The Blessed Legion

“The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! Good were it for that man if he had never been born.”

—Mark 14:21

C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters takes the form of a series of letters, exchanged between a senior and a junior devil, on the topic of how best to tempt human beings. One of the letters in this book contains an incredible admission, the only time I’ve ever seen such a point made by a Christian apologist:

How valuable time is to us may be gauged by the fact that [God] allows us so little of it. The majority of the human race dies in infancy; of the survivors, a good many die in youth. It is obvious that to Him human birth is important chiefly as the qualification for human death, and death solely as the gate to that other kind of life. We are allowed to work only on a selected minority of the race, for what humans call a “normal life” is the exception. Apparently He wants some — but only a very few — of the human animals with which He is peopling Heaven to have had the experience of resisting us through an earthly life of sixty or seventy years.

Lewis has it exactly right here. The rate of spontaneous abortion (i.e., miscarriage) is difficult to measure precisely, because it often occurs so early that the woman never even realizes she was pregnant. However, by some estimates, between 50% and 75% of all conceptions end in spontaneous abortion. (Other estimates put the rate lower.) If we accept this number, then add the number of elective abortions, plus the people who die in infancy or early childhood, then it’s indeed clear that what we adult humans call a “normal life” is the exception and not the rule.

By Christian theology, even a single-celled embryo possesses an immortal soul, and if the body dies before the age of accountability, that soul proceeds directly to Heaven. Thus, the bizarre implication is that the overwhelming majority of Heaven’s residents will be souls who were spontaneously aborted in the womb and never had a human life at all. This blessed legion will far outnumber the relative few who were born, grew up, resisted sin, and attained salvation.

What this means is that, by Christian logic, being born is a terrible misfortune. The majority of those who are unlucky enough to be born will end up eternally damned. (This follows directly from the fact that Christianity comprises a minority of the world’s population – even assuming that every self-described Christian sect is acceptable to God, an assumption which many denominations do not make. The more restrictive the requirements for salvation are, the more that pool of the saved shrinks.) By contrast, every single one of the spontaneously or artificially aborted embryos has a soul that goes directly to Heaven, with no opportunity to sin and no danger of going astray.

Granted, we could mitigate this problem by loosening up the rules. Maybe it’s too strict to assume that only believing Christians can be saved; maybe God will accept anyone who lives an honest and moral life. Even so, if there is any act or belief or lifestyle that leads to damnation, the warped conclusion remains: it’s still better to die in the womb and have salvation assured, rather than be born into a mortal life and run a risk, however slight, of ending up in perdition.

Given this, why wouldn’t God just create a race of humans that all die in the womb and have their salvation assured? (The question of who would be the mothers of such a race need not pose a problem. An omnipotent god could, for example, create a planet full of artificial incubators that continuously bring forth new conceptuses, all of which die before completing their development.) To those who say that such a scenario would be absurd, I agree completely – it is absurd. But the absurdity is not my invention; it springs from the warped logic of the Christian salvation system, in which early death is preferable to a long and full life. Like all other heavens, belief in this one inevitably degrades this life by comparison.

It would alleviate the unfairness of this system to imagine that every soul which dies before birth (or in early childhood) must be sent back to “try again”, and that only those who live a full mortal life and pass the age of accountability are eligible for judgment. But I know of no Christian or other monotheist sect which teaches this view.

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://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    That quote from Lewis is interesting. Did he never experience any cognitive dissonance in contrasting that idea with the oft-touted notions that God Is Love and that He Loves Everyone?

    If I were inclined to believe in any deity, I think the available evidence points toward either a detached, disinterested deity, or a malevolent deity rather than a benevolent one.

  • velkyn

    It certainly seems that Lewis is arguing for Christianity to a death cult. Indeed, except for the human created dogma of “suicide is bad”, one wonders why Christians hang onto life just as strongly as anyone else? At worst, one would think that they would gleefully thrown themselves into dangerous situations for that chance to get to heaven faster. Our military should be brimming with those Christians who want to do “good” for their fellow man but want to end this earthly life as soon as possible.

    It would be nice if there was that “do-over” as Ebon writes. However, there is nothing, abosolutely nothing, in the Bible that says anyone gets a second chance, not even children.

  • http://www.skepchick.com writerdd

    I’ve often wondered why Christians oppose abortion, based on this very reasoning. The aborted babies are spared a life of temptation and pain, and go straight to heaven. So what’s the sin in that?

  • terrence

    To digress a bit, I’ve long been fascinated by the ending of that passage from Mark. Try asking a Christian, “Was the death and resurrection of Christ a good thing or a bad thing for humanity?” If they answer “good,” then why “Woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed?”…..shouldn’t he be a prime saint???

  • random guy

    Our military should be brimming with those Christians who want to do “good” for their fellow man but want to end this earthly life as soon as possible.

    Actually it kind of is, evangelism in the military has reached unprecedented levels. Both from the number of evangelicals applying to be servicemen and policy decisions chosen by military and political leaders. A disturbingly large portion of our troops and commanders in Iraq believe that they are fighting in an “end of days” scenario and fulfilling biblical prophecy.

    So what’s the sin in that?

    The sin is that someone has to perform the abortion and commit “murder”. Sending them to hell for their sins. However it would be interesting to see some twisted christian theology stating that it is ok for muslims, buddists, or atheists to perform abortions as they are already bound for hell. That way the embryo gets a free ride to heaven and no one receives any additional punishment for it. If the aborter feels really bad about it they can always ask jesus to forgive, and he will cause thats his job. Of course that would require the christian to approve of someone performing a sinful act in order to effect a greater good, making them sinners by accomplice. It would also throw into question the “moral perfection” of god, because why would the most surefire path to heaven require a sort of human sacrifice with sin? (I just realized this is an ironic parallel to the sacrificial story of jesus, so maybe it could make sense in christian illogic)

    Of course none of this matters, unless your in the business of trying to reason out the behavior of a fictional entity from ancient myths.

  • http://mog.com/sporkyy Todd Sayre

    I like to view this Christian idea of life as the “Sin Obstacle Course”. Birth on one end and the Pearly Gates on the other. In the middle are the “Tires of Premarital Sex”, the “Monkeybars of Adultery”, the “Rope Swing of Apostasy”, etc. With Hell underlying all of it to catch anyone who falls. If i had any drawing skills, I’d make a cartoon of it.

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    Do all those baby souls know what love and goodness are? This would seem to poke a giant hole in any ideas that we need to experience evil to know good, as the vast majority of souls would never have experienced it.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Didn’t the Catholic Church have limbo, where the souls of babies were supposed to go? What the heck would they do there? I mean imagine having amnesia, being surrounded by other people with amnesia and not having any needs… it would be hell.

    Theologians think of the most torturous things… well the guy at xkcd is pretty good (don’t wake up- I don’t want to die).

  • OMGF

    Granted, we could mitigate this problem by loosening up the rules. Maybe it’s too strict to assume that only believing Christians can be saved; maybe God will accept anyone who lives an honest and moral life.

    It still destroys the idea of god’s perfect justice in that it’s unfair that some of us end up in the waiting room for 60-70 years before we get to go to paradise while others get an express ticket. Even without hell and even if we are reconciled with god in the end, it’s unfair and unjust.

    random guy,

    Of course that would require the christian to approve of someone performing a sinful act in order to effect a greater good, making them sinners by accomplice.

    That hasn’t stopped Xians in the past (Crusades, Inquisition, War in Iraq, etc.)

  • http://thereligiousatheist.com plonkee @ the religious atheist

    To be fair to Lewis, that point is made by Screwtape, and isn’t necessarily reflective of Lewis’ own thoughts. After all Screwtape is supposed to be a devil, things that he thinks are good, are actually bad.

    On the other hand, I think there is a bit too much “death is a really great idea” in most Christianity. I assume that we evolved not to commit suicide too readily, and that’s why they have such strict taboos on it.

  • Jeff T.

    Another great post Ebon. I can no longer understand how any one could remain a believer after reading your essays and blog. We are obviously born into a universe that is oblivious to our individual welfare. The facts speak for themselves: there is no god, there can be no god, and there never was a god. If someone needs this lie to believe in for their survival, then whatever. I consider it a monstrous lie of unbelievable proportions and feel sorry for those that succumb to the death cults of Abraham.

  • Eric

    And wha about those poor souls born before Jesus came. or born after who were not exposed to the good news? Aquinas had a good answer “salvation by implicit faith”. If a person observed nature and thought abouth his local myths, concluded there was a creator, recognisd there was a disconnect between the human situation and the perfection of the creaton, reasoned there must be some unknown means of reconciliation between himself and the creator even though he knew nothing of such meas, he would be saved by the grace of god for at least partially recognizing someone like Christ would be neessary.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Has anyone here seen the movie “The Rapture”?

    WARNING: SPOILER ALERT.

    In “The Rapture,” a woman converts to fundamentalist Christianity; has terrible things happen to her and her family; and has a vision that The Rapture will be coming in a few days. So she takes her young daughter with her to the desert to wait for Jesus. He doesn’t come; she has a crisis… and she shoots her daughter dead, so her daughter will be able to go to Heaven right away. (That’s not actually the end of the movie; there’s more, but I won’t spoil it all.)

