An Answer That Begs the Question

I don’t want to spend all my time picking on the Newsweek/Washington Post blog On Faith, but a recent posting there contained such a devastatingly revealing omission that I couldn’t resist the chance to comment on it.

The posting in question was written by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary and a minister of the United Church of Christ. I bear no grudges against the UCC – any denomination that could have given us Barry Lynn is all right in my book – but an irrational theology is an irrational theology, regardless of the ethics or character of the person who believes in it.

Thistlethwaite’s post is about the problem of evil, a perennial problem for theists of all stripes. As I have previously remarked, no less an apologist than William Lane Craig has called it atheism’s “killer argument”. If anything, I think religious liberals and moderates have a less satisfactory answer to this than the fundamentalists. As odious as fundamentalist theology is, it at least offers a clear explanation for evil and suffering: an angry, judgmental god who expresses his wrath by lashing out against human beings. Liberal theology does not seem to have a clear answer for this problem even within the context of its own assumptions, and tends to answer the problem of evil with platitudes about how God wants us to help each other that avoid the question entirely. Thistlethwaite does not do this, but her response is possibly even more telling.

Her post is titled “Fortunately There’s Atheism in the Bible“, and to give her credit, she does not shy away from the problem. On the contrary, she states it plainly, in vivid terms that effectively show its seriousness:

An unvarnished look at the 20th century could make an atheist out of anybody: the trenches in France, the ovens of the Holocaust, the Killing Fields in Cambodia, 800,000 butchered in ninety days in Rwanda, Columbia, Angola, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and on and on…

It may be that the horrors of the 20th century and the violent beginning of the 21st account for at least some of the current interest in atheism. How can any God worth the name countenance these acts and do nothing to stop them?

The question is admirably posed. Now comes her answer – or more precisely, her lack of an answer. Here is how she finishes the post:

Faith that cannot doubt, and doubt completely, has not plumbed the depths of faith – that is what the Book of Job teaches me and it is what a dialogue with atheism teaches me. I would dishonor the deaths of millions of innocents if I did not dare to look radical evil in the eye and ask, “Why?”

Take note: this is her conclusion. That is how the piece ends. She poses the question and then lets it drop with a resounding thud, without even making an attempt at giving an answer. In the face of the world’s evil, it seems, she has no answer to give.

To forestall the otherwise inevitable reply, I stress that I am not expecting a theist to know everything or to have an answer to every question they might be asked. But there is a vast difference between a question that simply remains to be answered and a gap that undermines a crucial point in a belief system. This is the latter and not the former. The problem of evil is not a minor matter of only academic interest, but a contradiction that bears directly on the heart of belief in God. As long as such a gaping logical hole exists, it would be unreasonable to believe without some answer, but none is given here. When it comes to evil, this seems to be at least one case where religion falls silent.

* * *

On a related note, I hereby nominate Ronald Spooner of Port Arthur, Texas for the first annual Not Getting The Point Award, for this comment recently published in his local paper:

Most of the killing going on in the world today is being done — or caused to be done — by people who believe in a supreme being. Can you imagine what would be capable of if they did not believe?

Mr. Spooner’s letter is a classic example of missing the obvious. Honestly viewing the violence and devastation occurring around the world in the name of religion, yet driven by an assumption that religion can only make people better and not worse, he concludes that theism is the only thing holding people back from even worse atrocities. (How much worse does he have in mind?) The notion that religion might actually be playing a causative role in these tragedies never even seems to occur to him. This is a little like a man throwing water on a grease fire, and consoling himself as the flames spread with the knowledge that things would be even worse if he hadn’t tried to extinguish it.

I have an answer for you, Mr. Spooner: Yes, I can imagine what people would be capable of if they did not believe in God. They would be capable of building a peaceful world of reason where our mutual differences are set aside in the name of our common humanity. Religion is not the only cause of our ills, but as long as it divides us, and as long as people think their dogmas are more important than other people’s freedom and happiness, the killing you refer to will never end. Atheism is not the solution to all our problems, but it is definitely the solution to one of the bigger ones. Put aside your prejudices and view it with open eyes, and you may realize that for yourself.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • O. Wolcott

    Ebonmuse,

    I think you make a great point when you say: “Religion is not the only cause of our ills…” Doing away with religion is not a panacea with regards to all the worlds problems. Unfortunately many theists that I come in contact with honestly believe that an atheist holds such a view. Many more ills need be dealt with politically and economically before we begin to live in true harmony. That being said however, religion is a huge impediment (necessary to eliminate though not sufficient).

    On a somewhat related note I was wondering if you or anyone else had seen “Blood Diamond”? Having seen the movie and having studied the related circumstances in Africa I think it would be safe to say that that is a prime example of a non-religious problem requiring non-religious solutions. I found the movie well done, extremely moving and captivating throughout. Any thoughts?

  • Belathor

    Unfortunately many theists that I come in contact with honestly believe that an atheist holds such a view.

    So do many atheists. Just look at all the flack Richard Dawkins gets!

  • http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com Alonzo Fyfe

    Actually, Ms. Brooks’ description of the problem of evil has a significant omission. Like most theists who discuss the problem, they focus only on man-made evils. They ignore God-made evils. Small pox, AIDS, Malaria, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, drought, locust, cancer, blight, floods, fires, and the like.

    Humans substantially eliminated small pox and polio. It seems that God could have produced the same result with the snap of a finger. Furthermore, at the time, there were theists who complained that humans who worked to eliminate these diseases were ‘playing God’. They were trying to take away God’s power to inflict plague on people.

    We developed hurricane warning systems. Could not God have created some type of sign of an incoming hurricane and then had somebody written in the Bible that this is what one looks for (assuming that God lacked the ability to simply eliminate the hurricane)?

    Indeed, the Bible contains no truly useful information about how to avoid any of these evils. It recommends prayer and religious sacrifice as the best way to avoid famine – methods that any reasonable study of the issue will prove have no effect.

    Yet, even Ms. Brooks avoids mentioning these problems. Perhaps she understands a part of the problem, but not the heart of it.

  • schemanista

    I’m decidedly underwhelmed by the reasoning skills of the leading apologists. For people who supposedly firmly ground themselves in perennial philosophy, Susan Brooks, Bishop Wright, Gary Habermas, Alvin Plantinga… all of them routinely mistake rhetoric for reason.

    Interesting that Brooks would bring up Rwanda, since at the time of the genocide, it was the most heavily Christianized country in Africa. I like to point that out when believers invoke the Stalin and Pol Pot bugaboos. It’s also worth mentioning that, atheist or not, Hitler was not the one who pulled the trigger, released the gas, hooked up the tail pipe… Those acts were carried out by citizens of an overwhelmingly Christian nation. As were the “ethnic cleansings” perpetrated by the Serbs…

  • valhar2000

    Perhaps it is better to specify the wish to eliminate a root cause, so to speak, of religion, rather than religion itself. If people loose the attributes necessary to maintain religious belief, a lot of evil that takes place would become impossible, because the people required to perpetrate it would not beleive the rationalizations given for it.

