...

[continued from above]
Your next point, Patrick, was that god wouldn't destroy free will. Well why not? Clearly god doesn't like it when we defy him. And when we do, he supposedly only punishes us and/or sends us to hell, only to eventually be cleansed and then be good people. Well why can't he just cleanse us without the punishment? Does he need to take a whip to our backs to get us to be good? And you may argue that god punishes us, so that we can come to be good people of our own free will. Well let me put it this way, Pat: If god decides that he is going to make us good people, then it's going to happen. After an all-powerful being decides he wants to make us be good, that's going to happen. The way most Christians put it, he'll just keep trying until people submit. So if we have no choice in becoming good people after doing evil things, then why bother with the method of making us so? Why not simply, as C.S. Lewis so kindly put it, "Cause our cerebral matter to refuse its task [of causing evil thoughts]", or otherwise force us to become good people? It seems far more efficient, and there is no other possible circumstance in which it won't come to pass if god wants it to. So why not save all the blood, gore, and waste of time, and just do it the quick way? The fact is, at least part of freewill is already dead.

Do keep in mind, though, that if god were to prevent all people from thinking in a way tat would cause them to do bad acts, that would not completely destroy free will. There are plenty of good ways to be a good person, and I'm only saying that it makes no sense for god to allow evil people to exist. But that doesn't mean we have no choice of what movie to see tomorrow. Here's one last thing to leave you with, on this note: What if freewill is already gone? What if you "decide" to sit on your sofa when you get home from work, open a can of soda, and turn on NCIS, thinking it's your choice, but really god has already planned it out? What if he is causing all of your thoughts, including the illusion of freewill? Maybe a god who does this wouldn't be the god you know, but maybe god isn't what you think he is. Maybe he's only fooling you into believing that he is a just and moral god, and similarly causing you to disbelieve what I'm saying right now? If that were the case, then your freewill would be gone, and you a puppet. And the best part is: Not you, nor I, nor anyone would have any way of knowing it. Unless, of course, god allowed it...



Moving on to your next point, you said that god's tests allow believers to grow spiritually. How? Are you saying that by taking Job, an incredibly spiritual man, who believed and followed god loyally, and destroying everything he had, he was helping the man? So by making his life miserable, he is making him grow spiritually. I'm sorry Pat, but that makes no sense. And sure, he paid Job back in full, and with more, but how much did Job really grow? He already loved god, believed in god, and followed god. So what did god really change? I just have to say, I think that god would be able to find a better way to let his *followers* grow spiritually, without "testing" them.

The Ellipsis said...

[and continued once more]
Now just for the benefit and clarity of anyone reading this, following are the point I made, and Patrick's response. I feel like it's a tad out of context. "Now I'll address the rest of the points at once, because they're all under the same idea. What I'm saying is that, in regards to the evil people, why does god need to torture or murder them? Since he knew that he would want them dead before they were even bored, being omniscient, why would he allow them to exist and go about their evil ways in the first place? It seems far more practical, as well as merciful and humane for god to simply prevent the existence of evil people as opposed to allowing it only to murder them, and likely send them off to hell. I'm not saying he'd have to let no men live, because I agree that nobody's perfect, but he could have just prevented the ones he knew would be evil (enough that he'd have to kill later) from living, and replaced the with people he wouldn't."
Pat: "According to the Bible we all deserve death (Romans 5,12-14). "

This bible verse says " 12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. "

Now let me ask something, Pat: Did you even read that verse? My point is that god *knows*, before someone is even bored, if he will end up killing them or torturing them with his own hand. So therefore, if he's sure that they will be *that* bad, it makes no sense for him to allow them to live in the first place. The bible verse you quoted states that all humans sin, so they all die. By the bible's definition of sin, I agree. But god doesn't personally arrange the death of every single person. (according to you, as you stated that god does *not* control *everything*) And even if humans do deserve death, that's only because they have sinned. If god prevents evil people from being born, not only will he prevent them from making him have to kill them and staining the world with their sin, he'll also prevent them from sinning at all. So if a person isn't born, they don't sin, and therefore don't deserve to die. Not that they could, though, because they would never exist. I mean, being god, and given the massive amounts of sperm and egg cells in existence at any time, god must be familiar with a LOT of hypothetical lives. He must choose to prevent them from living all the time, so why not pick the evil ones for this?

And your final point (thank goodness, this is getting tiring) was that god *does* indeed wish to simply make us into better human beings by spiritual means, rather than by corporal punishment. Well if this is the case, then why in the hell does he choose not to? You say that he respects free will, and wants our consent before doing so. I'm fairly sure that there are at least several times in the bible (if not all of them, but I'm not that thorough) that god does *not* ask people if they want him to spiritually purify them before he decides to murder, torture, or otherwise punish them. And even then, why does god need out permission? Like I said, we have no choice in the matter of being purified, if god so desires. Anything god decides will happen: Happens. So where's the free will in that? If he knows that we're going to end up spiritually purified, then why bother with the method of doing so? It's pointless, really, as much so as believing in the idea of a god which is contradicted by reality.

Patrick said...

Havok: “If they're incompatible, then a being cannot be perfectly Just and have perfect Grace, and so God, if He is defined as being both perfectly Just and having perfect grace, does not/cannot exist.

[…]

Which as I continue to point out, is not Just. It may indicate God's grace. It may indicate God's love. it completely goes against God's "perfectly Just" nature.

[…]

Sins are going unpunished - you cannot just substitute another entity and claim that Justice has been served. A judge on the bench cannot find someone guilty of murder, sentence them to death, then substitute themselves for the criminal, and claim justice has been served.”

The analogy here is not entirely correct, as God is not only the judge, but also the One Who is offended by our wrong actions, so to speak the victim (Isaiah 43,24). This also applies to the sins that are directed against men (Psalm 51,4, Matthew 24,41-45). Has a victim not the right to forgive the person who has behaved badly towards him or her, especially if for the victim the benefit of such an act is bigger than the harm that this caused for him or her?

Havok: “In your account, how is the crime being punished? There is no punishment for the criminal (sinner)!”

In a sense you can say that the sinners pay back to Jesus the ransom He paid by surrendering their lives to Him and accepting Him as their Lord (Romans 14,8, 1 Corinthians 6,19-20, 2 Corinthians 5,14-15).

Havok said...

Patrick: Has a victim not the right to forgive the person who has behaved badly towards him or her
Sure, but then there is no need for the punishment at all if God is able to forgive in this fashion (though, as you've pointed out this runs up against God's supposed perfect Justice).

Patrick: especially if for the victim the benefit of such an act is bigger than the harm that this caused for him or her?
I don't think this would represent justice.
Also, how does God benefit? You mentioned a passage which claimed Jesus was exhalted above others, but if Jesus is/was God, then how could he be further exhalted?

Patrick: In a sense you can say that the sinners pay back to Jesus the ransom He paid by surrendering their lives to Him and accepting Him as their Lord (Romans 14,8, 1 Corinthians 6,19-20, 2 Corinthians 5,14-15)
So why would Jesus need to die for our sins if this payment is sufficient to pay back for the sins?
And this still doesn't seem to indicate that justice is being served.

Patrick, you seem to have identified an incoherence in your concept of God :-)

Patrick said...

Havok: “And here I thought Jesus was God in Christianity. Both passages seem to argue against that claim - How could God be further exalted? :-)”

I’m not going to open another theological can of worms, so let me just say that God (Jesus) is insofar a beneficiary of the work of salvation, as it enables Him to express His grace and as, as a consequence of this work, the overall amount of injustice in the world is diminished, which in turn results in less grief for God.

Havok: “No idea - I'm not the one trying to justify the existence of some imaginary being :-)

[…]

Which is why theologians and philosophers have come up with other, more complex and nuanced definitions of omnipotence.”

In my view with the concept of omnipotence theologians created an unnecessary philosophical problem for Christianity.

Havok: “Which would be salvation through works accompanied by some time of punishment if the works were not "up to scratch", or something similar. No problem with that.”

If we were able to live our lives without ever committing a sin we could indeed achieve salvation through works. But as it is not possible we depend on God’s grace.

Havok: “Because for much of the suffering in reality, there is no "reason" for it. Any suffering in an afterlife, if such a thing occurred, would be directly attributable to our behaviour now. It seems on Christianity, there is no such justification for suffering in the here and now.”

Proceeding on the assumption that the suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the suffering in the afterlife there would be no reason for God to diminish the former.

Regardless of whether the innocent takes the punishment voluntarily, or benefits from it, it is still not Just. The guilty party has gotten of "scott free" as it were.

As I pointed out in my previous post me must take care not to use misleading analogies. Using the analogy of a court case we must be aware that Jesus is neither a third party nor a judge uninvolved in the case. He is at the same time the judge and the victim of the crime. Moreover, according to the Bible (John 6,56, 17,26, Romans 6,3-11, 8,9-11, Galatians 2,19-20) Jesus and the sinner believing in Him have a spiritual relationship with each other, which results in God looking at them as if they were one person. Clearly, there is no analogy available illustrating such a state.

A further point for which we have no real analogy is the idea that a person accepting God’s salvation turns into a new man (Ezekiel 11,19-20, 2 Corinthians 5,16-17, Galatians 5,16-18). To use again the analogy of a court case, the judge not only takes the defendant’s guilt upon himself, but in addition to this changes the defendant’s character.

The guilty party only would only have gotten of “scott free” if accepting God’s salvation had no consequence for him or her. But, as I’ve tried to show, this is not the case.

Patrick said...

Havok: “Sorry, punts to mystery simply aren't good enough.”

My suggestion was that any suffering in this world would serve the purpose of reducing suffering in the afterlife. You then asked how this could be achieved. I don’t have to be able to explain in detail how exactly God would have to proceed to achieve this goal in order for my initial statement to be valid.

Havok: “Which, as you seem to be demonstrating in your comments above, is troublesome for the existence of God - you seem to accept that something cannot be both perfectly Just and have perfect Grace (or be perfectly loving etc).

[…]

Sure, but then there is no need for the punishment at all if God is able to forgive in this fashion (though, as you've pointed out this runs up against God's supposed perfect Justice).”

Due to Jesus’ work of salvation God can indeed be perfectly just and at the same time gracious. God can be gracious, as He as a victim of our sins clearly is entitled to forgive us our sins. But if sins are only forgiven but not punished, justice would not be served. One may imagine that just as there is in Physics a law of conservation of energy, there may be in Theology a “law of conservation of justice”. According to such a law the overall amount of injustice must be equal with the overall amount of punishment of injustice. That’s why Jesus had to take the punishment for men’s sins upon Himself.

Havok: “So I have no reason to help, as it would increase the person's suffering in the long run. Except of course, if I did nothing to help I would be morally condemned, whereas you're giving God a free pass. This seems to me to be the essence of Matt's post - why the double standard?”

I’ve presented some possible reasons why we are supposed to act in the same way as God does: Unlike God we are not supposed to judge people or we are not perfectly just.

Earlier I wrote that God may fail to intervene in this world to prevent suffering, as such an act may create more suffering than would be prevented. With respect to suffering created by acts of men the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13,24-30, 13,36-43) may be informative. When in the parable the servants ask the owner of the field if they should pull up the weeds, meaning the wicked, the owner answered that they shouldn’t do it, as “while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them” (v. 29, NIV), whereby the “wheat” represents the righteous. An illustration of this idea can also be found in Genesis 18,16-33.

Havok: “And yet the definition of gratuitous suffering seems to be that it is undeserved suffering. In such cases, God's Just nature would not prevent him from intervening (which leaves us with the former, with the problems it has).”

You misunderstand my idea that God’s being perfectly just prevents Him from intervening on a sinner’s behalf. I think that this also applies to cases when the sinner’s suffering is undeserved. But even if He could intervene on the sinner’s behalf He might not do so, as the undeserved suffering might result in diminishing suffering in the afterlife. So, justice would be served.

Patrick said...

Havok: “Why would that be?”

I suggested that people’s sins are an insuperable obstacle for God, making it impossible for Him to help them. This would also apply to this category of people.

Havok: “But said suffering could assist in the person accepting God's salvation, so we're obliged to not step in and help.”

We were talking about cases when people are in danger of life. In such cases your objection doesn’t apply.

Havok: “Which poses problems for our free will and God's moral praiseworthiness.”

My assumption is that the person helping is someone who himself has accepted God’s salvation and so there is no problem with free will.

Havok: “God would surely know, if he existed?”

But the fact that God knows it doesn’t mean that we know it as well.

Havok: “Which doesn't apply in cases where "we" are not around to lend a hand. God could step in in those instances, but doesn't appear to - hence he's morally blameworthy (if he exists), which is a contradictory to God's perfect moral praiseworthiness, and therefore God doesn't exist ;-)”

How do you know that God wouldn’t step in in those instances? But even if He didn’t, in such a case the person would be sooner in a position to enjoy heavenly bliss and so the person’s overall amount of suffering would be reduced.