    A terrible crime. And yet, if you accept the assumptions she’s making — assumptions that are commonly made by many Christians — it could be seen as an extremely kind, selfless, even noble act. She sacrificed, not only her own happiness, but her own eternal soul, in order to guarantee her daughter a place in Heaven (not to mention alleviating her suffering in this life).

    Just a few morbid thoughts for a sunny Saturday afternoon. I’m going to go eat lunch in the garden now.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Oh, BTW: A belief in reincarnation was a theological variation in early Christianity. More than one early Christian theologian (there was one in particular that I studied in college, but I can’t remember his name right now) saw it as a way of, among other things, getting around the “unfairness and imperfection of hell” problem. According to this doctrine, reincarnation worked as a sort of Purgatory, letting all souls go through multiple incarnations in a progressive process of improvement and purification, until they were good enough to go to Heaven.

    It was declared heresy in 553. But there currently Christians who believe in reincarnation. Google “christian reincarnation” if you don’t believe me.

    Wacky? Totally made-up? A twisting of Scripture to support what you already want to believe? Sure it is. But all of this stuff is. And you have to admit that it’s a neat way of getting around many of the ethical condundrums presented by the standard Christian notions of the afterlife.

  • Adam

    Ebon,

    By Christian theology, even a single-celled embryo possesses an immortal soul, and if the body dies before the age of accountability, that soul proceeds directly to Heaven.

    The Church has never offically said when a human gets a soul.

    But the Church, and every scientist on the planet, DO know when a new organism is created in the womb.

    When the sperm and egg join together it is an undeniable, verifiable, new living being. When the sperm and egg join it is a different and new organism. This new living being, if given time, turns into a fully developed person. The Church teaches that abortion is wrong at conception because this is when they KNOW a new living organism has been created.

    You could say that the Church infers that the embryo has a soul: Link

    But the main point is the Church wants to defend human life from the very beginning, when the new organism is made.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Adam,

    So you agree with the argument I made in this post, then? You agree that, according to Christian theology, being miscarried or aborted is a blessing and being born is a grave misfortune?

  • http://dubitoergo.blogspot.com Tom Foss

    I like to view this Christian idea of life as the “Sin Obstacle Course”. Birth on one end and the Pearly Gates on the other. In the middle are the “Tires of Premarital Sex”, the “Monkeybars of Adultery”, the “Rope Swing of Apostasy”, etc. With Hell underlying all of it to catch anyone who falls. If i had any drawing skills, I’d make a cartoon of it.

    So, Christian theology is just an elaborate version of the games we used to play on the playground–”don’t touch the ground, the ground is made of lava!”

    Yeah, color me unsurprised.

    Oh, and Adam: you forgot an element from your progression. It should be “This new living being, if given time, proper implantation in the right area of the uterus, a gestational environment conducive to fetal development, no significant malformations or deformities, and several years of parentage following birth turns into a fully developed person.” I’m sure it was just a minor oversight.

    Incidentally, do you put as much value on the lives of all “different and new organisms,” or just the ones that have the potential (barring the myriad problems that could prevent it) of eventually achieving personhood?

  • MS (Quixote)

    So you agree with the argument I made in this post, then? You agree that, according to Christian theology, being miscarried or aborted is a blessing and being born is a grave misfortune?

    Nice post, EM. Sometimes you are more Christian in your thinking than most Christians I know.

    I agree with the majority of your argument and have often made it myself, with the following minor changes: being miscarried or aborted may be an act of mercy while being born may be an act of justice.

    Currently bidding on a first edition of “The Great Divorce.” Wish me good providence…

  • OMGF

    How is being born justice? Is it pre-justice for crimes we have not yet committed? I’m pretty sure that if I would go to heaven after being aborted, that there’s not much I can do in the way of sin between not being aborted and being born.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I’m pretty sure that if I would go to heaven after being aborted, that there’s not much I can do in the way of sin between not being aborted and being born.

    If I am reading you correctly, I think you are assuming the age of accountability. EM criticised it well in the link imbedded in his post. Re-read my comment without assuming the age of accountability.

  • Arch

    The Christian perspective recognizes the reality of freedom in life–the ability to choose what is truly good and the ability to reject it. Choosing the true good is choosing authentic love. The freedom to choose this good means that the ability to choose the opposite (adultery, infidelity, hatred, etc) is also within our will. It’s nothing appropriate for a cartoon; rather it manifests the value and dignity with which each of us has been created.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I’m confused, Quixote. You don’t believe in the age of accountability, yet you believe that dying before you’re born is an automatic pass to Heaven?

  • MS (Quixote)

    yet you believe that dying before you’re born is an automatic pass to Heaven?

    I don’t hold to the age of accountability, nor do I think dying in the womb or infancy is an automatic pass.

    Since God can know things contingently, presumably, it can be considered an act of grace if he takes some in the womb or childhood rather than letting them amass a lifetime’s worth of sin to be accountable for. Conversely, if he allows a person to live whom he knows will ultimately reject him, he is exercising justice. Though some receive non-justice, no one receives injustice, given Christian presuppositions of original sin and the culpability of the human race before God, of course…

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    So if you don’t believe in the age of accountability, then is it possible that God sends some infants who die young to Hell, based purely on his knowledge that they would have sinned?

  • Mrnaglfar

    MS,

    whoa whoa there, you just let out a bomb shell there.

    Conversely, if he allows a person to live whom he knows will ultimately reject him, he is exercising justice.

    Is this that kind of justice that is unique from human justice in that in bears absolutely no meaning regarding the word “justice”?
    Good is supposed to know all.
    God is also supposed to be all good.
    So if god knew ahead of time which people would reject him, given a lifetime of experience, and those who would not (which he does, according to your faith), he could if he so decided, to make sure to accept all those into heaven that would have otherwise not made it there.
    He also would know exactly what he could do to alter the situations in order to get people to understand that he even exists, and I don’t think it would have to be a vast display of his power (relative to the scale of the rest of the universe), being that he created an entire universe for us that reduces the earth to many times beyond the point of visablilty in any picture, as well as creating countless objects billions of years older than the earth we will never see or know exist.
    Likewise, god would have also known before he created anything that people would eat from the tree, tempted by satan who he know would be there and tempt them, and I’m sure he knew ways to avoid having adam/eve eat from the tree in any number of ways; putting up a wall or making it out of reach seem like two possible options to me.

    Why the all powerful, all knowing, all good god would really give two shits about what you do in your life as if you can offend god somehow (a rather arrogent position to take I would think, that you, a mere human among billions, dwarfed by everything in our universe to an unimaginable smallness, can offend this creator by having sex with someone else than a person you’re legally married to).

    So god knew far, infinitely far, before the fact that all this was going to happen. In following through with his plan he must have created sin where it did not exist before, and I see no way you could dance around that. So he knows full well what people will do before the first of us even came into existance, and then, once we did it according to your faith, he’s perfectly just to send all those people to scream and suffer and choke and burn and cry forever and ever until beyond the end of time.

    And that is how you continue to define justice.

  • MS (Quixote)

    One could argue that, but I don’t think it is necessary. Non-Pelagian forms of Christianity confess that all are born culpable for Adam’s sin. If humanity truly is born guilty, God realizes no constraints regarding the dispensation of his justice.

    With that said, I freely admit that this is an issue charged with emotion. We are not given much light on the matter, so it is best for a Christian to be humble and not to claim that s/he knows everything that God might know (this is directed at me, not you folks). I also realize there is a set of Christian presuppositions underlying the argument, which I do not expect you to accept nor am I trying to convince you of them. The point is: given the presuppositions, the conclusion is not only logicaly valid, but follows well from the premises.

  • James B

    We are not given much light on the matter, so it is best for a Christian to be humble and not to claim that s/he knows everything that God might know.

    If God gets this “mysterious ways” get-out-clause which ultimately means that nothing he does has to make the any sense, why do you even bother trying to rationalise or argue about it?

    Why not just say, “Ahh, God’s ways are not our ways” at the first sign of trouble?

  • Nurse Ingrid

    Ebon, thanks so much for posting this. As you quite rightly point out, the doctrine of “life begins at conception” (which has no biblical basis — the church made it up much later) has a rather curious consequence: the population of heaven would have to consist overwhelmingly of the souls of miscarried zygotes. This has always bugged me. I mean, what sort of creatures would they be? They were never anything other than a cluster of cells with little or no differentiation. They have never acquired language or even consciousness. They have never had any sort of life experience. How are they going to spend eternity praising God, or whatever it is that souls are supposedly doing in heaven? How would they be able to perceive or understand God, or indeed anything?

    Once again you have skillfully demonstrated that the more you really examine this nonsense, the more ridiculous it seems.

  • MS (Quixote)

    James B,

    If God gets this “mysterious ways” get-out-clause which ultimately means that nothing he does has to make the any sense, why do you even bother trying to rationalise or argue about it?

