An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out

Between being told that Christianity is a system of oppression, a complex way to justify burning with hatred over the existence of gay people, and a general failure of the human intellect, I begin to suspect that few people know why Christians exist at all. This is my attempt to explain why I am a Christian.

Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.

If some natural, secular purpose could be granted to the man suffering, then his pain would cease to be suffering and begin to be useful pain. The athlete can point to the material purpose of fitness and strength to answer the problem of his sore muscles. The old man who wakes up ever day with inexplicably sore muscles can point to no such thing. Though the pain experienced is the same — down to the last, aching twinge — the old man suffers, and the athlete does not. Suffering, to be suffering, requires the lack of a natural, secular answer.

The secular cannot answer the problem of suffering (as I’ve spoken in depth elsewhere), but suffering is still a problem we naturally want resolved. (If you don’t believe it is, develop leukemia, have a close family member die, and then try being content with not having any answers, meaning, or purpose.) We are obliged to ditch the secular and take up the religious, as a man cutting wood ditches the fork and picks up the saw. Which religion? I cannot speak for all of them, though the very existence of religion as a fundamental human institution does lend support to what I’ve just argued, that we must leave the purely secular if we want answers in this life. I can only speak for Christianity. Think of Christianity as some obscure, New Age cult — so as to judge her fairly — and I will give you her claims:

CLAIM 1: Suffering is the result of sin. If you are an atheist, freaketh not, for we know this on a purely experiential level. When we sin against others — when we steal from them, malign their names, or harm their bodies — we cause them suffering. When we sin against our nature — when we isolate ourselves, or demean our bodies — we cause our selves suffering. Suffering is the result of sin.

CLAIM 2: This verified reality is in fact the reality of the entire cosmos. The very state of human beings and the universe they inhabit is a sinful one.

Again, this is not a religious claim. The word sin is translated from the Hebrew ‘chattah’, which means ‘to miss the mark’. To say that the world is in a sinful state is to say that our world is not all it should be, that it misses the mark, that it is — in a word — imperfect. This is verifiable. We do not wish children to suffer and die, and yet we live in a world in which they do. It is entirely possible that we will have to at some point push spiky balls of calcium through our urethras. The experiences of these natural things as imperfect — to say the least — is a universal experience. We live in a world that “misses the mark” of perfection.

(OBJECTION 1: I suppose it could be argued to the contrary that the world is perfect, but we apply our human standard of perfection upon the world, and are disappointed when she doesn’t meet that standard. Both claims are statements of faith. One says, “I experience the universe as imperfect. I believe this experience corresponds to reality.” The other says, “I experience the universe as imperfect. I believe this experience does not correspond to reality.” Both are statements of belief based on a common experience — the experience of imperfection, found in kidney stones, dying children, 9/11, Katrina, etc.

The latter statement of faith — that the universe isn’t imperfect, we just believe it to be so — means human beings are far too strange to exercise rational thought. To say that what I experience as reality does not necessarily coincide with what reality actually is is to be unable to say anything at all. If what I experience as true does not necessarily coincide with what really is true, then I can hardly say “It is true that the universe is perfect.”

But this is obvious, and I digress going after the few who would argue that children dying is a matter of ultimate indifference, and that it is only our projections that make it seem otherwise.)

So the universe is imperfect. To be imperfect is to “miss the mark” of perfection. To be in a state of missing the mark is to be in a sinful state. The universe is therefore in a sinful state. As we’ve established, suffering is the natural result of sin. Thus suffering is inherent to our sinful universe.

CLAIM 3: As the universe is imperfect, God is perfect, the fullness of Perfection itself. This is first of all a simple matter of definition. If you have in your mind an imperfect God, then he is not God. But there is proof to this claim. As the philosopher Thomas Aquinas says:

“Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being.”

If God created all things, and all things are good in varying degrees, than God must be the standard of Perfection from which all things derive their relative goodness. (Minor objection: Of course, this assumes the existence of God, which I do not aim to prove. Rather I aim to say, if there is a God, he is perfect. (I come dangerously close to bringing up St. Anselm.))

(OBJECTION 2: If the Christian sheeple (I’m joking) believe that God is the fullness of perfection, and that to say that our universe is sinful — or imperfect — is to say that our universe is lacking total union with God, why then, would Perfection allow our imperfection? If God is all-powerful, surely he could forever stop us from sinning, and thus from ever suffering? Is he so cruel as to allow us to suffer, children to die, etc.?

We are allowed to sin — and thus to suffer — because God loves us. If we could not refuse him, the fullness of perfection, we would be puppets attached to his celestial fingers. We could not not love God. But love, to be love, must be freely given. Perfection is meaningless if we have not the choice of imperfection. We are granted, in love, the opportunity to sin.)

CLAIM 4: Christianity answers the problem of suffering with the bizarre claim that a man who was God, the fullness of Perfection, known commonly as Jesus, “became sin”. We must listen attentively to her claim, and suspend at least a minutia of our disbelief, for we’ve already established the impossibility of an answer to the problem of suffering springing from a secular source.

(OBJECTION 3: I understand of course, that I’m not proving that God became Man. This would of course provide proving that there is a God, which is not my goal here. Rather, I beg the atheist to read this and understand that, if there is a Christ, then suffering is granted meaning, and then decide from there whether there in fact is a God, a Christ, etc.)

Jesus “became sin”. Sin is the act of missing the mark, of missing perfection. It follows that Jesus, in totally becoming sin, became totally absent from perfection, a claim verified by the words of Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” By becoming imperfection, he is forsaken by Perfection.

We arrive at a paradox. If Jesus is God, and God is Perfection, how could Jesus “become sin” — the absence of Perfection — and thus become the absence of God? How could God become the absence of God?

He could not: He would die. If I were to become the total absence of myself, I would cease to exist. I would negate myself, as a negative number and the same positive number join to make an abyss and a zero.

CLAIM 5: God died.

All atheism has its ultimate source in Jesus Christ then, for by his death he negated the existence of God. And in his death, sin itself died, for he became sin itself. And if sin died, suffering died, for suffering is the result of sin. And if all suffering died, than death itself — the ultimate human suffering — dies.

But again, we arrive at a paradox. What happens to the man who by his death, destroys sin, and by destroying sin, destroys death? He certainly cannot die, or else he could not have destroyed death. He could not die: He would have to rise.

Claim 6:

(OBJECTION 4: Why then, if this is all true, do we still suffer, sin and die?

Time is a product of the universe, and if there is a Creator of the universe, he must exist outside of universe, and thus outside of time. The saving action of an infinite God cannot be limited to time.

It’d be a mistake to believe Christ killed death and suffering, freeing from suffering and death only those born after him. Such an expectation assumes that Christ’s sacrifice is limited to the laws of our time, that his action affects only the future, as a human action only affects the future. But his action was infinite, outside of time. He died once, for the entire world, for the past, present, and future, lifting all things to Perfection.

Thus the place without the suffering we are promised cannot be a part of earthly space and time. It must be part of the “time” of an infinite God, a time that contains all our past, present and future. Thus we are told that Christ died that we might have eternal life, life free from suffering outside of earthly time, a place Christianity has given the name Heaven.

But more than this, we suffer now for the precise reason we can sin. God will not force salvation upon us. He will not demand we claim his victory over sin and death. We are not his puppets. We must choose his salvation as we chose to sin.)

And this, finally, is the answer Christianity gives to suffering. Since Christ became all sin, and suffering is the result of sin, Christ took upon himself all suffering. Since his act was for all earthly time, this includes our current suffering. If this is true, no suffering is apart from the suffering of Christ. All is his. I am a Christian because I can acknowledge the reality that my suffering is in fact the suffering of Christ, and thereby “offer it up” with him, giving it meaning and the most glorious of purposes: The end of all suffering.

As Paul says: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Our suffering, because it is Christ’s, saves the world.

This changes everything: To see the child with leukemia is to see Christ suffering in that child, suffering to bring the world back to Perfection. To experience agony is to cry out with the strain of lifting this fallen world to Paradise. We are called to recognize this, and to actualize this. This is why I am a Christian.

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  • Olivier

    Did this blog spring from Chesterton’s bit in Orthodoxy? The bit that reads, “but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed himself for an instant to be an atheist.” ?

    • Vision_From_Afar

      Read him long enough and he’ll drown you in Chesterton. He and Shea have that in common.

      • Cal-J

        He’s enough of a good read to keep you coming back, I notice.

        Besides, Chesterton is a fun read.

    • Tom

      I have to admit, that everything leading up to and including that bit gives me the chills every time I read it. It was kinda mind-blowing.

  • Mark Kaschak


  • Jon Zischkau

    Great read, and very insightful. The first point brought to mind a statement made in a priest’s homily or lecture that original sin was the most empirically observed and verified phenomenon in the world.
    The “Jesus became sin” part obviously made me do a double take and forced me to read more closely, because God became an imperfect being – without sin – yet possessing two distinct natures, an imperfect human nature and a perfect divine nature. Through his consubstantial nature, Christ was able to offer a truly loving and timeless sacrifice on humanity’s behalf. Anyways, excellent points about suffering, sin and eternity!

  • Therese Faustina

    YOU SOUND EXACTLY LIKE ST. THOMAS AQUINAS IN HIS SUMMA THEOLOGIAE!!!!! :D :D :D Yet another reason I have to love you.

    • Olivier

      Woah there, Mark Kaschak. Marc needs to keep his humility in check :P

  • AttentionDeficitCatholic

    Christian Theology 101 for Dummies right here. Exceptionally well
    written, and while I knew all of this on some level, it caused me to
    make connections I had never made before and think on them in ways I
    never had. Thank you for this.

    • Tony

      More like Christian Theology 101 BY Dummies. This blog post is one of the least philosophically/theologically sophisticated bits of intentionally obfuscatory apologetics I’ve ever read, not to mention that it relies on a willfully ignorant strawman understanding of atheism. It’s pathetic. The world/cosmos/universe and humanity NEVER existed in a state of perfection or imperfection. They just ARE what they are. And since there was no fall from this imaginary perfection there is no need for a savior, divine or otherwise. This author, Marc, and anyone who agrees with him, need remedial philosophy/theology along with some therapy. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but these kinds of statements really make me worry about the mental health of those who profess them.

      • Claire

        What would you call it, if it isn’t and never has been perfect or imperfect?

        • Tony

          Excellent question, Claire! It just IS…and perfectly so, without BEING Perfect (with a capital ‘P’); matter, humans, and the cosmos alike. The idea that everything is either perfect or imperfect is a false dichotomy; an ancient philosophical/religious artifact. It is, in fact, ontologically sound for things (object, persons, etc) to just BE, without having the status of im/perfection foisted upon them. In other words, perfection doesn’t exist in the cosmos; it is an illusion of the human mind. According to the principle of Entropy, everything in the cosmos tends toward disorder; despite fleeting, isolated pockets of order, like solar systems, which won’t last forever. Not only does order NOT equal perfection, but disorder does NOT equal imperfection either. Regardless, there is no reason to suppose that perfection (in the theological sense of matter or being) EVER existed in a cosmos that is characterized by disorder.

          • Christopher Snaith

            Can you please expound on the theological sense of perfection, because I’m not entirely sure what you mean by it.

          • AttentionDeficitCatholic

            Of course, the fact that the cosmos tends toward disorder begs the question of how order came to be in the first place. That is to say, if everything tends towards disorder, then these “pockets of order” must have either (1) come to being out of the disorder, in which case it would be order from disorder (which is not exactly compatible with Entropy), or (2) must have begun it’s existence in an ordered state, which (as far as I can tell) all theories about the origin of the cosmos fail to properly explain. And then there is the question of what makes something “order” or “disorder” in the first place.

            Just some food for thought.

          • Tony

            Order out of disorder is completely compatible with entropy, and entropy will eventually win out. The everlasting persistence of order is what is incompatible with entropy. As far as beginning in an ordered state, we’re talking about more order as a matter of degree, not necessarily perfect order.

          • sammi

            so entropy: things constantly getting worse, aka more imperfect.
            therefore they must have been in a former state of greater perfection. because if a is constantly becoming b (a is order, b is chaos) then a cannot equal b. there cannot be a mere state of “being-ness” in between a and b. bingo

          • John Alexander Harman

            No; you misunderstand entropy. Entropy is the tendency of energy to spread out and equalize between areas of high and low concentration. In the long run, this will ultimately lead to lower complexity, but it is absolutely untrue to say that a complex, orderly system necessarily has lower entropy than a simple, chaotic one; entropy can follow pathways that increase complexity even as they widen the distribution of energy. The pre-Big Bang singularity, containing all the matter and energy of the universe in a very small space, had both minimal entropy and minimal complexity, but I don’t think that singularity was “perfect,” certainly in any theological sense of “perfection.”

          • Eve

            The only problem I have with this is that human beings themselves are imperfect and therefore their understanding of the universe is also imperfect so when you state so firmly to look to human science and psychology that is to look to imperfect answers and theories. I can only be sure of true Truth if it comes from a Perfect Infallible source. If there is no such source all your answers are incomplete and subject to error.

      • AttentionDeficitCatholic

        Yeah, I’ll just throw the fact that I am a student of Philosophy and Theology out there. So, yeah, constantly taking this remedial philosophy/theology that I apparently need so much.

      • Tony

        While I do not pray and yet am truly concerned for people who adopt these kinds of worldviews, I must apologize for suggesting that anyone needed therapy or remedial education. That was unnecessary and rude of me. Sorry. My frustration got the better of me. My thanks to the person who called me out on that.

      • Olivier

        So we need remedial philosophy for the purpose of obtaining perfect viewpoints on the issue? If things can’t be perfect or imperfect, then why are you telling us to fix our philosophy? Fixing something would imply that there is a “Blue Ribbon Standard” and if my slope isn’t too slippery, there is a standard of perfection.

  • JJ Wadell

    Maybe Yaweh lets little babies suffer because it makes him laugh? He sure liked it when his son Jesus suffered!

    • Jay E.

      Um… yeah, this is what is termed ‘irrational’. What?

  • John

    My response to this, as an agnostic who is very respectful of those who are religious, is simply that we agnostics view many aspects of life as purposeless — and that that’s OK. Suffering doesn’t necessarily need to be explained. It simply exists We come to terms with it in our own way.

    • Jay E.

      The very fact of “coming to terms with it in our own way” demonstrates that you would attempt to find some explanation for it. That’s just completely irrational. Or as Lewis put it: if there were no meaning, we would never have found that out. If “that’s OK” that MEANS something… there is a meaning to this that makes it “OK”. You really can’t even frame your logic here in any sort of consistent language…. It’s like you presuppose what you think if false to uphold what you think is true.

      • maturallite

        Jay, I disagree. Saying “it’s
        OK” doesn’t imply that suffering is OK. It implies that John himself is ok
        with the fact that suffering exists without an obvious purpose. This is a nuance
        that I think many people fail to see. In my opinion, it takes infinitely more
        courage and mental effort for a person to accept the fact that there are things
        in life that happen and don’t appear to happen for any particular reason. It
        takes real effort to remain composed in the face of uncertainty, and I personally
        think that religious believers would rather find the comfort of an answer, even
        if it is based on ideas for which there is no evidence, rather than face the
        uncertainty of not knowing. Actually, the uncertainty I’m referring to is one
        of the biggest reasons I have devoted my life to gaining as much scientific
        knowledge as I possibly can in my lifetime. I can remember being a very young
        boy and asking my father the tough questions every child asks (who are we?, why
        are we here?, where did we come from?), and his answer of “I don’t know, and
        nobody really does,” was so unsettling
        to me that I decided to dedicate my life to unraveling as much of the mystery
        as I possibly could, all while facing the very real fact that I will almost
        certainly never have all the answers.

        • Jay E.

          No, no I understand what John is saying there. Here’s your problem. You’re operating within the human ability to reason and what you’re saying undermines the rationality and comprehensibility of reality. In which you’ve just undermined all of reason. Including this argument. So in essence it’s just a complete fail all around.

          Again, as Marc points out, this is also (in fact more of) an instance of blind faith than religion. Religion actually operates within the framework of reasoning – convinced that reality is not meaningless, irrational, and ultimately incomprehensible. You’re just saying “the answer is there are no answers”, a complete unfounded claim that is impossible ever to prove. Again, as C.S. Lewis puts it… if there is no meaning, we would never have found that out.

          Again: everything you’re saying presupposes what you’re trying to disprove even as disprove it. It’s just pure senselessness.

          So much for the claim that atheists are for reason and religion is irrational. You have just undermined all of reason. Religion, on the other hand, has answers. Particularly Christianity. See the above article.

          • maturallite

            Jay, you may want to reread my post, because I made none
            of the claims you are arguing against. You are creating a straw man.

            “You’re operating within the human ability
            to reason”..yes, do you have some other nonhuman ability to reason?

            “You’re just saying ‘the answer is there
            are no answers’,”. No, that’s not what I’m saying. I am saying that I admit
            that I don’t have the answer, but I’m ok with not having them. And I hate to
            break it to you, but you don’t have the answers either. Let’s just be honest
            about what we do and do not know.

            “Again, as C.S. Lewis puts it… if there
            is no meaning, we would never have found that out.” It always amazes me that so
            many christians consider C.S. Lewis and intellectual heavy weight. The man was
            a novelist and a poet…in other words, a fiction writer. I put no more stock in
            his opinions about the nature of the universe than I would about his opinions
            on economics or horticulture.

            “Again: everything you’re saying
            presupposes what you’re trying to disprove even as disprove it. It’s just pure
            senselessness.” I am not presupposing anything, and I’m not trying to disprove anything. I am being honest about where
            the limits of human knowledge currently are. You are doing the presupposing by
            claiming that the universe indeed does have a purpose, and YOU happen to know
            what that purpose is. That is quite an extraordinary claim, and as the great
            Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I’m not
            closed to the possibility that the universe does indeed have a purpose, or that
            there is some form of existence beyond our universe. I’m just saying that we
            have yet to find evidence of those things.

          • Cal-J

            “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I am saying that I admit that I don’t have the answer, but I’m ok with not having them. And I hate to break it to you, but you don’t have the answers either. Let’s just be honest about what we do and do not know.”

            Question: How would you know? If you haven’t got the answers, that has *absolutely no bearing* on whether anyone else has the answers or not. In fact, that functionally removes you from consideration, because without the answers yourself, you really have no ability to assert anything regarding the question.

            “Let’s just be honest about what we do and do not know.”

            Again, how would you know whether we have the answer or not? All you know is that *you* don’t have the answer.

            “I put no more stock in his opinions about the nature of the universe than I would about his opinions on economics or horticulture.”

            Correction: Lewis was a theological heavyweight, which we understand is a bit beyond your ken. Don’t worry about it. Let’s move on.

            “I am not presupposing anything, and I’m not trying to disprove anything.”

            Yes to the second, no to the first. You’ve specifically stated no one here has the answers (unless Alexandra is hiding them somewhere), which would count as a presupposition. Further, you by saying certain of Jay E’s points were *false* (“let’s be honest, you don’t have the answers either”), you’ve got a second presupposition going.

            “That is quite an extraordinary claim, and as the great Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

            How extraordinary do we need to get? The universe *exists*. That anything should exist at all is incredible.

            “I’m not closed to the possibility that the universe does indeed have a purpose, or that there is some form of existence beyond our universe. I’m just saying that we have yet to find evidence of those things.”

            No empirical evidence, mind you. As has been said elsewhere, empirical science cannot escape the bounds of the universe.

          • Jay E.

            And you’re ok with not having any answers, especially if there very well might be answers, because…? Let’s be honest: being a Christian, and believing in Christian beliefs, I naturally presume to think I have at least a few answers. Otherwise I would not be a Christian in the first place. Your position here really is irrational “I’m ok with there being no answers, I’m no interested in hearing what you have to say”. There’s no logical, rational basis for your views at all. Let’s think about this, shall we, next time Christians are accused of having irrational ideas. I mean, at least we TRY…

            But your position demonstrates that you in fact have some answer. Because you seem to think it’s ok that you don’t know it… which implies there’s a REASON it’s ok. That the universe is the kind of universe where the real meaning or truth of things doesn’t matter.

            What I’m saying is that it is not conceivable within the framework of human reason to suggest that everything is ultimately purposeless. If not, all of reason is completely undermined. You’ve just destroyed any leg you had to stand on. If so… well that means there’s an answer out there. Carl Sagan is certainly right, so I hereby reference you to the 2000 year tradition of Christian thought bent on supplying you with that extraordinary evidence. Maybe a good place to start would be Summa Theologiae Prima Pars.

            “It always amazes me that so many christians consider C.S. Lewis and
            intellectual heavy weight. The man was a novelist and a poet…in other
            words, a fiction writer. I put no more stock in his opinions about the
            nature of the universe than I would about his opinions on economics or

            That’s very ignorant of you… C.S. Lewis wrote far more books and essays on religion and philosophy than novels. I know, I’ve read them. He was quite the intellectual heavy weight, at the very least because of his academic credentials and the amount of essays and books he wrote on the matter.. Try reading the Problem of Pain, or Mere Christianity. As it is, this is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter who he was, but whether or not what he said was true.

  • Cal-J

    Freaketh not? (Any takers that there will not only be freaketh, but much of it)?

  • maturallite

    This article is a bit ridiculous. You claim that, “The
    athlete can point to the material purpose of fitness and strength to answer the
    problem of his sore muscles. The old man who wakes up ever day with
    inexplicably sore muscles can point to no such thing,” but
    I think you are confusing the meaning of the word purpose. If, by purpose, you
    mean reason something exists, then there are several reasons that can explain
    the old man’s sore muscles (i.e. injury, tissue degradation through years of
    wear and tear). If, by purpose, you mean the intention or objective of
    something, then I think you are misapplying the word purpose. Not everything in
    the world has an intention or objective. What is the purpose of snow? What is
    the purpose of galaxies? These questions become meaningless if you apply the
    wrong definition of purpose.

    • Cal-J

      The latter concept has a word that applies, called “teleology” (or the Final Cause in Aristotelian terms – my Aristotle is rusty, someone correct me if I need it). Purpose is actually an accurate term in the latter sense.

      To answer your question: snow exists to help restore the balance of heat/energy we get from the sun. Its one of many phenomena that form a part of the weather systems that keep us from dying (if there was *actual* balance, there would be no weather, and we would all die).

      Galaxies are a functional unit of organization of the universe, Without galaxies, the universe would be unable to expand/contract, thus it would be unable to approach a state where conscious life could exist, and, again, we would all die.

      (Any further questions about the purpose of X portion of the physics of the universe would probably be better served by hanging out on Yahoo Answers).

      • maturallite

        I disagree. Snow does not have a
        purpose to balance anything out. It is the result of the physical atmospheric
        conditions that produce it, but it has no purpose. If something in the
        atmosphere caused a runaway global cooling, and the earth was out of its heat/energy
        balance, there would still be snow. The way you are talking about purpose (and
        Aristotle too) implies perception and consciousness, and In modern science,
        explanations that relay on teleology are avoided.

        • Cal-J

          Before we get into a further argument, I think I brought us both off track. My bad.

          You wrote: “…I think you are confusing the meaning of the word purpose. …If, by purpose, you mean reason something exists, then there are several reasons that can explain the old man’s sore muscles (i.e. injury, tissue degradation through years of wear and tear).”

          This is entirely accurate. Problem is, Marc wasn’t confusing the meaning of the word at all. You refer to several explanations as to how an old man’s muscles me be in pain and sore, but such explanations generally fall under *how* something comes about. Marc was referring to the lack of a *why*. This obliquely refers to the fact that the suffering, and, by extension the universe, fail to account for themselves. That they work and how they work are not why they work. (For example: Take any given scientific law or principle, and then pretend to be a child, constantly asking “Why? Why? Why?” Sooner or later, you will run out of *how*-substitutes for why and hit a wall).

          “The way you are talking about purpose (and Aristotle too) implies perception and consciousness, and In modern science, explanations that relay on teleology are avoided.”

          I meant to attribute no perception and consciousness to the snow itself, if that’s what you’re suggesting. My apologies for any ambiguities. Secondly, you remotely approach something similar to teleology when you propose any of the reasons for the man’s old and sore muscles, simply backwards.

          • maturallite

            Cal, I still disagree. Like you said,
            you can continue to ask why, and sooner or later you will hit a wall, but
            believers and nonbelievers respond to that wall (the final why) differently. My
            response to the final why would be, “because that’s the way the rules of nature
            work, and nobody has figured out how/why those rules came to be.” In short, it’s
            a big fat I DON’T KNOW. Believers, on the other hand, DO invoke a perception
            and consciousness when faced with the final why, because they answer the final why
            by attributing it to the will of a deity who has consciousness. This begs the next
            question though… Why would the deity want things one particular way instead of
            another?… and the believer ultimately responds with a big fat I DON’T KNOW.
            Actually, they usually talk about how “god works in mysterious ways.” The
            reality is that both the believer and the nonbeliever both ultimately resort to
            saying “I don’t know,” but the nonbeliever just skips a step that seems unnecessary.

          • Alexandra

            Exactly! You can keep asking “why?”, but an atheist stops where the evidence does. A theist goes on a little bit farther, but there still is a point where they have to admit that they simply do not know.

          • Andy

            The atheist looks at the world as if it must be contained within a vessel, a flask, and accepts nothing which would wander outside that flask which we call “all human knowledge”.

            The theist looks out at the world, and cannot comprehend the idea that one must stop asking “why?”, believing that no material explanation is satisfactory, because man’s curiosity and creativity is nigh infinite.

          • Bryan

            I have never met an atheist who says there is nothing beyond “all human knowledge”. Most of us realize that humans have limited understanding.

          • Nick

            Exactly. I don’t know any atheist who presumes to know “everything”, because if there’s anything I know for sure about the universe, it’s that I don’t know it all, nor can I presume to know it all. None of that, however, necessitates the existence or acceptance of anything supernatural or divine. As an atheist, I simply accept not knowing, I have no reason to try to fill in the gaps any faster than science fills them.

          • Claire

            Doesn’t the term atheist mean they believe there is no God? Even if there was no proof that God exists, we haven’t come close to proving God doesn’t exist. It is impossible to prove something doesn’t exist. If you don’t believe in God, be an agnostic.

          • Nick

            @6988ee398b3e40f6ea7ed8c35db2af69:disqus No. It doesn’t mean that. It means a lack of believe in gods, and there’s a significant difference. Atheists aren’t looking for and don’t care about “proof god doesn’t exist”. In logical terms, no such proof could exist anyhow. All atheism is seeing no evidence for any gods (and mankind has invented something like 3000 of them that are documented), and therefore rejecting the idea. We know we don’t know everything about the world, but that doesn’t give us any reason to believe in any form of deities – we don’t fill the void in our knowledge with something we’ve invented. That’s all atheism is.

          • TBP100

            To some extent it’s a matter of semantics. The word “atheism” simply means “without theism,” i.e. lacking the belief in a god or gods. Most atheists would say that they are withholding belief in divine beings until convincing evidence is presented. That said, most of us are pretty sure that no such evidence will ever be presented, because it doesn’t exist. I’m pretty sure, but cannot be absolutely certain, to use Bertrand Russell’s example, that there is no china teapot circling the sun in the asteroid belt. But while I can’t know that for sure, I’m not going to organize my life around the supposition that there is one, even if, for whatever reason, I might find such a belief appealing or comforting.

          • maturallite

            Andy, that is such a
            mischaracterization of the atheist’s position. Atheists
            simply admit that there are things we do not know, and we aren’t satisfied with
            made up explanations to fill that void. We would rather live with the
            uncertainty of not having an explanation at all rather than settling for one based
            on bad or no evidence. The drive to not stop asking why is what has lead to the
            advancements in science over the last couple of centuries, but when people convince
            themselves that the already have the answers, instead of being honest when the don’t,
            it stifles curiosity and the drive to keep exploring. Let me ask you this…what has
            religion contributed to the whole of human knowledge in the past 500
            years? What has science contributed to
            the whole of human knowledge in the past 50 years?

          • Cal-J

            Religion and Science belong to two distinct spheres. It would seem to me that your question is naturally biased in favor of science, because what you call “the whole of human knowledge” (I assume) includes little more than empirical knowledge of the universe. (And even then you play a dangerous game. What you call “science” has been giving us new ways to kill people since we first appreciated the concept).

            When you use the term *evidence* you refer specifically to empirical evidence, which is why you refer to what we put forth as “bad or no evidence”. It’s not really evidence at all. Religion is largely a philosophical sphere. Comparing the two is ultimately comparing apples to oranges.

            Science can *only* speak about the universe in terms of *how* it works. It *cannot* (as we all agree) describe any further than that.

            “Atheists simply admit that there are things we do not know, and we aren’t satisfied with made up explanations to fill that void.”

            Good for you. However, I wish to make a small point that you missed. There are things we cannot know *via science or the empirical method*, but that doesn’t mean we can’t know them by other means (i.e. philosophy/religion). Notice how quickly you dismissed any attempt to approach what science could not as “made up”. The question of God is *beyond* the empirical realm. By default Science cannot have any answer for that.

            Also, accusing us of making things up is a *philosophical* assertion. We’re talking of things beyond the reach of empirical science.

            “The drive to not stop asking why is what has lead to the advancements in science over the last couple of centuries, but when people convince themselves that the already have the answers, instead of being honest when the don’t, it stifles curiosity and the drive to keep exploring.”

            You make a flawed point here. Belief in the Christian God does not preclude activity in the realm of scientific inquiry. There are many famous scientists throughout history who were likewise devoutly religious or even Christian: Gregor Mendel was an Austrian abbot whose work functionally pioneered modern genetics; Jean-Felix Picard was a French Jesuit priest and one of the founding members of the French Academy; Armand David was a Lazarist priest whose explorations of China provided incredible finds in zoology, botany, geology, and paleontology — alone, he managed to introduce over a hundred species of animals and birds to Europe, including the Giant Panda and the Milu Deer. (I have more if you’re interested).

            Again, religion (theology being an extension of philosophy) and science are *two* separate spheres. Religious contribution to human *science* is quite small — all Science got from Judeo-Christianity was the idea that the universe was an internally-coherent system that *can* be known and understood, because (and here comes the philosophy part) it was *designed that way*. If we’d never made it past the Greeks, we’d still be wondering if we could really *know anything at all* — which is the problem of asserting there’s *no meaning to the universe* because you functionally set Science back a good *two millennia*.

            I’d like to qualify that last point. I’ve been writing under an assumption that you are an actual atheist, which would mean that you hold there to be *no supernatural principle at all*, and *not* that *you don’t know what there is*, which would be agnosticism. You earlier mentioned a “void” that we made up answers to fill. I counter that your apparent atheism (and by extension its correlating materialism) would necessarily leave nothing *but* that void. Empirical science cannot touch that void because that void is necessarily beyond its reach and ken.

            When you tell us that you are satisfied with not knowing the void, you are basically saying that you have enough curiosity to want to explore the universe, but you have no interest in why it’s there. That is a very picky sense of curiosity you have. And it’s really kind of arrogant to tell us we’re fools when you have no interest in the question in the first place.

          • maturallite

            Cal, your whole argument hinges on the fact that you have conveniently
            placed your god outside the bounds of the universe, and therefore outside the
            bounds of rational inquiry. But then I have to ask, how do you know anything
            about this god if he/she is outside the bounds of the universe? Do you have
            some special tool that allows you to see beyond outside the universe? I can
            play this game too…I think that christians have it all wrong, and the world was
            actually created by Rainbow Bright. She lives in a realm beyond the universe
            where she rides around rainbows on her white unicorn. You can’t gain any
            knowledge of her using conventional “materialistic” methods, but you can come
            to know the truth of Rainbow Bright if you truly submit to her and believe in
            her with all your heart. Now how is my story any different than yours, and how
            could you possibly discredit my story, since Rainbow Bright is outside the bounds
            of the universe?

          • Andy

            It’s not a convenient placement. It’s the fact of the matter. If there is an Ultimate Person behind all of reality, then that person would naturally be at least partially beyond the bounds of lesser beings, just as the mind of a human is beyond the bounds of ant understanding.

            If such a being were fully comprehensible by a human mind, then it could not be the Ultimate Being, could it?

            The theist is one who believes that the existence of an Ultimate Person is the most satisfying and simplest answer to the paradoxes of the natural world.

          • Gregory Arblaster

            Your story lacks a theology.