Havok: “Your points don't seem to save your argument, as indicated above.”

I don’t think that this is the case.

Havok: “Which is a problem, as no suffering can be unnecessary if God (as Christianity seems to define it) exists.”

The question is whether or not you regard suffering that results from the sinful acts of free-willed agents as unnecessary suffering. On the one hand you may say that it doesn’t belong to this category, as such suffering is necessary to maintain the high good of free will. On the other hand, if one regards suffering that does not benefit the sufferer as unnecessary suffering such suffering is indeed compatible with the existence of a perfectly just and perfectly good God valuing free will. It would indeed be a necessary consequence of it.

Patrick said...

Havok: “As you yourself seemed to accept above, the attributes do indeed to be contradictory.”

In my view being loving is not the same as being gracious. Whereas the latter implies some kind of action, the former doesn’t necessarily do so. You can love someone without being able to intervene in the respective person’s life, but with respect to grace that’s not the case.

Havok: “Take a look through the Maitzen paper I mentioned above "Ordinary Morality Implies Atheism" :-)”

I’ve read the article, and I don’t see that my viewpoint violates ordinary morality.

Havok: “So why would Jesus need to die for our sins if this payment is sufficient to pay back for the sins?”

It may have been misleading to suggest that surrendering our lives to Jesus is like paying back to Him what He did for us. I just wanted to make clear that God’s salvation has consequences for the redeemed people’s life. But I don’t think that we will ever be able to “pay back” what Jesus did for us. That’s why I used the expression “in a sense”.

Havok: “And this still doesn't seem to indicate that justice is being served.”

Another difference between earthly justice and divine justice is the fact that (at least for most people) with respect to the former it is possible to live up to its requirements but with respect to the latter it isn’t. It is possible to be a decent, law-abiding citizen, but, due to our fallen state, however much we try it’s impossible for us to avoid committing sins (Romans 5,6, 7,14-25, Ephesians 2,1-3). But isn’t it regarded as unjust if someone is punished for acts he couldn’t avoid? So, true justice could only be there if God provided us with a way out of this state, and that’s what He indeed did.

Havok said...

Patrick: ...so let me just say that God (Jesus) is insofar a beneficiary of the work of salvation...
So the passages you cited as evidence for benefit to Jesus are actually irrelevant to this case?

Patrick: In my view with the concept of omnipotence theologians created an unnecessary philosophical problem for Christianity.
There does appear to be some biblical support for the concept of omnipotence, however...
Matt 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Luke 1:37 "For nothing will be impossible with God."
Jeremiah 32:17 Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You,

I'm sure there are more. The philosophical problem doesn't look to be as unnecessary as you'd like :-)

Patrick: If we were able to live our lives without ever committing a sin we could indeed achieve salvation through works. But as it is not possible we depend on God’s grace.
Why is it not possible?
God, as generally envisaged, could surely have created beings who never sinned, since according to my understanding of orthodox Christianity, he did so - it's called heaven.
Also, God could perhaps have changed the requirements of living a sinless life, such that it was actually within reach of humans (assuming he could not create "better" beings).

Patrick: Proceeding on the assumption that the suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the suffering in the afterlife there would be no reason for God to diminish the former.
And no reason for us to diminish the former either - no obligations to help others in trouble, as it would obviously be God's plan that they suffer (to reduce suffering in the afterlife).

Patrick: Clearly, there is no analogy available illustrating such a state.
If, on the face of it, it seems unjust, and you're unable to explain how it is that it is just, by way of analogy or otherwise, why should we accept that it is just?

Havok said...

Patrick: To use again the analogy of a court case, the judge not only takes the defendant’s guilt upon himself, but in addition to this changes the defendant’s character.
But you admit that this analogy doesn't work :-)
Is there any evidence of this happening (only for Christians, mind you)?
And wouldn't changing the character of the sinner interfere with free will, or at the very least indicate that God could/should have created that person with the changed character to begin with (which would have lessened their suffering and sinning etc)?

Patrick: My suggestion was that any suffering in this world would serve the purpose of reducing suffering in the afterlife.
A claim which, if true, seems to absolve us of any obligation to help alleviate suffering in this world. AS the Maitzen paper indicates, ordinary morality (the claim that we have just such an obligation) implies atheism :-)

Patrick: But if sins are only forgiven but not punished, justice would not be served. [...] That’s why Jesus had to take the punishment for men’s sins upon Himself.
But sins are still not punished, since it is an innocent (and the victim at that) who is punished. AS I keep pointing out, just because the punishment is volantarily accepted, and even if the benefit to the innocent victim is greater than the punishment, that does not mean that justice has been served. It simply means that punishment has been wrongly applied.

Patrick: I’ve presented some possible reasons why we are supposed to act in the same way as God does: Unlike God we are not supposed to judge people or we are not perfectly just.
And as has been pointed out, your claims regarding reasons for God's innaction absolve us of our own obligations to alleviate suffering.

Patrick: Earlier I wrote that God may fail to intervene in this world to prevent suffering, as such an act may create more suffering than would be prevented
Which merely makes your claim possible, not probable. I think you'd need to show that such is most likely the case (rather than a bare possibility). Perhaps intervention would reduce suffering in the world, but God, for some reason, simply doesn't care about that (not all loving, etc).

Patrick: I think that this also applies to cases when the sinner’s suffering is undeserved.
And there goes God's purported omnibenevolence.

Patrick: But even if He could intervene on the sinner’s behalf He might not do so, as the undeserved suffering might result in diminishing suffering in the afterlife.
Which would mean the suffering was not gratuitous/undeserved (and would also, again, absolve us from an obligation to alleviate it).

Patrick: I suggested that people’s sins are an insuperable obstacle for God, making it impossible for Him to help them. This would also apply to this category of people.
Which doesn't seem to be biblical - Yahweh seems to often assist sinful Israel :-)

Patrick: In such cases your objection doesn’t apply.
It still applies - either the suffering has a purpose (reduce suffering in the afterlife, etc) in which case we shouldn't step in, else it has no purpose and God should step in (or else not be omnibenevolent).

Havok said...

Patrick: My assumption is that the person helping is someone who himself has accepted God’s salvation and so there is no problem with free will.
Since those who have accepted God's salvation are a minority in the world, and assuming this claim works (that Christians do have this obligation), that leaves the majority of humans not having this moral obligation, which doesn't seem to help your case.

Patrick: But the fact that God knows it doesn’t mean that we know it as well.
but such knowledge should inform God as to whether intervention is needed, which it doesn't seem to (since God, it seems, never intervenes).

Patrick: How do you know that God wouldn’t step in in those instances?
I'm not saying that God wouldn't, if he existed, but that he doesn't, if he existed.

Patrick: But even if He didn’t, in such a case the person would be sooner in a position to enjoy heavenly bliss and so the person’s overall amount of suffering would be reduced.
And so once again you absolve us of any obligation to help people.

Patrick: On the one hand you may say that it doesn’t belong to this category, as such suffering is necessary to maintain the high good of free will.
Assuming that the amount of suffering is outweighed by the "high good" of free will, this still doesn't address issues of unnecessary suffering which is not due to human free will (such as due to natural disasters etc). It also doesn't address the issue that it seems possible that God could influence our character to pursue good without reducing our free will (ie. Hitler could have been influenced to pursue a career as an artist - a change of character which you've suggested above can take place).

Patrick: In my view being loving is not the same as being gracious.
Which is nice to know, but doesn't indicate that the divine attributes are compatible :-)

Patrick: I’ve read the article, and I don’t see that my viewpoint violates ordinary morality.
Hopefully the occasions above where I've pointed out where your viewpoint does indeed go against ordinary morality will shed some further light on things then :-)

Patrick: Another difference between earthly justice and divine justice is the fact that (at least for most people) with respect to the former it is possible to live up to its requirements but with respect to the latter it isn’t
If it's not "justice" as we understand it, then why use the same term? It simply adds to confusion.

Patrick: But isn’t it regarded as unjust if someone is punished for acts he couldn’t avoid?
Indeed it is, and so God, in setting things up such that it is impossible to live so as to avoid punishment, is not perfectly Just. He may possess perfect "divine justive", but as you indicate above, that's not the same thing.

Patrick: So, true justice could only be there if God provided us with a way out of this state, and that’s what He indeed did.
Ok, since we're dealing with "divine justice" here, and not "justice" as we normally understand it, why would we think that true "divine justice" requires a way out? By separating the two concepts, you seem to have opened a can of worms for yourself.

Patrick said...

Ellipsis: “Clearly god doesn't like it when we defy him. And when we do, he supposedly only punishes us and/or sends us to hell, only to eventually be cleansed and then be good people.”

God doesn’t send people to hell in order to cleanse them and make them good people but in order to punish them.

Ellipsis: “Well why can't he just cleanse us without the punishment? Does he need to take a whip to our backs to get us to be good? And you may argue that god punishes us, so that we can come to be good people of our own free will. Well let me put it this way, Pat: If god decides that he is going to make us good people, then it's going to happen.”

Like you the Bible takes the view that it is better to obey God voluntarily without having been forced to do so by adverse circumstances (Psalm 32,8-9). But if it doesn’t work the sweet way, God may be forced to accomplish His goal the hard way.

Ellipsis: “After an all-powerful being decides he wants to make us be good, that's going to happen. The way most Christians put it, he'll just keep trying until people submit. So if we have no choice in becoming good people after doing evil things, then why bother with the method of making us so? Why not simply, as C.S. Lewis so kindly put it, "Cause our cerebral matter to refuse its task [of causing evil thoughts]", or otherwise force us to become good people?”

When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus answered as follows: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Matthew 22,37b-39, NIV) Loving someone is something you definitely cannot force people to do.

Ellipsis: “Do keep in mind, though, that if god were to prevent all people from thinking in a way tat would cause them to do bad acts, that would not completely destroy free will. There are plenty of good ways to be a good person, and I'm only saying that it makes no sense for god to allow evil people to exist. But that doesn't mean we have no choice of what movie to see tomorrow.”

If, as pointed out in my previous reply, you cannot be forced to obey God’s major commandments, you can even to a lesser degree be forced to obey God’s minor commandments, as they “hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22,40, NIV)

Ellipsis: “What if freewill is already gone?”

This is mere speculation. Of course, what I experience as free will could be an illusion created by God. But the idea that God deceives us would be incompatible with the concept of omnibenevolence.

Patrick said...

Havok: “So the passages you cited as evidence for benefit to Jesus are actually irrelevant to this case?“

They are not irrelevant. But I didn’t want to start a debate on the Doctrine of Trinity.

Havok: “There does appear to be some biblical support for the concept of omnipotence, however...“

As for omnipotence the following concepts may be formulated:

- God can do whatever He likes, even if it is logically impossible.
- God can do whatever He likes, unless it is logically impossible.
- God can do whatever He likes, unless it is logically impossible and unless it goes against His own nature.

If you call all these concepts or only the first one “omnipotence” is a matter of definition. I personally adhere to the last concept, which in my view is in agreement with the Bible.

Havok: “God, as generally envisaged, could surely have created beings who never sinned, since according to my understanding of orthodox Christianity, he did so - it's called heaven.“

Also according to orthodox Christianity God indeed created beings having the ability not to sin, namely angels. But once some of these beings decided to sin, their fate was sealed (2 Peter 2,4). It may indeed be an advantage that we were not created as sinless beings living in Heaven.

Havok: “Also, God could perhaps have changed the requirements of living a sinless life, such that it was actually within reach of humans (assuming he could not create "better" beings).“

It would certainly go against God’s nature to compromise the standard of righteousness.

Havok: “And no reason for us to diminish the former either - no obligations to help others in trouble, as it would obviously be God's plan that they suffer (to reduce suffering in the afterlife).

[…]

A claim which, if true, seems to absolve us of any obligation to help alleviate suffering in this world. AS the Maitzen paper indicates, ordinary morality (the claim that we have just such an obligation) implies atheism :-)

[…]

And as has been pointed out, your claims regarding reasons for God's innaction absolve us of our own obligations to alleviate suffering.

[…]

Which would mean the suffering was not gratuitous/undeserved (and would also, again, absolve us from an obligation to alleviate it).“

Jesus said that His followers’ good deeds would make people praise God (Matthew 5,16), which in turn certainly raises the likelihood of these people’s salvation.

Patrick said...

The idea that good deeds accomplished by Christians can cause unbelievers’ salvation can be found in 1 Peter 3,1-2.

Patrick said...

Havok: “If, on the face of it, it seems unjust, and you're unable to explain how it is that it is just, by way of analogy or otherwise, why should we accept that it is just?”

