And God is not Good, Either

Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011) died one year ago today. This repeat post is an homage to the powerful speaker and eloquent author of God is not Great and much more. Hitchens fought nonsense till the end, and he has been an inspiration to me and countless other atheists. In my own small way, I hope I’m continuing the fight against nonsense.

Thanks, Christopher.

The child’s blessing goes, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” Hitchens’ God is not Great is an eloquent rebuttal to the first claim of this prayer. Let’s consider here the second claim: God is good. Indeed, the Bible makes this clear: “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good” (Ps. 135:3).

But does the dictionary agree? We must use words according to their meaning.

Here is what God commands about cities that refuse to submit to the Israelites: “Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you” (Deut. 20:17).

You and I know what “good” means. If you were a king or general and you ordered the genocide of those tribes—over ten million people, according to the Bible*—would you be considered good?

But you might say that this was wartime, and the rules were different. Yes it was wartime, but the Israelites were the invaders, displacing Canaanites from land they had occupied for centuries. God tells the Israelites to destroy the Amalekites: “Attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants” (1 Sam. 15:3).

What could the infants have possibly done to deserve death?

Moses tells the Israelites that they must kill all of the Midianites, with one exception: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man” (Num. 31:17–18).

Who’s ever heard any of these verses made the subject of a sermon?

The immoral commands don’t stop with genocide. Slavery wasn’t prohibited in the Bible; in fact, it was so much a part of everyday life that it was regulated. In the same way that God told the merchants to sell using fair weights and measures (Deut. 25:15), he told the Israelites how to handle slaves—how to treat a fellow Israelite as a slave (Exod. 21:4–6 and Lev. 25:39), how to sell your daughter into slavery (Exod. 21:7), how to decide when a beating was too harsh (Exod. 21:20–21), and so on.

Don’t pretend that biblical slavery was like indentured servitude. That was true for fellow Jews, but for non-Jews, it was good, old-fashioned slavery for life. “You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites [harshly] (Lev. 25:44–46).”

And this doesn’t even consider the Flood. Why drown his creation instead of poofing them out of existence? God may exist and he may be powerful, but can the word “good” be applied to a being who does this?

Let’s turn from God’s unsavory side to his attempts at encouraging good behavior. It’s odd that the Ten Commandments has room for “don’t covet” but no prohibitions against slavery, rape, genocide, or infanticide. Christopher Hitchens cuts through the problem:

It’s interesting to note that the tenth Commandment, do not covet, is given at a time when the Israelites wandering in the desert are kept alive with covetous dreams—of taking the land, livestock, and women from the people living in Palestine. In fact, the reason why injunctions against rape, genocide, and slavery aren’t in the Ten Commandments is because they’ll be mandatory pretty soon when the conquest of Palestine takes place. (Videos here and here.)

So they’re not crimes—they’re tools!

Christians respond in several ways.

1. But things were different back then. We can’t judge Jews in Palestine 2500 years ago with today’s standards.

Can we assent to these crimes at any time in history? I agree that standards of morality have changed, but Christians are supposed to reject moral relativism. They’re the ones who imagine an unchanging, objective morality. If slavery is wrong now, they must insist that it was wrong then.

2. But God’s actions are good—they just are. His actions are the very definition of good. That’s as fundamental a truth as we have.

Shouldn’t God follow his own rules? If God is the standard for goodness (Matt. 5:48), what else can this mean but that we should look to God’s actions as examples for us to follow?

Abraham made clear that God was held to the same moral standards as Man. He said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” as he argued against God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. And God agreed (Gen. 18:20–33).

If Christians modify the dictionary so that no action of God’s could ever be bad, assigning the word “good” to God’s actions says nothing. They hope to make an important statement with “God is good,” but debasing the dictionary makes the word meaningless.