    The appeal to nescience is more profound and complex than you give it credit for; yet I do not understand your criticism here. I presented a logical structure that answered the question I was posed, rather than relying on the “mysterious ways” of God.

  • Chet

    The appeal to nescience is more profound and complex than you give it credit for;

    And I’m sure the emperor’s new clothes look really nice, too.

  • OMGF

    MS,

    Non-Pelagian forms of Christianity confess that all are born culpable for Adam’s sin. If humanity truly is born guilty, God realizes no constraints regarding the dispensation of his justice.

    Which is not justice, thank you very much. I don’t really think I need to go into much detail, but I can upon request.

    The point is: given the presuppositions, the conclusion is not only logicaly valid, but follows well from the premises.

    If your presuppositions include the idea that god is infinitely just and good, then no, they don’t follow. What you’ve described is a system where god arbitrarily chooses this soul or that soul to go to heaven without having a chance to sin (which you call “grace”) while others are born and get a chance to fall from grace, which is inherently unjust. All the while, other souls are ripped from the womb to go to hell, even though they would have had the contradictory notion of free will, and are not allowed to enjoy this life on this planet before eternal torture as I am allowed to enjoy it even though god knew beforehand that I would turn against him. This is neither fair nor just, and certainly not loving. It’s capricious at best and evil at worst.

    Arch,
    What choice do zygotes have? Do they go to heaven or do they go to hell? If they go to heaven, then why must you and I endure this mortal coil with the chance to mess up and go to hell? Is that just or fair to you? Do you really feel that you have the opportunity to choose the “true good”? Before you answer the last question, remember that all fall short of the glory of god and all are sinners according to Xian mythology. Therefore, you really don’t have that choice, do you? Of course you don’t. You can’t escape the fact that you will choose “the opposite” at some point no matter what. So, what choice do you really have?

  • Arch

    OMGF,
    The very fact that you and I fall short of perfection draws us right into the truth that we are in need of God’s grace to choose what is good, and that we have the ability to make choices in the first place. Our freedom to do a just or an unloving act at this very moment is clearly evident to us.

    The fact that we can fall short doesn’t change God’s love for us or degrade our dignity–it shows our need for reconciliation and redemption. Just as an athlete doesn’t become a worthless athlete because they don’t excel in one certain competition, so we too are given the grace to be forgiven, strengthened, and to begin anew.

    Regarding your comments about zygotes… the eternal state of a person who dies prior to having the opportunity to choose good of their own will is an area without definitive Christian doctrine. God is both just and merciful and the souls of those people can be entrusted to him. But I would also ask you to think about questions that are opposite to yours. You asked, Yet I would ask, how amazing and awesome is it that you and I have the gift of our freedom which makes it possible for us to know true goodness, beauty, and love?

  • Arch

    You asked, “If they go to heaven, then why must you and I endure this mortal coil with the chance to mess up and go to hell?”

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Quixote,

    Since God can know things contingently, presumably, it can be considered an act of grace if he takes some in the womb or childhood rather than letting them amass a lifetime’s worth of sin to be accountable for. Conversely, if he allows a person to live whom he knows will ultimately reject him, he is exercising justice. Though some receive non-justice, no one receives injustice…

    Now that claim is outright false. If God treats one person one way and treats another person another way, despite there being no morally relevant difference between them, then that is injustice. If benefits are dispensed based purely on whim, or on some other arbitrary standard, then the person who was not granted that benefit has been treated unjustly compared to the person who was.

    I’ll give an example of what I mean. Let’s say you’re working for some company and you’re a woman (or black, or atheist, or gay, or a member of some other minority). You’ve been working for them for some time, and then one day you find out that people who are not in your minority group have been given some special perk – higher salary than yours, or extra vacation time, or something like that. When you go to your manager and ask for the same, you’re told that people belonging to your minority group are ineligible.

    Have you been treated unjustly? By my definition, yes. You were shut out of some special benefit because of a morally irrelevant characteristic. Even if you freely accepted your current pay package, that doesn’t alter the fact that the company was committing a wrong by offering it to you in the first place, rather than making you an offer commensurate with the offer extended to everyone else. (And, I hope we can agree, if the company simply singled you out for no particular reason, rather than because of your minority status, the injustice is the same.)

    By your definition, though, corporate racial or gender discrimination isn’t injustice. After all, you haven’t been denied anything that’s your due – it’s just that your higher-ups have arbitrarily decided that you’ll be shut out of special benefits and privileges extended to others, which no one possesses by right. That is the conclusion that follows from applying your reasoning. Do you stand by it?

  • Mrnaglfar

    MS and Arch,

    God realizes no constraints regarding the dispensation of his justice.

    In order for something to be justice, the punshiment needs to fit the crime, and needs to be done for a purpose of restoring ‘harmony’ for lack of a better word; if someone would like to find a better definition for a difference between “justice” and “vengenance”, it would be appreciated.

    But more to the point, to claim that all humans are guilty of an action we had no control over is not only remarkable nonsensical (same way I don’t blame you for any wrong-doing your great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents happen to perpetrate), but remarkably arrogent as well. God is supposed to be this timeless, all knowing, all powerful being, creator of everything, of this universe that’s so incredibly vast it requires untold amounts of magnification to even pick out a faintest speck of our planet in a picture of it all (that we know of, mind you).

    No amount of human imagination can even come close to picturing, in any real sense of the word, the proportions of size we’re talking about; it simply gets too big for our brains to understand.

    Now you’re saying a being, living forever, present within everything, past present and future, all powerful, and all knowing (just so we’re clear on this point)is capable of being personally offended by something any of us do? This being cares that someone, somewhere, is having sex outside of a legal marriage (out of the billions of people on the planet, for which this seems to universally apply)?

    Not only that, but it cares about zygotes! Single celled potiential people, about 50% of which are naturally aborted by our bodies?

    It gets even better; it supposedly designed us intelligently, yet you can pick out any random person walking down the street and the chances are pretty good you can pick out at least 3 things currently off about that person; probably more. We’re full of eyes that don’t work properly (glasses anyone?), organs that don’t hang properly (due to our developing unright posture), and countless numbers of ways our bodies can be invaded by outside viruses, external harms, and genetic defects, among other things.

    And if you do anything that this being doesn’t want you to do, it will be so displeased with your actions that it has a special place with fire and burning and screaming and choking and crying and darkness where it will send you to spend forever and ever, until the end of time, with no hope of escape or redemption?

    You’ve got to be kidding.

  • MS (Quixote)

    What you’ve described is a system where god arbitrarily chooses this soul or that soul to go to heaven without having a chance to sin (which you call “grace”) while others are born and get a chance to fall from grace, which is inherently unjust.

    That is not what remotely close to what I described. My argument was that all are guilty and that some get justice, others get non-justice (mercy). But since everyone is guilty (based on the presupposition), by definition, no one receives injustice.

    All the while, other souls are ripped from the womb to go to hell, even though they would have had the contradictory notion of free will, and are not allowed to enjoy this life on this planet before eternal torture.

    OMGF, I am guessing, but it seems to me that you are arguing with Christian doctrine as commonly professed by Arminians. No doubt many Christians share your conception and I appreciate (and agree with) many of the objections you raise. However, it amounts to a straw man argument where my statement above is concerned. For example, I have posted on this blog before–if memory serves–that I agree that the concept of an autonomous, libertine will is contradictory. Furthermore, where did I say that anyone “ripped from the womb” (in my opinion, emotional language detracts from rather than strengthens an argument) would spend eternity in “eternal torture”?

    am allowed to enjoy it even though god knew beforehand that I would turn against him.

    This statement suggests to me that you have not taken the time to grasp what I am saying.

    I don’t really think I need to go into much detail, but I can upon request.

    As I have said before, I prefer not to wear out my welcome on this site!

  • OMGF

    Arch,

    The very fact that you and I fall short of perfection draws us right into the truth that we are in need of God’s grace to choose what is good, and that we have the ability to make choices in the first place.

    If god demands perfection of beings that he created imperfectly, then god is not just or loving. Also, how does us being “imperfect” somehow lead to the conclusion that we need god’s grace?

    Our freedom to do a just or an unloving act at this very moment is clearly evident to us.

    Sorry, but free will does not exist in a universe created by an omni-max entity. We perceive that we have free will, but it is logically impossible according to your mythological stance on god.

    The fact that we can fall short doesn’t change God’s love for us or degrade our dignity–it shows our need for reconciliation and redemption.

    Actually, it does. god made us this way then punishes us for it. Further, do you demand that your loved ones live up to some specific code that they can’t possibly live up to, or do you love them for who they are?

    Regarding your comments about zygotes… the eternal state of a person who dies prior to having the opportunity to choose good of their own will is an area without definitive Christian doctrine. God is both just and merciful and the souls of those people can be entrusted to him.

    How do you know that? This god of yours sends people to hell, which is cruel and infinitely unjust. This god of yours holds us to standards we can not achieve, then sends us to hell for it. This god of yours thinks that we deserve punishment because our ancestors did something he disapproved of, which he knew they would do and did nothing to stop. This god has committed multiple acts of genocide and ordered it as well. This god can not be trusted to do the right thing, nor would I trust this god with anyone’s soul.