[…]

But sins are still not punished, since it is an innocent (and the victim at that) who is punished. AS I keep pointing out, just because the punishment is volantarily accepted, and even if the benefit to the innocent victim is greater than the punishment, that does not mean that justice has been served. It simply means that punishment has been wrongly applied.

Your motto seems to be “Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus”. If due to being perfectly just it was indeed impossible for God to forgive sins, He would have even more reasons to allow suffering, as it would be the only means for men to achieve salvation or at least a lesser degree of punishment in the afterlife.

Havok: “Is there any evidence of this happening (only for Christians, mind you)?”

There have indeed been people, whose life, after turning to Christ, changed for the better. An impressive Biblical example is Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19,1-10).

Havok: “And wouldn't changing the character of the sinner interfere with free will, or at the very least indicate that God could/should have created that person with the changed character to begin with (which would have lessened their suffering and sinning etc)?”

Such change of the character doesn’t interfere with free will, as it depends on the redeemed person’s readiness to accept the change (Romans 6,11-14, 12,2, Galatians 5,16-18, Ephesians 4,17-24). As for the question whether or not God should have created persons of good character to begin with, one might on the point to the fact that there are indeed among those who have not accepted God’s salvation people who live very decent lives. But such people are in particular in danger to think that they don’t need God in order to live a morally good life or to become self-righteousness (Luke 7,36-50, 18,9-14). On the other hand, people with defects in their character may be in particular open to God’s salvation, and therefore God may have a good reason to create them.

Havok: “Which merely makes your claim possible, not probable. I think you'd need to show that such is most likely the case (rather than a bare possibility). Perhaps intervention would reduce suffering in the world, but God, for some reason, simply doesn't care about that (not all loving, etc).”

I don’t see how you can establish the probability of the statement that God’s intervention in this world causes more suffering than the absence of such an intervention.

Havok: “And there goes God's purported omnibenevolence.”

If God is unable to intervene on people’s behalf I don’t see how this goes against His omnibenevolence.

Havok: “Which doesn't seem to be biblical - Yahweh seems to often assist sinful Israel :-)”

According to Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 this is not supposed to be the case.

Havok: “It still applies - either the suffering has a purpose (reduce suffering in the afterlife, etc) in which case we shouldn't step in, else it has no purpose and God should step in (or else not be omnibenevolent).”

As we usually don’t know the sufferer’s eternal destination, it is certainly reasonable to conclude that unless we have a clear instruction from God not to act in his or her favour like the one we can read in Jeremiah 7,16 and 14,11, it is our duty to help him or her. This may also a reasonable behaviour, as it could, as pointed out above, result in the sufferer’s salvation.

Patrick said...

Ellipsis: “Moving on to your next point, you said that god's tests allow believers to grow spiritually. How? Are you saying that by taking Job, an incredibly spiritual man, who believed and followed god loyally, and destroying everything he had, he was helping the man? So by making his life miserable, he is making him grow spiritually. I'm sorry Pat, but that makes no sense. And sure, he paid Job back in full, and with more, but how much did Job really grow? He already loved god, believed in god, and followed god.”

I don’t suggest that being tested is always necessary for spiritual growth. As for Job, God’s test obviously led to a deeper understanding of Him (Job 42,1-6).

Ellipsis: “My point is that god *knows*, before someone is even bored, if he will end up killing them or torturing them with his own hand. So therefore, if he's sure that they will be *that* bad, it makes no sense for him to allow them to live in the first place. The bible verse you quoted states that all humans sin, so they all die. By the bible's definition of sin, I agree. But god doesn't personally arrange the death of every single person. (according to you, as you stated that god does *not* control *everything*) And even if humans do deserve death, that's only because they have sinned.”

It seems to me that for unrepenting people it doesn’t matter whether they are killed by God in this life or judged by Him in the afterlife?

Ellipsis: “If god prevents evil people from being born, not only will he prevent them from making him have to kill them and staining the world with their sin, he'll also prevent them from sinning at all. So if a person isn't born, they don't sin, and therefore don't deserve to die. Not that they could, though, because they would never exist.”

I’m not sure if I understand what you mean, but you seem to suggest that God could prevent the worst sinners from being born and by doing so may contribute to a decrease of suffering in the world. But if we take this idea to its logical conclusion God may end up preventing all people from being born. You cannot distinguish between the worst sinners and those that don’t belong to this category without being arbitrary.

Ellipsis: “And your final point (thank goodness, this is getting tiring) was that god *does* indeed wish to simply make us into better human beings by spiritual means, rather than by corporal punishment. Well if this is the case, then why in the hell does he choose not to? You say that he respects free will, and wants our consent before doing so. I'm fairly sure that there are at least several times in the bible (if not all of them, but I'm not that thorough) that god does *not* ask people if they want him to spiritually purify them before he decides to murder, torture, or otherwise punish them.”

Suffering may have the effect to make people ready to be purified spiritually by God. As for those people God hadn’t asked if they want Him to spiritually purify them, I think if someone wants such a purification God wouldn’t withhold it from them (see Luke 11,13).

Ellipsis: “And even then, why does god need out permission? Like I said, we have no choice in the matter of being purified, if god so desires. Anything god decides will happen: Happens. So where's the free will in that? If he knows that we're going to end up spiritually purified, then why bother with the method of doing so?”

God can only purify people who love Him. But as I pointed out before love requires free will.

Patrick said...
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Patrick said...

Havok: “Since those who have accepted God's salvation are a minority in the world, and assuming this claim works (that Christians do have this obligation), that leaves the majority of humans not having this moral obligation, which doesn't seem to help your case.”

The question here is whether or not a person accepting the Bible as guidance concering moral issues is obliged to help sufferers. Of course, other people have to look elsewhere for such guidance.

Havok: “but such knowledge should inform God as to whether intervention is needed, which it doesn't seem to (since God, it seems, never intervenes).”

I’m not sure if I understand what you mean. You seem to suggest that God should inform us whether or not a sufferer is supposed to be helped. Based on Bible passages such as Job 31,16-23, Isaiah 58,6-7, Matthew 25,34-40, or Luke 10,25-37 I think we can assume that in general we are supposed to help people who are in need and therefore no special instruction from God is necessary.

Havok: “I'm not saying that God wouldn't, if he existed, but that he doesn't, if he existed.”

How do you know that God never intervenes?

Havok: “And so once again you absolve us of any obligation to help people.”

One might assume that in such a situation the sufferer wouldn’t have survived even if someone had been around.

Havok: “Assuming that the amount of suffering is outweighed by the "high good" of free will, this still doesn't address issues of unnecessary suffering which is not due to human free will (such as due to natural disasters etc). It also doesn't address the issue that it seems possible that God could influence our character to pursue good without reducing our free will (ie. Hitler could have been influenced to pursue a career as an artist - a change of character which you've suggested above can take place).”

In my view free will means above all that we are free to choose whether or not we want to live in a loving relationship with God. If we do, we have the promise that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. (Romans 8,28, NIV) For those who don’t choose such a relationship their suffering in this life may contribute to a decrease of suffering in the afterlife.

A change of character accomplished by God only may be expected if we really want it, as I pointed out before. Hitler maybe didn’t want it or didn’t believe that God could accomplish such a change, if he believed in God at all.

Patrick said...

Havok: “Which is nice to know, but doesn't indicate that the divine attributes are compatible :-)”

It seems to me that God’s justice and God’s grace needn’t be incompatible with each other. It can be argued that a perfectly just God would create a world with the least possible amount of injustice. As God’s salvation, based on His grace, results in diminishing the overall amount of injustice God’s grace is not in contradiction with His justice.

Havok: “If it's not "justice" as we understand it, then why use the same term? It simply adds to confusion.

[…]

Ok, since we're dealing with "divine justice" here, and not "justice" as we normally understand it, why would we think that true "divine justice" requires a way out? By separating the two concepts, you seem to have opened a can of worms for yourself.”

When I suggested a difference between human and divine justice I had not different kinds of justice in mind. Rather I wanted to point to the fact that human justice in general is only concerned with acts, whereas according the Bible immoral thoughts too are the object of judgement (Matthew 5,27-28, Luke 18,9-14, 1 John 3,15). Whereas it is possible to avoid immoral acts, it certainly isn’t possible to avoid immoral thoughts.

Havok: “Indeed it is, and so God, in setting things up such that it is impossible to live so as to avoid punishment, is not perfectly Just. He may possess perfect "divine justive", but as you indicate above, that's not the same thing.”

As God provided a way out of this state I think He can be regarded as just.

Havok said...

Patrick: The question here is whether or not a person accepting the Bible as guidance concering moral issues is obliged to help sufferers.
No, the original question was why is God not condemned for not helping people when another human would be. The subsequent question is why humans have a moral obligation that God does not.

Patrick: You seem to suggest that God should inform us whether or not a sufferer is supposed to be helped.
No, God ought to be informed enough to figure out whether he ought to intervene - and yet he doesn't seem to intervene even when there are no people around.

Patrick: Based on Bible passages ... I think we can assume that in general we are supposed to help people who are in need and therefore no special instruction from God is necessary.
But God seems to have no such obligation. All of the "maybe"s and "perhaps" you've come up with haven't solved the initial problem as far as I can tell, they've simply created further problems to overcome.

Patrick: How do you know that God never intervenes?
There appears to be no evidence of this occuring, and so I can conclude that as far as we can tell, this does not occur.

Patrick: One might assume that in such a situation the sufferer wouldn’t have survived even if someone had been around.
That doesn't save your position. If we can assume that a person would receive heavenly bliss if we don't help them, then we likely have an obligation NOT to help them.

Patrick: For those who don’t choose such a relationship their suffering in this life may contribute to a decrease of suffering in the afterlife.
And, since as you've said, we can't/don't know whether a person has or will choose such a relationship, and since whatever (seemingly unneccessary) suffering they have in this life has a purpose (reducing suffering in the afterlife, helping bring them into a relationship with God, etc), then we have an obligation NOT to help them, since the suffering is for their own good.

Havok said...

Patrick: A change of character accomplished by God only may be expected if we really want it, as I pointed out before. Hitler maybe didn’t want it or didn’t believe that God could accomplish such a change, if he believed in God at all.
So let me get this straight - Hitler's free will was so important that a tiny nudge towards a career as an artist would be out of the question, but the freewill of all of the people whom Hitler killed and tortured, whose freewill Hitler deprived them of, were not so important?
Seems a little ridiculous to me :-)

Patrick: It seems to me that God’s justice and God’s grace needn’t be incompatible with each other.
Perhaps you're right, but since you currently seem to lack a coherent explanation of how they can be composed, it seems the claim they are incompatible is rather more likely, don't you think?

Patrick: It can be argued that a perfectly just God would create a world with the least possible amount of injustice.
The world we live in DOES NOT appear to be such a world. If it were, I would imagine it would be a rather more obvious conclusion.

Patrick: As God’s salvation, based on His grace, results in diminishing the overall amount of injustice God’s grace is not in contradiction with His justice.
But with God, being essentially "omnipotent", and perfectly Just, how can there be any injustice to begin with?

Patrick: Whereas it is possible to avoid immoral acts, it certainly isn’t possible to avoid immoral thoughts.
While it is not possible for us, as we are, to avoid immoral thoughts, it is certainly possible for a being such as God, to have created beings who could avoid immoral thoughts, without impinging on their free will.
You've provided another point of evidence against the existence of your God.

Patrick: As God provided a way out of this state I think He can be regarded as just.
You're making your God out to be a bungler. Since God, if he existed, had to provide a way out of this injustice, rather than avoiding that state to begin with (which seems likely to have been within such a beings power) then, while God may be said to be addressing some injustice, you cannot claim him as being perfectly Just, simply because he would have avoided the injust state to begin with.

Havok said...

Patrick: Also according to orthodox Christianity God indeed created beings having the ability not to sin, namely angels. But once some of these beings decided to sin, their fate was sealed (2 Peter 2,4).
So God created beings unable to sin, but those beings went on to sin. You're creating more and more problems for yourself it seems.


Patrick: It may indeed be an advantage that we were not created as sinless beings living in Heaven.
And that advantage would be what exactly, Patrick?

Patrick: It would certainly go against God’s nature to compromise the standard of righteousness.
Which brings up the numerous problems for basing morality on God, but that would derail the thread even further :-)

Patrick: Jesus said that His followers’ good deeds would make people praise God (Matthew 5,16), which in turn certainly raises the likelihood of these people’s salvation.
But the suffering itself could bring about the person's salvation. How are beings such as ourselves supposed to work out what the correct course of action is: Intervene and possibly help that persons salvation, but probably increase that person's suffering in the afterlife and possible decrease the chance of salvation, or leave them alone and definitely decrease their suffering in the afterlife, but possibly decrease (or increase?) their possibility of salvation.
It's seems a ridiculous position you've placed yourself in Patrick.

