Improving on God's Handiwork

“With every advance in our thought the unity of the creative act, and the impossibility of tinkering with the creation as though this or that element of it could have been removed, will become more apparent.”

—C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

In the above quote, C.S. Lewis argued that even an infinitely powerful deity could not have created a world entirely without evil or suffering, and that whatever evil or suffering does exist must be an intrinsic part of creating any world at all, and therefore not something for which we can rightfully blame God. Similarly, the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz claimed that, since God was benevolent and omnipotent, this must necessarily be the best of all possible worlds.

A look around at the world we actually live in, however, should convince any rational person that these claims of Panglossian optimism are born from believers’ preexisting apologetic desire to defend their faith, not from any passing acquaintance with the evidence. This world is not the best of all possible worlds, not by a long shot, and there are many ways in which it could have been improved had it been created by a wise, benevolent and powerful deity. Since we would expect goodness, harmony and happiness to be the norm if the world had been created by such a being, whereas in reality we see vast amounts of disharmony, evil and suffering, it is all but certain that the world was not created by such a being. In this essay, I will imagine some ways in which this world could have been improved, things we might have expected to see if our existence had been created by a loving divinity.

In the Christian conception, God is omnipotent. He is not bound by physical laws, but can freely alter those laws to his liking. The only limit which applies to God is the limit of logical possibility: God cannot do what is logically impossible, for example, create a world where there both is and is not evil. Other than this trivial restriction, God can create literally any self-consistent world which it is possible to imagine. In this essay, I will take this conception as a model. Claims that God lacks the power to create a world better than our own will not be considered here, since that is not the position taken by the vast majority of believers.

First, the most obvious response to Lewis’ claim is that humans have already removed several elements of the world which we found uncongenial. For example, smallpox has been eradicated completely and no longer exists in the wild at all. Numerous other diseases, such as polio, have been almost completely wiped out or at the very least brought under control through vaccination and other medical advances, so that millions of people can live lives free of the fear and suffering they cause. If this task is possible for mere humans, then it must be possible for a far more powerful supernatural being. As our efforts at vaccination and medical care show, there is no intrinsic reason why our world requires the existence of tuberculosis, bubonic plague, AIDS, or any of the other infectious diseases that bedevil us. If God exists, he would not have allowed such plagues to come into existence in the first place.

To those theists who would respond that eliminating disease and other checks on human population would cause our numbers to grow out of control and cause even more people to suffer and starve, I point out that God could have made human beings so that our natural drive is not to reproduce continually regardless of the environment’s ability to support them, but so the population increases only up to a sustainable level and then ceases to grow any further. Even in our world, some species have abilities like this: some bacteria, for example, have a genetic mechanism called “quorum sensing“, which enables them to alter their behavior based on how crowded their environment is. God could have installed a more sophisticated version of this sense in human beings, causing either the desire to have more children or the physical ability to do so to decrease in proportion to how many of us there are.

In fact, God could have put such a sense not just in humans, but in all living things. Such a change would have improved the world by putting an end to the Malthusian struggle that currently obtains, where every species seeks to multiply as much as possible and is kept in check only by starvation, disease, parasitism, predation and other means of death. This natural order ensures vast amounts of constant struggle and bloodshed among living things, and what’s more, ensures that the scythe always falls most heavily on the innocent young – both human and otherwise. A wise god could have framed the natural order differently so as to exclude this outcome.

Talking of the Malthusian struggle to reproduce, there is another area where improvements could have been made. Giving birth, for human beings, is a horrifically painful and risky affair. The large heads that give us room to be intelligent, and the narrow pelvises that allow us to walk upright, are two highly beneficial adaptations taken separately, but put together, they mean that giving birth is vastly more difficult and dangerous for human women than it is for any other mammal. A blind process such as evolution cannot be blamed for becoming trapped in this cul-de-sac of adaptation, but a foresightful intelligent designer could surely have come up with a better solution. Why not give human mothers a pouch like marsupials, so that a fetus could finish developing in safety outside the mother’s womb?

I have another, related suggestion. Christian conservatives often rail against divorce, promiscuity, masturbation, extramarital sex, and other forms of sexual interaction that fall outside their preferred model of total abstinence followed by lifelong monogamy. Yet the very strength of the human sex drive makes that model extremely unrealistic and unattainable for all except a few. If monogamy is what God wants, I have a better idea: create a world where the ritual of marriage induces physiological changes in a person that cause them to forever after feel sexual and romantic attraction only towards their mate, and not toward anyone else. Such a change would eliminate at one stroke most of the social ills pointed to by religious conservatives. If God wanted us to abstain from such behaviors, he could have created us so as to naturally exclude them, rather than creating people with extremely strong inclinations to do the opposite of what he wants them to do, and then becoming furious at and harshly punishing those people who give in to those inclinations.

