A Catholic response to the “why don’t you consider dead kids lucky?” question

A Catholic response to the arguments I made here and here (though I’m not sure if the author was responding directly to me, or if he heard these arguments from some other atheist):

Matthew: I don’t think so. If I remember right, you think life is ultimately for happiness right? So why not drug the water supply? That would make loads of people happy.
Simplicio: They wouldn’t really be happy! It would be an illusion!
Matthew: So it’s a new drug that makes their brain look exactly like a genuinely happy brain.
Simplicio: Well actually it’s not just happiness I value. The way to happiness is important too.
Matthew: Exactly. And it’s not just salvation I value. The way to salvation is important too.
Simplicio: But that’s different!
Matthew: How?
Simplicio: If the child grows up, xe may turn out evil and go to hell.
Matthew: So will you support drowning her?
Simplicio: No, but I don’t believe in an afterlife, so it’s not my problem.
Matthew: It is. What if she turns out evil and tortures a dozen people to death?
Simplicio: Then it’ll be the torturing that’s bad, not that xe lived.
Matthew: Likewise, it will be the damnation that’s bad, not the life.

First, a stylistic point: virtually all attempts philosophical dialogues suck. That includes you, Plato (see: the Plato entry in proofs that p).

But anyway, on the substance: the ending seems obviously very weak. Most people would say that child lives + child doesn’t torture anyone to death > child dies. But it also seems like child dies > child lives and tortures a dozen people to death. For nonconsequentialist reasons, many people would pass on a hypothetical opportunity to go back in time and kill Hitler as a child, but if you somehow knew that a random child who died last week would have grown up to be a serial killer, that sounds like a lucky break to me.

Similarly, it’s one thing for a believer to say that earthly life is important enough that child lives to an old age, then goes to heaven > child dies young and goes to heaven. That, however, certainly wouldn’t mean that child lives and goes to hell > child dies and goes to heaven! And on many theologies, the proportion of children that eventually go to hell is much higher than the proportion that eventually become serial killers.

I’m less sure what to say about the claim that it really, really matters how you get to heaven. I don’t find typical religious accounts of why heaven is (supposedly) so great, and what the criteria for getting there ought to be, very convincing in the first place so it’s hard to know what to say about variations on the scheme.

However, it doesn’t seem to fit with the things believers typically say about how great heaven is when not trying to solve these problems. “How you get into heaven is so important that it’s worth having a lot of people risk hell” seems like something that would hardly ever occur to a believer except when they’re trying to dodge a problem like this.

  • Chris

    Well I don’t even buy the starting premise, since as someone once wrote, I consider “the experience machine would be awesome, I would choose it and so would billions of others” to be a legitimate rebuttal to Nozick. But I also agree with you: That ending makes little sense to me. Moreover, even if you buy the premises, I don’t see how this sort of logic doesn’t lead you to a radical anti-natalism. It’s one thing to not kill a creature, it’s another to create it given the possibility of Hell. Frankly procreation under those circumstances seems so unbelievably despicable that I can’t believe religious people can do it.

  • Annatar

    Many religious people tend to think that the only goal to a secularist would be happiness. As Nozick said, “we would sacrifice some happiness to gain some depth.”

  • kraut

    “I’m less sure what to say about the claim that it really, really matters how you get to heaven. I don’t find typical religious accounts of why heaven is (supposedly) so great, and what the criteria for getting there ought to be, very convincing in the first place so it’s hard to know what to say about variations on the scheme.”
    The philosophical wordplay above completely ignores one of the fundamental statements of christian theology as understood by many:
    That a child dying guarantees it a place in heaven. That is the point, and not if the child in future could have done something wrong and killing it would have prevented damage to someone else.
    It is also completely beside the point if that child growing up to adulthood does harm anyone else ; the most deadly sin to a christian that secures you a place in hell is to deny god and the salvation by jesus.
    So logically it should be a duty for any true christian to prevent slipping from the righteous path and 100% salvation by killing the children, no ifs or buts. The killing will condemn the perpetrator, but any true christian martyr would surely suffer the consequence of such deed in the secure knowledge to have helped to bypass this vale of tears and a pass to everlasting bliss.
    This is the consequence when following the teachings of a barbaric system of belief.

