Thoughts on the Soul-Making Theodicy

In “All Possible Worlds“, I wrote about the various religious responses to the problem of evil. Today, I want to say some more words about one of the common theodicies, the “teaching” or “soul-making” theodicy, as it’s defended in the Christian tradition. This theodicy holds that experiencing and resisting evil is the only way to produce the kind of genuine moral development and strength of character that God desires.

In the Christian view, one could imagine that the universe is like a testing ground, with human beings sitting for their exams under the eye of a divine proctor. But God, according to the Christians, is not a stern, disinterested examiner who grades on a curve. On the contrary, he wants as many people as possible to pass. Why, then, would he not make the test as easy as possible?

Even if we grant that moral development requires facing and overcoming real temptations to evil, there is no reason why the choice needs to be as difficult as it is. Our world, according to the teachings of many religions, is fraught with temptation – nearly every situation offers an opportunity to sin. Worse, the path of evil often holds the promise of considerable material rewards, whereas the path of virtue entails continual sacrifice and self-denial.

A wise and benevolent architect would not have done things in this way. Instead, he could have arranged things so that the world steers us toward good rather than toward evil. He could have seen to it that, in most circumstances, obeying the rules was the only realistic course of action, and opportunities for disobedience only reared their head in special rare and limited cases. He could have ordered the world so that the good were blessed with happiness and prosperity, whereas evildoers suffered privation. A world like this would still have provided for moral development by offering real opportunities to do evil, yet would have guided far more people to the correct path.

It might be objected that a world like this would encourage people to do good purely out of self-interest, rather than practicing virtue for its own sake, and that this is not the kind of moral development God wants. But if that’s true, then we already have a problem: the traditional monotheistic religions all teach that there is a Heaven for the obedient and a Hell for the disobedient. These teachings, too, could inspire people to believe purely for the sake of self-interest, but it is not believed that such conversions are unacceptable to God. Thus, there’s no reason why a more perfectly ordered world would cause a greater problem in this respect.

Another point against the soul-making theodicy is that, often, evil does not give rise to good but only to more evil. Many people respond to unjust suffering with anger, frustration and vengeance, rather than developing patience and fortitude. Severe and incessant suffering, such as many people experience, does not produce virtue but only trauma, passivity and despair. A world where evil was restricted to special circumstances would give people more of an opportunity to resist and overcome it than a world such as ours where evil can be pervasive and inescapable.

Finally, the soul-making theodicy has one more big problem to confront: the fact that most conceptions end not in birth but in spontaneous abortion. Via the Christian “age of accountability” doctrine, the bizarre, yet inescapable conclusion is that most of Heaven’s residents will never have had a mortal life at all.

The age-of-accountability doctrine is incompatible with the soul-making theodicy. How could it possibly be true that God had no choice but to fill the mortal world with suffering and disaster to temper our moral fiber, yet he has no problem granting salvation to those souls who avoid mortal life altogether and are never tested at all? This would be like a professor giving a complex, difficult test, which most of his students fail, yet giving straight As to those who skip the test and never show up in class.

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.

  • Lux Aeterna

    He should just have created only good people from the very start. That’ll save us a lot of trouble (and pain!).

  • whololo

    On the contrary, he wants as many people as possible to pass. Why, then, would he not make the test as easy as possible?
    A good teacher wants as many as possible to pass because they have fulfilled the objectives of the class. God, however, would surely be powerful and wise enough to create a world where the number of people who dies before making amends and finding Jesus (or whoever you’re supposed to find) approaches zero. The least one could expect is a world where everybody is born with an equal chance of being Saved. Can’t really see that in this world, though.

  • MS (Quixote)

    EM,

    I hope you understand this in the spirit intended: it is interesting to me that often you write things I teach in church. Your commentary on the age of accountability is a good example.

    I am not a proponent of the soul making theodicy as a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil; I feel its limitations, as noted in your post, relegate it to a supporting role in any general theodicy. A few comments though:

    On the contrary, he wants as many people as possible to pass.

    This represents the Arminian position, which has no relevance to Augustinians, but it’s the majority report now, unfortunately.

    This theodicy holds that experiencing and resisting evil is the only way to produce the kind of genuine moral development and strength of character that God desires.

    I agree with you in your criticism of this statement. It would be better to say that one good that can come out of evil is a strengthened character. Some of your own poets have said that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

    there is no reason why the choice needs to be as difficult as it is.

    This, generally speaking, is a point at which theists and atheists have difficulty communicating. Theists believe the choices become difficult by virtue of the choosers being sinful. The atheist does not allow for such spiritual causes or realities in their reasoning. It seems nearly impossible at times to proceed in a discussion past these assumptions on both sides.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    Great post.

    As I get a little older, I’ve started to have less patience for *any* ‘pure’ and open-ended philosophical/theological/social/political questions because if consider any of them for long enough (and sometimes that’s not very long at all), you get to a point of essential nullity and either laughable or else bitter absurdness.

    I think this might be why the two most vigorous parts of modern education are A.) the sciences and B.) the fine and performing arts. By contrast, the social sciences and humanities (except maybe creative writing) always seem pale, dessicated, washed-out. The scholars are all so tightly wrapped in their endlessly self-reflecting balls of theory that they’ve lost touch with the essential *funniness* of existence. Or with most of reality in general.

    In the same way, the part of monotheistic religious practice I find the most objectionable is *preaching* (and, regrettably, Western Buddhism seems like it’s adopting the practice). The idea that wisdom will arrive and spread if you just *talk* long and precisely enough.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    Hee, hee: “On the contrary, he wants as many people as possible to pass. Why, then, would he not make the test as easy as possible?”

    Yeah, c’mon, hasn’t god ever heard of office hours?

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    “It would be better to say that one good that can come out of evil is a strengthened character. Some of your own poets have said that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

    Um, no. As Ebon says, it *can* come out of evil . . . but usually it doesn’t. I’m going to go so far as to say that it almost *never* does. Beaten children overwhelmingly become child-beating adults rather than advocates for an end to domestic violence. Children of drug addicts become drug addicts (or maybe dealers). Sin seems to move along and propagate quite independent of anyone’s conscious decisions in a way that makes any theory of theodicy impossible to sustain.

  • Rob

    My typical counter-response to this response is this:

    1. God is O3 (omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent). We assume that in the problem of evil.
    2. The only way for people to be desirable for God’s Heaven to is for them to develop moral character via temptation.
    3. Following 2, God cannot make desirable people unless he subjects them to temptation.
    4. Following 3, there is something God cannot do.
    5. Therefore, God is not all-powerful (omnipotent).
    6. Contradiction between 1 and 6. QED

    I’m not a philosopher, so I’m sure there’s plenty of holes in this “proof”. Please give me some constructive criticism so I can refine my argument! Thanks!

  • MS (Quixote)

    Um, no

    Well, it is in fact better to say this: “one good that can come out of evil is a strengthened character” than this: “experiencing and resisting evil is the only way to produce the kind of genuine moral development and strength of character that God desires.”

    Keep in mind that I am not saying evil is good; evil is evil. What I am saying is that good can come out of evil events.

    By contrast, the social sciences and humanities

    Interesting quote for those with backgrounds in the Humanities. Perhaps you’ve been exposed to the wrong books? Offhand, I can’t imagine a less realistic portrayal of the Humantities. All of a sudden civil rights are divorced from reality? The Enlightenment is now a bad thing? Kant’s thought that gave you this: “essential nullity and either laughable or else bitter absurdness.” is now worthless? Or, perhaps, most likely, I have misunderstood you.

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

    Yup. What Ebon said.

    There’s another problem with the soul-making theodicy as well. Namely, social inequality — the fact that different people are born into such vastly different sets of opportunities.

    Some people are born into comfortable lives of relative ease. We get the kind of nutrition and stimulation that our infant and child brains need to develop properly. We get a good education. We grow up in safe homes, in safe neighborhoods, surrounded by relatively happy and successful people. We don’t get beaten, or witness our mothers and siblings get beaten. We don’t witness violence and crime on a daily basis. We have a world of opportunity ahead of us, a world in which we can do pretty much whatever we’re interested in and are good at. In other words: we get born into a life where resisting evil is relatively easy.

    Other people — not so much.

    If moral testing is necessary for us to develop souls, why do some people get more testing than others? Some of us are born into more fortunate lives with fewer temptations to evil — if we can develop souls, why doesn’t everybody get born into lives like that? Why should the testing ground for some souls be a vigorous but pleasant hike on a well-marked trail in the woods, while for others it’s an obstacle course set in a mine field?

  • Samuel Skinner

    “It would be better to say that one good that can come out of evil is a strengthened character. Some of your own poets have said that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”"

    Or, you die. Or you turn into an animal to survive. A quick look at the camps shows that those were the two favored options.

    “Theists believe the choices become difficult by virtue of the choosers being sinful. The atheist does not allow for such spiritual causes or realities in their reasoning. It seems nearly impossible at times to proceed in a discussion past these assumptions on both sides.”

    If people are inherently sinful, how can they make good choices? Either they aren’t or sin isn’t connected with evil.

    ‘”one good that can come out of evil is a strengthened character” ”

    Which is good…. why? A strong character is necessary for getting your way- however, that doesn’t mean it will be good. Hitler emerged from the trenches much stronger due to his experiences, as did Mussolini. A strengthened character is only good is the person who has it isn’t evil.

    “All of a sudden civil rights are divorced from reality?”

    Well, the have no physical existence, are purely a social convention, can be changed merely by decision… so, yes. They are no more part of reality than the rest of culture.

    “The Enlightenment is now a bad thing?”

    The Enlightenment was about reason. The humanities are not.

    “Kant’s thought that gave you this: “essential nullity and either laughable or else bitter absurdness.” is now worthless?”

    It is tradition to give enough of a quote so we know what the heck it means. Only fair.

  • http://paulsoth.livejournal.com/ Paul Soth

    And on top of that, with God being omnipotent He would already know what the results would be from the start. Hence, one has to wonder why He’d put the human race through the whole ordeal in the first place.

    Of course, any answer to that would only lead to more questions, mostly concerning the conundrum and paradox of an all-knowing and all-powerful being having needs and wants…

  • MS Quixote

    Mr. Skinner,

    It is tradition to give enough of a quote so we know what the heck it means. Only fair.

    That quote is from “J’s” post above. The idea is that he was criticizing the Humanities with a thought springing from the Humanities.

    The Enlightenment was about reason. The humanities are not.

    The Humanities rubric contains logic and philosophy.

    Well, the have no physical existence, are purely a social convention, can be changed merely by decision… so, yes. They are no more part of reality than the rest of culture.

    Maybe we should call you BF Skinner instead. Always remember that beyond freedom and dignity is slavery and indignity. Mosts theists hold that the civil rights of any human is rooted in an objective reality. From what I have learned on this site, many atheists claim dignity is somehow rooted in objectivity as well. Your comment aligns more closely to many theists’s conception of atheism.

    A strengthened character is only good is the person who has it isn’t evil.

    Agreed, but you have shifted the meaning of “strengthened character” from my remark to yours to refer to some form of will to power. I had in mind better qualities of character: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self control for starters.

    If people are inherently sinful, how can they make good choices? Either they aren’t or sin isn’t connected with evil.

    I would not agree that this dilemma holds the only two available answers.

    Or, you die. Or you turn into an animal to survive. A quick look at the camps shows that those were the two favored options.

    Well, you’re criticizing your own poets here, but if camps are purely a social convention as you suggest, what difference does it make?

  • MS Quixote

    Why should the testing ground for some souls be a vigorous but pleasant hike on a well-marked trail in the woods, while for others it’s an obstacle course set in a mine field?

    The soul-making theodicy has its limitations. I’ll add another one to the list: what possible enhancement in soul-making is achieved through animal suffering?