Playing games with the dictionary causes other problems. If there are two supernatural agents, God and Satan, how do you tell which is which? If the one that controls our realm is “good” by definition, maybe we’re stuck with Satan and have simply convinced ourselves to call him good. That’s not a crazy idea, given the world’s natural disasters, disease, war, and other horrors. Imagine Satan ruling this world and convincing us that the death of an innocent child is part of a greater plan, if you can believe such a thing. And yet that’s the world we live in! People look at all the bad in the world and dismiss it, giving Satan a pass. (… or are we giving God a pass? I can’t tell which.)

If this thinking is getting a bit bizarre, that’s the point. That’s what happens if you declare God’s actions good by definition.

3. But the Canaanites were terrible, immoral people! They sacrificed babies!

How reliable are these summaries of the Canaanites’ morals? If these tales come from their enemies, how objective are these accounts? And even if the Canaanites did sacrifice babies, isn’t solving this with genocide like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly? Couldn’t an omniscient guy like God figure out a better way than genocide to encourage a tribe to improve their behavior?

4. C’mon—can’t you recognize hyperbole when you see it? This is just soldiers bragging around the campfire that grew until it was incorporated into Israelite lore. You don’t really believe the genocide stories, do you? Indeed, archeologists show no evidence of this mass slaughter.

Take your pick—is the Bible reliable history or not? I disagree with the Bible literalists, but at least they wouldn’t be so hypocritical as to abandon the Bible when it embarrasses them.

Christians who label some Bible passages exaggerations and others as history are using their own judgment to figure this out. I’m not complaining—that’s what I do myself—but they can’t then turn around and say that they get their guidance from the Bible. No, my friend—the interpretation comes from you, not the Bible!

5. A bad thing today sets us up for a greater good in the future.

This is no more plausible than the reverse: “a good thing today sets us up for a greater bad in the future.” Why imagine one over the other? Only because we presuppose God’s existence, the thing we’re trying to prove. And it’s ridiculous to imagine an omniscient God deliberately causing the Haiti earthquake and killing 300,000 because he can act no more precisely than this.

6. But God is unjudgeable. God said, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). It’s presumptuous of us to judge God. If God says that the Amalekites deserved to die, that’s good enough for me.

Okay, let’s not judge God then. Let’s avoid labeling him. But then not only can we not label his shocking actions “bad,” we can’t label his pleasing actions “good.” The good God is no more.

And there’s more fallout from the “we imperfect humans can’t judge God” argument. Consider this from Bob Price:

[The ultimate certainty in your mind, the believer’s mind, is] the guarantee that [God] will honor that ticket to heaven he supposedly issued you. Here’s a troublesome thought. Suppose you get to the Day of Judgment and God cancels the ticket. No explanation. No appeal. You’re just screwed. Won’t you have to allow that God must have reasons for it that you, a mere mortal, are not privy to? Who are you, like Job, to call God to account?

Of course many Christians want it both ways. They want to judge God’s noble actions as “good” but withhold judgment for actions that any thoughtful person would find hideous. But if you can’t understand God’s actions when they look bad, why flatter yourself that you understand them when they look good?

Think of this as the Word Hygiene argument. You can either call a spade a spade and acknowledge God’s cruelty or say that he’s unjudgeable. Take your pick—either way, you can’t call him “good.”

Photo credit: Church Sign Maker

* Here’s the math behind that figure: Israel had 600,000 men before entering Canaan (Ex. 12:37), or about two million people total. These six tribes are all larger than Israel (Deut. 7:1). That makes well over ten million people in the tribes God orders exterminated.

Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities
in every department of human life—
except religion.

— Christopher Hitchens

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken (yet fabulous) atheist.

    Ok, you convinced me. The Old Testament god does not exist.

    Moreover, you can now add “one extra school shooting involving very young children” to the list of horrors allowed by God.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      And yet Christians spin tragedy to buck up their faith.

      When grieving Christians look around at the family, friends, and even strangers who help them through a crisis, I wish they’d focus more on giving them the thanks they deserve rather than God.