Patrick said...

Havok: “No, the original question was why is God not condemned for not helping people when another human would be. The subsequent question is why humans have a moral obligation that God does not.

[…]

But God seems to have no such obligation. All of the "maybe"s and "perhaps" you've come up with haven't solved the initial problem as far as I can tell, they've simply created further problems to overcome.”

I’ve already given reasons why God does not intervene: Such intervention may cause more harm than good (Matthew 13,24-30), or the fact that He is perfectly just may make it impossible for God to intervene (Isaiah 59,1-2). Furthermore, as God, unlike us, is entitled to judge people (James 4,12), one might draw the conclusion that He, unlike us, is also entitled to allow suffering as part of the punishment of the sufferer’s sins. Finally, whereas a Christian’s help may make the sufferer praise God (Matthew 5,16), God’s help, which, if it is possible at all, may be hidden, may not.

Havok: “No, God ought to be informed enough to figure out whether he ought to intervene - and yet he doesn't seem to intervene even when there are no people around.

[…]

There appears to be no evidence of this occuring, and so I can conclude that as far as we can tell, this does not occur.”

Miracles can be seen as such interventions. Whether or not there are people around may not be important if they cannot help anyway, so the person in need has to rely on God. We find many accounts of such miracles in the Bible.

Havok: “That doesn't save your position. If we can assume that a person would receive heavenly bliss if we don't help them, then we likely have an obligation NOT to help them.”

As I pointed out earlier we do not only have to consider the sufferer’s well-being, but also that of those who in some way or other may later benefit from one of this person’s acts. Consequently, by helping this person we may indeed contribute to a decrease of the overall amount of suffering in this world. Moreover, if the person wants to go on living, it is clearly our duty to help him or her.

Havok: “And, since as you've said, we can't/don't know whether a person has or will choose such a relationship, and since whatever (seemingly unneccessary) suffering they have in this life has a purpose (reducing suffering in the afterlife, helping bring them into a relationship with God, etc), then we have an obligation NOT to help them, since the suffering is for their own good.”

A Christian’s action may or may not be supportive of the sufferer’s salvation. Whatever the result is, it is solely in the sufferer’s responsibility to decide whether or not he accepts God’s salvation, especially if he is aware of it. If he rejects it, no one but he himself is to blame for the resulting suffering in the afterlife.

Patrick said...

Havok: “So let me get this straight - Hitler's free will was so important that a tiny nudge towards a career as an artist would be out of the question, but the freewill of all of the people whom Hitler killed and tortured, whose freewill Hitler deprived them of, were not so important?

Seems a little ridiculous to me :-)”

As far as I know Hitler was not a very gifted artist, so he may not have been inclined to pursue such a career. You suggest that God could have prevented Hitler from becoming a person who would cause atrocities. But why should He have acted like this only with respect to Hitler, and not with respect to other dictators? Indeed, if we take this suggestion to its logical conclusion we might ask why God wouldn’t prevent any person from committing any evil deeds or even from having evil thoughts. Where exactly are we to draw the borderline beyond which God is supposed to prevent a person from committing immoral acts? Wouldn’t any such borderline be arbitrary? As for Hitler’s victims, God accepted their free will as well.

Havok: “Perhaps you're right, but since you currently seem to lack a coherent explanation of how they can be composed, it seems the claim they are incompatible is rather more likely, don't you think?”

I think we can leave it at that and agree to disagree.

Havok: “The world we live in DOES NOT appear to be such a world. If it were, I would imagine it would be a rather more obvious conclusion.”

We may still be far away from such a world, but without Jesus’ work of salvation we would be even farther away from it.

Havok: “But with God, being essentially "omnipotent", and perfectly Just, how can there be any injustice to begin with?

[…]

You're making your God out to be a bungler. Since God, if he existed, had to provide a way out of this injustice, rather than avoiding that state to begin with (which seems likely to have been within such a beings power) then, while God may be said to be addressing some injustice, you cannot claim him as being perfectly Just, simply because he would have avoided the injust state to begin with.”

Injustice starts where free-willed agents created by God reject a loving relationship with Him or don’t seek such a relationship. But as such a relationship is necessarily voluntary, God cannot force free-willed agents to enter into it. Moreover, God obviously created us in a way that we can overcome our sinful desires only when we are in a loving relationship with Him (John 8,31-36, 15,1-5, Romans 6,11-14, 12,2, Galatians 5,16-18, Ephesians 4,17-24).

Havok: “While it is not possible for us, as we are, to avoid immoral thoughts, it is certainly possible for a being such as God, to have created beings who could avoid immoral thoughts, without impinging on their free will.
You've provided another point of evidence against the existence of your God.”

As mentioned before, God created us in a way that we only live according to His standard of righteousness if we are in a close spiritual relationship with Him. Whether or not we want such a relationship is up to our free decision.

Patrick said...

Havok: “So God created beings unable to sin, but those beings went on to sin. You're creating more and more problems for yourself it seems.”

God created beings that were in a loving relationship with Him and, being free-willed agents, at some point decided no longer to continue this relationship. This resulted in their becoming sinful.

Havok: “And that advantage would be what exactly, Patrick?”

It seems that once you are in a state of immortality your decision concerning your attitude towards God is definitive and can’t be changed, but that this doesn’t apply as long as you are not in such a state. Biblical support of such a view may be found in Genesis 3,22. The withholding of the tree of life may not be seen as a punishment, but as a protection of man.

Havok: “Which brings up the numerous problems for basing morality on God, but that would derail the thread even further :-)”

So we may not pursue this issue further.

Havok: “But the suffering itself could bring about the person's salvation. How are beings such as ourselves supposed to work out what the correct course of action is: Intervene and possibly help that persons salvation, but probably increase that person's suffering in the afterlife and possible decrease the chance of salvation, or leave them alone and definitely decrease their suffering in the afterlife, but possibly decrease (or increase?) their possibility of salvation.
It's seems a ridiculous position you've placed yourself in Patrick.”

I think everyone is responsible for himself. If a person has had the chance to accept God’s salvation but has failed to do so, this decision and the respective consequences lie solely in this person’s responsibility. The suffering resulting from such an attitude can be regarded as voluntary. My suggestion that God may not intervene on a sinner’s behalf because this would increase the sinner’s suffering in the afterlife is to be revised to the effect that it may only apply to persons unaware of God’s salvation.

Havok said...

Patrick: Miracles can be seen as such interventions. Whether or not there are people around may not be important if they cannot help anyway, so the person in need has to rely on God. We find many accounts of such miracles in the Bible.
The evidence for any miracle having occurred, whether Christian or otherwise, is far less than convincing unless you already accept the truth of some supernatural belief system (and even then, people tend to disbelieve in the miracles of other faiths).
The biblical accounts are not unique nor convincing in this regard.

Patrick: As I pointed out earlier we do not only have to consider the sufferer’s well-being, but also that of those who in some way or other may later benefit from one of this person’s acts.
We would also need to take into account people who may suffer from this persons acts - it seems we must leave it up to God who would have more knowledge than us in this regard.

Patrick: Consequently, by helping this person we may indeed contribute to a decrease of the overall amount of suffering in this world.
We also may indeed contribute to increase the overall suffering (saving a young Hitler from drowning, for instance).

Patrick: Moreover, if the person wants to go on living, it is clearly our duty to help him or her.
Why is it clearly our duty in this case, but not a duty which God would have? Perhaps their death is a part of God's plan and by intervening with God's we're increasing suffering generally and disrupting God's plan for this person specifically.

Patrick: A Christian’s action may or may not be supportive of the sufferer’s salvation.
So the persons salvation cannot be used as a reason for an obligation.

Patrick: As far as I know Hitler was not a very gifted artist, so he may not have been inclined to pursue such a career.
There are may people who attempt to become artists who are not very talented. There are also a myriad of other possibilities (tradesman, chef, etc etc etc).

Patrick: You suggest that God could have prevented Hitler from becoming a person who would cause atrocities. But why should He have acted like this only with respect to Hitler, and not with respect to other dictators?
I've made no claim that only Hitlet ought to have been "helped".

Patrick: Indeed, if we take this suggestion to its logical conclusion we might ask why God wouldn’t prevent any person from committing any evil deeds or even from having evil thoughts.
Indeed we can, hence the Problem of evil in both logical and evidential varieties which currently have no satisfactory solution.

Patrick: As for Hitler’s victims, God accepted their free will as well.
God allowed Hitlers free will to trump their free will, which seems to be a point against free will being of such particular value to God.

Patrick: I think we can leave it at that and agree to disagree.
As long as you don't mind me pointing out that your concept of God is incoherent, from time to time, and that any discussion concerning such a being is therefore something of an exercise in futility :-)

Patrick: We may still be far away from such a world, but without Jesus’ work of salvation we would be even farther away from it.
But how can a being such as you conceive of God, allow things to get the way the are/were, such that Jesus's supposed salvation (which still doesn't work, mind you) was required?
The fact that some intervention was needed seems to speak against the existence of God as you present it.

Havok said...

Patrick: Injustice starts where free-willed agents created by God reject a loving relationship with Him or don’t seek such a relationship.
This (sort of) brings up another problem with your position. Our ability to choose badly is given as a requirement of free will, yet God is conceived of being free-willed, and yet cannot choose badly. Apparently our sort of free will isn't the only sort, nor can it, by definition, be the most valuable variety.

Patrick: But as such a relationship is necessarily voluntary, God cannot force free-willed agents to enter into it.
It seems obvious that God, if it existed as generally conceived, could have created being who always freely choose to enter into it.

Patrick: Moreover, God obviously created us in a way that we can overcome our sinful desires only when we are in a loving relationship with Him
Why should that be the case, where is your evidence that it's true (Christians seem just as immoral as others), and why is this not evidence against God's omnibenevolence?

Patrick: God created beings that were in a loving relationship with Him and, being free-willed agents, at some point decided no longer to continue this relationship.
Which as I pointed out above doesn't make sense, given the existence of a valuable variety of free will which still allows one to always choose the good (ie. God's).

Patrick: It seems that once you are in a state of immortality your decision concerning your attitude towards God is definitive and can’t be changed, but that this doesn’t apply as long as you are not in such a state.
I'm not sure there is anything to back up this claim, and it does seem ridiculous, since you initially said that the angels were unable to sin - they could not actually get into this state (unless God was a bungler of some variety)

Patrick: The withholding of the tree of life may not be seen as a punishment, but as a protection of man.
I do hope you're referring to this metaphorically, Patrick :-)

Patrick: So we may not pursue this issue further.
We can if you'd like and Matt doesn't mind (he did make an effort to keep the thread on track earlier, but it seems to basically be you and I now).

Patrick: I think everyone is responsible for himself.
Your final paragraph did not interact with my claims. Given there could be good or bad consequences for intervening (increase or decrease suffering, aid salvation or not, etc), then we're not in a position to actually intervene. We must leave such things up to God, who does know what the correct course of action should be. Yet in all cases it seems that God does not intervene. Therefore we should take a cue from God and not intervene - God's inaction absolves us of any moral obligation, as Matt made clear in his initial post which I've reiterated repeatedly, and as Maitzen also makes clear in the paper I linked.

Patrick said...

Havok: “The evidence for any miracle having occurred, whether Christian or otherwise, is far less than convincing unless you already accept the truth of some supernatural belief system (and even then, people tend to disbelieve in the miracles of other faiths).
The biblical accounts are not unique nor convincing in this regard.”

The following quote from page 103 of the book “Jesus and the Constraints of History” (Philadelphia 1982), written by A. E. Harvey, shows that the Biblical miracle accounts may indeed be regarded as unique (source: http://christianthinktank.com/mqfx.html):

“It is in this light that we must judge the accounts we possess of other miracle-workers in Jesus' period and culture. We have already observed that the list of such occurrences is very much shorter than is often supposed. If we take the period of four hundred years stretching from two hundred years before to two hundred years after the birth of Christ, the number of miracles recorded which are remotely comparable with those of Jesus is astonishingly small. On the pagan side, there is little to report apart from the records of cures at healing shrines, which were certainly quite frequent, but are a rather different phenomenon from cures performed by an individual healer. Indeed it is significant that later Christian fathers, when seeking miracle workers with whom to compare or contrast Jesus, had to have recourse to remote and by now almost legendary figures of the past such as Pythagoras or Empedocles.”

If one doesn’t regard the accounts of Jesus’ miracles as reliable because they are supposed not to have been written by eyewitnesses one can look at the Pauline epistles that are generally regarded as genuine. In passages such as Romans 15,18-19, 1 Corinthians 12,9-10, 2 Corinthians 12,12 or Galatians 3,5 we find first hand indications of the performance of miracles in the Christian churches Paul was addressing.