          • Jayson Franklin

            Cal-J has not claimed that God is outside the bounds of knowledge or reason, but rather outside the realm of scientific understanding. Science explores the ordered nature of the universe through testable explanations. Epistimic knowledge is simply not subjectable to the scientific method. That doesn’t mean that it is simply “untrue” or “outside of the bounds of rational inquiry. For example, think about the following proposition:

            All men are mortal,
            Socrates is a man.
            Therefore, Socrates is mortal

            This “truth” is understood through rationality, yet it is not a scientific truth. Furthermore, Christians have asserted for thousands of years that knowledge of god can be known based upon reason alone. In fact, Aquinas postulates that the existence of God is not an article of faith, but is a preamble to faith; since knowledge of a Supreme being can be known through reason alone.

          • MikeTheInfidel

            “Religion and Science belong to two distinct spheres.”

            Nonsense right out of the gate. Religions make very distinct claims about the nature of reality and the history of our world. These are not areas outside of the purview of science.

          • Cal-J

            Not at all. Religion is a philosophy, which discusses the *why*. Science is specifically a method of study, a discovery of the *how*.

            I never once said there is *no overlap* between the two spheres, but they are distinctly two separate spheres. Imagine a Venn diagram, designed to display shared and unique traits between two (or more) distinct spheres.

          • Christopher Snaith

            While I don’t necessarily disagree with your point here, I do disagree with how you describe religion and science.
            Science comes from the Latin, ‘sciens,’ which means “to know.” Science is a branch of knowledge that uses a particular methodolgy to arrive at its conclusions.
            Religion may come from the Latin, ‘relegere’, which means “to read again,” or “to go through again,” but many believe it more probably comes from the Latin, “religare,” which means, “to bind fast,” or “binding relationship.” Given the history of religion, this may refer to the binding rules in place under religious groups. Broadly speaking, a religion is a belief system, usually tied up with the divine (mono, or polytheistic), with a binding set of moral rules. It may include and employ philosophic systems, but this is not necessarily inherent to religion. Philosophy is a separate branch of knowledge, like science, which uses it’s own set of methods (ie, syllogistic logic, induction, deduction, etc).

          • Cal-J

            Fair enough. Thank you for the clarification. I was using overly simplistic terms to try and make the point easier. A religion *has* a philosophy (in general terms), and *science* nowadays generally is reduced to an empirical naturalism.

          • bee stein

            Hey Cal, I’ve been enjoying your responses- i do think that you may have missed something, though. first of all, i mean this as trying to be helpful – i’m not terribly good at philosophy, but I do enjoy it. Science and Religion belong in two different spheres in one sense, but not in another. Both seeks to find/discover truth, and that is how they are alike. Now correct me if I’m wrong – i don’t enjoy being ignorant, but a state of ignorance is one that i fall in fairly often – but i think what you were trying to say is that Science and Religion go about finding truth in different ways? For instance, Religion goes about it by reason and revelation, whereas Science goes about finding truth in a way that is more observation and experimentation? Again, I’m not entirely sure, but I think that this might be a little more precise way to say that… and can i add another point? I’ve been reading a very interesting point about a guy by the name of Kurt Godel – a mathematician who basically proves the following statement true: “This statement is unproveable”. This basically messes up an argument of empiricism, because if something can be True without being provable, well… then the scientific method begins to fall apart at the point where nothing can be empirically proved, doesn’t it? apologize if I said anything wrong, reply and i’ll try to clarify thanks! braden

          • DaveSomething

            Religion contributed science to the world. You’re welcome.

          • Deven Kale

            That’s not as definitive as you think.

          • Christopher Snaith


          • Mark Smith

            We don’t “stop asking why”. One stops asking “Why?” when one has an answer (presuming the asker perseveres to that point). “I don’t know” is not an answer (it’s a placeholder for an answer-in-absentia), “Goddidit” is an answer (not necessarily a correct one).
            After that the question in question stops being asked, and one moves onto the new questions brought about as a result of settling on that particular answer.

            Hence the continuation of the “why?” on theism is not a continuation of the same “Why?”, but instead the proposition of new Why?’s in response to the closing of the original one.
            As an atheist, I’d contend that the religious are too easily satisfied with the “God” answer, and end up either grappling with questions which should be irrelevant, or else grapple with good questions but ill-equipped with false facts.

            In the case of suffering, the question (and the existential angst we associate with it) is of the former variety, and comes about only as a result of concluding that their must be meaning beyond the natural order we are able to perceive. Those who do not conclude meaning is necessary see know reason to propose a meaning for suffering.

            As has been aptly pointed out above, suffering is such an emotive concept that it can distract from the content of the argument. Replace suffering with more a mundane (but still unpleasant) sensation, such as ‘boredom’ (as suggested above), and the argument quickly becomes ridiculous.

            Not only that, but on purely physical grounds there are “reasons” why suffering exists, and they are all mundane, natural and expected. People like to be thrilled, entertained, sparked, and these stripped-down responses don’t provide that. But they do answer the question sufficiently.

          • Andy

            If theists stopped asking “why?”, there would be considerably less philosphical work done by Catholics, for one. If that were so, Christianity would need say nothing more than “God did it”.

            Now let’s go back to the premise of atheism: there is no God. (I use “God” instead of “god”, simply because it’s rather meaningless semantics to argue about whether a “god” could exist, given the potentially broad meanings of such a word, some broad enough that they could apply to us, even. “God”–an ultimate singularity of personhood, so to speak–is a specific idea, and it’s pretty much the one that atheists mean, anyhow, as far as I know.)

            That’s a positive, definite statement. (This contrasts with agnosticism, which maintains that we’re still not able to prove either that God exists or does not.) In other words, if you’re actually an atheist, you’ve already made your judgment on whether God exists, and if you haven’t, you shouldn’t call yourself an atheist. As far as I’m aware, that’s the defining trait of atheism: deciding that there is no God. (Otherwise, might as well be honest and claim agnosticism. Does the English vocabulary a huge favor to be accurate.)

            So now there’s two viewpoints, each of which has made its own decision on whether there is an ultimate “Why?”. From my observation, atheism can have no ultimate “Why?”, because there is no ultimate will behind anything, it’s just an accident of physical properties and the meaning that we construct around those properties. Really, “why?” turns into an elaborate “how?”.

            In any theistic system, the “why?” turns from “why do things happen?” to “why does God (this personal being) have a world where these things happen?” In other words, “why?” becomes “who?”, as we strive to understand and ascertain the character of this Ultimate Who. (Actually, now that I think about it, that ties into the traditional Judeo-Christian view of God as “I AM WHO AM”, that the central question is–of what character is this God?)

            Perhaps I’m mischaracterizing (though I’m hardly the first nor the only to mischaracterize either side), but it comes down to which explanation you prefer to be at the root: a cosmic machine (“how?”) or a cosmic person (“who?”).

          • Mark Smith

            Wrt to your last two paragraphs, it appears we are in agreement, that Christians (at least), move on from “why X?” to “Why X and Y given God?” I’m sorry if I was unclear in my meaning above, but this is essentially what I was trying to say. As an atheist, I hold god’s (not God’s) existence to be an unanswerable question, and tend to refrain from talking about God in these sorts of conversations because of the broad array of specific (but divergent) associations people attach to such a being. By “god” I generally mean the deist god, or ground-of-all-being, which is fairly specific and common to most religious explanations of the universe. I’m perhaps approaching your initial comment wrongly (perhaps addressing the wrong “why”), so let me rephrase in light of the above.

            If you wish to narrow the discussion to God (which makes sense in this context, and I’ll assume that I know for the most part what you mean, as an ex-evangelical who dabbled with catholicism as a teenager), see for a thorough discussion of what it means to be an atheist (that at least I agree with). The relevant gist, that atheists reject the claims of the existence of a personal, relational ground-of-all-being (aka God), would at least mean we agree that atheists make a positive statement (although I disagree that such statements, other things being equal, are equally valid).

            I like the why-how, why-who distinction, but I have a couple of reservations about the way you explain it. Claiming there is a personal being in the manner you have appears to be question-begging. “there is because there is” or “I am who I am”. It’s a meaningless, unproductive tautology, which can only be held on a whim (some might call such a whim “faith”), as in-and-of-itself it provides no information. On the why-how, whilst I agree that understanding the mechanisms is key to how atheists go about explaining the why (to get OT “Why is there suffering?”), if we can explain the mechanisms of suffering as entirely contingent on the state of the universe, then we can answer the why question without need of a “who?”. And if we can do that then the existence of suffering does not (as BC claims) point inevitably to the existence of God. The existence of suffering simply requires additional explanation if we assume the existence of God. Atheists contend that such explanations are insufficient, and indeed that the existence of suffering is contrary to the possibility of the existence of a benevolent God.

            I don’t understand how (or why) you conclude that the “who” you are seeking is necessarily the “Ultimate Who”. I’m also not convinced that the grounds for seeking such a being are sufficiently established, regardless of whether there are any more Who’s beyond God.

            I’m not sure how the existence or sense of a question is necessarily dependent on their being a will involved. Only those questions posed as a result of assuming such a will necessarily require said will to be coherent, but questions such as “why suffering exists” require no such assumptions, and are approachable and explainable as a result of the mechanisms in play in the universe.

            I also don’t understand what an “Ultimate Why?” question would be. “Why is there suffering?” doesn’t seem to cut it. If by “Ultimate why?” you mean “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, well science has an answer for that (because there has to be, or “if there ever was Nothing, Something would occur to replace it as a result of the physical nature of Nothingness”). Maybe you just mean a question whose answer raises no novel questions, but I’m not sure anyone has an “Ultimate Why” in that case, much less an exclusively theistic question. Feel free to prove me wrong (that is, provide a demonstrably true answer to a question which does not in itself require further explanation).

            When it comes to preferences, we can analyze the reasons we hold to our preferences and use those reasons to determine whether our preferences are sensible. The reasons most people hold to particular theistic beliefs is well established to be demographic in nature (i.e. most theists/atheists were raised in cultures saturated by their chosen flavour of belief). But those who grapple intellectually with the question of God’s existence give other reasons for their preference. For theists, maybe they’re afraid of a world in which morals aren’t dictated by a perfect being, maybe they’re lonely, maybe they’re afraid of death, etc. I give explicit reasons for my preference; the incoherence and irrationality inherent in intellectually accepting the dogma of theism is too great given the lack of evidence. As Dan Fincke would put it, a dogmatic adherence to the search for truth. Maybe I’ve misrepresented the reasons a theist may give for their belief, but as far as I have seen such preference is purely an emotional attachment to the idea of such a God’s existence, not an objective assessment of the claim they are making.

          • Andy

            I’m gonna reply back, because this is a very interesting conversation. Out for the weekend, though. So it won’t be for a few days at least.

          • John Alexander Harman

            Precisely backwards. The atheist, at least of the scientific bent (there are other sorts of atheists, such as Marxists and Randian Objectivists, who have their own ideological walls outside which they refuse to think), reaches the boundaries of current human knowledge and seeks to push them farther out, by means of the same scientific method that has served us so well in expanding them to their present vast dimensions.

            The theist stops far short of the limits of current human knowledge, and substitutes supernatural pseudo-explanations for discomfiting fields of knowledge like quantum physics and cognitive neuro-psychology, which are busily filling in the last few substantial blanks in our picture of the universe and of ourselves where a God of the Gaps might lurk.

          • Andy

            Just because I made the mistake of characterizing an entire group with attributes of one of its subsets doesn’t mean you have to do the same, you know.

          • Claire

            If I ask you why coffee is boiling, you can go into some scientific explanation. But another answer is “Because I want coffee.” My wanting coffee caused the boiling in a different way then the scientific answer, but they both are legitimate reasons, because I didn’t want coffee, I wouldn’t have made the coffee start boiling. There is more than one sort of why.

          • maturallite

            I agree with you, because we have very good evidence that humans exist and they sometimes make coffee. Are you saying that hints at the existence of a cosmic coffee maker?

          • John Alexander Harman

            “Because I want coffee” is a scientific explanation — you can connect it to the fact of the coffee boiling through the sequence of material events that led from desire to intention to action. Depending on how detailed you want to be, you could include the brain chemistry that you experienced as a desire for coffee, the nerve impulses and muscle contractions involved in the act of filling a coffeepot with water and starting it heating, etc. Ultimately, all of it is reducible to the shifting configurations of quarks that make up you, the coffeemaker, the water, and the kitchen.

          • gAytheist

            @maturallite:disqus : You make an excellent point. For everyone the final answer is “I don’t know”. But for a scientists, the “I don’t know” is followed by “maybe we can find out.” And the point where you finally say “I don’t kno” gets pushed back another step. For the person with religion the answer was “God willed it and I don’t know why”. That ends the discussion and no progress is made.

      • Alexandra

        Oh come on, Cal. That shit about snow is just awful.

        • Cal-J

          Ahh, Alexandra. Good to see you. Classy as always.

          Let me try again.

          Snow, like all forms of precipitation (and all forms of weather), is a given manifestation of the heat and energy of the planet trying to equalize itself. All forms of precipitation are a heat-release mechanism that occur after sufficient water vapor has collected (via wind) and transferred the energy it was carried to a place that was colder. The earth’s weather patterns all belong to the same cycle of attempted equalization, which will never occur because the sun heats the earth inequally. If temperature was actually equal around the world, there would be no wind, no weather, no life, and no us.


          • John Alexander Harman

            No, it’s still a lot of teleogical nonsense, absurdly imputing intentions (“trying” to equalize itself, “attempted” equalization) to a physical system far too simple to have anything like an intention.

  • EP

    This is why I gave birth without an epidural.

  • JJ Wadell

    So…this author argues that when children suffer from leukemia the world is brought back into perfection? Sounds like a voyeuristic form of Child Sacrifice to me. Is there no end to the magnitude of evil in which Christians will indulge?

    • Guest

      Troll in the dungeon!

    • Guest

      No but really, the world is *not* in perfection, and that’s why children, and everyone in fact, suffer. Reading comprehension: a valuable life skill.

    • Jay E.

      The word, my friend, is “straw man”.

  • Commonsense

    Any philosophy that claims that there exists the supernatural cannot grant purpose to anything without proof.

    Your attempts to justify your pain (emotional, physical, whatever) and to scapegoat it onto a supernatural being presupposes that this supernatural being is there. If you really need to feel better about the fact there is suffering in the world, do something to reduce it. Stop telling people that having telepathic conversations with a wish granting sky overseer matters.

    To see a child with cancer is to understand that we’re imperfect biological systems struggling in a very hostile environment – find strength in the fact that we’ve come as far as we have in defeating the disease. According to your own espoused philosophy we should just allow the children to suffer and die because it supports your theology.

    • Guest

      Nay, not allow their suffering, but accept the fact that suffering is a part of our world–even when we cure cancer some other horrible disease will arise and kill people. It doesn’t mean we ought not try to cure such diseases, but that human suffering will always exist as long as there are other humans.

    • Cal-J

      “Any philosophy that claims that there exists the supernatural cannot grant purpose to anything without proof.
      Your attempts to justify your pain (emotional, physical, whatever) and to scapegoat it onto a supernatural being presupposes that this supernatural being is there.”

      Yes and yes.

      (Qualification of the latter yes: Marc is not scapegoating anyone but rather describing sin as imperfection and a failed relationship with what is generally referred to by Christians as “God”).

      • maturallite

        ” …sin as imperfection and a failed relationship with what is generally referred to by Christians as “God”).” There’s just one problem with that idea…there is absolutely no evidence for that being the case.

        • Cal-J

          Correction: No evidence that you are willing to accept. You take as a presupposition atheism (I may be mistaken, some of your later comments tend towards agnosticism), which necessarily denies the existence of a supernatural dimension. I could point to countless documents that would count as legitimate evidence in the form of history save for the fact that you deny a priori the nature of your opponents’ claim.

          Proofs of God tend to be just that — philosophical proofs. Empirical evidence can participate in philosophy, but it is no philosophy itself.

          • maturallite

            No, I simply require that my evidence have a basis in reality. Science does not necessarily deny the existence of supernatural dimensions, but it certainly won’t resort to the that as an explanation for something until all explanations involving the natural world have been exhausted and there is good reason to think that a supernatural dimension exists. Look, science is painting a view of the world that is infinitely more complex and mysterious than anyone could have ever imagined. There is good evidence that matter (at the smallest scale) can and does exist in two places at once. There is good evidence that the flow of time itself changes relative to the velocity of the observer. These are crazy ideas that only came about because that is what all the evidence pointed to. Nobody is definitively ruling out the existence of supernatural dimensions, but believing they exist should not be the default position, just as believing unicorns exist should not be the default position. And no, a bronze age book and anecdotal accounts do not count as good evidence. You say you have evidence though, so let’s see what you got!

          • Christopher Snaith
          • Cal-J

            “No, I simply require that my evidence have a basis in reality.” Except you have no grounds for saying what *is* or *is not* reality… outside of empirical knowledge, which is constantly evolving.

            I believe you mean to say you require that your knowledge has a basis in empirical knowledge.

            “Science does not necessarily deny the existence of supernatural dimensions, but it certainly won’t resort to the that as an explanation for something until all explanations involving the natural world have been exhausted and there is good reason to think that a supernatural dimension exists.”

            You are a very interesting atheist. Acknowledging a supernatural dimension (even only if possibility) sounds like theism. Not monotheism necessarily, but some kind of it nonetheless.

            ” You say you have evidence though, so let’s see what you got!”

            My “evidence”, as you call it, is philosophical, as I have said elsewhere. It would require a different discussion, most likely through considerations of flaws of the universe.

            For example, considering the chain of cause and effect: if everything we know right now is an effect of outside forces at work, we can follow a chain of cause and effect into the past, where we run into the problem of infinite regress… unless there is a cause which itself is not an effect. An uncaused cause. If material things are all effects of another cause, that would likewise suggest that the uncaused cause itself is not a material being.

            Also, considering contingency:

            If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time.

            I took that from Peter Kreeft, who has a collection of similar arguments (Christopher Snaith provides the link). I’ve alluded to this argument in several different posts, if never clearly stated it.

      • Jonathan Novak

        The real issue is that Christ has fixed that failed relationship and taken the sin upon himself, so God should have no reason to cause this pain. If Christ’s whole purpose was to wash us of our past, present, and future sins so that we can have a direct relationship with God then how can God turn around and punish, through pain, for our sins? It doesn’t make sense… This whole “pain comes from our sin” argument is ridiculous because it directly discredits what Jesus did.

        • Cal-J

          And yet our sin still causes us pain.

  • I AM

    Very generous Marc thanks. Would love you to write something on Philip Rieff one day.

    Alasdair MacIntyre ‘After Virtue’ p.30

    “In The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966) and also in To My Fellow Teachers (1975) Philip Rieff has documented with devastating insight a number of the ways in which truth has been displaced as a value and replaced by psychological effectiveness.”

  • Obliged_Cornball

    This is a very well-written article, as is usually the case for this blog. However, I have contentions with some of the arguments you present. Most (but not all) of them stem not from the rejection of premises, but from their implications. Behold my potentially annoying wall-of-text:
    If suffering ceases to be suffering once given purpose, then I suppose it’s a bit strange that Christians continue to talk of suffering at all. For a supernatural purpose is, after all, still a purpose. To say that you suffer for the purpose of ending all suffering is to assign purpose to your suffering, which is to say that it’s not really suffering. You’ve yet to explain how the supernatural version of this argument manages to avoid the paradox you’ve laid out for secular explanations.
    The claim that suffering is the result of sin generally holds for human actions. However, much of what we consider suffering is not obviously caused by our wrongs against each other. It’s not as if the child with Leukemia was more evil than the child without, or that his Leukemia resulted from someone else being more evil towards him. I don’t see the grounds for the sweeping inductive claim that because some cases of suffering result from sin, that it is necessarily the case that all of them do.
    The statement that the universe isn’t “perfect” is a peculiar one to the atheist. For if the universe really is indifferent to human existence, it would be absurd to speak of it as if our value judgments ultimately described some reality about it. The claim that an imperfect being cannot be God is also a bit strange, for it hinges on the idea that the maximum of perfection can only be actual and not hypothetical. If there were no being that were entirely perfect, yet one/some being(s) obviously stood out as better than the rest, it might still make sense to call such being(s) “God(s).”
    I’m a bit confused as to how resurrection becomes a necessity for the man who destroys death. For if his being was already negated in destroying the source of the negation, it is not clear that a reversal of the negation would result. I’m working under the assumption that the effects of death can still be felt after its negation – much like how our own legacies persist for a time after we rot away. If Christ was totally and completely negated in the destruction of death, how would it be possible for him to be restored to life? Would it not be necessary for some part of him to remain on which the restoration could be performed?
    As a final note, none of these are meant as hostile criticisms. I am not “freaked out,” but I must continue to prod you in order to make sense of what you say. If this results from the inadequacy of my own understanding, then please don’t take it personally.

    • Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

      I’m going to respond paragraph by paragraph, just for convience:

      For your first point, he addresses that in his definition of suffering:
      If some natural, secular purpose could be granted to the man suffering, then his pain would cease to be suffering and begin to be useful pain. When he says, “natural, secular purpose”, it excludes the supernatural. He is defining suffering for the rest of the post. Whenever he speaks of suffering later on, you know he is referring to pain without a natural, secular purpose.

      I agree with your second point, but as he points out, sin needn’t not be human. The universe itself “misses the mark” when it gives the child cancer, because it has failed to act with justice. If we use that definition of sin, the universe itself is sinful, and that brings us to your next point.

      This paragraph really has two points, so they’ll be addressed separately. It’s not that our judgements about value really have any actual measure on the universe. However, we know that if something is perfect, it is just as it should be. If it is not, then it is not as it should be. That is just a definition. And we definitely perceive it as imperfect, at least in our desires to be free of our suffering. Either we are correct, and it is imperfect, or we are wrong. If we are wrong, then we have incorrectly perceived reality itself, throwing all our perceptions into question. In fact, it throws all of human experience into question. If we can incorrectly perceive the very nature of reality, how can we perceive anything within that reality with any assurance.

      About your notion of an “imperfect god”. He gave a definition. When I say “God”, I am referring to a perfect being. Therefore, it is impossible for an imperfect being to be God, simply because it is a contradiction in terms. Somewhat like “mandatory liberty”, or “Cub victory”, or “French Military”.

      If Christ destroyed death, then he could not remain dead, as that would be to exist in a state that no longer exists. For example: If I went into a prison, and then destroyed all the walls, it would be impossible for me to remain in said prison, as it is no longer a prison. In a similar way, Christ could not remain dead, as death has been destroyed.

  • Alexandra

    I feel like this makes it worse, re your title. This totally creeps me out. Knowing that people really think about this, rationalize it, and believe it.

    • Cal-J

      Everything creeps you out, Alexandra.

      • Alexandra

        But especially this whole god/human sacrifice and suffering stuff. This is terrifying shit.

        • Cal-J

          Yes it is. Christianity is scary. No one has ever accurately promised you comfort.

        • poundcake

          @alexandra, don’t be a dick. everyone thinks about the meaning of suffering. you might not agree with christians, but don’t look down on the people who do.

          • Alexandra

            Thanks, mom.

          • Eve

            I don’t get it….whats so scary about thinking there’s a reason for suffering?

          • Angélica Marie Mijares

            Why does everything have to be anthropocentric?

          • thx1183

            Speak for yourself.

  • joephoo

    Take Occam’s razor here. Suffering is cruel, random and capricious — just like what we see in nature. QED. No fantastic jumping through hoops required.

    • Cal-J

      Except that amounts to telling us there *is* no reason for suffering, which satisfies no one.

      • Alexandra

        That’s a bad assumption. I’m satisfied with knowing there’s no reason, if there really is no reason.

        • Cal-J


          To take your approach to its logical extension, both sides of that if would be assumptions.

          • Alexandra

            Right, and the evidence suggests there really isn’t any reason. Examining the evidence and coming to the conclusion that there is no reason is satisfying.

          • Cal-J

            What evidence? The fact that things don’t account for themselves?

        • Sammi

          marc addressed this by asking: have you ever experienced intense suffering? a loved one slowly dying of cancer or something like that? if you haven’t, obviously you’re satisfied with no answer, no reason. if you have and you still are, that’s a little strange. but still, i always go with that cliche quote that never fails:
          “i would rather live as if there is a God and have it end up that there isn’t, than to live as if their is no God and die to find there is”

      • joephoo

        Truth hurts, I guess.

        Besides, every set of myths ultimately starts with no reason. Who made the deities, and why did the deity decide to get into the universe-creating business? We can’t say.

        • Cal-J

          Save you merely *assert* truth (and neglect to prove it). Occam’s razor is easily misused by the intellectually lazy.

        • Sammi

          yes, there actually is in Christian theology. God created us because He is overflowing with Love, and he desired more creatures to accept His Love, to share His joy. Hence he created us, and a universe for us to explore.

          • idea1013

            The question wasn’t who created us, it was who created the Creator? Your post is all assertion with no basis in evidence- blind faith.

          • Cal-J

            That assumes the Creator needed creating in the first place. You’ve heard of the unmoved mover?

          • idea1013

            That it does. That is the natural order of things, is it not?

          • Cal-J

            Not necessarily. If you are referring to the idea that *God created everything*, that’s an improper form of the argument.

            A better form would be “If an infinite regress is impossible, then the chain of cause and effect must begin at the cause that itself is not an effect. In essence, an uncaused cause.” Or an unmoved mover. Aristotle and Aquinas posit better versions than mine.

          • John Alexander Harman

            Aristotle and Aquinas were ignorant of the processes by which complexity can arise from simple systems governed by simple rules. Knowing that those processes exist and are at work in our universe informs our inferences about the “first mover” and leads to a radically different conclusion than the one they drew in ignorance of those processes. If our choice of uncaused first cause is between a sentient, infinitely complex being and the ultimate simplicity of a physical universe governed by a small number of straightforward, fundamental laws, Occam’s razor shows that the latter is infinitely more probable than the former.

  • Ligalmier

    The name of this blog should be changed from Bad Catholic to Bad Philosophy.


    Your entire premise is based around the claim that there is no secular explanation for suffering.

    Sure there is.

    The old man suffers because his muscular and skeletal systems are starting to break down, causing pain. This is different from the suffering of an athlete, because an athletes pain has worth that the athlete realizes and understands. The old man doesn’t want the pain, and so it turns from pain to suffering.

    Really, an athlete can suffer just as much as an old man can. When I run a race I suffer. Running a race is pretty painful. Does that mean that there isn’t a secular explanation for that suffering? Does that mean I have to imagine a 2000 year-old man being tortured to death every time I’m gasping for air while running? Nope, not in the slightest.

    • Cal-J

      No, no, you misunderstand.

      You’ve substituted the *how* for the *why*. The physical systems at work (the *how*) are not the purpose Marc refers to.

      Imagine a child asking his father Why, Why, Why?

      “Why does an old man suffer?”

      “Because his body is growing old and breaking down.”

      “Why does it do that?”

      Carry the rest of the argument out yourself. You will hit a wall.

      • Alexandra

        You hit a wall in a theistic worldview. You just move it to a different place than atheism – a place beyond the evidence of reality.

        • Cal-J

          So, to a place where you’d have no answer?

          • Cal-J

            Actually, let me ask, what do you mean when you say “beyond the evidence of reality”.

            I ask you why something works, you give me how. I ask you why something works, you give me how. Short of indefinitely chasing each other around in circles (since most of existence is cyclical), at some point we would hit the subject of why the universe itself exists.

            No *how* can answer that question, because *hows* are not *whys* and are only rarely fit substitutes for *Why* questions.

            Unless you have an actual *why* for the existence of the universe, natch.

          • Alexandra

            I’m talking about invoking a deity or the supernatural. There’s no evidence for any of that, but you can answer “why” questions with a supernatural that you cannot without it. The why and how are kind of the same question a lot of the time, like when you’re talking about why snow happens. But when you’re trying to give things meaning, then yeah they’re different.

            Here’s the real question: why does there have to be meaning? I don’t think there is any, and therefore don’t have the need to make shit up to satisfy the why.

          • Cal-J

            There has to be meaning because the universe exists. According to science (and I speak in general terms), the universe is basically a giant ball of logical and intelligible systems interconnected, and, importantly, understandable. Since the universe cannot account for itself, it is necessarily founded on something that is as logical as itself (if not as intelligible).

            To claim otherwise would *undermine the whole of science*. If the universe has no meaning, then there is no reason for it to exist. No reason for the universe necessarily leads to NO UNIVERSE.
            (Also, “no meaning” as a foundational premise of the universe leads necessarily to a Nietzchean self-contradiction and illogic. If you *honestly* hold that there is no reason, you are either lying or too intellectually lazy to follow your premise to its natural conclusion).

            “…you can answer “why” questions with a supernatural that you cannot without it.”
            Exactly my point. The universe cannot account for itself. Therefore, there must be something beyond and greater than the universe that it is founded upon.

          • Alexandra

            Just, no. No. Ugh. There’s no where for the conversation to go if that’s what kind of nonsense you believe.

          • Cal-J

            Alright, let me step back a few. I still maintain that, by ultimately maintaining the lack of “meaning” (your term is too vague to be useful to either of us), you basically un-found one of several spheres. We could be talking of the principle of existence, in which case we’d have no universe. We could also be talking of the sphere of morality or truth, in which case, either or both systems would be necessarily unfounded. If there’s no meaning to the universe, why on earth do you bother telling me I’m wrong?

          • The Other Weirdo

            I would say let God sort Nietzsche out, but someone told me He was dead.

            Nobody gives a damn about Nietzsche, except apparently Christians trying to use him against atheists who don’t even care about him.

            The point is, though, that yes you can answer question with the supernatural that you can’t without, but it doesn’t mean the answers are in any valid or reliable. In fact, with the supernatural, you can answer anything, in any way, and there is no way for anybody to disprove you. That’s what makes it ultimately worthless. They are not real answers; they are just your imagination and desperation for some kind of meaning from an ultimately hostile and uncaring universe.

      • thx1183

        It does that because humans evolved to live long enough to reproduce and care for their young. Past that age, things start wearing out.

  • martykayzee

    Atheism is to religion as abstinence is to promiscuity.

    • Cal-J

      But most atheists think abstinence is boring, worthless, and overly prudish.

      I didn’t realize atheism was any of those things.

      • martykayzee

        You have caught my interest. Apparently you have polled all the atheists and have found that “most” of them think a certain way. Please provide a sample of your methodology and the data to support your conclusions. I will see that it gets published in the prestigious Journal of Christian Idiots.

        • Cal-J

          Excellent point, mea culpa. I speak merely from experience, which is naturally anecdotal.

          Of course, you could use a slightly clearer simile, to save us all the trouble.

          • martykayzee

            No need for mea culpa. Atheists never apologize, we simply issue a statement through our press secretary. I would still like to hear a sample of your personal anecdotes demonstrating that abstinence is boring, worthless, and overly prudish. BTW, my simile is child’s play compared to some on the SAT. How about – as Mozart is to head banging or as couch surfing is to decathlon? Got any…?

  • Quine

    I remember having an epiphany about the purpose of pain and suffering when I was with a friend who had taken her child’s hamster to the vet. The hamster had had and accident and was not moving its hind legs. The vet told us that it might be temporary or could involve irreversible spinal damage. When we asked how could we know, he told us that if it was spinal damage the hamster would start eating the legs.

    We have pain because we need to be prevented from eating or otherwise damaging ourselves before we are even old enough to know not to do that. We evolved from ancestors who (going back far enough) never lived their lives with a thinking capability that could even have formed the concept of self protection. Some people are born with a genetic defect that keeps them from feeling pain and suffering; they have a difficult time living long lives because of the repeated damage they do to themselves without knowing.

    We suffer when our children are hurt or in danger, because we are descendant from ancestors who, if they did not do so, would not have cared to take care of those children, and we would not be here.

    Bottom line: without pain and suffering, life more advanced than the level of slime mold would not have been possible.

  • Mary Liz Bartell

    In our Cursillo community we call suffering, and doing without things we desire, we call that PALANCA which means “Lever” in Spain’s Spanish where Cursillos in Christianity began. This “lever” of sacrifice and of suffering is offered up in unity with Christ’s suffering on the Cross on the behalf of another person as a prayer for that person, and a hope that they will be lifted up by our being beaten down. The devil makes it easy for people to despair while they suffer, to not see a point divinely speaking. In Cursillo we learned that our suffering is never pointless if we use it as an opportunity for sharing in Christ’s own suffering. We take up in ourselves what was lacking in his crucifixion for the salvation of souls. If you enter into this line of reason as St. Paul did, you find whole new joy in moments of suffering. Joy is the opposite of despair, and frequently Satan tries to use that suffering to drain us off from God’s grace. I’ve noticed that in the 13 years since I lived a Cursillo that this PALANCA and suffering that is offered up for others has been immensely enriching in my Spiritual Growth. And when dealing with atheists it’s very hard to describe why I am joyful even as I am suffering. I suffer tremendously daily. It doesn’t have to be just physical ailments, but even emotional, mental, spiritual darkness. So much has transformed around me now that I see I have a purpose for my suffering. I can offer it up to save souls, to lift up those who are in need, for those who are worse off than me, even for the conversion of atheists! And that’s what I can do for you too Marc. So I just want to say good job sticking to your guns and don’t let these TROLLS get you down. You very often give as good as you get, and the world will hate you as it hated Christ. God Bless you.

