Is Judgement Always about Punishment?

Chris Hallquist has uploaded another chapter of his book for comment/questions.  I don’t have anything very helpful to say, since I mostly agree with him and Dennett.  “I feel strongly about this, and your questions make me sad” is a really bad approach to an argument about truth claims.  I disagree with some of the stuff about the use of mockery , but that’s more a content disagreement than a “I think religious readers will misunderstand X as currently outlined.”  (Plus I’ve written on this before).

But I did have another content argument that caught me back in Chapter 2.  Hallquist wrote:

The problem is not that Christians have offended me by telling me I’m going to Hell. The problem is that the idea that I and countless other non-Christians (a category which includes a great many friends of mine) deserve to go to Hell for eternity is the height of moral insanity.

This is why talk of “atheist fundamentalism” is ridiculous. Atheists do not have any holy book we consider infallible. We have no traditional dogmas to defend. We certainly do not reject central discoveries of science for the sake of any holy book or dogma. We do not think anyone should be eternally damned merely for disagreeing with us, or declare anyone’s private behavior to be an “abomination” just because a book written thousands of years ago says so.

There definitely are Christians and sects of Christians that seem pleased and vengeful whenever they talk about Hell.  But I want to take a bit of an issue with Hallquist’s second paragraph.  He’s conflating two problems he has with religion: the appeal to an authority that’s outside the scope of empiricism and the idea that people can be “eternally damned merely for disagreeing with us.”

‘Damned’ isn’t a category that exists in atheism.  But ‘unfixably broken‘ might be.  And then it’s not so much a consequence of thumbing your nose at a particular tradition, but about standing athwart Reality, yelling “Stop!”    No matter what you believe subjectively, you live in the world that actually exists.  So, even if you deny the existence of material things, you’ll still stub your toe on the rock you kick.  If you keep playing around with that bb gun you’ll shoot your eye out. If you stay in that relationship, it’s bad for you. If that cancer keeps growing, it’ll kill you.  These aren’t moral claims, they’re causal ones.  And they’re ones plenty of atheists might endorse.

Hell/sin/separation from God doesn’t need to be framed exclusively as retribution.  It can also be described as logical necessity.  When I say that if you step out of your window, you will fall, I’m not saying that because gravity decided you deserved to break your leg.  When you take actions that coarsen your moral sense, you’re wounded.  It may not be your fault.  You may have been a tough situation (you might have been pushed out the window), but the consequences of natural law follow from the action.

So, if you’re an atheist who believes in objective moral laws, then you do believe that you’re harmed by transgressing them.  You disagree with the Christian only in that you think the wounds you inflict on yourself fade out into non-existence, along with you at death.  But you don’t disagree with making causal claims about the consequences of immoral acts.

If you want exemptions, mercy, and grace, you need a Person, not a Law.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

    “So, if you’re an atheist who believes in objective moral laws, then you do believe that you’re harmed by transgressing them.”
    How can you stand to say nonsense like this? Isn’t there some little voice in the back of your head going, “Leah, don’t say that, it’s obviously false and makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about”?

    More importantly, though, you’ve managed to completely dodge the question at hand: is merely disagreeing with someone in and of itself the kind of “moral damage” you’re talking about? Is disbelief, just on its own, analogous to stepping out of a window? If you think it is, I agree with Chris: you believe something abhorrent, and I would more than love to see you try to contextualize that abhorrent claim in a convincing moral framework that you yourself actually believe. But if you think it isn’t, stop putzing around and being a weasel and just say so.

    • http://dyslexictheist.wordpress.com/ Michael H.

      The Christian claim isn’t one based solely on belief, and belief itself isn’t purely voluntary.

      Isn’t there a little voice saying “Eli, don’t say that, it’s obviously false and makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about?”

      • James

        Some Christians claim that it is, Martin Luther most (in)famously. And yes, I do agree that a moral system that condemns people for honest disbelief is abhorrent.

        Many of the atheists I know are atheists because the theism (usually, though not always Christianity) that they are most familiar with is the irrational and/or morally abhorrent kind. If my only understanding of God was that he is petty and vengeful being in the sky condemning people to hell who didn’t know the “secret password” to get into heaven, I’d be an atheist, too.

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        Mike, don’t get confused – I didn’t say anything about “the” Christian claim, because I know full well that there’s a plurality of Christian beliefs on hell (including the belief that there’s no such thing, even). But *some* Christians believe that nonbelievers automatically go to hell, and *some* of those Christians also believe that the choice is voluntary. I didn’t say that Leah herself was one of these Christians, mind you, I just said that the challenge was for those Christians, and she doesn’t really meet the challenge in this post despite pretending that she has.

        So, in a way, I guess I do have a voice telling me not to say that sort of thing. That’s why I didn’t say it.

      • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

        …belief itself isn’t purely voluntary…

        Er, how’s that again?

    • Erick

      ==Is disbelief, just on its own, analogous to stepping out of a window?==

      Let’s use another analogy, which hopefully will be more enlightening for you, Eli.

      In this analogy, God = stranger; death = blindness; the afterlife = stranger’s embrace; faith = trusting nature; disbelief = distrusting nature.

      If a stranger embraced a blind person who distrusted everyone he did not know personally, would the blind person feel comforted or feel discomforted by the embrace?

      Thanks for playing.

      • David

        The Catholic Church does not teach that hell is merely the absence of God (or that it is the unwanted presence of God; I’m not sure which your analogy is arguing for). Rather, it teaches that hell consists of both poena damni (the pain of loss; that is, the pain deriving from separation from God) and poena sensus (pain of sense; that is, physical pain). Poena sensus is generally held by the Church to be eternal, unceasing, and immutable. I don’t know what religion you profess, but in the one Leah believes in, Hell involves the deliberate infliction of eternal physical pain on the sinner. As an atheist, I consider this deeply immoral; not merely as a punishment for non-believers like me (who under some versions of Catholic doctrine would experience the greatest pain, because our rejection of God is the most complete), but even as a punishment for the worst imaginable monster; for a Hitler or a Stalin. I can conceive of no sort of justice under which the infliction of eternal pain is a reasonable punishment for anyone; in fact, the eternal infliction of extreme pain is the single most immoral act I can conceive of. Thus, I find the doctrine of Hell, as taught by most versions of Christianity (Mormonism, among others, I believe is an exception) as well as by Islam, to be deeply, deeply evil. Honestly, I consider it an even more basic objection to the versions of Christianity that espouse it than the basic fact that I think they are untrue.

        This is a quite common belief among atheists; one that I have never seen an adequate response to, and one that Leah doesn’t even really seek to provide. Rather, she ignores the physical torments of Hell, ignores that her religion teaches that God actively desires the punishment of sinners in Hell, and ignores that even under her scheme, God could choose to intervene to rescue sinners from Hell, but does so only if they get along well with his son (yes, that’s a deliberately glib comment that I know doesn’t adequately represent Christian understandings of the role of Christ in salvation, but for the purposes of a blog comment, it’s close enough). Anyway, I await an explanation of how Hell, as it actually exists in Catholic and most Protestant theology, is a reasonable part of a just moral order overseen by a not merely just, but in fact omnibenevolent God. I’m not holding my breath though.

        • David

          I wrote this prior to seeing Jay’s post, but he expresses basically the same idea. I think this only serves to emphasize how fundamental a problem atheists find Hell to be, and how completely Christians have failed to convince us otherwise.

        • dbp

          I will assume you are making this objection in good faith, and will respond in kind.

          The Catholic understanding of the human condition is that the complete human person consists of a body and a soul, and the relationship of the two was originally that the former was governed completely by the latter. In itself it was corruptible and subject to death and decay, but the soul, as the image of God, had the capacity to sustain the body, to direct its impulses toward wholly good ends, etc. The thing is, though, that the soul’s ability to do so is founded in how completely it is rooted in a relationship with its own Creator, God.

          The Fall, then, was the inversion of the human person. In choosing to cut God out of the loop, the soul lost its mastery over the body (and the rest of Creation, thus the bit about the newfound difficulty in tilling the soil in Genesis).

          But if the Fall was a temporary and conditional separation from God, then Hell is the completion of the process. The person’s soul does not only not sustain his body, it actively works against it (or perhaps the operation of the soul, while in complete communion with God capable only of doing good for its body, now can only do its body harm because of a complete lack of communion). Perhaps the soul wants to annihilate itself in a sort of never-quite-complete suicide.

          It isn’t that the idea of punishment is completely wrong; it’s just we are our own executioners, and do so by our own volition. People are self-destructive all the time, and Hell is an extension of that.

          • Jay

            Suppose that everything you say about the nature of man, souls, God, Hell, etc. is correct. Suppose that the eternal torment of Hell is something that all of its inhabitants chose of their own volition. The point that most of the non-theists here are making is that this vision of the universe is still a moral horror, and it severely undermines the idea that any all-powerful, all-loving God could permit it to be.

            As an analogy, suppose that a society had gradated, limited punishment for crimes of recklessness and negligence, but imposed non-negotiable, lifetime torture for purposeful, fully deliberate crimes of violence. Suppose further that there are maximally robust procedural protections — in every case, the state must prove every element of the offense (and negate every proffered defense) to a scientific certainty, and they must further prove that every offender had specific knowledge of this punishment scheme before acting. And let’s also suppose that this system has a perfect track record — no convicted offender has subsequently been proven innocent, no evidence of corruption has ever been uncovered, etc. In other words, it is maximally draconian punishment for knowing offenders, but with maximally accurate enforcement, as far as we can possibly tell.

            We’d still find this society abhorrent, even though we’d have to concede that all of its victims chose their own fate. The basic problem isn’t that they’re being punished when they weren’t themselves responsible for their actions, or when they didn’t understand the consequences — clearly they were, and they did. The problem is just that they don’t deserve it; the punishment is absolute, unyielding, and completely disproportionate. If that were the fixed state of the universe, we would simply weep, but if there were an entity capable of relieving them from this fate, and it doesn’t, we would rightly condemn that entity as a moral monster. And to the atheists here, that’s our vision of God in any universe with something like the Christian Hell.

            Now, maybe you want to say that really, there’s just nothing God can do about it, and that everyone in Hell is, in a sense, torturing themselves. Well, okay, but the harder you push on omnibenevolence, the weaker the claim to omnipotence. This is well-worn ground, but I’ll just note that I’m highly skeptical that there could be a meaningfully “omnipotent” entity who, gosh darnnit, just can’t find a way not to have souls tortured for all eternity. At the very least, this sort of argument is a poor way to get me to take seriously your claims of a loving God.