Miracle accounts from more recent times can be found in Ising’s book I mentioned earlier. In particular informative in this respect are the chapters “The Events Surrounding Gottliebin Dittus” (pp. 162 ff.), “The Awakening Spreads. Healings” (pp. 202 ff.) and “Healings” (pp. 326 ff.).

Apart from this Ising’s book is very informative concerning the issue of this thread. It can give us an idea to what extent supernatural free-willed agents, namely demons, may contribute to the evil in this world, and also what requirements must be met so that God can interfere miraculously in this world to prevent or relieve suffering.

Havok said...

Patrick: shows that the Biblical miracle accounts may indeed be regarded as unique
The claims of Harvey, which seem focused on the Gospels, only seem valid if we assume the primary purpose of the gospels is to record history.
Given that the gospel authors themselves don't seem to be concerned with history, but are rather more interested in theology, I don't see that Harvey's point is valid.
We also have a passage from Paul's epistles (1 Cor 1:22-23) which seems to state, in a pretty straight forward manner, that Jesus performed no miracles. We also have various passages from Paul and the gospels that miracles are not to be taken as evidence of God's work (false messiah's and opponents were expected to perform the same/similar "signs and wonders").
We could also look at the reports of miracles from other periods - including our own. One only need to look at the recent Hindu milk miracles, or the miracles of the ridiculous "Sathya Sai Baba" (including a couple of claimed incidents of raising people from the dead) to see that the Gospel accounts, even if they were concerned with recording history, as not particularly unique, nor great evidence that these so called miracles actually occurred.
We also have good reason from science to be skeptical of miracle claims - the conservation laws, which are rather solidly attested by the evidence, would need to be circumvented somehow in order for a miracle to occur.
See, plenty of reason to doubt the miracle claims of Christianity and the bible (and those of other religions as well) :-)

Patrick: Miracle accounts from more recent times can be found in Ising’s book I mentioned earlier.
Ising's book doesn't seem to be a particularly critical investigation into these things, but more rather a biography.
Why does it seem that whenever they can be investigated, and there is some skeptical investigation into miracle claims, they turn out to be nothing of the sort?

Patrick: It can give us an idea to what extent supernatural free-willed agents, namely demons, may contribute to the evil in this world, and also what requirements must be met so that God can interfere miraculously in this world to prevent or relieve suffering.
It always gives me a kick when someone brings up demons - I actually went to see a Catholic exorcist speak recently and it was quite hilarious!
I hope Ising makes the case a little more securely than you have thus far, since you have failed to demonstrate solid reasons why God doesn't/cannot intervene, nor assuming god cannot intervene, why we ought to.

Patrick said...

Havok: “The claims of Harvey, which seem focused on the Gospels, only seem valid if we assume the primary purpose of the gospels is to record history.
Given that the gospel authors themselves don't seem to be concerned with history, but are rather more interested in theology, I don't see that Harvey's point is valid.”

Looking at Luke 1,1-4 at least the author of Luke’s Gospel seems to be concerned with history. Very informative in this respect is the following scholarly work on the Book of Acts, a New Testament book written by the same author:

Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, Tübingen 1989.

Havok: “We also have a passage from Paul's epistles (1 Cor 1:22-23) which seems to state, in a pretty straight forward manner, that Jesus performed no miracles.”

I don’t see how from this passage you can draw the conclusion that Jesus performed no miracles.

Havok: “We also have various passages from Paul and the gospels that miracles are not to be taken as evidence of God's work (false messiah's and opponents were expected to perform the same/similar "signs and wonders").”

With respect to the issue discussed here, whether or not Jesus’ or the apostles’ miracles were unique and whether or not miracles are always to be taken as evidence of God’s work is rather irrelevant.

Havok: “We could also look at the reports of miracles from other periods - including our own. One only need to look at the recent Hindu milk miracles, or the miracles of the ridiculous "Sathya Sai Baba" (including a couple of claimed incidents of raising people from the dead) to see that the Gospel accounts, even if they were concerned with recording history, as not particularly unique, nor great evidence that these so called miracles actually occurred.
We also have good reason from science to be skeptical of miracle claims - the conservation laws, which are rather solidly attested by the evidence, would need to be circumvented somehow in order for a miracle to occur.”

Actually, your argument against the possibility of miracles is supportive of a theodicy. If miracles are impossible and therefore God is not able to perform them, one cannot blame Him for not miraculously intervening in this world in order to avoid or relieve suffering.

Patrick said...

Havok: “Ising's book doesn't seem to be a particularly critical investigation into these things, but more rather a biography.”

Ising’s book is based on a large body of written sources. To get an idea how large it is, you may go to the following link, then go to the link “Search inside this book” and have a look at the section “Sources and Literature”.

http://www.amazon.com/Johann-Christoph-Blumhardt-Life-Work/dp/1606085395/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1289074764&sr=1-1

In my view Ising’s investigation is thorough.

Havok: “Why does it seem that whenever they can be investigated, and there is some skeptical investigation into miracle claims, they turn out to be nothing of the sort?”

Even if some miracle claims have turned out to be false, this doesn’t mean that this must apply to all such claims.

Havok: “It always gives me a kick when someone brings up demons - I actually went to see a Catholic exorcist speak recently and it was quite hilarious!”

For all I know nobody has ever refuted the existence of demons.

Havok: “I hope Ising makes the case a little more securely than you have thus far, since you have failed to demonstrate solid reasons why God doesn't/cannot intervene, nor assuming god cannot intervene, why we ought to.”

Ising’s book seems to show that God only may be able to intervene after some obstacles have been overcome.

Patrick said...

Havok: “We would also need to take into account people who may suffer from this persons acts - it seems we must leave it up to God who would have more knowledge than us in this regard.”

The assumption was that the sufferer is a person who has accepted God’s salvation and as a consequence would strive to live according to God’s commandments, which include to love one’s neighbour (Galatians 5,13-14) and do good to all people (Galatians 6,9-10).

Havok: “We also may indeed contribute to increase the overall suffering (saving a young Hitler from drowning, for instance).”

Hitler certainly didn’t belong to this category of people.

Havok: “Why is it clearly our duty in this case, but not a duty which God would have? Perhaps their death is a part of God's plan and by intervening with God's we're increasing suffering generally and disrupting God's plan for this person specifically.”

If it is really God’s plan that a person has to die, I think that nothing and nobody can thwart His plan, so we needn’t be afraid that we could do so.

Havok: “So the persons salvation cannot be used as a reason for an obligation.”

On the part of the helper the sufferer’s salvation can still be a reason for the obligation. The sufferer’s decision to reject salvation doesn’t alter this.

Havok: “There are may people who attempt to become artists who are not very talented. There are also a myriad of other possibilities (tradesman, chef, etc etc etc).”

But Hitler obviously didn’t want any of these other possibilities. Moreover, the rise of National Socialism is Germany cannot only put down to Hitler’s personality but was also due to the fact that non-Christian ideas were very popular in the early decades of the 20th century.

Havok: “I've made no claim that only Hitlet ought to have been "helped".”

God obviously only can or wants to help people who want to be helped.

Havok: “Indeed we can, hence the Problem of evil in both logical and evidential varieties which currently have no satisfactory solution.”

If we define God as the ultimate source of good as well as being perfectly loving, turning towards Him or seeking Him can only be a matter of a free choice, as love can only be voluntary, and turning away from Him or not seeking Him cannot but result in evil.

Havok: “God allowed Hitlers free will to trump their free will, which seems to be a point against free will being of such particular value to God.”

The free will God grants us is the freedom to love Him or reject Him. Hitler didn’t take away this freedom from anyone.

Havok: “As long as you don't mind me pointing out that your concept of God is incoherent, from time to time, and that any discussion concerning such a being is therefore something of an exercise in futility :-)”

So be it. But from the point of view of ordinary morality the practice of pardoning criminals obviously is generally accepted as a legitimate part of a legal system and not as unjust, although from the point of view of justice this practice seems to me more problematic than the idea that God forgives sinners.

Havok: “But how can a being such as you conceive of God, allow things to get the way the are/were, such that Jesus's supposed salvation (which still doesn't work, mind you) was required?
The fact that some intervention was needed seems to speak against the existence of God as you present it.”

First, I don’t agree with you that Jesus’ salvation doesn’t work. Second, as God created beings that are free to choose or reject a loving relationship with Him, a world full of injustice was the price He had to pay for it.

Havok said...

Patrick: Even if some miracle claims have turned out to be false, this doesn’t mean that this must apply to all such claims.
No, but it does place the burden of proof squarely on the claimant to demonstrate the truth of their miracle claims. Thus far I'm unaware of any such claims which have been argued soundly, and which don't argue fallaciously.

Patrick: For all I know nobody has ever refuted the existence of demons.
For all I know, no one has ever refuted the existence of invisble pink unicorns or leprechauns. Neither of us seriously considers their existence however. As our knowledge has progressed "Demons" have. like your God, been pushed further and further away from what we know. For example, the exorcist I saw speak described Demon possession, and how one can come to know of it, and what he described was a text book example of a psycho-somatic illness. Since basically every culture/religion has it's own tradition of "possession", and since all of them respond to the believes of the possessed person (Christian possession is cured by Christian exorcism, Islamic possession cured by Islamic exorcism, and so on and so on), there seems to be no firm basis on which to claim that the phenomena is real.
So, given that, it is surely up to the claimant to demonstrate the existence of demons - have at it!

Patrick: Ising’s book seems to show that God only may be able to intervene after some obstacles have been overcome.
Which even if we take it at face value does not save your position.
If God is only able to intervene after some "obstacles" have been overcome, then obviously those obstacles are important for some reason, and we would be ill advised to interfere with the process God is using to help the person. We once again find we have no moral obligation to help those in need, and in fact likely have a moral obligation not to help, since their trials and suffering will be, in the end, to their benefit.

Patrick: The assumption was that the sufferer is a person who has accepted God’s salvation and as a consequence would strive to live according to God’s commandments
No it wasn't Patrick. You yourself have admitted that we can't/don't know if the person has or will accept God's salvation, so this "assumption" is false by your own words.

Patrick: Hitler certainly didn’t belong to this category of people.
So, had Hitler drowned as a youth, you can't see that overall suffering might have been less?
If not, how do you know?
If so, and we assume God's existence, then we have no moral obligation to help people, since we can't know if in doing so we'll be increasing or decreasing suffering. God would know, and so we must leave these things up to him.

Patrick: If it is really God’s plan that a person has to die, I think that nothing and nobody can thwart His plan, so we needn’t be afraid that we could do so.
So much for the value of free will, or the claim that if the person wants to go on living we have an obligation to help them.

Patrick: On the part of the helper the sufferer’s salvation can still be a reason for the obligation.
No, because you can't know if your intervention will help or hinder their salvation.

Havok said...

Patrick: But Hitler obviously didn’t want any of these other possibilities.
And yet God could have, if he existed, tweaked Hitlers desires and/or character, to make it likely he would want one of these possibilities. Or tweaked his tenacity, so that he would stick with being an artist even though he sucked.

Patrick: Moreover, the rise of National Socialism is Germany cannot only put down to Hitler’s personality but was also due to the fact that non-Christian ideas were very popular in the early decades of the 20th century.
Right, because Christianity in Europe didn't have a very long and very shameful history of bigotry, anti-Semitism and the like? Methinks you're pointing the finger in the wrong direction :-)

Patrick: God obviously only can or wants to help people who want to be helped.
This seems to fly in the face of not only the bible's own claims, but the claimed omnibenevolence of God.

Patrick: If we define God as the ultimate source of good as well as being perfectly loving...
You can define things however you want. Defining God as the ultimate source of good doesn't mean that, if he existed, he is (and as I mentioned, theistic morality has some pretty serious problems).
Also, your comment doesn't provide a solution to the problem of evil in either the logical or evidential formulations.

Patrick: Hitler didn’t take away this freedom from anyone.
He killed people who did not have a chance to evaluate things from a position of knowledge. I dare say that many of the people who were killed had little to no knowledge of Christianity. Sorry, this claim just won't do.

Patrick: But from the point of view of ordinary morality the practice of pardoning criminals obviously is generally accepted as a legitimate part of a legal system and not as unjust,
The general practice of pardoning is neither just nor unjust. If someone who is wrongly found guilty is pardoned, then it is just. If someone who was rightly found guilty is pardoned, then it is unjust. Very simple. Now, there may be other concerns and reasons as to why a pardon is granted, but it would still result in justice being thwarted (assuming the sentence was considered appropriate).

Patrick although from the point of view of justice this practice seems to me more problematic than the idea that God forgives sinners.
You keep bringing up these analogies, and they continue to undermine your position.