    In other words, there would still be televangelists, faith healers, demagogues and bullies, but they would be unemployed.

  • Brendan

    Actually, I think Brooks’ “answer” is one of the best I’ve ever heard. I think what she was trying to get at is that the reason for evil, as near as she can tell, is to cause us to ask the question of why. The purpose of evil, she is arguing, is to cause us to doubt our faith. As she says, “atheism is necessary to faith.” It is, upon reflection, a restating of the old “test of faith” response, but it’s phrased well. I remain unconvinced, but it’s a good answer, in my opinion.

  • http://inserttitleblog.com Steve

    The argument of Ronald Spooner is very similar to arguments made by those in support of continued drug prohibition. They start with the premise that drugs are bad (theism is good) and extrapolate this conclusion into a world with legalized drugs that are easier to access (a world with less theism) and naturally arrive at the conclusion that we would all be worse off. Its all utter nonsense.

    This is a classic case of false premise. To carry my drug argument to its fruition: most of the “evils” that people witness that are correlated with drug use, such as shady dealers, gang wars, crack neighborhoods, crack babies, etc. would be eradicated in a world where the drug market is stolen from the underground and brought into the regulated market. These people face the problem of lack of imagination for the true cause of problems.

    I know I know, I get way off topic and potentially made no sense at all. Sorry!

  • Jeff T.

    It is too bad that so many continue to ignore the fundamental problem of evil. Evil proves there is no god. Man made evil proves there is a long way to go with our social evolution—assuming of course that we survive as a species. Natural evil is just a reflection of the quantum frenzy. We can all ask ourselves ‘why?’ but it seems that only atheists truly try to discover this answer with logic and reasoning rather than rhetoric and blind faith.

    On a seperate note, I have begun to recognize the huge business that is religion and there is little doubt in my mind at why religion continues to flourish despite its logical inconsistencies. I have a few rocks to sell you people, and the rocks on the microcosmic level contain all 11 dimensions and inside one of these, there is God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. As I ponder his residence, I ask ‘why?’.

  • http://auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    Outstanding article, well put. Especially the part about the grease fire. I agree. Dogma cannot be more important than people.

    To whom it may concern,

    May I offer two possible answers to the “problem of evil”

    1) Our perception of evil is completely and utterly wrong
    2) God isn’t all powerful in the sense that he can extinguish all evil with a wave of the hand

    Please do not misunderstand me. I don’t think these answers are conclusive “doubt killers” by any means. I do, however, think an honest exploration of these ideas may lead to the understanding that belief in a God of some kind is not wholly unreasonable.

    Respectfully,

    Matt R.

  • E.B.

    (note: in the preview some of the text (starting with “first off”) looks larger than the other text. I can’t tell if it will translate; if it does, it was unintentional.)

    I’d like to respectfully disagree with your answers to the problem of evil, Matt. I’ll start with my objection to number 2:

    (God isn’t all powerful in the sense that he can extinguish all evil with a wave of the hand)

    An all-powerful god would not have a limitation on his powers, by definition. If said god could not “extinguish all evil,” he would not be all-powerful. One cannot be “kind of all powerful” or “mostly all-powerful”-if a god is said to be all-poweful but lacks powers, then that god is not all-powerful (or he’d be a contradiction in terms and therefore would not exist). If you put a limitation on the powers of a god, then that god would not be all-powerful but merely extremely powerful.

    The Christian god is not refered to as “extremely powerful” or “mighty but limited”, but rather as “omnipotent”, “all-powerful”, “almighty”, etc. innumberable times in the Bible (some examples are in Gen 48:3 and Rev 19:6). A declaration that the Christian god is not all-powerful would directly go against the Bible, which is said to be the word of the Christian god.

    Also, 1:

    (Our perception of evil is completely and utterly wrong)

    This seems to invalidate the standard moral system that most people accept in their daily lives. Also, it seems to follow that our perception of good would also be wrong as the concepts of good and evil are so greatly interrelated.

    First off, If humanity’s concept of good is wrong, then how would you know that the Christian god is good? The Christian god’s benevolence is also a primary part of Christian doctrine, along with his omnipotence. It seems to me that in order to prove your points, the very least you’d have to do is say that the Christian god is:
    a)limited in power (see above)
    b)not benevolent (see this one)
    c)a liar (see the Bible, which says that he’s all-powerful and benevolent)
    and I expect these are not part of your argument and would just bring up more problems.

    Second off, even if, somehow, humanity’s concept of good is spot-on but the concept of evil is completely wrong, then how would we know that Satan was evil? The Bible says he’s evil, but we can’t comprehend evil. This is another argument that goes against the Bible, which is the source of, and, supposedly, some the evidence for, Christianity.
    Thirdly: this also creates a problem about the Christian doctrine regarding going to heaven. A thought experiment: if no one could comprehend evil, how would one know that one was not sinning by doing evil things all the time and not asking for forgiveness since one didn’t realize that, say, tying one’s shoe more than twice a day was true evil? It seems as though everyone would end up in hell because of doing terribly evil things that no one realized were evil. This would not exactly be a point in favor of Christianity.

    Sorry if that was long-winded/confusingly worded; I’m neither as eloquent nor as laconic as many of the contributors to the comments. Feel free to ask me to clarify if necesary. I look forward to your response!

  • http://auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    E.B.

    Thank you. Your thoughtful remarks are very helpful and respectful. I am very happy to dialogue with you.

    I will begin with your critique of solution #2.

    Your critique was not of my solution, but of the doctrine of omnipotence. Basically you defended the concept that God is omnipotent. I do not believe that God is absolutely omnipotent. I believe that absolute omnipotence is irrational and meaningless. Observe:

    If I am absolutely omnipotent then I can create a perfectly square circle. This is true, but the concept of a “perfectly square circle” is meaningless.

    Therefore, I define the omnipotence that I ascribe to God as a “rational omnipotence” This means that God has the ability to do things which are logical rational and meaningful.

    How this relates to my theodicy is very complex, but we can address it in due time if you choose.

    Critique of solution #2

    “bad” is a relative term. Observe:

    If a passenger plane crashes, it is “bad”.

    If it turns out that the passenger plane in question was piloted by a terrorist who intends to crash the plane into a building full of children, then it is “good” if that plane crashes before it reaches its target.

    Basically, something that some view as “bad” can actually be “good” if we have a bigger picture.

    How this concept relates to my theodicy is also complex. I will adress it if you so choose. For the sake of simplicity, let us address only one at a time. So it is up to you to choose which one we start with:

    1) Rational omnipotence as it relates to Matt R’s theodicy

    or

    2) Perception of evil as it relates to Matt R’s theodicy

    Thank you for offering an interesting dialogue. I also look forward to future communication from you.