  • disappoited catholic

    definitely not the most logical article you’ve posted, Marc. As a Catholic, I can see where some of your arguments take root, but you killed your argument from the beginning by claiming the suffering is the result of sin. This is more of a Buddhist/Hindu approach to life than Catholic (see karma). The immediate argument for anybody at that point is “so that kid with leukemia, he (or his parents) must have done something really terrible for that to happen”. I know this is not the argument you were trying to make, but this is just one example of some faulty logic in the post. Catholics don’t have a solid answer for why that child must suffer, unfortunately, which is why we move towards faith in a God, to somehow explain what cannot be explained.

    Some of the faults in this essay can just be blamed on trying to explain something so mysterious in so few words, but in the future try not to take such large jumps. Tackle these claims one at a time, because Catholic teaching does follow this general philosophy, but it’s so much deeper than this post gets into

    • Christopher Snaith

      Actually, the claim that suffering is the result of sin is a Catholic doctrine. It doesn’t mean that each suffering can be positively linked to an individual sin (like in the Karmic system). What it mainly refers to is Original Sin; that is, that prior to the first sin of Adam and Eve, there was no suffering, and that all suffering since can be traced back to that first sin.
      Catholics do have a clear answer as to why the child suffers; we live in a fallen world. What Catholics don’t have a clear answer to is what good that suffering does. Marc alludes to perhaps the best answer that the Catholic can give to that; and that is that Christ suffers with that child, and that has a salvific characteristic. Anything beyond that is anything but clear.

      • pagansister

        Original sin is such a crock! Someone had a great imagination.

        • Christopher Snaith

          Why is it a crock? Back up your assertion, please.

  • keypad5

    An interesting read and insight into your views. From this atheist’s perspective though, CLAIM 2 doesn’t hold up. The argument that we live in a world that “misses the mark” suggests that there is a mark that the world could or should be hitting. There is no compelling evidence that reality ought to be a different way. And as much as suffering is painful, it doesn’t lift the idea of a world that “hits the mark” to anything more than wishful thinking.
    As for the OBJECTION 1 to CLAIM 2, I’m not arguing that the world is already perfect, but that the entire concept of a perfect or imperfect world are human constructs that we are projecting onto reality.

    • Zaire Adams

      Do you think that we can improve the world? Then you believe that the world is imperfect. Perfecting something implies that it is imperfect and needs fixing. Most people seem to agree that the world could be far better. They just tend to disagree on what standard to use.
      Question: are emotions and general feelings compelling evidence? Looking at the myth of Pandora’s box, suffering is shown to be something that was forced upon humankind for no reason by Zeus. The Book of Job approaches the same question, and both kind of say “we don’t really know.” In the Pandora myth it is implied in the fact that Zeus gave the woman unbound curiosity and then gave her something to be curious about that he knew contained suffering. Why would he do that? In Job, why would God make a wager with the Accuser and allow Job to suffer so, when he had done no wrong? We don’t know. Such writings and myths arise because humans have this idea that suffering is not a good thing, though Christians modify this with saying that suffering can be turned into something good (Christ on the Cross, etc). We seem to, at least, feel that we should not be suffering, or that children, in the least, should not suffer (I will grant that this could have arisen because of empathy and understanding of pain. However, this does not address the evils we do to ourselves and others, just natural suffering, which is out of our control in a lot of cases). So, what about that sort of pain?
      Finally, if there is no mark, then why do anything at all?

      • thx1183

        “Do you think that we can improve the world? Then you believe that the world is imperfect”

        That doesn’t follow.

        • SaraMyers

          Yes it does, because you can’t improve things that are perfect. Otherwise they aren’t perfect, by definition

        • Zaire Adams

          Improvement means that something needs to be fixed or made better. That means, as is, it is NOT perfect. It does follow. If the world is fine as is, there is no point in any improvement talk, but we all seem to want to improve things. even if it were just perception, which I don’t agree with, the perception is that the world is not as it should be, thus it is imperfect.

      • Jon Jermey

        Why do anything at all? Because it makes me happy, satisfied or contented to do so. What better reason could there be? Even if I thought there was a Sky Daddy taking notes, why should pleasing him take priority over pleasing me?

        • Zaire Adams

          This is actually a good argument. Though, I take exception with the “Sky Daddy” remark.
          The answer to the “Sky Daddy” thing is that you were created and he would be the creator. As a creature, you are supposed to do what the creator intended. That means the question is what did this creator intend? If it intended just to watch us do what we want, then your approach is correct. If it is like the Christian God and wants us to look beyond ourselves and become something more (children of God, not just creations), then the Christian approach is correct. Again, for me, it has always been a matter of what sort of creator there was.
          That said, doing things just for your pleasure and happiness hits a snag. If you have children, it has to become about their pleasure and happiness (which is not bad). There seem to be various things that pull us outside from just our own personal happiness and goals (probably cause we are social creatures). But, what if making someone else happy does not make us happy. Say we hate helping our child, are we right for leaving that child behind and doing what we want? Just because something makes you happy or satisfied does not make it good.

      • John Alexander Harman

        Question: are emotions and general feelings compelling evidence?
        No. They are not evidence at all.
        Finally, if there is no mark, then why do anything at all?
        There’s nothing wrong with setting marks for ourselves; the error is assuming that we can hold the universe responsible for not being the way we would like it to be. The universe is non-sentient, and therefore uncaring; wishful thinking doesn’t change that. Trying our best to understand how the universe works, and using that knowledge to make our lives better, is far more constructive.

        • Zaire Adams

          This is where you misunderstand Christian thought. we don’t hold the universe responsible for anything…it is WE who are responsible. We believe that some higher being was responsible for the Creation of the universe, clearly it did not create itself (it isn’t sentient and has no will of its own). Since we are, in essence, a part of the universe, we are created by this same being. Thus, it is appropriate to wonder what the being intended. It could be the deist answer, where it was just a “let’s see what happens” sort of thing, or it could be something else. God is NOT the universe. We are not pantheists. He is separate from his creation, even as he sustains it etc.
          I would agree there is nothing wrong with setting marks for ourselves, but…that still does not answer my question. Why do or care about anything at all? Just to pass the time? I can just pass the time living in a cave and starving myself to death. Why do anything at all?
          I would say emotions and feelings are usually (not always) indicative of us REACTING to something. That clearly is not always the case, but I think it is at least evidence that something occurred and you or I reacted a certain way to it. But, I dunno…shrug.
          Oh, and the universe “working” in any way seems to indicate some sort of mind designed it (that’s why, for me, it has never been whether there is a God or at least something beyond all this that made this, but rather what sort of God is it and do I care).
          Finally, knowledge about the universe etc. would also include whether or not that universe has unseen or supernatural aspects to it. Understanding whether or not we are mere animal etc. are certainly part of the question. Oh, and why should we make our lives better?

    • Aaron Lopez

      Claim 2 requires another assumption: A moral objectivity.

      Atheists naturally believe in moral relativism: that truths are a social construct. But you’re going down a very funny path if you think nothing can ever be really true.

      So yes, in order to suggest that a world is imperfect, there must be an objective standard. That would require moral objectivity. It would require perfection. Mark states that this Perfection is God.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        On the other hand, you’re ignoring the possibility of there being multiple, objective truths. Relative and objective morals only exist in a mono-religious, mono-theistic worldview. Perfection itself is relative, not the truth or being it represents.
        Being forced to argue from this worldview, I think, is one of the failings of atheist arguments, but given Christian domination in modern-day USA, it’s understandable.

        • Cal-J

          Of course there are multiple truths out there. (If there were only one truth, say, 2+2=4, the world would get boring very quickly). There are *not*, however, contradictory truths.

          “Perfection itself is relative, not the truth or being it represents.”

          Could you clarify that for me? I’m afraid it’s a little difficult to comprehend.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            Let’s conflate Truth and Perfection (as happens on this blog more than once), but only from Perfection being a Truth, but as you say, there are multiple truths (not all zips are zaps, etc.).
            What I see argued often enough is that True Perfection in Being (TM) must exist by Aristotelian arguments. Moving from that premise, what I posit is that view ignores the subjectivity of mankind. One women finds her perfect partner in a highly intelligent, somewhat overweight 5’4″ engineer, another in a 6’2″ physically fit construction foreman of average intelligence. Few would argue with these women that they had found their perfect match, or that they should trade their perfection for someone else’s.
            For all the talk in modern religion of having a “personal relationship” with the Divine, this premise of personal preferential perfection is so rarely applied to the degree we apply it in every other aspect of our lives. There isn’t a relative Truth to one Perfection, or even a relative Being to one Perfection (“variations” of God thru the lens of different denominations). There are multiple Perfections, each with its own degrees of Truth and Being.
            One man’s perfect car might simply be any Ford 4-door, another’s might be only a ’66 Chevy II Super-Sport with original parts and a canary yellow paint job. One person’s Perfect Being might be the Christian God, another’s might be Allah, etc.
            Each of these Beings, in their interactions with Man, have laid at least some form of moral groundwork for those who worship them. Often, these conflict (as we have recently seen). The idea of “moral relativism” stems from the fact that America is the perfect experiment (200 years and running) on Man’s ability to come to a secular (yes, I used the “s” word), agreeable compromise on the moral and legal governance of those who worship different deities.
            My argument is that for the OP, Perfection is (his) God, but that not everyone can agree on that Perfection, let alone that God.
            The 1 Perfection = 1 God is a logical backtrack from the 1 God premise. “We worship 1 God, so there must be 1 Perfection from which to associate the 1 God.” It’s a deeply ingrained premise from 1600 years of Western Christian Privilege.

          • Christopher Snaith

            The way you’re using the term “perfection” here is a bit shaky. You’re applying it to both being, and to opinion without a clear distinction.
            Yes, obviously, people have different ideas about what’s perfect. I don’t think anybody could possibly argue with that. But just because that’s the case, doesn’t mean the ideas are true. You use an example of two different women believing a particular type of man is perfect for them. Sure, they may prefer that particular type of man, that certainly doesn’t mean she’s correct about what type of man is actually perfect for her. Some people would argue that no two people ARE actually perfect for each other. Just because a person holds a particular view, doesn’t mean it’s correct. And if you’re simply talking about tastes, then there’s really no use in arguing about that, because tastes ARE relative.
            Perfection as an objective standard cannot be relative, by definition. Christians may be wrong about what constitutes the perfect being. Muslims may be wrong, too. Athiests may be wrong. If perfection of being is a real identifiable thing, then people can be right about it, and people can be wrong. If it is ONLY a subjective value, a personal taste, let’s not argue about perfection at all.
            But people do argue about perfection of being. And if that’s the case, then we must have a starting point. Because perfection is a term of degree (that is, it means either the maximal, or the complete, or the fullfillment of), we cannot speak of it by itself, but in relation to a particular thing. In this case, the particular thing we’re talking about is ‘being’ itself. So, before we can talk about the perfection of being, you must first define being.
            I’m not interested in this being an incredibly lengthy post, so I will leave the defition to you (or whoever wants to pick it up), but I will mention a couple of things regarding metaphysics.
            First, most ancient philosophers distinguished between Matter and Form. Very basically, Form is what a thing is, or should be (you can think about it like DNA, which codes what an organism will develop into), and Matter is what the thing actually is (that is, it’s actual physical condition). The distinction is made because, for example, a dog might lose a leg, but it’s still a dog. Of course, using DNA as a correlary to Form isn’t exactly correct, because we know genetic defects occur. A genetically defective dog is still a dog. But it’s a useful analogy. So perfection can refer to how closely the Matter conforms to Form, and this is a kind of perfection of being.
            However, secondly, one may question what characteristics we find in beings that are good, universally, and ask whether a superlative being would have those in a maximal way. And I think it’s this line of thinking that people are talking about when discussing the perfect being.
            Perfection of the universe would be a discussion of Matter/Form perfection. Perfection in God would be the maximally good being discussion.

          • John Alexander Harman

            The construction of Matter (which exists in the physical universe outside of our minds) as deriving from Form (which exists only as patterns in our minds) is the deep, original error from which most of the wrong ideas in Western Philosophy derive. Socrates and Plato mistook the territory for a reflection of the map; the truth is precisely the other way around.

          • Deven Kale

            Your wording is rather unclear on this. Are you stating that we have created the universe with our own minds, which is how it’s been given it’s form? In that case, how do you explain the fact that all of the evidence points to the universe having existed billions of years before mankind? Just a really clever trick we’ve all played on ourselves?

            I find it more likely that the universe doesn’t care about it’s form, nor did it need a mind to have been formed the way it is. Just because our minds give things purpose partially through their form doesn’t mean that our presence is required for it to have that form.

            If I completely misunderstood you, I apologize.

          • John Alexander Harman

            You have completely misunderstood me, and I accept your apology. I was saying that the concepts we carry in our minds form an imperfect map of the universe outside our minds. Platonists make the mistake of assuming that reality is only the shadow of perfect, abstract Forms; in fact, abstractions exist only in our minds, and are imprecise models of the real things around us.

          • Christopher Snaith

            You’re arguing that their concept of Form is only an abstraction from real things. Is this correct? I think they would argue that Form exists independently of them, and their minds. Not as a physical, measurable thing, but as a principle. It is like the physical laws of the universe, or mathematical laws. They are principles. We understand them by studying the universe, and they exist as concepts in our minds, but if our minds weren’t there, the universe would still operate upon these principles.

        • Zaire Adams

          I would dispute that relative and objective morals only exist in a mono-religious, mono-theistic worldview. It exists in polytheism, Wicca, and even within atheistic thought.
          Furthermore, look at any of the moral codes of the past; you’ll notice just how similar they are. As Chesterton once said, men do not often disagree about what is wrong or evil, though they disagree enormously on which evils are permissible, or can be tolerated. Men have an idea on what a good/perfect man is like, just read Aristotle.
          I too am confused about the statement, “perfection itself is relative, not the truth or being it represents.” care to explain? It feels off somehow. Perfection can’t really be relative because then it is just perception. There is no standard.

          • John Alexander Harman

            Perfection is just perception, and there are as many standards as there are perceivers. There is no universal standard.

          • Zaire Adams

            that, sir, is a universal standard. If that is true, it is an objective truth. If it is not, it would be fitting for me to say “to hell with your standard,” and go on my merry way.
            After all, this leads us to sticking with the disagreement. If you were trying to convince me, you would have to prove that YOUR standard is actually a universal one. You say perfection is just a perception, I say perfection is a real thing. One of us has to be wrong. If it IS just true to YOU, then I need pay it no mind and you’ve wasted your time typing something that does not matter.

          • Deven Kale

            I was really hoping that John Alexander Harman would respond to this, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. I’m going to make my own response in his stead. I hope you don’t mind.

            You claim that perfection exists as a universal (I would call it objective, but I’ll use your term) object, outside of mathematics. That’s a pretty serious claim, and one I think you’re going to have a lot of trouble finding evidence that backs it up. Your biggest hurdle is going to be this: in order for something to be considered universally perfect, that thing will have to be considered perfect by all who experience that thing. This means that, whatever that thing is, nobody who experiences it will be able to give you a way to improve it. It will be completely perfect, regardless of who you ask, and no matter which aspect of it you ask them to critique.

            I personally would argue that universal perfection doesn’t exist at all outside of mathematics. There is no thing which exists in the Universe in which every single observer will see no flaw. No matter what it is, there will be at least one person, somewhere, who will find a flaw in it, which makes literally everything imperfect.

            The fact that one thing can seem better than another does not mean that there is some ultimate best, which cannot get any better, and therefore be universally perfect. The simple fact that different people have different ideas about what is good or what works best for which purpose is enough, for me at least, to prove that there is no universal perfection, and I will quite gladly call that an objective truth.

          • Zaire Adams

            Okay, so if I think that it is acceptable and good to off people who happen to be in my way, am I wrong? Disagreement doesn’t not mean there isn’t an objective. I can disagree with a historical fact or a mathematical sum all I want, but I cannot change the fact that it is what it is.
            Also, the fact that universal perfection does not exist in this universe, right now…is the point. We want to perfect it, things could be different. The fact that it does not exist bodily does not mean that it isn’t REAL. Just not something we can fully achieve. I was using perfection in the vague platonic sense. I”ll come back and really address this later.

          • Deven Kale

            You see, and that’s where I knew you’d take it. The simple fact that it doesn’t exist currently in this universe was exactly my point, so in reality you agree with me.

            Where we disagree is when you take it into the land of make-believe, more commonly known as philosophy, in an attempt to say that it must exist somewhere simply because we can conceive of it (which I would also argue is untrue, but there’s no longer any point).

            Okay, so if I think that it is acceptable and good to off people who happen to be in my way, am I wrong?

            I suppose it depends on the situation, but I don’t understand why you brought up morality in a conversation about perfection. I’m sure you’ll have some convoluted explanation of how perfection=God=morality, but you forget that philosophy has no place when you’re trying to talk about whether or not something actually exists. The most you can hope for with philosophy is consistency and elegance. Proof? It’s impossible to get.

            Edit: formatting again.

      • Zaire Adams

        But, relativism is a self defeating argument. It claims that truth is relative, but that truth claim itself is objective. Am I mistaken in thinking that moral relativism is an objective truth that claims there are no objective truths?

      • idea1013

        “Atheists naturally believe in moral relativism.” That’s quite the unsupported assertion you’re making. Atheists have exactly one thing in common: a lack of belief in god(s). That’s it. Beyond that, there are hundreds of shades of morality, philosophy, and ethics that are practiced/believed in across the spectrum of atheists in the world. Please don’t stereotype.

        • Cal-J

          “Beyond that, there are hundreds of shades of morality, philosophy, and ethics that are practiced/believed in across the spectrum of atheists in the world.”

          So an atheist’s morality is ultimately relative?

          • Deven Kale

            On the surface yes, but that’s not any different than the morality of theists. Ask any two theists to explain what is moral and you’ll have two different answers. Ask about the degree to which any act is immoral and you will again have two different answers. Ask about why one thing is moral and another isn’t and, once more, you’ll have two different answers. The truth is that everybody’s morality is made up in their own minds, be they theists or atheists. The most surprising aspect, to me, is that it makes no difference whether one believes in gods or not, they’re all equally concerned with morality and try their best to live a moral life.

    • SaraMyers

      I don’t agree with you, but I am impressed with the way that you expressed your logical objection rationally and without disparaging people with different opinions. Have an upvote!

  • Emily

    There are 2 Cal-Js. I’m very confused.

    However, I do so like this article Marc! Although there’s already plenty of freaking out… ;)

  • Rusty Yates

    I really don’t know if the mythology is worth parsing. I think the time would be better spent on science or humanism that will accomplish something. Spending time on something like Christianity seems like such a waste – which reminds me to get back to my projects for Aids Walk and Light the Night.

    • Aaron Lopez

      There is no other cultural force in history that has done more for civilization practically than Christianity.

      Just one small example from many, many others: universities came into fruition, not from a bunch of practical bourgeoise or peasants who needed to know the way of the world, but from cloistered monks who prayed all day and studied all night.

      By proxy, modern science made its gigantic leap, not with materialist men looking to get ahead in the world, but from a Catholic Bishop and a Catholic friar who would both set in stone by ideas of the Scientific Empiricism and the Scientific Method (their names were Robert Grossteste and Roger Bacon).

      If the great medieval thinkers are not photorealistic enough for your tastes, try this one: the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th century. Forget Einstein’s theories of relativity. The biggest shocker was the fact that the universe had a beginning. What’s even more shocking was the person who discovered that was no ordinary scientist. He was a devout Catholic priest. His name was George Lemaitres.

      Anyway, I do wish you well on your charitable projects. Of course, charity was another great invention that has its roots in Christianity!

      • HannibalBarca

        People were being charitable long before there were Christians. You don’t get to claim your religion as the original source of treating people decently.

        • ChrisB

          I would agree with Aaron’s post except that, like you, I would disagree with the last line as stated. He is referring, presumably, to a specifically Christian construct of charity in which many participate, whether or not they are Christians, and that has been profoundly impacted by that tradition; but you are right that the more common sense of charity as decent behavior existed before.

  • Anonymous

    t had to be addressed

  • kt

    Oh darling. I think you bit off more than you could chew. – They’re freaking.

    Great thoughts, though. You’re on the right track.
    I’d love to see this topic again after more incubation.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Nobody is freaking. We are merely responding. Or does the fact that we take a contradictory stance on this issue make you feel like you’re being attacked? If that’s the case, it’s your problem, not ours.

      • Christopher Snaith

        Actually, there have been numerous very rude statements made. Much of it either implying or outright stating that the author of this article, and others who believe likewise, lack(s) any kind of rational thought. This isn’t merely holding a contradictory view. It’s abusive language, and if there’s any reason for feeling attacked (and I don’t know if kt did feel attacked), that would be it.

        • The Other Weirdo

          You and I have different definitions of “freaking out”. I’ve seen Christians go absolutely ape-poop insane when some atheist dares to suggest that governments should hold to the separation of church an state or when they even find out that there is atheist in their midst. Out come the death threats and other forms of Christian love. And Muslims, of course, have their own brand of freaking out over the smallest, most irrelevant things. So the writer was called on this article. Considering that it conflates “how it is” with “how I despearately want it to be”, it was well deserved.

          • Christopher Snaith

            I haven’t once said that Christians don’t act irrationally and spazz out. All too often, that happens. That doesn’t make the scathing remarks here any less demeaning, or abusive. The author put his ideas forward in a respectful way. Whether it’s sane or insane is beside the point. Nobody deserves to be so lambasted. Calling out a bad argument is one thing. Calling someone stupid is another.

          • SaraMyers

            Exactly. That’s the difference between a rational person and a partisan. The partisan sees only the failures of the ‘enemy’ and is blind to the same behaviour from their own – see The Other Weirdo missing all the people freaking out with abusive behaviour and attacks – but the rational man recognises that even if his is the correct position, nothing about that prevents his own from acting all irrational sometimes, and he is not in denial about it just to feel better about ‘his’ side.

          • The Other Weirdo

            So a few scathing remarks were made. So what? Let that be the worst fallout from a discussion between atheists and theists.

          • Christopher Snaith

            Gladly. I’d rather there be no fallout at all, though.

          • The Other Weirdo

            Call out Eve, why don’t you, on this blog, for casting the entire matter as giving wisdom to dogs? She even has a biblical reference to prove her right. How convenient. “But honestly, my Christian brothers and sisters, I wasn’t being abusive or demeaning toward atheists. See? It says so right in the Bible.”

          • Christopher Snaith

            It’s wrong for her to speak so, especially of people whom she does not know. It is further wrong to cite Scripture to approve one’s own wrongdoing, moreso when doing so takes the citation very far out of context.

  • Albert Forcier

    You state : “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.”… It is simply that you do not understand the natural world. You diminish the natural world to “o”, and then rebuilt it in the image of your “religious philosophy”. In nature, life and death coexist. They inhabit all forms. At all times. Nothing to do with “sin”. Sin is a flight into the imaginary, into the unreal, a non-valid explanation, an entrapment. Suffering is death happening as we are living. As to purpose : Suffering tells us that we are on a path to annihilation. Change course. Adapt. Evolve.

  • Joseph Mendes

    Dude. This is a logical explanation. The Catholic Church is an old and archaic institution of pompous corrupt old men in robes who sexually assault young boys, take your money, and burn scientists at the stake. It couldn’t POSSIBLY be explained in a logical way!

  • Joseph Mendes

    Dude. This is a logical explanation. Everyone knows the Catholic Church is an old and archaic institution of pompous corrupt old men in robes who sexually assault young boys, take your money, and burn scientists at the stake. It couldn’t POSSIBLY be explained in a logical way! ;)

    • Zaire Adams

      this was a joke post, right?

      • JoFro

        Did you even need to ask? :D

        • Zaire Adams

          I had to be suuure! The wink could be fraudulent!

      • Joseph Mendes


        • Zaire Adams

          just making sure haha

  • Zaire Adams

    This was quite well-written and inspiring. Thank you, kindly.

  • Susan

    Strange. In all this discussion about the “meaning” of suffering, you haven’t bothered to look into what pain is, how it developed in organisms and how its presence is necessary to protect organisms from damage.

    Quine gave a very clear account on the last page about it. Anyone interested in what pain is could do a little bit of research. Science has a lot to say about it.

    All this talk about meaning seems to have “missed the mark” about the role of pain in terms of survival and the survival of offspring.

    • Meg

      I’m not sure I understand your point of why you are equating pain with suffering. Yeah, they usually occur with one another, but what about other types of suffering like depression? Depression is suffering and painful at times, but this pain does the opposite of helping a person and/or his/her offspring survive. What does pain have to do with his point? Also, I could feel pain but not suffer. I got a papercut the other day, and my body registered that pain. You’re right, in that instance that perception of pain is telling me, “Hey, you have an injury, and I know you think it’s small, but you better take notice right now because it could still get infected. DON’T IGNORE ME!” Then again, in that instance, I could hardly call that suffering. Pain, yes. Suffering, no. So what was your point because I don’t really remember mine. it’s late….

      • Michael Thomas

        The psychologist Ekman and his colleagues did a bunch of research about emotions in the 80s. They found 8 basic primary emotions which are common to most civilizations in the world. Each primary emotion serves a biopsychosocial function. For example, you mention depression. I do not want to go into the details of depression — there are myriad books written about the topic. However, we can take the common primary emotion in depress, sadness. The function of sadness is to inform us about the good. Think about Augustine–my heart is restless until it rests in you my Lord. Every instance of sadness is really our heart aching for something. Each primary emotion serves a function–either to inform us about our survival biologically or connect us socially.

        Therefore, there can be an evolutionary perspective on psychological pain. However, I still do not completely agree with Susan’s jump from suffering to pain. Our body is so amazing. We all know this. Pain and suffering are commonly, but not necessarily equated. If one experiences leg pain, he need not suffer: through mental exercises, his brain can secrete analgesics to “put out” the pain.

        Let’s be clear though. Just because there is an evolutionary explanation for a phenomenon does not mean that there is not an existential function as well. Let’s not conflate science with philosophy. It is subsumed into philosophy. Philosophy is bigger than science.

        For those who do not have a problem with suffering: listen to your body. Listen to your mind/spirit/whatever you want to call it. We say that evolution deems pain and suffering to be functional [aside, let's get past the whole idea that just because something is functional, it is good...can we? Thanks!] and say that the body and spirit/mind/soul rejects suffering. We have natural pain reflexes. Our body/spirit/soul/mind/whatever doesn’t like sadness. Neurochemically, there is a general absence of “reward” neurotransmitters when we are sad or depressed. It doesn’t feel good.

        Our bodies and spirits naturally have a problem with suffering. When there is a problem, human beings are there to try to solve it. Some solutions are to accept the condition as it is, come what may. In doing so, they deny that it is a problem. It is rationalized by accepting the will of the cosmos [and let's just be real and say that they are actually more Pagan than agnostic then. Or at least acknowledge they are using Pagan language to fill the hole of the nothingness of their belief (quite literally).] The agnostics so far have chosen this path. Another is to bury your head in the sand. Who is doing that I wonder? A third solution is to try to counteract the suffering–try to balance the suffering with [perceived] goodness. Many substance abusers go down this path. A fourth way to tackle the problem is to go with it and grow through it. This is similar to the neo-Pagan (ahem agnostic) believe in the will of the random, chaotic cosmos. However, instead of accepting the suffering at face value, the fourth solution proposes that good comes out of suffering. This is the Christian perspective which Marc describes.

        Props to anyone who actually read the whole thing…that was like a post in itself!

  • Jedinovice

    Alas, God forgive me, you assume that Western Atheists WANT to hear. In my long an sad experience they don’t.

    Moth atheists objections to belief – in the West anyway – are not linked to issues of logic. That is clear because no matter HOW much logic is brought to bear – believe me I tried – the issues are moral. The Church between the decadent atheist and his never ending quest for free sex and parties.

    Until the West becomes so poor, so sick (physically as well as emotionally) and seen it’s civilisation collapse around it and the Goth invade will they think again.

    Until then – while condoms are cheap the atheist says in their heart “Get out of my way bigot! I’m horny.” Crude, I know, but I faced this so much in the UK I had to throw in the towel and leave.

    “May you be happy in the life you have chosen.”

    I can only say, reach not the ‘rational atheist’ – ‘rationality’ is their cover. Reach for the burnt out who are sick of the emptiness and despair those who have finally reached the end.

    By the ay, on TV last night in my new homeland in Asia they were urging the Government and the people to prepare for the total economic meltdown of the West. Such is the fruit of Carpe Deum.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Da hell did I just read?

  • Baron Scarpia

    I’m sorry, but why does suffering require purpose, either supernatural or secular? And if you want secular purpose to suffering, then pain is a reaction built into our biology through evolution to tell us that something is wrong. People with no pain receptors tend not to live for very long (not without considerable assistance, anyway).
    And as for claim one – are you claiming that if I were caught accidentally in a natural rockslide, that is the result of the earth’s sinning? You ignore the difference we impute nowadays between ‘imperfect’ and ‘sinful’. None of us can draw perfect circles, but it sounds extraordinarily odd to claim that every circle we draw is sinful. Sin implies autonomy. It involves choice. Imperfection requires no such ability.
    Claim three is an unfortunate claim, as you are effectively saying that god has given us the freedom to impose unnecessary and relentless pain and suffering on others out of love. But even our parents stop us from doing such things – did your mother never tell you off and punish you for hitting your siblings? – and yet we can still choose whether to love our parents or not.
    God has essentially abdicated all responsibility for the suffering in the world, whether it’s intentional (a serial killer bludgeons his victim) or accidental (you happen to be on the beach when the tsunami comes).
    Claim 4 – why would god die if he became imperfection? (and what’s with the reification? Why not just say god became imperfect, like the rest of us?) Indeed, what does it even mean to say that god would die? Your example of ceasing to exist would mean that god ceased to exist – rather like Douglas Adams’s ‘disappearing in a puff of logic’. But you can’t mean that, as you think god remains. Perhaps we get the answer from claim 5 -
    Claim 5 – first, no, atheism is not embedded in Jesus’s death. Atheism was around before then, for one thing. If there was no christianity, believe me, atheism would still be around.
    And here we see the reification again. You need to say that Jesus became sin. But he didn’t; he simply committed a sinful act, otherwise all of us are sin. (And by the way, how disturbing it is that you regard doubt and fear in the face of death a sin)
    Your paradoxes cancel each other out; if Jesus cannot die, then neither can he rise, for he would never have died in the first place.
    And god certainly cannot die, by your own admission. ‘if there is a Creator of the universe, he must exist outside of universe, and thus outside of time.’ But death requires space and matter. It is a temporal event. Claim 5 – ‘God died’ cannot work.
    Finally, if you wrote this hoping to convince me that your explanation will not freak me out… you failed. Badly. Because -
    ‘To see the child with leukemia is to see Christ suffering in that child, suffering to bring the world back to Perfection.’
    Your suffering, and the child’s suffering, is the suffering of Christ. You abstract it away, and in so doing convince yourself that it isn’t that important. For we are all sinful (and therefore must be afflicted with lethal illnesses), for everything will be corrected (but only after we die), for Jesus suffers too (but I can see the child’s agony, whereas Jesus is strangely absent).

  • Mundanus

    “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.”

    I think what this really means is:
    “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot anthropomorphize suffering.”

    Science/observation can tell you why an old man suffers, but it can’t tell you that there’s a sentient all powerful mind that has aging as part of it’s long range plan for humanity. Science can’t say that because science isn’t supposed to make claims that are divorced from observation.

    • Michael Thomas

      Science isn’t possible to talk about the “why” of suffering. Science observes suffering, describes suffering. Technology alleviates it. Science is founded on assumptions taken by faith. Science is not the only possible way of knowing. Also, the question “why” is duplicitous. “Why” can mean causality or it can refer to existential purpose of something. Science has a lot to say about causality, but little to say about existentialism. Leave science out of that debate–it doesn’t have the tools to do existentialism justice.

      • Mundanus

        “Science is founded on assumptions taken by faith.”
        I think it’s pretty clear that I’m talking about empiricism, which is observation based, not faith based.