    • RandomFunction2

      To Bob the broken yet fabulous atheist,

      Well, actually I went too far. The truth is that there are many theologies in the Old Testament, that is, many representations of God. You convincingly argue that some of them must be discarded and forgotten. Yet there are some others available, such as those of the later Prophets who present a much softer God, concerned with social justice and a spiritual religion.

      Another criticism I have is that you may be unwittingly presenting a harsher Old Testament god than the one intended by the writers. The problem is that you read the Bible with a logical mind, trying to weave a coherent picture out of the scattered bits of information in the text. But the authors themselves were probably not as concerned as you are with such a coherency and rationality. The Bible is not meant to be read like a modern philosophy or science work. So your figure of a genocide of 10 000 000 people is probably irrelevant.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        RF2:

        Yet there are some other [theologies] available, such as those of the later Prophets who present a much softer God, concerned with social justice and a spiritual religion.

        But surely Yahweh is immutable. You can’t just pick and choose attributes for him like you change clothes on a doll, right?

        The problem is that you read the Bible with a logical mind, trying to weave a coherent picture out of the scattered bits of information in the text.

        Not really. I have no interest in rehabilitating the Bible story by trying to harmonize the various pieces.

        I will, of course, try to explain the problem everyone must deal with, why the Bible says what it says (concepts like the documentary hypothesis help here, for example). Perhaps this is what you were referring to.

        your figure of a genocide of 10 000 000 people is probably irrelevant.

        10M people is probably not historically accurate, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant. If the Bible says crazy, historically false stuff, that is important evidence on the side of this simply being yet another made-up religion.

      • smrnda

        Some writers aren’t concerned with coherency or rationality. I mean, I don’t think William S Burroughs was concerned with these things when he wrote Naked Lunch. You can avoid those things if you’re writing imaginative literature, the goal is creating an intended aesthetic effect on the reader, possibly with a little social commentary on the side. However, a book that’s supposed to be considered a source of wisdom for how one is to live ought to be written with high standards for rationality and coherence. If the Bible doesn’t deliver on these, then we should just dismiss it from consideration except as mythological or tribal folklore, not a “How To” book about life.

    • JB

      And while you talk about Old Testament events that you believe never really happened, real Scientists continue to fill the world with real WMDS that can destroy civilization in an afternoon and poison the planet for Millenia.

      Science has provided the way for an ultimate genocide; a way to not just wipe out the present population but to wipe out or mutilate all future generations as well.

      I blaspheme your “scientific” atheism…you are all worth of Darwin Awards.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        JB: Yes, science gives humanity information that we can use for bad purposes. I get it, but how is that relevant to the fact that the OT god is a nasty piece of work?

  • SparklingMoon

     If there are two supernatural agents, God and Satan, how do you tell which is which?
    ———————————————————————————————-
    It is wrong to consider that there are two supernatural agents, God and Satan in this universe. Satan that is described in religious books is not an entity but a force that exists in human nature. Mirza Ghulam Ahmed has explained the meanings of in following words:

    ” In man’s nature and composition there have been included two forces and they are both opposed to each other and it is so in order for a person to be tried and tested and, with a successful outcome, to become deserving of God ‘s nearness . Of the two forces, one pulls man towards goodness and the other invites man towards evil. The force that pulls towards goodness is called ‘angel’ and the force which invites towards evil is called ‘Satan’. In other words, are two forces which work on a person, one calls towards good and the other towards bad.

    • RandomFunction2

      To SparklingMoon,

      Sure, that may be the modern, trendy, interpretation, but I’m pretty sure that if you had asked a first-century Jew, including Jesus, “does Satan exist as a distinct spiritual being?”, they would have strongly agreed.

  • Greg

    Bob said, “Of course many Christians want it both ways. They want to judge God’s noble actions as “good” but withhold judgment for actions that any thoughtful person would find hideous. But if you can’t understand God’s actions when they look bad, why flatter yourself that you understand them when they look good?”