            Furthermore, if the defense of Hell is “they’re just torturing themselves,” you would still have to allow any tormented soul, at any time, the chance to say “wait, this is stupid, I don’t want to suffer anymore, God is clearly real, so I think I’ll just go to Heaven now, k thx bye.” Lewis seems relatively liberal on this in The Great Divorce — my understanding is that the ghosts can leave whenever they want to, though it’s not exactly easy — but the bulk of Christian thought seems to reject this view (maybe there’s a chance to refuse, but it’s more of a “last chance, or forever suffer Hell” kind of thing). And really, even in Lewis’s view, God’s still kind of a dick — wouldn’t it have been polite to drop by, or maybe send a messenger, saying “hey guys, in case you didn’t know, you’re in Hell, but you can leave and come to Heaven if you follow these steps…” Or would even that kind of notice be beyond the power of an omnipotent God to implement? You don’t even need to wade into the “free will” controversy to realize that God could at least do a better job of making good evidence available if it’s so important to believe and act on certain things.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “…the harder you push on omnibenevolence, the weaker the claim to omnipotence.”

            Especially since, as people have already noted in this thread, the limitations to omnipotence would have to extend all over the place. It’s not just that god couldn’t intervene, it also has to be that god couldn’t have made a less terrible system in the first place, couldn’t have done more to help us choose, and so on. After listing these ad-hoc limitations for a while, it becomes rather hard not to see them as theological epicycles.

          • dbp

            Jay,

            To hit the last part first, please refer to my other comment for the question of the reversibility of Hell. If you choose to respond here, perhaps we can consolidate those two comment branches; but either way you’ll find a partial response there, and I won’t cover it here.

            I think that your objection really does come down simply to the free will question. What you seem to be saying is simply that you would prefer a universe where people aren’t allowed to do themselves harm. Is there such a thing as an ‘absolute zero’ for anguish– a state in which, even in theory, a being could experience no more pain, either by addition or subtraction or change? I’m not sure there is. And correspondingly our definition for happiness or unhappiness is defined largely in terms of what we know of the two extremes.

            If you were a native of a universe which was perfect in every way, with no one able to conceive of any way they could become happier, then my guess is that if they traded places with the most fortunate man on earth in our universe they would experience it only as an unspeakable torment, the likes of which they never imagined. Of course, maybe they would ‘get used to it’ and learn that it is happy compared to the rest of us earthlings. But my guess is such a person could never come to imagine this life as even neutral, let alone moderately happy, in comparison to the mental and physical difficulties of life (anyone’s life, when you factor in the desire to be thought and spoken well of, incomplete ambition, etc).

            So what exactly is the torment of the people in Hell? Is there a theoretical point of maximal pain, and do they experience that? Or is there torment simply the worst state accessible to mankind, which is still a good deal better than it could have been? There is no way to answer the question. As soon as you allow any pain, you allow torture, simply by way of comparison.

            I will also add that your analogy is not quite analogous to Hell because the sinner is the proximate cause of damnation, while the prisoner in your analogy is only the remote cause of his torture.

          • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

            Well, okay, but the harder you push on omnibenevolence, the weaker the claim to omnipotence. This is well-worn ground, but I’ll just note that I’m highly skeptical that there could be a meaningfully “omnipotent” entity who, gosh darnnit, just can’t find a way not to have souls tortured for all eternity.

            From a Catholic point of view, suffering is a relatively superficial thing. Freedom is fundamental. One cannot “find a way not to have souls tortured for all eternity” without either (A) changing the fundamental nature of moral acts, or (B) removing freedom from those souls.

            It seems that you assume moral good and evil, right and wrong, and the consequences of moral acts, to be entirely arbitrary; as if God decided to draw up a schedule of punishments which could be altered at any time. But the Church does not believe this. Rather, the Church believes God created a world in which some creatures, though finite and weak, could be his equals in at least one respect: freedom. Our freedom – though not our power to act on that freedom – is infinite, like God’s; and therefore we are able to be in a peer relationship with him: friends, even co-heirs with the Son. This freedom is as absolute as God’s own freedom.

            Therefore, the use of this freedom to reject God is an absolute rejection. That rejection has the necessary consequence of suffering in both soul and body, which Christians call “Hell.” It is eternal because it is absolute, and it is absolute because our freedom is equal to God’s.

            So God could have created a world in which souls would not be subject to eternal torment, but it would have to be a world in which souls were incapable of relationship with God as a friend, as a peer, as equals in at least one respect. It would have to be a world in which people were not capable of the kind of moral act that we are in this world.

          • dbp

            Eli: Again, that object is one that would be raised as long as any experience of pain exists at all. There’s always a ‘worst’ as long as there’s a ‘bad’. How do we know, however, that the ‘loss of Heaven and the pains of Hells’ are not unimaginably better than what they might otherwise be? As soon as you start appealing to God’s omnipotence in terms of writing whole other universes with entirely different systems, you have to imagine that he could have made those ‘worse’ than this, as well as better.

            Furthermore, I think there’s a possibility you aren’t considering. Take the loss of a dear family member. For the person whose only joy in the world was that person, this could be considered the gravest of tortures, and if there is no afterlife the harm is irreparable.

            But if there is an afterlife then the loss is temporary; and one can love with all one’s strength without making one’s entire existence contingent on that other (which is when it becomes dependence, not love). And if the things one does pin one’s whole life on do not pass away, then the pain becomes merely that of separation and not of permanent abandonment.

            In this sense, in some cases at least, the same experience can either be irrecoverably, unthinkably bad or extremely painful (for surely it must be so)–but not as bad as it seems in the long view. And this is perhaps the most awful of life’s experiences.

            At this point the discussion could take two tacks. We could argue about whether some painful things could possibly be less horrible than they seem, and we would fall to discussing something like Camus’ ‘The Plague’ or similar scenarios, and I would argue that something can simultaneously be a genuine evil and a genuine tragedy but still fall into a larger context of benevolence. Or we could take the track of discussing the state of the afterlife and say that the very thing that the sinner in Hell experiences is what would make someone in communion with God happy, and you would (I presume) disagree with me. Both are fascinating, and neither are likely to be resolved here.

            But to jump to the important conclusion of either of those two discussions, I will simply present (unsupported for the moment) the proposition that the world could not be more or less filled with pain than it is– not because of how God is, but because of who we are and how we choose to conduct our existence. And if you choose to discuss this instead of either selecting one of the tracks above or just ending this conversation immediately, I will elaborate. But this comment is long enough already.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “There’s always a ‘worst’ as long as there’s a ‘bad’.”
            Actually, no.

            “As soon as you start appealing to God’s omnipotence in terms of writing whole other universes with entirely different systems, you have to imagine that he could have made those ‘worse’ than this, as well as better.”
            Sure, but so what? If I tell you that I’m a perfect basketball player and then proceed to miss 9 out of 10 free throws, it’s no defense of my perfection to say that I could’ve missed all ten. This argument is, frankly, dumb.

            “Furthermore, I think there’s a possibility you aren’t considering. Take the loss of a dear family member…if there is an afterlife then the loss is [mitigated]”
            Again, so what? What does this have to do with anything? There’s no logical force behind this argument at all.

            “I will simply present (unsupported for the moment) the proposition that the world could not be more or less filled with pain than it is– not because of how God is, but because of who we are and how we choose to conduct our existence.”
            Epicycles – for theists, “who we are and how we choose to conduct our existence” is heavily dependent upon how god has set us up to be. Any god worth the name could have set us up differently, and it’s very hard to say that there aren’t obvious problems with the way we’re set up. (Also, way to neglect the entirety of animal suffering, all natural disasters, disease, and so on – unless, of course, you honestly are deluded enough to think that those things either don’t cause pain or are exclusively the result of how we choose to conduct ourselves.)

          • Jay

            A few points, in response to dbp:

            1. Okay, so let’s suppose that “eternity” doesn’t mean “an infinitely long distance on the timeline” but rather something like “that perfect state of absolute being that God inhabits.” I’m not sure why this helps. Assuming that “eternity” is a kind of fixed but all-reaching state where the concept of “changing your mind” isn’t really meaningful, why doesn’t that make Hell an even greater injustice? Your suffering is now just a fixed part of eternity, and it’s ontologically impossible to even adjust your state of mind in response to it? Why is that better?

            2. As to “free will,” I think it’s a confused concept. I have no problem saying that the laws of physics are, at bottom, deterministic, and that those laws give rise to higher-level phenomena like consciousness and volition, which end up being the causes of events in people’s lives. But more substantively, no, I’m not saying I would “prefer a universe where people aren’t allowed to do themselves harm.” I would prefer a universe where there is no irreversible harm, where people can make mistakes but always have the chance to learn from them, where the risk of harm is calibrated to the potential benefits, etc. That is, of course, not the universe we live in, but I easily prefer pure, unforgiving nature over a universe in which one wrong turn earns you not just annihilation, but eternal suffering.

            3. As to the “once you allow any pain, you allow torture” point, well, okay — while there probably is a limit on pleasure and pain in the actual, physical human brain, I don’t see why there would be any such limits in mind-design space generally. So, unless we’re postulating that Hell is “infinitely bad,” just like God is “infinitely good” or “infinitely powerful” or whatever, I guess there’s always something theoretically worse, but that would still look good in comparison to other states.

            But still, even though “non-existence” is a kind of unapproachable subject for an existing entity to ponder as a possible state of affairs, I yet have a sense that there are certain fates worse than non-existence, such that I would want to end my existence if I were put into them indefinitely. That seems like as good a threshold as any for “torture,” and it seems irrefutable that damnation qualifies as “worse than not existing.” See, e.g., Matthew 26:24: “But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Indeed, this point seems established by the fact that Christian apologists have to explain why God can’t just destroy the souls of those in Hell, instead of permitting them to suffer for eternity (because it would violate “Existence” or the eternal nature of souls or something).

            4. Just to keep track of the argument, I’m not saying “Hell seems unfair, therefore it doesn’t exist.” That would be an appeal to consequences. I’m saying that when I consider what theories of the universe make more and less sense, I give enormous probabilistic penalties to models that postulate Hell and yet suppose a loving, all-powerful God. I would want to believe it if it were really true, but the sheer moral lunacy of that possibility makes it seem quite unlikely to me.

            And especially from the perspective of trying to get a non-theist to consider your views about God and the consequences of harm to your soul, the amount of rationalizing needed to make Hell even halfway palatable will usually keep them from taking your ideas seriously. At a certain point, it really does start to look like epicycles, which means it’s probably time to check your premises.

          • dbp

            “Actually, no.”

            Assuming a finite experience, and an objective ordering, then yes. There’s no single ‘most negative’ integer, but there will be a most negative value for specific integers in any finite (or even infinite but bounded) set of them.

