The Top 12 Excuses for God’s Horrible Behavior

August and atheist plate

August Berkshire, the public relations representative for Minnesota Atheists and Vice-President of Atheist Alliance International, previously put together the list of “18 Unconvincing Arguments for God” (PDF), which so far is the most popular posting this site has ever had.

He’s back.

August’s new list is called: The Problem of Evil: The Top Twelve Excuses for God’s Horrible Behavior.

The PDF is available here.

Why did he write this?

If a claim is made (such as “God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving”) that contradicts the evidence (evil exists), then the claim must be wrong. This “problem of evil” is one of the most powerful arguments atheists have against the type of god most people believe in. Something that has an internal contradiction cannot be true, and a being that has an internal contradiction cannot exist.

Because the problem of evil is so difficult for religious people to overcome, they have developed some pretty creative responses. One day I decided to list these responses, along with the reasons I found them unconvincing.

I have mixed feelings about religious people’s responses to the problem of evil. On the one hand, as a creative person myself, I admire the excuses they come up with. On the other hand, I am frustrated that these religious people fail to appreciate that their excuses are inadequate to explain away the horrible behavior of their god.

On to the list:

If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, then why is there evil in the world?

For the sake of argument, let’s concede the harm that humans do as a misuse of our free will, for which God cannot be blamed (although a good case can be made that a loving god would have stopped Hitler).

That still leaves us with genetic birth defects, genetic and acquired diseases, and natural disasters.

Here are “The Top 12 Excuses” religious people give to attempt to explain away the horrible behavior of their god.

(1) Unknown greater good – The first excuse is that God must commit or allow some evil to occur to accomplish an unknown greater good.

But doesn’t that limit God’s knowledge and power? Doesn’t that say that God couldn’t think of a better way to accomplish his goals other than torturing innocent people?

(2) Evil is really God’s love – The second excuse is that what we perceive as “evil” is really an example of “God’s love.”

However, this is a definition of love we cannot comprehend because it is exactly the opposite of what we define love to be. Therefore we can’t know that “God’s love” is really love – we have to take someone’s unconvincing word for it.

If disease is an example of God’s love, shouldn’t we all try to get as sick as possible? Are doctors violating “God’s will” when they try to cure disease?

(3) Evil is needed to appreciate the good – The third excuse is that without evil we wouldn’t appreciate what’s good.

But couldn’t a god just give us an appreciation of what’s good? Why should we have to be tortured to appreciate the good?

Disease and natural disasters seem like wanton cruelty on the part of God. Without disease and natural disasters we could still be left to struggle with good and evil in terms of moral dilemmas and human actions.

(4) Blame the ancestors and blame the victim – The fourth excuse is that all evil that happens to us is our fault, either directly because of something we did, or indirectly because of our “ancestors” Adam and Eve.

This is known as “blaming the victim.” Typically, a victim of abuse believes that the more he or she is punished, the more he or she is loved.

But what did an innocent baby ever do to deserve a birth defect?

And what kind of justice is it that blames children for the sins of their long-dead ancestors?

(5) Evil is necessary for free will – The fifth excuse is that without evil we would have no free will and would be “robots.”

But what do birth defects, disease, and natural disasters have to do with free will? Do sick people have more free will than healthy people?

God has supposedly created a heaven where there is no disease. Are the people in heaven robots?

(6) The devil did it – The sixth excuse is that God isn’t really responsible for evil in the world, a devil is.

But who created this devil? And isn’t God supposed to be all-powerful? Can’t he stop this devil?

(7) Evil doesn’t last very long – The seventh excuse is that any misery that occurs to us on Earth is brief compared to an eternity in a wonderful heaven.

So what? Is that any excuse to torture people?

(8) Evil is necessary for compassion – The eighth excuse is that evil is necessary for us to learn compassion.

But if God wanted us to be compassionate, why didn’t he just make us that way? Why this sadistic scheme of torturing innocent babies to instill compassion in their parents?

(9) Suffering builds character – The ninth excuse is that suffering builds character.

While building character may sometimes require effort – such as helping others, studying, and sportsmanship – none of these threatens our lives.

And what kind of character is a baby supposed to be developing, who is born with a birth defect so severe that she will only live a few days?

(10) God is testing our faith – The tenth excuse is that evil is God’s way of testing our faith, like Job was tested in the Old Testament.

If this is true, what sense does it make to impose a “loyalty test” on an infant who dies from disease or natural disaster?