    I see this a lot, especially when it comes to NFL football players or natural disasters. When some football players do a good play they point to the sky above, but when they do a bad play they don’t point to the sky above. It is like there is no God all of sudden. Same thing if they get injured, they say they are blessed because their knee wasn’t destroyed, it could have been much worse. It is nonsense. Yes, they may be lucky their knee was sprained, and not blown out, but is had nothing to do with God, just like if they did a good play because there is no God. If there is he/she/it sure sends mixed messages to football players…lol.

  • J-Rex

    “But the Canaanites were terrible, immoral people! They sacrificed babies!”

    Gotta love that argument. So you have some disgusting, immoral neighbors. They’re on drugs, having wild sex parties, performing demonic rituals, and abusing their children. One day you hear a child screaming and you rush over to their house. They’re about to sacrifice their own child! You pray to God and he has you kill the adults, the children, the babies, the dog, the cat, and the fish. Everyone except the teenage girl. You get to force her to marry you and rape her!
    C’mon. I think we all could have thought of a better solution than God did. I thought two wrongs don’t make a right?
    It’s sad for people who know about this and still give God the benefit of the doubt. They hold God to a lower moral standard than they hold people to.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      It’s odd how the atheist has to remind the Christian what “omnipotent” means. He could’ve teleported the Canaanites to another part of the world or poofed them out of existence. But no, the omnipotent creator of the universe has the same palette of options that an early Iron Age king had.

  • Drewl

    This is a really good question with no easy answers. I’m going to violate my general practice here by recommending a book that is a) explicitly written by theologians, and b) one that I haven’t personally read. But my purpose here is to point out that Old Testament genocide has been wrestled with extensively by believers and non-believers alike, and it might be worthwhile to read the thoughts of people who have advanced degrees in the subject matter. This book seems very accessible to the non-specialist (aka non-Hebrew readers without PhDs in theology or ancient history, so all of us):

    Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide
    http://amzn.com/0310245680

    Of course Bob doesn’t do “reading assignments,” but any open and inquisitive minds out there, please let me know what you think. And if there’s an edited volume that has non-theologians also weighing in, I’d love to know about it.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Have you read Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?

  • Drewl

    No I haven’t. Just read the summary, it sounds like his view would be represented by one of the theologians in the Four Views book. I’m going to guess you didn’t find Copan persuasive? He sounds a bit lawyer-logic-y to me, to use your previous post terminology.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’ve read articles by Copan and heard interviews, but haven’t read the book.

      Yes, lawyer logic is the way I’d describe it, given an incomplete picture. He has his preconception of what’s right, and he’s going to do his utmust to spin the evidence to support his preconception.

      I remember (perhaps wrongly) him mischaracterizing the OT’s slavery rules. The OT had rules for Jews (like indentured servitude) and rules for non-Jews (slavery for life), but he denied the latter, which doesn’t endear him to me.

  • ctcss

    The fact that people like Hitchens feel compelled to critique what seems obviously to be an inadequate and unsatisfying theological take on God and God’s creation does not compel any particular believing individual or group to embrace that same inadequate and unsatisfying theological take.

    A Christian disagrees with the Jewish theological viewpoint and the Jew disagrees with the Christian theological viewpoint. The Catholic disagrees with the Protestant’s view and the Protestant disagrees with the Catholic’s view. And likewise, the many other specific theological views are embraced by their proponents and rejected by their detractors. Luckily, we are all free to conduct our own search for a helpful and satisfying view of the divine without fear of being told by Hitchens (and other non-believers, as well as the many other flavors of believers) what it is that we must personally believe in.

    So, other than expressing your own particular take on why you think a specific set of theological views is inadequate and unsatisfying , and thus why you reject belief based on such views, what’s your point? (Remember, all you have done is to critique a set of viewpoints about God and reality, not God and reality itself. I have long thought that atheists would be better described as athelogs because of this behavior.)