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    Skinner put it a little more flatly that I would have. Note that what I said was “in modern education, the humanities” blahblahblah. Civil rights and the Enlightenment, it’s worth noting, were primarily about people DOING things (i.e. abolishing Jim Crow, establishing the United States, overthrowing the king of France, etc.). Modern humanities and social sciences seems like endless tail-chasing. Scholars in these fields write in impenetrable in-speak, then wonder why no one seems to listen to them. No one is ever allowed to actually read anything on it’s own but instead have to filter it–Scholastic-style–through the filter of some other thinker (i.e. those incomprehensible 20th-century French guys, Noam Chomsky, or *groan* Paolo Freire).

    I stand by what I said about nullity and absurdness in philosophy, though: Any ‘philosophical’ discussion smacks of those pointless dorm conversations one would have while stoned. And theology seems suspiciously similar to overhearing two or more un-self-conscious fanboys talking about Dungeons and Dragons, Lovecraft or similar: Deep, deep parsing of a highly detailed but entirely fictional cosmos.

  • Arch

    nearly every situation offers an opportunity to sin

    Because nearly every situation offers the opportunity to love.

  • Leum

    MS Quixote, it was Nietzsche who said that that which doesn’t kill makes us stronger. Someday, I’d like to go up to him and break his legs.

    J, I disagree with you on the uselessness of humanities. They can tend towards meaningless gibberish, of course, but the also give us ethics, literature, and the ability to investigate the social constructs in which we live. Besides, a lot of really interesting subjects are lumped into the humanities including anthropology, comparative religion, and history.

    Back on topic, I agree that the soul-making theodicy is bogus. It ignores animal suffering, inequality of suffering, and can serve to justify inaction. If suffering makes people better, why should we help the poor, feed the hungry, or refuse to wage war? This is not the argument of someone who wishes to better humanity, it is the argument of someone who wants to justify their luxuries and inaction.

  • MS Quixote

    Note that what I said was “in modern education, the humanities” blahblahblah

    Nuance noted. More often than not, you are probably correct. With regard to philosophy and theology, once again you are right much of the time. However, there exists good, for a lack of a better term, philosphy and theology.

    The problem, I believe, lies here: with philosophy and theology, much effort is spent probing subjects that are flat-out difficult to get one’s arms around. We are unable to empirically verify ontology, epistemology is virtually impossible to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt, ethics we experience firsthand everday, yet we are still arguing over its basis after all these centuries.

    Why? Because the questions are worth asking, and our human nature & curiosity affords us very little resistance against their allure. Who doesn’t argue about ethics at the work water cooler? Besides, skepticism against PHI & THE is itself a philosophy of skepticism growing out of our philosophic tradition.

    Lastly, and sorry for the sermon, I would argue that as the sciences–and arguably the fine and performing arts–approach and exceed the limits of what can be empirically verified or tested, the more they resemble theology and philosophy. The harder the question, or perhaps the answer, the greater potential for a questionable solution…..

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    “On the contrary, he wants as many people as possible to pass.”
    I hate to burst your bubble, but…

    “Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” ~ Mat 7:14

    J “And theology seems suspiciously similar to overhearing two or more un-self-conscious fanboys talking about Dungeons and Dragons, Lovecraft or similar: Deep, deep parsing of a highly detailed but entirely fictional cosmos.”
    /me rolls d20. Awwww, you failed your saving throw. Take four points damage, elf.

    Leum “It ignores animal suffering, inequality of suffering, and can serve to justify inaction.”
    First, God doesn’t care about animals. If He did, He would’ve made them in His image, too. Obviously.
    Second, His plan is mysterious-slash-who are you to judge God?-slash-His ways are not our ways (nonetheless, He’s still “good”).
    Third, everything can serve to justify inaction. Only the guidence of the Holy Spirit can show you when to sit on your ass.
    I’d make a good apologist. Too bad that I’d have trouble saying it with a straight face.

  • Alex Siyer

    I feel that there are even fishier things in these theodicy, for example:

    the “teaching” or “soul-making” theodicy, as it’s defended in the Christian tradition. This theodicy holds that experiencing and resisting evil is the only way to produce the kind of genuine moral development and strength of character that God desires.

    ok, you need evil to produce moral development.

    but then, Why on Earth would I need to be moral in a world without evil!!!

    moral: 1. Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character. 2. Morals: Rules or habits of conduct, applies to personal character and behavior. Synonyms: moral, ethical, virtuous, righteous.

    Pd: this isn`t my first post, I just change my name from Alex to Alex Siyer.

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    Modusoperandi-

    Argument by scripture quote doesn’t work very well around here, for a couple of reasons. First of all, most of us don’t put much or any weight upon which is written. Second of all, different quotes easily contradict each other.

    As for the first reason, in this case, we do want to go to scripture to see what the christian god ‘wants.’ So that doesn’t apply here. That then leaves us with contradictory quotes. I can play that game easily:

    Does God want as many to go to heaven as possible? Yes:

    2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

  • http://liquidthinker.wordpress.com LiquidThinker

    To MS (Quixote):

    It certainly does add to the conversation when we get a sincere Christian perspective here. I’m sure there are many here who appreciate the exchange. The last point you seem to make is to negate the idea that the choice of choosing good over sin is not necessarily difficult. So, I’ll just jump right into the ultimate (well, next to blaspheming the Holy Spirit) mistake. According to many fundamentalists (I used to think this way as well), not accepting Jesus as your Redeemer is equivalent to a free pass to hell. Based on the lack of evidence God has provided on his existence or even the whole of the Jesus story, I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill this one basic requirement. So, even if I could find it easy to resist all temptation to do “Bad Things”, love my neighbor as myself, and perform many “good works”, God, if he/she exists, has still made made it profoundly difficult for me to “pass the test”, as EbonMuse says. Now it could be that, consistent with the story of Exodus, he has hardened my heart. But this is hardly consistent with him wanting everyone to pass his test.

    You do mention that this is the position unfortunately in the majority. Are you suggesting that God does not want as many as possible to pass? In your personal view, and from your sense of mercy and justice (not Augustine), would this be a merciful, loving, and just God then? Just curious…

  • Christopher

    If anything, the biblical Yaweh/El strikes me as the type of deity that likes to suddenly change the rules on people for no apparent reason at all: on one hands he forbids “murder” but then commands his people to butcher everyone that doesn’t worship him; he pushes one set of people (the Jews) to stick to a set of “laws” but grants pardons to another set of people (those that profess Christianity) full acceptence after swearing a loyalty oath; he even lays down two sets of “ten commandments (I treat them more like suggestions)!”

    Even if I had reason to believe such a deity existed I would not worship it – more likely, I would drive a switchblade into the throat of this bi-polar “god” at the first givern opportunity…

  • Brad

    One hypothetical response, I think, is the free will theodicy. To create the maximum morally allowable free will, God has to make sure there is real temptation to do evil. Obviously, God has to be subject to a different moral nature than the system we are hypothetically being subjected to, otherwise, for us humans, with greater power would come less responsibility towards helping others. This corollary would seem defensible, though, since we are the ones being tested and not God, whilst God must have some moral duty to us or moral desire for us to take this test.

    One issue I take with the free will theodicy is the claim of free will. Do we really have “free will” in the sense that is necessary for a fair moral test from God? First is the fact of our programmed-fallible minds (factors in choices that are independent of our souls and “free will”): limited and varying concentration and intelligence, the requirement for brain development and maturation, the neurological causes of sexual desires and other inclinations and dispositions, as well as negative emotions, moods, and brain disorders, all of which are not part of any metaphysical substance but rather are (possibly even controllable) aspects of the material brain. This does not cohere with the hypothesis that we are metaphysical free-willed moral agents (i.e. souls) being given a test by God. My second issue is that although God does not make our choices for us or over-powerfully influence them (or does he according to Christian thought?), he still allows the natural world and each of us to influence, restrict, and coerce each other’s wills. Evil entails the violation of other people’s supposedly “free” wills. Really, the only sense in which God could have made us ‘free’, is marginally free from him. Why is that good for his test?

    We also live in a world of limited material resources. First, food and water must be worked out of the earth, and so God must have been a social Darwinist to endorse and ordain a “survival of the fittest” rule on his moral agents to give them temptation – motivation for doing evil. (Or, even worse, perceived necessity for doing evil!) It also follows that people who are not given enough material comfort or basic needs are unfairly unable to make good choices to their maximum ability, because we all need healthy nutrition for our brains to work properly. (See Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for a classic exploration of this fact.) Second, psychoactive drugs (alcohol, heroin, etc.) also play an interesting role in this theodicy: we are given the option to restrict and distort our own minds and wills! (Or forcibly distort each other’s wills if want be… which reminds me of the plot in Batman Begins.) Third, the way this world is set up with its materials, we are given the ability to make weapons to hurt each other. In this way, we can maim each other’s wills, or we can even kill and end the moral test for other people. Why is this allowed in God’s experiment? And why is it allowed to the degree that it is? With the physical possibility for nuclear weapons of mass destruction, God is essentially allowing the construction of devices that, with a push of a button, end the lives of huge number of innocents and the devastation of many others. (Wouldn’t it be irresponsible for teachers to hide guns and drugs on a children’s playground? Are we not set up specifically for failure?)

    Finally, there is an issue with the God/moral-agent hypothesis that I have formulated which I call the “Problem Of Souls.” The first part of the POS is essentially the problem of mind-brain unity given in “A Ghost in the Machine.” Second is the problem of soul-placement. We all have distinct souls (right?), so does God go through any discernment in deciding which souls to connect to which bodies, or not? If not, then does God assign our souls randomly? If he does, why? (Random assignment would do nothing to achieve purposes of free will and benevolence that God would have at heart.) If he doesn’t, then how are our soul-body connections determined? (Is there some kind of “excluded middle” between random and determined?) Now, supposing God does discern how to place our souls, why are they placed as they are? Why are weak people put in locations where they will be hurt and exploited by evil, while strong people are put otherwheres? Plus, why are souls scattered among humans on the surface of a near-spherical planet in this universe? Why not make a world where we are all connected? What’s the point behind how we are currently connected to each other? And last in the POS is the problem of soul-creation. The universe is finite and will decay to its death. So, why would God only create a finite number of souls? For any number he has created, wouldn’t it be more benevolent and wise to create one more soul, for that soul’s potential sake? Wouldn’t it be most benevolent to create an infinite number? (And, further problems: how infinite? There is no “biggest” infinite cardinal number, so God is stuck by mathematics.) And if we suppose that God created more universes with other souls to make an infinite total, then we have an even bigger soul-placement problem.

    EDIT: As an addendum to the soul-placement problem, I think there is an additional issue with the free will theodicy in trying to frame free will within a natural world where we emerged from evolution and common descent. When did free will begin? Why? Does other life have souls? If they do, then why would non-sentient or low-sentient life forms have souls? If they don’t, then where is the drawing line? Why? And so on down the rabbit hole of theism we go, exploring the supposed maze set up for us rats…

  • MS Quixote

    Mr. Thinker,

    I appreciate the exchange as well, especially since I am the guest here. So if I say anything that offends, it is not meant in any way personally. OK, usually it is not meant personally, and I will apologize if it is :)

    The last point you seem to make is to negate the idea that the choice of choosing good over sin is not necessarily difficult.

    Let me make sure I’m clear then. I’m a Reformed Theologian, so I believe choosing good over sin is impossible in man’s natural state of original sin. With that said, I acknowledge of course that all people do good things, and that atheists in particular can be moral.

    God, if he/she exists, has still made made it profoundly difficult for me to “pass the test”, as EbonMuse says.

    Yes, I think you and Ebonmuse are correct on this point. Actually, the honest Christian should inform you that it is impossible for you to pass the test. It can’t be done. It should be noted, however, that a lack of faith in Christ is not what condemns a person.

    Based on the lack of evidence God has provided on his existence or even the whole of the Jesus story, I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill this one basic requirement

    I understand, I just decline to comment, as I have in the past on this site with regard to this point. The Christian response here, in my estimation, is the #1 source of irritation to the atheist. I’m sure you know it already….