(11) The Creator is always justified – The eleventh excuse is that God is morally justified in tormenting people because he created them.

But this confuses the power to torture someone with the right to torture someone.

Do the parents who create a child have a right to torture that child? Does might make right?

(12) Evil necessary to prove God’s existence – The twelfth excuse is that the existence of evil proves the existence of God, that without a God-given sense of good and bad, we would not be able to identify some things as evil in the first place.

But can’t an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god come up with a better way to prove his existence than by torturing us? Why not just reveal himself?

Conclusion – God has run out of excuses. He is either incompetent, indifferent, or cruel. Another way to reconcile the facts is to conclude that gods don’t exist at all.

Additional comments – If you had the knowledge and power of a god, would you have created birth defects, disease, and natural disasters? If not, then you are nicer than the god you believe in. This god should be praying to you for moral advice, rather than the other way around.

Would you take a syringe full of malaria and inject it into someone you love? And yet that’s exactly what God does to people he claims to love, using a mosquito as the syringe.

We humans spend a lot of time mopping up after God’s mistakes. Some say that God works through us. But the reason we have to do “the Lord’s work” is because “the Lord” isn’t doing it himself. And if we’re doing the work, shouldn’t we take the credit?

There is much unnecessary cruelty in nature. For example, when one male lion replaces another in a pride of lions, he kills the cubs of the previous male lion. Yet this type of behavior does not occur in other species. Thus, if a god designed this system, he is not above a little wanton cruelty from time to time.

Yes, many religious people do kind acts of charity. But why? Too often the answer seems to fall into three categories, which turn out not to be altruistic at all:

1) To use the recipient of aid as a pawn to bribe the helper’s way into heaven or avoid hell (or to achieve a higher reincarnation).

2) To use kindness to convert more people to the helper’s religion, because religions cannot be sustained by evidence and thus need as many like-minded people as possible to prop them up and quash self-doubt.

3) To attempt to maintain credibility in their religion by covering up the embarrassingly poor job done by their god, by claiming they are agents of God.

For those religious people who are kind for the sake of kindness, without reference to a god, that’s exactly what secular humanism is.

Bible Quotes – “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3:38)

“When disaster comes to a city, has the Lord not caused it?” (Amos 3:6)



[tags]August Berkshire, Minnesota Atheists, atheist, atheism, Atheist Alliance International, 18 Unconvincing Arguments for God, Christians, Christianity, StarTribune, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota, Bible, Qu’ran, Koran, Thomas Paine, god gene, neurotheology, temporal lobe, Jesus, Third World, resurrection, Heaven, afterlife, Alzheimer’s disease, soul, Hell, Pascal’s Wager, Code of Hammurabi, masturbation, premarital sex, homosexuality, divorce, contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, death penalty, sabbath, altruism, martyr, 9/11, God-of-the-Gaps, Medicine, Life, Universe, Mayo Clinic, creationism, intelligent design, Creative Evangelism, Sherry Bunge Mortenson, Bethel University[/tags]

  • http://atheista.net benj

    So it’s either he doesn’t exist or he’s a kid playing The Sims! Yay!

    The ninth excuse is that suffering builds character.

    Siddharta would’ve loved this excuse. :)

  • http://none David

    But doesn’t that limit God’s knowledge and power? Doesn’t that say that God couldn’t think of a better way to accomplish his goals other than torturing innocent people?

    I’ve known of this excuse before, but never thought of a response this way. Good point.

  • http://unix.culti.st/ Ceri

    I think that the biggest problem I have with such arguments (from both sides of the fence) is that they’re rooted in dualism. The idea of good vs. evil is a fairly canonical example—ie. that there are two choices, that of good or of evil, and you can only ever classify something as one, or the other.

    Of course, most people consider this to be something of a sliding scale, and rightly so. However, that only considers one of the variables, and one that’s ill defined at that.

    It’s really hard to come up with a watertight definition of that; eg: do you define it in terms of maximising benefit to the most people, or do you simply view it in terms of an individual, or a state, without consideration to individuals? When we speak of ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’, these definitions are implicit at best.

    For example, the ethical system of the Samurai in Feudal Japan (as espoused by Hagakure seems to be entirely oriented towards protecting the honor of one’s clan. So, when one commits a grievous mistake, it would be considered proper for a samuri to commit Seppuku (ritual suicide).