            To say that there is no punishment for a sin which will be worse than an eternity of X is by definition to establish a worst possible value. If this seems obvious, it’s why I started my post there instead of arguing at length to establish the fact.

            The point is, as long as the worst possible outcome for a life is less than perfect, then there will always be someone to complain that it’s too harsh. And if there is no other outcome than perfection, then there is no freedom.

            Now, as to ‘the way things are set up,” and including the problems of animal suffering, etc.

            Let’s turn the question around. Instead of saying “how could God have made us differently so that this universe and its rules (moral as well as physical) were not so burdensome, let’s discuss whether God could have build a universe more suited to us as we are– and indeed us as we are proud to be!

            For instance, if you bristle at the thought of a lover-God who will fulfill your every desire but punish your rejection, it can only be because you value your independence. But if this is so, I will further guess that you are the sort of person who would not accept my proposal if I offered to pay for everything for you, do all of your work, solve all of your problems, etc. You take pride in providing for yourself and taking care of yourself and you consider it a virtue to do so.

            As an atheist of this generation, I assume you place a high value on science and technology and the accomplishment of human endeavor. You perhaps consider it a triumph, a matter of great satisfaction, that the apes have climbed so high. You might even take pride in any contribution you make to this noble scene, and thrill in the challenges you overcome in the process.

            If this is the case, would you really be happy in a universe where there were no effort to knowledge, nothing to be overcome? Where knowledge were perfect and there was no ignorance in either yourself or others that you could, by virtue of honest hard work dispel?

            Look at anyone you know. I’m guessing that in every single one there is some difficulty that that person would not sidestep, even if the result were surer, faster, and better. This is the case from very trivial things (if everyone got the maximum possible score in a video game, no one would play) to very serious ones (charting one’s own financial course).

            Considered this way, if we were placed in a world with no hardship and no pain, honestly, I think we would be miserable. We hate pain, but we love the struggle against it, find meaning for our lives (because of the constitution of our souls) in the struggle. This is not only the world we probably deserve as rebels, but it more in keeping with that in which we would not part with in ourselves than a world of complete happiness.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Assuming a finite experience…”
            Better.

            “The point is, as long as the worst possible outcome for a life is less than perfect, then there will always be someone to complain that it’s too harsh. And if there is no other outcome than perfection, then there is no freedom.”
            Epicycles…

            “Instead of saying “how could God have made us differently so that this universe and its rules (moral as well as physical) were not so burdensome, let’s discuss whether God could have build a universe more suited to us as we are– and indeed us as we are proud to be!”
            In other words, let’s just arbitrarily decide to change the subject? You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not tremendously excited by that proposition.

            “Considered this way, if we were placed in a world with no hardship and no pain, honestly, I think we would be miserable.”
            Epicycles…

          • David

            Can we discuss how “The point is, as long as the worst possible outcome for a life is less than perfect, then there will always be someone to complain that it’s too harsh” leads directly to the destruction of any sense of morality. Everything less than perfection is bad, so the gradations of not-perfect have no moral significance. If there’s no difference between God torturing non-believers eternally and God not making our existence perfect, then why is there any moral difference between the actions of Stalin or Hitler and those of Gandhi? They are simply different points on a spectrum of imperfection, right?

            Clearly, you don’t believe this: my question is why that attitude applies to God’s creation but not to anything else.

            You then seem to abandon this argument to instead claim that a world without pain would not be preferable to our current one. Fine, I can accept that I would rather have free will than to never experience any pain. But that still does not explain why a world with Hell is preferable to one without. Why is Hell a necessary consequence of sin and the rejection of God? Why is the time for choosing one’s attitude toward God finite while the consequences of one’s choices are infinite?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Can we discuss how “The point is, as long as the worst possible outcome for a life is less than perfect, then there will always be someone to complain that it’s too harsh” leads directly to the destruction of any sense of morality.”
            This reminds me – what about all the suffering and evil that isn’t caused by human choices? I still have yet to see dbp address any of that, or even acknowledge its existence.

          • dbp

            Eli,

            The objection against epicycles was twofold: first, there was no particular mechanism or motivation for a model whose complexity kept growing even as the number of circles thrown at the problem kept increasing. Second, it didn’t actually fit the facts. The comparison doesn’t seem particularly valid. Everything I’m saying is actually an emanation of a relatively small collection of premises about the nature of man, God, and their relationship– premises which haven’t been changed or, in a significant way, added to for the duration of the Christian tradition, although the consequences of the ideas have been explored in different ways over time and the emphases have changed.

            Also, the suffering and evil that isn’t caused directly by human causes is consistent with these premises, as I alluded to above and will explain.

            I think we can agree that giving someone what they want and giving them what they need aren’t the same thing. There are lots of stories of people who won the lottery jackpot and ended up miserable, in rehab, in horrific debt, etc.; and yet, this is what they say they want. In the human case, what we need is God, but what we want is to do it all ourselves. And, as David seems to agree above, a world without pain is not, push come to shove, what we do want, in general. But just like the unfortunate lottery winner, we still complain about the results of getting the world we want.

            In other words, the pain and suffering of the world is caused by humans in the sense that it satisfies the extremely fundamental human desire not to have our hand held, to have high-stakes challenges to overcome, and to figure out the mysteries and complexities of the world without a crib sheet. That we very directly cause some of the pain and suffering is just the icing on the hurt cake, of course, but the whole thing is a cake of our own baking.

            Oh, and by the way: “In other words, let’s just arbitrarily decide to change the subject? You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not tremendously excited by that proposition.” You either misread what I wrote or didn’t read what I wrote. It isn’t changing the subject at all. It’s looking at it from a different vantage point to see whether what seems unfair (or inconsistent with a benevolent deity) from one perspective still seems unfair from another. That the deity is giving us the world we want is actually an important part of this discussion.

            (I lost a later draft of this message in a browser crash, so I’ll just post this earlier draft I had copied out earlier. Sigh.)

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Everything I’m saying is actually an emanation of a relatively small collection of premises about the nature of man, God, and their relationship”
            In other words, premises which borrow largely from the way things actually are, not the way things would be if we reasoned from first principles. Or, in still other words, “epicycles.” In particular, you can’t just take “the nature of man” as your premise, because “the nature of man” is a significant part of what’s being questioned.

            “In other words, the pain and suffering of the world is caused by humans in the sense that it satisfies the extremely fundamental human desire not to have our hand held…”
            That is about the most sickening, least psychologically plausible thing I’ve ever heard. If you’re not kidding, there’s really something wrong with you.

            “You either misread what I wrote or didn’t read what I wrote. It isn’t changing the subject at all. It’s looking at it from a different vantage point …”
            No – it’s changing the subject. Nice try, though.

          • dbp

            David,

            “Why is the time for choosing one’s attitude toward God finite while the consequences of one’s choices are infinite?”

            A choice is, by nature, something that binds our future selves. The less it binds us, the less of a choice it is. What you seem to want is not the free will–not, that is, the freedom to choose–but the freedom from having to choose.

            But lay that out against the backdrop of timeless eternity. How would that work, a non-binding choice?

            Even in time, our temporary choices are permanent, and necessarily so. If I murder my brother, can I go back an un-murder him? Or even if I simply betray him once, can I go back and un-betray him? I can reconcile with him in the future, sure, but I can’t un-bind my past self.

            So maybe what you’re worried about is a choice without complete information, or where we don’t understand the magnitude of the consequences. I don’t know that we’re promised full information, though I am sure we are promised sufficient information. And the expected response to the quiet promptings of the Spirit aren’t necessarily that we go out and become champions of the Church. Someone can be born and die without ever hearing of Christ, and yet still devote themselves to God in his identity as Truth or Beauty or Justice or Mercy or whatever. The visible Church is just the full daylight of the truth that glimmers even in the comparative darkness of pre-Incarnation man.

            Why would God do it this way? Again, it all comes back to what we want. We want to be independent of God, so we are given this world. Still more, we want to be God, or at least like him, so we are given a participatory role in the work even of the salvation of souls. That’s why God relies on human transmission to bring revelation and the sacraments to each other, rather than cutting out the middlemen. Again this is the world as we want it to be. God is letting us have a hand in the visible salvation of mankind– only, that doesn’t preclude him from stepping in and working directly with the people who we don’t or can’t reach, or who for reasons not of their own making cannot respond to the message as they hear it.

          • dbp

            Eli:

            “That is about the most sickening, least psychologically plausible thing I’ve ever heard. If you’re not kidding, there’s really something wrong with you.”

            And with atheist David, who just agreed with me above. (And no, I’m not kidding.)

            But since you don’t seem interested engaging the topic, I don’t see much point in continuing. Far be it from me to change the subject.

            However: It’s funny to hear an atheist, and presumably someone not hostile to science, to decry “premises which borrow largely from the way things actually are, not the way things would be if we reasoned from first principles.” You might have some complaints with the Standard Model and the way it was developed, I fear. But in point of fact, the first principles involved here haven’t changed and do not need to change for what I am saying to fall out. In fact, it’s just another way of stating what the Church has always taught. It’s nothing like epicycles.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “But since you don’t seem interested engaging the topic…”
            You mean by, say, calling into question the entirely false psychological presumptions underlying your sickening position? Yeah, I guess I must not be interested in doing that.

            “However: It’s funny to hear an atheist, and presumably someone not hostile to science, to decry “premises which borrow largely from the way things actually are, not the way things would be if we reasoned from first principles.””
            Ah – so you don’t understand the difference between ad-hoc post-facto readjustment of a theory and proposing the theory in the first place. Now I understand why you’re so bad at this. You can stop talking now, if you like – there’s nothing more for me to learn here, and apparently no further desire to learn on your part.

          • dbp

            Eli, I don’t see the point. David at least engaged with the point, and although he’s an atheist and doesn’t agree with some of the conclusions, he accepted the ‘psychological plausibility’ of what I’m saying. You want to dismiss the whole branch of the conversation in which the referenced exchange occurred and then denounce a part of it. Sorry, no thanks. My ‘good faith’ assumption seems to have been founded in David, not so much in you.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “David at least engaged with the point, and although he’s an atheist and doesn’t agree with some of the conclusions, he accepted the ‘psychological plausibility’ of what I’m saying. You want to dismiss the whole branch of the conversation in which the referenced exchange occurred…”

            So you would prefer for me to argue with you by agreeing with the false things you say, and then holding your hand while you ineptly attempt to list the implications of those false things? Don’t be an idiot. I don’t much care what David does – maybe he cares more about one of the other falsehoods on which your philosophy rests, or maybe he just has more patience for fools. But don’t tell me that I’m being unfair or mean simply because I call you out on your bullshit. That’s how disagreement works – either get used to it or leave.