    Anyway, your answer is a dodge. The fact of the matter is that either way you slice it, god is acting unfairly and unjustly. Either those children go to hell or they go to heaven or some combination, and all three are unjust.

    Also, I’ll note that you avoided my question about whether you have the ability to choose good over evil.

    You asked, Yet I would ask, how amazing and awesome is it that you and I have the gift of our freedom which makes it possible for us to know true goodness, beauty, and love?

    If god is as you describe, then it’s not so great. This god will also punish me for exercising that freedom (which I don’t really have since god is omni-max) and send me to hell for it. Given the choice, I’d rather not have it than face an eternity of torture. Luckily for me, no hell awaits me (most likely at least) so I’m not too worried about it. If I do go to hell though, then it will not be just or loving.

    BTW, was your last question meant as some sort of question to support your position, as in, “Look how awesome life is, therefore god?” I certainly hope that you aren’t resorting to such fallacious thinking.

  • OMGF

    MS,

    That is not what remotely close to what I described. My argument was that all are guilty and that some get justice, others get non-justice (mercy). But since everyone is guilty (based on the presupposition), by definition, no one receives injustice.

    Then, by your own admission, god is not omni-just, since he doles out justice to some, but not to others. Might I also mention that I find this idea to be wholly disgusting and offensive to human dignity, that we are all guilty of some crime before we are even born.

    OMGF, I am guessing, but it seems to me that you are arguing with Christian doctrine as commonly professed by Arminians.

    No, I’m arguing against the logical conclusions of your mythology. No matter how you slice it, god is not loving nor is he just.

    Furthermore, where did I say that anyone “ripped from the womb” (in my opinion, emotional language detracts from rather than strengthens an argument) would spend eternity in “eternal torture”?

    Don’t play games. You are evading providing a straight-forward answer to questions and explicitly not saying what your beliefs are, and I can only guess it’s because you don’t want to be pinned down because you know that whatever choice you make you have already lost. I and others have presented all the scenarios and shown how all of them are unjust and unloving. Either you think that zygotes with eternal souls go to heaven or go to hell or some combination, but anyway you slice it, god is acting unjustly and in a capricious and unloving way. You can complain all you want about my missing your meaning or whatever and continue to not share with the rest of the class what you actually believe, but it’s bound to fall in one of those three categories, unless you subscribe to one of the notions of reincarnation or some other such nonsense. So, which is it?

    As I have said before, I prefer not to wear out my welcome on this site!

    I can’t speak for Ebon, but you certainly will with me if you keep playing the slippery Xian role.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Take it easy, OMGF. We don’t crucify people around here. ;) I do, however, want to see how Quixote would respond to my argument about injustice as it relates to on-the-job discrimination.

  • OMGF

    Ebon,
    I just get tired of the game where a Xian says something like, “All people are guilty.” The atheist retorts, “Then god is unjust because of X, Y, and Z” only to have the Xian come back with, “Well that’s not what I believe so you are wrong, because I really believe in something else.” And round and round it goes. Perhaps MS doesn’t believe in the god that necessarily follows as the logical conclusion to his beliefs, but that doesn’t give him license to condescend.

  • Arch

    OMGF,
    Thanks for your responses. Here are some other brief things to think about.

    If god demands perfection of beings that he created imperfectly, then god is not just or loving.

    God doesn’t demand perfection because we can’t be perfect. He does call us to strive to be the best we can, though. His love is manifest in the fact that even if we sin, God loves us, and in the fact that God doesn’t force us to do good (because love by its very nature requires a choice) but gives us the freedom to choose him or not.

    Sorry, but free will does not exist in a universe created by an omni-max entity. We perceive that we have free will, but it is logically impossible according to your mythological stance on god.

    Since God is “omni-max” he has the power to give us freedom to make our own choices. You admit to at least a perception that we have free will… and you cannot prove that free will does not exist, just as much as you cannot prove that God does not exist.

    god made us this way then punishes us for it. Further, do you demand that your loved ones live up to some specific code that they can’t possibly live up to, or do you love them for who they are?

    I want to love people exactly where they are… just as God does for me and any of us. And God does not desire to punish us or desire that anyone go to hell. God does not force us to choose him, though. Out of love he gives us freedom which brings the greater good–the possibility to love… because without a choice, love cannot exist.

    This god of yours sends people to hell, which is cruel and infinitely unjust. This god of yours holds us to standards we can not achieve, then sends us to hell for it.

    Briefly, again, God does not send people to hell. Ultimately it is our choice.
    And what standards does God hold us to that we cannot achieve? To be a person of love is within the capabilities of our mind and will. And again, serving God is not about perfection but in striving for it, and getting up any time we fall.

    Anyway, your answer is a dodge. The fact of the matter is that either way you slice it, god is acting unfairly and unjustly. Either those children go to hell or they go to heaven or some combination, and all three are unjust.
    Also, I’ll note that you avoided my question about whether you have the ability to choose good over evil.

    I’m not trying to dodge; I’m just saying that there is no definitive doctrine on the matter you have brought up and in the light of faith I trust God’s wisdom.
    Regarding the other element, we do have the ability to choose good over evil… all the time. It is the principle choice within our will.

    If god is as you describe, then it’s not so great. This god will also punish me for exercising that freedom (which I don’t really have since god is omni-max) and send me to hell for it.

    If God is “omni-max” then what would prevent him from creating us as free beings? If he is omni-max, then what is outside of his power to create?

    Peace,
    Arch

  • OMGF

    Arch,

    God doesn’t demand perfection because we can’t be perfect.

    Oh really? Does not your religion say that we are all sinners? Do we not all deserve hell for being sinners according to your religion? How does one not be a sinner? Hint, the answer is by being perfect, like Jesus supposedly was. We can not attain that, so we are sinners, and therefore we deserve hell and it is only god’s grace that allows us to attain salvation. IOW, god is demanding perfection and if you don’t meet it, which you won’t, then it is completely up to him whom he saves and doesn’t save.

    His love is manifest in the fact that even if we sin, God loves us…

    Yes, god loves us so much that he’ll send us to hell.

    Since God is “omni-max” he has the power to give us freedom to make our own choices.

    Not so. He knew all that would transpire before he created the universe, therefore what is transpiring is what he created the universe to have transpire. If he had created the universe differently, then something else would have happened, but he didn’t. This creates a deterministic universe where all your actions were determined as soon as god created. Hence, you have no free will. Being omni-max doesn’t mean that god can defy logic.

    You admit to at least a perception that we have free will… and you cannot prove that free will does not exist, just as much as you cannot prove that God does not exist.

    I actually just did prove that free will is incompatible, logically, with an omni-max god (I’m hardly the first to do so, there are published philosophy papers that do the same). Also, the burden of proof is not on me to disprove your god, else I feel that you should disprove Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Russell’s floating teapot as well as every other god that is said to exist or have existed.

    And God does not desire to punish us or desire that anyone go to hell.

    Then no one should go to hell, yet the Bible instructs us that this is not the case. How an omni-max being can’t figure out that if he doesn’t want anyone in hell, then maybe he shouldn’t have created it in the first place or sent anyone there is beyond me.

    Briefly, again, God does not send people to hell. Ultimately it is our choice.

    No one chooses to go to hell. Do you think that anyone would choose to be tortured for eternity? Of course not. Yet, god doesn’t give us what we need to make an informed choice, he sets arbitrary rules, he saves some people for being miscarried or spontaneously aborted, while allowing others to live and then not be saved due to him not appearing to us and somehow this is loving, just, etc.? Well, it’s not.

    I’m not trying to dodge; I’m just saying that there is no definitive doctrine on the matter you have brought up and in the light of faith I trust God’s wisdom.

    But you are dodging. What would you think of a god that causes women to miscarry and then carts those souls off to hell? What do you think of a god that gives those souls a free express ticket to heaven while you have a chance to go to hell for simply having the misfortune of being born? No choice is a good one in this scenario, so how can you defend a god like that?

    Regarding the other element, we do have the ability to choose good over evil… all the time. It is the principle choice within our will.

    Then Jesus is superfluous because it is possible for one to always choose good, right? When you answer in the negative, that it is not possible for one to always choose good, thus saving the need for Jesus, you destroy your argument that we have the ability to choose.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Respectfully, I disagree. I agree that your analogy is sound with respect to the situation it addresses, but I will suggest a few reasons why I consider it inapplicable to my argument.

    If benefits were dispensed purely on “whim or some other arbitrary standard” as the analogy suggests, one could indeed make the claim of injustice. However, the will of God is the antithesis of capriciousness and as removed from the finite judgment of human agents that the analogy sets forth as the East is from the West. I readily admit that this assertion is not persuasive in this forum and only exposes me to more “the emperor has no clothes” jabs.

    I include the above only as a logical rebuttal to the claim made in your post that my “claim is outright false.” Given that the Christian God exists, which is implicit in the original post, it appears to me that a falsity charge is simply too strong, logically. I grant that you would be warranted in reaching other conclusions, but I do not see how falsity could be demonstrated.