    This seems about as far removed from modern western culture as you could get. However, there’s still this idea of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, however, it’s significantly different from any conception we might have of same.

    So, the problem is more or less that we’re arguing about a topic we haven’t defined, or have defined in such woolly terms as to be meaningless.

    Now, because these ideas are dualistic concepts, they’re each defined (in some sense) in terms of the other. This means, you can’t have one without the other. Some of the ‘excuses’ you mention hint at this, but don’t state this explicitly.

    There’s also another major problem which extends from this same idea is that we’re using these words without really understanding what they mean. We’ve shown that these ideas can vary significantly between cultures, so how can we imagine that an all powerful, omnicient and ineffable being would have the same definition of good and evil as a bunch of hominids?

    Sure, you can make the argument that man was created in the likeness, or in the image of man, but then again, a photograph of a landscape is a likeness of that landscape itself. You wouldn’t, however, argue that the photo and the thing photographed have the same nature.

    Amusingly, perhaps, some of these arguments start to make a bit more sense if we apply them to the worldviews of some of the Gnostic sects. By and large, these sects were of the opinion that the world was created by the Demiurge, an malformed, insane and accidental offspring (via a circuitous route) of an ineffable deity, or true god. Argument (6) and particularly your comment about “Some say that God works through us’ would make a bit more sense in this light, because the true god would be working through some people to recitify the mistakes of the creator deity.

    Of couse, any form of gnosticism is damnable heresy to virtually all christians.

  • Darryl

    When I recall all the explanations I’ve heard for the problem of evil–how involved and convoluted they are, how they strain credulity, and I compare them with the simple and elegant explanation that there is no all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God, I wonder why Christians reject the notion that a simple explanation that accounts for all the facts is to be preferred to a complex one that doesn’t.

  • Sojourner

    It seems to me that we need to sort out our terminology, or we’ll never get out of the loop of asking ourselves incredulously how anybody else could be so credulous as to believe that which we can see is plainly incredible (see god and excuses, above.)

    Do we ACTUALLY mean that the religious are deluded and/or irrational? Because if we do, and take “delusional/irrational” in the sense of being under some mysterious psychological condition, the pathological effects of which are obvious to us if not to them, then we have a medical emergency the world over. Apart from the scale, then clearly what we should be worried about are our treatment options, and not so much about the precise composition of the irrationality itself. That is, a person doesn’t spend time trying to figure out why another person imagines himself to be Napoleon, as opposed to imagining himself to be a little blue fish. It is enough that we find his alter-personality self-evidently unsound and untrue, in some way relating to his ability to interact with us and the wider world. Hence, treatment, is the answer, except we have about five billion patients. However, there is no need to actually argue with them about it. What are we doing, trying to prove that the little blue fish is a bad little blue fish? For what purpose?

    However, if we do not mean this, then indeed we might mean that they are merely mistaken. Not mad, just wrong. Well, if they are not mad, in which way are they merely wrong? What is it we understand that they also understand, such that we can point out to them when their thinking started to stray from the “proper” way? We contest two major assertions: a)that there is a god and b)that given that there is a god, we have figured out god’s project and know what he wants. We atheists simply say that there is no reason to suppose (a) holds, and that is the end of the matter. We find this simple. But suppose you held (a) to be true, can you see how vexed and fraught (b) then becomes? But only if you hold (a) to be true.

    It seems to me that representatives of specific religions speak mostly to the question (b) whilst those of us who are atheists mainly addreess the question of (a). We are simply speaking in different registers, about different things.

    What we should really be able to tell people is that since (a) is not true, (b) doesn’t matter. As long as (a) has a possibility of being true, then (b) is not really irrational. If (b) is not irrational, then all bets are off, as god could be anything or want anything, and we’ll argue about it for ever.

    The point is that we should all decide that since we can not, in fact, even decide about (a) meaningfully, and that this existence cannot be verified (or god refuses to verify), then apparently, even if god exists, he/she/it doesn’t much care whether we believe or not, and in fact doesn’t much care about us at all, so we might as well behave as if he/she/it doesn’t exist. Failure to which, at least let us behave with each other AS IF none of our actions are under the supervisory capacities of such an entity, and simply work out our interaction with each other without reference to the supreme she/he/it.