    You do mention that this is the position unfortunately in the majority. Are you suggesting that God does not want as many as possible to pass? In your personal view, and from your sense of mercy and justice (not Augustine), would this be a merciful, loving, and just God then? Just curious…

    Yes, unfortunately, Calvinism is the minority report amongst modern Christians, founded in no small part upon a misinterpretation of 2 PET 3:9, as above in Doug’s post. 2 PET 3:9 is one of the strongest statements of Calvinism in the Bible. If God willed everyone to be saved, everyone would be saved. Maybe they will be in the end, but you wouldn’t get that idea from the Bible.

    To answer, yes, God would be merciful, loving, and just. If everyone deserves to fail, then God is just for letting them. If he chooses to save some, he is merciful and loving. Some may receive justice, some may receive mercy, but no one receives injustice. Even if he allowed everyone to fail, the only way one would bark against his love and mercy would be if they felt people really did not deserve to fail.

    I don’t wish to devolve the thread into a Calvinism argument, but that should give you some insight. If it makes you feel better, our Christian brothers often call us monsters too, but that’s because they refuse to believe what the text says–kinda unusual for the fundamentalists these days, huh? I much prefer the discourse here, incidentally. At least when I am told I am wrong, someone uses reason in the process :)

  • Samuel Skinner

    “That quote is from “J’s” post above. The idea is that he was criticizing the Humanities with a thought springing from the Humanities.”

    I was refering to this
    “”essential nullity and either laughable or else bitter absurdness.” is now worthless?”"

    Honestly, I have no clue what it means.

    “The Humanities rubric contains logic and philosophy.”

    Neither of which are about reason.

    “Maybe we should call you BF Skinner instead. Always remember that beyond freedom and dignity is slavery and indignity. Mosts theists hold that the civil rights of any human is rooted in an objective reality. From what I have learned on this site, many atheists claim dignity is somehow rooted in objectivity as well. Your comment aligns more closely to many theists’s conception of atheism.”

    Morality is universal. Rights aren’t. In fact, differant individuals have differant rights. Soldiers, children, politicians, etc. And this is accepted as perfectly moral.

    Rights are part of the social contract and that is an adaption to survive. If you had to live in resource poor conditions, your rights would drop faster than a bowling ball.

    “Agreed, but you have shifted the meaning of “strengthened character” from my remark to yours to refer to some form of will to power. I had in mind better qualities of character: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self control for starters.”

    Why on Earth would being through a meat grinder make someone gentle or filled with self control? If it is one thing horrific situations do, they strip away such traits-soldiers are noted for being… hard around the edges and people who are starving and show self control tend to starve because those more impulsive grab the food.

    The other traits tend to come about due to a renew respect for life… which isn’t necesarily the case. The Great Depression generation was more noted for their preparedness mentality and paranoia than their empathy. In fact, people tend to be less empathetic after being through horrors.

    “I would not agree that this dilemma holds the only two available answers.”

    ?

    “Well, you’re criticizing your own poets here, but if camps are purely a social convention as you suggest, what difference does it make?”

    Rights are a social convention. Morality isn’t.

    It is wrong to discriminate against portions of your population based on your belief that they are evil and you have been choosen to eliminate them. It is wrong because it causes suffering, pain and hardship for no reason other than the fact that you are unwilling to think rationally.

    On the other hand, the US depriving its citizens of rights and conscripting them was not immoral, even though it was a blatant violation of an individuals rights.

    “And theology seems suspiciously similar to overhearing two or more un-self-conscious fanboys talking about Dungeons and Dragons, Lovecraft or similar: Deep, deep parsing of a highly detailed but entirely fictional cosmos.”

    Let us be fair- D&D is MORe internally consistant than theology. If we had a universe with magic, we might get something like it… admitadly if the deities were high on meth, but stanger things have happened.

    “Because nearly every situation offers the opportunity to love.”

    … I’m sorry, I have a very dirty mind.

    “MS Quixote, it was Nietzsche who said that that which doesn’t kill makes us stronger. Someday, I’d like to go up to him and break his legs.”

    He’s dead Jim. Went insane. I think he was talking about the “will to power” deal, in which case it is true. Mostly because you have to really want to live to get through certain things.

    “ethics, literature, and the ability to investigate the social constructs in which we live. Besides, a lot of really interesting subjects are lumped into the humanities including anthropology, comparative religion, and history.”

    Anthro is a humanity? It can’t- it is a science! So is history!

    As for ethics, it tends to be obsenely simple. And literature… why the heck do we need a field of study for it?

    “I’d make a good apologist. Too bad that I’d have trouble saying it with a straight face.”

    The joy of the internet- no one can see your face while you are laughing your ass off.

    “Reads Chris’s post and starts laughing like a maniac”

    http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=118771

  • Brad

    Theists believe the choices become difficult by virtue of the choosers being sinful. The atheist does not allow for such spiritual causes or realities in their reasoning.

    Personally, I think there are much deeper problems with “choice” in Christian theology, although I will concede that atheists do tend to subject God to the same moral system that he supposedly subjects us to. (The educated believer’s response being “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”) Then again, considering some of the problems with “choice,” one wonders why God isn’t subject to and failing in some moral system if he is so benevolent …

    Also, Doug: Modus is obviously not making an argument from scripture, he is trying to represent the theistic position with scripture. (Which, by definition in this context, can be done.) As you pointed out, of course, our joker Modus did this incorrectly. Modus’ quote doesn’t say anything about God’s desires for us, while yours did, and it happened to coincide with EM’s original point.

    on one hands he forbids “murder” but then commands his people to butcher everyone that doesn’t worship him

    Ah, but this is progressive revelation! If God did it differently, we wouldn’t listen to him! He was wisely working for the greater good the whole time, of course.

    he even lays down two sets of “ten commandments (I treat them more like suggestions)!”

    Well, obviously that can be explained as punishment from God, just like Joseph Smith’s missing pages.

    The Christian response here, in my estimation, is the #1 source of irritation to the atheist. I’m sure you know it already…

    Out of curiosity, is it the Holy Spirit? That response is in fact a definitive source of irritation to me.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    MS,

    To answer, yes, God would be merciful, loving, and just. If everyone deserves to fail, then God is just for letting them. If he chooses to save some, he is merciful and loving. Some may receive justice, some may receive mercy, but no one receives injustice.

    Um, that’s not correct.

    If we all deserve hell, then when god displays his love and mercy, he is giving us what we don’t deserve, which is unjust. That’s the very definition of injustice, giving or gaining what is undeserved.

  • Joffan
    …not accepting Jesus as your Redeemer is equivalent to a free pass to hell. Based on the lack of evidence God has provided on his existence or even the whole of the Jesus story, I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill this one basic requirement

    I understand, I just decline to comment, as I have in the past on this site with regard to this point. The Christian response here, in my estimation, is the #1 source of irritation to the atheist. I’m sure you know it already…

    Out of curiosity, is it the Holy Spirit? That response is in fact a definitive source of irritation to me.

    Or the inerrancy of the Bible? or large donations to televangelists? or the efficacy of prayer?

  • Justin

    Frankly, I don’t see why God couldn’t just make people morally perfect (or ideal) to begin with. Either that or create a world/reality where the major sins are impossible. The physical impossibility of doing certain actions, I think, demolishes any argument from free will. It is impossible to do many things, (like go faster than the speed of light or fly by attaching wings made out of cardboard to your arms) so any definition of free will compatible with the real world must take physical limitations into account. Therefore, couldn’t God make us all too physically weak to beat someone else up? Regardless of your definition of free will, it would be consistent.

    MS Quixote:

    If everyone deserves to fail, then God is just for letting them. If he chooses to save some, he is merciful and loving.

    This depends on your definition of “deserve.” It would only be “just” or “merciful” if God decided to save people despite whatever failure you allude to. Especially if the alternative for these people was heck.

  • MS Quixote

    Mr. Skinner

    Honestly, I have no clue what it means.

    It means he was invoking Kant’s distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal to criticize the Humanities. Since Kant is a staple of the Humanities, it is an ironic move.

    Neither of which are about reason.

    Do you mean reason with a capital R, then? If so, you just may be a theist. If not, reason without logic is a three-legged dog.

    Morality is universal. Rights aren’t

    You’re shifting again.

    Why on Earth would being through a meat grinder make someone gentle or filled with self control?

    I never said anything about a meat grinder. I’ve already agreed that the soul-making theodicy is limited in its application.

    The Great Depression generation was more noted for their preparedness mentality and paranoia than their empathy

    I don’t know. My grandmother lived in Haarlem during the depression. Pretty empathetic woman.

    It is wrong to discriminate against portions of your population based on your belief that they are evil

    Not if it’s your social convention, and social convention is the discriminating factor.

  • MS Quixote

    If we all deserve hell, then when god displays his love and mercy, he is giving us what we don’t deserve, which is unjust. That’s the very definition of injustice, giving or gaining what is undeserved.

    Except that you are omitting a piece of the argument. The justice is satisfied before the mercy is extended. It’s not that the penalty was not paid. In addition, I can conceive of several things I have received that I did not deserve, where no injustice was comitted–even as little a thing as an ice cream cone. The definiton of justice is literally “some things outside the set of justice”. We have to also account for non-justice, as in mercy, which is also outside the set of justice.

  • Brad

    I think the response to you, Justin, would be that souls have inherent moral natures and God can’t just change them at whim. There are deeper, non-metaphysical problems I see with free will that I brought up in my earlier post. Additionally a theist might suppose that this world has the “maximally allowable” free will, which (if true) would explain away your other objection, but the burden of proof, in league with Tartarus’ boulder, is heavily rested the theist’s shoulders for that one.

    Joffan, I think MS Quixote was specifically referring to the HS and not those other things because, on an intellectual level, this site has extensively covered the topic of Jesus’ historicity and God’s evidence, and given MS Quixote’s past presence here I think she or he may be aware of this. The only other response I can think of, and one that invariably annoys atheists, is the supposed role of the Holy Spirit.

  • MS Quixote

    Brad,

    Out of curiosity, is it the Holy Spirit? That response is in fact a definitive source of irritation to me.

    I spit my drink out on my Great Dane when I read that. I think I know from experience exactly what you are referring to. I said it was the number one, not the only one :)

  • Brad

    Faith?

  • MS Quixote

    General revelation.

  • Brad

    Well, HS is a subclass of that, so I was close. :)

  • http://www.ateosmexicanos.com/portal/ Juan Felipe

    This theodicy strikes me as deeply flawed. Leaving aside the fact that according to mainstream christianity the are agents with moral development and strength of character that God desires (aborted children and God itself), and it doesn’t explains at all why a morally perfect entity is less valuable than an entity that gained its moral perfection; as an IIDB user said, consider a student who continually makes straight A’s versus a consistent C student. Now, the C student over time makes consistent straight A’s. We would surely praise the latter student and admire his accomplishment, but would we really regard him as more valuable as the former?

    It ignores animal suffering, inequality of suffering, and can serve to justify inaction If suffering makes people better, why should we help the poor, feed the hungry, or refuse to wage war?

    You just took the words out of my mouth, I was about to pint out the same thing: How do christians know that they aren’t denying their children a valuable moral improvement when they vaccinate them? Why bother to help anyone at all if this end up in a weak character?

  • Roger, FCD

    The problem, as I see it, is that if God is omnipotent as Christians claim, then God can create a universe that is both completely without evil AND allows for moral development.

    That we cannot imagine such a world is immaterial and is merely a failure of OUR imaginations, not the failure of an omniscient and omnipotent God. God’s omnipotence demands that God be capable of this.

    Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnibenevolent: Pick two.

  • terrence

    Are there cavemen in heaven? If not, WTF kind of God is this? If there are, Christ is irrelevant and unnecessary.

    P.S. I din’t mean to diss cavewomen.