    Respectfully,

    Matt R

  • E.B.

    If you want to split the two, I’d be okay with just starting with number 1 (Rational omnipotence as it relates to your theodicy).

    It is true that my argument mainly was regarding omnipotence. I was assuming that you were following the Biblical concept of god, where the Bible states repeatedly that said god is omnipotent, almighty, &c. Your solution to the problem of evil would not work for this god. The Bible generally seems very clear that the Christian god is omnipotent in the classical, all-powerful sense. I don’t think most Christians follow your definition of omnipotence in this regard, so while your argument that the christian god’s powers cannot sto evil would work for you and anyone who shares your beliefs, it wouldn’t work for most Christians and so it doesn’t really solve “problem of evil” because that problem relates to a different conception of god than the one you believe in. The “problem of evil”, as I understand it, is the following (from All Possible Worlds by Ebonmuse).

    Assumption (1): God exists.
    Assumption (1a): God is all-knowing.
    Assumption (1b): God is all-powerful.
    Assumption (1c): God is perfectly loving.
    Assumption (1d): Any being that did not possess all three of the above properties would not be God.
    Premise (2): Evil exists.
    Premise (3): An all-knowing being would be aware of the existence of evil.
    Premise (4): An all-powerful being would be able to eliminate evil.
    Premise (5): A perfectly loving being would desire to eliminate evil.
    Conclusion (6): Evil does not exist. (from (1),(3),(4),(5))
    Contradiction: But evil does exist. (from (2))
    Conclusion (7): There is no being that is all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly loving. (from (2),(3),(4),(5))
    Conclusion (8): God does not exist. (from (7),(1d))

    Your conception of god goes against Assumption 1d. This does not mean that your conception of god is invalid, just that it is not the standard Christian god that the problem of evil is a problem for. The “problem of evil” is not intended to be an argument against any kind of theism whatsoever (it also wouldn’t work, for example, for example, against the Greek/Roman pantheon), but merely against the classical Christian god, as can be seen by the assumptions in step 1.

    To summarize, it seems as though your conception of god is not the standard Christian one and so the problem of evil is meaningless to your conception of god. However, since your god is not the standard Christian god, your argument does not refute the problem of evil, but rather sidesteps it.

    I would be interested to hear, also, how you consider the prevention of evil to be illogical, irrational, or meaningless. It wasn’t clear to me from your previous post.

  • http://auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    E.B.

    I do have beliefs about the Bible, but discussing them now would simply cloud the issue at hand. Perhaps we can speak of it sometime, though.

    Before I continue with omnipotence and my theodicy, I would like to point out some things that I disagree with in your assumptions, premises, and logic.

    Logical inconsistency:

    Assumption (1b): God is all-powerful.
    Assumption (1c): God is perfectly loving.

    If God is all powerful, he cannot be perfectly loving because if God is all powerful, then he can do everything including evil. Of course, doing evil is incompatible with being all loving. Your assumptions are contradictory, therefore you are making your concept of God impossible from the beginning.

    Arbitrary assumption:

    Assumption (1d) seems a little arbitrary to me. I don’t see why lacking the properties of Assumption (1a) and (1b) would make a being not God. What if he was simply the most knowledgeable and most powerful being? It seems that he would still be the “top dog”.

    Premise may not be valid:

    Premise (5) may not be valid. In the same way a loving parent allows a child to feel pain in training for the “big game” or to learn a lesson, God could have a higher purpose for the things that are unpleasant in this life. Of course the only way this works is if there is an afterlife. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, then the existence of evil in this world is a very good reason not to believe in a good God.

    I know you will get frustrated because theists are always appealing to the mysteriousness of God saying that he has some unknown “higher purpose” for suffering. Well, I believe he has a higher purpose, but it is not unknowable. I think it is rational and well within the comprehension of the average person who has an open mind.

    The key to my theodicy is the open mind. If you refuse to imagine and perform “thought experiments” with me you will not understand my ideas. Unless you open your mind, my words will be meaningless babble. The train of thought is complex enough that an unwilling mind will not follow. I promise to be open-minded in return. I will acknowledge valid refutation of my theodicy. If you doubt my openmindedness, ask around this website, there are those who post here who can vouch for me.

    What do you think about these three things? Am I off? If I am wrong I will admit it. We must be in agreement and on good terms for my theodicy to make sense. It is very complex.

    Awaiting your reply,

    Matt R

  • http://auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    I apologize for disagreeing with your argument through E.B. I would discuss it with you directly but you and I are already discussing so much. I think my objections may be valid, though. What do you think?

    Matt R

  • E.B.

    I don’t think that 1b and 1c are contradictory. It seems to me that you are attempting to equate the ability to do evil things (“…if God is all powerful, then he can do everything including evil.”) with actually doing evil things (“Of course, doing evil is incompatible with being all loving”). I disagree that the ability to do evil is equivalent to doing evil. As an example, I have a certain amount of knives around my house (for cooking, etc.). I have the ability to stab someone with one of these knives, but I have never stabbed anyone. While I don’t believe in the god that fulfills the qualifications of the problem of evil (or any other god(s), for that matter), I don’t see it as being logically inconsistent for the reason above.

    Regarding 1d: As I’ve said, the problem of evil is not designed to be a refutal of any/all forms of theism. This part of the same essay explains why Assumption 1d is there (2nd paragraph below the logic statement):

    Of course, religious traditions that do not believe in such a god face little difficulty from the problem of evil, and there have been traditions such as these throughout history. For example, the classical Greek and Roman civilizations believed in many gods, some benevolent, some indifferent and some malevolent, that squabbled constantly over the fates of humans. Members of the ancient Manichaean faith believed that God is perfectly loving but not omnipotent, since he is opposed by an evil spirit just as powerful as himself. Even today, adherents of a movement called open theism believe that God, though he may be extremely powerful, is not infinitely powerful, and therefore may fail to prevent evil because he is unable to do so.

    However, views such as these will not be addressed in this article. Whatever their theological legitimacy, such beliefs are relatively rare today and possess little influence, compared to the more traditional, “omnimax” view of God. How modern members of these traditions choose to reconcile their beliefs with the state of the world is up to them; the remainder of this article will discuss the problem of evil as it relates to traditional monotheism and show that the proffered solutions are inadequate.

    That hopefully should clear up why Assumption 1d is there: Again, the problem of evil is only designed to refute the traditional monotheistic belief in a omnipotent, omniscent, benevolent god. Since your conception of god involves him having limits on his powers, the problem of evil doesn’t apply to your belief.