    I know it doesn’t matter that I am black, since there is just not any scientific reason to make this important or meaningful. However, I know that society, and politics, and history and so forth have made this essentially unimportant detail –on the same level of significance as my height, for instance, biologically speaking– meaningful in ways beyond the biological. I do not wish, then, to convert racists i.e. to explain to them how wonderful I really am, EVEN THOUGH I am black. I just want them to not have power over me. I want their thinking NOT to influence public policy, or impact on my education, or in any other way disturb my world and my life. I use racism because it is almost as instinctively abhorrent to us (I hope) as religious belief. There are other analogies to be made, but you get my drift. Both of these are ways of seeing the world that I cannot comprehend, nor do I want to, and I find them both harmful in some historically factual way. They are not exclusively wrong (i.e. not all bad is attributable to them), nor are they exhaustively wrong (i.e. they are not all bad). However, the general principles and foundational bases of each are repugnant to me, to the extent that I cannot even parse them.

    However, atheists can certainly be racists (some insist on it, in fact.) Indeed, I think it is probably quite a lot easier to be racist if one is an atheist. I also have known very many extremely pleasant racists –although they weren’t crazy about me, I could quite understand why other people would like them a whole lot. They weren’t evil, even, really. Some are even extremely thoughtful, about almost anything except this one blind spot. All it needs is an extraordinary interest in and regard of various amounts of melanin, genetically insignificant combinations of possible kinds of hair texture, and other arbitrarily defined categories which are simply not useful for anything. This is obvious to non-racists.

    However, to racists, we have a)absconded with the right to decide what about our physical selves is important and what is not and b)disregarded perfectly good evidence all around us that definitively shows that white people are superior to everyone else.

    The non-racists will say that of course these do not prove the superiority of white people, as such, but only other social variables like opportunity, education, etc. etc. Racists say that if these things are so obvious, and if white people are NOT special, why are they still in charge of most of the world, have most of the money and have built cathedrals and etc.? Why is the reverse true? Why, for example, are Africans in such dire straights, and why, if their blackness is not a restrictive condition, can they not simply manage to get over whatever it is that is wrong?

    To both racists and the religious, I ascribe a fundamental misunderstanding of the world and of what is important about existence. However, I don’t spend my time arguing with racists (although I do militate against the effects of racism) and it seems to me that cumulatively fewer people, over the long duree, choose this way of thinking about the world. On the other hand, many people have abandoned this way of thinking only to enter into another one that is surely as worrying for those not so inclined.

    Writing books about the many many wonderful things that non-racists have done, and why racism is harmful will matter only to those who already have reason to doubt their own racism, or to those who are already not racist. Pointing out racist contradictions would make no sense if we have already agreed that racism does not make sense, since then, racism does not actually have to make sense. I thank you for the god contradictions, but surely they can only entertain us: they aren’t going to bother serious believers, are they? Contradiction / irrationality seems to be beside the point.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Darryl, I don’t mind you taking the position you do but this Occam thing has been way overdone. There is no real reason for the simplest solution to be the one that is true, it’s just a convenience when that is the way it works out. And, as I never tire of pointing out, Occam’s razor is a pretty artificial construct to try to explain things that exist in the world of sense, the physical universe. There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of the tools we have developed to explain the physical universe to ourselves would apply to anything that might not exist entirely within that universe or outside of it. I’m pretty certain that there isn’t even any way to know if they apply to the entire physical universe or just most of what we can percieve.

    I know atheists generally flip out when these things are pointed out believing that they will be required to believe things just because they can’t be proven false. That isn’t true, what it means is that you are free to believe, not to believe or to take no position on it. This is fortunate because just about the entire world we experience is full of things we haven’t verified or which anyone has verifed. We’d be in constant confusion if we had to reject everything on the basis of proof. When you think of it, science covers a very small part of what we deal with every day. And, if PZ Myers and his gang are successful they’ll throw out the 40% of scientists who they disdain as “theists”. Won’t that help the shortage of scientists.

    I know this might upset some people but live by the blade, die by the blade.

  • Karen

    I wonder why Christians reject the notion that a simple explanation that accounts for all the facts is to be preferred to a complex one that doesn’t.

    A few ideas I’ve thought about that might help explain it:

    1) Most people are predisposed to believe in magic, and thus supernaturalism is a “default” setting that’s difficult if not impossible to turn off.

    2) Strong emotional attachment to the idea of a loving god, and a heavenly afterlife, higher purpose etc.

    3) Tradition.

    4) Fear of being shunned by friends and family; fear of making such a fundamental change, especially later in life.

    5) Fear of eternal punishment that’s been indoctrinated over many years.