    As a tangent, if there is an infinite emperor, by necessity, reason would require that he be mysterious in many repsects to a finite human mind, but that’s an answer to a separate post.

    When you go to your manager and ask for the same, you’re told that people belonging to your minority group are ineligible.

    I don’t want to pick your analogy apart word by word. The first reason for this is that I recognize all analogies break down at a certain point. Their primary purpose is to demonstrate a larger point, in this case the injustice of God. The second is that I do not want to give the impression that I am trivializing or nitpicking your thought. You share this objection with some great minds: Erasmus of Rotterdam comes to mind as well as one of my favorite thinkers, whom I will mention in conclusion.

    But the quote above demonstrates a subtle shift that is not present in my argument. I would agree with you that anyone who asks sincerely for mercy and was denied would be the victim of injustice at the hands of God, in accordance with the soteriological economy we are dealing with. In the Calvinist view, all who ask are accepted. This blunts the force and contradicts a key contention of the analogy.

    Nevertheless, this would be a non-factor regarding infants or those in the womb. Though it is not stated in the analogy, I assume you intend this analogy somehow to flow to those who do not have a choice in keeping with the original post.

    What I find problematic with the analogy is its ommission of the key premise of my argument, specifically the presence of guilt. The individuals involved in the analogy are morally neutral agents. In my argument, the agents are all guilty and deserve punishment. To argue then that someone guilty deserves mercy is contradictory, despite any and all extenuating circumstances imaginable, just as it would be to argue that someone deserves a gift from their employer. If employees deserve it, it is no longer a gift. If people merit, it is no longer mercy.

    Please don’t think poorly of me, based on the above and on the basis of my personal experience, I have to disagree with this as well:

    And, I hope we can agree, if the company simply singled you out for no particular reason, rather than because of your minority status, the injustice is the same

    A clarification first, if by singled out you mean with some nefarious intent, I agree. But if you mean that I simply did not receive something that someone else did, I disagree. Actually, I addressed this with a coworker last week. If I contract with my employer to perform a particular service for a corresponding wage, it is none of my business what my employer agrees to with a fellow employee, even if their terms are superior for performing the same work. Reminds me of a parabe from the NT…

    Another analogy similar to yours might be a Government that pardons some guilty death row inmates but not others, for no particular reason. This would be problematic indeed, except for the fact that I would never agree to the claim that God has no reason for choosing what he chooses, or chooses arbitrarily.

    But even then, logic demands that no injustice has occurred. Let’s assume three categorical circles: one for justice, on for non-justice (mercy), and one for injustice. As guilty parties, all rightly are categorized within the justice circle. Ones who are pardoned are moved to the non-justice circle. Since those within the justice circle are deserving of justice, none rightly belong in the circle of injustice. In fact, to move those from the justice circle to the injustice category would simply be describing something that does not conform to reality–something that simply isn’t true–which is by nature injustice.

    If God treats one person one way and treats another person another way, despite there being no morally relevant difference between them, then that is injustice.

    Hence, I think this assertion loses sight of culpability. If a person is deserving of punishment, a punishment is administered justly, regardless of what others receive.

    Ironically, this post began with CS Lewis. I won my bid on the first edition of “The Great Divorce”, incidentally. He is in a select group at the top of my lit of favorite authors/thinkers. I only mention this in case you were not aware: Lewis stated on more than one occasion that what I have just argued is “akin to devil worship.”

    To conclude a lengthy response, as far as I am concerned you are in fine company with your objection and I wish to make it clear that I hope I gave your objection the treatment deserves–as much as I can without writing an essay. As always, I respect Y’all’s opinion, appreciate the forced reappraisal of my faith, and wish more than anything to focus on points of agreement, which seem to be more than we let on to.

    Can I get an amen for the getting the Church out of politics and the public schools? :)

  • Adam

    Ebon ,

    No I do not agree with you post. Your logic says that life is a terrible misfortune. I can not agree. Christians say that Life is a gift, and when abortion happens one can not participate and recieve the gift.

    I agree with Arch, who is commenting on the heart of the matter:

    the eternal state of a person who dies prior to having the opportunity to choose good of their own will is an area without definitive Christian doctrine. God is both just and merciful and the souls of those people can be entrusted to him.

    Well said Arch.

    The Church is without definitive teaching, but we do know that he “is” JUSTICE and MERCY. We know because he told man through Revelation.

    So you agree with the argument I made in this post, then? You agree that, according to Christian theology, being miscarried or aborted is a blessing and being born is a grave misfortune?

    Like Arch, I can not answer this question as a yes or no, because it is not, in Christian theology, a yes or no question. Life is a Gift. When one does not even get the opportunity for life, we must trust God that his Mercy will win out and that they reach heaven.

    BTW, is being born a grave misfortune? Do you see life as a “lottery winner” we’ve been lucky enough to win the lottery: cosmic slime-evolved into man. Christians believe life has a purpose: To know God. The grave misfortune is not having God. Aborted babies do not have a chance to know and love God in this life. That is very sad.

    By the way, Screwtape is a character in a book, and what he says is NOT Lewis’s personal thoughts. In fact I would say Screwtape is the opposite of Lewis, he is a demon, and a fictional character. How did you miss that.

  • MS (Quixote)

    but that doesn’t give him license to condescend.

    OMGF,

    You’re right. I’m wrong. I broke my self-imposed rule by commenting here when I said I would no longer do so. My fault for doing so. Please accept my apology. It’s like going into someone else’s house and arguing with them.

    EM,

    I will look forward to reading your response. Please accept my post in the manner in which it was intended, in the spirit of free-thinking and as an honest attempt to answer your challenge (If I may be so bold as to borrow the free-thought phrase, being a theist and all). I apologize to you as well. I knew better and caused a bunch of friction for no discernable reason. Love the site and do not want to wear out my welcome.

  • Arch

    OMGF,

    I actually just did prove that free will is incompatible, logically, with an omni-max god (I’m hardly the first to do so, there are published philosophy papers that do the same).

    You certainly cannot say that you or someone have proven that free-will is incompatible with a God who is omni-max. You have faith in your proposal, sure, but you cannot prove it–you can only make arguments. And I find your reason to be erroneous. To say that an omnipotent God could not create a being to which he endows freedom of choice is contradictory. Further, I find Adam’s questions to be extremely important:

    BTW, is being born a grave misfortune? Do you see life as a “lottery winner” we’ve been lucky enough to win the lottery: cosmic slime-evolved into man. Christians believe life has a purpose: To know God. The grave misfortune is not having God. Aborted babies do not have a chance to know and love God in this life. That is very sad.

    Without God it is quite illogical to assume that we just got here by chance and became beings capable of reason, with deep emotional capacity and complexities beyond match. There is so much more to our existence than being mutated tissue that happens to be able to communicate in intricate manners. We are created by God to love and to be loved.
    Peace.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    If benefits were dispensed purely on “whim or some other arbitrary standard” as the analogy suggests, one could indeed make the claim of injustice. However, the will of God is the antithesis of capriciousness…

    …I would never agree to the claim that God has no reason for choosing what he chooses, or chooses arbitrarily.

    Then what standard does God use when deciding who to mercifully abort, versus who to allow to grow up, commit sins and be damned? By your own argument, all human beings are equally guilty and equally deserving of justice:

    In my argument, the agents are all guilty and deserve punishment.

    …so what morally relevant and non-capricious difference could there possibly be?

    If people merit, it is no longer mercy.

    That is absolutely not true. Quixote, I think your theology has warped your idea of what “mercy” means. If a person does something that harms me, and I freely forgive them even though they’ve done nothing to merit forgiveness, that’s not mercy – that’s just stupidity!

    Last year, I wrote in the post “The Virtues: Be Just“:

    The confusion that makes [mercy and justice] seem incompatible arises from the mistaken notion that forgiveness is something that should be given out for free. On the contrary, mercy should and must be earned by the person’s demonstrating willingness to make things right. Any philosophy that grants undeserved forgiveness at no cost is no more a moral system than a philosophy that advocates punishing people regardless of whether they did anything wrong.

    Mercy should and must be dispensed when it is merited – that is, when an offender shows remorse for the harm they’ve caused and expresses a desire to make things right. That is also justice, because it is just to forgive someone who recognizes that they have done wrong. Conversely, if a person does not express remorse, then the most merciful – the most compassionate – thing to do is to punish them accordingly, so that they do not cause further harm to others.

    Christian morality teaches that mercy and justice are incompatible opposites, such that having more of one implies having less of the other. I think that’s the opposite of the truth.

    Regarding discrimination, let me get this straight:

    If I contract with my employer to perform a particular service for a corresponding wage, it is none of my business what my employer agrees to with a fellow employee, even if their terms are superior for performing the same work.

    So, you’re saying you agree that your position leads to the conclusion that racial or gender discrimination isn’t injustice. If I’m, say, a black employee, and I discover that white employees are being paid 30% more than I am to do the same job, that’s none of my business? Does your understanding of Christianity teach that we should submit to discrimination and accept it without complaint?

  • MS (Quixote)

    Then what standard does God use when deciding who to mercifully abort, versus who to allow to grow up, commit sins and be damned?