  • nfpendleton

    Thankfully we have a wise, kind, loving, personal creator who explains reality and truth so well we don’t need surrogates to endlessly explain it all to us in myriad different, contradicting, and pedantic ways. Right, MS(Quixote)? Where’s John when you need him?

    And if there’s no room in heaven for cavewomen, I don’t want to go.

  • MS Quixote

    Actually, I have to own up to my own vibrant, personal pedanticism :) I also have to affirm that I have only been treated at this particular areopagus with decency and respect. Moreover, no one here called me up out of the blue and tried to explain anything to me–I came here all on my own–so why would I then criticize anyone for disagreeing with me, no matter how they go about it?

    As for cavemen, you can see all the modern-day cavemen you want on the Discovery Channel or in National Geographic.

  • Brad

    Roger, the theist claim is not that we can’t imagine such a world, but is rather the stronger assertion that such a world is impossible because genuine moral development / free will is logically incompatible with not allowing evil. God can only do what is logically possible, and so a God that desires a ground for free-willed moral agents is required to make a universe with evil as a component.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    MS,

    Except that you are omitting a piece of the argument. The justice is satisfied before the mercy is extended.

    That’s not possible. If you are claiming that we are deserving of hell, then justice can not ever be satisfied. Hell is infinite punishment. In order to satisfy the punishment, one would have to spend eternity in hell in order to “satisfy justice.” Therefore, any mercy shown is unjust in that it is giving what is not deserved.

  • MS Quixote

    OMGF,

    An infinite being can satisfy infinite punishment. That is why the sacrifice required God in the flesh, satisfying both the human aspect and the infinite.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    We are not infinite beings.

    I know you mean Jesus, but this makes no sense. How does killing Jesus somehow absolve me of any crimes? And, if it does, why do I still deserve hell?

  • Leum

    We are not infinite beings.

    I know you mean Jesus, but this makes no sense. How does killing Jesus somehow absolve me of any crimes? And, if it does, why do I still deserve hell?

    I have to echo OMGF’s question. Quixote, I know you belong to a very different branch of Christianity then the mainstream one, so I’m almost surprised to hear you say that Jesus’ death can be justice for our sins. The purpose of justice is correction and teaching, or should be in any civilized society. The atonement strikes me as the most primitive and barbaric form of justice imaginable: there has been a crime and someone must pay, but it doesn’t matter who pays?

    Assuming the idea of justice being used to correct the criminal/sinner so that he/she won’t re-offend and will understand why his/her actions were wrong, how does Jesus’ death accomplish any of those things for you? Is this related to the idea of grace? Do you think grace would have been impossible absent the Crucifixion? Do you disagree with my notion of justice? Or is there some other aspect I’ve overlooked (there often is)?

    Oh, and I’m glad you comment here. You force me to think through why I believe what I do, which is always a good thing.

  • Christopher

    An infinite being can satisfy infinite punishment. That is why the sacrifice required God in the flesh, satisfying both the human aspect and the infinite.

    Of course, this assumes that the whole “crime and punishment” model is how existence naturally works: but it doesn’t – existence is based on nothing but causallity, and causallity acknowledges no “law” and thus no “crimes” (as “law” defines “crime” into existence). Therefore, the whole “need” for punishment exists soley because some other power wills that “need” into existence – as it’s not natually present.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Doug “Argument by scripture quote doesn’t work very well around here, for a couple of reasons. First of all, most of us don’t put much or any weight upon which is written.”
    Hello! I’m an atheist. Occasionally, I’m a deist. Sometimes, I eat cake, but that’s probably unrelated.

    “Second of all, different quotes easily contradict each other.”
    Obviously. Or, to an apologist/theologist, that means that you’re just misinterpreting. Did you try the Greek version? How about the Vulgate? NIV? You see, your quote says that “all should”, not “all do”. Isn’t exegesis fun? Woo!

    Christopher “on one hands he forbids “murder” but then commands his people to butcher everyone that doesn’t worship him.”
    It’s only murder if it’s against His will. Since He’s good by His very nature, apparently, anything He commands is good. See Divine Command theory.

    “As you pointed out, of course, our joker Modus did this incorrectly. Modus’ quote doesn’t say anything about God’s desires for us, while yours did, and it happened to coincide with EM’s original point.”
    Joker? Pah! God’s desires for us have little to do with the success rate. The passage says the most won’t make it. Most will fail. It’s pretty clear to me. I’m somewhat of an expert on these things. By “expert”, I mean “I have no idea what I’m talking about”.

    Justin “Frankly, I don’t see why God couldn’t just make people morally perfect (or ideal) to begin with.”
    He did. He made Adam in His own image (perfect), but Adam used that perfect perfection to not be perfect, thus his perfect free will, drawing from God’s perfect perfectness, ruined the perfect perfection of the entire universe, which at the time was perfect.
    There’s blood coming from my ears. Is that normal?

    Juan Felipe “How do christians know that they aren’t denying their children a valuable moral improvement when they vaccinate them?”
    1. Christian Scientists don’t use that pesky “medicine”, because they would rather watch their kid die than piss off their god, who loves them enough to give them whooping cough. Or,
    2. Because God works through Man/ToE, who has free will that God refuses to interfere with, except when He does.
    There’s more blood coming out of my ears. I’m pretty sure that’s not supposed to happen.

    terrence “Are there cavemen in heaven?”
    1. Yes, the cavemen that are really just humans with bad posture had souls and, through works, got a chance at heaven, but the cavemen that were actually monkeys did not, because everybody knows that monkeys have no souls.
    2. No, because only Man has souls, and caveman wasn’t Man.
    Okay, now my monitor is going all blurry and the floor keeps shifting.

    Leum “…there has been a crime and someone must pay, but it doesn’t matter who pays?”
    Have you considered the possibility that He’s just got terrible aim? You just know that He had His plan all flow-charted out on the walls of His infinite office, but when it came to putting it in to practice it all went to shit. This is why He randomly knocks down trailer homes during hurricane season, saving one fat broad with a mumu and big hair while smiting another that’s exactly the same, but next door. This is why He really has issues with “the gays”, but San Francisco is still standing, while the Boxing Day tsunami hit the wrong place entirely. The problem, as I see it, is that He’s so big, while we’re so small. Plus, He’s terrible with people.

  • lpetrich

    I do a lot of computer programming, which gives me a certain perspective on “soul making”. An omnipotent, omniscient entity could easily program us so that we are 100% virtuous, 100% of the time, without us feeling the least bit restricted.

    And as to free will, Jesus Christ taught that you ought to remove parts of your body that cause you to commit sins. So if free will leads to committing sins, then it ought to go also.

  • Mathew Wilder

    Modus, you have made my day!

    To all doubters, I have True Faith(tm) that free will and no evil are compatible. God works in mysterious ways. Praise Jebus! Who are we mere mortals to question the Almighty’s ways? Just because we don’t understand how free will and the non-existence of evil are compatible doesn’t mean they aren’t. Since evil exists, God just must have had a Very Good Reason to have made a world with evil (since all God does is good by definition), instead of a perfect world without evil. Oh, I know! If we didn’t have this world to compare Heaven too, there is no way anyone would be satisfied with it!

  • Justin

    In response to Brad:

    such a world is impossible because genuine moral development / free will is logically incompatible with not allowing evil

    If God sees such a need for moral development, why not drop each person off in their own Matrix to learn from trial and error, where at least nobody else is going to be harmed?

    In any case, in a world without evil there would be no need for moral development.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    2 PET 3:9 is one of the strongest statements of Calvinism in the Bible. If God willed everyone to be saved, everyone would be saved. Maybe they will be in the end, but you wouldn’t get that idea from the Bible.

    *Sigh*. Yeah THIS is EXACTLY what I was talking about when I said an in-depth digging into any philosophical or theological issue will inevitably bring you to a final point of pointless nullity or laughable absurdness.

    To answer, yes, God would be merciful, loving, and just. If everyone deserves to fail, then God is just for letting them. If he chooses to save some, he is merciful and loving. Some may receive justice, some may receive mercy, but no one receives injustice. Even if he allowed everyone to fail, the only way one would bark against his love and mercy would be if they felt people really did not deserve to fail.

    Listening to Calvinists for more than 3 consecutive minutes never fails to provoke in me a Huckleberry Finn Reaction: “Fine then: I’ll go to hell.”

  • MS (Quixote)

    *Sigh*. Yeah THIS is EXACTLY what I was talking about when I said an in-depth digging into any philosophical or theological issue will inevitably bring you to a final point of pointless nullity or laughable absurdness.

    This is tantamount to claiming nearly everything argued for on this site is worthless.

    Listening to Calvinists for more than 3 consecutive minutes never fails to provoke in me a Huckleberry Finn Reaction: “Fine then: I’ll go to hell.”

    Thank you for providing justification for Calvinist doctrine.

  • MS (Quixote)

    existence is based on nothing but causallity

    Causality is the self-existent power behind the universe? I’m skeptical.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    This is tantamount to claiming nearly everything argued for on this site is worthless.

    Why not? I like Ebon and many of his ideas (or his opposition to other ideas), but I’m not in complete agreement with him on everything.

    I stand by what I first said: That it’s not an endlessly good thing to dig and dig and dig into philosophical questions. It’s not like ‘practice makes perfect’; you can end up with perfect, solidly reasoned, perfectly logical constructs that are, in fact, complete gibberish (i.e. Western medicine until dissection) or simple delusions (i.e. theology).

    At the risk of trafficking in cheap stereotypes, Eastern philosophy seems a lot better-balanced to me, asking better questions that actually have a chance of being objectively, usefully and concisely answered. Instead of ‘what is the nature of knowledge?’ or ‘what is the self?’ or ‘how can I discern God?’, the questions are ‘am I in harmony with other people?’ (or, ever-more important today, ‘with nature’) or ‘at this moment, am I prepared for death?’

  • Mathew Wilder

    M.A., I’m pretty sure that isn’t what Christopher meant. I took him as meaning we have no reason to think that moral laws exist since they play no explanatory role in our understanding of the world. Brian Leiter argues this position quite well in his paper “Moral Facts and Best Explanations.” I take it that it is either an error theory or noncognitivist metaethical position, or both.

    It does seem odd that laws of nature are inviolable, and putative moral laws are not, to put it mildly. So why posit entities or facts which, if they exist are undemonstrable?

    I think that is Christopher’s position. It is probably my own, as well, but I tend to waffle on my metaethical views.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I have to echo OMGF’s question. Quixote, I know you belong to a very different branch of Christianity then the mainstream one, so I’m almost surprised to hear you say that Jesus’ death can be justice for our sins.

    I’ll condense responses to OMGF and your post together, if you don’t mind. Reformed Christianity is not outside the Protestant mainstream, it’s just currently the minority report, though that has not always been the case. I’m not a radical sectarian like a David Koresh or something. My line of Christianity traces back through Jonathan Edwards, Calvin, Luther, in other words mainstream.

    The purpose of justice is correction and teaching

    I certainly agree that this is one purpose of justice, but it is not the primary concern when considering the atonement.

    Assuming the idea of justice being used to correct the criminal/sinner so that he/she won’t re-offend and will understand why his/her actions were wrong, how does Jesus’ death accomplish any of those things for you?

    What the atonement primarily accomplishes is the satisfaction of God’s requirement for justice–the satisfaction of the wrath of a holy god. At its base, the atonement saves a person from God. Now, is it barbarous? To the modern mind, yes. Why? I think it seems barbarous because the notion of a holy God is lost to modern man.

    What you have described above seems more like the Christian view of sanctification, rather than atonement. In that sense then, the atonement would serve as the gate to sanctification. Form there it is the Holy Spirit’s job (Brad choking) to ensure the things you mentioned.

    I mentioned earlier that one difficulty Christian theists and atheists have in discussing nearly any issue is that of sin. Another big one is the notion of the holiness of God. If we do not have the same conception of God’s holiness (or at least if we don’t both provisionally assume it), it’s nearly impossible to discuss the atonement.

    but it doesn’t matter who pays?