    None of us can formally prove or disprove our particular viewpoint abut God and reality, but we can all proceed onward based on what we consider to be the most helpful take on God and reality that we currently have and revise and improve our view as we continue on our way. And as long as we don’t impinge on one another’s journeys or rights, why should be care about the views that others have but which we do not share or engage in?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      The fact that people like Hitchens feel compelled to critique what seems obviously to be an inadequate and unsatisfying theological take on God and God’s creation

      Perhaps it’s inadequate to you, me, and Hitchens, but apparently it’s not inadequate to those who hold that belief. Perhaps a critique will help someone within that worldview to think about and justify his beliefs.

      So, other than expressing your own particular take on why you think a specific set of theological views is inadequate and unsatisfying , and thus why you reject belief based on such views, what’s your point?

      That Christian beliefs are built on nothing more than legends and myths and that Christians would be wise to do a self-critique.

      Remember, all you have done is to critique a set of viewpoints about God and reality, not God and reality itself.

      I’m missing the difference. It’s like you’re saying, “OK, you’ve critiqued viewpoints about leprechauns but haven’t critiqued leprechauns themselves.”

      And as long as we don’t impinge on one another’s journeys or rights, why should be care about the views that others have but which we do not share or engage in?

      Because those views have consequences. Lots of Christians are happy with the tremendous freedoms that the US Constitution provides and leave it at that, but lots of others want to see how much they can get away with–Creationism in schools, prayer before government meetings, and so on. If there were no Christians in this latter category, I’d find another hobby.

    • Kodie

      When something seems unsatisfying and you take a closer look at the deeper answers and those answers are built on a high mountain of deep bullshit, they don’t get more satisfying.

      That’s the difference between an atheist and a believer. God doesn’t seem like such a great guy, if you take him as a person and what’s written about him, starting with the bible. Even if you want to give the bible some credibility of being written by god himself…. it’s not pretty good at all. Everything else you want to add to that look is rationalization. It’s some reason you want to believe god is good then you come up with a lot of excuses for his behavior that you would never excuse from a real life monster of a human being. NEVER. N-E-V-E-R. You would think a perfect being wouldn’t write such a terrible book about his emotional instabilities and anger issues. I mean, if I were trying to make friends by writing an autobiography, like I had a really cool house and I wanted them to come stay with me and never ever leave, that would be pretty psychotic. I want you to live in my awesome house eternally and praise me! Definitely something wrong with that guy. I want you to come live in my house eternally, praise me, and I’m going to whip up some bad weather that kills innocent people, leaves them with no home and that’s a love letter from me to you. I want you to think carefully now, because if you don’t come and live with me eternally and praise me, I might make your life a little miserable. I can do whatever I want to make my point. Your other option is to go into the big oven with Hitler and John Wayne Gacy and Timothy McVeigh.

      There is no way to dress that up, man. There is no way god’s a nice guy. He’s only “nice” because he spares you wrath. That’s not the same thing as love. That’s a live threat. That’s what you’re living under and that’s what you’re living for. That’s what you’re scared of, that’s what you’re scared of gay marriage for, that’s why you make mountains of stories because even if it’s bad, you still think it’s true. I mean, if it were true, your savior is a ball-buster and I’ve known people like this in power, you either do what they say or you get fired or go to jail or get thrown out of the house or get the shit beaten out of you. It’s like, you are in complete denial of how bad it is or you’ve gotten adjusted to making the best of a despotic situation.

      And you have the nerve to say atheists are missing something? Yearn for this? Are you sick?

      • ctcss

        Umm, where in my post do I say that atheists are missing something or need to yearn for something? I simply asked Bob what his point was since all he was really doing was critiquing one (or several) viewpoints among many and that not everyone subscribed to the beliefs he was referencing. As far as I am concerned, all people (including those without beliefs) have the right to choose their believing or non-believing pathway in life.