    Regarding premise 5: Again, this argument relates to a omnipotent god. If a god was all-powerful, he wouldn’t have to make anyone feel pain to “learn a lesson”, because he could explain the lesson and have them believe and accept it. Assuming that there is both an afterlife and an omnipotent god, he could simply have created everyone in heavenly paradise. This argument also does not apply to your conception of god since you do not believe in an omnipotent god in the typical sense, but nevertheless I think that it’s still valid.

    I’m trying to work with an open mind currently. If I was being closed-minded, I probably would have said “you’re wrong” as my first post or not posted at all. Though I do disagree with you in many cases, I have attempted to provide the reasons why I disagree instead of dismissing your comments out of hand. I do consider you to be open-minded, as you’ve considered my points and demonstrated why you disagree with them. If there are more thought experiments you want to do that relate to this topic, go ahead, however, I reserve the right to disagree if I have a good reason. I will not merely dismiss them out of hand, but neither will I agree to them out of hand. For example, I’m planning to respond to your thought experiment about evil being percieved incorrectly (the plane crash chain of events) in a post about that a bit later–I’m not ignoring it or dismissing it without reason. Feel free to continue posting-I will listen and respond.

  • http://auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    E.B.

    Good. I am glad that we are both prepared for open discussion. You make a very good point about my “contradiction” in assumptions. I was viewing it from a pragmatic standpoint and you were viewing if from a hypothetical standpoint. I believe that each conclusion is valid from the respective standpoint. In other words, you are absolutely right.

    At this point I feel very comfortable sharing my views with you. You have demonstrated youself multiple times as a respectful thoughtful person who considers ideas before making a judgement. I find that quality in you admiable.

    I will explain my theodicy in brief, then elaborate as you question it. My ideas are fluid and not concrete. They change as new information is presented to me, so do not be surprised if I change my ideas based on ideas that you present to me.

    One more thing, I do believe that God is powerful enough to eliminate the things we call natural evil (cancer, sickness, tsunamis), but I believe he doesn’t do this for a higher purpose. I believe he either is not powerful enough or chooses not to prevent evil of the human origin (rape, murder, dishonesty etc…)

    So here it is, my theodicy:

    I believe that God created everything. I propose that his purpose was a desire for love. I do not believe that love can exist outside of free will. Because of this, God gave humans the ability to choose to love him or not to love him.

    The reason God has hidden himself and has put all of these confusing things in the world is to prevent us from being coerced into loving him. I think that if we saw God or flaming letters in the sky or things like that, we woud realize that we better do what he says…or else. At this point the devotion we show God is not love, it is subservience given out of fear.

    So all the ambiguity with God is designed to preserve absolute free will. I believe that natural evil is a part of this ambiguity.

    In short, I propose that our reality is designed to provide an environment that is totally insulated from God. I propose that it has just enough evidence for and against our concepts of God that we can legitimately be described as having free will in the matter of choosing to love God or choosing not to love God.

    This is my theodicy in short. There are many more detailed aspects to it and I will give them as you question me.

    Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my ideas. I welcome any additions or modifications that you propose, however drastic they may be.

    If anyone other than E.B. wishes to comment on my thoughts, I welcome you to do so. As you comment, bear in mind that this is what I THINK. I recognize that reality very well may differ from my perception of reality. I am simply trying to find the truth. That is why I am here, to have different people with different perspectives evaluate my ideas. I think that if I find the truth, it will stand up to all perspectives and be rational. Anything less than the truth will eventually be revealed as false and I must continue my search.

    Again, thank you for your time.

    Respectfully,

    Matt R

  • stillwaters

    Matt R writes:

    I recognize that reality very well may differ from my perception of reality. I am simply trying to find the truth. That is why I am here, to have different people with different perspectives evaluate my ideas. I think that if I find the truth, it will stand up to all perspectives and be rational. Anything less than the truth will eventually be revealed as false and I must continue my search.

    Have you tried starting with the assumption that there is no god? That god doesn’t exist? I think that if you started with that assumption, it would “stand up to all perspectives and be rational.”

    I understand that all things cannot be explained by atheism. But that is not the point. The point is to not invoke a god just because we don’t understand everything. It’s okay if we can’t answer every question about everything. It’s not okay to start dreaming up some god-like creature to provide answers for us.

    I think by starting with the existence of god, you are finding that you have to account for so many different situations that don’t make sense, like the problem of evil, the impossibility of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and omniscience, free will, sin, etc. The attributes and powers of this imaginary god have to transmute in such a complex way. It always leads to irrationality.

    Take god out of the equation, and you are left with a universe that makes sense. Yes, it is a hostile and uncaring universe, but it is a real universe. And a simpler universe. I think if you truly look in this direction, everything will become much more clear, and make much more sense, without having to perform the mental, philosophical gymnastics that a god requires.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    stillwaters,

    Thank you for your advice. I have followed it and I have had interesting thoughts as a result. I can imagine scenarios in which reality is possible without God. I find that if I start with either assumption, God or no God, that I encounter challenging questions which I can satisfactorily answer for either initial premise. I have found that either position requires a fair amount of “philosophical gymnastics” (I really like that term, by the way!). To be honest, both possibilities are rather far-fetched in my mind. It seems odd to think that there is a single entity controlling everything, and it also seems odd that all of reality just happened by itsself. I almost feel as though I am stuck between a rock and a hard place! I guess that a question as big and difficult as “what does it all mean” should not have a simple answer!

    In any case, thank you for your imput. It has certainly broadened my horizons. I had alway thought that I could not imagine a universe wihthout God. I find that I can. Now I get to choose which one I will believe in. Interesting…

    Respectfully,

    Matt R

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    stillwaters,

    One more thing, what did you think of my theodicy? Does it work?

    Thanks for your time and thoughts,

    Matt R

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Hi Matt, I have a question for you:

    You say that God deliberately chooses to permit natural evil, so as to leave just enough room for doubt about his existence or benevolence so that we can make a genuinely free choice to love him. But if he is capable of preventing this evil and deliberately chooses not to, then why is he worthy of our love?

    To help calibrate your answer, I hope you’ll consider cases like this:

    Epidermolysis Bullosa Patients have skin as fragile as a butterfly’s wing which can blister at the slightest touch — even from a mother’s cuddle. Normal day-to-day life can cause constant pain and scarring, which, in the worse forms, leads to eventual disfigurement, disability and often early death.

    …People born with EB lack anchors that hold the layers of their skin together. As a consequence, any activity that rubs or causes pressure produces a painful sore akin to a second-degree burn. One forms of EB is lethal in the first weeks or months of life. Some are mutilating over time. Infection is a serious, ongoing concern. As if the diagnosis is not heartbreaking enough, no treatment for EB has been effective. Parents have coped by protecting the child’s skin with gauze and ointments, to prevent and protect the wounds and healthy skin-something that HMO’s refuse to pay for.