    In light of all the obstacles, I wonder why so many Christians (like you and I, for instance) DO wind up rejecting religious notions! For me, the need to be completely honest with myself, after I discovered years of lies I’d bought into, overwhelmed the other objections. But not everybody is motivated by that need.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    this Occam thing has been way overdone. There is no real reason for the simplest solution to be the one that is true, it’s just a convenience when that is the way it works out.

    Good point olvlzl. I’ve often wondered how many examples we could find in the natural world or just everyday experience of instances where the simplest explanation turned out to be false and the more complex answer was actually the right one. My guess is a lot.

  • Nina

    I agree about the paucity of science. It is one thing to say that theism is an unsatisfying explanation and quite another to say that science then fills in all the blanks, or is about to at any moment. This would be just another version of god, really. God is about to give us the answer, He just hasn’t let us discover it yet, or revealed it to us, etc. Or he already has, and we were too stupid to get it.

    What we can say is that we have not yet found another method of discovery that applies itself as successfully as science does to the objects that science has claimed as its targets of knowledge. Furthermore, we do not have a good method of discovering what these possible alternative methods are. However, we are willing to give the benefit of the doubt about the material world to science, on the basis of its prior record(including the chance to discover exceptions to such a record.) Also, for these sorts of explanations, we regretfully have to withdraw religion’s efforts from further consideration because they don’t do nearly as good or as useful a job. The God Hypothesis has simply stopped working, and to the extent that we can see, it never really should have been attempted. It isn’t sensible to continue throwing more effort into making it work, when we can simply change projects and direct those resources elsewhere.

    However, surely we can see that this particular project that science is undertaking is, of necessity, limited? We have to be open to the possibilities of matters in which science is simply not applicable, or is not the best tool, as well as those matters to which science is in fact a hindrance. I mean this in the same way in which developing a specific set of muscles so as to be hyper-competitive in one sport may actually prohibit the development of another set of muscles or skills required for a different sport. Er, sumo wrestlers versus gymnasts, for example.

    Surely, being realistic/atheistic about religion need not lead us into being dogmatic about science, need it?

  • Darryl

    There is no real reason for the simplest solution to be the one that is true, it’s just a convenience when that is the way it works out.

    Contrast the number of variables involved with the two explanations I mentioned and perhaps you’ll agree that one is much more probable than the other.

  • Pingback: Green Oasis » How Not to Argue for God

  • Darryl

    I’ve often wondered how many examples we could find in the natural world or just everyday experience of instances where the simplest explanation turned out to be false and the more complex answer was actually the right one. My guess is a lot.

    I would remind you that we are not discussing the processes of the natural world or of everyday experiences but the idea of evil and that of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God, and the logical contradiction when both ideas are assumed to represent real things. If either one is unreal, the contradiction evaporates.

    If we assume that the bad things that happen to us are ‘evil,’ then we know evil exists.

    Since I witness and others witness bad things happening everyday, everywhere in the world, to everyone, I know they happen. Since I never see any god, and neither does anyone else, I find it reasonable to think that no god exists. What possible reason would I have then to suspect an invisible god is behind or in any way involved with bad things?

    For those of you who think evil and an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God both exist, you’ve got a contradiction to work out, and I imagine it will take some doing. It seems much more likely that there is no such god whose attributes pose unsolvable riddles because there is no evidence for it. The simpler explanation is better.

    Unless I delude myself, I must accept the reality of bad things. I would be deluding myself to conclude that a god exists when there is no good reason to do so.

  • Loren Petrich

    Let’s turn the Problem of Evil upside down and consider what would happen if the Universe has a ruler that is omnipotent, omniscient, and 100% evil. A possibility sometimes called maltheism or dystheism.

    A Problem of Good then arises, and one can construct parallel arguments:

    1. Unknown greater evil.

    2. Good is really EvilGod’s hate.

    3. Good is necessary so that we can be be upset by all the evil.

    4. Claim that only we do good things, and that EvilGod is never responsible for them.

    5. Good is necessary for free will.

    6. The GoodDevil did it.

    7. Good doesn’t last very long.

    8. Good is necessary for contempt.

    9. Contentment builds character.

    10. The EvilGod is checking to see if we really believe that he/she/it is evil.

    11. The Creator is always justified.

    12. Good is necessary to prove EvilGod’s existence.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    I would remind you that we are not discussing the processes of the natural world or of everyday experiences but the idea of evil and that of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God, and the logical contradiction when both ideas are assumed to represent real things. If either one is unreal, the contradiction evaporates.