          • dbp

            This entire discussion has been about whether the Christian (well, Catholic) proposition of a benevolent God is consistent with the doctrine of Hell on the one hand and the reality of pain on the other. Part of thrashing that out is laying out what that proposition is, and deciding the context in which Hell and pain should be evaluated. This is just the normal way discussions are conducted; it’s what I’m doing, and what you refuse to allow. “But the proposition is WRONG!” is neither a statement you have justified, nor is it the point in contention here. Instead you are picking bits of the argument out of context, characterizing them in absurd and unfounded ways, and short-circuiting any discussion that might demonstrate you’re wrong. (I will pass over how petty and childish your modes of expression are, because even if you weren’t trying to score points that way you’d still be totally off base.)

            “That’s how disagreement works– either get used to it or leave.”

            The disagreement part you have down pat. It seems as though you could use a refresher on the structure of rational discourse, though. And now I’ll let you have the finishing insult, since that seems to be your preferred method of argumentation.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            ““But the proposition is WRONG!” is neither a statement you have justified, nor is it the point in contention here.”
            Do you really not understand how premises work? If I attack one of your premises, I am attacking the point in contention. You don’t get to assume whatever random nonsense you like so long as it isn’t a direct answer to the original question. If you want me to justify it, ask me to justify it, but you absolutely cannot say that it’s illegitimate to attack a conclusion’s supporting premise.

            “Instead you are picking bits of the argument out of context, characterizing them in absurd and unfounded ways, and short-circuiting any discussion that might demonstrate you’re wrong. (I will pass over how petty and childish your modes of expression are, because even if you weren’t trying to score points that way you’d still be totally off base.)”
            Just for the record, if you say you’re going to pass over something and then directly address it? You haven’t passed it over. And, again, disagreeing with things you say is not short-circuiting discussion; that’s what discussion is. The fact that you fail to understand this is bad enough, but for you to then accuse me of not understanding how rational discourse works is simply laughable. It’s really no wonder you’re one of Leah’s supporters, if this is how badly you misunderstand rationality.

          • David

            Can I just clarify that I don’t agree with the notion that human free will is the cause of all suffering. As someone who doesn’t believe in God, it’s pretty clear to me that suffering is caused by the action of natural forces (including people; I’m not sure if I believe in free will or not) that act in accordance with the physical properties of the universe, the biological makeup of living beings, etc. Pain is an evolutionary response to damage that is advantageous to animals in that it lets know that we should change our behavior in order to stop being damaged (that’s a really simplified explanation, but it’s the basics). I was simply accepting the premise that evil is the consequence of free will for the purposes of this discussion, because I wanted to avoid the basic problem of evil argument, as I think Hell is immoral even if suffering exists as a result of our free will. So in other words, as Eli said, I’m simply more interested in discussing a different part of your argument. I don’t think any atheist thinks suffering is caused by free will; since much suffering clearly is caused by forces outside the control of sentient beings.

            That said, I don’t think Eli is right that free will as a solution to the problem of suffering is a morally abhorrent position for a theist.

          • dbp

            “Do you really not understand how premises work? If I attack one of your premises, I am attacking the point in contention. You don’t get to assume whatever random nonsense you like so long as it isn’t a direct answer to the original question. If you want me to justify it, ask me to justify it, but you absolutely cannot say that it’s illegitimate to attack a conclusion’s supporting premise.”

            The argument, again: “The Catholic teaching of God’s benevolence (A) is inconsistent with the proposition of Hell (B) and the reality of paint (C)” Let’s just deal with A and B, because the situation is the same as with A and C.

            The appeal to inconsistency is equivalent to saying “there exists some X and Y such that A -> X and B -> Y for which X and Y are incompatible” (∃ (X,Y): ((A ⇒ X) ∧ (B ⇒ Y)) ⇒(¬X ∨ ¬Y)). You saying “A is wrong” (¬A) is completely immaterial to this syllogism. Even if the intent of the statement is (∃ (X,Y): ((A ⇒ X) ∧ (B ⇒ Y)) ⇒(¬X ∨ ¬Y)) ∧ B ⇒ ¬A, asserting ¬A to get there is simply begging the question (in the sense of petitio principii).

            And yes, I did pass over what I mentioned parenthetically. I was tempted to call out various examples, explain why they are puerile and ineffective, and conjecture what motivates their use; but then, as now, I decided this was neither necessary nor useful, and forgo that discussion.

          • dbp

            David: That’s all very fair. We still disagree, obviously, and I would like to hear your response to the line of argument I offered on the Hell side of things. I didn’t mean to hint that you endorse the actual causality in question, which I can’t imagine any atheist does.

            So, sorry if I came off as putting words in your mouth. I only wanted to point out that if my position was as bad as Eli caricatures it, you probably wouldn’t have said what you said, nor would you (who does find the doctrine of Hell morally abhorrent) likely find my position on pain much less so.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “You saying “A is wrong” (¬A)…”
            That’s not what I said, though. What I said was: “That is about the most sickening, least psychologically plausible thing I’ve ever heard.” Me saying that your idea is sickening is not a claim against God’s supposed benevolence, it’s just me reporting my response to your idea (as Hallquist does in the original post). Nor is the psychological claim meant to dispute God’s supposed benevolence. All it’s meant to do is show that your defense of the compatibility of A and B relies on a (badly) false premise – and, moreover, one that would be a question-begging post-hoc adjustment to your theory even if it were true. Either of those objections is sufficient grounds to reject your argument we-need-challenges argument, and that’s all I was trying to do with that statement. Somewhere along the line, you really seem to have lost the thread.

          • dbp

            “Nor is the psychological claim meant to dispute God’s supposed benevolence. All it’s meant to do is show that your defense of the compatibility of A and B relies on a (badly) false premise”

            You haven’t established anything as false. You haven’t even deigned to make any particular logical argument at all. What you seem to be implying is (A ⇒ X) ∧ ¬X ⇒ ¬A, although your whole basis for ¬X (at least, the only thing you’ve presented here) is ‘I feel ¬X’. And you’ve crippled any chance for your objection to have any relevance to the discussion by also rejecting the whole branch of the discussion as a change of topic and not engaging it on the merits.

            Also, you seem to be laboring under the illusion that theists somehow went through life and formed a theory of a benevolent God before ever catching that eensy-weensy data point that life is hard and the universe is full of suffering, pain, and death. If that were the case, perhaps your incessant “post-hoc adjustment” objection would have some teeth. But the reality is that we come to the conclusion that God is benevolent despite the problem of pain, and we (and David!) don’t see a necessary moral perversion in this position. Offering one, or a thousand, reasons why the two propositions can plausibly coexist is not an adjustment at all.

            Let’s put it another way. I presume you’re familiar with the antics of the Intelligent Design crowd, where they will take some phenomenon like the eye or a bacterial flagellum or cellular subcomponent or whatever and proclaim it irreducibly complex. Now, in many cases the scientist doesn’t have access to the answer of exactly how such features actually evolved. In fact, there might be multiple plausible precursors of which (perhaps) only one is the actual, historical one that did in fact exist.

            Such supposedly irreducibly complex features probably don’t keep scientists up at night, though, because although they don’t (yet; some biological evidence may yet be found to be conclusive) know whether any given proposed precursor is correct, they are confident enough in the observed scope of evolution operating on the time scale involved is a plausible candidate for the observed phenomena.

            There’s nothing question-begging or post-hoc about any of this. Is the problem that you haven’t heard this particular phrasing of the premise before? It’s simply a restating of what has always been taught: that man’s experience of the world is driven by his own nature, a nature that he himself determined. God is simultaneously just and merciful, and in the same sense the fallenness of the world is simultaneously an act of respect for our free will, of justice (as punishment), and of mercy (in that it isn’t a permanent Hell right off the bat, of course, but also in that it gives us a chance to sublimate even our initial sin into a participation in the divine work; the punishment for our sin puts us in a position to rise to a dignity we could never have obtained if we hadn’t sinned in the first place). None of this is new, it’s just viewed through one specific human impulse which demonstrates the consonance of our nature with the universe we live in and, conversely, the fact that the commonly-proposed alternative to this universe (a universe without pain) would actually introduce problems of its own given the way people actually live, think, and behave.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “You haven’t even deigned to make any particular logical argument at all. What you seem to be implying is…”
            Are you blind? Seriously: is there something wrong with your ability to read? Let me run this back for you. You said: “if we were placed in a world with no hardship and no pain, honestly, I think we would be miserable.” My response was – and is! – (1) that this is a false premise, and not because of anything that I feel; and (2) that this response presumes part of what you’re supposed to be demonstrating and is thus a question-begging epicycle. I’m not “implying” anything; I’ve stated it explicitly (multiple times, now). Get it through your head, already.

            “Also, you seem to be laboring under the illusion that theists somehow went through life and formed a theory of a benevolent God before ever catching that eensy-weensy data point that life is hard”
            Pff – no, I’m saying that logic only works one way, and the way that logic works is that you have to start with first principles and work forward through inference. What you cannot do is start with first principles and then simply assume that they’re consistent with (or that they imply) something that you observe in reality. I know full well that it’s tempting to simply assume that your theory is consistent with data that you’ve encountered in real life, but it’s a fallacious temptation. Resist it.

            I’m going to ignore your ID analogy because it’s so wrong as to run the risk of derailing this already-derailed conversation.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Whoops – substitute “deduction” for “inference” in the above comment; went and got my jargon all mixed up.

          • dbp

            Where on earth do you read in “if we were placed in a world with no hardship and no pain, honestly, I think we would be miserable” a presumption of the benevolence of God? I appealed only to human experience, and David for one agreed with me. Certainly he wasn’t relying on his assumptions that God is good! If I’m wrong, it’s an empirical mistake, not a logical one.

            (And I submit that the empirical observation is defensible, as it’s pretty darned pervasive to have people bristle at being helped with things even if getting the help is surer, easier, and faster than accomplishing the same end themselves. And before you object that lots of people don’t want to do everything themselves, I will point out that it depends on how people stake out their identity. Some people take serious offense at the idea of accepting, say, a government handout; but even those that don’t might take serious offense at the idea of having someone else do all the work on a math exam, or getting a 10-point handicap while playing 1 on 1, or choosing a system of government for themselves.)

            “What you cannot do is start with first principles and then simply assume that they’re consistent with (or that they imply) something that you observe in reality.”

            I don’t see where you think I’m doing this, either. I am observing reality and seeing that it is consistent with an implication of the theory I (and many others) have held all along.

          • Alan

            dpb – can I save you some embarrassment and refer you to your post yesterday at 5:44 pm where you said, and I quote, “Considered this way, if we were placed in a world with no hardship and no pain, honestly, I think we would be miserable.”