Patrick: First, I don’t agree with you that Jesus’ salvation doesn’t work.
By saying "doesn't work" I mean the concept makes no sense - it's inconsistent and largely incoherent/illogical.

Patrick: Second, as God created beings that are free to choose or reject a loving relationship with Him, a world full of injustice was the price He had to pay for it.
As I've said before, he could create beings who would always choose a loving relationship with him.
He could create beings whose freewill was just as constrained as his own - always choosing the good.
He could create beings who can freely decide on whether to enter a loving relationship, but who always chose the good.
There are any number of options open to an omnipotent (suitably constrained), omniscient, omnibenevolent being which would result in the same or greater "good". As such, the existence of evil is a resounding strike against a being such as God actually existing in reality, rather than in the imaginations of believers.

Patrick said...

Havok: “No, but it does place the burden of proof squarely on the claimant to demonstrate the truth of their miracle claims. Thus far I'm unaware of any such claims which have been argued soundly, and which don't argue fallaciously.”

The fallacy you refer to may be the God of the Gaps fallacy. Atheists often accuse theists of committing this fallacy when the latter try to present empirical evidence in favour of God’s existence such as the fine-tuning of the universe, biological complexity or unexplained healings after prayer. But the problem with this accusation is that unless atheists present clear criteria when it is legitimate to attribute phenomena to God and when it is not no amount of evidence will ever be accepted as being sufficient to establish God’s existence. As far as I know no atheist has so far identified such criteria.

Havok: “For all I know, no one has ever refuted the existence of invisble pink unicorns or leprechauns. Neither of us seriously considers their existence however.”

An invisible pink unicorn is a logical impossibility, as a being cannot be at the same time pink and invisible. Leprechauns do not fall into the same category as God or demons, because with respect to the former there are good reasons to think that they do not exist, whereas with respect to the latter there is at least some evidence available that they exist. Whether or not this evidence is regarded as conclusive is a matter apart.

This issue is explained very well in the following link:

http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/07/contra-mundum-fairies-leprechauns-golden-tea-cups-spaghetti-monsters.html

Havok: “As our knowledge has progressed "Demons" have. like your God, been pushed further and further away from what we know.”

I don’t see what knowledge you refer to which supposedly has pushed God and demons further and further away.

Havok: “So, given that, it is surely up to the claimant to demonstrate the existence of demons - have at it!”

It is beyond doubt that there are persons showing symptoms that some people believe to be demon possession and that these people were cured after undergoing exorcism. If you interpret these symptoms and its cure supernaturally or naturally depends on your viewpoint. But both interpretations are positive claims for which evidence is to be presented. It does not only apply to the former interpretation.

Havok: “If God is only able to intervene after some "obstacles" have been overcome, then obviously those obstacles are important for some reason, and we would be ill advised to interfere with the process God is using to help the person.”

The obstacles needn’t be important. People’s sinfulness, one of these obstacles, mentioned earlier, clearly isn’t.

Patrick said...

Havok: “No it wasn't Patrick. You yourself have admitted that we can't/don't know if the person has or will accept God's salvation, so this "assumption" is false by your own words.”

We were not talking about such a person. In my original post I stated: “But even if we know it for sure [that the sufferer has accepted God’s salvation] it may again be the case that we are supposed to be God’s tool to help this person.”

Havok: “So, had Hitler drowned as a youth, you can't see that overall suffering might have been less?”

I don’t see that this is an accurate response to my claim that Hitler was not a person who had accepted God’s salvation.

Havok: “So much for the value of free will, or the claim that if the person wants to go on living we have an obligation to help them.”

I think if it is God’s will that a Christian should die He can make it clear to this person and make him or her accept it (2 Peter 1,13-14).

Havok: “No, because you can't know if your intervention will help or hinder their salvation.”

All men are called to repent and accept God’s salvation irrespective of their situation (Acts 17,30). No one can shuffle off this responsibility onto anyone else.

Patrick said...

Havok: “And yet God could have, if he existed, tweaked Hitlers desires and/or character, to make it likely he would want one of these possibilities. Or tweaked his tenacity, so that he would stick with being an artist even though he sucked.”

Whatever Hitler’s personality might have been like, if there hadn’t been a specific (non-Christian) intellectual atmosphere supportive of the rise of Nation Socialism the atrocities we now deplore would never have taken place. So, clearly man is to blame for this outcome and not God.

Havok: “Right, because Christianity in Europe didn't have a very long and very shameful history of bigotry, anti-Semitism and the like? Methinks you're pointing the finger in the wrong direction :-)”

It is often argued that Christian anti-Judaism paved the way for the Holocaust. Problematic as this attitude is it itself would never have caused such a phenomenon, and in fact between the 1st and the early 20th century there have been no plans entertained by pious Christians to exterminate all Jews. One shouldn’t forget that although the Jews were the main target of Hitler and his companions, they were not the only group of people designated for extermination. Others included mentally ill people or the Gypsies (Sinti and Roma).

Havok: “This seems to fly in the face of not only the bible's own claims, but the claimed omnibenevolence of God.”

If the help offered depends on entering into a loving relationship with God I don’t see that God’s omnibenevolence is affected. We don’t regard it as immoral if a physician fails to help an ill person who doesn’t want to be helped.

Havok: “Defining God as the ultimate source of good doesn't mean that, if he existed, he is (and as I mentioned, theistic morality has some pretty serious problems).”

When looking at the problem of evil one has, at least hypothetically, accept the Christian concept of God as given.

Havok: “He killed people who did not have a chance to evaluate things from a position of knowledge. I dare say that many of the people who were killed had little to no knowledge of Christianity. Sorry, this claim just won't do.”

I don’t think that it is likely that someone who lived in Europe in the first half of the 20th century would know nothing of Christianity. But even if we assume that this could be the case, from Luke 12,47-48 one can draw the conclusion that such lack of knowledge diminishes the person’s degree of punishment in the afterlife.

Havok said...

Patrick: But the problem with this accusation is that unless atheists present clear criteria when it is legitimate to attribute phenomena to God and when it is not no amount of evidence will ever be accepted as being sufficient to establish God’s existence. As far as I know no atheist has so far identified such criteria.
Actually, that is not at all the case.
For the 3 examples you've provided, the arguement God's existence seems to consist of "There is no (current) natural explanation, therefore God", as if "God" were some kind of default position (it's not).
In "Theism and explanation", Gregory Dawes goes into great detail concerning whether supernatural "intentional" explanations (which God hypothesis always seem to be) are even possible explanations (he concludes they are), and what they should look like - what details need explanation, etc. He makes a very convincing case, and thus far none of the proposed God hypothesis come close to meeting the requirements of a successful explanation.

Patrick: An invisible pink unicorn is a logical impossibility, as a being cannot be at the same time pink and invisible.
This might be an opportune moment to point out that, as it stands, you conception of God is a logical impossibility.

Patrick: Leprechauns do not fall into the same category as God or demons, because with respect to the former there are good reasons to think that they do not exist, whereas with respect to the latter there is at least some evidence available that they exist.
How about elves then? A large portion of Icelandic people believe in them.
Besides, there is always some rationalisation which can be made to "save" a preferred belief from falsification, such as the many which are used to maintain belief in the biblical god, as well as demons, and even Leprechauns.

Patrick: Whether or not this evidence is regarded as conclusive is a matter apart.
Or relevant, or indicative of what it is claimed to be, etc etc.

Havok said...

Patrick: I don’t see what knowledge you refer to which supposedly has pushed God and demons further and further away.
Neuroscience and psychology in the case of demon possession, for instance.
Biology, Physics, etc in the case of God

Patrick: It is beyond doubt that there are persons showing symptoms that some people believe to be demon possession and that these people were cured after undergoing exorcism.
It's not the "symptoms" or "experience" I doubt, its the explanation for it. And the symptoms can be explained as purely mental/brain phenomena, as I mentioned previously. So why postulate demons unnecessarily?

Patrick: . If you interpret these symptoms and its cure supernaturally or naturally depends on your viewpoint.
With a "Natural" explanation, why would one need to resort to a supernatural one?

Patrick: But both interpretations are positive claims for which evidence is to be presented. It does not only apply to the former interpretation.
And, in the case of demon possession being a mental/brain event, there is evidence. Since we know that brains/minds exist, this explanation is on a firmer footing than the demon possession, since the event is basically the only evidence we have FOR the existence of demons, and using the existence of demons to explain possession, while using possession to explain the existence of demons is rather more circular than either of us should want :-)

Patrick: The obstacles needn’t be important. People’s sinfulness, one of these obstacles, mentioned earlier, clearly isn’t.
So if the obstacles are not important, why are they obstacles for an omnipotent being?
If sinfullness is an obstacle, then there must be a reason why God doesn't simply "overcome" it, and that reason seems to make it important.

Havok said...

Patrick: We were not talking about such a person.
So you were presenting what is, even for you, an implausible or impossible situation (knowing that someone has certainly accepted and been given salvation) to illustrate a point?
Ok then, how could/would one know if one was supposed to be God's tool, and is not being tricked in some way (by demons/devils for example)?
And why would God need to use tools - nothing is an effort for this being. Doing everything takes no greater effort or concentration than doing nothing.

Patrick: I don’t see that this is an accurate response to my claim that Hitler was not a person who had accepted God’s salvation.
Well, apart from Hitler being a (somewhat unusual, I gather) Christian, and therefore seeming to have actually accepted salvation (assuming god existed, of course), your response regarding salvation is completely irrelevant.

Patrick: I think if it is God’s will that a Christian should die He can make it clear to this person and make him or her accept it
And how would/could one know that this was not a delusion?

Patrick: All men are called to repent and accept God’s salvation irrespective of their situation
Completely irrelevant to my point.

Patrick: Whatever Hitler’s personality might have been like, if there hadn’t been a specific (non-Christian) intellectual atmosphere supportive of the rise of Nation Socialism the atrocities we now deplore would never have taken place. So, clearly man is to blame for this outcome and not God.
Germany was, then, rather a solidly Christian nation, so claiming the environment was "non-Christian" seems to fly in the face of history. Not to mention that the groundwork for much of the atrocites was laid during the millenia of preceeding Christian anti-Semitism.
Sorry, God is indeed to blame - remember, he could quite easily have "tweaked" everyone, to direct things, and didn't. And God doing anything is exactly as difficult as Go doing nothing, given his omnipotence.

Patrick: Problematic as this attitude is it itself would never have caused such a phenomenon, and in fact between the 1st and the early 20th century there have been no plans entertained by pious Christians to exterminate all Jews.
Irrelevant. The anti-Semitism was fostered by Christianity in Europe, and it was a large part of the motivation behind the Nazi actions.

Patrick said...

Havok: “For the 3 examples you've provided, the arguement God's existence seems to consist of "There is no (current) natural explanation, therefore God", as if "God" were some kind of default position (it's not).

In "Theism and explanation", Gregory Dawes goes into great detail concerning whether supernatural "intentional" explanations (which God hypothesis always seem to be) are even possible explanations (he concludes they are), and what they should look like - what details need explanation, etc. He makes a very convincing case, and thus far none of the proposed God hypothesis come close to meeting the requirements of a successful explanation.”

In my view simply the fact that a phenomenon is unexplained is no justification for regarding it as supernatural. In addition to that it must appear designed in one way or another. This idea is very well explained in a paper entitled “Miracles, Intelligent Design, and God-of-the-Gaps”, written by Jack Collins. It can be read in the following link:

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2003/PSCF3-03Collins.pdf

In my view it is reasonable to regard phenomena as supernatural, if they show design-imposed, as defined by Jack Collins, and cannot be accounted for naturally. The feature of design-imposed is necessary to distinguish phenomena with apparent supernatural cause from merely unexplained phenomena.

In the paper mentioned above Jack Collins defines “design-imposed” as “the imposition of structure upon some object or collection of objects for some purpose, where the structure and the purpose are not inherent in the properties of the components but make use of these properties.” The three examples I mentioned above meet these requirements.

If you don’t accept this definition I don’t see how a miracle or some other supernatural event could ever be established. But if this is the case the objection put forward in connection with the problem of evil that God doesn’t intervene in favour of sufferers is no longer valid as it is impossible to establish such an intervention.

Patrick said...

Havok: “So if the obstacles are not important, why are they obstacles for an omnipotent being?
If sinfullness is an obstacle, then there must be a reason why God doesn't simply "overcome" it, and that reason seems to make it important.”

It’s not really clear to me what you mean by “important”. As for sinfulness God cannot simply overcome it as He respects the sinners’ free will. If people are not ready to abstain from sinful behaviour this results in hard work for God (Isaiah 43,24, Jeremiah 5,3, Matthew 23,37).