Likewise, if God is so angered by people hurting other people, there would be an easy way to drastically decrease the occurrence of that. Although human beings already have a decent sense of empathy, he could have given us a much stronger one, something like the emotional telepathy often found in science fiction. With this sense, which there would be no way to block, you would perceive all the emotions of people around you: not just to understand what it would be like, but to actually feel them yourself. Any fear that you induced in another person, any pain you caused them, you would feel as if it were your own. In the vast majority of cases, I am sure, this would so appall the offender that they would be unable to do what they had intended.

There are many more ways to improve this world I could think of that I haven’t listed here. Perhaps some readers will disagree with some of my specific suggestions, which is fine. However, I challenge any theist readers who believe in an omnipotent and benevolent god to tell me that they cannot think of one single way in which this world could have been improved upon. I’d wager that honesty would compel them to admit otherwise.

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.

  • http://aloadofbright.wordpress.com tobe38

    In many ways, the very existence of time proves your point. The very fact that the world is not the same as it was yesterday, or as it will be tomorrow shows that the state of the world is constantly changing. Where as the standard by which “the best of all possible worlds” would be measured would have to be a constant. This can’t be the best of all possible worlds all the time, because it is always changing.

    And over longer periods of time the changes, in evolutionary terms and in culture, are much greater. The shifting social dynamic between periods in history, and even between different parts of the world highlight the flaws in the doctrine.

  • Dave

    Giving birth, for human beings, is a horrifically painful and risky affair.

    The common answer to that, of course, is to quote Genesis 3:16:

    To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

    It wasn’t that a benevolent god failed to make childbirth safe and easy, it’s that he intentionally made it painful and difficult.

  • http://aloadofbright.wordpress.com tobe38

    Dave,

    The apologetic is easily despatched as part of the same argument. For God to knowingly create the world in such a way that Eve took the apple etc, then even at the beginning our world was not the best possible, because a world where Adam and Eve obeyed God would have been a better one.

  • BillF

    But Dave, what about free will?

    The ‘fall of man’ is the christian’s fallback to this line of reasoning. Their first counter argument is typically free will. Evil has to be allowed if we are to have free will. The atheist counters with natural disasters and disease, and the fact that most of us do not really have free will to do what we want anyway. Or the atheist may ask about free will in heaven, and if free will exists in heaven, then is there evil in heaven? Or if free will does not exist in heaven it can’t be that important, so why allow it here on earth?

    The christian’s second typical counter is that we are not smart enough to understand god’s infinite wisdom and the evil and ‘mistakes’ we see are just temporary and are part of some greater good. The atheist counters that with this logic it is possible to believe anything, in flying spaghetti monsters, in the roman gods, even that screwy story the mormans will try and tell you.

    Then the christian falls back to the ‘fall of man.’ They say the world was perfect and without suffering or defect, but eve caused the fall of man. That is why we all suffer. We are all being punished for what someone else did eons ago.

    They can’t seem to see that if any of these lines of reasoning were valid, they would not need the others.

    It amuses me that when I bring up all the twisted sex and violence that permeates through the old testament, my christian friends try to dismiss it with “ah, thats just the old testament.” As if that explains it all away. Yet when I bring up the problem of evil or poor design, they end up falling back to a fairy tale out of that same old testament they casually dismissed 5 minutes before.

    We are all doomed.

  • schemanist

    The common answer to that, of course, is to quote Genesis 3:16

    And the common answer to that is to say “that’s nice, now where’s your proof?

  • anti-nonsense

    I just said this elsewhere but let me say it again here.

    WHY would a supposedly perfect God, create imperfect humans, and then turn around and PUNISH them for not being perfect? It seems grossly unfair to me.

  • terrence kaye

    Ebon, one if your sharpest arrows yet. There is a hideous “orphan” (so few cases it cannot attract the necessary research and funding to find a cure) disease with an unpronounceable name, abbreviated as “FOP.” From USA Today: “FOP causes bone to form in muscles, tendons and ligaments, creating a second skeleton that encases the body in a prison of bone. In a macabre manifestation, patients may eventually turn into living statues — standing, arms folded, sitting or even cruelly twisted…. The average life span for an FOP patient is 45 years.”

    In late childhood or early adolescence, patients with this condition must decide whether they will spend the rest of their lives in a permanent standing, sitting or some other position. So to all true believers: If I, Dr. Mad Scientist, created this disease in my lab and then injected it into a few hundred victims each year, what would you have done with me? A), the gallows, or B) Head on over to church and sing the praises of My name. ???

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

    I discussed the disease to which Terrence refers in my post A World in Shadow II.