          • dbp

            Alan: What? I quoted that in my post above, as did Eli before him. Of course I wrote that. My question was, How does that statement beg the question, which is what Eli is maintaining?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Where on earth do you read in “if we were placed in a world with no hardship and no pain, honestly, I think we would be miserable” a presumption of the benevolence of God?”
            Oh for fuck’s sake – I’m done with you. You lack even the most rudimentary ability to understand your opponent’s statements and respond in kind. I’d literally be better off debating a chatbot.

          • dbp

            “As Eli did before me,” I meant. Sigh, must proofread better.

          • Alan

            Your right, my apologies I misread your post – imagined a period where none was.

            Instead I would refer you to Eli’s post at 1:16 where he said:
            “Me saying that your idea is sickening is not a claim against God’s supposed benevolence”

            As in, his objection has nothing to do with any presumption (or no presumption) of God’s benevolence.

          • dbp

            Eli: Forgive me for assuming that “this response presumes part of what you’re supposed to be demonstrating and is thus a question-begging epicycle” was alleging that my quoted response presumed part of what I was supposed to be demonstrating and was thus begging the question.

            But whatever. It’s pretty clear we’re getting nowhere.

          • dbp

            Alan: Then what question could I possibly be begging?

        • Darren

          Nicely written, David.

          And, we see the trifecta of Catholic responses here: one, that Hell really is not that bad, it is really just the separation from God, which we chose after all, that causes the damned soul discomfort; two, that Hell has to be the way it is, the damned must inhabit it, and they must inhabit it eternally because that it just God’s nature, not that he is really putting anyone there, or the soul’s nature, or the nature of eternity, etc.; and finally the it’s only natural consequences of our choosing to damage our own soul.

          I will not address all of this, but considering that this was _the_ issue than convinced me, after 25 years of devout Faith, that the Christian model simply could not be just, could not be fair, could not be true.

          Hell is not really that bad.

          I suspect that more than a few Catholics do actually expect the lake of fire or Dante’an torments, but such a concept would be hard to see as anything but needlessly punitive. If damnation is only the freely chosen result of our own violation of natural law, why must it be particularly unpleasant?

          Fine, let us instead imagine eternity in a box. Just a box, no fire, no bugs, not stood on our heads, no spikes, no thirst, no hunger, nothing unpleasant, just eternity in a box. Still pretty horrifying.

          I could list silly example after silly example, but why bother. None of the apologetics or vague descriptions, or equivocation, or appeals to natural law can make of Hell anything other than punitive.

          If the soul has, indeed, chosen damnation, be that through willful violation of its own moral character or a rebellious desire to remain separate from God, why must the soul then inhabit Hell? The soul could just as easily be annihilated. But no, the objection springs forth, that violates the soul’s eternal quality. Well, we have already established that the soul had a beginning, so not eternal, why not an end?

          Fine, even with an imperishable soul, why must the soul feel pain, or loss? Why must the soul be conscious? An eternal sleep. Satisfies every objection, with no suffering. Perhaps an endless dream of puppies and kittens, or gumdrops and rainbows.

          Oh, but now we are pestering God. After all, we rebellious souls have rejected his great gifts, now we expect him to provide for us an afterlife of pleasant afternoon naps? How dare we.

          But, infinite being here, provide a happy illusion for 60 billion souls? No trouble at all. Far less trouble than keeping the neutrons from a single mole of carbon from spontaneously decaying… for one second.

          Did our souls freely choose to come into being? Did our souls choose to form themselves, in a universe of God’s rule, then have the infinite rudeness to later try and back out of the deal?

          If God created each and every soul, or even if God only created the mechanism by which each and every soul comes into existence, is he not obligated to provide, if not paradise, then at least not perpetual torment?

          Oh, but he did provide, comes the reply. No, he provided a “do as I say or into the pit with you” deal. Says the stereotypical Mafioso to the hapless shopkeeper, “Nice store you have here. Shame if something bad where to happen to it. Dangerous world we live in, you know, fires, robberies, someone could get hurt. How’za’bout you give me 10% of the take and we make sure nothing bad happens.”

          • dbp

            This is part of the reason why there is Hell. Because no matter what the situation were, the soul chooses annihilation of itself instead of a relationship with God (or eternal sleep, or anything but a relationship with God! but not anything, because pain is horrible, and anyway why should we have a relationship with God?).

            You say “God could as well provide a happy illusion for 60 billion souls as keep neutrinos from decaying.’ But you could as easily avoid any and all torments, any privation from perfect, unassailable, eternal beatitude. At this point the acceptance of any evils falling upon yourself is absurd. And yet that is what we choose anyway. So complaining over the punishment itself is really quite far from the point.

            To make one thing perfectly clear: there is in Catholic theology no such thing as a mortal sin that is undertaken without sufficient understanding of the matter involved. At some point, the sinner’s choice of Hell is actually that– the choice of someone who had a real opportunity to know and choose better. Again, the baptism by desire covers people who didn’t believe but still embraced truth and goodness to the extent they could.

            But I will say this: challenging the very idea of a creator establishing some criteria on perfect beatitude seems like the wrong way to approach the situation. It’s similar to the question of just how bad one can be without going to Hell. If your whole attitude is about maximizing the evil you can do without getting struck by lightning, you’re probably pointed in the wrong direction compared to someone who is simply trying to be the best he can and avoid evil at all. If you’re focused on the punishment for sin, you’re missing 90% of the point, which is that you are invited to a relationship of perfect bliss and ecstasy.

            It’s like a poor, unattractive, uneducated, boring, stupid, smelly person being courted by a ruler who is the model of splendor, beauty, intelligence and wisdom, and wit– everything you could want, and indeed everything you say you want. At this point, why even ask if there is a punishment, or gripe about what the punishment is? Why not just try to consummate the match as quickly and completely as possible?

            If you reject your suitor, you’re rejecting the complete fulfillment of every wish, save perhaps one: the desire to be independent of this suitor. This means you choose the privation of every good thing for the sake of that independence. If so, why are you complaining if such privations (which is what pain is) accrue to your account?

        • Iota

          David,

          “The Catholic Church does not teach that hell is merely the absence of God (or that it is the unwanted presence of God; I’m not sure which your analogy is arguing for). Rather, it teaches that…”

          Honest questions below:
          - Is this a dogma? If yes, can you provide some reference proving this?
          - If it is not dogma, can you specify the level of authority of this teaching?
          [I will accept the same from anyone else, if y'all have any sources]

          The Catholic Encyclopaedia (I’m not sure if it’s the best source, but the first sort-of-reliable I could lay my hands on), for example, states (emphasis mine):

          The poena sensus, or pain of sense, consists in the torment of fire so frequently mentioned in the Holy Bible. According to the greater number of theologians the term fire denotes a material fire, and so a real fire. We hold to this teaching as absolutely true and correct. However, we must not forget two things: from Catharinus (d. 1553) to our times there have never been wanting theologians who interpret the Scriptural term fire metaphorically, as denoting an incorporeal fire; and secondly, thus far the Church has not censured their opinion.

          While this is worded in a way that is generally very unfavourable to the pain-as-metaphor take, “the Church has not censured their opinion” means, AFAIK (I am a layperson, without theological training): they are not heretics (even material ones). I.e. the whole poena sensuus is just a theological opinion. A traditional, majority one, but just that. So I’m sort of surprised to see it framed as “The Catholic Church teaches such and such”. Because, to the best of my knowledge, the Church has generally refrained from making decisive, dogmatic statements about Hell most of the time – we are bound to believe it exists (and we are bound to believe universalism is a heresy, if it is formulated so that God certainly will grant heaven to everyone), and that a single unrepented mortal sin is sufficient for damnation (although in practice we are not allowed to decide, post-mortem, if someone met the requirements) but other than that I’m not aware of anything that could be called “Church teaching”.

          Sources and references, please?

          • David

            Iota,

            With all due respect, I think you’re misreading your source. The debate seems to be over the nature of the poena sensus; whether it is corporeal fire or metaphorical fire. Saying that the fire is metaphorical doesn’t mean the pain is.

            I define church teachings quite literally as “what the church has taught people”; I know official levels of church doctrine mean a lot to Catholics, but for me it seems equally consequential that Catholic priests were for nearly 2 millennia telling their parishioners that they would suffer extreme pain in the fires of Hell if they didn’t behave and believe as they were supposed to and that the vast majority of the church’s most prominent theologians expressed a conviction that the pains of Hell were physical, and the Bible pretty clearly describes Hell as consisting of physical pain.

            There are various quotes from lots of important church fathers here:
            http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-hell-there-is
            I don’t claim to know what exact level of authority is possessed by the Bible and the Church Fathers, but if I can’t call it “church teaching,” I’d like to know what I can call the repeated claim by members of the hierarchy of the Church at all levels, from parish priest straight up to the Pope, that Hell consists of physical torment,

          • David

            Here, for instance, is a book by a Saint, with the imprimatur of a bishop, about the nature of Hell: http://www.olrl.org/doctrine/hellbelike.shtml

            Here is the Catechism taught by the Church in schools the US until the 1960s: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/catechism/baltimore-catechism/lesson-37-on-the-last-judgment-and-the-resurrection-hell-purgatory-and-heaven/
            See Q. 1379 and 1380 in particular

          • Iota

            David,
            Obviously the fact that hell-fire may be metaphorical does not mean physical pain is not present. But it seems to suggest it might. This is why I asked about the exact source/level of authority when you used the phrase “church teaching”.

            “I’d like to know what I can call the repeated claim by members of the hierarchy of the Church at all levels, from parish priest straight up to the Pope, that Hell consists of physical torment,”

            Precisely that. Yes, it’s longer. But I think it’s better (especially in a combox).

            Here’s why: You can not care squat about official levels of authority. You can say that this was in fact what a significant number of influential people, including saints and clergy on all levels taught and I’m generally willing to say “Probably yes” (probably because I don’t have exact statistics about the Middle Ages). I do not object, really, to you saying: because this is what all these people taught I do not believe in Catholicism. Fair enough.

            [Just to clarify - an imprimatur means "merely" that an opinion is not heretical, and Saints are "just" Saints - I like Alphonsus, for reasons other than this treatise, and, while I haven't checked this myself, it seems physical pain in hell is not part of the Breviarium Fidei, i.e. the collection of binding Church teachings].