    …Nicky has one of the very worse forms of EB that DO NOT improve with age, called Recessive Dystrophic. His form actually gets worse with age. His fingers and toes web and contract, he has a g-tube [in other words, a tube surgically implanted through a hole in the stomach wall --Ebonmuse] to supply nutrition to him, as his esophagus is in bad shape. He has to be covered with bandages from head to toe to prevent new wounds and protect the existing ones.

    If you, like me, are outraged to hear that HMOs won’t pay for the preventive care that is the only hope children suffering from this horrible disease have to live an even approximately normal life, then how much worse should our outrage be at a being who has the power to cure these children and end this disease altogether, at no cost to himself, and chooses not to do anything? And for what? Some abstract philosophical issue of whether we love him in the right way?

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    I applaud your scrutiny. That was an excellent means to bring the practical aspect of our contemplation into focus. Yes there are many utterly detestable natural evils in this world. I don’t think we need to use such an extreme example to make your point. We could use any example.

    If this is the only shot we get at life, here on this earth, no more, and there is a God, then I would have a difficult, if not impossible, task of justifying natural evil. I will state again that for my theodicy to work one must assume that this life as we know it is not the end. Otherwise my theodicy is nonsense. (some may think it nonsense regardless!)

    I am in an unenviable position. All the “evidence” to support my theodicy is in intangible and not empirical. I cannot point and say “look, there it is! Heaven! See, I told you so.” As they say, seeing is believing.

    The opposing position, however, has all the empirical evidence neccessary.

    So one might call me irrational. In my defense, in order to imagine the existence of our universe sans a Creator, I must imagine that an infinite number of other universe exist as well in order to bring about all possible combinations of randomness. I don’t think that inventing a “heaven” to support theism is any worse than having to invent infinite other universes.

    Understand, I am not setting up a “straw man”, I am revealing the machinations of my thought process. As I am becoming vulnerable before anyone who desires to read my thoughts, I humbly request that any rebukes are gentle. I am utterly without defense.

    Again, thank you for the scrutinization of my ideas. It is a good experience.

    Respectfully,

    Matt

  • stillwaters

    Matt R,

    In regard to your theodicy, which involves invoking a deity that intentionally hides from us, and, at the same time, loves us, I would recommend Ebonmusing’s well-written essay on the subject:

    The argument from divine hiddenness

    Briefly, why would a being that loves us want to hide from us? I understand your free will/coercion idea, in that you don’t want to force another to love you, but, even with free will, how could anyone love another when they remain hidden from us?

    I love my wife, and would like her to love me back. I do not hide from her so as not to coerce her into loving me. I spend time with her. I am affectionate with her. I talk to her and listen to her. I share my life with her. If I expect someone to love me, I expect to be a part of their life, not to hide from them. This is not coercion. I am still allowing my wife to make her own choices and decisions about herself and her life.

    Another way of looking at it is if we didn’t love each other, we probably wouldn’t get along together. And then we would want to hide from each other!

    So, hiding from another so as to allow free will doesn’t hold up to a rational argument.

    Matt writes:

    So one might call me irrational. In my defense, in order to imagine the existence of our universe sans a Creator, I must imagine that an infinite number of other universe exist as well in order to bring about all possible combinations of randomness. I don’t think that inventing a “heaven” to support theism is any worse than having to invent infinite other universes.

    Question: why must you create all possible combinations of randomness to understand the existence of the universe? We don’t really understand exactly how our universe can to be, but to say that it is random is, I think, saying more than can be justified. Why do you think that our universe was a random event?

    Before answering, please consider than there are many random events that have natural causes. For example, lightening strikes.

    I’m thinking of saying more, but think it best to wait for a response to some of these questions first. I am truly not quite understanding what your thinking is, so, rather than assuming, I will wait.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Stillwaters,

    I think the relationship between you and your wife is different than between a human and God. This is because your wife does not have the power to instill fear in you the way I imagine that a direct encounter with a God whom you were not currently believing in would. I propose, as Ebonmuse does in “The argument from divine hiddenness”, that an empirical encounter with God would result in any rational person doing whatever God wanted whether he wanted to or not.

    I propose that God does not want obedience or subservience born of fear or desire to curry favor, he wants genuine love. I hope this makes me clear. I also hope I am not making myself a buffoon by missing the obvious.

    I also do not think that God completely hides from us. I think I have been given subjective information that leads me to believe in the possibility of God. I cannot speak for anyone else but myself in this area. Sadly, I realize this does nott lend any more credibility to my ideas.

    Question: why must you create all possible combinations of randomness to understand the existence of the universe? We don’t really understand exactly how our universe can to be, but to say that it is random is, I think, saying more than can be justified. Why do you think that our universe was a random event?

    I understand from what reading I have done on the subject that there are certain constants that are very precise for the development of life. I believe the gravitational constant is one of them. If these constants were off by just a small amount then life would not be possible. I read a debate between Richard Dawkins and another man whose name escapes me, and Richard Dawkins proposed that if there were an infinite amount of universes it would be certain that at least one would contain the necessary constants to produce life as we know it. The concept seemed possible to me, if somewhat unusual. I did not intend to suggest that I originated the idea, just that I can imagine the idea being possible.

    I was under the impression that our Universe must have always existed or have begun at some point. If there was no Creator behind this beginning, then I do not know what else to call the spontaneous appearance of a universe but “random”. It is my best attempt to describe a phenomena. I personally think that either the universe always existed or God always existed and created the universe. It does not seem reasonable to think that everything had to have a beginning becaue we then get locked in a perpetual chain of creations into the past (if we start speculating on what created God), which essentially becomes equivalent to something always existing. Basically it has to start somewhere so either God has always been or the universe has always been.

    I hope my thought patters are becoming clear to you. Thank you for your patience.

    Respectfully,

    Matt R.

  • Jacob R

    Matt R,

    The problem I see is that you think that God would or must instill fear. I imagine God (if he exists) would be more akin to a grandfather. A grandfather is loved because he is kind, wise, and doesn’t instill fear.

    I found a link that explains multiple universes and the science behind it. If you look around the site you can also find information on the origins of the universe.

  • stillwaters

    Matt writes:

    I understand from what reading I have done on the subject that there are certain constants that are very precise for the development of life. I believe the gravitational constant is one of them. If these constants were off by just a small amount then life would not be possible. I read a debate between Richard Dawkins and another man whose name escapes me, and Richard Dawkins proposed that if there were an infinite amount of universes it would be certain that at least one would contain the necessary constants to produce life as we know it. The concept seemed possible to me, if somewhat unusual. I did not intend to suggest that I originated the idea, just that I can imagine the idea being possible.

    I think this may be the debate that you’re talking about.

    First of all, the gravitational constant idea.

    Collins says:

    The gravitational constant, if it were off by one part in a hundred million million, then the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang would not have occurred in the fashion that was necessary for life to occur.