    It’s according to the purpose of his will. That’s as much as I can give you in response to that question, except to perhaps add that if God exists and he is good, he has a good reason for what he does. I didn’t labor the point earlier because I realize it is most likely an extremely unsatisfying answer to a non-theist.

    I freely forgive them even though they’ve done nothing to merit forgiveness, that’s not mercy – that’s just stupidity!

    Seems like it, doesn’t it :) I agree with you this far: forgetting is stupidity! Forgiving freely without merit is a beautiful, but rare, virtue, and the world could use a lot more of it. You’re right in that it is much better when the offending party makes an attempt at restitution.

    Any philosophy that grants undeserved forgiveness at no cost

    Christianity demands that a cost be paid to merit forgiveness.

    Christian morality teaches that mercy and justice are incompatible opposites, such that having more of one implies having less of the other

    Not sure I understand your meaning here…

    So, you’re saying you agree that your position leads to the conclusion that racial or gender discrimination isn’t injustice.

    Certainly not. The response you blockquoted was made based on your statement: And, I hope we can agree, if the company simply singled you out for no particular reason, rather than because of your minority status

    To which I said: A clarification first, if by singled out you mean with some nefarious intent, I agree. But if you mean that I simply did not receive something that someone else did, I disagree.

    With that said, you make a great point here in the form of a question:

    Does your understanding of Christianity teach that we should submit to discrimination and accept it without complaint?

    Discrimination is clearly wrong, but it is not the Church’s mission to try to force the world to do what’s right. The NT is full of exhortations to bear up under such things. Even Christ did not right the wrongs of the world depsite presumably having the power to do so while his countrymen urged him on right and left.

    This is why the church should get out of politics. Allow me to switch off of discrimination to a topic that should appeal to you more strongly where the Church is concerned. The church does not condone abortion, but it is not the church’s mission to try and force the world to quit doing it, especially by being involved in politics.

    Or perhaps Science. What business does the Church have trying to dictate what is taught in a pulblic classroom?

    OK, mini-sermon is over, but hopefully we can agree on some of that last portion. Literally the best discussion I have ever had on this subject and I have discussed it 1000 times. You can have the last word.

  • lpetrich

    This thread has gotten rather sidetracked. But it does remind me of something odd that I read long ago, something that Google Books has faithfully recorded:

    Activist feminist Gloria Steinem in her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions noted that some opponents of abortion argue that “unborn life is ‘perfect’ life, born life ‘imperfect.’”

    That curious contention is also mentioned in this law-journal article; I’ve assembled this quote from it with Google’s search function: “Any uncertainty as to the precise moment of ‘ensoulment’ must be re- solved in favor of the fetus, in part because the concept of original sin means that unborn life is perfect, born life imperfect. McRae v. Califano, 491 F. Supp. 630 664-90 (E.D.N.Y. 1980), rev’d sub. nom. Harris v. Mc- Rae, 448 U.S. 297 (1980).”

    So the act of getting born makes you guilty of Original Sin?

    But it would fit in very well with the anti-abortionists’ cult of the Holy Fetus.

  • Adam

    Tom Foss,

    Oh, and Adam: you forgot an element from your progression. It should be “This new living being, if given time, proper implantation in the right area of the uterus, a gestational environment conducive to fetal development, no significant malformations or deformities, and several years of parentage following birth turns into a fully developed person.” I’m sure it was just a minor oversight.

    The very fact that new living zygotes, that develope into a man, is such a delicate process, can be used as a good reason that God created rather then man happened by blind chance.

    Note what Arch Said:

    Without God it is quite illogical to assume that we just got here by chance and became beings capable of reason, with deep emotional capacity and complexities beyond match. There is so much more to our existence than being mutated tissue that happens to be able to communicate in intricate manners. We are created by God to love and to be loved.
    Peace.

    If life is this fragile, that 50-75% are naturally aborted, but you still try and tell me that it is reasonable that life just spontaniously happened without God, is an impossibility; reason tells me so. No other animal on the planet aborts at this rate. If they did, they would become extinct. Infact, most animals need a near 100% birth rate, otherwise they would not survive. Why would it be different for man?

    The point is, if we do abort at such a high rate, only God could sustain us.

    How else is this explained? Are we just cosmic slime-evolved into man?

    Christianity does not think so.

    Incidentally, do you put as much value on the lives of all “different and new organisms,” or just the ones that have the potential (barring the myriad problems that could prevent it) of eventually achieving personhood?

    Yes I put most value in humans.

    Are you suggesting that animals are as valuable as humans?

  • lpetrich

    Adam: The very fact that new living zygotes, that develope into a man, is such a delicate process, can be used as a good reason that God created rather then man happened by blind chance.

    That tired old false dichotomy of “My religion’s god or chance”. Yes, a false dichotomy. Because there are numerous other possibilities, like other religions’ gods, demons, elves, gnomes, space aliens, etc. And various possible designer-less mechanisms like Lamarck’s and Darwin’s mechanisms. Darwin’s mechanism is NOT pure chance. It involves a nonrandom process: natural selection.

    And the fragility of embryonic development does NOT suggest a perfect designer; instead, one that could have done a MUCH better job. Why is giving birth such a tight squeeze? Why is embryonic development so Rube Goldberg?

    The heart starts out as a blood vessel, then becomes 2-chambered, then 3-chambered, then 4-chambered, by splitting into two side-by-side sub-hearts. And that process is only completed at birth, when a little opening between two of the chambers gets closed; if it doesn’t get closed, the result is a Blue Baby.

    The central nervous system starts out as a strip on the skin, the “primitive streak”, a strip that gets folded inward to make the spinal cord. If this “neural tube” does not get completely closed, Spina Bifida results.

    The early embryo grows gill bars, gill pouches, and aortic arches, which are later either resorbed or used for other functions; this includes one of the systemic-arch pair. Also grown at an early stage is a tail, which later gets resorbed.

    As to our species having an excessively high spontaneous-abortion rate, I’ve searched for “spontaneous abortion” and “fetus resorption” and found a fair amount of stuff; the latter is essentially a sort of self-administered abortion. I’ve also found Hatching and Brooding Small Numbers of Chicks. “The success rate in hatching eggs is quite variable. … Even commercial hatcheries having specialized equipment may not have more than an 80 percent success ratio.”

  • goyo

    Adam:

    The point is, if we do abort at such a high rate, only God could sustain us.

    I have to ask the question: How does god sustain us?
    And why does he sustain atheists? Why doesn’t he let us die? We obviously break his most precious commandment, and the penalty for not worshipping him is death.
    Specifically, how does he sustain us?

  • Arch

    goyo,

    I have to ask the question: How does god sustain us?
    And why does he sustain atheists? Why doesn’t he let us die? We obviously break his most precious commandment, and the penalty for not worshipping him is death.
    Specifically, how does he sustain us?

    God sustains us from the very base of allowing our existence–if he did not will our existence we would not be here. And God’s sustenance does not depend on our merits or our actions–it stems from the fact that God created us out of love… and he loves us so much that he gives us freedom of will–for without that love cannot exist.
    lpetrich,

    That tired old false dichotomy of “My religion’s god or chance”. Yes, a false dichotomy. Because there are numerous other possibilities, like other religions’ gods, demons, elves, gnomes, space aliens, etc.

    How can you reasonably explain a god, demon, elf, gnome, alien, etc, existing of itself and having the power to create other beings? If God is not “that than which nothing greater can be concevied”, and doesn’t exist of his own nature, then there would be nothing else in existence. No being can will itself into existence, unless that being be all powerful and eternal.
    Peace.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Adam,

    The very fact that new living zygotes, that develope into a man, is such a delicate process, can be used as a good reason that God created rather then man happened by blind chance.

    You’d think if god designed it, 50% or so of zygotes wouldn’t be aborted due to abnormal or fatal genetic/developmental mistakes. Would you by a car that only worked 50% of the time and call it’s designer that intelligent? How many things around the house do you own and think highly of that work half the time?

    If life is this fragile, that 50-75% are naturally aborted, but you still try and tell me that it is reasonable that life just spontaniously happened without God, is an impossibility; reason tells me so. No other animal on the planet aborts at this rate. If they did, they would become extinct. Infact, most animals need a near 100% birth rate, otherwise they would not survive. Why would it be different for man?

    The point is, if we do abort at such a high rate, only God could sustain us.

    How else is this explained? Are we just cosmic slime-evolved into man?

    Christianity does not think so.

    Outside of the fact that other animals don’t have a 100% conception rate, you’re logic is very far off.
    Want to know something interesting? A fine way to reduce the risk of preeclampsia (the risk of which effects both mother and fetus) is swallowing. Of course, swallowing is just one of the ways, the overarching feature being that the more familiar with a male’s semen the woman’s body is, the less likely that body is to abort a fetus after conception. In other words, the more semen of yours you leave in a woman over time, the less likely she is to miscarry.

    God works in mysterious ways, huh?