            My core objection can be summarised as follows: we don’t really know what hell is like. The level of official, authoritative declarations of dogma AFAIK reflects that (unless I’m wrong and someone CAN point me to official teachings on this stuff…). All else, both good (that we may hope all will be saved) and bad (that, say, the damned suffer physical pain because, obviously, they have bodies and bodies must also be subject to punishment) is – I would tentatively argue, speaking in broad generalities – a reflection of one’s individual theological tendencies or the tendencies of one’s culture. If the teaching that “poena sensus” existed were central to the Catholic message, it would – I’d assume – be dogmatised. We have, after all, no problem with dogmatising stuff other people have thought weird…

            For some of us the tendency is to imagine Hell mainly as a state of privation of God, with our vices taking increasingly powerful control of us, so that – objectively – we would be in torment, even if we claimed we want it that way. Some imagine Hell to also include physical suffering. Some imagine suffering in Hell to be constant, some – as the CE article mentions – think otherwise. Some hold out hope that Hell is virtually empty, some seem to think that it’s overcrowded.

            I would tentatively argue that that possibly says more about us, our view of God, justice, pain and so forth than how God is (if, for a moment, we agree to assume he exists and the Catholic Church’s teaching is reflective of His nature). This might seem nitpicking, but I actually think it’s sort of relevant. Because then it’s at least possible that what a lot of Atheists are objecting to a certain traditional, theological opinion. A certain way of thinking about God’s justice, if you will.

            Sure we can have a separate argument about why a just, loving God would allow that kind of tradition to spread. But it is a substantively different question than “why would God fashion hell the way X thinks it was made”?

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        Erick, you also are trying to not answer the question. Either admit that you agree with Hallquist’s point or argue against him, don’t try to sidestep the whole issue.

      • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

        Interpreting your actual words, they would probably feel very very uncomfortable indeed since their personal space was being intruded upon.

        Putting the original words back into your new construct gives us this: “If God gives an afterlife to a dead person who doesn’t believe, would the dead person feel comforted or discomforted by said afterlife?”

        Well of course, who wouldn’t pick “not being dead” over “being dead” ? And yes, they might feel kind of stupid (God, being all about loving and caring, would no doubt quickly put them at their ease). So I’m not sure how this sheds any light on the question.

    • dbp

      Many atheists would, in an only slightly altered context, very much agree that it is like stepping out a window. Why such an overwhelming emphasis on science education? Because the state of one’s beliefs and knowledge has practical effects. If you disbelieve in or are ignorant of science, you might do useless, counterproductive, or even dangerous things, either individually or as a society, and in either case the damage, whether directly or indirectly, accrues to everyone, including the uneducated person. Pick any example you like that the proponents of science education often bemoan– alternative medicine, climate change, whatever.

      If the belief, or lack of belief, in God has absolutely no effect whatsoever on your life, mind, or decisions, then perhaps the belief or lack thereof isn’t a critical aspect of the salvation of your soul. In fact, the Catholic Church has the doctrine of Baptism of Desire that covers exactly this case: if you were already living according to the best recommendations of a conscience formed as well as you could have formed it, your invincible ignorance will not condemn you.

      What is so abhorrent about this? If ignorance or willful disbelief in other areas can have empirical implications for the real world, why not in the area of religious belief? That ideas have consequences does not seem to me something an atheist should find particularly objectionable.

      • David

        False dichotomy? This isn’t a choice between belief having no effect and disbelief leading eternal and excruciating physical punishment. Failure to believe could have other effects; perhaps, say, it would remain impossible to experience the joy of communion with God until one believed in him, but that souls would continue to retain the ability to begin to believe after death.

        Atheists don’t object (morally – we do object as a factual matter) to the notion that disbelief has some sort of effect on the afterlife; we object to the notion that it leads to something as terrible as Hell, from which there is no hope of escape, and that God’s failure to rescue people from this horror (or, as the actual, non-Leahesque theology goes, his decision to condemn people to it) is not seen to make him an evil monster.

        • dbp

          I have another response to you above, so we can continue this there. I already began to answer the question about the nature of the pain of Hell. As to the finality of it, just a couple short words.

          The Christian conception of eternity seems like part of the issue. It isn’t like an infinitely long timeline, I suspect. It is the state God is in, the God that created time itself, and as such it’s hard to see how changes are even theoretically possible.

          Obviously it is not something I’d be able to give authoritative information on, but my thought is that it’s something like a fractal, with no limit to the amount of complexity but characterized by an essential integrity. Just as the Mandelbrot Set has a relatively simple definition that generates an infinite amount of detail, the ultimate choice of the soul may ‘project’ onto a temporal line as a series of movements toward or away from God, but in eternity there is only the essential whole. (The choice is still ours, but our experience of it in the present time is limited to the projection of that ultimate choice we make eternally in time, which is the part that is removed when the time-dependency of our experience is removed.

          • Erick

            ==The Christian conception of eternity seems like part of the issue. It isn’t like an infinitely long timeline, I suspect.==

            Yes, finally, someone who recognized it with me. The Christian conception of eternity is not a “long, long, long, long amount of passage of time”. Eternity is timelessness. It’s beyond the measure of time.

      • an atheist

        I don’t find consequence objectionable, I find the type of consequences objectionable, and the fact that they’re eternal. Our lives are finite, our ‘sins’ are finite, the effects of sin are finite, so why would the punishment be eternal?
        I’ve always thought the Hindu model where you have infinite lives and infinite chances to learn from your mistakes made a lot more sense, as something a loving intelligence might come up with. There are hells in that model, but you can escape them.
        Or there’s the Zoastrian model, where people endure a ‘cleansing fire’ for a while. That’s less bad than eternal hell, although still painful for the people being burned.
        The Catholic idea of purgatory seems kind of similar- a temporary punishment to get rid of risidual sins.
        However, I think this is probably all nonsense that people made up after seeing molten lava for the first time.

    • Brandon B

      “How can you stand to say nonsense like this?”
      So you disagree with Leah. Could you elaborate? It’s obvious to you what the objection is, and maybe Leah will realize what it is if she thinks for a moment, but I’m in the dark as to what the grounds for your disagreement is. Perhaps this is because I’m not an atheist, but could you be more explicit? Let the rest of us in on the discussion?

      Regarding the original idea of “is merely disagreeing with someone in and of itself the kind of “moral damage” you’re talking about?”, I’ve had the impression that Catholics – and similarly-minded atheists, I suppose – are saying that the moral choices that causes harm, not belief about it. If performing abortions is the kind of thing that can condemn you to hell, then it is the action itself that is working the harm, not your belief about the action. A pro-life person would be in at least as much trouble for performing abortions as a pro-choice person.

      This is not to say beliefs are irrelevant – the pro-life abortionist has actually done something worse, since he should have known better – but still it is fundamentally the moral choice that mattered, not the belief about the choice.

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        “So you disagree with Leah. Could you elaborate?”
        Uh – not all secular ethical theories entail that people are harmed by making morally wrong decisions? Utilitarianism, to name just the easiest example, is perfectly consistent with the idea that I can (say) do the wrong but pleasurable thing by lavishing money on myself when other people need it more.

        “Regarding the original idea…”
        Yeah, you’re sort of missing the point: I’m talking specifically about the choice (if it is a choice) to believe or not. Is it morally wrong to disbelieve in (some) god (or other)? Is it morally right to believe? That sort of thing.

        • Erick

          Eli,

          Are you defining belief as a simple mental action? How do you define believing and disbelieving?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            I’m not defining belief in any detail at all for the sake of this argument, and I’m not really sure why I would have to. Whatever is meant by belief in the Christian theologies under investigation, I doubt very much that it would affect Hallquist’s position. So what does that have to do with anything?

            Meanwhile, Erick, I can’t help but note that you still haven’t answered the original question. Mind doing that for me?

          • Erick

            Eli,

            The reason I asked is that we have to agree on the definition of terms before we can even think we are actually saying the same things.

            Simply put, yes, belief is analogous to stepping out of the window. BUT…

            Catholic definition of belief is not so simple as “a mental switch turned on”, as it were. The command to love God with all your soul, all your strength, all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself is the definition. So in Catholic terms, belief constitutes taking actual moral actions, not just mental assent.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “The command to love God with all your soul, all your strength, all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself is [my] definition. So in Catholic terms, belief constitutes taking actual moral actions, not just mental assent.”
            Which of those are the “actual moral actions,” pray tell, and how does one take the additional moral steps after having achieved mere mental assent? At the moment, this sounds like poetic gibberish, so you’ll have to go into a good deal more detail if you want us to reach agreement on the definition of our terms.

            Also, again, you’ve still not answered the question. For you, is belief morally good and disbelief (whatever that consists of) morally bad?

          • Erick

            Eli,

            I believe I answered your question by stating that belief/disbelief is analogous to stepping out of the window. Belief is morally good and disbelief is morally bad. There, happy :)

            Anyway to continue, you’ve focused too much on the what and not enough on the how. How do you love God with all your strength, with all your heart? And by loving your neighbor as yourself? Well, one answer is by physically engaging in moral actions. So, for example, an atheist who helps the poor would be engaging “in belief” with his strength, although, as an atheist, he doesn’t do so with his mind. Similarly, a Catholic who practices pre-marital sex would be engaging “in disbelief” with his heart, even if he believes in his mind.

            In a sense, moral activity is inseparable from belief.

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          Hey, a straight answer! Now if I could get just a few more of those, we can get down to business.

          “How do you love God with all your strength, with all your heart? And by loving your neighbor as yourself? Well, one answer is by physically engaging in moral actions. So, for example, an atheist who helps the poor would be engaging “in belief” with his strength”
          Okay – so I now understand what you mean by “believing with strength.” How about believing with heart and believing with soul? I still don’t know how you mean those.

          “In a sense, moral activity is inseparable from belief.”
          No no no – either stick to your definition or depart from it, don’t give me this waffly “in a sense” stuff. Does belief in god, for you, necessarily include activity, or not? Is it a threshold thing, maybe, where you rack up belief points across the various “methods” of belief and then you pass whenever you cross a certain point, regardless of whether or not any of the individual scores is 0? Or what – what’s the deal, man?

          • Erick

            ==How about believing with heart and believing with soul?==
            An example of heart (i.e. emotion) is something like visiting a terminally ill person in the hospital, or the prisoner in jail, or the other examples I’m sure you could think of yourself involving the aiding of someone even if one has no power to change circumstances.

            Soul might be forgiving our trespassers as we are forgiven. Instructing the ignorant. Things of this nature.

            I don’t really want to get into which activity belongs in which category. Suffice to say, that both spritual and corporeal works count as a measure of your belief in God.

            ==Is it a threshold thing, maybe, where you rack up belief points across the various “methods” of belief and then you pass whenever you cross a certain point, regardless of whether or not any of the individual scores is 0?==

            It’s closer to this. The key being that as a Catholic I don’t know what the threshold is. Only God knows the threshold. And the threshold varies with each individual, because we each have our own gifts and our own weaknesses and our own circumstances and our own crosses to bear.