      • John Alexander Harman

        Science is not the only possible way of knowing
        No, but it is the only way of maximizing the correspondence between what you “know” and what is actually true in the reality that exists outside your head. Other “ways of knowing” are extremely effective at knowing “what just ain’t so,” as Mark Twain put it, and only occasionally and coincidentally to knowing something that is true. Anyone can draw a map, but if you want your map to look like the territory you’re supposedly mapping, you need to get out and look at the territory; that’s called doing science. And if a subject is not accessible to science, that’s because it only exists as a concept in our mental maps, with no corresponding entity in the territory of reality.

  • Jacob Suggs

    Well written interesting article, just a quick comment addressing the point that very few people will argue (because I can’t resist): if it is true “that the universe isn’t imperfect, we just believe [perceive] it to be so,” then our beliefs/perception would be wrong – our deductional/perceptive powers imperfect. Our abilities are part of the universe (if not, then they are by definition supernatural, which is to recognize the existence of the supernatural). So if we, being part of it, can mis-percieve or misunderstand it, then it is not perfect and the argument kills itself.

  • Rynduin

    The argument that the universe is imperfect (due to sin) is holding me up here, and it’s hard to even explain my objection. I do see the universe as perfect. For God to have brought forth life, creation must consist of an orderly and yet very active universe. Stars must flare and burn, planets must spin and mountains erupt, winds blow, glaciers freeze and unfreeze. Katrina was perfect. Hurricanes are a part of the natural weather system that sustains life. There was no sin involved on the part of the hurricane itself. It simply is. It was in the choices of the humans below where we saw imperfection. A kidney stone or cancer is a result of being made of– enslaved to, if you will– this biological material which is continually growing, changing and working, mostly for our benefit. The kidney makes no choice. It just happens, as a part of life. It’s not “perfect”, but the imperfection isn’t deliberate, or a sin, or a mistake on God’s part. It’s a part of the system that we are plugged into.

    Maybe I’m not defining “perfect” properly. Maybe I’m defining “perfect” as “good.” But it’s hard to even envision true perfection. God is perfect, but He’s God. God’s creation is not perfect by our (imperfect) standards, but it can’t be perfect like God, because it’s not God, and because on this physical plane the “imperfection” is necessary for life to exist. And to me that makes it “perfect” in its purpose.

    Perhaps the fact that we are able to long for a lack of hurricanes and kidney stones is another way we show our yearning for the perfection of God, as you have previously pointed out.

    • AttentionDeficitCatholic

      You make interesting points, but there are a few problems:

      (1) Stars flare and planets spin, but they are constantly moving towards destruction; the order of the cosmos tends towards chaos, and the order will not last forever. Eventually, the sun will die, and take the solar system with it.

      (2) Katrina was part of the natural weather system, true, a system that needs to run in order to sustain the planet and all life on it, but Katrina caused a great deal of suffering and death; I would not count that as “perfect,” or indeed as “good”.

      (3) Cancer and kidney stones, as well, cause suffering and death. It is not deliberate, as you say; your kidney does not have malicious thoughts as it rebels against you. But the mere fact that these things cause suffering is an imperfection. Cancer, in particular, as it takes loved ones from the world, causes much suffering; a single case of cancer can spread suffering on a massive scale, causing the pain of loss in dozens of friends and family members, not to mention the physical suffering of the person with the cancer itself.

  • Neal Meyer

    Ad objection 4, not only are the acts of God not bound by space-time, which is itself a creature, one must also consider that in space-time, from a Christian perspective, the center, 0,0,0,0, is at Calvary at 3pm the Friday before the Sabboth withing Passover, circa 33 A.D.

    In Star Trek, Captain Picard gives a bearing, based arbitrarily on the ships position, with the axes 0 position based where the ship is pointed. He gives a heading based on a system which places 0 at a line bisecting the galaxy which arbitrarily at Earth. We know that in space, from our perspective, all is relative, there is no definite up, down, right or left, forwards or backwards, it’s all based on our position. However, when it comes to time, we tend to look at things rather linearly, with 0 being where we are and everything behind us being negative and in front of us being positive. To say there should be no suffering after Christ is to assume 0 moves with us, and Christ was before.

    Christ is the center of space and time, all human history revolves around him. to progress closer to Christ is to get closer to the center. To insist that we are moving forward in time and Christ is behind us….would be like a man on a train, only moving forward in one dimension, passing us and saying we are absolutely behind him. We are only behind him based on his relative perception, in the perception of a man in a car going the opposite direction, the man in the train is behind him. We are all suck moving one direction in time…and we can perceive with our senses similar things that move in three dimensions with freedom, but without freedom in the 4th. We know things that we cannot observe can exist without these limitations (Tachyons may, for example).

    It could be said that all suffering did stop with Christ..he’s standing still….we are moving.

    Okay….too much Star Trek and theology for me.

  • Tony

    This is one of the most fundamentally flawed arguments I have ever had the displeasure of reading. It is philosophically and biologically naive to a degree that I don’t even have time to explicate for your benefit. Perhaps Dan Fincke over at the ‘Camels With Hammers’ blog can help you out. Your focus on perfection verges on the pathological. Things don’t have to be perfect or imperfect; sometimes they just ARE.

    Suffice it to say, I don’t know of any non-supernatural
    philosophy that claims a ‘purpose’ to suffering. However, that doesn’t
    mean that suffering can’t be acted upon purposefully. But it all
    comes down to ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’ for people like you. You can’t
    abide the thought that phenomena like suffering have no ultimate cosmic
    purpose or meaning; much less yourself. Grow up, and take some [more/better?] courses in biology and philosophy.

    • Claire

      What is something, if it is neither perfect nor imperfect?

      • Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

        It is not. That is mathematics. If it is not true that something is less than or equal to a constant, or greater than or equal to a constant, then that thing does not exist.

        • Tony

          So if something is neither perfect nor imperfect, then it doesn’t exist? Do you have a PhD in mathematics, Jacob?

          • Tony

            ‘Greater than’ or ‘equal to’ do not equal Perfection, and ‘less than’ does not equal Imperfection. It seems that you are taking mathematics out of context.

          • Cal-J

            *Seems* being the key word.

            You are welcome to correct that and give us a full proof.

          • westley

            is 3+2i greater or less than 4?

          • Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

            Neither, hence it not being a real number. I guess that I should have clarified. I did make a mistake. No, it is not real, but yes it does exist. I used some layman’s terms, causing confusion for the mathematically literate. I do apologize for my mistake.

          • aleph squared

            There’s nothing to prove. Jacob is claiming that “more/less perfect” is a total ordering relation on the set of all existing things. He has yet to prove that it is possible to construct any total order on that set, much less demonstrate that one exists which is somehow related to the concept of perfection (something he has not provided a definition of.) He then proceeds to conflate a total order on the set of existing things with the existence of a total order on the real numbers (presuming “constant” to mean real number; perhaps he just means any ordered field).

            This is completely ridiculous. There’s nothing to disprove here as there is no coherent mathematical statement, much less any kind of even informal argument to support his claims.

          • Tony

            Admittedly, I am no mathematician or philosopher, but I don’t need to be in order to see that the premise is conflating perfection and imperfection with mathematical concepts like greater than and less than. It’s a philosophical argument and it is fallacious on the face of it.

          • Cal-J

            “Oh, yeah?!” is not a refutation.

            Do you have an actual counterpoint, Tony?

          • Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

            By definition, if something is not perfect, it is imperfect. That’s the English language. Everything must fall into one of the categories.

          • Cath_of_Canberra

            English is sloppy. When did you stop beating your wife? Either you have stopped, or you haven’t, right? That’s the English language. Everything must fall into one of the categories.

            Is the set of all sets that are members of themselves a member of itself? Yes or no! That’s the English language. Everything must fall into one of the categories.

            And you’ll need to define “perfect”. In a way that is applicable to
            everything, please, so I can tell if an echidna, the number 4782934649, the concept of beauty, the Andromeda galaxy, and my street address are perfect or imperfect.

          • Sam Shackelford

            “A thing is said to be perfect in so far as it attains its proper end, which is the ultimate perfection thereof.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

          • William Bell

            How is that connected to this argument.

        • Holytape

          That is not true. There are cases in math were things are not equal to, less than or greater than. For example is the square root of -1 larger or smaller than the square root of 1. Take for instance the infinity. Is the infinity of all real numbers greater or less than the infinity created by listing all possible subsets of the integers? You can’t prove that they are equal, you can’t prove that either one is large than the other.

          For a proof see set theory.

      • Shaunnybear

        Something can not be perfect or not perfect unless that quality were judged by a standard. Something can be perfect for life, or for black holes, or for erecting skyscrapers, but without the frame of reference, perfection has no meaning.

      • William Bell

        A way of putting your question into perspective:
        What is s if it is neither x or y?
        There is no x or y in the equation s is a constant not a variable.

    • Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

      “You can’t abide the thought that phenomena like suffering have no ultimate cosmic purpose or meaning.”

      I myself am forced to agree with you on that point. I can’t. It’s not possible for me to do so. He has not claimed to have proven that God exists. However, he has sufficiently proven that if he doesn’t, our suffering has, as you put it, “no ultimate cosmic purpose or meaning.”

      That’s the point. We desire to be freed of suffering, yet we cannot be. If we have a desire that cannot be met in this universe, then where did it come from? If we as human beings have adapted to the point that we are at the top of the food chain, rulers of the earth, then why do we have a natural urge to change the earth? In short, if we adapted to the earth, then why are we so dissatisfied with it? Would it not make sense that we should be content with the very thing that gave rise to us? Would it not make sense that the very thing to which every biological process we have is oriented towards should satisfy us, who are no more than biological machines? So why, then, do we hate it so? Why do we refine it? Why do we build walls to keep it out? Why do we build machines with the hope of leaving it? Why does my stream of rhetorical questions never end? Christianity proposes that we are more than a sum of biological processes. If you have never desired an end to suffering, if you have never cried out in the dead of night, “Let this end!”, then continue as you are.

      • Tony

        There is absolutely NO reason to suggest that just because we evolved adapting to the ecosystems on this planet that we should be wholly content with everything about it. As I stated, that is both philosophically and biologically naive. Just because we have desires that require us to change certain things in our environment doesn’t suggest that there’s something more out there. It means that we are complex and more often than not, irrational. We understand the importance of order and the tendency of nature (and entropy) to creep in and disturb our order; so we build walls.

        Likewise the desire to be “freed of suffering” doesn’t indicate anything more than the fact that suffering is unpleasant, biologically and mentally. It’s also relative. Organisms naturally do what they can to avoid pain and suffering; it’s one of many strategies they’ve evolved for survival. But when they can’t avoid it, they must live with it…or die. Some live with it better than others.

        Of course don’t enjoy suffering, but claiming ‘God’ is the answer just because one’s imagination fails to come up with an alternative answer, is a total cop-out.

        • Cal-J

          Which is more of a cop out? Seeking an answer to a question, or saying there’s no point to thinking about the question?

          • sandwiches

            He never said not to ask the question. He said that the answer already exists and is not religious.

        • Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

          “It means that we are complex and more often than not, irrational. We understand the importance of order and the tendency of nature (and entropy) to creep in and disturb our order; so we build walls.”

          Why did we develop such complexity? Why would the process of adaptation to an environment lead us to a point where our instincts lead us to change said environment? Then you have the unavoidable fact that at some point, a group of primates stopped leaving their dead behind.

          • Anon

            Where is the edge of a sphere?

          • Tony

            That complexity evolved to solve distinct problems, whether environmental, physiological, sociopolitical, etc. Many species alter their environments to suit themselves, all the way from ants to birds to beavers and humans. It’s really not unique. Homo sapiens aren’t the only species to stop leaving their dead. Elephants and Neanderthals did also stopped leaving their dead behind. But how is that really relevant to this thread? Have you ever taken a course on evolution?

          • John Alexander Harman

            If you’re sincerely interested in answers to the questions you pose in this comment, I suggest you visit and read the Sequence on The Simple Math of Evolution.

      • MikeTheInfidel

        “If we have a desire that cannot be met in this universe, then where did it come from?”

        We imagined it. Seriously, ask any good author if they can only get ideas based on things that exist.

        ‘If you have never desired an end to suffering, if you have never cried out in the dead of night, “Let this end!”, then continue as you are.’

        Christianity doesn’t end the suffering. It just redefines it as a positive.

        • Christopher Snaith

          “”If we have a desire that cannot be met in this universe, then where did it come from?”
          We imagined it. Seriously, ask any good author if they can only get ideas based on things that exist.”
          Artificial desires are exactly that, artificial. They do not necessarily correspond to any reality. Innate desires are different though, they do correspond to a reality. Examples of innate desires include the desires for sleep, food, sex, air, or companionship. A simple test to see whether a desire is innate or artificial is whether or not that desire is universal (that is, belonging to everybody). Artificial desires (like the desire to fly through the air like superman) are had only by some people who have been conditioned or influenced into having the desire. Innate desires are had by everyone, and normally correspond to a need, which can be met in the real world. I wouldn’t necessarily have the desire to eat unless food was a real thing, for example.
          The question is whether or not the above-mentioned desire is universal. If it is, then there must be a corresponding reality. If it is not, then it does not.

          • westley

            “The question is whether or not the above-mentioned desire is universal. If it is, then there must be a corresponding reality.”

            I simply don’t agree with that; it’s just wordplay to reach your unwarranted statement about being freed from suffering.

          • Christopher Snaith

            I didn’t make any such “unwarranted statement about being freed from suffering.” Nor is it just wordplay. It’s an observation.

        • Maggie

          I love how simply you put it when you said “Christianity doesn’t end suffering. It just redefines it as a positive.” I think a lot of Christians don’t understand why they suffer, and knowing that their suffering is united with Christ’s is beyond comforting.

        • philosophe

          All authors get their ideas from things that already exist, is some form or another.. Universal desires like, say, the desire to end suffering, do not come from nowhere. In fact, things we imagine do not come from nowhere. Marc’s point is that suffering is more than just “biological and mental” discomfort that leads the masses to the opium of religion. Suffering is not a positive in itself; it must be transformed by hope, which finds its ultimate fulfillment in love. Christianity does not attempt to redefine suffering exactly, it just claims that suffering corresponds to a higher reality. Suffering, in general, evokes questions and demands answers. Atheists say that suffering is a result of evolution, which needs no reason. Christians say that suffering is an indicator that something is fundamentally wrong with the world we live in, and that something is sin. You may choose one view over the other, but can you really claim that either one is better?

          • Christopher Snaith

            If one is true, then yes, it is better than the other. If neither, then they’re equally bad. If both, then they are not inherently contradictory. If they are inherently contradictory, then they cannot both be true, in which case either one is or neither are, and that would mean that one claim is indeed better than the other. So yes, you can claim such. Whether you’re right or wrong, well, that’s clearly debatable.

    • Centipede Galaga

      I also have brilliant things to say about how foolish these arguments are, but I don’t have the time to show you how intelligent I am (how much more intelligent I am than you). My 4 classes in undergrad philosophy prove that.

      (the following was a parody of what “Tony” wrote).

      • Tony

        Ooo…thou doth cut me to the quick with thy parody, Good Sir.

      • Tony

        The opening line “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.” is all one needs to see that the premise is flawed, and I DO address that, but I can go into it a bit more. I don’t need to go and dissect each sub argument. No one needs to grant [cosmic] ‘purpose to suffering. In an entropic cosmos in which life exists, suffering simply IS, and is to be expected.

        • tcc

          he isn’t saying whether or not suffering needs a purpose. he said you can’t agrees it purpose with a secular reason if you wanted to.

      • Tony

        And just as a final comment to ‘Guest’, my first sentences above were also largely parody, in response to the title “An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists…”, which suggests that we atheists are really so ignorant as to NEED Christianity re-explained to us, and that there is nothing to be freaked out about in Christianity, so long as we look at it his way. Both suggestions are offensive, unsubstantiated, and deserving of parody; and his following argument, even more so. So you’ll just have to get over the fact that I have no qualms parodying this blog post without delving into the depths of the fallacies present, and perhaps resting on my laurels, as you say.

      • satanaugustine

        A parody should be funny and have a point. Your post features neither humor nor any discernible point.

    • Guest

      If you have a legitimate point, make it. Don’t rest on your laurels and make a condescending proclamation unless you can back it up with real arguments based in reason.

  • mountaintiger

    The Aquinas quote is false. I can compare two numbers and know that one is greater and one is lesser without positing existing greatest and least numbers (which is good, because no such numbers exist). Comparisons are not necessarily premised on the existence of a minimum and a maximum of the traits to be compared.

    • Cal-J


      The “greatest” and “least” referred to are not *quantitative* values, but *qualitative*. More similar to the sense of an *improper* fraction, or, indeed, a fraction, which is in and of itself incomplete.

  • JHendrix

    Such a shame, you brought up a number of paradoxes, but left out one glaring example of why the entire argument is flawed:

    “We are allowed to sin — and thus to suffer — because God loves us. If we could not refuse him, the fullness of perfection, we would be puppets attached to his celestial fingers. We could not not
    love God. But love, to be love, must be freely given. Perfection is
    meaningless if we have not the choice of imperfection. We are granted,
    in love, the opportunity to sin.)”

    God is not free to be imperfect, he has no choice to sin. He can not, “not be perfect” if he exists. How then, by your own definition, can he love us?

    If he has the choice, but doesn’t, why weren’t we created with the same ability? If he knew we’d fail to be perfect like him, why bother to create us, when the cost is so high for the vast majority of us (hell)?

    If he existed before the universe, and is perfection, why create us? It would only have to be for our benefit (since it can’t be for his benefit, if he’s perfect), yet as I said above, the vast majority of us are going to hell, a fate worse than non existence.

    There are more problems with what you bring up than what you attempt to solve.

    • Christopher Snaith

      Big problem here: “the vast majority of us are going to hell.” What’s your basis for this claim?

    • ColdStanding

      Objection 1: “God is not free to be imperfect, he has no choice to sin.”

      It isn’t that He is has no choice to sin. He can not sin, sin is an absence God where God should be. How can God be absent from Himself? That would be a contradiction. Imperfection is the absence of freedom. How can He who is perfect freedom be said to be imperfect on the basis that He is not imperfect? Arguing from first principles, God being absent from himself would be a contradiction. Accepting non-contradiction as mandatory, the major premise of your syllogism contains a category error, namely you have attributed to God a quality that can only be predicated upon beings, but not upon Being itself. Additionally, the choice to love God or to fall into sin is a choice offered BY God TO imperfect beings. Imperfect beings may return God’s freely given love, but it does not follow that one must be imperfect to love. You can not suggest (and maintain constancy) that God is incapable of loving, for God is Love. How can loving itself not love?

      Objection 2: If he has the choice, but doesn’t, why weren’t we created with the same ability? (Especially) when the cost is so high for the vast majority of us (hell)?

      Taking the liberty to paraphrase, here you ask, “Why do I not feel the same compulsion to love God as I do to commit the acts Christians call sins? Why am I more inclined to sin than to love God.” The implication of your objection is “Why does loving God require me to X?” Why would God, who supposedly loves me, require anything of me? Your syllogism is: Those that love me, give me the things I need. God has not given me something I need. Therefore God does not really love me. Or: Those that love me do nice things for me. God sending me to hell is not nice. Therefore God does not love me.

      I answer, everything good you have comes from God. Everything nice you have comes from God. God has done every nice and good thing for you. Therefore God loves you. If you do not reciprocate His love, how can it be said that you love God in return? If you demonstrate that you do not love God, why would He invite you into an eternally loving relationship with Him when you have already told Him, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

      • JHendrix

        Way late to replying, but you’ve put out some real doozies.

        How can god be perfection, and be “free to love” if “Imperfection is the absence of freedom”?

        How can “god be love” if “But love, to be love, must be freely given”?

        That’s the whole point! The argument being made is that we must have had
        the “freedom to be imperfect” to love, yet your god by definition does
        NOT have the “freedom to be imperfect”, and is also by definition “pure

        The inconsistency is in your own definitions of “god” and “love”!

        This is the ultimate case of trying to have your cake and eating it too.

        If we can sin, and god can not sin, then we’re “more free” than god. How
        then is god also “be love”. We’re given “freedom” of “not being god”,
        and yet can be condemned if we don’t believe in, let alone “love” this being.

        Further, how can anything that’s “not god” (ie. humanity) avoid sin if “sin is an absence God where God should be”, especially if I’d assume you also believe “god should be everywhere”?

        • ColdStanding

          Come now, you haven’t really thought this through. I’ll only address your last paragraph, because I feel I have addressed your claim of me making a contradiction in my definition of love in my first post:

          “…how can anything that’s “not god”… avoid sin if… etc.”
          The answer should be obvious, a) a created imperfect being can not avoid sin w/o God’s Love active in their life. b)God, being most readily described using common human understanding, is a gentleman and will not go where He is not invited*, therefore c) God must be invited, because love is akin to sovereignty in that both must be acknowledged (acknowledging is a reciprocative act of the will) to take effect.

          It could be said that the perfection of His perfections is Love. His greatest gift is allowing an imperfect being, human, to participate in His highest perfection. Note that I said allowing to participate and not forcing to participate. It’s optional. You can opt out and go it on your own. It won’t be very pleasant, but nobody is going to, let alone God, force you to love anyone or anything.

          Now, it might be difficult to comprehend, from our limited standpoint, why God would so arrange things. This is, I would say, you actual central objection. But I think a very good case can be made to say that, regardless of why, this IS the way things are. (And I have specific reasons for holding this position).

          *It is an important distinction to make in that, while God is the ground of all Being that at every instance and everywhere sustains creation, His essence NOT the same thing as creation. Stated simply: God is not what He created.

    • Eve

      I don’t believe the vast majority of us are going to hell, and neither do most Christians.

      • pagansister

        But do you believe in a literal hell?

      • JHendrix

        Way late to replying, but its right there in Matthew 7:13-14, and 7:21-23.

  • Greg

    There were some lovely turns of phrase in this piece, and this atheist freakethed not. Nevertheless, this is not a cogent argument for me. I think it works fine as some sort of theodicy for someone who has come to believe in the Christian god on other grounds, to give suffering meaning and purpose. But to the person not believing, it leaves unresponded to exactly why there should be some particular kinds of suffering in the first place…the excessive suffering of innocents by natural evil. To me that’s the alley where all theodicies go to get beaten to death.
    And I find it curious that I should be made to find the excessive suffering of innocents less awful rather than more awful because it is “meaningful.” Certainly not to the innocents themselves it is not. which makes them merely instrumental in another being’s sense of meaning. This more of an enormity than a comfort.
    I am capable of taking lessons from some of the pain I experience, without benefit of a god. The pain I feel at being overweight informs my war on gluttony. The pain I feel in for having caused my children or partner pain leads me to repent, apologize, and strive for greater patience and kindness. God provides no added meaning to any of that, and in fact where the meaning God could give suffering is most needed–the apparently senseless and capricious suffering of babies with genetic defects or diseases or born into starvation and drought, say…is precisely the point at which the “meaning” given becomes a horror and an offense.
    So despite some truly magical coinages, BC, I must say that–while I still maintain that I never freaked–this piece ultimately had the opposite of its intended effect on me.

    • Eve

      Suffering seems to be where a lot of people come to a wall of misunderstanding and to be honest I don’t know why. If God was like a parent, slapping the wrists and punishing or stopping all those who had evil intent and would make innocents suffer then there would be no fallout of sin. The whole reason sin is bad is because it harms those who do not deserve it…else it would be just punishment. We abhor the drunk driver because he crashes into the family mini-van and kills innocent victims, if God stepped in and made sure no one was hurt there would be no reason not to drink and drive. Action=Consequence.
      For those that would say “how could He let this happen?” the answer is we have free will, and when we chose to sin not only we suffer for it. If you would like to point to the authorless crime, perhaps cancer or tsunamis then things get a bit more difficult for certainly we don’t believe that those people were cursed with cancer for their sins. Part of this is the world we live in, science if you will, storms, disease, they are a part of our world and the Christian believes they all have purpose. The family that hasn’t spoken in years gathered around the hospital bed of their mother, a daughter lost in drugs and alcohol brought out of herself and her own pain to feel compassion for a greater suffering and saved as she takes care of someone else. Great tragedies bring people out of themselves, bring people together for a common purpose, and as much as this explanation will probably not satisfy an Atheist here it is: God is playing the long game. This life is short and the one after it is eternal. If what we experience in this life will turn us towards God, weather it is in need or in thanksgiving, that is to our betterment.

      • John Alexander Harman

        And if what we experience in this life convinces us there is no God, that’s our fault and we deserve to suffer eternally for it. It’s amazing how you can believe all the things that add up to your God being a sadistic monster, and yet refuse to see that you’re worshipping a sadistic monster. Fail.

        • Eve Marie Martyn

          I’m sorry what you’ve experienced in this life has convinced you there is no God. What I’ve experienced in this life has convinced me that people are capable of evil, selfish acts alongside being capable of very compassionate, loving acts, and whenever I’ve been at my very lowest, shovel hitting rock bottom, it’s saved me to know that He loves me, no matter what. As He loves you. There is no part of my religion that says if you do not believe in God you will suffer eternally, that is often misquoted and mis-understood. Those who do believe in Him, like me, and attempt to follow Him are held to a different Law than those who do not. Ignorance of God and His ways is not a sin, certainly not one that would sentence you to Hell. Rather it’s the responsibility of those who do believe to live in a way that will prove God’s existence to others and draw all people to Him. In that we Christians often fail, as we are prideful and human as well. So for that I apologize.

          • John Alexander Harman

            Your apology is accepted; I have no problem coexisting with the type of Christian you appear to be. No need to feel sorry for me, though — the experiences that have convinced me that there is no God, souls, or anything else supernatural have generally been enjoyable, not painful — I’m one of those people that takes great pleasure in learning about the natural world. I cannot believe in God in the same way that I cannot believe there is a 1,000-foot-high steel tower on top of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix; I live in Phoenix, and I can see enough of it to see clearly that there is no such tower, nor any place to hide one. In a broader sense, I live in the universe, and I can see enough of it to see that there is no evidence that an omnipotent intelligence does or could exist, nor any need for such a being as an explanation for any observable phenomenon.

  • Doug

    Genesis 1: “And God created man to his own image; to the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God created man to his own image; to the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Man, created perfect by God, and with free will (as God has).

    Genesis 2: “And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it. And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise you shall eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat. For in what day soever you shall eat of it, you shall die the death.” One command; disobeying it would be a sin. No sin, no death.

    Genesis 3 (paraphrase; look it up): An angelic creature, also with free will, decides to take over the creation he was sent to watch over. Eve, having knowledge from her husband of the Command, disobeys it; Adam follows her lead. God sentences them to death. While still alive they have children [us, included] all of whom are “born in sin”. I.e. we bear whatever change God put in our parents leading to death. (Look up “telomeres”, for openers.) At least two sins were committed here: God’s right to rule over his own creation was questioned, and not refuted by his creations. He was made out to be a liar. (“And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death. For God knows that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.”)

    Every form of suffering, up to and including death, stems from this. But wait! Is there a way out? Christianity says yes. If only a perfect man- as Adam was- could live a perfect life- as Adam did not, then he might prevail on God to exchange his life for ours. (Rom 6:24; 1 Pet 2:21,22) Then it would be proper of God to remake the earth into a paradise, with righteous humans living on it forever, as is his purpose. (Isa 55:10.11; Ps 37:29) Those deserving of it would be those who recognize God’s sovereignity or right-to-rule, and those willing to publicly sanctify or clean up God’s name from the slanders heaped on it ever since Eden. That name, by the way, is Jehovah.

    That, in turn, is the teaching of Christianity. It’s all in the Bible, not in the doctrines of churches. They’ve been muddying the waters for centuries with such off-putting and false doctrines as the immortality of the soul, hellfire, the ‘three-in-one’ God, and so on.

    • Cal-J

      Sure, you could interpret the Bible that way. You could also say God is clearly suffering from dissociative identity disorder because He refers to himself using the plural Elohim.

    • Zaire Adams

      Ahem, the Bible would not exist but for the Jewish people and the early Christians. Early on, there was no set cannon and churches often had different cannons that contained some similarities. The Bible did not fall from the sky in its present form…which has been altered by Protestants. The Hebrew Bible of Christ’s time corresponds more closely with the current Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons than the Protestant one. Please note that the Bible comes from the Church and not the other way around. This does not take away from its sacredness or rightness (if you believe it to be true).
      Additionally, thoughts like Christ being the new Adam come from the Church. The Church would believe as it believes even if it was just oral tradition. Having things written down just makes things a bit easier.
      Finally, please re-read Genesis…or at least read St. Augustine “On Genesis.” It is an incredibly deep book and it is completely true that God refers to himself in the plural (Elohim). Oh, and please re-read John’s Gospel, which is the most theologically advanced Gospel. It claims that Christ was with the Father before all ages which means, at the very least, God is two in one. The event of Pentecost shows us the other person, i.e. the Holy Spirit. So, there are things that point to those doctrines. The Church always believed these things but it took a while to really explain it.

      • Doug

        “It claims that Christ was with the Father before all ages which means, at the very least, God is two in one”
        “With” means, to me, two or more together. “John is with Ralph and Edna” e.g. does not mean a Trinity. ‘RCC gave the world the Bible’ is most often said to me by those who go to it last, after their “magisterium” and RCC traditions. Example: “thoughts like Christ being the new Adam come from the Church.” No, I learned it from a Jew: Romans 5:12 ff.
        I read Genesis instead of Augustine, and benefit therefrom. From it I learn that man IS a soul, not that he has one, immortal or not. Gen 2:7 “And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” Ezek 18:4 “Behold all souls are mine: as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, the same shall die.” And the rest of scripture bears this out. “Immortal soul” on the other hand appears nowhere in the Bible- any Bible.
        So I stand by my statement: They’ve been muddying the waters for centuries with such off-putting and false doctrines as the immortality of the soul …
        In the meantime, what do you think of this prophecy? “But the just shall inherit the land, and shall dwell therein for evermore.” I think it’s a rather nice prospect; what about you? To be part of its fulfillment, would you be willing to recognize Jehovah’s sovereignity or right-to-rule, and be willing to publicly sanctify or clean up God’s name from the slanders heaped on it?

        • Zaire Adams

          You do realize that St. Paul counts as the early Church…right? All the early Christians were Jews and there was a huge argument on what to do with Gentile believers. Additionally, the Jew you were quoting was the apostle to the Gentiles. The early Church felt that Paul’s writings to those churches had enough universality in them to be included in the main cannon.
          I also find it funny to think that you assume I don’t read Genesis when, in fact, it is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Some of our disagreements make little sense here: I said it is AT LEAST God two in one (because Christ is also considered God. thus the whole “God incarnate” thing ) and you respond that it means two or more together? Is that not saying the same thing. The key is the AT LEAST. Also, considering the more poetical and flowery tone of John’s Gospel, expecting exactitude is rather silly. Even the Creation accounts (there ARE two) are not EXACT.
          I grew up as a Protestant…so sola scriptura is not new to me. But, you’re being silly if you do not think the CHURCH (which includes more than just the Roman branch, that’s just the largest branch) gave us the Bible. The Church compiled the New Testament and kept the Old Testament that the Jews used at the time of Jesus (the Greek version being the Septuagint). If we believed that the Bible appeared in its current form without any discussion amongst men, I would probably agree with you, but that simply is not the case.
          If our souls are not immortal, what does Christ mean when he refers to Gehenna, that appears to be a place where wicked souls go, does it not? That’s in the Gospels, sir, please look it up.
          Souls are not PHYSICAL things made of matter, like our bodies (which are, until death, inextricably bonded to our souls). Physical things pass away, spiritual things do not. Satan, his demons, and God’s heavenly host are all spiritual beings and thus immortal. God the Father himself is pure spirit and resides outside of time. He is thereby eternal. He is thereby immortal. The part of God that died, i.e. the Son, had become bonded to matter for our sake.
          Sidenote: everything in the Old Testament is NOT fleshed out. They don’t go blow by blow and describe EVERY LITTLE THING. If it was really all that plain, I see no point in the Jews studying as they did. Christ himself said plenty of things that point to the immortal soul. Christianity was not given all at once but was revealed. It is a revealed faith.
          Additionally, the deuterocannon, which Christ himself used and seems to have quoted from, points to stuff like the immortality of the soul. I can’t remember specific scriptures at the moment, but the notion that Catholics don’t read scriptures is silly.
          Finally, I am always in the process of submitting to God, if that is what you are referring to. I have hope that I will be in Christ’s presence after I pass and be given a new body (restored really) in the world to come. Please see: Nicene Creed or apostle’s. I have already recognized all those things, you saying I haven’t does not change that and, in any case, that acknowledgement is just the beginning.