  • http://welovetea.wordpress.com welovetea

    Hi there, Daylight Atheist,
    I wanted to let you know that I appreciate the extensive resources on your website. It must have taken quite a while to compile all of this! Though not an atheist myself, I study comparative religion and this has been very helpful for learning about the atheist perspective. I’m compiling a page of resources about different religions (I use this term loosely to mean perspectives on life, knowing that in the case of atheists it’s not the most descriptive/appropriate term), and have added your site to the list. Let me know if you’d rather I didn’t. I included links to the disclaimer & introduction so hopefully people who link to it will take the time to read that first.
    Thanks!
    welovetea

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

    Terrence Kaye,

    I would stop you from injecting the disease and try to rehabilitate you for social life.

    Matt

  • Terrence

    Matt, that’s a good start. How could we initiate that project with the Deity?

  • anti-nonsense

    not to derail this convo, but I think FOP is a good argument for allowing euthanasia, ugh one of the nastiest diseases I’ve heard of, although interesting from a stem-cell research perspective.

  • Freeyourmind

    You know the problem with your post?

    You use reason, logic, intelligence, and common sense. :)

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

    Terrence, I do not think we have to.

    Matt

  • anti-nonsense

    Matt R.

    Why not? If it’s not OK for a person to create a disease like that, then why is it OK for a god to do it?

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

    Hi anti-n.

    Your question assumes that I hold God to a different standard. I am interested to know why you jump to this conclusion so swiftly. Your response seems to indicate a certain amount of emotional involvement with the topic.

    I have found that making sweeping assumptions about other people rarely leads to meaningful discourse. Generally the participants end up either talking past each other or engaging in an endless strawman conflagration.

    As it turns out, I do not find it acceptable that the Creator of the universe would create humans simply for the fun of inflicting arbitrary gratuitous suffering on them. I think that we do not have to worry about stopping God because I think that one of the following options is most likely:

    1) There is a reason that there is suffering. Perhaps it is working towards an end or it is a unavoidable aspect of existence. In this case, God is not wantonly “injecting” people with killer death viruses. I personally think that the fact that Jesus worked to alleviate suffering shows that God is concerned with people and works to alleviate suffering. It would be rather silly for God to choose to cause suffering then come to earth and work against that which he had instituted.

    2) There is no God and I am greatly mistaken. In this case there is no creator to “rehabilitate”.

    I suppose that there is always the matter of the Creator who does not care or the evil Creator. I think that it is unlikely that the Creator of everything is evil as there is too much good in life. I suppose one could attempt to make the argument that the apparent good serves a greater evil. That would, no doubt, lead to some interesting discussion. “The problem of good” I can just see it now! :)

    I have a question for you, and anyone else who cares to answer:

    Are you an atheist because of the “argument from evil” or do you agree with the “argument from evil” because you are an atheist? Perhaps there is some synthesis of the two?

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • anti-nonsense

    Are you an atheist because of the “argument from evil” or do you agree with the “argument from evil” because you are an atheist? Perhaps there is some synthesis of the two?

    Probably some of both, but mostly the latter. I don’t believe in a god because I don’t see any reason to based on the evidence I have seen, and the common description of the Judeo-Christian god seems logically impossible, partially because of the argument from evil, and also because I believe that omnipotence is logically impossible. (the “can God create a rock so big he couldn’t lift it” argument)

    PS: I didn’t intend my comment to be inflammatory I’m sorry if it came across as being so.

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

    Hi anti n.

    PS: I didn’t intend my comment to be inflammatory I’m sorry if it came across as being so.

    I was, I think, being overly critical. My apologies.

    …and the common description of the Judeo-Christian god seems logically impossible, partially because of the argument from evil, and also because I believe that omnipotence is logically impossible. (the “can God create a rock so big he couldn’t lift it” argument)

    I tend to agree with you on this point. I find some of the popular ideas about God rather strange. I think most concepts of God are gross oversimplifications and only crude parodies of the real thing. To me the problem of evil serves to define God more clearly. It tells me that God is probably not x,y,z.

    For example, the whole idea that God came to earth as a human seems like a strange plan if God is able to fix the whole problem down here with a snap of the fingers. The POE suggests that perhaps God cannot fix evil so easily, perhaps the only way he could was through the incarnation.

    Regarding omnipotence, I have no idea why people hold so tightly to this idea. In my opinion, the Bible does not teach the idea in the way that so many hold to it. Furthermore there are many noteworthy theologians who think as you do. They recognize that the idea of unbridled omnipotence is logically contradictory, so they do not hold to it.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://blog.dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    Matt,

    For example, the whole idea that God came to earth as a human seems like a strange plan if God is able to fix the whole problem down here with a snap of the fingers. The POE suggests that perhaps God cannot fix evil so easily, perhaps the only way he could was through the incarnation.