            So for person A, his thresholds may be 3 Heart, 2 Soul, 1 mind, 9 Strength while
            person B may have 9 Heart, 4 Soul, 3 Mind, 1 Strength and still
            person C may have 1 Heart, 3 Soul, 7 Mind, 3 Strength. You get the idea.

            The thing about a 0 in a category is how did someone get to 0. That’s always the analysis. How? So, for example, I have complete trust in God that a Hindu from before Jesus’ time will get more mercy for getting a 0 in the mind category. But perhaps a Catholic in Roman Catholic Italy get less mercy for getting a 0 in the mind category.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Okay, making progress. Overlooking the sort of incoherent nature of the categorization system, this is what stands out:

            “The thing about a 0 in a category is how did someone get to 0. That’s always the analysis. How? So, for example, I have complete trust in God that a Hindu from before Jesus’ time will get more mercy for getting a 0 in the mind category. But perhaps a Catholic in Roman Catholic Italy get less mercy for getting a 0 in the mind category.”
            So is there any instance in which you’d say that someone bears no responsibility whatsoever for having a zero in the mind category? I see you talking about degrees of mercy – is there ever, in your mind, a situation in which someone’s disbelief is completely ignored altogether, rather than just being partially forgiven or whatever?

          • Erick

            ==So is there any instance in which you’d say that someone bears no responsibility whatsoever for having a zero in the mind category?==

            As I’m sure you’ve already learned before, the Catholic Church teaches that those who are inculpably ignorant of the Gospel would bear no responsibility for having a zero in the “mind” category. The Hindu from before Jesus’ time for example. Or the natives of the New World.

            Considering the completely global reach of the Church now, it’s debatable who would still fit under this category. Perhaps indigenous tribes that are even now not in touch with the modern world? I’m personally sympathetic that a case could be made for anyone who has not personally met a good witness (a truly faithful Christian) to the Gospel.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “As I’m sure you’ve already learned before, the Catholic Church…”
            Funny – I could’ve sworn I was in a conversation with some guy on the internet, not the embodiment of the official doctrine of the Catholic church.

            “…those who are inculpably ignorant of the Gospel would bear no responsibility for having a zero in the “mind” category. The Hindu from before Jesus’ time for example. Or the natives of the New World.”
            Well alright. So it pretty much seems like you agree with the weaker of Hallquist’s statements (the one about being damned just for disagreeing) while disagreeing with the stronger one (the one about being damned for disagreeing in any circumstance). So now comes the next question: how in blue blazes can you possibly integrate your position into a coherent moral framework that you actually find remotely plausible?

          • Erick

            ==So now comes the next question: how in blue blazes can you possibly integrate your position into a coherent moral framework that you actually find remotely plausible?==

            Funny. I thought I mentioned I was Catholic. So, you are free to assume that my opinions have been formed by the Catholic conception of morality (the Judeo-Christian tradition, if you want to be even more broad) and I find Catholicism is a coherent moral framework.

            I would like to address this whole idea of the immorality of Hell, because something about it has been avoided by all the atheists on this post so far. And that is the definition of eternity. Atheists like to argue that Hell is immoral, because it lasts for eternity. So let me ask you, if Hell lasted for .01 second, is that immoral? Or do you believe in just the very idea of Hell’s existence as being immoral?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Funny. I thought I mentioned I was Catholic. So, you are free to assume that my opinions have been formed by the Catholic conception of morality (the Judeo-Christian tradition, if you want to be even more broad) and I find Catholicism is a coherent moral framework.”
            First of all, there’s no such thing as “the Judeo-Christian tradition,” least of all with respect to morality. There’s a Christian tradition, onto which Christians then tack “Judeo-” so as to seem more inclusive, but there is no Judeo-Christian trardition. Get your facts straight. Second, even if you SAY that you’re taking all your stuff from the official Catholic position, I have no way of knowing that unless you tell me specifically what you actually believe. Now, finally, I didn’t ask you to simply TELL me that you think Catholicism has a coherent (and believable! don’t forget believable!) moral framework, I asked you to SHOW me that.

            “Atheists like to argue that Hell is immoral, because it lasts for eternity. So let me ask you, if Hell lasted for .01 second, is that immoral?”
            So far as I can tell, yes, although the timelessness thing you’ve mentioned doesn’t much change my mind about anything (which is why I haven’t replied to it). I really fail to see how that affects any of the useful premises in the conversation.

          • Erick

            ==First of all, there’s no such thing as “the Judeo-Christian tradition,” ==

            Give this act up, man. There certainly are many ideas, interpretations, and conceptions that Christians kept from Judaism, such as the Jewish conception of eternity. Judaism was not entirely discarded. So, if something is held by both Jews and Christians, it can certainly be called “Judeo-Christian”.

            ==SHOW me ==

            Patience. No need to blow up everytime you can’t wait for the thread to unfold the answers.

            ==So far as I can tell, yes, although the timelessness thing you’ve mentioned doesn’t much change my mind about anything ==

            Ok. Let’s skip the eternity thing for now then. How do you judge Hell to be immoral? Are you saying Hell is immoral because it’s contrary to the Christian conception of morality? Or because it’s contrary to your own subjective morality? Or because it’s contrary to an independent objective morality you believe to be true?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “the Jewish conception of eternity”
            Judaism doesn’t have just one concept of eternity, just like Christianity doesn’t.

            “So, if something is held by both Jews and Christians, it can certainly be called “Judeo-Christian”.”
            Oh – so the idea that January is the first month of the year is “Judeo-Christian”? I don’t think so. And presumably at least some of this stuff is also held by Muslims – if not also Buddhists, Taoists, atheists, and so on. So why not call it “Judeo-Christian-Islamo-Buddhist-etc.”?

            “Patience. No need to blow up everytime you can’t wait for the thread to unfold the answers.”
            lol – yeah, I can’t help but notice that this is not showing me what I asked for. So let me make you a deal: I’ll answer the rest of your questions once you answer mine. Unless you can’t be patient…?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “How do you judge Hell to be immoral?”
            Personally? On utilitarian grounds. But the problem for the theist has to do with saying that god is loving or just or whatever – so far as that goes, there’s just as big of a problem as there is under utilitarianism, if not a bigger one. You can obviously define a moral theory specifically so that hell ends up being moral as a result, but that’d be flagrantly ad-hoc and is, anyway, not even close to the way that Christians (or Catholics) typically go about doing things.

            If you’re going to press me for details on the version of utilitarianism to which I subscribe, these are your sources:
            http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/06/objective-morality-what-do-you-mean.html
            http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/06/objective-morality-what-do-you-mean_27.html
            http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/06/objective-morality-what-do-you-mean_28.html
            http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/06/objective-morality-yeah-but.html
            Otherwise, continue.

          • David

            Hell would not necessarily be immoral if it only lasted for .01 seconds (though it still would be if it were a punishment directed at non-believers solely for failure to believe, although even in this case it would be far less evil than it is when it is made eternal). As for eternity, I don’t see how it being timeless rather than simply a long, long, long, never-ending time makes punishment that is eternal any better. I would also challenge that the idea that eternity refers to timelessness rather than a never-ending extent of time is the consistent position of Christianity generally or Catholicism specifically, and certainly would challenge that it has that definition in reference to Hell. As I recall, the Catholic church teaches that Christ descended into Hell to bring those righteous ancients (particularly major figures of the Old Testament) who had died prior to Christ’s redemption of mankind out of the Limbo of the Fathers and into heaven. This suggests that Hell as a temporal component; Christ intervened at a particular moment in time and moved souls from Hell to Heaven; Hell is thus not an eternal (that is, timeless) state of existence, but rather one that extends through time. Moreover, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the Church declared the punishment of the damned “unending” rather than “eternal.” Whatever eternal may mean, the Catholic conception of Hell does not seem to imply timelessness (though I’m still interested in why timeless suffering is better than unending suffering).

          • Alan

            “So, if something is held by both Jews and Christians, it can certainly be called “Judeo-Christian”.”

            Please, Judeo-Christian as a term is a modern invention mostly used by Christians to feel better about themselves after two millennia blaming the Jews for their troubles. There is no judeo-christian tradition separate from a mere christian tradition and ideas held in common between judaism and christianity are coincidences or convergence – not design.

          • Erick

            ==Personally? On utilitarian grounds. ==

            If the Christian God is immoral, He should be judged immoral based on the Christian moral theory or another otherwise agreed upon objective morality. Indeed, any claimed god should be judged according to a morality that both sides agree has authority over the question.

            Simply arguing that you think my God is immoral because you have a moral theory that doesn’t match mine does nothing to answer the question because your moral theory has no authority. Agree?

            ==But the problem for the theist has to do with saying that god is loving or just or whatever ==

            This, of course, requires again that we agree with the definition of love and justice and whatever other terms. Simply saying the word means nothing if we have separate conceptions of it. Look at the term sexuality, where the Catholic Church includes reproduction as part of the definition while other groups don’t.

            The Catholic definition of love is “willing/pursuing the good of another”. God is the ultimate good. Hence, being with God is the ultimate expression of love. Therefore, being with God is the ultimate fate of man. Under this definition, how do you conceive Hell goes against love and thereby creating an immorality?

            If being with God is a Hell for a person, then that is the result. But love has never been understood as a sense of “warm, fuzzy feelings all the time”. When my parents punish me for being wrong or being bad, that is not a sign of hate or un-love for me.

            ==You can obviously define a moral theory specifically so that hell ends up being moral as a result, ==

            No, you don’t get to do that. Either Hell is immoral according to Christian (or other agreed upon) standards or it isn’t.

    • TerryC

      I certainly wouldn’t try to speak for anyone but myself, but are you maintaining that causality doesn’t exist? That in a framework of objective moral truth there is not a determinable good outcome that can be characterized and beneficial and a bad outcome that can be characterized as harmful? You can maintain that such an objective moral framework doesn’t exists, but it seems to me that if you accept the objective moral framework as a truth then the harm follows from causality.
      From a Catholic framework hell and damnation are simply another way to say separation from God. One goes to hell because hell is the place(existence, state of being) which is separate from God. Is this a punishment? Well I suppose that if you have spent your entire life separated from God then how might you consider that punishment?
      I guess the point isn’t one of moral damage because of disagreement. That is, I at least, would not say you go to hell because you disagree with me, or the Church or any Christian. For one thing the fate of any particular person is beyond my competence to judge. For another as I previously stated hell is separation from God. So damnation is a matter of rejecting God. If your manner of rejecting God happens to manifest itself as disagreeing with some belief that I hold the fact that you disagree with me is immaterial to your fate. It is the fact of your rejection of God which is the final effect of your action.