    To the contrary, it makes all the difference in the world who pays. You or I couldn’t do it, neither could anyone else. As OMGF hinted at, it required someone who could handle the infinite aspect of the penalty as well as the human aspect.

    Do you think grace would have been impossible absent the Crucifixion?

    Great question. First class thought. Maybe. Perhaps. There may even be civilizations out there in other galaxies that haven’t fallen and don’t require grace. Perhaps God could have instituted a different system for atonement, but all I can say as a Christian is that this is the one that was given for us.

    I know you mean Jesus, but this makes no sense. How does killing Jesus somehow absolve me of any crimes? And, if it does, why do I still deserve hell?

    OMGF,

    This is a good objection for the Arminian Christian that claims Jesus died for everyone, I use variations of it myself. Reformed Theology does not make that claim, however, so I don’t feel compelled to answer. But, quickly on the notion of debt, if you owe Sears a $1000 and I send them a check, they’re not going to continue dunning you for the money.

    Oh, and I’m glad you comment here.

    Thank you, much appreciated. The feeling is mutual for you in particular (I’ve noticed you’ve picked me up a few times, like the Nietzsche reference above) and for most everyone else here. I’m sorry I did not treat your atonement questions with all the vigor they deserve, but I am trying to post in a windstorm. Plus, I do not want to sermonize. EM will let me know when enough’s enough, I’m sure.

    To be sure, I had never forcefully encountered objections presented here regarding the atonement, and other piints of doctrine. No matter what any Christian says about my involvement here, I echo your sentiment in that y’all make me think as well. Like you say, it’s a good thing. Dare I say soul-making? (that’s a joke, BTW)

  • Mathew Wilder

    Sorry, “M.A.” should be “M.S.”

    Regarding the atonement, God’s holiness isn’t really an answer to why there needs to be a payment of some sort. God is supposedly all-powerful, why couldn’t he just “holify” everyone, why the crucifixion instead? The question is just pushed back if god’s holiness is the answer. Why is that what holiness requires. I think it seems barbarous because it is! Such a being was invented by a barbarous ancient culture. Why should we be surprised their god is as bloodthirsty as they were?

  • MS (Quixote)

    No worries mate on the MA,

    Regarding the atonement, God’s holiness isn’t really an answer to why there needs to be a payment of some sort.

    Well, sure it is. And it’s a real impediment to the discussion when assumptions aren’t shared. I agree wholeheartedly it is an answer that will not satisfy you, but I also do not know if we are conceiving of holiness in the same manner.

    God is supposedly all-powerful, why couldn’t he just “holify” everyone

    Holiness is a communicable attribute to some extent, but the type I am referring to belongs to him alone. To “holify” a creature in that sense is impossible, since it would require God to create another God, which is by definition impossible. Being impossible, even an omnipotent being can’t do it.

    Such a being was invented by a barbarous ancient culture. Why should we be surprised their god is as bloodthirsty as they were?

    I am not aware of any cultures more bloodthirsty than those of the twentieth century.

    It does seem odd that laws of nature are inviolable, and putative moral laws are not, to put it mildly.

    I was not aware that this had been demonstrated. I would not agree to it.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Why not? I like Ebon and many of his ideas (or his opposition to other ideas), but I’m not in complete agreement with him on everything.

    Smae here, but the difference is I think the argument is worthwhile.

    Eastern philosophy seems a lot better-balanced to me, asking better questions that actually have a chance of being objectively, usefully and concisely answered.

    I love Eastern thought; however, Eastern thought tends to deny objectivity.

  • Brad

    Justin: Presumably, the Matrix plan wouldn’t be “genuine,” and would be dishonest to us; your second point is exactly the theist’s point.

    MS Quixote: I don’t think J’s comment provided any justification or concession whatsoever, but merely remarked on the face-value absurdity of Calvinism by means of literary allusion. I agree with him on that point. I suppose the notion of a bizarre “holy” god might be lost on me, though. On the notion of debt payment: how can we trust that the monetary analogy is an apt one? Could the government reasonably jail an innocent person to pay off the sentence of a guilty one? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? The magical scheme where justice and mercy are doled out seems like more of an impersonal metaphysical mechanism than the will of an intelligent God.

    I agree that most atheists presume that for God to be consistent with the Bible or Christianity, we normally only pay heed to “benevolent” and not “barbarous” conceptions of God. Still, even with abnormal gods we atheists can still fall back on the main foundation for nonbelief; namely, the lack of reason or evidence.

    And I rather don’t like the idea of the holy spirit choking me. ;)

  • Mathew Wilder

    Well, MS, you’re right that we don’t have the same conception of “holiness.”

    Actually, I have no conception of it; I don’t know what you mean by it. But, for that matter, since I’m a noncognitivist about “god”, I’m not sure what you mean by that either.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I don’t think J’s comment provided any justification or concession whatsoever, but merely remarked on the face-value absurdity of Calvinism by means of literary allusion.

    Certainly no concession, but taken within the Calvinist system, it’s justification–a comment aimed at my Arminian brethren mainly. Feel free to ignore it.

    Could the government reasonably jail an innocent person to pay off the sentence of a guilty one?

    If the debt was paid in full, there wouldn’t be a need for someone to still be jailed. But, to follow the analogy, why not, if all parties are agreed?

    The magical scheme where justice and mercy are doled out seems like more of an impersonal metaphysical mechanism than the will of an intelligent God.

    I get this. Ultimately, you may be right if the whole thing is a fairy tale. But it’s not to be considered a fairy tale on any perceived inconsistency within the system itself.

    the lack of reason or evidence.

    No disagreement here, but I would add to the phrase “in your estimation”.

    And I rather don’t like the idea of the holy spirit choking me. ;)

    :) understood, I’ll choose my metaphor more carefully next time.

  • Justin

    To MS (Quixote):

    Holiness is a communicable attribute to some extent, but the type I am referring to belongs to him alone. To “holify” a creature in that sense is impossible, since it would require God to create another God, which is by definition impossible. Being impossible, even an omnipotent being can’t do it.

    This is inconsistent. Omnipotence means unlimited power. If God cannot “holify” anybody, (or “cannot” anything) that is a limit to his power (so maybe you shouldn’t refer to Him as God). I know that in popular religious views on God’s power there are some limitations, but I don’t think they apply here, since the entire soul-making theodicy could be avoided without creating a paradox. Seriously, a God with even moderate imagination (by our standards) could think of loopholes for all the theodicies. I have. A God who cannot take care of business on one planet would be very weak compared to one capable of creating the universe.

    PS: I wonder where you get the idea that God would need to create another God. It doesn’t follow.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I know that in popular religious views on God’s power there are some limitations, but I don’t think they apply here,

    I agree, Justin. I think you came in on a sidetrack discussion. I’ve already made known my less than favorable opinion of the soul-making theodicy.

    PS: I wonder where you get the idea that God would need to create another God.

    I think what I said is that it would be impossible for God to create another God. Another example of how definitions of omnipotence need to be handled with care.

  • Christopher

    Causality is the self-existent power behind the universe?

    Sure – why not? To say that something can come into being without cause is to imply that matter/energy must somewho create itself (which is sheer lunacy), thus everything that is must have a cause somewhere (and don’t give me the whole “uncaused cause” business – as it’s complete nonsense based on nothing but a desire for it to be there).

  • Christopher

    Matthew Wilder,

    It does seem odd that laws of nature are inviolable, and putative moral laws are not, to put it mildly.

    But in order for a “moral” “law” to hold the same weight as a natural one, it must have unavoidable consequenses for disobedience and rewards for remaining faithful to them – thus we get fucked-up ideas like heaven and hell to motivate the ignorant, superstitious public to obey those “moral” “laws.”

    Interestingly, these rewards/consequenses are delayed until after death – when no one can confirm their existence…

  • Christopher

    Spelling for first post made today: “somehow.” Why am I missings all those typos?

  • MS (Quixote)

    Sure – why not?

    Because “causation” in and of itself has no being. It refers to the action of other entities.

    To say that something can come into being without cause is to imply that matter/energy must somewho create itself (which is sheer lunacy),

    I quite agree, which is why something must have the power of being as a part of nature, be it matter, energy, space-time or something supernatural, unless you want to maintain som form of infinite causal regression. So rather than complete nonsense, I think logic dictates that something must be uncaused.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    MS,

    This is a good objection for the Arminian Christian that claims Jesus died for everyone, I use variations of it myself. Reformed Theology does not make that claim, however, so I don’t feel compelled to answer.

    You’re still making the claim that Jesus died for some people. It still makes no sense why Jesus dying would somehow absolve anyone of their sins. Why would god demand a death/blood sacrifice in order to absolve people of the crimes that he caused them to do – that he passed down to them through no fault of their own through original sin?

    But, quickly on the notion of debt, if you owe Sears a $1000 and I send them a check, they’re not going to continue dunning you for the money.

    Try to switch places with a serial killer on death row and see if the authorities will let you. If someone pays my fine, has justice been done or satisfied? From the standpoint of the state, it’s a mixed bag. If they only want the money, they are happy about that, but the lesson isn’t learned sometimes when the pocketbook doesn’t suffer, which is the reason for fines (I’m speaking in terms of fines and laws because companies aren’t interested in justice, just profit).

  • lpetrich

    MS (Quixote), you said “I am not aware of any cultures more bloodthirsty than those of the twentieth century.” I wish to note that there are more people available for killing nowadays than in the past, and that a more reasonable number is fraction of population. It’s difficult to get precise numbers before the past few centuries, but there have been some efforts to, like for the Thirty Years War. Something like 20% of Germans died in that war, which was at least as bad as some notable 20th-cy. mass murders.

  • MS Quixote

    lpetrich,

    Absoultely correct, not to mention that we have more efficient means at our disposal with which to kill.

    Feel free to factor in any relevant data. I’ll agree that all eras at least are bloodthirsty, and likely all cultures. The point is that no cultures are more bloodthirsty than those in the 20th century, and beyond.

  • MS Quixote

    he caused them to do – that he passed down to them through no fault of their own through original sin?

    This is a mischaracterization of Christian doctrine, which teaches that we are culpable for Adam’s sin. I prefer the Federal view of the fall.

    It still makes no sense why Jesus dying would somehow absolve anyone of their sins.

    In the transaction, the sinner receives Christ’s perfect life; his sins are transferred to Christ who suffers the penalty for the sin on the cross. Is that what you’re asking?

    Try to switch places with a serial killer on death row and see if the authorities will let you.

    If I were able to transfer my life to him and his sin to me they would accept the transaction. You are maintaining a fairly catholic view on this, I think. The phrase “legal fiction” may suit you as it seems you are claiming that God would be a liar to call someone just when in fact they were not so inherently.

    The other side of this question is important as well. You would find great fault with a judge who released serial killers without justice being served. If God’s nature is the way Christians claim, some form of atonement is necessary, and considering the sin and the nature of the one offended, the atonement of Christ satisfies all the requirements. Anything less would not be acceptable.

    but the lesson isn’t learned sometimes when the pocketbook doesn’t suffer

    I agree. Atonement is not so much a lesson learning activity and is not related to soul-making in the sense of the OP.

    Why would god demand a death/blood sacrifice

    Why, as in blood/cross and not another way? I can’t answer that without speculating. The metaphor of life in the blood perhaps. It certainly is an act befitting the heinous nature of sin and serious nature of God’s wrath. According to the Bible, it’s given as a brute fact that he chose to do it that way.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Mathew Wilder “Modus, you have made my day!”
    Excellent. My mission on this page is complete. To the MOcave!

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    MS,

    This is a mischaracterization of Christian doctrine, which teaches that we are culpable for Adam’s sin.

    No, it is not. It is god who is responsible for us being tainted by original sin. Hence it is god’s fault that we are born in sin instead of being able to decide our own futures, which BTW, is unjust.