Havok: “So you were presenting what is, even for you, an implausible or impossible situation (knowing that someone has certainly accepted and been given salvation) to illustrate a point?”

This is by no means an implausible or even impossible situation, as I know people of whom I’m quite sure that they have accepted God’s salvation.

Havok: “Ok then, how could/would one know if one was supposed to be God's tool, and is not being tricked in some way (by demons/devils for example)?”

I don’t think that the helper has to be concerned with such questions; he is simply supposed to help. If it is really in God’s plan that a person is going to die, but a human or a demon prevents this (if it is possible at all), God may accomplish His goal later.

Havok: “And why would God need to use tools - nothing is an effort for this being. Doing everything takes no greater effort or concentration than doing nothing.”

As I pointed out earlier a direct intervention by God may produce more harm than good.

Havok: “And how would/could one know that this was not a delusion?”

With respect to the issue we are discussing it is completely irrelevant whether or not it is a delusion. If the sufferer is convinced that he or she is soon going to die and accepts this idea, no matter where such conviction comes from, it is moral for God to let the person die. If the conviction is a delusion and the sufferer doesn’t die, so much the better for him or her.

Havok: “Completely irrelevant to my point.”

It is relevant. You cannot blame someone for not keeping a sane person from inflicting suffering upon himself. If a Christian helps a person, and the persons fails to praise God, the Christian is not to be blamed for the suffering such a reaction may cause for the person.

Havok said...

Patrick: In addition to that it must appear designed in one way or another.
"Appearance of design" is not enough, as we know of design like features can and do arise from non-teleological sources.

Patrick: This idea is very well explained in a paper entitled “Miracles, Intelligent Design, and God-of-the-Gaps”, written by Jack Collins
That paper is not particularly good. He relies upon an "intuition" regarding whether something is designed or not, favourable references Dembski (whose project to formalise that intuition is dead in the water) and Behe (whose project to demonstrate "enevolvable features" in biology has yet to find a positive), and conflates the archaeologists inference of "design", which is basically detecting human activity, with some rarified design of some thing or some one whose existence and attributes tend to be completely glossed over. Collins seems to think that since we have inferred design for stone henge and go on to enquire about why people may have made it, we can do the same for other unanswered scientific questions which fit his supposed criteria, without justifying his inference to design in these cases.
In fact, Collins entire argument seems akin to:
1. God exists
2. God would design stuff
3. Some stuff looks designed.
4. Therefore God exists.

The apparent circularity in his claims is not a great basis for an argument.

Patrick: In my view it is reasonable to regard phenomena as supernatural, if they show design-imposed, as defined by Jack Collins, and cannot be accounted for naturally.
And therein lies a serious problem for design theorists of your stripe - you need to demonstrate not just that such things are not accounted for naturally, but that they cannot be accounted for naturally. Since that claim seems to require either a completed explanation in favour of your claims, or a completed science (which we'll never have), I don't see why such claims ought to be taken seriously.

Patrick: The three examples I mentioned above meet these requirements.
And how would you know that?

Patrick: If you don’t accept this definition I don’t see how a miracle or some other supernatural event could ever be established.
Well, since the supernatural generally, much like your god, seems and ill defined and likely incoherent, I'm not sure that would be a big problem. Of course the problem really lies with supernaturalists who have had to continually redefine what they mean in the face of advancing scientific knowledge, leading to the situation we're currently in, we're such concepts seem no longer logically coherent.

Patrick: But if this is the case the objection put forward in connection with the problem of evil that God doesn’t intervene in favour of sufferers is no longer valid as it is impossible to establish such an intervention.
Oh, we're not ruling it out a priori, just a posteri due to a lack of rational arguments and decent evidence. But you're welcome to try to address this problem.

Havok said...

Basically Patrick, it seems that every concern you bring up as to why God may not intervene is also a concern as to why we ought not intervene (assuming teism, of course).
- If God's perfect justice means he does not intervene, then it is unjust of us to intervene.
- If God wanting to reduce overall suffering and suffering in the afterlife means he does not intervene, then for us to intervene would increase suffering over all.
- If God does not intervene due to the current suffering leading to the person's salvation, then we should not intervene and interfere with this process.

It is your making exceptions and special pleading for God which is the problem, and is what you've been trying to wiggle your way around, without success.

Patrick said...

Havok: “And therein lies a serious problem for design theorists of your stripe - you need to demonstrate not just that such things are not accounted for naturally, but that they cannot be accounted for naturally. Since that claim seems to require either a completed explanation in favour of your claims, or a completed science (which we'll never have), I don't see why such claims ought to be taken seriously.”

Is there any phenomenon of which you can say with certainty that it can’t possibly ever be accounted for naturally?

Havok: “Of course the problem really lies with supernaturalists who have had to continually redefine what they mean in the face of advancing scientific knowledge, leading to the situation we're currently in, we're such concepts seem no longer logically coherent.”

As far as I can see my view of the supernatural based on the concept of design-imposed isn’t affected by your objection.

Havok: “Oh, we're not ruling it out a priori, just a posteri due to a lack of rational arguments and decent evidence.”

What would you regard as “decent evidence” that could not be dismissed as a case of the God of the gaps fallacy?

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

Havok: “- If God's perfect justice means he does not intervene, then it is unjust of us to intervene.”

My point is that for a perfectly just being it may be impossible to help a sinner and remain perfectly just, as it would mean that the sinner is rewarded for his evil deeds instead of being punished for them. As we are not perfectly just and in addition to this, unlike God, not entitled to be other people’s judges (James 4,12), this restriction doesn’t apply to us.

Havok: “- If God wanting to reduce overall suffering and suffering in the afterlife means he does not intervene, then for us to intervene would increase suffering over all.”

God may not intervene conspicuously in this world, as it would do more harm than good (Exodus 19,9-23, Matthew 13,27-29). This certainly doesn’t apply to us. Moreover, as God may only be able to intervene in a hidden way, the sufferer may not realize that God helped him, and therefore the helping act cannot contribute to his salvation. However, if a follower of Christ helps him, this may cause him to praise God and eventually to accept God’s salvation.

One might ask why God may only be able to intervene in a hidden way and not be able to talk to the sufferer personally and inform him of His helping act. He may indeed be able to do so, but from Exodus 20,18-19 one can draw the conclusion that it is better if God doesn’t speak to us directly.

Patrick said...

Havok: “- If God does not intervene due to the current suffering leading to the person's salvation, then we should not intervene and interfere with this process.”

Suffering may in two ways lead to a person’s salvation. One way could be that suffering itself has a redeeming effect. Luke 16,25 could point to this, although it is not clear if it is just assumed without being explicitely stated that Lazarus had accepted God’s salvation while alive, and that it was this act rather than his suffering that led to his enjoyment of heavenly bliss. Another effect of suffering could be that it makes the sufferer receptive of God’s salvation. Luke 15,11-21 could serve as an illustration for such a view.

Moreover, from Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2 one can draw the conclusion that the good deeds of Christians may be an even more effective means to make people receptive of God’s salvation. So, if such deeds and some amount of suffering don’t make a sufferer receptive of God’s salvation one may assume that an additional amount of suffering won’t have this effect, either.

Havok said...

Patrick: My point is that for a perfectly just being it may be impossible to help a sinner and remain perfectly just, as it would mean that the sinner is rewarded for his evil deeds instead of being punished for them
Which is just reinforcing my point.
Assuming your God exists:
- God is perfectly Just
- We whould emulate God to the best of our ability, and be Just ourselves.
- Person A is suffering.
- We know the suffering is Just because God does not alleviate it (if it were unjust God would not tolerate it, as it would be against his perfect Justice to allow injustice)
- We should not alleviate A's suffering, as it would be injust of us to do so.

Patrick: As we are not perfectly just and in addition to this, unlike God, not entitled to be other people’s judges (James 4,12), this restriction doesn’t apply to us.
It's irrelevant - we could infer precisely God's judgement because he's perfectly Just.

Patrick: God may not intervene conspicuously in this world, as it would do more harm than good
Assuming the bible is to believed, it has never stopped him in the past.

Patrick: This certainly doesn’t apply to us.
Yes it does.
- God alleviating A's suffering will result in more harm than good (ie. saving a young drowning Hitler)
- Therefore alleviating A's suffering will result in more harm than good.
- We have reason not to alleviate A's suffering

Patrick: Moreover, as God may only be able to intervene in a hidden way, the sufferer may not realize that God helped him, and therefore the helping act cannot contribute to his salvation.
The hiddenness of God is a great argument against his existence (at least, against any deity supposedly depicted in the Christian Bible) - there was no injunction against God's intervention then, yet you're claiming there is one now. Special pleading?


Patrick: However, if a follower of Christ helps him, this may cause him to praise God and eventually to accept God’s salvation.
And if a follower of Satan helps him?
Or if the person helped resents the Christian and turns against God further?
Or the Christian, in helping person A, realises that God is so hidden as to be non-existent, and loses his faith?

Sorry, I think you'll need to do a little better than that.

Patrick: One might ask why God may only be able to intervene in a hidden way and not be able to talk to the sufferer personally and inform him of His helping act. He may indeed be able to do so, but from Exodus 20,18-19 one can draw the conclusion that it is better if God doesn’t speak to us directly.
And yet we have instances of the Christian God talking to people directly AFTER Exodus (which is not historical anyway) took place.
More special pleading.

Patrick: Suffering may in two ways lead to a person’s salvation.
Both of your "ways to salvation" from suffering seem basically the same, Patrick.

Patrick: Moreover, from Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2 one can draw the conclusion that the good deeds of Christians may be an even more effective means to make people receptive of God’s salvation.
How can the good deeds of Christians be more effective than the efforts of an omnipotent/"All Powerfull" God?
It's ridiculous, really.

Patrick: So, if such deeds and some amount of suffering don’t make a sufferer receptive of God’s salvation one may assume that an additional amount of suffering won’t have this effect, either.
One may not assume that, Patrick. One must demonstrate that that is the case.

So, we're still left with Christian theism being incompatible with ordinary morality, and either us having no moral obligation to help those who are suffering, or God being morally blameworthy for not doing so (which would demonstrate God's non-existence, since God is supposedly "perfectly moral", and the most morally praiseworthy being).

Patrick said...

Havok: “The hiddenness of God is a great argument against his existence (at least, against any deity supposedly depicted in the Christian Bible) - there was no injunction against God's intervention then, yet you're claiming there is one now.”

I don’t argue for a general but for a partial hiddenness of God (Matthew 11,25-27, John 14,15-24).

Havok: “And if a follower of Satan helps him?”

I don’t see what would motivate a follower of Satan to help sufferers. But even if this occurred this would be even more motivation for a Christian to help sufferers.

Havok: “Or if the person helped resents the Christian and turns against God further?”

If this is the case then for the consequences of such a reaction nobody but the sufferer will be to be blamed.

Havok: “Or the Christian, in helping person A, realises that God is so hidden as to be non-existent, and loses his faith?”

It is to be assumed that the Christian is someone to whom God was revealed (Matthew 11,27).

Havok: “And yet we have instances of the Christian God talking to people directly AFTER Exodus (which is not historical anyway) took place.”

Even in the Bible God never talked to all people but only to a select number of people (Numbers 12,8, 2 Kings 3,11, John 5,37-38, Acts 10,41, 22,7-9). But even for those chosen people the encounter with God could be an unpleasant experience (Isaiah 6,5, Acts 9,1-9).

As for the historicity of the Exodus the following links are very informative:

http://www.aish.com/ci/sam/48938472.html

http://www.aish.com/ci/sam/48939077.html

Patrick said...

Havok: “- We know the suffering is Just because God does not alleviate it (if it were unjust God would not tolerate it, as it would be against his perfect Justice to allow injustice)”

I don’t suggest that the suffering is necessarily just. It may even be very unjust. But as the sufferer certainly has committed sins before he came into this situation, those previous, unpunished sins may prevent God from intervening on the sufferer’s behalf.

Havok: “Assuming the bible is to believed, it has never stopped him in the past.”

In an earlier comment I wrote: “But I think you cannot have God’s blessing without God’s righteousness. This means the more conspicuously God interferes in this world blessing us, the more conspicuously God interferes in this world judging us, and the latter may be quite a painful experience.“ In the same comment I pointed to the rebelling Israelites in the Old and to Ananias and Saphira in the New Testament as people for whom God’s conspicuous intervention had an unpleasant effect. I think if God intervened in this world to the utmost degree nobody would survive such an intervention, as we all to a certain degree are sinners. So, God may be inclined to intervene to such a degree that the resulting harm is as small as possible.

Havok: “- God alleviating A's suffering will result in more harm than good (ie. saving a young drowning Hitler)”

Your example with the drowning Hitler doesn’t reflect my idea. I’m thinking about the situation described just before.