    Regarding omnipotence, I have no idea why people hold so tightly to this idea. In my opinion, the Bible does not teach the idea in the way that so many hold to it. Furthermore there are many noteworthy theologians who think as you do. They recognize that the idea of unbridled omnipotence is logically contradictory, so they do not hold to it.

    I think many people here will agree with you that God didn’t come to earth as a human, and isn’t omnipotent. :) If you’re not careful you’ll reach Atheistville before sundown. Fundamentalist Christians would probably already lump you and me in the same category.

    So just to short-circuit this process (and sidetrack the conversation even more – sorry Ebonmuse), what do you believe? And, if you can sum it up without an epic essay, why do you believe in a god at all?

  • E.B.

    Shishberg-

    I also asked Matt R about his beliefs. Perhaps I can save him some writing time by pointing you towards his post here, I think. If the link doesn’t work (I tried it just now and it didn’t work for me), he posted it at January 8, 2007, 12:05 pm, so you can search within the page for that time and it should probably come up. Hopefully, that will help.

    P.S. to Matt: I’m sorry that I kind of dropped the ball on our conversation about the problem of evil and whatnot back there—I had all the final exams of the term right as I got involved with that topic, so it fell by my wayside somewhat.

  • http://none John Nernoff III M.D.

    Matt mentions the “real thing” with reference to “God.” May I suggest that neither he, no any other writer here, knows what “God” refers to. Most say “Creator.” But what IS the entity that did any creating, where is it, how did it create. Relgious writers leave it to the imagination of their followers; no evidence is posted to explicate the “God” idea. That is why some atheists have taken up the label of “non-cognitivist”; they simply cannot formulate any concept of what the label “God” is supposed to mean.

    As far as evil on the earth, we are stuck in a natural world without any ghostly or supernatural entities running it as far as we know. The theists’ “God” supposedly is perfect, Deuteronomy stating explicitly that his works are perfect.

    Deut 32:4 He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.

    Thus A & E were perfect (according to the myth) and were incapable of performing any evil deed, the story of the forbidden fruit notwithstanding. The story is simply logically flawed.

    Finally, the Bible is no source for any moral or philosophical knowledge as it is a hapless, outdated, primitive contraption loaded with lies and fallacies and contradictions, well publicized by may sites here on the web, and this forum itself. It is useless to appeal to that book in any argument in view of its just dismissal from reasonable adult discourse.

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

    Hi Shishberg,

    I think I have miscommunicated. I do think that God came to earth as Jesus and that the gospels speak accurately of his life. When I said,

    For example, the whole idea that God came to earth as a human seems like a strange plan if God is able to fix the whole problem down here with a snap of the fingers. The POE suggests that perhaps God cannot fix evil so easily, perhaps the only way he could was through the incarnation.

    I meant that Jesus’ coming to earth to deal with the problems of mankind makes me think that there is something preventing God from eradicating evil with the snap of his fingers as the POE supposes God is.

    Regarding my beliefs, they are based on the life of Jesus as recorded in the four canonical gospels.

    Cheers,

    Matt

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

    Hi John Nernoff,

    Relgious writers leave it to the imagination of their followers; no evidence is posted to explicate the “God” idea.

    The statement is not accurate. Christians point to concrete evidence in the gospels, archaeology, and history to provide evidence for the life and resurrection of Jesus upon whom the Christian concept of God is based. There are a multitude of organizations on and off the web which go to great lengths to display the concrete, objective evidence to people.

    Now, you may find the evidence unconvincing and based on your post I think you do, but it is not accurate to say that religions do not provide evidence. The Bible itself is evidence. You may reject it, and that is fine, but it is evidence nonetheless. It is objective. It can be examined, discussed, checked against reality, and declared true or false. This is one of the things I like about Christianity. It is based on something that happened in history. We can examine reality to see if it really did or did not happen. Again, your subjective interpretation of the objective evidence is your prerogative, but the evidence is out there for all to see and consider. Christianity is not a religion based on abstract concepts which can neither be proven nor falsified. It is based on claims about things that happened in history.

    Matt mentions the “real thing” with reference to “God.” May I suggest that neither he, no any other writer here, knows what “God” refers to. Most say “Creator.”

    This is determined by what premises we begin with. If one begins with the premise that all religious writings are false and that God has never communicated anything with anyone in a logical way, then clearly we cannot know anything about God. You have already revealed that you think the Bible is nonsense and since you are not defending another religion, I suspect that you are atheist or agnostic. Therefore, from you premises, God is indeed unknowable.

    But, if God has communicated to humans regarding God’s nature, then we can naturally know things about God. We may not know *all* things about God, but we can know some things. So if we start with the premise that God has communicated with humans then it is possible to know God. Neither of these premises is unbiased. One is biased in favor of the atheist/agnostic and the other in favor of the theist. Therefore I propose a neutral premise.