    That would be 1 part in 10^14. Not very much. But, the problem I see with a statement like this is that we only KNOW the gravitational constant to no better than 1.5 parts in 10^4. You see, it’s a very imprecise constant. In fact, it’s the most imprecise fundamental constant we know. Now, how can we only know the constant to a level of 10^-4, but yet Collins can say if it was different by only 10^-14, the universe would be completely different?

    Do you see what I’m saying? For Collins to say that the constant has to be within 10^-14 precision, he has to KNOW the constant to within at least that much. And he’s not even close.

    Secondly, this, in general, is talking about the anthropic principle. How the universe is fine-tuned for life to exist. Two things here. One: Dawkins actually argues that if life is so improbable because of the anthropic principle, then the creator that created such improbability would have to be even more improbable than life itself. Two: To me, the anthropic principle makes as much sense as saying, “My, look at that puddle. It fits into that hole as if it was made for it. Isn’t that amazing. What is the probability of that puddle actually being that exact size and shape of that hole it’s in?” The universe was not made to fit our present life forms. The life forms that we see today were made to fit into the way the universe is (via evolution).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    For the record, I’d just like to say that this is the kind of discussion I started this blog to inspire. I’m truly glad to see an honest and forthright exchange of ideas, one that doesn’t degenerate into shouting or flame wars. I hope we can have many more like it.

    I have some remarks for you, Matt:

    In my defense, in order to imagine the existence of our universe sans a Creator, I must imagine that an infinite number of other universe exist as well in order to bring about all possible combinations of randomness. I don’t think that inventing a “heaven” to support theism is any worse than having to invent infinite other universes.

    Even if I fully grant the existence of Heaven, I don’t think it helps the cause of theodicy all that much. Whether there is future happiness in store for us or not, the existence of pain and suffering now still needs to be explained. It wouldn’t excuse the actions of a husband who beat his wife and children for him to apologize afterward and offer to take them away on a tropical vacation.

    Also: You talked about fearing God, and said that the fact of his power would lead him to hide himself from us so as not to coerce our love. I don’t necessarily agree with that. Power alone doesn’t cause fear – I can think of many powerful people whom I would not be the least bit afraid of if I were to meet them. What causes fear is power wielded capriciously and without compassion or rationality.

    But again, let me grant your point, and then ask: what, then, do you suppose will happen in Heaven? Will God continue to hide from us, even once we get there? Or will he reveal himself? And if he does, won’t that cause people to begin to fear him, exactly as you described, and therefore cause them to cease loving him in the way he desires?

    And one final thought:

    I am in an unenviable position. All the “evidence” to support my theodicy is in intangible and not empirical. I cannot point and say “look, there it is! Heaven! See, I told you so.”

    I understand where you’re coming from, and I realize that Heaven, in most religious conceptions, is not the sort of place we could expect empirical evidence for. But if, as you say, the evidence for an afterlife is not readily detectable to our senses, then could you really blame me or anyone else for not believing in such a place? And given that starting point, could you understand why some people would conclude that God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care about our welfare, and in either case, is not worthy of our love and devotion? Wouldn’t that be a reasonable conclusion given the facts available to us? And in the theodicy you’ve sketched, if the sole purpose of the world is as a testing ground for breeding worship, what would happen to people like us?

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Jacob R,

    The problem I see is that you think that God would or must instill fear. I imagine God (if he exists) would be more akin to a grandfather. A grandfather is loved because he is kind, wise, and doesn’t instill fear.

    Your point is valid. I think I did not express my idea well through my words. Please allow me to try again.

    I think that if a human had an empirical experience with God, that human would instantly realize that he or she would benefit from aligning himself or herself with God. This may or may not be due to terror. It could also be due to avarice. The human in question may suppose that, by aligning with God, they would be putting themself in line for a great reward. In this case, they are loving what God can do for them, not loving God. I suppose there are other reasons that could also work, but I cannot think of them now. If more examples would make my idea more clear, I will try to provide them.

    By making it possible to believe that he does not exist, God is also ensuring that those who choose to love him do so without alterior motive. It is possible to believe that God does not exist. It is also possible to believe he exists. It seems to me that it is a matter of preference more than a matter of necessity.

    Is that a little more clear?

    Thank you for the link to the site regarding multiple universes. I will check it out. What an interesting idea! I wonder if people will ever figure out a way to travel to other universes.

    Respectfully,

    Matt R.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Stillwaters,

    That would be 1 part in 10^14. Not very much. But, the problem I see with a statement like this is that we only KNOW the gravitational constant to no better than 1.5 parts in 10^4. You see, it’s a very imprecise constant. In fact, it’s the most imprecise fundamental constant we know. Now, how can we only know the constant to a level of 10^-4, but yet Collins can say if it was different by only 10^-14, the universe would be completely different?

    I am somewhat confused by the situation here. I followed the link you provided and this is the information I found:

    Gravitational Constant Value: 6.6742 x 10^-11 m3 kg-1 s-2
    Standard uncertanty: 0.0010 x 10^-11 m3 kg-1 s-2
    Relative Standard uncertainty: 1.5 x 10^-4

    It seems to me that we know the gravitational constant to 10^-15 value based on the value shown above. It seems like the relative standard uncertainty is known to the 10^-4 power.

    It has been several years and lots of severe wipeouts since I have dallied with scientific notation, so I could be way off in left field. Am I missing the whole thing here?

    Secondly, this, in general, is talking about the anthropic principle.

    See, I think I may have misunderstood Collins. I thought that his point was that the whole universe as we know it with planets and stars and such, not just life, would not exist if the gravitational constant was off.

    Allow me to close by saying that I do think it is possible that things could have formed as we know them today without God. I think anything is possible. It seems good to me to think that there is a God based on my personal experience and based on what I learn of the natural world through science.

    I would also add that I have been a much better person since I began “following God”. I alway tried to be good before and I succeeded to a degree, but I find myself to be much better now afterward. I realize that this is not proof that God is there, but it is proof to me that belief in God is beneficial to me.

    If there is no God, then we all define our own meaning and purpose. If this is the case, if I define my meaning and purpose based on God, and it makes me a better person, then surely this shortcoming could be overlooked since it produces a better product in me.

    What do you think about this?

    Respectfully,

    Matt R.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    I am working on my response to you, but am short on time. I will respond though.

    Matt

  • stillwaters

    Gravitational Constant Value: 6.6742 x 10^-11 m3 kg-1 s-2
    Standard uncertanty: 0.0010 x 10^-11 m3 kg-1 s-2
    Relative Standard uncertainty: 1.5 x 10^-4

    Matt R, no problem. I was pretty sure what I wrote would be confusing to most, unless they understood beforehand. :)

    When people talk about so many parts out of so much, it is kind of like a percentage. A percentage is just another way of saying so many parts out of 100 (or 10^2).

    Let me try another approach and see if this works better.

    G is given above as 6.6742 x 10^-11. The uncertainty is 0.0010 x 10^-11. If we divide the uncertainty by the G value, then we get 1.5 x 10^-4 (or 1.5 parts out of 10^4).