    • Eve

      erm…I’m Catholic and until the very end where you dismissed the trinity and the immortality of the soul I saw nothing in your explanation that contradicted Christian teachings. (also hell, to my understanding, is choosing to be apart from God soo….there’s gotta be a place to go if you choose not to try for heaven)

      • Dout

        I didn’t “dismiss” “the immortality of the soul, hellfire, the ‘three-in-one’ God”, the Douay bible does. As I noted, it says that man is a soul, so when he dies the soul is no more. Did you find “immortal soul? in your Bible? Please share it with us.
        “hell, to my understanding …” is not an issue here; God’s word is. I ws using it to reply to the OP. Check with your Church on the topic, beginning with’s Encyclopedia. Then ask a hundred lay and ordained Catholics about hell, for probably a hundred answers. Or, investigate for yourself in the Bible.
        “Trinity”: John 17:3; Rev 3:12; the words of the Son of God himself. Do you believe him?
        As to biblical teachings, would you like to live forever in a paradise on earth?

        • Christopher Snaith

          Immortal soul: Luke 20:38 “For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live to him.”
          Hell: Mark 9:43-44 “And if thy hand scandalize thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life, maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into unquenchable fire: Where there worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.”
          Trinity: 1 John 5:7 “And there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the
          Holy Ghost. And these three are one.” Matthew 28:18-19 “And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in
          heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach
          ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
          the Holy Ghost.” 2 Corinthians 13:13 “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God, and the
          communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen.” John 1:1 ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

  • Bob

    “Suffering, to be suffering, requires the lack of a natural, secular answer.”
    Says who? This is not the definition of the word.
    This entire argument is based on a fundamentally utterly inaccurate premise. As other have stated, this is just … silly.

  • Phil

    “The very state of human beings and the universe they inhabit is a sinful one.” The very idea of sin is one created by religion to shame humans into belief.

    • Cal-J

      So are you saying you’ve never done anything morally wrong? (Everyone bow down to the best guy EVER).

      • Christopher Snaith

        I’m confused. Are there two Tony’s here?

      • pagansister

        One doesn’t have to claim that they did nothing morally wrong to have the opinion expressed by Phil, IMO.

        • Cal-J

          Not at all. Sin merely means imperfection. If you can hold to the idea of imperfection outside of religion, than Phil’s statement would appear to be erroneous.

          • ChrisH

            No, sin is a specific concept to do with something that is offensive to the Christian God. If you do not believe in the god, you can’t believe in sin as defined.

            Morality is a completely different question, and certainly IMO there are things that could be classed as sinful that are in no way immoral.

    • pagansister

      Amen Phil. “sin” is an idea created by religion not only to shame humans into belief but to help reinforce the “rules” of that belief—If you sin, and don’t repent etc. your off to hell (yet another construct of “faith).

  • Sejhamez

    I’ve read back through two other of your articles (from May 11th and 13th). Thankyou for explaining
    yourself and your position clearly. Because I am grateful for this, I am
    now sorry to say that I’m going to have a go at you.
    If I
    read you correctly, either the suffering of an innocent victim is a
    process deliberately started by my rebellion
    against God, and abrogates that rebellion. Or it’s pain for a greater
    purpose, and thus rationalizable and tolerable. If pain has no purpose,
    it is rejected by human beings, who can concieve of a world without
    suffering. Longing for such a world in your eyes is synonymous for
    longing for perfection, and hence God.
    The Church policy for
    dealing with pedophiles was for many years to quietly reprimand them and
    them to a new parish instead of going to the police. Pedophiles aren’t
    any more common in the priesthood than in the general population, but
    the Church’s actions have directly created a lot of victims.
    My answer to your thesis is this: I
    know that empathy is required for both art and science – the unique fruits of sentience – and have
    concluded that it is the most important duty of all sentient
    people. To enjoy art and benefit from science without first feeling
    empathy for all humankind makes you a hypocrite, a vampiric golem living
    off the pain of humane beings. Empathy requires me to condemn the
    Church’s prideful desire to not submit one of their own to secular
    prosecution, and your common conceit that instructing pedophiles to pray
    and repent will prevent them from re-offending more effectively than
    putting them in jail would. That the material universe produces
    conscious suffering for no good reason is something I abhor because I
    have empathy for those who suffer. This feeling makes me human, and I want no more
    than that. Do you want to live forever, or become perfect? Why?
    I have only one more question: Is the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal suffering to be blamed on my rejection of your idea of perfection? Or was it pain for the sake of
    sparing the Church the embarrasment of turning in the offender?

  • Themon the Bard


    Well, the title hooked me, and I sympathized with your prologue in italics, but I stopped cold at your first assertion and claim. I’m not an atheist, but I think I understand the atheist’s position well enough, and I think you shot rather wide of the mark established by your title.

    Let’s pick this apart a bit.

    First, a materialist would argue that it is impossible to impute purpose to anything. The closest you could come would be goal-directed behavior, which is simply a feedback loop. Complex, perhaps, but hardly “purpose.” A true materialist is quite comfortable with that characterization of the world. I can’t imagine that a materialist would get more than halfway through your first claim, assuming he or she was feeling indulgent. They wouldn’t “freak out,” they’d just move along to something more interesting, like some Internet porn or a halfway-decent television series. Or a sandwich.

    It’s probably true that all materialists are atheists. It is certainly not true that all atheists are materialists. An atheist says merely that there is no God. That says nothing whatsoever about a realm of Spirit that exists beyond the material. One popular New Age belief (which is getting a bit long in the tooth these days) is the idea of “betterment of the soul through reincarnation.” It pretty much applies your athlete’s argument to the whole of a human life, including the grisly, gasping end: it merely imputes to “purposeless” suffering an unseen purpose. This does not require a deity, any more than your athlete’s purposeful suffering requires a deity.

    Even if we accept the idea of fully-formed deity — entities in the realm of Spirit much “bigger” than our human spirit — there is no particular reason to accept monotheism. I know a substantial number of modern polytheists: some follow traditional pantheons, some follow newer pantheons. Many of the traditional gods are cruel and arbitrary. Others are kind and wise. In the Manichaean systems, the gods are locked in a perpetual war of light and darkness, and so are both cruel and kind in equal measure: our purpose is to help the light overcome the darkness, but sometimes the darkness overwhelms us, and this is suffering. In the Gnostic traditions, there is no purpose to suffering, because our purpose as human souls is to escape the world and return to God: suffering is a distraction from our purpose.

    If at last we decide to approach this issue through radical monotheism, that still does not say God bears any resemblance to the images or stories contained within any human religion, particularly the Catholic faith and its thousands of heretical offshoots. Indeed, there is a lot to disrecommend the Church and its teachings.

    So by the time we come down to this specifically Catholic idea of “sin” — a world awry from a creator-God of a singular nature — we’ve already discarded most of the beliefs held by most people throughout human history, as well as most of the explanations for human suffering. Discarded. Thrown them out without a glance or a thought.

    Alberto Villoldo commented in a talk once that of all the people on the Earth, only the Christians have ever been evicted from the Garden of Eden. The Augustinian concept of a fallen Nature is quite peculiar to Christianity. The Jews do not view Genesis the way Catholics do. I don’t think the Muslims do, either.

    Nonetheless, let’s go ahead and assume we are going to accept this premise of a world in “sin.” Now we have to deal with the very odd … well, “inflation” of the whole mythology. Let’s put this into context.

    Hominids have been around for some two-millionish years. Completely modern humans have been around for at least a hundred millennia. Our entire written history as humans — including everything that happens in the Bible after (arguably) the first few chapters of Genesis — is no more than five millennia. The ninety-five millennia of modern humans before that is gone, nothing but stones and bones. To say nothing of the TWO THOUSAND millennia of mostly-humans before that.

    So we have to ask — who were the first humans who “sinned” and brought down Nature, as recounted in Genesis? Some tiny culture that flowered briefly in the Fertile Crescent sometime after the last ice age relented some ten centuries ago? So somehow, this tiny drama in the middle of a garden that didn’t even exist for the first 90% of human existence (it was under deep ice) brought down the whole of creation, all the way to the furthest stars?

    Or perhaps the fallenness of nature is a metaphor pointing to something much older, perhaps going back to the origins of modern humans, or perhaps to the very beginning of everything. This raises an even odder scenario: for some reason, God let the whole thing just drift for a few billion years, and then when humans — modern humans — showed up some hundred millennia ago, He still waited. Just like he waited through the dinosaurs and the early mammals. For ninety millennia after modern humans appeared, he put up with the killing and the lying and the politics and did nothing. Then he decided to warm up the world and flood the Mediterranean Basin. It took ten millennia of killing and lying and politics and warming weather for the seas to rise. Then another eight afterwards to resume all the killing and the lying and the politics, and still He did nothing. Then suddenly, two thousand years ago, He decided to act out a little sacrificial drama in a remote part of the Roman Empire, and thereby redeem a universe that had been broken for some untold span of time. After which he put the Church in charge, to resume the killing and the lying and the politics.

    I personally don’t see any way to redeem this story.

    Or rather, this clash of two stories: the Catholic story of sin, and the Science story of time. One thing I think the Fundamentalists do have right is that their entire story of fall and redemption — which is admittedly rather grand under the parochialism of ancient cosmologies — simply falls apart under modern cosmologies. They’ve chosen to plug their ears and believe the mythology and reject the science.

    It isn’t that the modern picture of the universe makes God look small. It’s that the modern picture of the universe makes humankind look small. Too small for this grand cosmic drama.

    • idea1013

      Fantastically written post Bard! You have presented an entertaining and accurate perspective of the story, which I applaud. I have but one small contention: atheism is not a statement that there is no God, but a statement of a lack of belief in God. There are plenty of atheists out there that will claim that God does not exist, but there are just as many of us who believe it arrogant to claim that, in part because we cannot prove a negative.

      • Cal-J

        The latter portion seem then to be confused agnostics. *Atheism* specifically indicates *no theism*, as in, a denial of any theism in the first place, mono-, miso-, poly-, or pan-.

        Agnosticism, by comparison, means *no gnosticism*, or no knowledge. People who claim we do not or cannot know about God are in fact agnostic.

        • idea1013

          While you make a good point, I would not say that there is confusion. I for one feel no confusion about the existence or lack thereof of God. That said, I don’t walk around telling people their God is make-believe because just as they have no proof that their god exists, I have no proof that he doesn’t. I also feel no need to search any further for a god than I already have nor to search for further proof of one. I see no god and no evidence of one, therefore I do not belief in god. Agnostics generally claim, “I don’t know if there is a god or not and I’m ok with that.” Those who state “there is no god,” tend to lean more toward being anti-theist, which is a few shades different from atheism. All, however, are similar, in much the same way that the hundreds of strains of Protestantism and Catholicism are similar.

        • Deven Kale

          The problem here is that you seem to be assuming that both theism and gnosticism are statements of knowledge, which I think is where the confusion comes from. Your post implies you believe that atheists say “I know there’s no god,” theists say “I know there is a god,” and agnostics say “I don’t know either way.”

          In reality, only gnosticism makes a statement of knowledge, while theism is a statement of belief. So a theist can state that they believe there are gods, and claim they have evidence (knowledge comes from evidence) which would make them a gnostic theist. They could also believe in gods but claim they have no evidence, which makes them an agnostic theist. The same is true for atheists: an atheist can believe there are gods, and claim there is evidence (gnostic atheist) or no evidence (agnostic atheist, where most atheists fit since proving a negative is impossible).

          I think that’s enough detail for now. Hopefully it’s enough for everyone to understand the distinction between gnosticism and theism.

      • Themon the Bard

        @idea1013:disqus – as Cal-J says, I thought what you describe here is the difference between an atheist and an agnostic. The atheist does say there is no God. The “hard” agnostic says that it is impossible to know if there is a God. The “soft” agnostic says that s/he does not know if there is a God.

        It’s a fine distinction, and I agree with you: “atheist” is a soft term in common usage. It’s often used in certain religious circles as a pejorative for anyone who isn’t a born-again Biblical inerrantist, which includes most of the world. It is perhaps equally often accepted as self-identification by people who personally don’t know and don’t care whether God exists, and could care less about the fine distinctions.

    • Christopher Snaith

      Since you spoke specifically about the Catholic Church here, and not generally about Christianity, I will make a correction here specific to the teachings of the Catholic Church. That is, the Catholic Church does not teach that the Fall myth took place 5000-6000 years ago. The Biblical chronology does indicate this, but for the most part, the Genesis accounts approximately up to Abraham are not taken exactly literally. The ages of the people living in those accounts (ie, Seth, Noah, Adam, Cain, etc… as living 900+ years) are not taken at face value, and may be understood any number of possible ways. I don’t know if there’s is an officially taught interpretation, but I do know that it is not taught that this is literal.
      What the Catholic Church does teach, however, is that the first humans, referred to as Adam and Eve in the creation myths, did fall out of the unitive relationship with God in which they were created. The exact mechanism of that fall, the exact time frame of that fall, etc, are not known. The creation accounts are symbolic myth that present the underlying truths in an imaginitive way. This was a typical teaching method in the past.

      • Themon the Bard

        Christopher, thank you for that clarification.

        Yes, I’m aware that there are as many interpretations of Genesis as there are people who have read it. Literalists and inerrantists tend to cluster around Evangelicalism, not Catholicism.

        The objection is to the Augustinian precept of a fallen Nature, which came about through the debates between Augustine and Pelagius in the fifth century, and thus informs (or infects) both Catholic and Protestant thought. I think the objection still stands: humans caused all of Nature to fall out of harmony with God? It could not have happened before there were humans, and humans are a very late development in the scheme of Nature. That story seems like a huge case of ego inflation to me. Humans are hardly that important in the big scheme of things.

        If you want to embrace the Pelagian Heresy, my objection drops away. I have no problem with the idea of humankind having gone sour and fallen out of harmony with God and Nature alike, probably about the time Homo Sapiens started killing off Homo Neanderthalensis. Maybe before. Maybe after.

        • Christopher Snaith

          “That story seems like a huge case of ego inflation to me. Humans are hardly that important in the big scheme of things.”
          I do not ascribe to the Pelagian Heresy, so the objection still stands for your part. I don’t know if it is so much about the human ego. Humans are the ones being blamed in this scenario. I believe the argument for the fallenness of the universe resulting from the sin of Adam and Eve mainly rests on the idea of the interconnectedness of everything. Since sin is reliant on a free choice, and free choice can only be had by a rational intelligence, and prior to the first intelligent humans, we suppose, there were no other intelligent biological creatures, then the first sin lies with us, and because we are interconnected with the universe, our sinfulness has consequently affected the universe as well. The question, of course, then becomes, well what about fallen angels? Why didn’t they have that same affect? I don’t have an answer to that, except that perhaps it is because they are pure spirits, while we are a spiritual body.
          Another question, may arise, and that is concerning the possibility of extraterrestrials. If there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, it may be that they sinned prior to us. That’s a possibility, but I think the argument would be made that God became human in order to redeem. That’s the evidence that we’re left with, so we have no reason to assume that other races had sinned priorly.
          It is also not even necessary to suppose that other such races have even fallen.
          As for the fall of human nature due to that initial sin, I believe that were it not the first humans to have sinned, it would not have necessarily resulted in the universal fall of mankind. This may be connected to the interconnectedness of things, being that the effects of sin (ie, corruption in body and spirit) are passed on to the offspring of the sinner, much as a genetic defect is passed on. So, it may be that if it were not that Adam and Eve were the first to sin, not all of humanity would be fallen. It could be imagined that only pockets of humanity would be fallen, while others not.
          This may even be suggested in Genesis, when prior to the account of the Flood, there were two “kinds” of people, the “Sons of God” and the “Daughters of Men.” It was only after these two peoples came together in conjugal relations that the whole world became corrupt.
          Things to think about, perhaps.

  • estraven

    Wow. This is a terrible argument. I don’t believe for a moment that there is any purpose to suffering. Rather, I agree that a good close look at reality shows us that the universe is just as we would expect if there were no designer. Also, “sin” is a religious concept and as such has no force in this “argument.” It might also be good to keep in mind that atheists are rarely, if ever, “freaked out” by Christian apologetics.

    • Christopher Snaith

      “Rather, I agree that a good close look at reality shows us that the universe is just as we would expect if there were no designer.”
      Well, I dispute this. I would expect that if there were no designer, there wouldn’t be anything at all. That there is anything, period, implies to me that there is an eternal mind at work. Difference in outlooks I suppose.

      • John Alexander Harman

        Failure of imagination on your part, rather; you’re simply refusing to consider the question, “what would an undesigned universe, with no overarching intelligence, only a few simple rules, look like?” Instead, you pretend that such a thing could not be, and thus fail to notice that that’s the universe you’re living in.

        • Christopher Snaith

          That’s a rather big assumption on your part. You neither know me, nor my thought processes. Infinite regression doesn’t make sense within the framework of temporal progression. If it were true that the past is infinitely distant, then the present could never be reached, as an infinite amount of time would be required to reach it, and since infinity can never be reached, the present would never come. The universe exists within a framework of temporal progression. Therefore, the past cannot be infinite, but finite, with a beginning to the temporal sequence. But if that’s true, then there must necessarily be something that does not exist within a temporal framework to which the beginning can be attributed. If there isn’t then the beginning could never have happened. No beginning, no universe. Anything you posit as prior to the beginning, only extends the beginning further into the past. Thus, there can be no prior to the beginning. That would only be part of the temporal framework as well. So far as anyone knows, the universe is just one giant chain of cause and effect relationships. Nothing ever happens without some cause making it happen. Sure, you can dispute this with quantum mechanics, but I would only argue that what appears to happen causelessly only appears so. Since everything else we know of operates in this way, why should we accept that at a level we don’t yet fully understand, it doesn’t? Given this, if the universe had a beginning (and it must have), there must have been something to cause it. This something cannot itself be part of the universe. It cannot have preceded the universe either. It also cannot have had a beginning. I may not, either, exist under any kind of framework of temporal progression. Furthermore, the only evidence I’ve seen of anything being capable of beginning a new sequence of causes and effects is that of a mind. You may argue that the mind is only itself a mass of causes and effects. I would argue that if that is the case, then freedom of any kind is an illusion, and our legal systems are meaningless, because people only do what heredity, environment and circumstance cause them to do, and so all talk of ethics, morality, good behaviour, etc may be thrown out the window because they could only really apply to free choices. I reject that line of reasoning, and accept that the mind has, if not perfect freedom, at least some freedom. Given this, the mind is capable of beginning new chains of events. I see no other thing in the universe being capable of this. Thus, to that thing that caused the universe I attribute a mind, for I don’t see anything being capable to of choosing the begin something except a mind. Certainly I accept that it is perfectly possible that I am wrong about all of this. However, I must hold some worldview, as everyone must. This is what makes sense to my mind. I cannot imagine an infinitely old universe. Perhaps that is a failure of imagination on my part. So be it. But let’s be clear, I’m not refusing to consider any questions. I’ve thought long and hard about things like this. I do not pretend that the universe cannot be uncreated. Like I said, I could be entirely wrong in my worldview. But, based on the evidence that I have, that things exist at all, and at least a base understanding of how things work, I conclude that an eternal mind must be necessary for the universe to exist.

          • Deven Kale

            I know you are only explaining your own opinions here, but there are a few things that just seem weird to me that I just have to nitpick over.

            If it were true that the past is infinitely distant, then the present could never be reached, as an infinite amount of time would be required to reach it, and since infinity can never be reached, the present would never come.

            While this seems like it makes sense, it just doesn’t seem right to me. All that we know for sure is that there is a past, a present, and a future. The past and future may be infinite, yes, but that doesn’t mean that the present cannot exist. Within a temporal framework, there must be some point in which things are actually happening. Before that point is the past, and after that point is the future. Why can’t this point in which things actually occur be what we call the present? This consideration basically negates all of your other temporal arguments.

            I would argue that if [the mind is only cause and effect], then freedom of any kind is an illusion, and our legal systems are meaningless, because people only do what heredity, environment and circumstance cause them to do, and so all talk of ethics, morality, good behaviour, etc may be thrown out the window[.]

            This is demonstrably untrue because, as you yourself even stated, environment has an impact even in a world where “free will” doesn’t actually exist. Laws and consequences are a part of that environment which has an impact on the thought processes of the individual. If the individual is able to understand those laws and still act in a way which is counter to them, then it still makes sense to punish them because that punishment will influence their future behavior. Whether they truly had the “free will” to choose to break that law is irrelevant. With the more severe crimes such as murder, removing them from society is still logical because they are extremely dangerous to the other members of society. This is even completely ignoring the fact that a persons simple belief in “free will” can also have an effect on their behavior, even if it doesn’t truly exist.

            But just as you said, I could also be completely wrong about all of this. That’s the interesting thing about philosophy, there’s never a way to prove any of it. However, this stuff makes sense to me based on the evidence that I have.

            And just to be a bit snarky, I’ve never seen any real evidence for a mind which is not connected to a brain, much less a body. ;)

          • John Alexander Harman

            In case you want to continue this discussion, could you please break your responses up into reasonably short paragraphs? Your wall of text is making it hard to keep my eyes focused.

            Your base understanding of the way things work is flawed, and thus leads to a conclusion in conflict with the physical evidence, of which you are only partially aware. I don’t claim full familiarity with it myself; I’m a biologist, not a physicist, and while I know more of the necessary math and have made more effort than most laymen to understand quantum mechanics and relativity, I’m no expert on those topics. I do know enough to spot some incorrect assumptions in your comment, though.

            First, to state that “the universe exists within a framework of temporal progression” is in conflict with the standard model of physics; it would be more accurate to state that temporal progression exists only within the framework of the universe. The singularity preceding the “Big Bang” initial expansion of the universe contained all of space-time. There can be nothing “prior to the beginning” because the phrase itself is meaningless. Causality also exists only within the framework of the universe, so talking of the universe having an “external cause” is likewise meaningless.

            The current standard model of quantum mechanics doesn’t actually posit that anything inside the framework of the universe as it exists happens causelessly; it does posit that we can only predict the outcomes of quantum events probabilistically, not with certainty, due to decoherence. However, if quantum mechanics did in fact predict that quantum events are acausal, your assertion that “what appears to happen causelessly only appears so” would be a mere argument from personal incredulity — always a fallacy, and especially so when you’re on the wrong side of a large asymmetry in knowledge about the subject.

            To the best of our knowledge, the mind is indeed only a mass of causes and effects, and free will is therefore an illusion. From that, it does not follow that our legal systems are meaningless, any more than any other products of the hidden causes that give us our illusion of free will are meaningless. People do indeed only do what the tremendously complex interplay of heredity, environment, and circumstances cause them to do; ethics, laws, morality, etc. form a huge and important part of people’s environment and circumstances that have very large effects on what they do. Your rejection of that line of reasoning and acceptance assumption that “the mind is capable of beginning new chains of events” is based purely on wishful thinking, not physical evidence. Without that unwarranted assumption, the rest of your argument for a mind as first cause falls apart.

          • Christopher Snaith

            I do try to space my responses into paragraphs. The spaces
            disappear when it’s posted though. Here’s I’ll try typing this out in Word and
            we’ll see if it makes a difference.

            “Your base understanding of the way things work is flawed,
            and thus leads to a conclusion in conflict with the physical evidence, of which
            you are only partially aware. I don’t claim full familiarity with it myself;
            I’m a biologist, not a physicist, and while I know more of the necessary math
            and have made more effort than most laymen to understand quantum mechanics and
            relativity, I’m no expert on those topics. I do know enough to spot some
            incorrect assumptions in your comment, though.”

            Great, let’s jump in.

            “First, to state that “the universe exists within a
            framework of temporal progression” is in conflict with the standard model
            of physics; it would be more accurate to state that temporal progression exists
            only within the framework of the universe.”

            I accept your correction, but I would like clarification on something.
            Would you say that the universe has temporality, but also non-temporality as
            well? Again, this is merely a clarification.

            “There can be nothing “prior to the beginning”
            because the phrase itself is meaningless.”


            “The singularity preceding the “Big Bang” initial
            expansion of the universe contained all of space-time.”

            In other words, the universe was a singularity, and then it

            “Causality also
            exists only within the framework of the universe, so talking of the universe
            having an “external cause” is likewise meaningless.”

            What is the basis for this assertion?

            “The current standard model of quantum mechanics doesn’t
            actually posit that anything inside the framework of the universe as it exists
            happens causelessly; it does posit that we can only predict the outcomes of
            quantum events probabilistically, not with certainty, due to decoherence.”

            Again, I accept your correction.

            “However, if quantum mechanics did in fact predict that
            quantum events are acausal, your assertion that “what appears to happen
            causelessly only appears so” would be a mere argument from personal
            incredulity — always a fallacy, and especially so when you’re on the wrong
            side of a large asymmetry in knowledge about the subject.”


            “To the best of our knowledge, the mind is indeed only a
            mass of causes and effects, and free will is therefore an illusion. From that,
            it does not follow that our legal systems are meaningless, any more than any
            other products of the hidden causes that give us our illusion of free will are
            meaningless. People do indeed only do what the tremendously complex interplay
            of heredity, environment, and circumstances cause them to do; ethics, laws,
            morality, etc. form a huge and important part of people’s environment and
            circumstances that have very large effects on what they do.”

            I agree that ethics, laws, etc. affect what people do (as
            part of environment and circumstance). I think the disconnect that we’re having
            here is how we’re using the term “meaning.” It’s being used ambiguously here.
            If, by meaning, all you mean is purpose or usefulness, then sure, behavioural
            modification is perfectly attributable to these things. I think the term “mean”
            more properly means something along the lines of “to signify” and “meaning,” “that
            which is signifies.” The immediate meaning of, say, law, may be behaviour
            modification. But I don’t think this is what most people (like myself) mean
            when they say that without freedom, law has no meaning. I think what is meant
            is that beyond all the immediate and intermediary meanings, or purposes, or
            uses, there is no ultimate meaning, or purpose. In other words, what’s the point
            of behaviour modification? Harmonious coexistence? What the point of harmonious
            coexistence? The avoidance of pain/displeasures? What’s the point of that?
            Individual happiness? So what? What’s the point? I’ll be dead in a little while
            anyway? More than this, if life is in any way uncomfortable, and it can’t be
            changed, then death is preferable, indeed prudent. Moreover, if one can get
            away with it, then making others unhappy also doesn’t matter. No negative repercussions,
            along with any amount of enjoyment, means anything is permissible. If a man
            could get away with kidnapping and raping a little girl, and was guaranteed not
            to be caught, and punished, then there’s nothing wrong with it from his point
            of view. He has no free will, he is merely acting from circumstance, heredity
            and environment. His behaviour is not free, and nobody could say he’s wrong for
            it. We could only really say it was wrong, if it really was that way. And it
            could only really be that way if absolute standards of right and wrong exist.
            But in your model, they don’t. If there existed a culture, wherein murder,
            rape, suicide, paedophilia, torture, mutilation, etc. were acceptable, then
            that’s okay. It really doesn’t matter.

            Maybe it’s illogical of me. Maybe I’m just living in a
            fantasy dream world. I don’t care. If that’s what the world is really like… I
            simply can’t accept that. It just doesn’t make sense.

  • Talina Buker

    I thought this article was an interesting take on it…just some of my thoughts…or two cents..

    Evolution, Evil, and Original Sin
    And as far as my own thoughts on it is that from a secular perspective, what can happen it seems is that suffering seems to be the WORST evil. So, for example the best thing you can do is kill someone to “end” their suffering, while from a Christian perspective the worst evil is not suffering but SIN, or the loss of love, which is God in the soul. So yes, X might kill their loved in the name of ending their suffering but in the process kill their own soul.
    Therefore people with disabilities and handicaps can be killed in order to end suffering. This is already happening. Abortions if you will, may be considered because of this. I will merely put this article on this in order for it to not get too side-tracked.
    For the church, all these people are “treasures” as shown for example by St. Lawrence.

    These people who may not be seen to have as much “functional use” bring about something great, which is to draw out love. REAL, true, deep and giving love. It isn’t the quick end if they had been aborted but a daily love that must be shown over and over again through struggle and it is a lot harder. I would think the love produced under such circumstances isn’t the hollywood emotion-based love but something far more profound that is tested over and over again to prove itself the real deal based on willing the good of the other. Mother Theresa and Blessed John Paul II have written and lived these tenets well.
    Only true knowledge of a person makes it possible to commit one’s freedom to him or her. Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom–it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another. Limitation of one’s freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but loves make it a positive, joyful and creative thing. Freedom exists for the sake of love.

    (Love & Responsibility, Karol Woytyla p. 135)
    There are many such stories…Here is just one I found with a quick search.

    Suffering, from whatever cause is like a bright light that reveals more of what we truly are and purifies us or makes us worse depending on what we are like already, but it does something that in Christian thought is the most important thing of all…it can save our souls.
    Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island is such a good book but I wouldn’t know where to start and though this is out of context I suppose I’ll at least put this quote
    Conscience, Freedom, and Prayer

    To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell. Selfishness is doomed to frustration, centered as it is upon a lie. To live exclusively for myself, I must make all things bend themselves to my will as if I were a god. But this is impossible. Is there any more cogent indication of my creaturehood than the insufficiency of my own will? For I cannot make even my own body obey me. When I give it pleasure, it deceives my expectation and makes me suffer pain. When I give myself what I conceive to be freedom, I deceive myself and find that I am a prisoner of my own blindness and selfishness and insufficiency.

    It is true, the freedom of my will is a great thing. But this freedom is not absolute self-sufficiency. If the essence of freedom were merely the act of choice, then the mere fact of making choices would perfect our freedom. But there are two difficulties here. First of all, our choices must really be free–that is to say they must perfect us in our own being. They must perfect us in our own being. They must perfect us in our relation to other free beings. We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves. From this flows the second difficulty: we too easily assume that we are our real selves, and that our choice are really the ones we want to make when, in fact, our acts of free choice are ( though morally imputable, no doubt) largely dictated by psychological compulsions, flowing from our inordinate ideas of our own importance. Our choices are too often dictated by our false selves.

    Hence I do not find myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like. On the contrary, if I do nothing except what pleases my won fancy I will be miserable almost all the time. This would never be so if my will had not been created to use its own freedom in the love of others.

    My free will consolidates and perfects its own autonomy by freely co-ordinating its action with the will of another. There is something in the very nature of my freedom that inclines me to love, to do good, to dedicate myself to others. I have an instinct that tells me that I am less free when I am living for myself alone. The reason is that I cannot be completely independent. Since I am not self-sufficient I depend on someone else for my fulfillment…

    At the same time, my instinct to be independent is by no means evil. My freedom is not perfected by subjection to a tyrant. Subjection is not an end in itself. It is right that my nature should rebel against subjection. …

    If my will is meant to perfect its freedom in serving another will, that does not mean it will find its perfection in serving every other will…To give my will blindly to a being equal to or inferior to myself is to degrade myself and throw away my freedom…

    Conscience is the soul of freedom, its eyes, its energy its life. Without conscience, freedom never knows what to do with itself. And a rational being who does not know what to do with himself finds the tedium of life unbearable. He is literally bored to death. Just as love does not find fulfillment in loving blindly, so freedom wastes away when it merely “acts freely” without any purpose. An act without purpose lacks something of the perfection of freedom, because freedom is more than a matter of aimless choice. It is not enough to affirm my liberty by choosing “something”. I must use and develop my freedom by choosing something good.
    Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen puts it well about suffering as well

    The Third Word to the CrossThe third word to the Cross came from the the thief on the left:
    Are you not the messiah? Save yourself and us. Luke 23:39
    The typical selfish man who is never conscious of having done wrong asks: “Why did God do this to me?” He judges the saving power of God by release from trials. The thief on the left was the first Communist. Long before Marx, he was saying: “Religion is the opiate of the people. If it cannot give relief from trial, what good is it?” A religion that thinks of souls when men are dying, which bids them look to God at the moment when the courts are inflicting injustice, which talks about Paradise or “pie in the sky”, when stomachs are empty and bodies racked with pain, which discourses about forgiveness to social outcasts, two thieves and a village carpenter, are dying on a scaffold–such a religion is the “opiate of the people”.The only salvation the thief on the left could understand was not spiritual or moral, but physical: “Save thyself and us!” “Save what? Our souls? No! Man has no soul! Save our bodies! What good is religion if it cannot stop pain? Step down from the gibbit! Rescue a class! Christianity is either a social gospel or it is a drug.” Was his cry.Men can be in identical circumstances and react in totally different ways. Both thieves were alike in the depravity of their hearts, and yet each reacted differently to the man in their midst. No external means, no good example, of and by itself, is enough to convert unless the heart itself is changed. This their was certainly a Jew, for he based his acceptance of the Messiah or Christ solely on His power to take him down from the Cross. But suppose that the Christ did unpinion the nails, dry up the fountains in his hands and feet, restore him to freshness and newness of life, would the rest of his earthly life have been a demonstration of faith in Christ–or a continuation of his life as a thief? If Our Lord were only a man who had to sustain his reputation, He would have had to show his might then and there; but being God, Who knows the secrets of every heart, He kept silence. God answers no man’s prayer merely to show His Power.
    (p 390)

    Patience…(From The Fulfillment of All Desire)

    Humility is rooted in self-knowledge and knowledge of God. Knowledge of our own sinfulness, the shortness and fragility of human life, the great mercy and goodness of God, and the length of eternity all deepen humility and enable us to practice patience. Patience is impossible without the humility that brings with it deep knowledge of and confidence in the goodness and providence of God.
    Catherine explains that even though nobody can avoid physical pain in this life because of the fragility of our bodies, the deeper pain is rooted in the opposition of our will to God’s will.(italics are mine) As our will comes into greater and greater conformity with God’s will—one of the definitions of holiness used by many of the saints–the spiritual and psychological anguish of being in opposition to God subsides and the physical pain can be more easily endured, as all the virtues grow.
    This is why I told you that they suffer physically but not spiritually, because their sensual will–which afflicts and pains the spirit is dead. Since they no longer have a selfish will, they no longer have this pain. (italics mine) So they bear everything with reverence, considering it a grace to suffer for me. And they want nothing but what I will….They pass through life joyfully, knowing themselves and untroubled by suffering.