    As a matter of fact, your reason that’s telling you these things obviously isn’t thinking about them too hard; In order to raise a child, incredible amounts of resources are needed. From conception to implantation to the woman’s body supplying nutrition, to the birth process, and through breast feeding and postnatal care it’s an incredible investment. Now, if animals like ourselves that invest so much into a new generation were not highly selective of who we choose to mate with (From a woman’s perspective at least), we’d end up investing a lot in offspring, resources that could have been directed towards better offspring with a greater chance of surviving and passing on their genes.

    Which explains the above fun fact about semen; the more familiar a woman’s body is with the semen, the more likely it is she has found herself a committed partener, making it safer for her body to invest in the creation of an offspring that can be aptly cared for. Remember, in our ancestral environment (which you don’t believe in)you couldn’t just pop into a supermarket for food; resources were hard-won and not in abundance, and in the absence of a protecting and provisioning mate, a woman likely would not last very long while pregnant or caring for an infant, relative to those who had that mate.

    Oh, it’s cute that you called us accidental slime, and then added that “christians don’t think so”. That totally makes it sound like you have the appeal to emotions thing down AND like it’s some morally superior stance. An impressive display of bullshit if I do say so myself.

    Are you suggesting that animals are as valuable as humans?

    That depends; important for what? We do depend on animals for our survival, and the vast ecosystem they create; without animals, insects, and plants all the people die too. So at some point, animals need to become as important as people, otherwise you just have people dying because of a lack of them.

    Arch,

    God sustains us from the very base of allowing our existence–if he did not will our existence we would not be here. And God’s sustenance does not depend on our merits or our actions–it stems from the fact that God created us out of love… and he loves us so much that he gives us freedom of will–for without that love cannot exist.

    Evidence of this?

    Didn’t think so.

    How can you reasonably explain a god, demon, elf, gnome, alien, etc, existing of itself and having the power to create other beings? If God is not “that than which nothing greater can be concevied”, and doesn’t exist of his own nature, then there would be nothing else in existence. No being can will itself into existence, unless that being be all powerful and eternal.

    If a being was all powerful and eternal it wouldn’t need to wish itself into existance because it would already exist by the very nature of being eternal.

    And what makes you think that a magic elf couldn’t will itself into existance? Can you prove that an elf can’t do such things? Now, I know you’re probably thinking “but elves don’t exist”; well you’re wrong because elves exist and created everything, I’m 100% sure of it.

    That’s what your ‘point’ sounds like.

  • Adam

    lpetrich,

    As to our species having an excessively high spontaneous-abortion rate, I’ve searched for “spontaneous abortion” and “fetus resorption” and found a fair amount of stuff; the latter is essentially a sort of self-administered abortion. I’ve also found Hatching and Brooding Small Numbers of Chicks. “The success rate in hatching eggs is quite variable. … Even commercial hatcheries having specialized equipment may not have more than an 80 percent success ratio.”

    A person has one egg fertilized, and chicken has many. Maybe not all the chicken are going to hatch, but (if I am not mistaken) every chicken has at least one egg hatch per mating season. That would be 100% of the Chicken that lay eggs get new chicks.

    This can not be said about humans.

    And I would also like to hear what you have to say about Arch’s comment directed to you, or I guess anyone on this web board, I am interested to hear:

    How can you reasonably explain a god, demon, elf, gnome, alien, etc, existing of itself and having the power to create other beings? If God is not “that than which nothing greater can be concevied”, and doesn’t exist of his own nature, then there would be nothing else in existence. No being can will itself into existence, unless that being be all powerful and eternal.

    goyo,

    I am with Arch

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    No other animal on the planet aborts at this rate.

    It must be nice to be able to just make up claims and present them as if you had any evidence for them. If anything, the fact that the vast majority of animals invest far less time and energy into their offspring than humans do shows that most species could get by just fine with an even higher rate of spontaneous abortion than humans.

  • Arch

    Mrnaglfar

    If a being was all powerful and eternal it wouldn’t need to wish itself into existance because it would already exist by the very nature of being eternal.

    That is exactly where my point is… without an eternal and omnipotent being that depends on nothing else for its existence there would still be nothing today. God is eternal and never had a beginning and is the cause of all else that exists–everything else is incapable of causing its own existence, just like you and me.

    And what makes you think that a magic elf couldn’t will itself into existance? Can you prove that an elf can’t do such things?

    Can you give any reasonable evidence that a temporal being exists that can will its own existence and will other matter into existence? An eternal and omnipotent Being is the only being that is not dependent and must exist if we or anything else exists. Your statement about a creator elf, or anything of that sort that is not God, is most unreasonable.
    And once again, I have to go back to Adam’s question”

    is being born a grave misfortune? Do you see life as a “lottery winner” we’ve been lucky enough to win the lottery: cosmic slime-evolved into man. Christians believe life has a purpose: To know God. The grave misfortune is not having God.

    As I mentioned before: without God it is quite illogical to assume that we just got here by chance and became beings capable of reason, with deep emotional capacity and complexities beyond match. There is so much more to our existence than being mutated tissue that happens to be able to communicate in intricate manners. We are created by God to love and to be loved.

  • Adam

    EM,

    It must be nice to be able to just make up claims and present them as if you had any evidence for them. If anything, the fact that the vast majority of animals invest far less time and energy into their offspring than humans do shows that most species could get by just fine with an even higher rate of spontaneous abortion than humans.

    When I wrote my post I was thinking of “March of the penguins” These animals work very hard to lay just one egg. Blue whales, travel thousands of miles to get to shallow water, almost starving themselves for months at a time, just to prepare their young for the journey home: a huge amount of time and energy.

    I would recommend: Planet Earth: The Complete Collection (5-Disc Series) (2007) google it or rent in on netflix, an amazing documentary of life on this planet. This shows that no other animal aborts like humans do. If they did they would become extinct.

    My point is that humans are so delicate, more then any other being, it is seem impossible for us to survive without God.

    Oh, it’s cute that you called us accidental slime, and then added that “christians don’t think so”. That totally makes it sound like you have the appeal to emotions thing down AND like it’s some morally superior stance. An impressive display of bullshit if I do say so myself.

    I’m sorry, I was not trying to hurt any feelings. Allow me to restate the question.

    Do you think that we just happend by chance? What did we evolve from? Where did we come from?
    Christians would say from God.
    Nature suggests them same: The natural order of things are made for an end. If the end does not exist then life does not make sense.

    No being can will itself into existence

    If no being can will itself into existence, how do things come into existence?

    How does a bird know how to make a nest, a bee to make honey? Everything on this planet is a receiver. Valleys would not be if water would not have made them, the water to make the valleys would not be without snow and ice. Man would not be here if two people did not meet and co-create. This can be said of all animals. Everything on the planet is a reciever, and even if you had an infinity of receivers it does not explain existence. Nothing can give itself something it does not have. I can not give you $100 dollars if I do not have it. No one can pick them self up by their own boot straps.

    There must be a being who does not receive, but gives…this is what man means when he says God.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Arch,

    That is exactly where my point is… without an eternal and omnipotent being that depends on nothing else for its existence there would still be nothing today. God is eternal and never had a beginning and is the cause of all else that exists–everything else is incapable of causing its own existence, just like you and me.

    One question: if you’re going to assume that god could always have existed, why not just assume the universe always existed? At least we can see the universe.
    How can you be so sure that the universe isn’t that unmoved mover?

    I’ll go back to the point I made earlier. Compared to the vast size of the earth, people make up little to none of it’s mass; much of it’s volume isn’t hospitable to maintaining human life. Compared to this local solar system the earth is a speck. The solar system is a speck compared with the galaxy and so on and so on. So much of this universe we’ll never see and would never support our life anyway. Parts of the universe are far, far older than the early we live on by amounts totalling billions of years. Are you really going to assume that all this was made just for us, and that some god that is going through great lengths to avoid revealing even that he exists, is watching all of the billions of people at once every moment of everyday. However, his holy book manages to get so much about this vast universe wrong and his creations are genetically/developmentally damaged more often than not. Something isn’t adding up.

    At best, if one were to follow that line of thought, that leaves you with a belief in god, or some creative force existing outside our understanding of causality, and that’s where it stops. People can hold that belief all they want and I couldn’t care less.

    Can you give any reasonable evidence that a temporal being exists that can will its own existence and will other matter into existence?

    Can you? (Evidence does not equal arm-chair philosophy)

    An eternal and omnipotent Being is the only being that is not dependent and must exist if we or anything else exists.

    Unless of course that first cause wasn’t a being at all. I see no reason it has to be. Likewise, why does it have to be all-powerful? Why not just eternal; eternal works without the all-powerful clause in there.

    Your statement about a creator elf, or anything of that sort that is not God, is most unreasonable.

    So the magic elf idea is out, but the magic god idea gets to stay? Where’s the justice in that? You have no more evidence for god then I do for magic elves. I think you’re forgetting these magic elves work in strange and mysterious ways that we can’t even being to understand.

    There is so much more to our existence than being mutated tissue that happens to be able to communicate in intricate manners. We are created by God to love and to be loved.

    Imagine you have a being that came into existance via a manner described in the first sentence vs a being that came into existance via a manner described in the second. How would you propose you have the ability to tell them apart?