    God may or may not exist and God may or may not have communicated with humans. This premise allows for the possibility that humans may know God but that possibility must be proven with evidence. This is where evidence comes in.

    I suggest that there is enough evidence to support the idea that Jesus communicated truth about God for someone to rationally conclude that God is knowable.

    Regarding your statements about the Bible, I think that you have been overly critical. The Bible is a wonderful book that has much truth in it.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://none John Nernoff III M.D.

    There is not space or time enough right now to post extensive detailed arguments.

    I stand by my claim that the term “God” means nothing at all, other than a common emotional *projection* of the human personality onto the sky above in the form of an imaginary sky being. There are many “Gods” touted by dozens if not hundreds of religions, They are mostly, if not all, incompatible with each other. The “God” of Islam denies the “God” of Christianity (Jesus as “God”), and the “God” of Judaism denies both. Other religions (e.g. Hinduism, Shinto, Buddhism are disparate). Anyone without preconceived notions confronting these facts can be justifiably be skeptical of the truth of each individual claim, pitted against the others, and can dismiss all of them prima facie as cultural aberrations and nationalistic conceits.

    The fact that Jesus claimed to be the “real” savior of mankind 2000 years ago is contradicted by the claim that Allah is the real savior who manifested itself 600 years later. Other “Gods” appeared at other times. Which one is the real one, if any? An objective observer would reasonably question all these claims. A hundred different cures for a disease, when one real one would probably do the job, would cast suspicion on all of them.

    Appeals to what “Jesus” said or did will not work for anyone having objectively analyzed the Jesus industry. It is well known even to majority of Christian experts that the New Testament was written many decades later than the supposed appearances of Jesus. The writings are contradictory and disparate (I would check out information packed books written by C. Dennis McKinsey, the Christian Biblical Errany Debate site on MSN, the “Skeptical Review” by Farrell Till or the Internet Infidels/Skeptical Web). If considered on the same level as any court witness the NT could never pass muster as reliable testimony. The Gospel authors are anonymous and were not given names until the late second century by Irenaus. These writers have imaginary biographies. Paul never knew the Jesus in the flesh. He appears merely to preach (as every other religion has their own favored protagonists). There is absolutely no evidence that Jesus actually died (no forensic findings of death) and thus no evidence that a resurrection occurred, on which hangs the Christian faith according to Paul. Thus there is no foundation at all for the faith. Much the same can be said of assertions of other relgions.

    In sum, “God” is a nebulous, ill defined entity, and assertions that “Jesus” clarified this concept are groundless.

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

    Hi John,

    I suspect we will have to agree to disagree on this one. I will look at the sources you recommended and see what I think of them.

    Cheers,

    Matt

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

    HI John,

    Before I start reading, what sort of professional training does C. Dennis McKinsey have? Is he a theologian or Biblical expert?

    Thanks,

    Matt

  • http://none John Nernoff III M.D.

    C. Dennis McKinsey is (?was) a high school counselor. I can’t remember his professional training or degrees. He self-studied the bible over his lifetime and published a monthly newsletter for many years which originally interested me and cause me to make his acquaintance. Subsequently we got to know each other and he eventually wrote out 2 large books, published by Prometheus, and edited by me (and 2 others). I read through each of hundreds of verses and checked them for accuracy and logical analysis. Granted, quibbles my be found with a few, but overall his work is devastating for the integrity and hinest of the “Good Book.” What is needed is for Christians (and others) to read it.

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

    John,

    I checked out McKinsey’s website on Biblical Errancy yesterday and read Issue #2 regarding Jesus’ Resurrection and “Jesus, the imperfect beacon”. What I read made me think that the review was not altogether unbiased. McKinsey finds fault wherever possible, disregarding literary and historical context. I also find that McKinsey demonstrates a lack of knowledge regarding Christian theology in his treatment of the significance of the Resurrection.

    Perhaps we could discuss some of your personal objections to Christianity. We do not have to cover them all, possibly just the big ones. I am no theologian and cannot promise to give good answers, but I like to talk about the matter.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://none John Nernoff III M.D.

    McKinsey has read “the Bible” many times in many translations. His arguments almost always turn on logical constructs. For example he raises the question of why someone like Jesus should be punished “for” the sins of others. This makes no realistic or moral sense. Even the Bible says children should not be punished for the sins of the fathers but should bear their own responsibility. So the Jesus “sacrifice” violates scripture’s own pronouncements.

    Moreover even I have independently wondered “where’s” the sacrifice? Maybe he suffered a bit on crucifixion day, but, gee, he’s “God” isn’t he? What would YOU think if you could really walk on water and perform miracles? He also knows the future (onmiscient). So he knew, or should have know he would be resurrected to go to an eternal life in heaven. And he did according to the story. So where’s the sacrifice? What does a death 2000 years ago do to anyone? I fail to see the point and so does McKinsey.