    You assume that the situation as you lay it out is all that there is to it. An “all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God” (which I don’t KNOW exists) just might know a few extra vectors than you and the entire human population knows about. The idea that you can fully analyze the situation you, yourself describe on the basis of human experience alone fails just on the basis of logic.

    I don’t know the answer to the question but I do know the framing of the question is inadequate if you want to look at the entire picture. In that case the agnostic position is the only one that will truly state the honest conclusion. We don’t know.

  • Eliza

    Amen, brother!

  • Karen

    However, surely we can see that this particular project that science is undertaking is, of necessity, limited? We have to be open to the possibilities of matters in which science is simply not applicable, or is not the best tool, as well as those matters to which science is in fact a hindrance. I mean this in the same way in which developing a specific set of muscles so as to be hyper-competitive in one sport may actually prohibit the development of another set of muscles or skills required for a different sport. Er, sumo wrestlers versus gymnasts, for example.

    In what areas do you view science as either “not applicable” or “a hindrance”?

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Karen, I can give you one. I’ve been trying to find a materialist who would honestly answer it without some dodge about alleged “neural science” because I know the answer is not there. Where do you find “the separation of church and state” in science? I hope you can find it because I don’t want to do without it while you’re looking. That is if you take the superstitious ideology of scientism as your standard. And even if they don’t know what the word really means, that’s what just about all of this “I know there isn’t a God” type of atheism seems to boil down to.

    I don’t know, is there some point of pride that keeps you guys from taking the entirely impregnable stance “I don’t believe” instead of the easily shot down “I don’t know”? Because no one knows with certainty any of these issues.

    Ok, if you don’t want to deal with “the separation of church and state” how about the phenomenon of “consciousness” because I know I’m conscious but I also know that science can’t get a handle on it.

    If your of a philosophical bent, how about finding even one “universal” with an entirely proven foundation. If you do, you should apply for all time fame because no one has found one yet.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    “I don’t believe” instead of the easily shot down “I don’t know”? Because no

    That should be ‘I know there isn’t a God”

  • miller

    Another objection to number 2 is that saying God has different standards of “good” is equivalent to saying God isn’t good (by our standards). By definition, we must go by our own standards rather than God’s, because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be calling it our standards.

    In response to the comments about Occam’s razor…

    I would agree that the simplest explanation is not always the correct one. If reality were simple, science education would be a lot easier. In a certain sense, it is true that simpler explanations are more likely, since there are only a few possible simple explanations and many, many possible complex explanations. But to go much further, I think, is a misuse of the razor.

    Occam’s razor has many interpretations, but my favorite one is that given two equally good theories, we should choose the simpler one. This is not because it is more likely to be correct, but rather because it doesn’t really matter which is correct. If there were an observable difference between the two theories, then we could at least in theory test it, and then they would no longer be equally good theories. The reason to pick the simplest is purely practical, making calculations easier. Outside of science, you can freely choose to pick the more complicated one, if you derive comfort from it, or for any other reasons. Personally, I don’t derive comfort from ideas that are not observably different from the null hypothesis.

  • Darryl

    You assume that the situation as you lay it out is all that there is to it. An “all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God” (which I don’t KNOW exists) just might know a few extra vectors than you and the entire human population knows about. The idea that you can fully analyze the situation you, yourself describe on the basis of human experience alone fails just on the basis of logic.

    I’m not assuming anything–I’m discussing the topic as it was presented. You say you don’t know if an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving god exists, but you posit that it might, and based on that you denigrate all human knowledge. Why? Humans don’t know everything–no shit Sherlock. Saying you’re ignorant is a poor agnosticism. It keeps you from thinking critically. There’s a lot we do know, and we’re learning all the time. If you want to be Mr. Doubt-It-All, why don’t you doubt that there is any other kind of knowing besides that of the more advanced terrestrial species? On what other basis would you analyze our situation besides human experience? Human experience is the only one I care about.

    I don’t know the answer to the question but I do know the framing of the question is inadequate if you want to look at the entire picture. In that case the agnostic position is the only one that will truly state the honest conclusion. We don’t know.