    Catherine strikingly describes the freedom and joy that can come to those who are made perfect in detachment and humility, willing what God wills in complete trust.
    They may suffer at the hands of others, or from illness or poverty or the instability of the world. They may lose their children or other loved ones. All such things are thorns the earth produced because of sin. They endure them all, considering by the light of reason and holy faith that I am goodness itself and cannot will anything but good.And I send these things out of love, not hatred…They learn that all suffering in this life is small with the smallness of time. Time is no more than the point of a needle, and when time is over, so is suffering—so you see how small it is. Therefore they endure patiently. p. 243

    From Brother Lawrence

    “They are blessed who suffer with Him.”
    “The world does not understand these truths, and that does not surprise me. It is just that they suffer as people of the world and not as Christians.
    They regard sicknesses as suffering of the flesh, not as God’s graces, and because of that they find nothing in them but what is contrary and arduous to nature. But those who consider their sufferings as coming from the hand of God, as effects of His mercy, and as means that He uses for their salvation, commonly enjoy in them such great sweetness and consolations that they can actually feel them.”

    (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God 77)

    .Basically the price of love is that you can get hurt. The price of love is freedom. People can choose not to love. Freedom exists for us to be able to love as forced loved isn’t love. Because love has to be chosen in order to be true, it can also be not chosen which leads to suffering. Therefore, the price of love is suffering. The world itself is also in a sense left “incomplete” in order to provide us opportunities of making His will done earth as it is in heaven. When reading Understanding Judaism by Rabbi Benjamin Blech p. 197, I came upon talk of Jewish philosophers about since the foreskin serves no useful purpose, why would God create a man with it and demand it’s removal? “This comes to teach us that God purposefully left some things incomplete in creation in order to leave room for people to complete the task.” The Talmudic rabbis would put that we become partners and creators with God.

  • Eve

    Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls
    before the swine, lest haply they trample them under their feet, and
    turn and rend you. ——brutal but true

    • The Other Weirdo

      Peachy. Really makes one want to have a dialog with the religiously-minded, for they are full of brotherly love and are a shining beacon unto a darkened world. I mean, sure, they’ll call you a dog just because you disagree with them, but they only do it because they love you.

  • Christopher Snaith

    Firstly, Marc, thank you for sharing your mind and heart with us. You did so by sharing that which is closest to your heart, through your very wonderful mind.
    I am, however, not completely sold by this article. I found myself uneasy by a number of things that you present here.
    The main thing I take issue with is that you’re using the Christian perspective on suffering as a means of explaining Christianity. The problem with this is that, the Christian perspective on suffering is just that, the Christian perspective. It doesn’t really explain the meaning, the heart, or the purpose of Christianity. The transformation of suffering, in Christianity, from something worthless to something immensely valuable is certainly a deeply meaningful aspect of it, but it is not its core.
    The core of Christianity is the relationship between God and man. That is its center. The meaning of Christianity is love. The heart of Christianity is Jesus Christ. The purpose of Christianity is to bring us back into a unitive relationship with God. Suffering plays a central role in that, as sacrifice is the meaning of justice, which, being a Divine attribute, must necessarily be exacted in order to repair the break between God and man, a break that originated with Adam and Eve.
    A second contention I have is with the way you initially talk about suffering. That is, you imply that if pain (which I understand you to mean as something distinct from suffering) is given meaning and/or purpose, then it ceases to be suffering, and is actually meaningful pain. I disagree. I agree that pain and suffering are distinct. Pain subsists within the broader scope of suffering. You can have physical pain, spiritual pain and chronic pain, and these are all different forms of suffering. However, simply giving meaning to any kind of suffering doesn’t cause it not to be. In Christianity, we accept suffering as it comes, for the sake of uniting ours to His, and that grants it a redemptive characteristic, but we also try to relieve suffering in others, because suffering is real, and we are called to this charity. It is not an illusion that can be cured merely by adjusting one’s perception about it.
    Regarding your first CLAIM, I agree that suffering is the result of sin, but you don’t expand on that enough. You tie suffering to individual sin, but not all suffering can be clearly shown this way. Much suffering appears to be random and senseless, particularly in the innocent. And this is a common point of contention that you didn’t address at all. There are two broad answers to this contention, and they are Original Sin, and Shared Guilt. Original Sin, the first sin of Adam and Eve, was the origin of human suffering. All suffering since that first sin can be said to be a result of that sin. This is one way to explain how suffering is the result of sin, even in those instances wherein there is no clear sin-suffering link. Shared Guilt is the other, and as a Catholic, this is part of the doctrine of Original Sin, and the whole reason Jesus had to come in the first place. That is, the sin of one can affect the many. In the same way that everything in the universe affects everything else in the universe (ie, I drop a stone on the ground, and the dust on the moon shivers a little bit), so too is the spiritual world so connected, so that the good that you do has a good effect on those around you, and the evil you do has an evil effect on those around you. Shared Guilt, which made the sin of one (Adam) damning for all, is the flip side of Vicarious Atonement, which makes the sacrifice of one (Jesus) salvific for all. Further to this principle of interconnectedness in both the physical and spiritual worlds, we say that because the human specie is disordered, this has caused the whole universe to become disordered, and this is the final reason why suffering is the result of sin.
    This brings me to another point of contention, and that is your use of the word “sin” as pertaining to the universe. Catholics do not believe that the universe is sinful, but that it is disordered. The word sin is actually derived from the Latin ‘sons,’ which means “guilty.” Biblical translators chose to translate ‘chattah’ this way because the meaning was probably appropriate. St Augustine spoke of evil as being the corrupted good, and not a thing in itself. And if a thing is corrupted, it is not what it ought to be. Thus, we may speak of sin as being a currupting force, making things not what they ought to be, and sin usually consists of acting out of disordered desires (that is, for example, valuing money (an object) more than a person (a subject)). In this way, we might consider sin as missing the mark (that is, a person’s action misses the mark of what the action ought to be; ie, sex is a good thing, but if it is not consensual, we call this rape, and rape “misses the mark” of what sex ought to be, namely, consensual). However, all of this applies specifically to intentional action, which is why ‘chattah’ is translated to ‘sons,’ which means guilty. The universe cannot be said to have intention, and thus cannot be said to be sinful (that is, guilty), nor even in a sinful state. It is in a disordered state, and by no fault of its own, but by our fault, thus the sin is ours.
    To state it more clearly, sin is disordered action, not disordered state. If it were disordered state, then the person who says that simply being a homosexual is a sin is perfectly justified. But this is not correct. States of being are not sinful. Actions are sinful.
    And your definition of sin directly impacts your further claims. CLAIM 4, which states that Jesus became sin, is interpreted (by you) to mean that Jesus became imperfection itself, and then you justify this by quoting Jesus prayer on the Cross, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as if God the Father (Perfection) actually forsook God the Son (imperfection)! This prayer by Jesus is perhaps the most misunderstood and misrepresented quote in all of Scripture. Jesus was actually quoting Psalm 22 here, which begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and ends, “All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” I recommend reading the psalm. It is actually a prayer of hope in God, rather than what it first appears to be, that of despair.
    The statement, “Jesus became sin” has a more historical, than theoretical, basis, and it is tied to Jesus as being the Lamb of Slaughter. There was an old custom practiced by the Hebrews, which took on a new meaning at the Passover in Egypt, and is probably tied to the sacrifice of Abel, and it directly ties into the imagery of Jesus being the Lamb. When there was a sinner (such as an adulterer or a murderer) in a Hebrew village or community, the whole village was said to be guilty (similar to the way all of mankind received the guilt of Adam and Eve’s first sin). To exculpate the village, they would symbolically place the sins of the village onto a goat, or a lamb, and take it out into the wilderness, and tie it to a stake to die. In this way, they offered their sins to God, and they sins were said to die with the animal. There were probably different reasons that it had to be a goat, such as the value that the animal had to the village (a worthless sacrifice could hardly be said to be a sacrifice), as well as the religious significance the animal already had to them (remember that Abel’s sacrifice was found acceptable to God). At the time of the Passover, the Hebrews were commanded to slaughter a lamb, and sprinkle its blood on their doors so the angel of death would pass over them. The significance of this was that, with the slaughtered lamb, the sins of the Hebrews at the time (ie, being subsumed into Egyptian culture and idol worship) could be offered up as atonement. This signified the repentance of those who adhered to this, and they were spared. After the Passover, the sacrifice was made annually, and at the time of Passover, the high priest would symbolically receive the sins of the people, place it on the lamb of sacrifice, and slaughter it as a means of atonement. The idea, taking root in the distant past, being that the sins died with the lamb. That is, the lamb itself came to symbolize the sins of the people. Jesus took this entire system and applied it to Himself. He became the lamb of sacrifice. Thus, he became the sins of the people, offered up to death. This is the meaning of “Jesus became sin.” He accepts the sins that we offer up and place on Him in repentance, and He acts as the sacrifice of atonement for our sakes.
    Whether this has a metaphysical basis, or this is all symbolic, and the symbolic gesture gives it a real power, I don’t know. But I think the discussion of perfection, and imperfection and forsakenness, and the cessation of being, and all of that is a misapplication of what the Scriptures are conveying.
    Your conclusions are in the right place, but I think the steps you take to get there are shaky. Jesus takes all suffering into Himself only if we give it to Him. This is part of repentance. It isn’t just automatically His. And He is able to do this because He is both human and God. Being human allows Him to suffer. Being God allows Him to be at the center of every person, in all times and places, always. Being both allows Him to share in everything that the person experiences. But God only lives at the center of those who allow Him in.

    • ChrisB

      Thank you, Christopher, for this response. I wish it could be bumped up or repeated so that those, particularly but not only the atheists commenting here, would be encouraged to respond. I love Marc’s blog and find it immensely valuable and funny; but not everyone has the same strengths, myself included, and I think your response corrects some of the theological and logical missteps in his argument. Having made poor public arguments myself, I appreciate it when someone sympathetic to my worldview takes the time to correct my statements–as well as when someone who disagrees takes the time to respect me and provide an alternative approach so that we may come to a better understanding.

  • Deven Kale

    Alright, that’s it. I started reading this blog in order to better understand Catholic thought, but I now realize that there is literally no thought to be understood. There is no real thought to be had here at all. There is only empty rationalizations and attempts to make sense of something truly nonsensical, by making up things that make even less sense than what they’re trying to explain.

    I’m sorry Alexandra, I know that helping you out as a dissenting voice was also one of my primary reasons for following and posting on this blog, but I can no longer follow something which literally ties my brain into knots such as this. It literally gives me a headache reading this drivel. Farewell, and I hope you have an easier time trying to find (or more accurately inject) reason in any of this garbage than I have.

    • Cal-J

      You could try reading the actual Catechism of the Church if you want to understand Catholic teaching. This should link you to the Vatican’s online copy.

      • Deven Kale

        When I decide to learn about a religion, it’s not the teachings of the religion that I concern myself with, it’s the results of those teachings. You can only find this by studying its followers and learning the thought processes of said people. This is what I mean by Catholic thought. I don’t care much for the Catechism, to be honest, because it doesn’t really interest me or have much bearing on what it is that I’m trying to learn here. And I’m very disappointed with what I have seen.

        To put it simply: As far as I can tell, Catholic thought is an oxymoron.

  • dave

    claim 1: you bring up leukemia which is cancer of the blood. which stems from cancer in bone marrow. cancer is a result of uncontrolled cell division. it’s not due to sin. it’s a very silly argument, indeed.

    claim 2: the universe is imperfect. this world – indeed this universe – exists in precisely the way one would expect if there was no supernatural power. the only evidence you have is that there exists the suffering of children. 3 choices. 1) there is no god, 2) either god is powerful enough to stop it but won’t (he’s evil), 3) or he’s powerless to stop it (not truly god).

    claim 3: if god was perfect, why create an imperfect universe? why not simply forgive us our sins instead of having us live this life to see if we’re good enough for him? why not abolish evil? why not abolish hell? cannot he not do that?

    that’s all i’ve got patience for.

  • geohump

    Okay, some years back huge tidal wave wiped out thousands of people near Malaysia. Not only did it, (he, God) kill tons of people injured even more and wiped out glitches made orphans out of children, created widows and widowers, and just caused unbelievable amounts of pain and suffering.

    And you’re saying all this happened because the universe is in a state of sin? So universe consciously did something wrong ? I’m sorry I don’t have time to read something written by an idiot, no matter how well it’s written. Come back and try again when you’re not being a total fucking moron

    Oh, and another thing: if you’re reading carefully, you will notice that early on I was deliberately vague about whether I was referring to the tidal wave or to God. This was deliberate and I slid it to God inside a paraentheses . You see God is responsible for everything that happens in his universe. God is to blame for everything bad that happens because it’s God’s will. Everything that happens in the universe happens because God planned it and implemented. The universe does not exist separately of God’s will. It is the construct of God’s will. Trying to claim that the universe exists outside of, and away from, and is not influenced by God’s will, while claiming at the same time that God created the universe is just utterly stupid. This of course brings us to Calvinism. There is no self-determination, and there is no free will if God created the universe and everything in it and set everything in it upon its path. To claim otherwise is to claim that God is not all-knowing in this no idea what the outcomes of his own actions are. Either God knew what he was doing and knew everything that would happen, because he planned in advance, or God never knows what’s going to happen except perhaps in some general terms. You cannot claim God is all-knowing unless you’re willing to give up free will and self determination. They are mutually exclusive under all circumstances. To claim otherwise indicates only that you don’t understand what you’re talking about.

    • Louis Gonzales

      More that we distort the universe with sin/injustice to the point that the build up of sins start to affect people in vastly different ways.

  • Scrappy Mutt

    So… suffering plus narcissism requires god. Unimpressed.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    The secular cannot answer the problem
    of suffering

    What’s to answer? The puzzle is why a loving God allows
    so much suffering in humanity, the reason for his making all of creation. The
    atheist imagines no such god and so has no dilemma to resolve. As for
    suffering, the atheist agrees: that sucks. But nature has no interest in making
    our lives pleasant or pain-free. What’s left unexplained?

    If you’re saying that the atheist hasn’t made up a
    religion as a balm to the pain of the world, that’s true, but is that a bad

    Morality—It’s Really Not that Hard

    • Tom

      No dilemma? If there were no dilemma, why is it that when suffering comes our way we cry out to the cosmos “WHY? Why ought I suffer?”. As Marc said “…suffering is still a problem we naturally want resolved. (If you don’t believe it is, develop leukemia, have a close family member die, and then try being content with not having any answers, meaning, or purpose.)” The secular answer of “that sucks” doesn’t cut it, as the whole of human history will attest to.

      • Rick Jackson

        Just because there’s a history of humanity crying out “WHY?!” when encountering suffering does not mean that it is an answerable question or that people don’t reach for more mundane answers than some sort of massive cosmic meaning.

        Not to mention the quote is a massive strawman. To claim that in the face of adversity that we don’t have our own set of answers, meanings or purposes is patently false and fairly insulting.

        • Tom

          On the contrary, usually when there are certain patterns to human’s real desires, there is something to fulfill them. We desire to be rid or suffering, just as we desire to eat, drink, sleep, have sex, etc. The desire to eat, drink, sleep is met by food, water, sleeping, etc. So too with the desire to be rid of suffering, even if there is no “tangible” fulfillment of that desire.

          • Deven Kale

            Actually, there is a “tangible” fulfillment of that desire. The desire to be rid of suffering is met by death.

          • Christopher Snaith

            That’s a supposition, and certainly not provable.

          • Deven Kale

            It’s not a supposition so much as a position. In fact, it’s a default position. So unless you can prove that suffering continues after death, I find it perfectly logical to keep this position.

          • Christopher Snaith

            One can hold a position, which is at the same time a supposition. Furthermore, a default position may also, at the same time, be a supposition. However, I don’t know if your position is, in fact, the default position, and I’m not sure it can clearly be demonstrated to be so.

          • Deven Kale

            Point taken, one can hold a position which is a supposition. I still hold that it’s a default position though. After all, while one is alive, one will suffer. When one dies, there is no more suffering (without the presupposition of a life after death). In order to prove that suffering continues after death, one must first prove that there is life after death (this has never been done). Only then could suffering after death be considered. Therefore the most logical conclusion based on current evidence, or the default position, would be that the desire to end suffering is met by death.

          • Christopher Snaith

            I suppose this depends on how you define the default position. It, I think, also depends on what you consider acceptable evidence. Many would argue that rational consciousness itself is enough evidence to support the idea of an immortal subject, and that a purely materialistic worldview is an acquired one. One might also argue that, since the vast majority of humans who have ever lived, at least that we know of based on our historical record, have held religious beliefs, which generally include some kind of life after death, that the default position is actually that there is life after death. If that is the case, then the question of suffering after death as a default position becomes less clear, since there is wide variation in what life after death comprises.

          • Deven Kale

            You’re exactly right, it depends greatly on what you consider evidence. While many would argue that rational consciousness is evidence enough, they paradoxically argue that animals which also have rational consciousness (most recently shown in crows) do not have that some immortality. In other words, their arguments for immortality are not logic based, but invariably religious in nature. Otherwise all you have in stating that the majority of people have held religious beliefs is just appealing to wishful thinking, which I don’t think anybody would seriously consider evidence for anything.

            I still hold that my position is the default, and you have yet to prove otherwise.

          • Christopher Snaith

            I read the article you posted, and I’m somewhat puzzled by their conclusions. I don’t really see what a stick moving without an apparent cause has anything to do with… anything. I wouldn’t attribute the abandonment of food search in the second set of events to causal reasoning. The presence of a human is probably an indicator to the crows to the presence of food (more than the absence one anyway). Animals are capable of learning, that is clear. I don’t think this experiment proves causal reasoning though.
            However, if it did, then we would certainly have to admit a new animal intelligence. I would be rather excited by such a prospect. Indeed, if evolutionary theory is correct, then the crow would simply be undergoing the same kind of process that our distant ancestors went through.
            I don’t think many people would argue that other creatures with rational consciousness do not have immortality. I just think that most people would argue that it hasn’t been demonstrated that animals have this.
            Also, I dispute your assertion that immortality arguments, if not logical, are “invariably” religious in nature. Religiosity is beside the point. Humans reason through both logic and intuition. This is clearly demonstrated in modern psychology. The two hemispheres of our brain operate using different parameters. One side is logical, the other is intuitive. The basic difference is that logic uses a sequential set of premises to produce a conclusion, while intuition considers all premises very quickly, but also without a clear understanding of them individually, to arrive at a conclusion. This is why many people often answer to the question, “how do you know?” with the answer, “I don’t know, I just do!”
            This is perhaps one of the deeper answers to why many people who believe in religious tenets very firmly cannot explain themselves very well. They don’t have the clear logical explanation figured out, but they’ve intuitively grasped things that they just know are true.
            Thus, default positions may not be clearly understood, or be held with perfect clarity, yet they are held nonetheless because the person is somehow certain of it. This is a function of the brain, and part of rational thought. It is, however, more prone to error, which is why the logical side of the brain is so important. It can check those tightly held beliefs for error in a clearer manner.
            Non-logic does not equate irrationality. Nor does it equate to wishful thinking. That the majority of humans hold religious beliefs points to an intuitive truth, and because of this, we should expect to see wide disagreement about that truth, since the intuitive part of your brain is more prone to error. Absolutely, people can be wrong, and illogical, and contradictory about what they believe. I wouldn’t be so foolish as to think otherwise. But that the vast majority hold to a fundamental agreement, this indicates an intuitively grasped truth.

          • Deven Kale

            The interesting thing about the crows is that they’re not the first animal species to show an ability to reason in this fashion, nor is it the first time that crows have shown this ability. I wish I had more links readily available but unfortunately I don’t stockpile them. But if you ever have the time I recommend you look into it, it’s a fascinating area of research.

            Back on topic, you’ve definitely made it clear that you and I have very different ideas of what constitutes evidence. Unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to be able to get past that difference in order to have a real conversation here. Your logic seems to me to be plagued with fallacies (appeal to tradition and appeal to popularity, (and ignoring peer pressure, although I don’t think that’s a fallacy) just to name two), but getting you to see them is going to be nearly impossible, I’m afraid. I’m not saying that you’re likely to ignore my explanations since I have little history with you, I just believe that there’s little chance of it from my experience with online debates, especially here on this blog. So in this case, I’m just going to agree to disagree and move on. It was surprisingly pleasant talking with you, considering the venue. ;)

          • Christopher Snaith

            :) Nothing’s impossible ;). Actually, I’m well aware that concensus (whether historical/traditional, or popular) doesn’t make right, or true. We were talking about default position, and I happen to think concensus is a good indicator of that.
            I do enjoy a good debate, and you were happily respectful, where others can very much not be. Thank you for that, and thank you for playing! :)

          • Guest

            @facebook-504008771:disqus @Deven_Kale:disqus As a college student just beginning to ask the big questions, I just want to thank you for your insightful discussion. I learned a few things from your little debate, which is more than I can say for many arguments of this type, in which the disagreeing parties often simply mock one another and have no interest in attempting to understand the other’s perspective. So, anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

          • Sydney

            Christopher and Deven: As a college student just beginning to ask the big questions, I just want to thank you for your insightful discussion. I learned a few things from your little debate, which is more than I can say for many arguments of this type, in which the disagreeing parties often simply mock one another and have no interest in attempting to understand the other’s perspective. So, anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

          • John Alexander Harman

            Sometimes food is available to fulfill the desire to eat; sometimes there is no food, and people go hungry, and perhaps starve to death. Sometimes there is water or other potable liquid to fulfill the desire to drink; sometimes there is not, and people go thirsty and perhaps die of thirst. Sometimes there is a quiet, safe place available to sleep; sometimes there is not, and people suffer sleep deprivation, or collapse from exhaustion, or are killed by predators in the unsafe places where they lie down. Sometimes there is a willing partner with whom to have sex; sometimes there is not, and people do without sex, or commit rape and perhaps (hopefully) are punished for it.

            Sometimes, there is some factor available that can relieve our suffering. I’ve already named some of them — intense hunger, intense thirst, exhaustion, and unfulfilled sexual desire are all experienced as suffering, and can all potentially be assuaged by things that may or may not be available. Sometimes other kinds of suffering can be mitigated by medicine, most of which was developed by relying on methodological naturalism (i.e. the “philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural”), much of it in spite of religious opposition. (Some of that opposition was based on the monstrous idea that alleviating suffering represented an act of defiance against “God’s will.”)

            Grief, mental anguish, depression, and other forms of suffering that exist in the mind may be relieved by therapy or by the company of friends and loved ones. Sometimes, for some people, the suffering that comes from loss of loved ones and fear of one’s own death may be alleviated by believing a comforting lie, but that does not make the lie true. For others, the lie may be impossible to believe, and/or may not appear so comforting. We therefore seek comfort elsewhere — by putting death in perspective, for example, or by substituting the true though uncertain hope of Transhumanism for the certainly false hope of religion.

      • dwomble

        Whether “that sucks” cuts it or not is irrelevant. What matters is whether it’s true.

        In ancient times people concluded the volcano god was angry as the reason for their suffering. That answer “cut it” and gave reason for their suffering but was entirely wrong. Christianity comes up with more convoluted answers that “cut it” and give meaning but are just as wrong.

        • Tom

          Fair enough. The burden then, is to show that there is no meaning to suffering. Marc has given his case, which is garnered from simple experience: “…develop leukemia, have a close family member die, and then try being content with not having any answers, meaning, or purpose.”

          Which is more convoluted? To answer the question? Or to say there is no answer?

          • Deven Kale

            The real problem here, as has been said before, is that “meaning” isn’t defined. There is always a physical reason for suffering. Someone has cancer because there was a random genetic mutation in one or more of their cells which causes uncontrolled cellular mitosis. People have heart attacks because a blood clot gets caught inside one of the veins in their heart muscle, or the muscle itself gets worn out and stops working, etc. But I don’t think “reason” is the type of meaning you’re talking about, even though in most cases that’s what most people mean.

            I think you’re talking about “design.” You want to know where death fits into the overall design of the universe. What part of the design is it where your friend dies of cancer. Who designed your daughter getting hit by a bus. And then the inevitable questions of “Why design their death and not someone else?” But the problem with this is that it’s all based on the presupposition that there is a design at all, and by extension a designer.

            Atheists don’t have this presupposition. We see the world as it is, and recognize that there is no design to it. In fact, from our observations, this is exactly the universe we would expect if there was no designer. If there were, things would make a lot more sense (classic example: the recurrent laryngeal nerve, completely nonsensical from a design perspective, especially in the giraffe). So to us, there need be no design for suffering because we don’t require design for something to make sense. Knowing the reason why somebody suffers is enough. Knowing that somebody is this ill because of cancer satisfies our desire for meaning. If the person overcomes their cancer we’re happy for them, because they are no longer suffering. If they die from the cancer then that death is all the closure we need, and we are still happy for them because they are no longer suffering. If our daughter gets hit by a bus, that’s a bit more difficult to accept, but we still need find no design for it. Most of the time, the reason is quite obviously the driver, and we find our closure for that through law.

            I’ve had many close family members die: A cousin from heart failure (she was barely 12), an uncle in a motorcycle accident, an aunt from suicide, another uncle from an accidental suicide. A group of friends died in a car accident. None of these made me wonder if there was any design in it. To the contrary, it showed me that if there was a designer for any of it, he would be a cruel bastard and not worthy of my time. (And no, I was an atheist well before any of this happened. I am not an atheist out of anger for these deaths, in fact I’m not angry about them at all because I understand what caused them.)

          • TBP100

            Yes, I’m hardly the first person to notice this, but if there is a creator deity, he is either grotesquely incompetent or hideously cruel.

          • John Alexander Harman

            Or, as Mark Twain put it, “If there is a God, he is a malign thug.”

          • Zachariah


            Marc’s answer is arrogant and contemptible. It assume that his opponents do not have the experience of pain and suffering, and so our ideas are invalid. There is no polite answer to this.

            I have suffered, I have experienced suffer, we all have. There is no purpose to it.

          • John Alexander Harman

            Marc’s attempt to answer the question, and every other religious attempt I have encounter, is enormously more convoluted than the simple admission that there is no answer, nor any rule that says there “should” be an answer. Therefore, the burden of proof is on those who assert that there is meaning to suffering; the simplest, and therefore default, answer is that there is not. Whether one is content with that or not is irrelevant; as I said in my direct reply to the original post, the value axes “true-false” and “comforting-depressing” are orthogonal.
            As to what I want to believe, I give you the Litany of Tarski:
            If suffering is meaningful,
            I want to believe that suffering is meaningful.
            If suffering is meaningless,
            I want to believe that suffering is meaningless.
            Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.

      • Zachariah

        I don’t cry out “Why ought I suffer” to the cosmos. That would be pointless, the cosmos doesn’t care about me or my suffering. That is something only a person who believed in a caring universe (i.e. a believer in god) would do. This, my friend, is called a straw man.

        The secular answer of ‘that sucks’ is the best answer we have to date. There is no cosmic purpose or meaning to suffering. That creates a drive to end suffering now as much as possible. It is why we create morphine, and make clean water available. It is why we work to make a fair justice system. There is no cosmic justice, we need to make our own.

        That you don’t like the secular answer doesn’t mean the secular world doesn’t provide one. Making up answers when you don’t like the ones you find is childish.

        • TychaBrahe

          You should try it. Screaming “Why me?” in times of trouble is a huge stress reliever.

          Just don’t expect an answer.


        Who is ‘we’?

  • Brian

    Thank you, Marc. Reading the comments of your readers gives me the image of St. Paul at the aereopagus, and it furthermore makes 1 Corinthians 1 come to life in the blogosphere. “But we preach Christ and him crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

    St. Paul is standing tall with all the saints because of you, my brother.

  • Patricia Anne

    This saying usually ends any debate: “For those who believe, no proof is necessary, for those who don’t believe, no proof is possible”. And so it is with athiests. I am reminded of the late Christopher Hitchens, an angry athiest who could care less about moral and/or semantic arguments – he just hated anything religious, superstitious, or anything invisible for that matter. Remember when you try to use these arguments in discussions with athiests (another angry anti-Christ like Bill Maher), you must conclude that you are ‘casting your pearls’ before a heck of a lot of hateful and angry souls.
    The only flaw I see in the argument is that physical and emotional suffering over loss is really not the issue in this short earthly life, which according to Christian belief, will vanish upon the death of your physical body. No, what the Christian should learn from suffering is that the ultimate suffering is ‘separation from God’ in this life, which is what many people believe Christ suffered at the moment he cried “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me”. I don’t know if it is true or not, but perhaps his sacrifice was not the physical suffering by the separation suffering which he had never before experienced.
    It is this suffering, of a separation from God in this earthly life, that ‘dooms’ us, if that is a good word. The physical and emotional sort of suffering exists to draw us closer to God, if we are believers – as the other saying “there are no athiests in foxholes” makes perfect sense. A prime example of the insignificance of physical suffering can be found in the life and story of St. Bernadette.
    And lastly, since we are not meant to be here on this earth permanently, physical suffering and the suffering over the loss of loved ones in the course of our life most likely dissolve at the death of our body and ego but if you have lived your entire life willfully separated from God, one might conclude that you might have some making up to do?

    • Deven Kale

      as the other saying “there are no athiests in foxholes” makes perfect sense.

      Not quite.

      • Patricia Anne

        Oh. You have been in a foxhole, have you? How about sharing that experience with us.

        • Deven Kale

          You have well over 100 personal accounts of atheists in foxholes on that website. If you’re unwilling to accept those, what reason do I have to think you’d accept one more?

          • PatriciaAnne

            First of all, you must be an Obama supporter because you just avoided answering my question. And secondly, there are not 100 personal accounts of atheists in foxholes on any website. You should get off this soapbox since you appear to making it up as you go. Third, are you Bill Maher masquerading as Devin Kale?

          • Deven Kale

            Okay, since there’s a small chance that you may not have noticed that my “not quite” was actually a link, I’ll link it to you again here as well as writing it out, just to make sure.


            I didn’t avoid your question. I stated, in the form of a rhetorical question, that I saw no point in giving you any account of my life if you’re willing to ignore the accounts of over 100 others.

            Also I’m neither an Obama supporter nor Bill Maher. I’m not even a Bill Maher fan. Very few people fit into stereotypes, especially one as strange as that.