    FInally, there’s just no evidence that Jesus died at all. Even today, declarations of death can be wrong. No death, no resurrection. Even others in the Bible were resurrected. So another resurrection is no big deal. Either way, the “theology” on the subject is just flawed reasoning and is not very impressive. I remain an atheist and judge the entire Christ story as bogus and completely irrelevant. From day to day I honestly never think about it as any important fact to remember. I never pray. I never think about the current day hullabaloo guru “Jesus” at all –anything he said or did. It is of no importance.

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

    John,

    For example he raises the question of why someone like Jesus should be punished “for” the sins of others. This makes no realistic or moral sense. Even the Bible says children should not be punished for the sins of the fathers but should bear their own responsibility. So the Jesus “sacrifice” violates scripture’s own pronouncements.

    I agree that it is a rather confusing concept. Here is one way that I look at it.

    1) Jesus is God
    2) God created Earth in such a way that evil is possible
    3) Jesus came to earth to solve evil by participating in its consequences

    This does not answer the question about how exactly God becoming a man and dying could solve evil, but it does help me frame the concept in a more digestible way. I can tell you from personal experience that following Jesus has greatly helped me rid evil from within myself.

    Moreover even I have independently wondered “where’s” the sacrifice? Maybe he suffered a bit on crucifixion day, but, gee, he’s “God” isn’t he? What would YOU think if you could really walk on water and perform miracles? He also knows the future (onmiscient). So he knew, or should have know he would be resurrected to go to an eternal life in heaven.

    I have always thought that if the Creator of reality entered reality and then allowed himself to be subjected to the abuses that Jesus is reported to suffer in the gospels, then it would be quite a sacrificial act, regardless of the outcome. How humiliating for the creator to be abused, mocked, and killed (albeit temporarily) by his little creations.

    FInally, there’s just no evidence that Jesus died at all.

    This is not accurate. There are written accounts of the very event. These accounts are evidence. You may not accept them or find them convincing, but they are evidence nonetheless.

    Even others in the Bible were resurrected.

    This is the argument that made me think that McKinsey is not well versed in Christian theology. Jesus’ resurrection is significant because it demonstrates that the claims he made, that he is able to conquer death and sin, and that he is the Messiah, are true. It was a proof. All other resurrections in the Bible were miraculous, but lacked the implications of Jesus’ resurrection. Lazarus did not claim to be God’s chosen one and back up the claim by rising from the dead, Epaphroditus did not, the young girl did not, the man who fell in Elijah’s tomb did not. No one who was raised from the dead claimed to be anything more than a human. This is the fundamental difference. The fact that McKinsey refuses to see this makes me think that he is more interested in contradicting Christianity at all costs than actually understanding it objectively. There are reasonable arguments that can be leveled against Christianity, but this is not one of them.

    Respectfully,

    Matt

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

    Regarding the last post:

    Scratch Epaphroditus and replace with Eutychus.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://none John Nernoff III M.D.

    N: FInally, there’s just no evidence that Jesus died at all.

    M: This is not accurate. There are written accounts of the very event. These accounts are evidence. You may not accept them or find them convincing, but they are evidence nonetheless.

    N: I’ll just reply to this one for now. I repeat, there’s no evidence of Jesus’ death. This means there is no record of the findings of death (lack of pulse, no breathing, cooling of the body, rigor mortis, etc.) The diagnosis is *assumed* not backed up. If I am wrong, list the findings. Otherwise it is an unwarranted conclusion.

    As to the other points, if you have any of McKinsey;s materials, he responds to your objections by citing the texts carefully. Perhaps I will respond to these later.

  • jonathan

    I think if you approach God as an hypothesis only worth disproving, then you really have no idea of that of which you speak. In this entire debate, ‘God’ is a social construct or hypothetical entity or reification. This is an armchair debate. The truths of faith are really forged in the fire of action, in this case the action of coming up against the dreadful (and apparently inescapable) reality of suffering. When you really ask fundamental questions about yourself, about what your being is, in this mysterious realm of existence, and drop the sophomore dalliance with pre-school caricatures of theology, if you can forget everything you think you know and just face the sheer fact of your existence, then you can begin.

  • http://none John Nernoff III M.D.

    Johnathan: I think if you approach God as an hypothesis only worth disproving, then you really have no idea of that of which you speak. In this entire debate, ‘God’ is a social construct or hypothetical entity or reification. This is an armchair debate…

    JN: Pardon me, but I’ve been through the mill with advanced cancer 15 years ago which had already spread in my abdomen, waking up during surgery conscious of the pain of my abdomen being fully open, to lung metastases 6 years ago, and a near fatal lung hemorrhage, with resultant continued chest pain and shortness of breath. Other people [God's "children" HA!] have undoubtedly suffered more.