    Adam,

    Do you think that we just happend by chance? What did we evolve from? Where did we come from?
    Christians would say from God.
    Nature suggests them same: The natural order of things are made for an end. If the end does not exist then life does not make sense.

    Admittedly, I do not claim to understand the origins or life nor time. I’ll also add this lack of knowledge doesn’t bother me.

    Now, you seem to assume this gap means god wins and must fill it. The argument you’re presenting seems to be:
    “Life can’t just come from non-life, and existance can’t just come from non-existance, and the only that thing happens to be able to exist without being created, well that happens to be god. checkmate.”

    If you get to declare that god could (and does) exist without being created, then I’m just going to say that the universe always existed, and life can naturally arise out of non-living matter.

    Man, idle thought is easy to prove when I don’t have to provide any evidence.

    As for the natural order bit: Living things are indeed ‘crafted’ by natural selection towards an ‘end’. That end is being able to reproduce the most successfully given a set of scarce resources. That crafting is the non-random survival of those beings better suited to do just that. Living things are fitted into the world, the world is not fitted around living things. By saying “just happened by chance”, it shows you have little knowledge about what the theory of evolution actually says.
    I’ve mentioned this before, but I will again; the parable of the puddle.
    “One day, after a rain storm, a puddle awakens to find itself laying in a hole in the ground. ‘This is splendid’ thinks the puddle, ‘the hole is just the right size to fit my body. It fits so perfectly that it couldn’t have happened this way by chance. There must be some eternal hole creator who made this hole just for me’”.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Adam, your assertions are unsupported by evidence or reason. Again, the rate of spontaneous abortion which a species can sustain is a function of how much effort and energy it puts into each new offspring. Some species, like humans, make a major investment in each potential child. Most species, however, make a far smaller investment, and as such, they can have many more offspring over the course of a lifetime. Thus, they can get by just fine with an even higher rate of natural abortion than humans’ rate (which is already quite high).

    Female rodents, for example, will often spontaneously abort their pregnancies if they meet a new dominant male (the Bruce effect). Some birds, like chickens, eat their own eggs. Infanticide is quite common in the animal kingdom – among lions, among chimpanzees, among polar bears, among wolves, among gulls, among prairie dogs, and among many others. Other species, such as sea turtles, have reproductive strategies that assume vast losses of offspring. Your conclusions simply fail to accord with the facts.

  • Arch

    Mrnaglfar,
    Thanks for your response. Here is more for your consideration.

    How can you be so sure that the universe isn’t that unmoved mover?

    Where would the universe get its power to be if it isn’t an omnipotent being? How and why would the universe desire to create? When you say “the universe” you are speaking of a physical reality in time–it has no authority to exist of itself or to put itself there. God does have the authority to create, however. God is not confined by space and time. God created space and time.

    Your points about the magnitude of space and our smallness in comparison with all of creation is reinforcing to God’s presence. With all of that magnitude of matter and seemingly endless space (in which most of what we know of it likely does not have the capacity for an earthly organism’s survival), how could such amazingly intricate life exist on one particular, small planet?… Including human beings who have the ability to reason, speak, make decisions, be in relationship with one another, question, answer, feel, think, pray, and love. Without a creator, it is mind-boggling to think of a sound reason that human beings and all things of the earth just appeared by chance.

    No, I cannot come up with a temporal being that can will its own existence–I was asking you for an example. An eternal, omnipotent being would have to exist and will other beings into existence as well–otherwise there would be nothing at all. Eternal and omnipotent would both have to be… If the being wasn’t eternal than at some point it would have not existed and would have had to will iself into existence which is impossible. Omnipotent because how could a non-omnipotent being have the authority to create? How could a partially powerfully being be eternal? And where would a partially powerful being get its power to create?

    So the magic elf idea is out, but the magic god idea gets to stay? Where’s the justice in that? You have no more evidence for god then I do for magic elves. I think you’re forgetting these magic elves work in strange and mysterious ways that we can’t even being to understand.

    I cannot definitively prove to you that God exists. And you cannot definitely prove that God does not exist. Argumentative reasoning about our existence and the existence of the universe leads me to recognize that God’s presence is very reasonable, and at the same time there are no thorough, reasonable points that lead me to trust that an elf or other being could have always existed or had the authority to create–that’s the base of the point.

    Imagine you have a being that came into existance via a manner described in the first sentence vs a being that came into existance via a manner described in the second. How would you propose you have the ability to tell them apart?

    The comparison does not relate to my point because one of my premises is that a blob of tissue cannot become a being of its own accord, much less a being as amazingly complex as we are. The question here is ultimately about how our complexities came to be. I find there to be no reasonable argument that organisms could exist without being created. An important recognition here is that there is no reasonable argument that beings as intricate as we are could just happen to come into existence.
    Peace.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Arch,

    Where would the universe get its power to be if it isn’t an omnipotent being?

    Why do you assume things need a ‘power to be’? Suppose matter/energy just “is”.

    God does have the authority to create, however. God is not confined by space and time. God created space and time.

    Our understanding of existance is likely confounded by our perceptions of both space and time. We live in a certain size world for a certain amount of time, so naturally our brains are wired to understand those scales for which they are useful; On the other hand, we don’t seem to very good at understanding numbers, sizes, and times substantially greater or smaller than those in which we live. Sure, we can conceptualize them, but have you ever tried to picture in your mind a set of things? I’m sure you could picture 10 things without much problem, but how about 20 things? 50 things? 1000 things? The orders of magnitude our brains would need to be able to understand would need to be billions of times larger. Then we might have a sense for it.

    Likewise, because of this there are many forces we are all but oblivous to; In one of his talks, Dawkins likens it to a fly being almost unaware of gravity but remarkably attunded to surface tension, since they can hang on verticle surfaces. We’re trying to use a brain designed for a certain scale of world to understand one for which it was never ment to. This is more than likely the source of our problems.

    An eternal, omnipotent being would have to exist and will other beings into existence as well–otherwise there would be nothing at all.

    Unless matter/energy are capable of existing simply because they always have, in some sense or another. The laws of physics say they’re just as eternal as anything you could imagine.

    What is god made of, if he preexisted everything by an eternity in all directions? Nothingness?

    Omnipotent because how could a non-omnipotent being have the authority to create? How could a partially powerfully being be eternal? And where would a partially powerful being get its power to create?

    See above point. Perhaps we simply misunderstand causality, since we evolved in a world for which causality is different from an ‘uncaused-causality’.

    I cannot definitively prove to you that God exists. And you cannot definitely prove that God does not exist.

    (Reminder: it’s not my job to disprove your claim, it’s your job to prove it. Same way you wouldn’t have to disprove my magical elf, I would have to prove it)
    With 100% certainity, I can’t disprove anything; no one can. But I’m not asking for you to prove something with that same 100% because that’s impossible; there’s always a possibility, no matter how small, that we’re incorrect. What I’m asking for is evidence that not only points towards a god(or multiple gods), but evidence that also specifically points towards a christian/muslim/jewish/roman/pagan/whatever conception of a god. Then this evidence is weighed against what we already know.

    So what evidence do you have? What observable, or repeatable evidence do you have? Something that goes beyond (hopefully far beyond) the level of statisical significance. You believe with such certainty you could lead one into thinking your fantastic claims have fantastic evidence.

    Argumentative reasoning about our existence and the existence of the universe leads me to recognize that God’s presence is very reasonable, and at the same time there are no thorough, reasonable points that lead me to trust that an elf or other being could have always existed or had the authority to create–that’s the base of the point.

    Ok, if that’s your base point, people explain to me how your hypothesis of god is superior to my hypothesis of magically, mysterious elves. For every argument you pit against my magic elves you must also pit against your god. This should be fun.
    -My elves are magic, and can defy natural laws, and can will themselves into existance. It just doesn’t make sense to you because they use their magic to do as they please.

    The comparison does not relate to my point because one of my premises is that a blob of tissue cannot become a being of its own accord, much less a being as amazingly complex as we are.

    You assert that life cannot form from non-living matter in any sense of the word, but as normal, that’s not backed up by evidence. I’m not saying I have the evidence you’re looking for there, as the farthest I go is into a possible idea about how DNA could have evolved. Point is I don’t rule it out because we don’t yet understand the process. Compared to what we knew 200 years ago to now, it’s almost unthinkable. Who knows what discoveries the next 10, 20, 100 years may bring. I see you don’t like the idea that the gaps in our knowledge are shrinking, because those gaps are where the possibility of god hides for you. By declaring it impossible you’re unsuccessfully attempting to keep those gaps permenant, but that’s not how it works.

    An important recognition here is that there is no reasonable argument that beings as intricate as we are could just happen to come into existence.

    The famous boeing-747 example! The example that says life is too complex to be able to just happen by chance (even though given the vast scale of the universe and the extremely small probability of life, chance may have a hand in it after all), and so must be explained by an infinitely vaster and more complex form of life that can just happen. It’s bad reasoning, and always has been.

    If you get to declare that god can just happen or just is, then I’ll just do the same thing for matter and energy. I’ll win that one though, because we can see matter and energy, yet not god for some strange reason.


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