        • Kodie

          Maybe it’s not the same thing as the god-shaped hole I keep hearing about, or the better get right with god before it’s too late thing I keep hearing about. Maybe it’s not the lack of morality that I keep hearing about, and maybe it’s not the belief in “nothing” that I keep hearing about. But you do heavily imply that we don’t have enough of the right information to make a valid decision, and you want to call us something else since we are not referencing your actual god for criticism, but the people who are religious. Um yeah, it’s the people. There is no god, god was invented by and continues to be imagined by, acted upon by, and excused by people. Theist is a type of person. Atheist is not that type of person.

          Am I reading that wrong – you seem to think we don’t know enough about god since we are taking a shortcut and finding the biblical accounts themselves horrifying enough. Anything additional that we need to know about god is more made up stuff by people excusing god. Now either the bible is written by humans making god up, or it was written by or inspired by god – neither one paints a delightful portrait of your deity just doing what he needs to do.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Kodie:

        There is no way god’s a nice guy. He’s only “nice” because he spares you wrath. That’s not the same thing as love.

        Like a woman who gets beaten by her partner. She says, “I deserved it” or “He makes it up to me afterwards” or “It’s really not that bad” or whatever.

  • smrnda

    I’ve found a few Christians who take on these atrocities, and (William Lane Craig being the prime example) I find that none of them are particularly bothered by these things, and their basic argument is to repeat the platitude that ‘god’s will is always right and he’ll work things out in heaven’ or something to that effect. The basic point is that 1. the believer isn’t bothered by this so 2. I shouldn’t be either.

    I mean, you could try to find a way to interpret these things that would make god look better, but why should I bother? It just seems like the type of stuff people would have written in the time period. If god has a sacred book, it should be one that his followers don’t have to keep apologizing for.

  • arkenaten

    Hitch told a wonderful gag during his debate with Tony Blair about a Jew would got nothing out of pleading at the Wailing Wall. His answer when asked why he believed he received no answer from God was: “It’s like talking to a wall”

    It is the same when discussing anything with Christians or any religious folk.
    The best people to speak up for atheism are the rapidly increasing numbers of deconvertees.
    And possitive steps towards the inexorable unravelling of Christianity have begun, not least by the slow prosecution of Naughty Priests ( ’tis a heart warming read to see another diocese go bankrupt after ‘settling’ with the victims – jail would be better of course….)
    It will take a while, but obedience to God – in any form – will one day become utterly laughable.
    Christopher Hitchins was a very special bloke.
    Excellent post.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks for the Hitchens anecdote–I hadn’t heard that one.

      Like you, I see signs that Christianity is unravelling, at least in the West, and their shrill arguments today are the death knell. Still, Christianity was on the ropes 100 years ago with the success of evolution, but then The Fundamentals was published around 1915 … and things got freaky again.

      Humanity is pretty strange. Let’s not dismiss the attractiveness of completely groundless supernatural beliefs.

      • RandomFunction2

        To Bob the broken (yet fabulous) atheist,

        A series of studies and books published within the last 15 years showed that belief in the supernatural was a natural side-effect of the functioning of our brain. It’s not a pathology, it’s not conditioning, it’s part of our cognitive systems.

        Besides, cases of near-death experiences provide awkward facts for a naturalistic interpretation of human nature. I can point to peer-reviewed articles if you want me to.

        Now, I don’t believe in the literal truth of NDE. I don’t believe NDErs really leave their bodies and meet with spiritual beings in another world. But I don’t believe either that naturalists have been able to solve the riddle of NDE following their own principles.

        You may say: yeah, but it’s a question of time. A naturalistic explanation will be available in the future. Sure, but it’s merely a promissory note. I may just as well say that near-death experiences will end up disproving naturalism in the future, and though science will go on, it will be more spiritual. That’s ALSO a promissory note.

        So I don’t think the supernatural will go away. Even in 1000 years.

        • Kodie

          No mystery has ever been solved by turning out to be supernatural so far. What have you got that you’re saying we don’t got, eh?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          Besides, cases of near-death experiences provide awkward facts for a naturalistic interpretation of human nature. I can point to peer-reviewed articles if you want me to.