    What does have to do with an unevidenced, thoroughly undfined grunting of the sound “God” from human tribes who are afraid of their existence and wish to inflict harm and subjugation on other tribes who utter different grunts. Neither you nor anyone else has demonstgrated the existence of this wretched entity, whatever it is. I frankly have no clue as to what you theists are talking about other than projecting your pathetic images onto the sky in a state of fear.

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

    Let’s try not to make this personal, please.

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

    John Nernoff,

    If one of your requirements for lending credence to the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels is a comprehensive coroner’s report, then I think it is very unlikely that you will ever accept anything I have to say on the matter. I will say that the expectation is rather excessive, but it is your prerogative.

    Pardon me, but I’ve been through the mill with advanced cancer 15 years ago which had already spread in my abdomen, waking up during surgery conscious of the pain of my abdomen being fully open, to lung metastases 6 years ago, and a near fatal lung hemorrhage, with resultant continued chest pain and shortness of breath. Other people [God's "children" HA!] have undoubtedly suffered more.

    There is a blogger whom I enjoy reading who addresses the Problem of Evil in a different way than most theists I have read. Most theists, myself included, tend to try to reconcile the fact of suffering with our concept of God. No mean feat indeed. This individual has a different perspective. He says that the Problem of Evil is not the implications that it has for God, but that the problem of evil is that people suffer. He takes the discussion from the realm of the abstract to the realm of the concrete. He states that trying to explain away suffering through clever arguments does not due justice to or address the fact that people suffer. He says the appropriate response to the Problem of Evil is to enter into suffering with other people and do what we can to alleviate it.

    I can see from your screen name that you are a doctor and therefore have dedicated your life to the relief of suffering. It is very noble of you and you have my utmost respect by responding to the problem of evil in a practical and real way. I have experienced physical difficulties in life as well. They are not as extreme as yours but they were and are still difficult to deal with. I know my words can do little for you, but I hope that I can somehow communicate the fact that I realize we both share in the human condition which entails suffering and I care.

    I frankly have no clue as to what you theists are talking about other than projecting your pathetic images onto the sky in a state of fear.

    In some ways all actions of individual humans are pathetic. As many have eloquently noted, we are little inhabitants of a tiny speck in an insignificant galaxy in the vastness of space. How, with the perspective of the whole universe, could we possibly be anything but pathetic? On the other hand, the interactions I have with even one person can be very significant. My point is that I realize that any concept I have of a being who can create reality would be utterly pathetic in comparison to the reality of that being.

    Regarding fear:

    I am completely aware that no matter how hard I believe something, reality will not bend to my will. I believe because I think it is true, not because I wish it were true.

    Cheers,

    Matt

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

    The blog I was referring to is called “Sandalstraps’ Sanctuary”. I think that many here would be interested by it.

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

    Jonathan,

    Good point. God is only relevant as reality and not as abstract thought.

    Matt

  • Polly

    @Matt: “I can tell you from personal experience that following Jesus has greatly helped me rid evil from within myself. ”

    Hi Matt,

    I used to claim the same. I had a similar experience where I had the power to overcome sin and ignore all kinds of temptations that used to bring me down. I attributed this to the power of JC.

    But, it was focus that helped me.

    I found an even more potent weapon against my human foibles: writing. I found that if I write out what I want and why, my mind tended to focus on those things all day. It’s as if writing it down made it “official” to my mind.
    This is not magic. Writing generally helps me remember things, too. I think it has something to do with the exercise of motor skills in combination with the activation of the frontal lobe(?Dr. Nernoff?) that sort-of engraves what I’m writing into my brain.

    Anyway, it helped me. I think there’s much wisdom in daily meditating on the changes you wish to see in your character. It just turns out that writing, for me, multiplies the results.

    But, it’s independant of a deity and it still works. Also, the more intensely I think and feel about what I write, the more effective – just like prayer! It seems to me that these TOOLS were discovered by ancients who were introspecting and then religionized.

    I’m offering a different interpretation of your experience to consider as a result of my own similar experiences. I’m not trying to deconvert you; I’m proposing a potentially useful additional tool to add to your toolbox.

    Peace,
    Polly

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

    Hi Polly,

    I thank you for your advice. I will try it. Do you sit down at the beginning of the day and write a list of goals and then your reasons for having those goals? Are there any other things you do?

    To clarify my views on morality, I think that moral living is an active, not a passive process. I observe in my life the necessity to determine the right moral action then choose, through force of will, to do the right thing.

    I would speculate that this view of morality does not differ much from yours. I enjoy discussing things with you and am interested in your reaction to my post. I would also be interested in hearing your path to your current beliefs.

    Have a day!

    Matt

  • http://none John Nernoff III M.D.