    In the transaction, the sinner receives Christ’s perfect life; his sins are transferred to Christ who suffers the penalty for the sin on the cross. Is that what you’re asking?

    I’m asking how it makes sense. Let’s say that I go out and kill someone. Well, that’s OK because some other guy was killed 2000 years ago, so somehow I’m absolved of my crimes?

    If I were able to transfer my life to him and his sin to me they would accept the transaction.

    How are the sins transfered? Aren’t they transfered by Jesus giving up his life? How does that actually happen?

    You would find great fault with a judge who released serial killers without justice being served. If God’s nature is the way Christians claim, some form of atonement is necessary, and considering the sin and the nature of the one offended, the atonement of Christ satisfies all the requirements. Anything less would not be acceptable.

    I would also find fault with a judge that caused those murders sentencing someone else to it, or a judge sentencing someone for being human, and to an eternally long sentence of torture.

    And, I take exception to the idea that we should always determine the “nature of the one offended,” in that this is not always taken into account. Further, how does one “offend” god? Or even if we do, how is god being offended worthy of any punishment? Punishment or justice is only warranted when an actual crime is committed, and only when actual harm is done. It is impossible to harm god.

    Finally, I still fail to see how the atonement of Christ satisfies anything. How is it justice to kill an innocent man in place of someone who is guilty?

    I agree. Atonement is not so much a lesson learning activity and is not related to soul-making in the sense of the OP.

    Be careful what you agree to. In the sense of justice, is it served if you pay my $1000 dollar fine? If I have not felt the sting of things, and therefore have not learned my lesson, then justice has not been served.

    Why, as in blood/cross and not another way? I can’t answer that without speculating.

    We can certainly figure out better ways of doing things that a supposedly perfect and omni-max god should have also been able to think of.

    The metaphor of life in the blood perhaps. It certainly is an act befitting the heinous nature of sin and serious nature of God’s wrath.

    Why is god so wrathful? Why would a perfect being ever feel anger? And, why is it so serious for god to be “offended?” god has suffered no harm, so it’s rather a stretch to claim this is so serious. Still, it’s barbaric, and we shouldn’t apologize for god by saying that it was just the culture of the time. god should still know better and be able to provide better guidance for his people.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    MS Quixote “I can’t answer that without speculating.”
    And that, in short, is the history of religion. Start with the real world, add special revelation (whose doesn’t really matter). Follow up by mixing in liberal amounts of speculation.
    Bake at 400 degrees for…ever. Makes enough compatible, quasi-compatible and incompatible things that sound like they answer the problem without actually answering the problem to feed as many religions/sects/denominations/personal interpretations as you need. Caution: contains peanut oil.
    The honest answers to life’s “big” questions (How did we get here? Why am I here? Who put the empty milk carton back in the fridge? Does this look infected to you?) are all still “I don’t know”, and frank admissions of ignorance are one area where Man fails to excel…except for me. The things that I don’t know are legion. I try to forget stuff, simply to give me more things to not know (then I relearn them, simply so that I can forget them again. It’s a vicious cycle).

  • MS Quixote

    And that, in short, is the history of religion.

    Actually, that, in short, is a quote mine where I specifically did not do what you are suggesting. Maybe I should dredge up a Huxley quote and accuse all atheists of believing in evolution to escape from sexual mores.

  • MS Quixote

    And that, in short, is the history of religion.

    Actually, that, in short, is a quote mine where I specifically did not do what you are suggesting. Maybe I should dredge up a Huxley quote and accuse all atheists of believing in evolution to escape from sexual mores.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    MS Quixote “Actually, that, in short, is a quote mine where I specifically did not do what you are suggesting.”
    Really? The history of theology is trying to suss out a question that others have pondered for many years (“Why this and not that?” or “What does this mean?”). Given sufficient motivation and time you will, as have many others before you, hit on an anwer. The answer that you eventually decide is the answer will be different than Augustine or Luther or Calvin or Craig (or the same or similar to some, but different than others), and you’ll each be right, while the others will be wrong.
    “Why?” is commonly a tough question. “Why?” plus special revelation just seems to muddy the issue.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    For example:

    Lightning strike (natural world) + Thor (special revelation) = “Why did Thor burn down my house, killing my family?”, “Why is Thor mad at me?” and/or “Why didn’t my offerings to Thor placate him?”

    rather than

    Lightning strike = “What is lightning?”, “What was it about my home that lead it its demise, rather than the homes surrounding it?” and/or “How can I make a lightning resistant home-slash-family?”

    Answering the latter group actually solves something, while the same for the former does not. Adding in supernatural to natural just makes the real answer that much harder to find, instead replacing that answer with confident sounding and grossly overthought but, ultimately, empty platitudes that are easily replaceable with any of the other empty platitudes that came from other thinkers who started with the real world, then veered off on any of the infinite possible supernatural tangents, never to return.
    Simply put, Thor does not throw lightning bolts anymore. I posit that he never did.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Quixote,

    If I had to write the story of the universe (oh, and what a pale thing that would be, to be limited by my imagination), I do not think I would write so stark a Greek tragedy as you propose: condemned by a distant ancestor to a game we can’t win, knowing that god(s) will punish us for losing and call it justice. The existence of an arbitrary few who will not be punished is merely an extra turning of the screw, is it not? Envy is just another part of the tragic hero’s lot in life.

    No, I wouldn’t choose a universe built on that story, but I shall take you at face value with the idea that you did not choose it — that this story is, to you, merely an awful truth to which you have accustomed yourself. Maybe I would become accustomed to it, too. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that it would be an ironic moral flaw in me if I did.

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

    Quixote, as always, I am incredulous that someone as well-spoken and kind-hearted as I know you to be could support the cruelest and most malevolent version of Christianity ever dreamed up.

    To answer, yes, God would be merciful, loving, and just. If everyone deserves to fail, then God is just for letting them.

    This reasoning does violence to a basic principle of what it means to be just: you cannot rightly hold someone responsible for something that was not within their power. You cannot blame someone for not doing what they are incapable of doing. That perfectly describes the Calvinist view, where God creates human beings without free will – where they sin because he has decreed that is what they will do = and then inflicts eternal suffering on them because their behavior, which he caused, outrages him so much. I cannot even begin to enumerate the ways in which this belief does not make sense.

    What the atonement primarily accomplishes is the satisfaction of God’s requirement for justice–the satisfaction of the wrath of a holy god. At its base, the atonement saves a person from God. Now, is it barbarous? To the modern mind, yes. Why? I think it seems barbarous because the notion of a holy God is lost to modern man.

    I like how Mathew Wilder put it: this seems barbarous because it is barbarous. It has nothing to do with any rational definition of justice; rather, it stems from the ancient superstitions of blood atonement, in which guilt could be magically transferred to a suitable scapegoat and then expiated by shedding that unfortunate’s blood. It’s no different, in any meaningful way, from the supposed Aztec belief that an innocent person had to be killed each night to ensure that the sun would rise the next day.

    But, quickly on the notion of debt, if you owe Sears a $1000 and I send them a check, they’re not going to continue dunning you for the money.

    The incurrence of an obligation is not comparable to a state of moral blameworthiness. If I incur a legitimate debt, you can repay it on my behalf, but if I steal $1000 from Sears, you certainly can’t absolve my guilt by sending them a check. Nor can you offer to serve my prison sentence in my place.

    As others have said, the purpose of punishment can be only one of two things: to reform the offender and bring him to an appreciation of the wrongness of his deeds, or to serve as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to act similarly. The punishment envisioned by Calvinism, and really by most Christian theologies, is intended to serve neither of those purposes, and that means it can only be pointless sadism and cruelty – the infliction of pain for pain’s sake. Calvinism takes this atrocious idea further by adding one final, extraordinarily evil twist: human beings lack free will and are only doing as God has ordained. Why on earth would God ordain people to commit the acts he despises so much? Doesn’t that make him, and not us, the actual author of sin?

  • Nathanael Nerode

    It’s worth noting, of course, that every line of excuse for the problem of evil eliminates any meaningful version of “omnipotence” for God. In all the attempted excuses, God is clearly working within very restrictive rules, defined by *someone else* or by *nobody*. Given that these rules for the way the universe works weren’t created by anyone, it rather eliminates the argument that there needed to be a “creator”, just as a side effect!

    Christian philosophy has amazingly large inconsistencies in it. It’s largely due to the attempt to merge Greek philosophy’s concept of an ideal God with the not-particularly-good Boss Man Gods of the past. It just doesn’t work, period, even though they (and others) have spent hundreds of years attempting to reconcile them.

  • MS (Quixote)

    I had to go down early last night. One at a time, then.

    “Why?” plus special revelation just seems to muddy the issue.

    Modus,

    I get what you are saying, I just think you misapplied it with me.

    Adding in supernatural to natural just makes the real answer that much harder to find

    I’m fine with methodological naturalism when seeking answers through science, as long as it is applied without bias. Above, however, we were asking questions for which the scientific method can only provide a supporting role, if any. I understand your frustration with theology, as well as J’s, it seems muddy and silly at times, especially for those not conversant in the discipline (which is not to say you’re not).

    Simply put, Thor does not throw lightning bolts anymore. I posit that he never did.

    I don’t begrudge you your foray into supernatural claims :) You handled this one nicely, I think.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Lynet,

    Thanks for dropping in. I always look forward to your commentary, and though you claim to be in love with mathematics, you are Humanities through and through.

    I do not think I would write so stark a Greek tragedy as you propose: condemned by a distant ancestor to a game we can’t win, knowing that god(s) will punish us for losing and call it justice.

    Nicely put; yet I can’t escape the nagging suspicion that the myth–taken in the formal sense–that I assume you subscribe to is in reality a tragedy on an equal or greater scale. Here enters our protagonist into a universe bleak and desolate with no one to provide guidance or love. Against all odds this proto-life finds a way to multiply, and over aeons develops into the myriad forms that populate the earth in defiance, and obedience to, natural laws.

    Several times our protagonist, life itself, is threatened with global extinction, but at last a small mammal emerges from amongst the great monsters to assume control of the planet in the form of a featherless biped–ever developing into philosophers, doctors, and yes, of course, misguided theologians.

    But at a crucial moment–irony of ironies, tragedy of tragedies–at the height of its existence (perhaps) our protagonist discovers that this universe will one day die of a heat loss, leaving all cold, lifeless, and dark forever. (CS Lewis)

    but I shall take you at face value with the idea that you did not choose it — that this story is, to you, merely an awful truth to which you have accustomed yourself

    Thank you for your forebearance. As Billy Joel said, you may be right. From our perspective, it is an aweful truth, one that admittedly requires some “accustoming”.

    Still, I can’t shake the feeling that it would be an ironic moral flaw in me if I did.

    We’ve had this discussion before, and I would encourage you to reflect on it. Love your posts Lynet. I hope CA is treating you well.

  • MS (Quixote)

    EM,

    Thanks for the kind words. Your portrait of Calvinism is actually a depiction of what is commonly referred to as Hyper-Calvinism or Sub-Calvinism. I encounter this objection as often as you must encounter the claim that atheists have no basis for morality. It most often generates from within Christendom.

    You’ll notice above that I progressed from Augstinianism to Reformed Theology to Calvinism–all terms for an identical theological system. The term Calvinism is a lightning rod. As I commented, I’m accustomed to more than Lynet alluded to: a Calvinist is accustomed to being portrayed as a monster. Guilt by association I’m sure.

    However, the Calvinist is distinct from the Hyper-Calvinist. Typically, there is a melding of primary and secondary causation, a denial of compatibilism, and a distorted view of the fall involved. I take no exception to your characterization of Calvinism–if that’s where the evidence leads you. All I would ask is that you recognize in your thinking that your portrait is not the manner is which standard Calvinism is believed or taught, nor is it cruel or malevolent as stated doctrine. We may be wrong–perhaps, though I disagree, logic dictates that Calvinism must devolve to Hyper-Calvinism–but we are not teaching Hyper-Calvinism.