    If we use Collins’ 10^-14 figure, that would represent an uncertainty of 6.6742 x 10^-25.

    This is G: 0.000 000 000 066 742

    This is the uncertainty in G: 0.000 000 000 000 010

    This is what Collins uncertainty is: 0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 667 42

    Collins is claiming that if G was actually 0.000 000 000 066 742 000 000 000 667 42, then the universe would be different. For all we know G could actually be 0.000 000 000 066 742 500 000 000 000 00 or even 0.000 000 000 066 752 000 000 000 000 00, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

    Now, how in the world does Collins know that a change that small would be significant when scientists don’t even what the actual value is, anywhere close to that precision? Collins must know about 10^10 times more information than any other scientist alive today!

    Collins is claiming that a change that small would be significant. But how? How does he know this? How does he know this when we don’t even know how good G is in the first place?

    Let me put this one more way. If, indeed, G would have to be within a very narrow range for stars and planets to exist, then why don’t we know what this value of G is with the uncertainty that Collins is claiming? If stars truly couldn’t form because of this, physicists would be able to mathematically calculate the value to within the precision that Collins is claiming.

    But since we don’t know G to that level of precision, making any statements based on such precision are completely meaningless and disingenuous.

    In addition, I have been searching the internet in hopes of finding a reputable site that supports Collins’ claim, but have been unsuccessful. I can’t find anything that states that the precision of G has to be within such a narrow range. This leads me to believe that the claim is bogus and not scientifically legitimate.

    If someone can show me otherwise, or where my reasoning is askew, please let me know.

  • stillwaters

    Matt R writes:

    If there is no God, then we all define our own meaning and purpose. If this is the case, if I define my meaning and purpose based on God, and it makes me a better person, then surely this shortcoming could be overlooked since it produces a better product in me.

    It’s difficult to argue with someone when they say they are a better person. ;)

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    On the other hand, some people felt that they became better people after leaving their religion, Blane Conklin for example:

    But that very day, I also began thinking about moral and ethical questions. What would change? What would stay the same? In a phrase, how would I now live? And how would I relate to my wife and two small children? The answers might surprise you.

    The initial answer is that nothing changed. I did not suddenly lose interest in the well-being of my children, nor want to cheat on my wife. I did not become a “heathen,” with all the accompanying moral and ethical connotations.

    The long-term answer is that I became a better human being. I found more compassion toward the billions of people I had never met. If the teeming masses of the world were no longer the concern of a supernatural being, then they just became mine.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Stillwaters,

    Regarding the gravitational constant, I understand you much better now. Thank you. I am always amazed by what a paradign shift will do.

    It’s difficult to argue with someone when they say they are a better person. ;)

    I am potentially mortified. I did not intend to infer that I am a better person than you or anyone else here or anywhere. My meaning was that I became a better person than I was before when I “gave my life to God”. The post-God Matt is better than the pre-God Matt. I hope that clears up my meaning.

    Respectfully,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Nes,

    On the other hand, some people felt that they became better people after leaving their religion, Blane Conklin for example:

    Good point, but does this call the concept of God in general into question, or just Blane Conklin’s former religion? I think that most if not all religions are a flawed attempt to reach God. I do not think reaching God is a matter of statutes and ceremony. I believe it is a matter of the heart and a desire to love.

    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comments. Your imput is appreciated.

    Respectfully,

    Matt R

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    I am very pleased to have this discussion with you and the others. It is very invigorating and interesting. Regarding your remarks:

    Even if I fully grant the existence of Heaven, I don’t think it helps the cause of theodicy all that much. Whether there is future happiness in store for us or not, the existence of pain and suffering now still needs to be explained. It wouldn’t excuse the actions of a husband who beat his wife and children for him to apologize afterward and offer to take them away on a tropical vacation.

    I agree. I don’t see heaven as an apology or an attempt to make things right. I think it is more likely that what we see as “natural evil” could have some part in making “heaven” possible.

    Also: You talked about fearing God, and said that the fact of his power would lead him to hide himself from us so as not to coerce our love. I don’t necessarily agree with that. Power alone doesn’t cause fear – I can think of many powerful people whom I would not be the least bit afraid of if I were to meet them. What causes fear is power wielded capriciously and without compassion or rationality.

    See my response to Jacob R. I think this also answers you. If it does not, let me know and I will try to answer.

    I have to close now due to time constraints. I will address the rest of your response later.

    Respectfully,

    Matt

  • stillwaters

    Matt R, my bad.

    After reading my last comment, I can easily see why it hit you the wrong way. I meant that when someone has found something that has truly made them a better person, it is hard to argue with them about the source of the improvement. I didn’t mean to suggest arrogance on your part.

    I apologize about my last comment. Sorry about the misleading intention.

    As to this discussion so far, I too agree. You seem to be a reasonable person, Matt R, and you’re asking good questions. It seems to come across much better when one asks the questions, truly wondering what the answers are, rather than being under an illusion that one already knows the answers and asks questions in a defensive manner. You, Matt, are the former, and it is most appreciated.

    I have been thinking of another point that I wanted to make, and thought I already wrote it. But, looking back, I can’t find it. So, I will write that here, hoping I haven’t missed it.

    I find that if one wants answers to the great, eternal questions of life and the universe, religion seems to fill that void and is all too ready to do so. Atheism, on the other hand, certainly cannot answer those questions. However, I’d prefer remaining innocent rather than be given nonsensical solutions. I prefer reality over illusion, reason over doctrine, and understanding over dogma. And, thus, I remain an atheist, a secular humanist, a naturalist, and a rationalist. I am patient, and will wait until science, philosophy, and humanity can discover even more about the universe and provide us with a better understanding. And I am confident that we will progress, as I am that further discoveries will be based in naturalism.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Stillwaters,

    I find that if one wants answers to the great, eternal questions of life and the universe, religion seems to fill that void and is all too ready to do so. Atheism, on the other hand, certainly cannot answer those questions. However, I’d prefer remaining innocent rather than be given nonsensical solutions. I prefer reality over illusion, reason over doctrine, and understanding over dogma.

    I think that you and I are similar in respect for a desire for answers and the belief that our answers should be rational. For many years I accepted popular Christian ideas about many things even though they were illogical. I knew they were illogical but there were no other answers I knew of out there and I was afraid to search on my own or develop my own ideas. I was afraid that by questioning, I would somehow be rebelling against God. I now realize that if there is a God, then he has given us our ability to reason and our understanding of God should be based on this tool that God has given us.

    Believing that God is rational and can be understood in a rational manner puts me at odds with most religions because most religions end up appealing to the mysteriousness of God to answer the most difficult questions in life. I find this appeal to mysteriousness unacceptable. If God wants us to seek him, then it seems that he must be understandable.