          • PatriciaAnne

            Here is the major flaw in your argument. You cited the website without reading the bios of the alleged atheists in the alleged foxholes:
            For example (and I only listed the few I had time to read as I am too busy to read the entire list – Maybe when I have more time to waste on your useless referenced website. If this is any indication of the website you think I should take seriously – let the readers check it out for themselves):
            1 . Army Major Domingos Robinson
            Specialty: Army Band Officer (yes, that’s the Army Music Corps)
            2, Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Madison Scaccia (Ms.)
            Specialty: Logistics Readiness
            Dates of Service: Aug 2011 – present
            3. Air Force Staff Sergeant Brandon Crilley
            Specialty: Communications and Navigation Systems Technician on the C-5M Super Galaxy
            Dates of Service: 17 June, 2003 to present
            Tours of duty: MacDill AFB 2004 to 2011, Dover AFB 2011 to present
            (never saw a foxhole unless it was at basic training?)
            Oh, and here’s my real favorite military athiest who spent his whole career on a radio on Navy Vessels:
            4. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Larry Bucher
            Specialty: Communications
            Dates of Service: 1952-56, 1958-77
            Decorations: Two Navy Achievement Medals and about eight geographical medals
            Tours of duty: 1952-53 boot camp and a service school. 1953-54 USS Iowa. 1954-55 Naples Italy. 1955-56 London England. 1958-59 another service school (converted me from Teleman to Radioman). 1959-61 NAVCOMMSTA Asmara (Ethiopia). 1962 USS Rhodes. 1963-65 Naples again. 1966 USS Franklin D Roosevelt. 1967-68 NAVSUPPACT Danang. 1969-71 Asmara again. 1971-73 Naval Air Station Dallas TX. 1974-77 COMCRUDESGRU TWO (cruiser-destroyer group, rear admiral’s staff) Newport RI briefly then Charleston SC.
            Although I spent 19 months in-country Vietnam, it was in a relatively safe rear area and I never experienced anything resembling combat, never carried a weapon, and never felt myself in any imminent danger, not even during Tet
            5. Air Force Tech Sergeant Susan Ewin
            Point of Contact
            Specialty: Weather Forecaster
            Dates of Service: Oct 2000 – Present.

          • Deven Kale

            While I did notice that many of them never saw combat, the point is that you said “there are no atheists in foxholes.” While modern combat rarely, if ever, uses foxholes (they’re deathtraps now), the point of the argument is still basically this, “there are no atheists who have seen direct combat.” I read enough of their bios to recognize that there was enough accounts there to show the error of your statement. In fact, even one account is all that’s required to show that there truly are “atheists in foxholes.”

          • Nick

            There’s plenty of such accounts. Loads of atheists serve in the military. And loads of them have been in combat. And are still atheists, and still fighting for freedom from religion in the military.

          • PatriciaAnne

            I thought we were fighting ‘religious fanatics’ to prevent them from taking over the world and trying to convert the human race by threatenting to cut off their heads if they don’t convert? You are wrong: We are not fighting for freedom from religion in the military; we are fighting fanatics who persecute those who choose not to be religious – or their religion.

          • WarriorBanker

            Congratulations on your terrible reading comprehension. I was referring specifically to the ongoing battle by several organizations to get rid of discrimination against atheists, agnostics, and secular people within the military. Between. Military Atheists, a military branch of American Atheists, for Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and the efforts of all those atheists who’ve been in foxholes, there’s a solid pushback against discrimination in the armed forces in the USA.

        • Japooh

          Well, I can’t speak from direct personal experience, but my son went into the military a non-believer, spent two and a half years in Iraq during the worst of the combat, and came out still an atheist. Spent lots of time under fire, and watched and participated in the massive destruction.

          In fact, his experiences in combat served to cement his position as a non-believer – from his perspective, gained in a very “up close and personal” arena, there was nothing BUT evidence of the non-existence of any god whatsoever.

          I realize that this is a second hand account, and thus, possibly completely dismissible for you, but there you have it. My son was an atheist in a foxhole. Now he’s an atheist at a college campus, and his mother sleeps far better at night.

    • idea1013

      First and foremost, the word is ‘atheist.’ Now that that’s out of the way, let’s turn for a moment to your characterization of atheists as “hateful and angry souls.” Not only is this ugly stereotyping, but it shows two dimensional thinking about a group of people that I would be willing to guess you have no meaningful interaction with. Perhaps you should open yourself to people who are not just like you to gain a broader perspective on life and the world around you, if for no other reason than to free yourself from the chains of stereotyping.
      As for the argument presented above, it is in its entirety, flawed. I cannot recall ever seeing so much circular reasoning used in one place, and to make matters worse, the “reasoning” is based wholly on an assumption. While it is easy to understand why people desire suffering to have a purpose, wanting it does not make it so. Recognizing that effectively ends the point of the rest of the article, which hinges on the idea that there is purpose in suffering.

  • Kacy

    This argument doesn’t work at all for any atheist familiar with Catholic philosohpy and theology (as I am). Even Catholics acknowledge that some suffering is completely meaningless, especially the suffering that does nothing to bring one into greater communion with Christ. Since an atheist doesn’t use their suffering to come into greater communion with Christ, it would be meaningless from a Catholic perspective.

    In fact, from an atheist perspective suffering is quite purposeful. I can often find purpose in suffering caused by humans. I
    learn from the way others hurt me, and hopefully, I grow as a person by
    learning to overcome. This isn’t purposeless. Why must you claim that
    suffering is always purposeless for an atheist?

    Even in natural suffering, the sort of suffering that theists find a hard time explaining, an atheist can find purpose. In fact suffering as a result from natural disasters, usually brings about some sort of greater environmental purpose. Forest fires are important for new growth and help revitilize the soil, for example. We can often study natural disasters and the ways people suffer as a result of them and learn ways to provide more timely evacuation notices, for example, or learn better ways to respond to help those who are suffering.

    It’s easy to kick over strawmen. I don’t need a metaphysical purpose to suffering to find ways to create purpose out of suffering to help better humanity.

    • Cal-J

      “Even Catholics acknowledge that some suffering is completely meaningless…”

      Some might. I could just as easily point out that suffering merely indicates the world is flawed and incomplete, and that that indication by definition gives it meaning.

      “Since an atheist doesn’t use their suffering to come into greater communion with Christ, it would be meaningless from a Catholic perspective.”

      In the sense of an explicit conversion, no, perhaps not. But it points out that the atheist now may very well have to account for why the universe is flawed, and how he can *perceive* that. There are many, many degrees of *communion*. Not at all meaningless.

      “Why must you claim that suffering is always purposeless for an atheist?”

      Because an atheist has the burden of explaining why we perceive imperfection. If there is no perfection to be understood, than how can we possibly understand a lack of it? It’s like explaining sight to a person born blind.

      “Even in natural suffering, the sort of suffering that theists find a hard time explaining, an atheist can find purpose.”

      If I may, the purpose you seem to be finding is simply a form of how to use it to your advantage. It has very little way of accounting for the fact of the suffering in the first place.

      Sure, you can learn from suffering. But you still haven’t explained why we suffer at all, unless you’re suggesting we suffer in order to learn from it, which in turn suggests something radically similar to teleology.

  • GOPagan

    You just don’t understand anything about what Atheists really think, do you? None of those arguments would have made the slightest bit of sense to or had any impact on me when I was an unbeliever. They certainly don’t make any argument in favor of Christianity over any other belief, as they are all predicated on the idea that the Biblical account is correct, which is something that most non-believers (Atheist, Pagan, or otherwise) simply don’t accept.

  • jerry lynch

    Read all the comments and this was fun. Let my mind be open to each and was pretty much a pinpong ball going from one to the next. Some very intelligent commentators here as well as good writers. Of course there are always one or two who cannot help but be arrogant and demeaning along with their opinion, yet that adds to the atmosphere of contentious debate. Becomes like a sporting event.
    “We do not see things as they are but as we are.” (Nin) This is a good starting point for any discussion. Even if we claim to have the truth, taken direct from a holy text, how we interpret and apply it is personal. Truth, as such, cannot be defended but only lived to the best of our ability. To paraphrased Francis, preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words. In virtual reality, there is little opportunity to convince by attraction rather than promotion.
    There is no perfection to aim for, no imperfection to note. An ideal is discontent in a priestly robe. An ideal rejects both our uniqueness and the moment. Why do we accept this instrument of suffering? And yes it is possible to find our greatest freedom and deepest joy, the truth of our wholeness, without striving.
    The root of suffering is attachment. Non-attachment ends suffering. Simple, but not easy to accept or realize. It seems we all tend to see “big deals” and “serious stuff” standing in the way of simply letting go.

    • Christopher Snaith

      “The root of suffering is attachment. Non-attachment ends suffering.” I see we have a Buddhist among us. =] Welcome. I think if you take this philosophy to its furthest extent, you would have to admit that to give up all attachments is also to give up love, and I think for most people, that’s a price too high to pay.

      • Jerry lynch

        Non-attachment is not just Buddhist,it is also central to Christian mysticism (as well as other mystic traditions). I would put forth that until you have vastly or completely reduced your attachments, you yet know what true love is. Yet I agree it does seem a logical progression to assume love is then lost.

        Do I know true love? I feel I am better acquainted with it now then before my practice of “placing principles before personalities.”

        For me, losing the labels, such as Buddhist and Christian, is part of the process.

        • Christopher Snaith

          Shedding attachments isn’t necessarily central to Christian mysticism. The idea in Christianity is to have correct priorities. If you have an attachment to something that impedes your relationship with God, that’s a problem. You don’t need to lose the attachment, necessarily, but rather you need to place God first. Human social attachments are very important, and we are encouraged to develop them. Attachments to nature are also good. But there needs to be a proper ordering of things. God before people, people before animals, animals before plants, plants before rocks, money, cars, etc. Too often we put money, cars, rocks (ie, diamonds, gold) before God, even people. And there is practically no love shown to plants these days. I imagine a great deal of people reading this would call me a fool for prioritizing plants before a nice car. But that is the proper order (unless of course you need to car, in order to go to work, in order to earn money, in order to feed your family, in which case getting the car is really about your family, and that’s a proper priority).
          Buddhist thought says attachments, period, are a problem. Get rid of them. This is not at all what Christianty has to say about attachments.

  • Had3

    Why does god allow suffering to continue after death for those in heaven? If my non believing mother isn’t in heaven and I am, do I not suffer? If she is there, then there was no point to my believing as that wasn’t necessary to get to heaven. If I’m not conscious of her, then I am not me. Conversely, if I am the unbeliever, am I not eternally satisfied that my mother is saved? It seems your deity has no long term solution for the suffering he allows to occur.

    • Christopher Snaith

      You’re right, there is no solution. Heaven is a choice. Those who are not there have chosen not to be. God won’t revoke a person’s choice, that’s a violation of their personhood. He also won’t alter your memory to forget them, that would also be a violation. Nobody can change the fact that people make bad choices. A parent will be sad over the terrible life decisions of his drug-addicted son. But you can’t change peoples’ choices. That’s a base fact of life. There is no solution for this.

      • Had3

        Wait, I thought the sacrifice of Christ was a change of people’s poor choices (I.e. sin was now forgiven)? I’m not asking for a fact of life matter, I’m asking about a fact of post life matter. Can I change my mind in heaven and choose to be with my mom? How long do I have to make this choice? Does she have the same choice? If the answer is yes to either of these, then life’s decisions really aren’t permanent. If they are permanent and free will doesn’t exist in heaven, then I am damned to permanent suffering for the loss of my mother. How is this a loving god? How does this heavenly suffering, for eternity, have purpose?

        • Christopher Snaith

          Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, has a really good answer for this, unfortunately I can’t recall the specifics of it, mainly because it’s a very mysterious question. I think the basic of it is that you won’t suffer, because you will have what he referred to as pure active love, and none of the passive love that we have now. He thinks about the love that we experience now, and he breaks it down into two forms, active and passive. He says that it’s the passive kind of love that causes us grief when the ones we love are suffering, while the active kind doesn’t respond this way, but always desires the good for the other. He suspects that in heaven, we will have purely active love, and no passive love. But like I said, it’s a very mysterious question.

          • John Alexander Harman

            That doesn’t excuse handwaving it away with a mysterious answer; the latter is an oxymoron.

          • Christopher Snaith

            Granted, but at this point, it’s about as good as I can give. I simply don’t know exactly. That doesn’t mean other people don’t. Doesn’t mean they do either.

      • John Alexander Harman

        That’s a dishonest argument; nobody looks at the options of heaven and hell, believing them to be actual options, and chooses hell over heaven. Also, you can sometimes persuade people to change their own life choices; God, if he actually does exist, is doing a really lousy job of that.

        • Christopher Snaith

          The choice isn’t heaven or hell. The choice is God or me. Heaven and hell are merely consequences of the choice. Not even rewards or punishments. Just consequences.

          • John Alexander Harman

            No. Real beliefs are not things you can choose. I could choose to pretend that God exists; I could shout “I believe in God!” at the top of my lungs, but I would be lying, and I would know that I was lying even if nobody else did. When I was finished shouting, I would still be aware that I live in a material universe that operates by simple laws without the need for a designer, and contains no evidence I know of suggesting that it was designed, or that its laws can be suspended to suit the goals of some overarching intelligence.

            My choice is not “God or me.” My choice is “face the facts, or attempt to deceive myself.” Given that choice, I choose the way of rationality. Once more, the Litany of Gendlin:

            What is true is already so.
            Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.
            Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.
            And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
            Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.
            People can stand what is true,
            for they are already enduring it.

          • Christopher Snaith

            Hey, that’s a great litany. I really like it.
            “Real beliefs are not things you can choose.” I wasn’t saying the choice was a belief in God. You don’t “get in” to heaven merely by believing in God. You also don’t “go” (I’m putting quotes here because these aren’t very accurate words, but they’re common ways of speaking about it) to hell merely by disbelieving in God. I certainly don’t contend your assertion that real beliefs are not things you can choose. But I simply wasn’t suggesting that. The choice is the relationship.

          • John Alexander Harman

            Fair enough, but I can’t really choose to pursue a relationship with something I’m highly confident does not exist. To attempt that would merely be play-acting, or intentional self-deception at most, which I’m not very good at.

  • Cara Buskmiller

    Death =/= ceasing to exist?

    • John Alexander Harman

      That might be nice (or not, depending on whether there’s a hell), but all the unequivocal evidence points to the conclusion that death = ceasing to exist.

      • Cara Buskmiller

        I was less positing a thesis and more thinking that there is a problem with Marc’s argument. Christians think that death =/= ceasing to exist. But Marc seemed to equate the two when he said
        “If Jesus is God, and God is Perfection, how could Jesus “become sin” — the absence of Perfection — and thus become the absence of God? How could God become the absence of God?
        He could not: He would die. If I were to become the total absence of myself, I would cease to exist.”

        • John Alexander Harman

          Ah, I see. A good point; it does seem as though Marc implicity accepted an atheist (or Jewish, according to at least some Jews’ interpretation of their scriptures) conception of death as non-existence.

          • Cara Buskmiller

            Maybe he meant to, since he was trying to show Christianity to atheists on atheist ground?

          • John Alexander Harman

            That seems unlikely, considering how badly he fails to comprehend atheist thought throughout the rest of the post.

  • Jane Ravenswood

    Amazingly how bad this argument is and how the poster thinks that this will explain anything to an atheist, especially one who was a Christian. To think that some magical being somehow “needs” suffering to accomplish its supposed goals is rather amusing and not any different from the explanations of why other gods need blood sacrifice or punishment of mere mortals. Christianity is just one more primitive religion, its god no different from Zeus, Tezcatlipoca, Thor, etc; all invented by humans. All these apologetics do is try to make the Christian feel like a special snowflake, that as long as they are lucky to live in a first world country, their relative lack of suffering *must* mean they are better than others, who simply suffer because where they had the bad luck to be born and live.

  • Russell Turpin

    This article and subsequent comments confirm that religious faith is exactly what rationalists think it is: people believing something because they desperately want it to be true. And the notion that if it is an innate want, then it must have a solution! Can anyone really think that is anything more than empty rationalization?

    What is puzzling is that the author thinks atheists need yet another demonstration of this. Or that having demonstrated this, atheists would somehow be more sympathetic to faith.

    • Amy

      This article is not an exhaustive explanation of the thoughtfulness of Christianity. It’s a concise view of why the author is Christian, just the tinier-than-an-atom tip of the iceberg of Christian justification for one person. When I look at teachings that explain some of the “convoluted” (as they’ve been called) aspects of our faith, it is not rationalization and far-reaching ideals that come to light: What I’ve found is a profoundly interweaving of reason and faith, something that makes sense while also promoting mystery. To put it simply: The more I study Catholic Christianity–especially those things I disagree with at first–the more it makes sense.

      Before calling empty rationalization, why not ask the questions that arise about Christianity to open believers, and be willing to hear an answer that, although not making you believe, may at least make some sense? I promise we aren’t all crazy, stupid, and irrational.

      • Russell Turpin

        The question isn’t whether it is exhaustive, but whether the argument given is based on reason and evidence, rather than on a desire to believe. Faith works in part by leading people to think that “profoundly interweaving reason and faith” is something other than a lapse in reason.

  • Ryboy


  • Erik

    I have a quick question for some of the responders here. Why do you have a need something for like suffering to have a higher purpose?

    From an atheistic point of view I understand the emotional side to wanting a purpose. I mean if I had a child, or any loved one for that matter, who had some kind of life threatening illness I imagine I would like there to be some spiritual reason for it. But frankly, I would only really want that for selfish reasons and to, more or less, comfort myself in face of something I find unfair. I think at some point that’s just deluding yourself.

    You have got to accept the inevitable at some point and make peace with the fact that unfair things are going to happen. Now, you could move on from there and make such a loss the foundation for your own purpose in life (say a family illness and death could lead you to becoming a doctor or something along those lines). But, that family member didn’t get ill and lose their life simply so you could find a purpose for yourself. If it were, that would simply be cruel to the person who lost their life. Imagine living your life only to have it snuffed out one day just so someone could be a doctor. Why couldn’t you have been the doctor? What made that person so special that they got the purposeful life while you were born to be sacrificed? Why is that fair in the eyes of a loving god?

  • Richard

    Here’s a Hudibrastic verse on woo,

    for superstitious folk like you.

    The Christian’s Jehovah, an Almighty God,

    is a capricious and cantankerous clod;

    and, so far as I can tell,

    the Christian often is as well.

    Confused by dogma, the god-fearing fogey

    can’t fathom the nature of that Bible Bogey.

    Is it a father, his son, and an apotropaic ghost too?

    Well, it should be obvious that’s ridiculous

    Yet Christians claim this god, in its Empyrean

    is omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent and fair,

    but, with the unresolved problem of theodicy,

    their dogma is eristic, Christian idiocy.

    The Jew’s Yahweh, that meshuggeneh, the

    set Jews strict rules on when to work,

    how to dress, and what to sup or sip,

    and giving baby boys the snip.

    The myths of Bronze Age, goat-herding nomads,

    have them, metaphorically, by the gonads.

    The Moslem’s Allah, a fierce great djinn,

    demands under ‘Islam’, literally, ‘Submission’.

    Apostasy is treated just like a crime;

    they’ll threaten to kill you, to keep you in

    and if you dare draw Mohammad in a comic

    there’ll be riots and killings from here to

    Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist,

    Zoroastrian, Baha’i, Mormon, and Scientologist,

    Confucianist, Shintoist, and Taoist too,

    Spiritualist, Wiccan, and the New Ager into woo.

    Yea, verily, those of each and every religion,

    are mired in the miasma of superstition.

    The gods from the Bronze Age up to modern

    and from the Arctic down to tropical climes,

    have inspired theology that’s unsubstantiated

    on what an invisible and silent god’ll

    devise as its inscrutable, eschatological plan,

    but all the gods were made in the image of man.

    So, why should yours be the “One True

    in a magic, phantasmagorical wraith?

    Belief, without evidence, is just plain crazy,

    ignorant, stupid, or thoughtlessly lazy.

    When evolution happens, it’s due to Natural

    so life derives no purpose, at a theistic god’s

    The evidence is we have just this one

    with all its pleasures, challenges, toil, and

    As social beings we evolved our moral

    combatting selfishness, lust, and venality.

    Religion misunderstands, and so invokes the

    while Humanism strives to promote the good and

    I’m justly concerned about your crazy,
    faith-based thinking

    because of religion’s anachronistic, societal

    Aristotle’s eudemonia, (human flourishing),

    with the social engineering that religion

    on societies that should democratically endorse

    rationality-based ethics, mores, and laws.

    But there’s no need for you to blame your

    your religion’s the fault of social memes.

    They invade human minds; self-replicating, they

    but it’s not real issues that they’re likely to resolve,

    so cast them out, that you may be free,

    to revel in your humanity.

    • Abram Boosinger

      Nicely done!

  • antialiasis

    You’re weaseling with the word “sin”. You make three claims about “sin”:

    1. Suffering is caused by sin.
    2. Sin is just imperfection, or things not being the way they ought to be.
    3. The perfect God must allow sin to exist because of free will.

    Statements one and two together simply make a tautology with the general principle that suffering is bad: if suffering is bad, then suffering means something is going wrong, so yes, by the “something not the way it ought to be” definition of sin, yeah, it’s caused by sin.

    But this definition has nothing to do with the definition you’re using in the third statement. In the third statement you’re back to the standard definition of sin, namely immoral actions willfully taken by humans. I can basically agree that yeah, God probably couldn’t stop /that/ kind of sin without eradicating free will – but what on earth is stopping him from eradicating “sin” that has nothing to do with human actions, like in your own example of the old man who wakes up with sore muscles every day? How would it mess with his free will to relieve that suffering?

    Sure, you feel Jesus grants it purpose, but ask the old man and my bet is he’d pick not suffering at all in a heartbeat over being able to say, “Well, at least I’m suffering with Jesus, and it’ll stop when I die.” His suffering /is/ pointless: if God wanted to, and were truly omnipotent, he could fix it if he wanted without harming him in any other fashion.

    All you’re doing is making strange excuses for a God who is obviously failing to live up to the standard of absolute perfection that you hold him to.

    And of course, none of this argues for why Christianity is /true/, only for why it makes you feel better, which is not a reason to believe anything.

  • TBP100

    There is no reason to suppose that anything—let alone everything—has to have a purpose. It is perfectly possible that things simply are. If a deity exists, would it have to have a purpose as well, or couldn’t it just be? If a deity could just be, then so could the universe. I’m not saying this disproves the notion of a deity, but it does make a deity non-mandatory.

  • Zachariah

    Others have also pointed out that suffering, from the secular outlook, is not a problem to be solved. Suffering occurs, it sucks and it has no purpose. In that sense it is injustice which we are compelled to rectify as best we are able by giving reparations to the wrongly imprisoned, medicine for the cancer patient, and so on. But it doesn’t create a fundamental crisis.

    This entire article is based on a false premise.

  • thx1183

    Was this supposed to make sense?

  • RowanVT

    “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.”

    Why does suffering *have* to have a purpose? Why can’t it simply be something sucky that we go through because we are sapient beings and are thus able to dwell on our emotions? Bad things don’t happen for supernatural reasons. People die because the bodies wear out. Tsunamis happen because of physics, as do earthquakes. Illness occurs because of pathogens and pathogens happen because evolution. It simply sucks. No sky fairies involved.

    • Nerdiah

      Isn’t that what the Buddhists say: “life is suffering”? There is no purpose behind it, it just is.

      Though obviously to the human mind that is deeply unsatisfying, and so maybe that’s why we create religions to deal with that.

      • RowanVT

        That makes religion sound extra childish, like a little kid going “NuhUH, I want the sky to be green, so it’s green!”

        • Deven Kale

          Sounds pretty apt.

        • Nerdiah

          It does seem childish at first glance; my 4 yr old often argues by simply reasserting what he wants to be true, usually in an increasingly louder voice :-) However I also feel there’s something tragically beautiful about it as well, that humans are so deeply driven to be kind and purposeful that some of us might simply go mad at the knowledge that the universe might not reflect that.

          I can feel sympathetic towards that. Or at least, I can until those religions start committing the very evils that provoked the need for them in the first place.

          • Zaire Adams

            Question: have you read the Church Fathers or serious discussions on Christianity? It is far deeper than childish tantrums.

          • Nerdiah

            Did you read what I wrote above? It was far deeper than disregarding it all as childish.

    • Stephen John

      The fundamental point is that without God life does not have meaning. We do not know Dickens by his books, nor do we know our friends as they are by the contact we have with them. There is a first person singular perspective- animas (latin) or soul- from which we see the world and through which we give meaning to all things. Without God, who is the observer of our life and the repository of our existence, the meaning we give to all things would ultimately be futile; it would be a negation. Either one accepts God or one accepts “the unbearable lightness of being”; that is, that life is a negation, meaningless. Of course if someone were to respond to this post attempting to contradict this point, they would be ascribing meaning to their life through their intention and action, ultimately giving support to thesis that each moment has an indelible meaning which of necessity has its source and origin in God. In seeking truth they recognise the existance of Truth.

  • Vad

    This argument was outside of my (among other things, atheistic) paradigm. Most importantly, I don’t see the universe existing in terms of perfection/imperfection. To me, those categories belong to the realm of subjective experience and evaluation, not ontology. I can’t get from “this misses the mark of how I *wanted* things to be” to “there is something ontologically wrong with this.” Also, I don’t think suffering must necessarily have a teleological purpose, so the “problem” you address is not a problem for me. Saying suffering must have a answer is as nonsensical to me as saying the sky must have an answer.

  • mudpuddles

    Sooo…. much…. faaaiillll….

  • Guest


  • Angélica Marie Mijares

    Proof that religion is completely man-made.

  • JimmyBoy

    “To see the child with leukemia is to see Christ suffering in that child, suffering to bring the world back to Perfection. ”
    Funny you mention this. It was seeing my baby boy with leukaemia that caused me finally to be brave and admit that actually my Catholic faith was dead. That I’d been a member of a lying, mysoginist, evil, controlling, cowardly, child abusing, poverty causing (I could go on) cult all of my life.
    So I quit. And boy did I feel better. Suddenly I’d opened my eyes for the first time. What a liberation.
    I don’t want to piss on your parade or anything but to see your christ in a Leukaemic child is truly sick. I don’t suppose you will, but try to get over it, eh?

    • Zaire Adams

      Question: are you going to stop using schools and various other public institutions for their lying, evil, controlling, cowardly, child abusing, and poverty causing ways? Statistically speaking, it is far more likely for a student to be abused in a public school than by a priest (who STUPIDLY took vows that mean something). Not to mention that most children are abused by FAMILY MEMBERS. This isn’t to say that the Church has not done these things or behaved in that way before, but what the Church preaches is about humans getting better, becoming more than they have been.
      BTW, as a person who has been poor for quite some time, the Church does not cause poverty. That’s just silly talk. There are many factors, such as having a father who buys things he does not need or gambles away the money, or just having an impoverished mentality which leads you not to reach higher. In actuality, the Church tends to alleviate the problems of poverty in various ways (you know, the whole blessed are the poor, people are all created in the image of God, and giving alms thing).
      That said, people in general do all of those things (those sins or something like them) everyday. Are you going to check out of humanity? Honestly, we’ve all been a part of a lying, mysoginistic/mysandrinistic (not sure if I spelled that correctly…oh, well. thugs don’t spell), child abusing, controlling, and poverty causing (I could go on) SPECIES our entire lives.
      All that means it isn’t the Church that is the problem. We were already the problem and the Church is really the only religion that pins a lot of our suffering and issues on US and no one else. The Church (and judaism) say that we have fallen short. Something is not right. This does not excuse the Church from the sins committed within it or by its members, but it also doesn’t negate what they are actually teaching.
      Finally, I regret that you had to suffer the way you did. I don’t know the specific results regarding your son, but I am sorry that it happened. It is terrible.

      • Deven Kale

        Statistically speaking, it is far more likely for a student to be abused
        in a public school than by a priest. Not to mention that most children are abused by FAMILY

        First, cite your source. Second, nobody is saying that abuse doesn’t happen in schools, or in homes. The reason that people have such a problem with the Catholic church and child sexual abuse is that the church itself, by edict from the Pope, hides the guilty priests and tries to pretend it didn’t happen. They even go so far as to convince the child it’s their own fault and that they’ll be punished if they ever tell anybody else, and this is after the child has told somebody who really should be helping them. By contrast, in the vast majority of cases once a child reports some sort of abuse happening at school or at home to any other authority figure it is dealt with swiftly and in a way to cause the least long-term trauma to the child.

        The Church tends to alleviate the problems of poverty in various ways
        (you know, the whole blessed are the poor, people are all created in the
        image of God, and giving alms thing).

        This is only true of the very poor. If you’re moderately poor, but still able to pay your own bills (regardless of how much you have after that), then they don’t help you much at all and still expect you to give them 1/10 of your gross income. At least the government stops taxing your income when you’re in that limbo between broke and solvent, but churches won’t even go that far.

        That said, people in general do all of those things everyday. Are you going to check out of humanity?
        Honestly, we’ve all been a part of a lying, misogynistic/[misandristic],
        child abusing, controlling, and poverty causing SPECIES
        our entire lives. All that means it isn’t the Church that is the problem

        No the church didn’t cause the problems, but as I said before they try to hide those who commit the worst of those problems. They also continue to preach misogyny, oppression of those who are different, and the illogical idea that giving them money will magically make you less poor. Until that stops everybody is going to be rightly calling them out for it.

        • Zaire Adams

          as a person who is moderately poor most of the time, I don’t think this is true. in fact, i’d be homeless otherwise.

          Here are some of the articles I referenced:

          “First, cite your source. Second, nobody is saying that abuse doesn’t happen in schools, or in homes. The reason that people have such a problem with the Catholic church and child sexual abuse is that the church itself, by edict from the Pope, hides the guilty priests and tries to pretend it didn’t happen. They even go so far as to convince the child it’s their own fault and that they’ll be punished if they ever tell anybody else, and this is after the child has told somebody who really should be helping them. By contrast, in the vast majority of cases once a child reports some sort of abuse happening at school or at home to any other authority figure it is dealt with swiftly and in a way to cause the least long-term trauma to the child.”

          The above link shows where I got that from. Marc’s addressed it here as well (on another post obviously). I believe recently a priest was arrested on charges (and that it has happen a few times) and I’m fairly sure the Pope is not covering it up. I have to find the source again, but he has repeatedly spoken to the victims and claimed that part of the problem is our society and the priests not living their Christian lives properly etc. In any case, the Pope is definitely not pretending it didn’t happen.
          Anyway, that does not mean that there were not priests who covered it up worried about power. I, in no way, have denied that. You’re missing the point. The point is: certain people doing terrible things does not mean the Church is preaching anything less true or believable. Just as certain teacher’s doing terrible things does not mean that every single school is a terrible place and teaches horrible things. That was the point of what I was saying. Please site your sources and show me this edict.
          Btw. it was more than likely the actual molestors who made the child feel as though it is there fault etc. (though children can do that themselves. abused children try to rationalize and that’s one unfortunate way it happens). If you’re busy covering something up for another priest (through transfer or whatever) then you’re not likely to meet the apparent victims. That’s actually a hallmark of a molestor that helps them get away with it. Guilting the child etc.
          Also, define swiftly? I mean we have mary kay letorneau (who ended up marrying her victim) and this other blonde lady. All offenders of this sort would push the child not to tell whatever way they could and that can work for who knows how long.
          My other point is that people tend to try and paint the ENTIRE Church as doing such things and blame it on celibacy while forgetting that people who are not celibate do it, close family members are more likely (think about it, you have to pick and choose your spots way more when you are not part of the family), and the incidences have been no higher than anywhere else.
          The Church does not preach misogyny nor oppression of those who are different. It also does not preach that giving them money will make you less poor physically. There might be some “churches” who do, but the Church does not. Sidenote: the whole tithing thing is technically Old Testament Law that didn’t necessarily have to carry over, if I recall correctly. As a former protestant, I had a spat with my minister father over the matter when I didn’t feel the need to do it and just gave what I could. There is more than one kind of poverty. I’ve been poor my whole life, but that means little if I approach it the right way. not everyone is going to have everything we want and that is perfectly acceptable. There have been members of the Church who did hide such people, I admit that. But, again, that has little to do with what is actually preached. Have you read the catechism or an explanation of it? People behaving one way does not reflect the teaching. Also, please see Marc’s post on WHY people give to the Church. It isn’t coercion. It is something else entirely.
          I don’t get where you can say that the Church helps only the SUPER POOR. That makes no sense. If you need help, you need help. Cite sources?

          • Deven Kale

            as a person who is moderately poor most of the time, I don’t think this is true. in fact, i’d be homeless otherwise.

            If you’d be homeless without help, then you’re a bit more than moderately poor. I’d say that’s more proof of my point than yours.

            As a former protestant, I had a spat with my minister father over the matter when I didn’t feel the need to do it and just gave what I could.

            You show your arrogance here, in that you believe you know your theology better than a minister, whose entire purpose and career is to understand and preach the gospel to the masses. The fact that you’re related to them makes no difference.

            does not preach that giving them money will make you less poor physically.