    Calvinism is a complex system. This complexity often leads to misunderstanding. Your conduct on this site consistently demonstrates that you research before you think, so I have no doubt that you have at least reseached and thought deeply about this. For those that haven’t, I would suggest suspension of judgment before commenting on or forming opinions about Calvinism, much in the same way atheism deserves to be heard before criticized.

    Ironically, I find the commentary on barbarism intriguing. True, Christians embrace barbaristic elements in their theology. I wonder if anyone here has considered barbarism within atheism.

    There is some value in my opinion to your idea of punishment. I hope that if atheism is the ascendant philosophy in our culture as you claim, that your ideas win the day over competing atheistic systems. When considering God, however, analogies of state decompose at the tension between the sinlessness and the holiness of God, and the sinfulness of man. It’s a primary distinction that must be factored in when considering the Christian system, and as I stated above, makes discussion between atheist and Christian problematic. When I read the comments on this site, I attempt to think as though I did not believe I was a sinner guilty before a holy God. Makes a big difference. If you want to understand a Christian, and I grant that you may in fact not desire such, it’s important to try and do the opposite.

    Great site! Thank you all for allowing me to participate.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    MS (Quixote) “I get what you are saying, I just think you misapplied it with me.”
    You should be honored. I don’t do such things for just anyone. Well, okay, I do. Also, it gave me an excuse to veer off on a tangent. Tangents are awesome. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. Take a camera.

    “I understand your frustration with theology, as…it seems muddy and silly at times,”
    At times?

    “…especially for those not conversant in the discipline (which is not to say you’re not).”
    I don’t need to know all the intricacies of 2000+ years of navel gazing to see that the emperor has no clothes. For one thing, when clothed, other people can rarely see your doodle.

    “I don’t begrudge you your foray into supernatural claims :) You handled this one nicely, I think.”
    It’s easy to debunk a god that nobody believes in. It’s much tougher to get people to see how silly the stories that they do believe in are. I did to a excellent job, though. I find that it helps to be really, really humble.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Quixote,

    though you claim to be in love with mathematics, you are Humanities through and through

    I am not modest in my aims. I want to be both. :-) I agree that my humanities side shows up a lot more often in my blogging, though.

    I can’t escape the nagging suspicion that the myth–taken in the formal sense–that I assume you subscribe to is in reality a tragedy on an equal or greater scale.

    The point is well taken; and just as I have allowed you this objection, you must allow it to me. Aspects of what you have said are simply the truth and cannot be changed.

    However, stories are flexible to a degree, aren’t they? In my own ‘myth’ as you have described it, there is no-one to blame for the situation and no point in being angry about it, and there is also considerable freedom. To be sure, we would like to live in a world where justice and meaning are real things, and the universe does not, itself, supply them. But there is also nothing stopping us from creating those things for ourselves. There is no higher authority to crush us with an approved worldview that forces us to like those aspects of the world that we would wish were changed. In your picture, by contrast, the right thing to do seems to be to believe that God is exactly right to do as He does, and to value ‘holiness’ as worth far more than the small human good that we are capable of. Your ‘myth’ contains a pre-set value system that intensifies the tragedy.

    But at a crucial moment–irony of ironies, tragedy of tragedies–at the height of its existence (perhaps) our protagonist discovers that this universe will one day die of a heat loss, leaving all cold, lifeless, and dark forever.

    I have to concede that the eventual heat death of the universe has never kept me up at night. As a result, while I could offer some comforting platitudes to anyone whom that thought does bother, it’s probable that I’ll miss the point there, somewhere.

    I myself am far more finite than the universe, and since, to me, even that is a comforting thought as long as I don’t have to stop yet, the eventual heat death of the universe is just completely outside my field of worry. It’s not part of my story or the stories of those I love.

    Now excuse me, I have to go and try to prove that the image under a continuously differentiable map of set of measure zero in the real line is also of measure zero ;-)

  • MS (Quixote)

    Tangents are awesome. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it.

    Did quite a few tangents back in the day. They go well with a Les Paul.

    For one thing, when clothed, other people can rarely see your doodle.

    Speak for yourself, Modus :)

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

    I’ll say some more on Calvinism later, but I had some words on this comment first:

    Here enters our protagonist into a universe bleak and desolate with no one to provide guidance or love.

    No! That’s unequivocally wrong. I don’t mean to be harsh, but this is a common misunderstanding about the implications of atheism and I think it’s vital to get it straight. The absence of a higher power does not mean that we are alone without guidance or love. Instead, when we need these things, we turn to each other.

    Against all odds this proto-life finds a way to multiply, and over aeons develops into the myriad forms that populate the earth in defiance, and obedience to, natural laws.

    I’m not sure why you would say our evolution is “in defiance” of natural laws. Nothing that happens is in defiance of natural laws. I wrote in “A Cosmic Accident“:

    If anything, to say that we owe our existence to the operation of laws of nature means that we are deeply and fundamentally a part of the cosmos, that it is in a sense right that we should be here. In this sense, our existence is every bit as “natural” as the existence of the sea, the earth and the stars.

    But at a crucial moment–irony of ironies, tragedy of tragedies–at the height of its existence (perhaps) our protagonist discovers that this universe will one day die of a heat loss, leaving all cold, lifeless, and dark forever.

    I’d be wary of drawing such a sweeping conclusion so soon. We’ve only just discovered, in the last few years, that all the visible matter of the universe is only a small percentage of all there is. I think it would be folly to predict that there’s nothing important left for us to learn. We don’t currently have anywhere near the confidence we would need, either to say that heat death is the ultimate destiny of the cosmos, or that this will be our inevitable fate as well. The unfolding of history has consistently surprised us.

    And in any case, I don’t see how any of this would matter. Of what relevance could the fate of the universe trillions of years hence be to our lives in the here and now? It changes nothing about what we should value, what we should find meaningful, or what should give us sadness or joy. If our actions now will not matter in the far-distant future, then by the same token, that distant future should not matter to us now.

    Also, your description leaves an important piece out. As Lynet observes, the one greatest gift that the atheist worldview gives us is freedom: the ability to make up your own mind, to find your own purpose, to choose what you will make of your life. Not everything is under our control, but most of the important things are. To an atheist, life is a wide open horizon and we can sail where we wish. We cannot decide when, where or under what circumstances we come into existence; but we can decide what we will do in the time where we find ourselves. If this is a tragedy, it’s like no tragedy I’ve ever heard of.

    This is in sharp contrast to the Calvinist view, where your destiny is fixed, your path in life is set, and your doom is not in the unimaginably far future, but is intimate, personal and imminent. If God chooses not to make me one of the saved, I know what is going to happen, and there is no possible escape.

  • bipolar2

    ** Magical thinking and supernaturalism thrive on junk-food faith **

    Everything comes about according to necessity . . . . The goal of life is serenity
    (euthymia) . . . . The qualities of things are only . . . atoms and the void.
    ~ Democritus* 500 BCE

    The de-deification of nature is one task for the next thousand years.

    bipolar2

  • windy

    Feel free to factor in any relevant data. I’ll agree that all eras at least are bloodthirsty, and likely all cultures. The point is that no cultures are more bloodthirsty than those in the 20th century, and beyond.

    Steven Pinker has done some factoring and disagrees (here’s his talk on the decline of violence)

    It might seem to us that the atrocities in the modern age surpass anything that happened before, but that’s partly because of the changing standards (in addition to the population difference that lpetrich pointed out), take Julius Caesar’s actions in the Gallic wars for example and tell me if modern leaders still seem especially bloodthirsty.

    A difference between the Bronze Age and the time from the 20th century onwards is that killing by “flipping the switch” is now possible. The trolley problem tells us that people are much more ambivalent about that than about hands-on killing. That’s what one might perhaps expect if we evolved without means of long distance killing, but less easy to explain in terms of an objective, God-given moral sense.

  • MS Quixote

    Ebon,

    No! That’s unequivocally wrong. I don’t mean to be harsh, but this is a common misunderstanding about the implications of atheism

    I don’t mind harshness when warranted, but I think you might want to take another look at what I wrote. Your post was the last thing I would have expected. The protagonist alone in the bleak universe is obviously life at its very first stages on earth. It wouldn’t know if there was someone around. You should know by now I don’t antagonize you with such statements about atheism. How’s a single-celled organism going to “turn to anyone”? The idea would be closer to an orphan striking out in the world alone; it’s not a slap at atheism.

    I’m not sure why you would say our evolution is “in defiance” of natural laws. Nothing that happens is in defiance of natural laws.

    I didn’t intend that. You’ll notice that I said and “in obedience to” the natural laws as well. The whole myth (formal sense) I described takes as a fact that evolution happened in accordance with natural laws. If you think I am ridiculing atheism, naturalism, evolution, or anything else with that post you have misunderstood completely. I will always assume first that the fault would lie with me for not being clear. The “defiance to” phrase simply is there to express the SEEMINGLY long odds that life might have faced. It accentuates the tragedy of the story.

    I’d be wary of drawing such a sweeping conclusion so soon.

    I’m not drawing conclusions. I’m not a scientist and would not presume to speak like one. I’m telling a story (once again not to insinuate that it’s not true). It should be read as a story and not a scientific monograph. Besides, I inserted a parenthetical perhaps to guard against such interpretations.

    Of what relevance could the fate of the universe trillions of years hence be to our lives in the here and now?

    I think you and Lynet both missed that the account had nothing to do with us personally, and was not directed at anyone in particular.

    To an atheist, life is a wide open horizon and we can sail where we wish. We cannot decide when, where or under what circumstances we come into existence; but we can decide what we will do in the time where we find ourselves. If this is a tragedy, it’s like no tragedy I’ve ever heard of.

    If I have ever said anything to the contrary, I apologize. I don’t believe I have, because I think what you have said here is true. Again, I have the feeling you think I was criticizing atheists. I was not. The point was that there is an element of tragedy when life climbs to great heights, only to die at the end of the story. That’s it.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Quixote,

    It’s intriguing, as usual, to try to understand your viewpoint. I know I don’t grasp all of it but sometimes I think I’m edging towards being able to both see it as it might look from the inside and be critical of it at the same time.

    I hope, therefore, that I respond with more curiosity than defensiveness.

    I think you and Lynet both missed that the account had nothing to do with us personally, and was not directed at anyone in particular.

    In other words, it is not my tragedy? It is not mine, nor yours, nor that of any conscious being known to humanity. Shall I mourn for the deaf universe that has no mind to interpret the sounds within it? Should I mourn for its deafness, then, or should I be glad that it cannot see its own tragic arc?

    I am inclined to conclude that (at least this aspect of) the tragedy that you see in my worldview belongs to a universe that cannot feel it, while in this picture humans have their own little stories that may be more or less tragic, but never so tragic as to end in total damnation. By contrast, in your worldview, the universe gets to win (or does it?), as does God and a select few, while a much stronger and more futile tragedy is thrust upon the majority of the human race (those of us that survive long enough to be held accountable for what we do, anyway). I am, however, open to a different interpretation if you want to paint one for me.

    Oh, and one minor point.

    The point was that there is an element of tragedy when life climbs to great heights, only to die at the end of the story.

    Not every story that ends with the main character’s death is tragic, you know. There’s something to be said for a life well lived that eventually comes to a natural end.

  • Mathew Wilder

    I have to agree with Lynet- not every story with a death is tragic. I fail to see where there is any tragedy, in a world without consciousness. Fate is only tragic when it is comprehended (i.e. Camus’ Sisyphus). Also, even if life seems to meet a tragic end, that is no reason to think that it does not, in fact, meet that tragic end, but ends with some invisible, undetectable utopia instead.

  • windy

    Also, even if life seems to meet a tragic end, that is no reason to think that it does not, in fact, meet that tragic end, but ends with some invisible, undetectable utopia instead.