    My solution is to search for my entire life to discover the answers to the difficult questions. I equate my search for answers about God with the search for a cure for cancer or AIDS. I don’t have any guarantee that God is out there, but my intuition tells me that he is. In the same way, researchers have no guarantee that a cure is out there, but they think there may be, so they search. I search for answers about God because I beleive that those answers are the important ones and will do much good for people who wonder about meaning.

    I have already learned a few things that have filled me with vitality, joy, peace, and love for others. I truly have become a better person. I try to communicate this wonderful experience I have had to anyone who will listen. The challenge I face is that discussions about God bring up such strong emotions that sometimes people assume I am saying things that I am not. Sometimes people shut me out before I can explain that I just want to tell them about a wonderful experience that I have had.

    In closing, I cannot tell you for sure that there is a God or what this God may be like, but I can tell you for a fact that I have discovered something that is greater than me. It makes me better and it makes my life better. I do not presume to be wiswer or smarter than you, I have already displayed my ignorance of scientific notation. I feel like a prospector who has struck it rich and I want to share the motherload.

    If you are interested, I will tell you the few things I have learned and I think are true.

    Respectfully,

    Matt R

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    But again, let me grant your point, and then ask: what, then, do you suppose will happen in Heaven? Will God continue to hide from us, even once we get there? Or will he reveal himself? And if he does, won’t that cause people to begin to fear him, exactly as you described, and therefore cause them to cease loving him in the way he desires?

    Good point! Your idea is very similar to the very idea that started me down my present path of thinking. It is a very good question, arguably the best I have ever heard.

    I think that after this life, humans will have an empirical experience with God. At that point, it will be too late to make a “free-will” decision to love God. At that point, we will be influenced by possible fear of God or greed to use subservience to God to gain benefits from him. Basically, it will be too late to make a real decision. This is why I think that humans must choose here in this life whether they want to love God. It is possible to not believe in God here, after this life, I think it will be impossible.

    … if, as you say, the evidence for an afterlife is not readily detectable to our senses, then could you really blame me or anyone else for not believing in such a place?

    I do not blame you at all. I think it is possible to rationalize both the existence and non-existence of God. People do it every day. I think the choice is based the individuals free will. The question isn’t “Is God possible or impossible” or “Is atheism possible or impossible”. The question is “Do you want God or not?” I am a natural skeptic and I come here because I identify with your desire to approach life in a rational, logical, and responsible way. I have already become more rational and responsible as a result of communicating with you. I certainly do not “blame” you at all.

    given that starting point, could you understand why some people would conclude that God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care about our welfare, and in either case, is not worthy of our love and devotion? Wouldn’t that be a reasonable conclusion given the facts available to us?

    Yes, I think that it is perfectly possible to rationalize a non-God worldview. I think it is a reasonable conclusion. It is your choice. I do not find fault with you for coming to that conclusion.

    And in the theodicy you’ve sketched, if the sole purpose of the world is as a testing ground for breeding worship, what would happen to people like us?

    This, in my opinion, is a harder question for a theist than the problem of evil. It contains so many potential logical conflicts that it is a daunting question to answer. Here is my attempt…

    I can think of three possible scenarios after this life is over.

    Perhaps, when we die, God meets those who love him and allows those who don’t to vanish into the nothingness from which we all came. This really isn’t a bad prospect for the atheist because it is exactly what he was expecting anyway.

    The other scenario would arise if we humans have an immortal and indestructible component to us. If even God cannot destroy this part of us, then those humans who do not choose God must go somewhere. Perhaps they simply go to another place where God isn’t. I don’t think that this other place necessarily has to be torture. Maybe it is a fine place to go and God just isn’t there. That would still accomplish God’s purpose in my theodicy. Maybe God loves people so much that he doesn’t even want to punish the ones who don’t believe in him, so he lets them have their own afterlife. I just wonder what it would end up being like. Just look at what we have done with earth!

    I do have a third scenario which is entirely different. I am going to write an essay on it for my website, but I will give you the summary. Perhaps heaven and hell are the same place and the only difference is the perception of the people there. Maybe the whole purpose of this life is to achieve the appropriate perspective to allow the next life to be heavenly. Maybe if we don’t achieve the appropriate perspective here, “heaven” will actually end up being hell!

    Respectfully,

    Matt R

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    “Religion” was a poor word choice on my part. I should have said “faith” or something similar. I was just trying to point out that saying that one became a better person once they found a deity is a weak argument for the existence of that deity, considering that some people became better people after leaving their deity/deities (regardless of what their former religion was). But I certainly can’t argue with you when you say that belief in a deity has made you (or others) a better person. It undoubtedly has, for some people. Whether that’s because the deity that’s believed in is real or not is another matter entirely, however. I can think of several reasons why belief in a deity could make someone into a better person without that deity actually existing. However, between real life issues and getting my own blog going, I don’t really have the time to get into that discussion.

    Anyway, I don’t want to divert your attention any more. This is a fun discussion going on here. Keep it up!

    (I use “deity” instead of “god” because I feel that it’s more encompassing; it also has the added benefit of being gender neutral in the few cases where that could be an issue.)

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Nes,

    I understand and agree.

    Respectfully,

    Matt R

  • Brad

    Sorry for being 2 years late on this! Matt R (if you’re still here), I’ve seen you comment elsewhere here and I have consistently found you to be the most respectful online commenter I’ve ever seen, believer or nonbeliever. I’ve also found your very personal theories to be quite refreshing. It’s obvious you’ve put more honest thought into God than most people. Instead of bringing back the above discussion, I’ll just go at the tail end and write my own thoughts on the three ideas given by you, Matt.

    Perhaps, when we die, God meets those who love him and allows those who don’t to vanish into the nothingness from which we all came. This really isn’t a bad prospect for the atheist because it is exactly what he was expecting anyway.

    When you think about it, it actually is a bad prospect. We vanish into nonexistence because we had the wrong ideas in the world? I don’t like that prospect at all. If there is a God as you describe, I would want him to reveal himself to me eventually.

    Perhaps they simply go to another place where God isn’t.

    Hey, I like that idea! The only problem is that sometimes things get boring in one place, and so I would kind of want to float back and forth between the two places, you know? Maybe I’ll decide to be with one or the other for eternity – but I find that unlikely.

    I just wonder what it would end up being like. Just look at what we have done with earth!

    Yes, this begs the question of what this other-world would contain, and what we would be able to do with/against each other in such a world. Well, this universe was already planted with the capability for nuclear mass destruction, and the materials on Earth give us the stuff for all sorts of weapons and torture devices and manipulation tools, etc., so I really am not sure of how much worse it could be.

    Maybe if we don’t achieve the appropriate perspective here, “heaven” will actually end up being hell!

    There would also have to be a reason that your perspective can’t change in hell/heaven. If it could change, then what’s the point of this universe?