            You may be right here, I’m not sure exactly what the official position of the Catholic church is on tithing and the like. I was probably confusing it with LDS teachings.

            The above link shows where I got that from. Marc’s addressed it here as well (on another post obviously). I believe recently a priest was arrested on charges (and that it has happen a few times) and I’m fairly sure the Pope is not covering it up.

            Your link is broken, and Marc has made numerous deceptive and/or outright false claims in a number of his posts, which is just one of the reasons why I no longer follow his new posts (but I am still subscribed to comments on past posts), so you still have no valid source. I’m also not saying that arrests never happen, although I can say with very high confidence that those arrests are always as a result of the victim coming forward to an authority outside of the church. As for my claim that the pope is responsible for the systematic cover-up of child sex abuse within the church: read this. I’m sure there are better sources but I’m tired of looking for the perfect one.

            Also, define swiftly[.]

            Fixed your grammar there. You’re welcome.

            Swiftly as in: statements are taken, arrests are made, and charges are filed within days or, at most, a few weeks.

            My other point is that people tend to try and paint the ENTIRE Church as doing such things and blame it on celibacy while forgetting that people who are not celibate do it, close family members are more likely (think about it, you have to pick and choose your spots way more when you are not part of the family), and the incidences have been no higher than anywhere else.

            Again, the problem has nothing to do with how often it happens, how likely it is to happen, or how much more it happens anywhere else. I don’t care whether the cause is celibacy or mental illness. The problem is the systematic cover-up perpetrated over decades at every level and orchestrated by Pope rat-man himself, with little reason to believe he’s changed those policies. How much more clear do I have to be before you’ll get that point, and realize that I understand your point but don’t believe it’s applicable here?

            The Church does not preach misogyny nor oppression of those who are different.

            The church preaches that women are meant for only two things, bearing children and keeping house, and if they have any other dreams or desires then they are being sinful in their hearts by going against their purpose. That’s misogyny in my book.

            It also preaches that people who are attracted to other people who are of their same sex are second-class citizens in that they are not allowed the same rights to those whom they love that opposite-sex attracted people are. That’s oppression of those who are different.

            It doesn’t matter how it’s spun, or by whom, the conclusions are still the same: The church preaches misogyny and oppression of those who are different, and it only takes two simple examples to show it.

          • Anonymous for Now

            Dear Sir or Madam,

            I take issue with your all of your arguments, but I am only able to respond to those regarding Church “misogyny” and “oppression of those who are different”. The issue of “systematic cover-up” of clerical child abuse is too large for me to effectively research and address, although I nonetheless disagree wholeheartedly with your opinion.
            In regard to Church “misogyny”: you say that “The church preaches that women are meant for only two things, bearing children and keeping house, and if they have any other dreams or desires then they are being sinful in their hearts by going against their purpose.”
            This is entirely untrue. If you think that this is supported by the Bible, remember that that book should be read both in the context of modern times and in the context of the times in which it was written. In those times, women generally did not have any legal rights; they were almost always considered their husband’s property. (This is a foolish idea nowadays, considering the modern equality of women with men.) In addition, because women had no rights of their own, unscrupulous people were more likely to take advantage of them. One reason women were supposed to stay in the home and inferior to their husbands/fathers/brothers was so that the latter could protect them from the aforementioned unscrupulous others.
            If you think that this is upheld by actual Church teaching, then I challenge you to find a document, doctrine, or some other relatively undisputed source that supports you opinion.
            If your viewpoint springs from another source, please expound upon it.
            In regard to Church “oppression…different”, you say: “It also preaches that people who are attracted to other people who are of their same sex are second-class citizens in that they are not allowed the same rights to those whom they love that opposite-sex attracted people are.”
            This is also untrue. The Church does not even teach that homosexually inclined people are necessarily sinners, let alone “second-class citizens”. The Church teaches that the act of homosexual intercourse is sinful; it does not teach that the inclination is so. (There is direct evidence for this in the Bible: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22) This is the clearest evidence I can find to prove my point; if you do not respect the Bible, I will try to convince you by other arguments.)
            If you take issue with the fact that gay marriage is not permitted in or through the Catholic Church (“…not allowed the same rights to those whom they love…”), I refer you again to Leviticus 18:22; if such a thing is an abomination, certainly it should not be allowed to defile the sanctity of marriage. If a homosexual couple wish to marry, it is perfectly legal for them to go before a justice of the peace. It is also perfectly legal for the Catholic Church to refuse to witness to such a “marriage”, and to oppose it and the idea behind it in belief, speech, and the press. The Church does not deny homosexual people the “right”, as they see it, to marry; it simply refuses to validate a belief that contradicts its fundamental values.
            In conclusion, I reaffirm my staunch opposition to your viewpoint. I hope that the points and evidence I have provided are sufficient, in your eyes, to support my own.
            A Catholic

          • Deven Kale

            In regard to Church “misogyny”: you say that “The church preaches that
            women are meant for only two things, bearing children and keeping house,
            and if they have any other dreams or desires then they are being sinful
            in their hearts by going against their purpose.” This is entirely untrue.

            This is something which I inferred based upon the treatment women who go against those two tenets tend to receive by those who are the most fervent members of your faith. If it’s not the case that women are taught to be little more than this, then Catholics have a very strange problem in that many of their most fervent members are going against their own teachings.

            If a homosexual couple wish to marry, it is perfectly legal for them to go before a justice of the peace.

            It is very much not legal for two people of the same sex who love each other to marry in the vast majority of US states. This is entirely at the behest of the leaders of many churches, including the Catholic church. To state that it’s perfectly legal for a homosexual couple to marry is either you being willfully ignorant, deliberately deceptive, or telling an outright lie. Either way, shame on you.

  • mbafromharvard

    As usual, there’s not an ounce of reasonable logic in this essay on why Christians practice their religion. No surprise there. The bible is full of logical fallacies, many of which have long since been proved false.

  • Paul

    What a pile of sanctimonious drivel. There was and is no christ.

  • Walton

    Suffering is the result of sin. If you are an atheist,
    freaketh not, for we know this on a purely experiential level. When we
    sin against others — when we steal from them, malign their names, or
    harm their bodies — we cause them suffering. When we sin against our
    nature — when we isolate ourselves, or demean our bodies — we cause our selves suffering. Suffering is the result of sin.

    Except that this isn’t always true. Sometimes people suffer for reasons which are outside their or anyone else’s control – freak accidents, natural disasters, untreatable diseases. No one’s “sin” causes a child of five to die painfully from leukaemia. No one’s “sin” causes a family’s home to be destroyed in a hurricane. These things are the result of nature and ill-chance, not wrongdoing – yet they cause very great suffering to their victims.

    As Sir David Attenborough put it, “[W]hen Creationists talk about God creating every individual
    species as a separate act, they always [think of] hummingbirds, or
    orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of
    a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the
    bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him
    blind. And [I ask them], ‘Are you telling me that the God you believe
    in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of
    us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live
    in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that
    doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy.”

    I am, strictly, an agnostic: I cannot rule out the possibility of God. But I am convinced in my mind that orthodox Christianity is false, because I cannot believe that a benevolent God exists. Such a being is incompatible with reality, as I perceive it. This is the Epicurean dilemma, and it plagues us still.

    • John Alexander Harman

      Evolution actually does function something like a God — it’s just that the God it resembles isn’t YHWH. It’s Azathoth.

  • RevJim Bob

    “As the universe is imperfect, God is perfect, the
    fullness of Perfection itself. This is first of all a simple matter of
    definition. If you have in your mind an imperfect God, then he is not
    Why not? Why does a creator have to be perfect? Why does a god have to be perfect?

  • JimmyBoy

    You seem to be deleting perfectly valid comments. Please just disable comments if you don’t want them: deleting them is a waste of our time. And is a bit dishonest – not that I suppose you care?

    • John Alexander Harman

      I don’t think the Bad Catholic is deleting comments, Jimmy; it’s that the default comment display on his blog is to put the comments with the most upvotes first. If you’re reading it in that mode, new comments which haven’t had time to collect upvotes appear down at the bottom, behind several clicks of the “Load More Comments” button. Go to the top of the comments list and select “Newest First” from the “Discussion” menu and you’ll probably see the ones that seem to have been deleted.

  • Kevin_K

    Stop! First sentence massive and total failure.

    There is no “purpose” to suffering. You trying to impose one is pure unadulterated bull-hockey. You’re just trying to place yourself at the center of the universe that in actuality is completely and totally indifferent to you, your “suffering”, and indeed to your very existence.

    Get over yourself. You’re not that important.

  • Guest

    Hmm. Doesn’t really work. God could become sin in the manner of a Philip K Dick novel — with a total change in appearance via advanced plastic surgery followed by a total personality change. Yes, the hypothetical individual would effectively have no trace of what they were before. You could even say the original died. But this merely means that the new paradigm lives. To say that God became sin AND died is an attempt to force a double negative into the place where you need a single negative.

    But it’s all trite wordplay, anyway.

  • PatriciaAnne

    I would like to add that my earlier contribution about the subject of suffering got sidetracked into explaining the statement ‘no athiest(s) in foxholes’ when that was never the issue. It is my belief that the practice of atheism is avenged by its’ success and that they are generally not here to be ‘converted’ (and anyway, conversion comes from the inside out, not the outside in), and so to the author I was saying “don’t waste your time”.
    Back to the real point of my post:
    The work of Jesus on the cross is to take away the sin of the world. The theory I was discussing in an earlier post is very common in Christian Philosophy and in many writings by famed Christian Theologians: That is, when Jesus ‘took away the sins of the world’, the cost of that to Christ was relational separation from God. This was to say that true suffering is separation from God, not physical pain.
    Many people have theorized that we are not separated from God by sin, but rather ‘what is sin but separation from God”, and the Bhagavad Gita says “what is hell, but separation from God”.
    It makes perfect sense to me. But then each person writing here is writing based upon their own love/belief system and therefore no one should be trusted to know the truth, otherwise they would not be wasting their time arguing with people who know even less than they do.
    I don’t mind if that includes me.

  • Albedo

    There is pretty much one single explanation as to why you (or anyone else) believe that would not freak me out:
    “I recognize the religious beliefs I hold are indefensible on pretty much any and all levels, but I still hold them because they give me comfort/hope/whatever good feeling them may grant, and at the same time do not inform my decision making nor the way I treat others”.
    Anything else is going to be a rationalization chuck-filled with butchered logic and inane philosophy at best.

  • Konrad Zielinski

    Claim 1 is not actually supported able. As not all suffering is caused by human agency. The Leuikemia you mentioned previously is not. And neither are a host of diseases or naturual disasters of various kinds.

    Claim 2 is meaningless when Claim 1 is rejected. I accept that the universe has uniform laws but the presenece of sin is not one of them.

    Claim 3 appears to be the ontological argument stated in a weak and round about way. But just because we can conceave of something it does not follow that it must exist.

    Claim 4. The answer Christianity gives is not at all credible. And the claim that there is no secular answer is false. In human terms suffering exists as a byproduct of evolution. Experiencing pain is biologically useful as a prompt to fight or flight.

    Claim 5 & 6. is really meaningless as this point. Being unable to convince me that there is a god the idea of gods death and resurrection is really neither here nor there. Also it is not at all unique to Christianity resurrected gods are a feature of religion that predates Christianity by a long way. Indeed pretty well every society that existed far enough from the equator to experience winter and spring has some idea of a a deity that dies and is reborn.

    So this article utterly failed to convince me, as none of its claims are actually supported.

  • Chris

    What an awful attempt at justifying pure crazy. If this planet and its people are the creation of a god then I want nothing to do with him. A planet so badly constructed that it is mostly not suitable for human habitation and which, at random, kills off tens of thousands of innocent people as in the Japanese tsunami.

    The whole story of Christ “suffering” is BS. Hang around on the cross for a bit and then got his life back. No harm done – what a silly allegory.

    • Cricket

      Yeah, no harm done. They only flogged him so that – in the words of a Roman historian – his muscles and insides were laid bare, then made him carry his cross to his execution site while blood streamed down his back and beat him when he fell, then drove nails through his wrists and ankles and set the cross up, leaving him, struggling just to breathe, to slowly perish under the roasting stare of the sun. Crucification was only one of the cruellest torture and execution methods the Romans devised, one that they would ban later. Not to mention the spiritual suffering of Jesus, which eclipsed the physical agony. He, who had always had a perfect relationship with God (being sinless), took upon himself the sins of the world and so a barrier appeared between him and his father. This is why he cried out about his father forsaking him.

  • ImRike

    I read the first few sentences of the blog and then the first 5 or 6 comments and as an ex-catholic, I must say that the comments definitely make more sense than the blog. I can only feel sorry for anybody who has to “reason” their religious beliefs like you do. Goodness, there is so much beauty and happiness in my life and now you want me to believe there is a god because there has to be “someone” who wants me to suffer? No, thanks! I can’t even say “been there, done that”, since certainly if that would have been the reason for my youthful beliefs, I would have dropped them sooner!

  • JimmyBoy

    This is just all so bad…reading again it really is dreadful. It is ithe arrogance of the false assertions which hits me most forcefully. And that’s just what the religious do all the time. Today, thankfully, we can challenge that and point out how bad they are – and mostly we don’t get killed for it. That’s nice, eh?
    “(If you don’t believe it is, develop leukemia, have a close family member die, and then try being content with not having any answers, meaning, or purpose.)”
    Where does one start with this? It’s just wrong at so many levels. Does that fact that one might want answers, meaning, purpose mean that they exist?
    How about also just accepting that many in that situation fully recognise that there are no answers, meaning or purpose of the kind you mean. And therefore are content that they don’t exist. Now you have some new information, I’m sure you won’t make this assertion again then.

  • Mara

    People. Marc did not set out to PROVE Christianity or PROVE God. He is explaining to us a bit about “Why I am a Christian.” It’s a portion of his thoughts behind his religion. Atheists can disagree all they want with him, but they can’t say that his convictions aren’t well thought out or nonsensical. You don’t need to insult somebody just because you think that they are wrong.

    • RowanVT

      But the opening premise is NOT well thought out.

      “Atheism doesn’t give meaning to suffering, therefore christianity.” Why does suffering HAVE to have a supernatural meaning?

    • John Alexander Harman

      Atheists can disagree all they want with him, but they can’t say that his convictions aren’t well thought out or nonsensical.
      Of course we can. There’s nothing illegitimate about reading Marc’s argument, and then saying, “I’m sorry but I find your argument to be poorly thought out, and its conclusion nonsensical.” That’s a reasonable, sober judgement of the argument, not a mere insult. Of course, it’s good, when expressing such a judgement, to elaborate on how the argument fails and why the conclusion is nonsensical, which is what many of the commenters here are doing.

    • JimmyBoy

      But it’s appallingly irrational. And patronising. And arrogant. And pretty offensive in places… And thanks for shouting at us, as you whine about insults. It does so help us stupid atheists when you shout. We understand better that way.
      So we really can say his convictions are not well thought out. And they are definitely nonsensical. Being full of logical fallacies, they do not bear scrutiny or challenge. Did you spot that at all?

  • Starfia

    Protip: generally you don’t want to follow this title with a super-realistic photograph of the spikiest possible interpretation of the Christian death-hat.

  • John Alexander Harman

    Any philosophy that
    claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to

    Only if you define “purpose” in a
    teleological sense that has nothing to do with material reality – i.e. a
    supernatural sense (so your statement is a tautology). Our materialistic philosophy does a fine job
    of explaining why living organisms with complex nervous
    systems experience pain and suffering – it’s just that explanation doesn’t make
    us feel better. However, whether an
    explanation makes us feel better or not has no bearing on whether it’s true or
    not; the value axes “true-false” and “comforting-depressing” are orthogonal to
    one another.

    1: you demonstrate that some suffering results from sin,
    then equivocate to claim that all suffering results from
    sin. The equivocation fatally undermines your argument.

    2: more equivocation, this time between sin as “wrong action by humans” to sin
    as “the inherent imperfection of the universe.”
    Further, you assume without justification that the universe
    should conform to some human standard of “perfection.” Neither I nor any atheist I know of asserts
    your straw “objection 1,” that “the world is perfect, but
    we apply our human standard of perfection upon the world.” Rather, we hold that there is no reason to
    expect the world to meet our human standard of
    perfection. (Or any other standard of
    perfection. There are as many “human
    standards of perfection” as there are humans, and if there
    are other sapient beings in the universe they probably have their own
    standards, which might be almost
    inconceivably divergent from our own

    important observation is not so much that the universe is imperfect, as that
    the universe is indifferent to our value judgments. You talk of the universe “missing the mark,” but
    you don’t appear to question the incredible hubris of thinking that we humans
    can establish a “mark” for which the universe should be held responsible.

    3: Aquinas was simply wrong in assuming that comparative qualifiers necessitate
    a maximum that actually exists. When I
    say that snow is colder than a living human’s blood, I’m not comparing either
    of them to absolute zero, nor to some imaginary maximum temperature; the
    relative temperature (i.e. speed of molecular motion) in the two materials is
    sufficient to say one is hotter and one is colder than the other without any
    external reference.

    attempt to answer objection 2 merely posits your God as a malignant
    narcissist, who values his enjoyment of our freely chosen worship over our
    desire (according to you) for perfection, understood as freedom from suffering.

    4: since you have actually failed to establish that there
    should be an “answer to the problem of suffering,” we should
    not in fact listen attentively to bizarre claims that
    purport to furnish such a superfluous answer.
    Past this point, you’re simply engaging in empty rhetoric based on
    nebulous concepts of “perfection,” “sin,” and “suffering” for which you
    equivocate between various implied definitions.
    You also attempt to use formal logic without appearing to notice that a
    paradox in the conclusion of a logical argument demonstrates that one of the
    premises leading to the paradox must be false.

    atheism has its ultimate source in Jesus Christ then, for by his death he
    negated the existence of God.

    just plain silly. Atheism is the
    recognition that the existence of a god or gods is not and should not be the
    default assumption, and that evidence for the existence of such entities is
    entirely lacking. Occam’s razor,
    especially in its more elegant modern formulation as Solomonoff
    slices the whole idea of deities to ribbons, and one doesn’t
    need to have ever heard of Christ, Christianity, Judaism, etc. for that to be
    the case. There’s no need for some
    specific, unlikely, paradoxical (according to your premises) event to “negate
    the existence” of a being that never did exist in the first place.

    leave you to ponder the Litanies of Tarski
    and Gendlin:

    If God exists,

    I desire to believe that God exists;

    If God does not exist,

    I desire to believe that God does not exist;

    Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.

    What is true is already so.

    Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.

    Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.

    And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.

    Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.

    People can stand what is true,

    for they are already enduring it.

  • rustywheeler

    “Any philosophy that claims that there exists nothing supernatural cannot grant purpose to suffering.”

    It is entirely plausible that there is no ‘purpose’ to suffering other than to signal danger, which is useful even in a purely material worldview.

    “Suffering is the result of sin.”

    Protestations aside, this IS, in fact, an explicitly religious claim, and an explicitly religious concept. Sin = that which is anathema to God. Without God, there is no ‘sin’, only morality.

    “The universe is imperfect / God is perfect”

    Perfection is a human abstraction, and there is no good reason to believe that something ‘perfect’ exists. How did a perfect God extrude an imperfect Universe? And why? This is not evidence of His love; free will does not prevent us from making decisions even when armed with Truth, the whole Truth, and NOTHING BUT the Truth.

    “To be imperfect is to “miss the mark” of perfection. To be in a state of missing the mark is to be in a sinful state. The universe is therefore in a sinful state. As we’ve established, suffering is the natural result of sin. Thus suffering is inherent to our sinful universe.”

    You’re simply defining your way to your conclusion here. A sound tautology, but a tautology nonetheless.

    I concur with other responders here: your target audience is yourself, and you’ve done a bang-up job of persuading your target audience.

  • Salvatore Rappoccio

    Catholicism is factually untrue, in general. It simply is contradicted by observable evidence. Christianity in general follows much the same disproofs from the usual apologetics. I have written at length about this in my blog:

    Usually apologetics fail to grasp a fundamental point: regardless of whether or not humans COULD sin, the conditions which we were allegedly created in are stacked IN FAVOR of sin to begin with. However, it seems that Marc here won’t exactly go that route, and simply acknowledges the fact that the universe is not a nice place to live overall, but that this is how it HAS to be because, of course, God is perfect:

    “We are allowed to sin — and thus to suffer — because God loves us. If we
    could not refuse him, the fullness of perfection, we would be
    puppets attached to his celestial fingers. We could not not
    love God. But love, to be love, must be freely given. Perfection is
    meaningless if we have not the choice of imperfection. We are granted,
    in love, the opportunity to sin.)… [I] beg the atheist to read this and understand that, if there is a Christ, then suffering is granted meaning, and then decide from there whether there in fact is a God, a Christ, etc.”

    Yeah, that little wrap of “logic” is baffling to me, but let’s assume it’s true for the sake of argument.

    Well, this isn’t really a fair state of things, is it? Apparently, according to Marc, we’re expected to follow some bizarre rules based on books written by some neolithic tribe in ancient Palestine when this “Perfect” creator finally decided, hundreds of thousands of years after humans started existing, to make himself known by dying, resurrecting, leaving zero evidence, and then having his followers write this story down decades or centuries after he actually lived. Not only that, apparently this was supposed to make things better for the 99% of humans who lived BEFORE he allegedly died, because he lives outside of time.

    Firstly, this is actually entirely against Catholic doctrine. It’s not the case that the universe was supposed to be imperfect even BEFORE humans existed. That’s a central tenant of the dogma. It cannot be wrong, according to them, because it is the raison d’etre of Jesus. However, even assuming Marc is right and the Catholics (which he may or may not be a part of) are all wrong, I’m with George Carlin on this one:

    “This is the kind of shit you’d expect from an office temp with a bad attitude.”

    or perhaps Epicurus:

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

    Then he is not omnipotent.

    Is he able, but not willing?

    Then he is malevolent.

    Is he both able and willing?

    Then whence cometh evil?

    Is he neither able nor willing?

    Then why call him God?

    Ultimately Marc falls into the fallback of “suffering” being tied to “free will”. Of course, this is nonsense. Epicurus reminds us of this trilemma. There is no free will that causes horrendous events like earthquakes, asteroid collisions, supernovae, supervolcanoes, childhood leukemia, and Justin Bieber. The universe could get along just fine without them all, and still leave room for us to be punished appropriately for our disobedience (because, of course, that’s what it’s all about).

    Instead, we see the evidence: the universe is imperfect, has always been imperfect, we are relative newcomers, and it’s completely pointless to believe that, in the last 0.001% of existence, the “perfect creator of it all” decided to die and be reborn, leaving not one shred of evidence of his existence in any primary historical source.

  • cwaggy

    I thought it was a parody until the last sentence.

  • alrightyeah

    I’m not really seeing how something like disease or old age is a result of sin. They’re not something people do to each other, they just happen. Moral character has nothing to do with it. ?

  • Benjamin

    I like how honest Marc is here. He starts by telling us, not that Christianity is true, but why it was necessary to invent it. He’s a Christian, not because it’s true, or it makes sense, or even because it’s likely, but because telling himself this makes the suffering inherent in life easier to bear. I like it; it seems more honest than most. We all tell ourselves little lies to get through the day: she likes me back, somebody will appreciate my hard work, this weekend’s going to be great. Acknowledging that his own religion is no more grand or inviolate than any other of these is really quite refreshing, and I don’t begrudge him his delusions. Provided of course he does not use it as an excuse to take other people’s rights away; that’s always the rub.

    • Zaire Adams

      I do not think you’re getting the point. Marc cannot be saying that Christianity was invented, by humans, to solve the problem of suffering. It is not like scientology.
      He is saying he believes Christianity because it DOES make sense and it IS true. It makes sense of a whole lot of things, particularly the fact that we suffer.
      However, you know little of the Faith if you think that it just makes everything all okay. Please see: the Book of Job and Ecclesiastes. Also, see anything Christ ever said about following him, namely: it is difficult, will split up families, may cause a case of death, etc. It’s a complete paradox, but Marc could not go completely into those things because that wasn’t his goal. Christianity changes the person and thus changes how they will take their suffering, thus we have smiling martyrs that say things like “I am done on this side.” (correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Marc. I think you were trying to give the basic reason for your belief in Christianity and not necessarily delve into the deeper aspects that surely have come to be part of your faith)

      • Benjamin

        It is very much like Scientology, though adherents of every religion think that theirs is unlike all the others. This is one of the many, many things they all have in common.

        • Zaire Adams

          Few religions have in common a leader to purportedly stated that religion is a good way to make money. That pretty much never happens.

        • Zaire Adams

          Additionally, a lot of religions have a lot of things in common, as they are human. The thing that ends up mattering is where they differ.

  • Brent Beberstein

    Christianity borrowed its central myths and ceremonies from other ancient religions. The ancient world was rife with tales of virgin births, miracle-working saviors, tripartite gods, gods taking human form, gods arising from the dead, heavens and hells, and days of judgment. In addition to the myths, many of the ceremonies of ancient religions also match those of that syncretic latecomer, Christianity. To cite but one example (there are many others), consider Mithraism, a Persian religion predating Christianity by centuries. Mithra, the savior of the Mithraic religion and a god who took human form, was born of a virgin; he belonged to the holy trinity and was a link between heaven and Earth; and he ascended into heaven after his death. His followers believed in heaven and hell, looked forward to a day of judgment, and referred to Mithra as “the Light of the World.” They also practiced baptism (for purification purposes) and ritual cannibalism—the eating of bread and the drinking of wine to symbolize the eating and drinking of the god’s body and blood. Given all this, Mithra’s birthday should come as no surprise: December 25th; this event was, of course, celebrated by Mithra’s followers at midnight.
    Mithraism is but the most striking example of the appearance of these myths and ceremonies prior to the advent of Christianity. They appear—in more scattered form—in many other pre-Christian religions.

  • Bishop Savan

    Dude. We don’t freak out when you tell us you’re a Christian. That’s great for you, you found something you can believe in. We just freak out when you try to spread the “love”. Atheists don’t just spontaneously appear out of thin air, and a majority of us weren’t raised atheists. I was raised Baptist. We know how everyone views the “Almighty” – yea yea… he’s infallible and omnipotent and made everything – whatever. Atheists are made from skeptical people who can’t accept the generalized answer of “Cause God wanted it like that.” Or we were former believers who were ultimately jilted away from faith thanks to bad experiences or from just generalized disenchantment. We WERE like you – stop approaching us like we were born on Mars.

    What we freak out about is the shining examples of Failure within your faith coming around and wrecking the rest of the world for us. You may be a good Christian, but your buddies aren’t. We can’t get through to them. We can’t even explain to them that we just don’t want to be bothered with all of the superstition that we see. They’re constantly attempting to force one outlook or another on the people who don’t share that same set of guidelines.

    Here’s a hint – just don’t talk about it. Keep your religion to yourself. Treat it like your penis – don’t whip it out in public, and certainly don’t try to cram it where it’s not wanted. That means stay out of our personal lives with your faith by staying out of politics, and stop trying to convert us. LET US GO TO HELL IS ALL WE’RE ASKING! Stop trying to save us. We don’t want to be saved. Please don’t pray for us either, use that time to spoon out some soup at a homeless shelter or go join up with the crew from Relay for Life and walk a few laps to help those who really need it. There are ways I’m sure that the creator would prefer you spend your time other than handing over time to a group of people who don’t need it or want it (mainly us, the Atheists).

    Each one of us knew that when we denounced our beliefs that there would potentially be consequences. No afterlife, no forgiveness, no salvation. It leaves us with enough on our backs knowing that this is all there is. It gives us a sense of freedom – It also gives us a sense of obligation to make intelligent decisions that will harm no other – cause we now, in our abandonment of the fetters of faith, have a much different view on mankind. Life is MORE sacred, because there is no afterlife for us, every event is more important and weighs in a lot heavier because we understand that this is it for us – one shot. So why spend all that time squabbling when we could be building something better?

    Or more importantly – instead of freaking out about this response, do some good. Go tell those fundamentalists to chill out and let people make their own decisions. It’s not their job to save everyone. Nobody can save anyone but themselves – Atheists or Theist. It’s a conscious decision to make that kind of a pact. It just happens to be one that some of us felt that the alternative was more realistic in our perception of the world.

    • ChrisB

      Just curious…..why should your intelligent decisions harm no other? On what are your ethics based? Empiricism?

  • RandomBystander

    For reference (since I don’t see such a link here already), Deacon Duncan at Alethian Worldview responded to this post in a series of posts, here: ; 2012/10/05/the-problem-of-purpose/ ; 2012/10/08/the-paradox-of-purpose/ ; 2012/10/09/the-poverty-perversity-and-pointlessness-of-purpose/

    I, for one, would be curious what response Marc and others might have to it.

  • Sky7liner

    Admittedly I haven’t read through all of the comments but the thing that puzzles me is that Christians (and believers in some other religions) seem unable to accept that other people can legitimately have different beliefs. I accept that religion gives comfort to a great many people and when missionaries come to my door to try to convert me I tell them, ‘Here’s the deal: I won’t try to convert you to my point of view if you don’t try to convert me to yours’. I respect the author’s beliefs. I don’t share them but I won’t say they’re wrong.

  • Shaun

    THIS IS BEAUTIFUL. i was really questioning where you going with Jesus became sin… then i was like… OH SNAP.
    so if our suffering suddenly has the new purpose of ending all suffering, does the fact that it now has a purpose in fact cause it to cease to be suffering. therefore all suffering of all time is really just a way by which we are able to become perfect? like, he made it so that we could freely choose love knowing some would not choose love but wasnt too worried cuz he knew that in the end the suffering which resulted from us not choosing love would in the end aid us is choosing love eventually? — this is great! :) —- keep writing dude

  • Joshua Tilghman

    We must remember that even Jesus had to learn obedience through the things that he suffered. In the natural world we can often feel empty during and after suffering, but whose to say it serves some great purpose for our soul growth and development in the larger scope of things.

  • beefcake24

    Your (very poorly reasoned) argument rests on the assumption that suffering must have a purpose. You can’t base an argument off of unproven assumptions. Why must suffering have a reason? I don’t understand this obsession to have a reason behind everything. Nature is cold and indifferent. Sometimes something just is and that’s all there is to it.

  • Michael

    As an atheist this still freaks me out.

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about in regards to this magical suffering you keep speaking of.

    There are very clear, understandable reasons as to why an old man lives in pain, and to why a child develops leukemia. Rational people are working to solve those problems, while you continue to pretend it’s some kind of magical payment system.

    Yeah, it freaks me out.

  • JJ

    To many of the individuals commenting on this with hostility- while I recognize that most people who are atheists do feel like they are being targeted by Christians and religious folk, and often have to give a defense for themselves, this is not- and I repeat not written in argument form. Actually to the contrary, the author admits that he doesn’t claim his religion to be true, and explains that it is the one that he knows. He is not trying to prove the existence of a God, but rather the understanding behind it. The one thing that is fairly obvious here- is that the author is AWARE that he is speaking within the line of logic within his religion and explaining it. That is the premise that he is operating under, if you have an objection to the premise perhaps you need to place your comments elsewhere such as the links that he provides offering proof, here however he is explaining the reasoning behind his beliefs, NOT an attempt to argue their validity. Any person coming at this in terms of an argument is creating their own straw man, something that they can easily disclaim as it is not formed in an argument. If the author makes clear that this is based upon the Christian assumption of a God, and you disclaim it because they’re assuming you’re clearly not listening and just choosing to argue for the sake of arguing. IF a person comes at you saying they are not proving anything, then you have nothing to prove either. Once again, your own personal straw man. Pointless.

  • fiddlerabbit

    Things like Katrina meaning that the universe is in a sinful state? I’m sorry, no. One thing that cannot be denied, as cynical as it sounds, is that humans are bad for the rest of the earth. We destroy habitats, release dangerous chemicals, and kill what is around us with absolutely no restraint whatsoever. One could argue that things like epidemics are the earth cleansing itself of us–but definitely not sinning against us. We’re the ones doing that.

  • Dan

    You assume of course that atheism tries to provide a solution or an answer to the “problem” of suffering. Indeed, an atheist would not even call the problem of suffering a problem– only a reality to be accepted. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  • 5739205

    Suffering and pain are a perfectly natural product of evolution. No, god did not program it to be like that. It was developed through trial and error over millions of years. They are motivators, the more efficient and intelligent you are, the more likely the survival of your species. Suffering and the perception of suffering are key. No need for a creator, or reason, or purpose. Death will be everlasting peace from suffering, because you will not be aware of it, your perception of time will cease to exist. It all depends if your brain can handle that. If not, you’re safest down the faith route.