    If any end is tragic, then an afterlife should be too:
    -if the afterlife is not eternal, the tragedy will be faced at some point
    -if it is eternal, wouldn’t you accumulate an infinite number of new memories, experiences and traits, at some point effectively obliterating your original self?
    -or if you are forever constrained by your original self in the afterlife to prevent this from happening, wouldn’t that be a tragedy as well?

  • MS Quixote

    In other words, it is not my tragedy?

    Not in the sense that it was directed at you personally. I think EM read in the story an attempt to broadside atheism with the standard theistic mantra that atheism offers only bleakness and a cold, uncaring universe with no God, and thus atheists ought to be sordid, morbid, nihilists. Despite the comments in the earlier portion of this thread, one thing the humanities achieves–and if that were the only thing it accomplished it would remain relevant–is the habit of discovering, learning (in a very real and legally binding sense), and knowing other perspectives. A sort of “walk a mile” type discipline it is; a bulwark against the tribalism of a recent post.

    In fact, what was happening was simply that your humanities side appeals to me–as stated above–and I was wanting to walk with you a bit through the valley of myth to enjoy the terrain. I think it was miscommunication on my part, mostly. I understand his response, however. I’m sure he encounters that objection constantly–I see it here consistently–and as a theist, I certainly know how to proceed along those lines. I actually did a bit with my original post to this site, but when I saw how offensive it was, I quit, resolving myself that this was not an appropriate place to talk about such things. It’s a fascinating puzzle–I may formally entertain it somewhere, sometime in the future, but it won’t be here, and it won’t be polemical or disrespectful.

    I don’t think it’s somehow inconsistent of me to follow this path, nor do I think it’s two-faced. If I were an atheist, I would be a Nietzschean, or a Schopenhaurean, or the like (at least that’s what seems best to me now). That doesn’t mean that I consider yours and EM’s brand of atheism irrational, invalid, contradictory, stupid, or any other pejorative you can imgagine. It’s rather the opposite: a positive, bright philosophy, and as I said above, if atheism’s the ascendant philosophy in our culture, I’m pulling for it to win out over other brands of atheistic thought.

    So, is it your tragedy? Evidently not; however, I doubt MacBeth is either, or scores of other tragedies we could name. This does not prevent us from enjoying them, from contemplating them, from discussing them, or even from inserting ourselves within them to experience them vicariously. After all, that is one function of myth. The ability to jump into other worlds metaphorically is a wonder and a glory of humanity; it sets us apart from the beasts. Fell free to invoke Gilgamesh whenever your heart desires, then. I’ll not be offended. It’s not my myth, but then again perhaps it is. Isn’t it our shared humanity that urges us to wonder about the creation, or the descent of man, or the struggle of the “civilized” against the wildness of nature, even at the core of our own hearts? Likewise, I am equally at home with the corn king, Mithra, or any other story you want to tell.

    I am inclined to conclude that (at least this aspect of) the tragedy that you see in my worldview belongs to a universe that cannot feel it, while in this picture humans have their own little stories that may be more or less tragic, but never so tragic as to end in total damnation.

    I was envisioning life, with a capital L, arising from the nether regions, the primordial soup, the neglected backwater, perhaps the “chaos” in certain versions– certainly no place that we would choose for a picnic–to ascend gradually against incredible odds to become sentient, to gain mastery against nature, to create beauty, to discover and spread to distant worlds perhaps, to gain pre-eminence among all that is, only to discover that all is lost.

    It need not be our story, personally. Perhaps humanity has evolved into a completely other lifeform. Perhaps the silicon revolution is final and it is the machines, ironically more at one with nature than we, who are the beholders of the climax. In one myth of this type, Forbidden Planet, the Krell reach the pinnacle of existence only to destroy themselves overnight with the most base portion of their nature: the id. Perhaps the universe itself achieves consciousness through the phenomenon of Life, an outcome suggested by some modern physicists, and witnesses its own demise.

    These are only sugested plot turns of the myth, and there is undoubtedly a treasure trove of possibilities. It need not be yours; you can make it yours if you wish. As you suggest, there could be trails of the myth that lead you to individual human’s stories if you wish, leading to tragedy or not as you see fit. What is certain, though, is that the myth is one of the greatest stories ever told and deserves to be heard. Whether its ultimate end is tragic depends on the hearer, not so much the teller.

    By contrast, in your worldview, the universe gets to win (or does it?), as does God and a select few, while a much stronger and more futile tragedy is thrust upon the majority of the human race

    You may call it a myth, BTW. It’s a technical term, which does not connote truth or falsity. Yes, the universe gets to win, and I see no reason to object to your characterization, with the possible exception being utilization of the verb “thrust,” which contains within it an emotional and logical bias. Tragic characters seem to be driven by their choices, in addition to the unseen hand.

    Not every story that ends with the main character’s death is tragic, you know. There’s something to be said for a life well lived that eventually comes to a natural end.

    Amen, sister. Incidentally, I sincerely hope, dare I use the “p” word, that yours is so :)

  • Mathew Wilder

    MS, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by discovering “that all is lost.” What is lost in our atheist view of life, the universe, and everything?

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Incidentally, I sincerely hope, dare I use the “p” word, that yours is so :)

    Well, Quixote, if you must pray for me, I suppose that’s the nicest and least offensive thing you could pray for :-)

  • MS Quixote

    Lynet, I meant prefer, I sincerely prefer that yours is so ;-)

  • MS Quixote

    Mathew,

    If you wish to personalize it to atheism, you are going to have to provide the answer that seems right for yourself. I am only envisioning Life, anthromorphized, discovering its end, tragically for some.

  • MS Quixote

    Windy,

    Thanks for the link–I actually did watch the majority of it. It just took a while to cut out the time. I enjoyed the good doctor’s presentation thoroughly, and I hope he’s right. Time will tell.

    I’m not sure. I maintain a healthy distrust for statistics, but many of his points seem reasonable. Problem is, no matter what the percentages are, the whole number of people dead in the 20th is staggering. It’s certainly a bloodthirsty century, and my contention is not that it’s the bloodiest, more that some things never change.

    To his credit, he seems to be arguing not so much that the 20th wasn’t bloody, but that extremely recent history is improving. Of course his reasoning also apparently assumes that a certain practice we divide over bitterly is acceptable, but let’s not argue about that.

    The most interesting aspect to me is this,–not that it impugns or colors his research–and correct me if I am wrong in this assumption: This appears to be an important line to maintain for many types of atheism, namely, that the world is becoming, or will become if the better philosophies take over, a better place through science, technology, education, economy, and like factors.

    Some forms of Christianity agree with the conclusion, if not the means. The great majority do not. It’s a stark contrast in worldview, and one that I am eyeing intently. In fact, I believe one of my minor criteria for deconverting to atheism was just this:

    The second category deals with things that would not be conclusive, but that would count as circumstantial evidence. Show me one of these and I might not deconvert right away, but atheism will look a lot better to me.

    1. If through science and education alone, humanity created a world where everyone was clothed, fed, and sheltered, and war became a thing of the past. This may be the lone criterion of this list that can be actualized, and it is currently possible. A related difficulty for theism would be if the world became so thoroughly evil that there was no discernable good in it.

    So, jury’s still out on this one, but Dr. Pinker is a point in your favor. Again, thanks for the link Windy. Much appreciated.

  • windy

    Problem is, no matter what the percentages are, the whole number of people dead in the 20th is staggering. It’s certainly a bloodthirsty century, and my contention is not that it’s the bloodiest, more that some things never change.

    Probably not, but still, by fraction of population killed the 20th was not the worst. But I wonder if “bloodthirsty” is right, since we seem to have gotten a lot more squeamish about blood and death. Nazis tried to conceal their death camps while past warlords might have reported killing helpless captives as a matter of course (for example, in the Old Testament!) I’m not saying that the present state of affairs is necessarily better, but there seems to be something interesting going on with moral perceptions.

    This appears to be an important line to maintain for many types of atheism, namely, that the world is becoming, or will become if the better philosophies take over, a better place through science, technology, education, economy, and like factors.

    Some forms of Christianity agree with the conclusion, if not the means. The great majority do not.

    Really? Maybe it’s because I’m from Europe, but this doesn’t sound right to me.

    Again, thanks for the link Windy. Much appreciated.

    You’re welcome!

  • Mathew Wilder

    I am only envisioning Life, anthromorphized, discovering its end, tragically for some.

    I am very confused, then. I am not sure what you’re trying to say.

    Why anthropomorphize Life? Life cannot end tragically, since Life is not an entity, much less an entity which could comprehend it’s fate, thus making it’s fate tragic.

    Perhaps I missed a lot in the comments above, but I have no idea what point you’re trying to make.

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

    I’ve been meaning to get back to this thread for a while, so here it is, a little delayed:

    The protagonist alone in the bleak universe is obviously life at its very first stages on earth.

    Ah! I see what you were getting at now, Quixote. I misunderstood you and I apologize. In my defense, I wouldn’t have expected the very first life on earth to be able to fill the role of protagonist; I think the sort of intentionality that would make that designation possible only came about much later.

    The point was that there is an element of tragedy when life climbs to great heights, only to die at the end of the story. That’s it.

    I agree, actually. There is an element of tragedy in life, its frailty and its finitude. I’d be foolish to deny it. It’s just that I don’t think death need always be viewed as a catastrophe in and of itself. It can be that, of course, but it can also be the final curtain on a rich and meaningful life, like the ending of a play you’ve enjoyed watching.

    I did promise a few more words on Calvinism:

    However, the Calvinist is distinct from the Hyper-Calvinist. Typically, there is a melding of primary and secondary causation, a denial of compatibilism, and a distorted view of the fall involved.

    We’ve discussed this before, and perhaps I’m still not grasping something, but how do you suppose that the distinction between primary and secondary causation absolves God of moral responsibility for evil? If I shoot someone directly, or if I set up some long, complex Rube Goldberg machine whose final step pulls the trigger on a gun and shoots the person, aren’t I equally guilty either way? What matters is not how many intervening steps there are, but whether the outcome was a foreseeable and intended result of my actions. If God set the cosmos in motion knowing that the outcome would be what we see, and if he had the power to ordain a different outcome but chose not to, then inescapably, he must bear the responsibility for whatever results. Again I say, if sin enrages God so much, why didn’t he simply create a universe where it would never have come into existence?

  • MS Quixote

    EM,

    Thank you for accepting my explanation. I am fully aware of my potential to irritate most everyone here with the standard theistic lines. One thing I noticed quickly, but was never aware of before visiting this site: y’all get enough of that, both here and in your daily lives apparently, and I don’t want to add to it. So, I won’t. I may jab back a little when poked, or answer a question, but that’s going to be about it. If I go overboard on something, just let me know.

    Your parable of the trek down a long, dark path, in which the travelers carry torches against the darkness, is a haunting image. Perhaps I am the fellow traveler promising a destination to which we will never arrive. If that’s the case, then as Paul mentioned, I’m the tragic figure and to be pitied above all men. But the point is, while I’m enjoying your hospitality, I should behave as a good guest. Our paths may cross sometime, when and where we can debate a little more vigorously, but even then, I feel that the person is more important than the argument. And despite our profound differences in so many areas, I intend to treat y’all with the repsect you deserve as fellow travelers, and frankly, the respect you’ve earned as well.

    It can be that, of course, but it can also be the final curtain on a rich and meaningful life, like the ending of a play you’ve enjoyed watching.

    Yes, absolutely, and I quite agree, and sincerely hope that for every atheist. I wish that more theists engaged in this life with the vigor that you seem to.

    To Calvinism then:

    EM, I am under no delusion that I am able to persuade you that God exists, much less that Calvinism is rational. What I am mainly interested in is the distinction between Hyper-C and C. As long as you can see that we don’t teach hyper-C (whether it devolves to that logically or not), I’m satisfied.

    Nevertheless, if there is genuine interest in the aspects of C above, I’ll be happy to invest the time here to go through it. It’s the least I could do in return for the time devoted to my questions.