Patrick said...

Havok: “Both of your "ways to salvation" from suffering seem basically the same, Patrick.”

I don’t think that they are the same, as in the latter case suffering needn’t have a redeeming effect. As for the former case the suffering may only have a redeeming effect if it is involuntary.

Havok: “How can the good deeds of Christians be more effective than the efforts of an omnipotent/"All Powerfull" God?”

As I pointed out it may not be a lack of power that prevents God from acting on a sufferer’s behalf but the fact that He is perfectly just.

Havok: “One may not assume that, Patrick. One must demonstrate that that is the case.”

To me this seems to be so obvious that I don’t see any need to demonstrate it.

Havok said...

Patrick: Is there any phenomenon of which you can say with certainty that it can’t possibly ever be accounted for naturally?
Not with certainty no, but on the converse, there are no phenomena I can say with certainty can ever be accounted completely for naturally. We're left with some degree of doubt (though that may be arbitrary small).
Given that, then there certainly could be phenomena which could better be accounted for supernaturally.

Patrick: As far as I can see my view of the supernatural based on the concept of design-imposed isn’t affected by your objection.
You're trying to demonstrate rarified design by contrasting it with ordinary design. You're trying to justify rarified design without regard for the fact that non-intelligent processes can produce "design" (ie. evolution). You're trying to claim rarified design, without external evidence for the designer (and if you're a "mainstream" ID'er, at great pains to avoid discussing the attributes of the designer).
As I pointed out above, what you need is a detailed intentional explanation which has enough empirical content to be subject to falsification/confirmation. The "God hypothesis" which have been presented so far, are empty of empirical content, meaning that any finding and it's converse could be claimed as evidence for the hypothesis. An hypothesis like this is useless.

Patrick: What would you regard as “decent evidence” that could not be dismissed as a case of the God of the gaps fallacy?
A detailed and tested intentional explanation would be a start.
A worked out methodology and epistemology supporting the supernatural (as the science has), preferably utilising publically accessible information rather than subjective, internal "revelation" (if such a method and epistemology existed, there would be far less disagreement regarding the different faiths).

As it stands, with the poor to non-existent evidence of anything supernatural ever having happened, the terrible track record of supernatural explanations in general and the lack of a solid methodology and epistemology in which to invesitage and support supernatural claims, I see no reason to think that the "supernatural" is a thing rather than just an idea.

Havok said...

Patrick: I don’t suggest that the suffering is necessarily just. It may even be very unjust.
If it is unjust suffering, then I cannot see any way you can claim a perfectly just being would not alleviate it. Since you're suggesting the Christian God may not alleviate unjust suffering, then we're left concluding that the Christian God would not/could not be perfectly Just.

Patrick: But as the sufferer certainly has committed sins before he came into this situation, those previous, unpunished sins may prevent God from intervening on the sufferer’s behalf.
Whatever you are postulating to prevent God from alleviating unjust suffering (omnibenevolence?) is therefore not compatible with perfect Justice - one of the two will have to go.
I'll point out again that this discussion is fairly pointless (interesting though it is) simply because you're arguing for the existence of something which is incoherent and illogical - your concept of God. Much like the your dismissal of the invisible Pink Unicorn easlier.

Patrick: So, God may be inclined to intervene to such a degree that the resulting harm is as small as possible.
This smells of an ad-hoc assumption on your part. If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, then God could intervene without causing the sort of disruption you're suggesting.

Patrick: I don’t argue for a general but for a partial hiddenness of God
The passages seem to imply that you're arguing that God hides himself from the world generally, and from those who don't already believe. That doesn't seem very loving.

Partick: I don’t see what would motivate a follower of Satan to help sufferers.
Lack of imagination perhaps?
2 people can certainly cause more misery than 1 - the more followers of Satan (assuming he existed) surely the "better".

Patrick: But even if this occurred this would be even more motivation for a Christian to help sufferers.
I've argued that Christians have an obligation NOT to help sufferers.

Patrick: If this is the case then for the consequences of such a reaction nobody but the sufferer will be to be blamed.
And yet perhaps had the Christian not intervened, the person may have accepted salvation.
Since you're claiming that perhaps God doesn't intervene because it may increase suffering, the Christian is in the same bind (because if intervening was not going to increase suffering, then God would intervene).

Patrick: It is to be assumed that the Christian is someone to whom God was revealed
Why must that be assumed?
Many Christians lose their faith, change faith, or whatever, and it seems that at least some of them have had the full religious experience. I don't think you can blithly make that assumption.

Patrick: Even in the Bible God never talked to all people but only to a select number of people
That in itself is suspicious - see Matt's next post on "The Natural Theologians Dilemma" (though the comments have now gone a little off topic).

Patrick: But even for those chosen people the encounter with God could be an unpleasant experience
that seems to be evidence against either God's (constrained) omnipotence, or omnibenevolence. Surely an omnipotent being could temper it's "power"? Surely an omniscient being would want to?

Havok said...

Patrick: As for the historicity of the Exodus the following links are very informative:
I don't want to derail this thread too much more than we already have. I had a quick glance, and they seem replate with rationalisations and some misunderstandings, though I'll take a more in depth look a bit later.

As I understand it, there are a number of different pieces of evidence which make the Exodus (and the Conquest) as presented in the bible very very unlikely. Various sites have been excavated (such as the site the Hebrew's supposedly camped at for some 30+ years during the "wandering") with no evidence of a large group of people. Surveys of the Late bronze/early Iron highland villages show a continuity of culture from the late bronze age city states of the lowlands, rather than what would be expected on the Exodus/Conquest (abrupt change in material culture). The highland villages show a gradual (though rapid) increase in population of the area, implying migration from the collapsing late bronze city states. Excavation of the places mentioned as destroyed by the Hebrews (in Joshua) do not agree with the bible account (jericho and Ai being notable examples). There are cultural and geographical anachronisms which are more suited to a much later period (around the 8-10th centuries if I recall correctly). And the last couple of things I'll bring up (though by no means the last piece of evidence which undermines the biblical account) is the lack of evidence from Egypt itself. While we might not expect the Egyptian chroniclers to record a defeat as depicted in the Exodus, as your links mentioned, we would expect evidence of the societal collapse which would ensue (going from memory, the Biblical account has some 1-2 million people up and leaving, and the estimated population of Egypt at the time was ~3 million - having 1/3-2/3 of the population, and the labourers at that, would have certainly left evidence). Finally, we do not have Egyptian power lessening during this period, and have evidence that Egypt actually controlled the area prior to and after the supposed time of the Exodus (the Armana letters, plus other archaeological evidence, for example).


Patrick: I don’t think that they are the same, as in the latter case suffering needn’t have a redeeming effect. As for the former case the suffering may only have a redeeming effect if it is involuntary.
So in the former case someone can be saved without accepting salvation, simply because their suffering was sever enough to counter balance their sins, and in the second fashion, the suffering led the person to accept salvation? Is that what you're saying?
That seems to be advocating salvation through works, which as far as I'm aware is fairly unorthodox Christian doctrine. It was my understanding that no amount of good deeds (or suffering) could make up for your sins, and that without accepting Jesus (and salvation) all were hell bound.

Patrick: As I pointed out it may not be a lack of power that prevents God from acting on a sufferer’s behalf but the fact that He is perfectly just.
You're contradicting yourself.
Yes, a perfectly just being would not (could not even) intervene if the suffering was just. If the suffering was unjust, then a perfectly just being would not (could not even) help BUT alleviate the suffering.
As I said above, you've got some serious problems with how you conceive of God which need to be rigorously worked out prior to ANY of the stuff we've been discussing meriting serious consideration :-)

Havok said...

So we still have the fact that God, if he existed and were perfectly just, would intervene if suffering was unjust, and therefore we should not intervene (as to do so would be unjust).
If God is omnibenevolent, then God would only let someone suffer in a manner which would reduce their own and global suffering, and so we can assume that intervening will increase suffering (theirs and/or gloabally).

We also have a number of difficulties with the general concept of God, the solution to which do not seem possible while keeping the nature of God intact (why worship a being who is not perfectly Just or loving, etc?)

Patrick said...

Havok: “If it is unjust suffering, then I cannot see any way you can claim a perfectly just being would not alleviate it. Since you're suggesting the Christian God may not alleviate unjust suffering, then we're left concluding that the Christian God would not/could not be perfectly Just.

[…]

Whatever you are postulating to prevent God from alleviating unjust suffering (omnibenevolence?) is therefore not compatible with perfect Justice - one of the two will have to go.”

Let me use an analogy to explain my point. Someone takes out an insurance policy, but then fails to pay the insurance premium. Then the event insured against occurs. In such a case the insurance company is not going to pay the insurance benefit, although there is no insurance fraud. The insurance company certainly doesn’t pay the insurance benefit before it receives the outstanding payments, even if the amount of these payments is much smaller than the amount of the insurance benefit.

In this analogy the outstanding payments are the sins the sufferer has committed and of which he has not repented, the event insured against is the unjust suffering, the insurance benefit God’s help.

Havok: “This smells of an ad-hoc assumption on your part.”

It would only be an ad-hoc assumption if I hadn’t provided Biblical passages supporting this view.

Patrick said...

Havok: “If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, then God could intervene without causing the sort of disruption you're suggesting.

[…]

Since you're claiming that perhaps God doesn't intervene because it may increase suffering, the Christian is in the same bind (because if intervening was not going to increase suffering, then God would intervene).

[…]

that seems to be evidence against either God's (constrained) omnipotence, or omnibenevolence. Surely an omnipotent being could temper it's "power"? Surely an omniscient being would want to?”

Here again an analogy may help to show what I mean. Thinking about the power of electricity we can use it to accomplish amazing things. One of these accomplishments is the running of railway trains at a high speed over long distances. But in order to accomplish this the electric tension must be very high, indeed so high that it is exceedingly dangerous for humans, so that they must be protected from it. With only a low electric tension you cannot achieve that much, maybe make a pocket lamp shine, but dealing with it isn’t a dangerous matter. In the same way one may assume that the greater God’s beneficial power is the greater is God’s destructive power.

Patrick said...

Havok: “The passages seem to imply that you're arguing that God hides himself from the world generally, and from those who don't already believe. That doesn't seem very loving.”

In my view God only hides only from those who don’t seek Him but not from those who seek Him (Jeremiah 29,13-14, Matthew 7,8).

Havok: “And yet perhaps had the Christian not intervened, the person may have accepted salvation.”

To me this seems psychologically implausible.

Havok: “Why must that be assumed?
Many Christians lose their faith, change faith, or whatever, and it seems that at least some of them have had the full religious experience. I don't think you can blithly make that assumption.”

I don’t see why this should keep Christians from helping. Even if you are right, a Christian may arrive at the conclusion you refer to in any situation, not necessarily when he helps people.

Patrick said...

Havok: “You're contradicting yourself.
Yes, a perfectly just being would not (could not even) intervene if the suffering was just. If the suffering was unjust, then a perfectly just being would not (could not even) help BUT alleviate the suffering.

[…]

So we still have the fact that God, if he existed and were perfectly just, would intervene if suffering was unjust, and therefore we should not intervene (as to do so would be unjust).
If God is omnibenevolent, then God would only let someone suffer in a manner which would reduce their own and global suffering, and so we can assume that intervening will increase suffering (theirs and/or gloabally).”

My point is that God may be unable to help a sufferer, even if the suffering is unjust, because as being perfectly just the best He cannot help a suffering sinner before dealing legally with the sufferer’s previous sins. But even if we assume that God is able to help a suffering sinner He nevertheless may not do so, as He may regard the sinners unjust suffering as an anticipation of the sinner’s punishment in the afterlife or at least part of it. The unjust suffering in this life would so to speak be subtracted from the suffering in the afterlife. A Christian on the other hand need not be concerned with the sufferer’s overall amount of suffering, as he can try to make the sufferer receptive of God’s salvation by conspicuously doing good works, something God may not be able to do.

Patrick said...

Havok: “So in the former case someone can be saved without accepting salvation, simply because their suffering was sever enough to counter balance their sins, and in the second fashion, the suffering led the person to accept salvation? Is that what you're saying?
That seems to be advocating salvation through works, which as far as I'm aware is fairly unorthodox Christian doctrine. It was my understanding that no amount of good deeds (or suffering) could make up for your sins, and that without accepting Jesus (and salvation) all were hell bound.”

With respect to the idea that suffering has a redeeming effect I made it quite clear that I’m not sure if it is correct and so I’m not dogmatic about it. But even if it was correct it would not amount to salvation through works, as involuntary suffering clearly is no work that someone accomplishes. It would still amount to salvation through grace. The same applies to the idea that people who die before they reach the age of accountability are saved.

The Ellipsis said...
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