    I grew up catholic, and the a concept of heaven and hell and a path or shortcut to salvation and the implied consequence of thinking it to the bitter end as expressed in the NT was always something that rubbed me the wrong way.

  • Greg G.

    Many religious people tend to think that the only goal to a secularist would be happiness. As Nozick said, “we would sacrifice some happiness to gain some depth.”

    I think religious people tend to think that short-term happiness, or hedonism, is the ultimate goal of atheists. Realistic people are interested in a sustainable happiness, even if it requires maintenance in the form of work and sacrifice.

    Wasn’t there an experiment where rats could push a button for food, one for water, and one to an electrode that stimulated the pleasure center of their brains? They would starve to death pushing the pleasure button. We see people attempting to do just that with chemicals.

  • MNb

    Avoiding torture is something negative – ie something is eventually not happening if a child dies. Going to heaven is something positive – ie something is surely happening if a child dies. Simplicio doesn’t point out these two crucial differences.
    Btw I’m not sure if there is something wrong with the illusion of happiness. Don’t we give some people anti-depressiva?

  • kraut

    “I’m not sure if there is something wrong with the illusion of happiness”

    Happiness is for idiots.
    Happiness always reminds me of some grinning fool who has no concept of reality – appropriate for religious people.

  • Mmmkay

    The problem with hypotheticals is they just don’t work in the real world. In the real world, drugs that make you happy all have side effects, especially after prolonged use. They also cost money to buy. You would need to make that money somewhere. You can’t just spend your life blissed-out on drugs because it would have a negative impact on your health, your work (which you need for money) and your general living standard. Also, the effects tend to be temoporary and you develop a tolerence. Drugs like anti-depressents don’t even make you happy, they just lift you up to a ‘normal’ level of functioning. It’s pointless to make up a drug that works the way you want it to and then use that as an example, as if it proves anything. The real world doesn’t work that way.

  • kraut

    “Realistic people are interested in a sustainable happiness”

    Please define happiness. I don’t know what it means. As i said – grinning imbeciles….

  • Steven Carr

    ‘And it’s not just salvation I value. The way to salvation is important too.’

    Isn’t that the point of Jesus’s parables?

    Isn’t Jesus overjoyed when a truly wicked person repents and finds salvation?

    But how can we make Jesus happy unless we do truly wicked things before we repent?

  • Steven Carr

    Isn’t the take home message from Matthew that a Catholic believes that the thought of going to Heaven isn’t something that makes him happy, and if he wanted to be happy, he would take drugs?

  • MNb

    Well, Kraut, that I’m rather an idiot. And I don’t need a religion for it.

    “Please define happiness.”
    Why should I? You don’t want to become an idiot, do you? It’s enough that I know for myself what and what not makes me happy. If it makes you happy to think happiness is for idiots, you have my approval. If not and you’re OK with that you have my approval as well. Not that you need my approval. I’s all up to you.

    • MNb

      Btw Kraut, please define mass. Or is mass for idiots too?

  • kraut

    Re mass – check with P. Higg
    Inertial mass is a measure of the resistance of an object to accelaration (you can google that)
    According to non classical physics an object gains mass by traveling through the Higgs field (I din’t google that, so I could be wrong)

    “Well, Kraut, that I’m rather an idiot.”
    Good for you. I rather know than being happy.

    • ACN

      “According to non classical physics an object gains mass by traveling through the Higgs field”

      Actually bulk matter gets 99%+ of its mass from the strong interaction. The Higgs field only gives mass to naked elementary particles.

  • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com/ Bronze Dog

    The first obvious big problem I see is foreknowledge. How do you know what those kids will turn out to be? How do you know what the outcome of killing them now would be? A time traveler could at least start the argument that it was okay to kill Hitler as a child by bringing historical evidence from our timeline to show that he would have grown up evil. We don’t have any such justification for the deaths of these kids.

    Another big obvious problem is that the Biblical god is an asshole who probably wouldn’t be afraid to send innocent infants (and 99.99% of all humans) to Hell, so you’re more likely denying the victims the chance to have a happy life on Earth.

    And a fundamental one: What reason does anyone have for believing the afterlife exists at all?

    As for happiness, I think it’s more than just pleasure. Sustainability is a factor, as well as self-determination. Just pumping someone full of dopamine or whatever would probably undermine their nature as a conscious person, leading to something like a vegetative state. It might make for a nice way to die, but it’s not really “living” beyond the biological sense. There’d be no more “you” left in there.

  • kraut

    “As for happiness, I think it’s more than just pleasure”

    I prefer the word content to happiness.
    I am content with my live as far as being able to make a living and pay my bills, but how can anybody by happy with the current state of politics (Obama the big spy in the sky and drone above the USA), the killings of civilians (oh no, they are all Taliban, ya know), the situation in the Middle East, the attempt of a free ranging unrestricted capitalism willing and succeeding to destroy what is left of the middle class, helped by bailouts and then mouthing off inanities when the middle class asks for help, the state of an environment that will guarantee that the future generations will have a lot harder live?

  • kraut

    ” The Higgs field only gives mass to naked elementary particles.”
    That is what I meant by “object”..thanks for correcting.
    Happens when you post too fast.

  • MNb

    “I prefer the word content to happiness.”
    There you go. Just define happiness as content. You’re an idiot too, Kraut.
    After all – how can anybody be content with the current state of politics (mutatis mutandis for me, I’m not American) etcetera? You? Then you’re an idiot again in your own logic. You’re a real winner, Kraut. May I recommend The Praise of Folly to you? You might learn something.

  • MNb

    To cut my nice debate with Kraut short: mass is a fundamental quantity of physics. There are seven of them: length, mass, time, electric current, temperature, amount of substance and luminous intensity. Additional are plane angle and solid angle. So he can define acceleration and resistance in terms of these 7 or 9, but it is meaningless to use them to define mass.
    This applies to the higgs-boson and its connected field and for the strong interaction as well.
    So Kraut, please try again to define mass?

  • Sylvine

    The conditions in the initial dillema are not equal. As it happens, I WOULD drug the water supply if all the wonderdrug did was to make people happier, with no negative side effects at all. Of course, no such drug exists, if only for the very plausible supposition that unhappiness is what drives a lot of people to change things, and many people desperately need to change things for reasons not related to happiness. – and there’s Your negative side effect.

    However, with heaven, we’re supposedly dealing with absolute, catch-free, can’t-possibly-get-any-better happiness. It’s THE optimal state of existence. There is nothing better. If there was a heaven and the conditions to get in were known, there would be no greater service to someone than making them meet the conditions, then killing them immediately after. It would be akin to surgery: A moment of discomfort for a disproportionately great benefit.

    I must say I’m really happy that the arguments for the existance of a heaven are so weak. If they were any stronger, we’d all have to fear people going on murdering rampages for greater good.

    More than they already do, that is.

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  • MNb

    Your lame attempts to define mass are shifting the problem Kraut. I don’t have to google, because I’m a teacher physics and I know what I teach. If you are going to define mass by referring to quantities of physics you’ll end in a circular argument. Simple example: define resistance? Is what objects with mass experience when trying to accelerate. Define accelaration? Is the ratio of said resistance and mass. So in your logic quantities of physics are still for idiots.

    “I rather know than being happy.”
    As I know that I’m an idiot – at least according to you – this is a false dilemma for me.