    Just how is it that you know my framing of the question is inadequate? Can you frame it better, or do you think that’s not possible, and how do you know that? Since all we can know is what we know, all we can know is good enough for me. Just because it seems not to be good enough for you, doesn’t permit you to include me in your ignorance. I trust my faculties because there is nothing else to trust. If I did not, then there would be no point in me asking or trying to answer any question.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Darryl, becuase you are the one who introduced the possibility that God just might know infinitely more and be infinitely more powerful than all of us put together. Once you have done that you have immedately put the question into the range of infinte possibilities. It’s like taking the four simplest operations possible under the set of counting numbers and trying to deal comprehensively with a set more infinitely inculsive than the set of complex numers with those alone. It can’t be done.

    I’ve written a little piece about Occam’s razor that might be fun for you. It’s sort of a late birthday present for Bertrand Russell. I’m posting it at my blog later.

  • Mriana

    You know, it’s statements like the person Hemant commented on that get me on my Soapbox and saying, “God didn’t do it! People do it!” There is no deity who did 9/11 or what have you. If evil is God’s love, I don’t know why people worship such a deity. Makes no sense to me. I could go down all 18 of those and some how poke holes in them, but I’ll be good and not take up unnecessary space, because I know others can do the same and have.

  • Karen

    Karen, I can give you one.

    Actually, I was interested in Nina’s thoughts, since she brought up the topic.

    I’ve been trying to find a materialist who would honestly answer it without some dodge about alleged “neural science” because I know the answer is not there. Where do you find “the separation of church and state” in science? I hope you can find it because I don’t want to do without it while you’re looking. That is if you take the superstitious ideology of scientism as your standard. And even if they don’t know what the word really means, that’s what just about all of this “I know there isn’t a God” type of atheism seems to boil down to.

    Wow. Hostile, much? I haven’t even interacted with you and you’re already assuming I’m a “materialist,” addressing me sarcastically and referencing the “superstitious ideology of scientism.”

    You’re also assuming, wrongly, that I and others here are “strong atheists,” i.e., people who make the positive declaration: “There is no god.” That is not true, at least for me and most of the other regulars here, who tend to be skeptics or “agnostic atheists.” That is, we declare simply, “I don’t see any evidence for a god or gods, and as such I do not hold any belief in gods. I am, however, open to new evidence as it arises.”

    I don’t know, is there some point of pride that keeps you guys from taking the entirely impregnable stance “I don’t believe” instead of the easily shot down “I don’t know”? Because no one knows with certainty any of these issues.

    See my point, above, about your tendency to jump to wrong conclusions.

    Ok, if you don’t want to deal with “the separation of church and state” how about the phenomenon of “consciousness” because I know I’m conscious but I also know that science can’t get a handle on it.

    I’m no scientist, so I wouldn’t presume to answer for science. However, the understanding of human consciousness is one of the most complex and cutting-edge topics currently being studied by neorologists, paleoanthropologists, linguists and other scientists. I have read some excellent work on the development of the conscious brain, which some scientists theorized was triggered by – or an immediate precursor to – the development of language in early humans.

    So, again, you are jumping to premature and erroneous conclusions when you state that science “can’t get a handle on” human consciousness.

    If your of a philosophical bent, how about finding even one “universal” with an entirely proven foundation. If you do, you should apply for all time fame because no one has found one yet.

    Just as I’m not a scientist, I’m not a philosopher nor am I of a philosophical bent. Not even close. I took one philosophy class in college and thought I would die of boredom. I’m a pragmatist, through and through. So I can’t help you with your philosophical universals and so forth. Good luck with that, though.

  • Darryl

    olvlzl, no ism, no ist,

    You’re making no sense, and you answered none of my questions. I doubt I’ll be checking out your thesis on the razor.

  • Roe

    The idea of freedom of choice comes up a lot in discussions like this and I’d like to point out a human limitation that we put on it many times. It is often said as was in this article that evil might be a result of freedom of choice. I would disagree with this answer purely because it limits the power of this “All Powerful” god. To assume that just because we mortals couldn’t imagine up a world where free choice existed without evil is to assume that this all powerful god could not either. If he was truly all powerful then this problem would be a snap to solve.

    Perhaps the religious will say he is not all knowing/all powerful he’s just got an AA degree from the local community college and he’s moderately powerful. This is an argument where you could say that evil exists in spite of god because he’s no longer all powerful and all knowing.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    Wow, Roe.

    I never heard that one before. Quite an impressive argument.

    One thing that never fails to amaze me is how easily any proposition about God can be shown to limit God.

  • Sarah

    Fuck This Shit!!!


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