          I’m not up on the latest research, but the “light at the end of the tunnel” effect is easily duplicated by putting someone in a centrifuge. An oxygen-deprived brain does funny things. Are there tough puzzles here that science will have a hard time explaining?

          I may just as well say that near-death experiences will end up disproving naturalism in the future, and though science will go on, it will be more spiritual. That’s ALSO a promissory note.

          There’ve been thousands of “God did it!” explanations that are now explained through science. The reverse has never happened. The symmetry you imagine isn’t there.

          So I don’t think the supernatural will go away. Even in 1000 years.

          Yep, that’s possible.

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob the broken (yet fabulous) atheist,

          The light at the end of the tunel is only the tip of the iceberg. You also got to explain how people in NDE had some (reportedly) veridical perceptions of their surroundings while their bodies lay unconscious and in some cases in clinical death…

          You got to explain how blind people could have reported to see during NDEs.

          Here is a paper for you:

          Andrew J. Dell’Olio, “Do Near-Death Experiences Provide a Rational Basis for Belief in Life After Death?”, Sophia (2010), 49, 113-128.

          You also got to explain how people in NDE could meet the “spirits” of relatives who had just died, but unbeknownst to the person prior to his/her NDE.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          You also got to explain how people in NDE had some (reportedly) veridical perceptions of their surroundings while their bodies lay unconscious and in some cases in clinical death…

          I think we can dismiss most of those as beneath consideration, not because they offend us but simply because they are merely anecdote with loads of chances for deception (or self-deception).

          What about the rest? Sure, they might be real, but I don’t think there’s any consensus that says that. These look precisely like fanciful stories that people have told themselves in other times.

          Have I got that right? If so, then I’m open minded but doubtful.

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob the broken, yet fabulous, atheist,

          Actually, there is no consensus in that field, which is not very surprising given that the stakes are so high (though they are less high than in evolution or in biblical studies). A fair number of researchers and doctors who have studied the phenomenon and published in peer-reviewed journals hold that materialism is not an adequate explanation of all the features of NDE. Some others argue for conventional (materialistic) explanations.

          Sure most of the evidence consists of anecdotes, but there are many of them, independently recorded. And the plural of anecdote is fact. My concern would be about how the data is gathered. Is all the relevant information recorded? Are some answers induced in the subject by the researcher? Was the subject already acquainted with the phenomenon? So far I don’t quite know.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          NDEs has all the earmarks of being yet another paranormal pseudoscience (of which I followed with interest as a teen) like ESP.

          Yes, the stakes are high, but I suspect that the scientific community pattern-matches this into the “Doubtful” bin and doesn’t worry much about it. I’ll wait for the consensus (which I perceive now to say that it’s bunk).

          the plural of anecdote is fact.

          As is the plurality of anecdote that homeopathy and astrology work. As was the plurality of anecdote that alchemy worked.

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken, yet fabulous, atheist,

    No, the phenomenon of NDE is under serious investigation by serious researchers (scientists, doctors, philosophers, theologians) who publish in real scholarly journals. Honest researchers will acknowledge that the phenomenon is not completely understood and that you need more research before saying that either side (naturalism or supernaturalism) wins.

    You will not be denied access to a scholarly journal for concluding that materialism appears inadequate to you. This is not as if you argued for creationism or astrology or alien abductions. Lumping these things together is about as honest as lumping atheism and stalinism together.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      This is not as if you argued for creationism or astrology or alien abductions.

      I don’t see much difference except that astrology and homeopathy are farther along the path to being discarded as certainly bogus. The signs are all stacked against NDEs as being valid, I’m afraid, so I don’t see much of interest here. We might be surprised, but I’m betting not.

      • RandomFunction2

        To Bob the broken, yet fabulous, atheist,

        No, the signs are not “all stacked against NDEs being valid”, this is not how the researchers themselves put it. The evidence available is hard to interpret, to say the least, because it does not point to the same direction.

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