    “…This is an armchair debate. The truths of faith are really forged in the fire of action, in this case the action of coming up against the dreadful (and apparently inescapable) reality of suffering. When you really ask fundamental questions about yourself, about what your being is, in this mysterious realm of existence, and drop the sophomore dalliance with pre-school caricatures of theology, if you can forget everything you think you know and just face the sheer fact of your existence, then you can begin.”

    JN: With regard to being “personal,” I answered this taunt.

  • James Bradbury

    I found an even more potent weapon against my human foibles: writing. I found that if I write out what I want and why, my mind tended to focus on those things all day. It’s as if writing it down made it “official” to my mind.

    Great to hear this worked for you. I’ve heard it suggested elsewhere and know of people who’ve said it helps to quell panic attacks and to get things back in perspective. I understand that it forces you to use a different part of your brain compared to when you just talk to yourself internally.

  • Polly

    Hi Matt,

    “I thank you for your advice. I will try it. Do you sit down at the beginning of the day and write a list of goals and then your reasons for having those goals?

    ****Usually, it’s toward the afternoon. Mostly it’s a directed stream of consciousness. I might write how I felt about “screwing up last week, month etc. Why I went wrong and what I hope for the future. And yes, I write out all the reasons I can think of to make the change, even selfish reasons. I’ve written as short as a single paragraph to a whole page at one sitting****

    Are there any other things you do?”

    ***Well, you’ll need a live chicken, some candles, and a machete… :-)****

    To clarify my views on morality, I think that moral living is an active, not a passive process. I observe in my life the necessity to determine the right moral action then choose, through force of will, to do the right thing.

    ****Exactly. I find that my will is greatly benfitted from this process. An example of a weakness one could work on for example might be temper and lashing out at others. (That’s an e.g., not a particular problem for me.)****

    I would speculate that this view of morality does not differ much from yours. I enjoy discussing things with you and am interested in your reaction to my post.

    ****Likewise. Believe it or not, my fundamental moral guide is the Golden Rule. I try to apply it even to mundane situations. I fail often, but I’m working to improve.****

    I would also be interested in hearing your path to your current beliefs.

    ****Oh, probably a much less interesting story than the deconversion stories on Ebon’s main page.****

    ****I hope it helps you and anyone else who’s interested. I realize that I’m unusual in that I love to handwrite. There’s a little discipline involved in writing each day or a few times a week. Sometimes, I can’t get to it. I’ve always maintained that this is an analog for prayer. I used to do both, before.****

  • Polly

    @James:

    “…it helps to quell panic attacks and to get things back in perspective.”

    ****Wow, I’ve never heard that. I suspected this little system of mine did not originate with me, but no one ever mentions it. It’s definitely different from talking or thinking.****

  • rich

    Maybe God created bad things so that we have an understanding of what good things are? If we were subjected to all good all the time and had no recollection of anything bad ever happening, we would never appreciate it. In this sense, maybe God is ultimately benevolent? Through bad stuff, God has given us the ability to truly experience and appreciate good stuff. Sorry if this was brought up before…I just discovered this website.

  • mikespeir

    I fail to see how knowing good by the contrast of evil could ever justify evil. Granted, without evil we would never have any need for the concept of good. So what? How, exactly, would we be any worse off without the contrast? In other words, how would we be worse off without evil? If we would, then we’re going to have to rethink the whole thing, because evil would then be necessary and, therefore, good.

  • Doy

    How can someone (example:the devil) turn to evil if evil does not exist? How can god continue to be perfect if only one bit of his creation failes? Even with so-called free will it is impossible for a perfect god to continue to be perfect if some of his creations fails.

    Doy (An atheist – not a sinner!)

  • Brad

    However, I challenge any theist readers who believe in an omnipotent and benevolent god to tell me that they cannot think of one single way in which this world could have been improved upon. I’d wager that honesty would compel them to admit otherwise.

    I would wager that as well. I think there are two or three positions to rest upon here: either it was a “moral” obligation for God to give us free will, thereby allowing man-made evil, the ills of this world are *necessary* for this one to be the best possible, or God is not all-powerful and could not go all the way with making the best possible world.

    As for the first position, I don’t think we have free will at all. (Note: I don’t believe in naturalistic determinism.) Our wills are so made up by, influenced by, and even coerced by each other and by reality, that it is hardly correct to say we have been each and every one of us given a personal free will.

    For example, our minds reap the costs of the imperfect nature of our brains. We have cognitive biases, varied intelligences and maturities, desires, inclinations, motivations, moods and emotions, personality types, phobias, et cetera. All of these things are independent of an individual’s choosing. All of these things are swayed to and fro by other people and by conditions faced in the world, all beyond our control. And all of these things go into our making daily choices and our lives in sum. So in what sense do we have free will?


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