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        “I certainly wouldn’t try to speak for anyone but myself, but are you maintaining that causality doesn’t exist?…You can maintain that such an objective moral framework doesn’t exists, but it seems to me that if you accept the objective moral framework as a truth then the harm follows from causality.”

        That’s an incredibly bizarre idea of causality, I have to say, but even if I accept it Leah’s statement still doesn’t follow: all you’ve said so far as that harm has to happen to *someone*, not that harm has to happen to the person who’s doing the bad thing. And, again, even that doesn’t apply to every secular moral theory: there are plenty of deontological theories according to which you can do the wrong thing but harm nobody (including yourself).

        • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

          Certainly there are lots of moral and ethical theories that claim moral actions are not causally related to harm of self or others. That’s a historical fact.

          However, the moral theory which Leah has been holding to, and which the Catholic Church holds to, falls broadly under the Natural Law school of morality. In that school, moral good and evil are basically defined as acts which promote or harm Nature (“Nature” being a technical term for the fulfillment of a form in the act of being, not just bunnies and trees and such). Since the Nature of the human will is to seek good and shun evil, any choice of evil, any immoral act, necessarily harms the person who chooses.

          I think Leah assumes this foundation in her statements above. It’s valid to call her on it, and to note that her foundation is subject to challenges. But it’s not valid to call her argument “nonsense” and “obviously false.” It is a line of thought with a long and rigorous tradition behind it – and with its own critique of deontological and untilitarian approaches to ethics.

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          “Certainly there are lots of moral and ethical theories that claim moral actions are not causally related to harm of self or others. That’s a historical fact.

          However, the moral theory which Leah has been holding to, and which the Catholic Church holds to, falls broadly under the Natural Law school of morality.”
          Not fucking relevant. Her statement was: “if you’re an atheist who believes in objective moral laws, then you do believe that you’re harmed by transgressing them.” Just because she herself is an adherent of a natural law school doesn’t mean she gets to say that everybody else is, too.

          “I think Leah assumes this foundation in her statements above. It’s valid to call her on it, and to note that her foundation is subject to challenges. But it’s not valid to call her argument “nonsense” and “obviously false.””
          STRAW. MAN. End of story.

          • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

            Okay, I’ve given this some thought, and re-read Leah’s post.

            You’re correct that Leah’s statement, “if you’re an atheist who believes in objective moral laws, then you do believe that you’re harmed by transgressing them,” is contrary-to-fact: it is possible to find atheists who believe in objective morality but who do not believe that transgression of that morality involves self-harm.

            However, Leah’s statement was not a premise. It was a conclusion. She was saying (if I understand her rightly) that those who believe in objective morality must also conclude that self-harm is involved in transgression. She compresses most of her argument in the links to other posts she’s written, and I still think she’s leaving a couple steps out of the chain of logic; but she still is attempting to draw a conclusion on a disputed point rather than proposing an undisputed premise.

            So I stand by my position that it is false to call her statement a lie. It is wrong to dismiss it as nonsense. Her conclusion may be false, but it is not obviously so. She has not presented a full or compelling argument in this post, but that does not itself make her conclusion invalid or unworthy of argument.

            If I’m making a straw man, please point out my error; I’m not seeing where I’m misrepresenting you.

    • R.C.

      Eli:

      I really don’t see how you can take such objection to that particular sentence you quoted from Leah’s post. I mean, you’re reacting really strenuously to it, yet for the life of me I can’t see what’s objectionable about it.

      The sentence you quoted was, “So, if you’re an atheist who believes in objective moral laws, then you do believe that you’re harmed by transgressing them.”

      And, she made a point of mentioning the coarsening of one’s “moral sense” as a consequence of doing things that aren’t moral — a very straightforward observation of human habit-building and desensitization — so this needn’t run afoul of an atheist’s/materialist’s rejection of purely spiritual or metaphysical harm.

      Can you explain what it is in that sentence that produced your reaction?

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        “I really don’t see how you can take such objection to that particular sentence you quoted from Leah’s post. I mean, you’re reacting really strenuously to it, yet for the life of me I can’t see what’s objectionable about it.”
        Because…it’s false? I dunno about you, but it bothers me when people lie, especially when they do so in a position of authority.

        “And, she made a point of mentioning the coarsening of one’s “moral sense” as a consequence of doing things that aren’t moral…”
        Actually, that’s not what she said – go back and read it. All she said was: “When you take actions that coarsen your moral sense, you’re wounded.” She never specified that the actions in question are morally bad ones. Again, though, even if she had said that she would’ve described only a fraction of secular moral philosophies. Not every secular moral framework takes “the coarsening of one’s moral sense” to be a kind of harm in the first place, and very few secular moral frameworks are set up so that one’s moral sense is necessarily coarsened when one does something wrong. What she said was dead wrong, and your defense is not much better.

        • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

          To lie is to deliberately represent a falsehood with the intent to deceive. Leah (and the proponents of Natural Law and/or Virtue Ethics) are simply making arguments that you disagree with. They are not obviously false. They are not lies. They are contrary arguments to the line of thought that you follow.

          You can argue against Natural Law or Virtue Ethics all you want. But I lose respect for your arguments when you simply dismiss those you disagree with as “nonsense” or “false” or “lies” without actually addressing the argument you disagree with.

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          “To lie is…”
          Oh, look, a hardcore linguistic prescriptivist. Watch as I refrain from being convinced.

          “You can argue against Natural Law or Virtue Ethics all you want. But I lose respect for your arguments when you simply dismiss those you disagree with as “nonsense” or “false” or “lies” without actually addressing the argument you disagree with.”
          You may want to work on your reading comprehension, Bob.

        • Maiki

          Ok, let’s start with that ground of commonality. You think lying is wrong (in some sense, at least). You think lying harms other people, or at least bothers them. When you lie, does it bother you? If not, does it build up a habit to lying, that makes you more of a jerk, since other people are bothered by it?

          If any of that is true, lying harms the liar. Then you can say: as an atheist that believes in the moral truth of truth telling, you know that lying harms the liar.

          We can extrapolate this to other things you believe are wrong. Are there things you believe are wrong that don’t harm the doer? At least by making him a jerk, and thus, less adapted to a social milieu humans inhabit?

          It seems like a statement that is overwhelmingly true, rather than false, even for an atheist, as long as that atheist believes in objective moral principles. (which is the caveat Leah stated).

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “You think lying is wrong (in some sense, at least).”
            Not in the moral sense, if at all.

            “You think lying harms other people, or at least bothers them.”
            Er – what makes you think that? It bothers me when I detect other people lying, but that’s nothing like saying that lying harms people broadly speaking or in and of itself.

            “When you lie, does it bother you? If not, does it build up a habit to lying, that makes you more of a jerk, since other people are bothered by it?”
            Actually, like most people, I’m fairly good at lying most of the time; a surprising amount of what we say is just plain made up, and we tend to get along just fine. I honestly can’t say whether or not it bothers people more when I do it or not, but only because I haven’t been gathering evidence on that particular question.

            “If any of that is true, lying harms the liar.”
            Huh? If my lying bothers other people, it harms me? How so? Also, it sure seems to me that you’re only arguing at a statistical level, whereas Leah is arguing something else altogether. By way of analogy, you’re saying that betting on red is a losing strategy, whereas she’s saying that betting on red will always result in a loss. Yours is more plausible than hers (though still false), but at least let’s be clear that you’re not defending what she said.

            “Then you can say: as an atheist that believes in the moral truth of truth telling, you know that lying harms the liar.”
            But I just said that I didn’t think that lying is a moral wrong. I don’t, in other words, believe in the moral truth of truth-telling. Stop putting words in my mouth.

            “We can extrapolate this to other things you believe are wrong. Are there things you believe are wrong that don’t harm the doer? At least by making him a jerk, and thus, less adapted to a social milieu humans inhabit?”
            Oh, please – I can just as easily turn this argument on its head: there are plenty of things you can do that are wrong but that will make you better-adapted to the social milieu in which you happen to find yourself. If that’s all you’ve got, it’s a double-edged sword and you might as well not bother swinging it in the first place.

            “It seems like a statement that is overwhelmingly true, rather than false, even for an atheist, as long as that atheist believes in objective moral principles.”
            Except for how most of your facts are wrong and your logic is flawed…

        • R.C.

          Fair enough.

          I was accustomed to always being able to “get where you were coming from” when reading your posts; but this is one place where I just can’t. I was surprised at how you reacted; but don’t take that surprise as an accusation. It happens; people are different and nobody sees eye-to-eye all the time.

          To me, the coarsening of one’s moral sense is obviously a kind of self-wounding even from a perfectly materialist perspective, so long as said materialist holds that morality is objective. And since Leah mentioned it right there, I immediately took that to be an example of the kind of self-wounding she had in mind from violating the moral law.

          So, when she further qualified that the type of person she has in mind is not merely “an atheist” but “an atheist who believes in objective moral laws,” it seemed to me that she was describing a very particular set of persons and ascribing to them a view which would be quite reasonable for that set of persons to hold.

          Can you offer me an example of a point-of-view which is (a.) atheist, (b.) holds that morality is objective, and (c.) doesn’t consider the coarsening of one’s own moral sense to be in some sense debilitating or wounding?

          I ask because you seem to feel that the existence of such a point-of-view is obvious…so obvious that Leah obviously has to know about it, so that her sentence must be construed a “lie” rather than an oversight.

          But it isn’t obvious to me, which is why I’m still not certain that Leah’s sentence is even wrong, and if it is wrong, I’m willing to think it’s wrong through oversight.

          But if there’s something glaringly obvious that I’ve overlooked, and can be convinced that Leah could not have overlooked it, then I’ll be able to see why you reacted as you did.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “To me, the coarsening of one’s moral sense is obviously a kind of self-wounding even from a perfectly materialist perspective, so long as said materialist holds that morality is objective.”
            Okay, man, but imagine that I said the following: “To me, sending someone to hell is obviously a kind of injustice even from a theistic perspective, so long as said theist holds that morality is objective.” You don’t see the problem with that kind of reasoning? (Let me give you a hint: it’s not the way it seems to me that I’m disputing.)

            “Can you offer me an example of a point-of-view which is (a.) atheist, (b.) holds that morality is objective, and (c.) doesn’t consider the coarsening of one’s own moral sense to be in some sense debilitating or wounding?”
            Utilitarianism, principilism, deontology…y’know, only the bulk of secular ethics. But, again, let me repeat this: you also have to prove that doing something morally wrong always coarsens one’s moral sense. You can’t just assume that part of Leah’s story, because it, too, is a very virtue-ethical kind of thing to assume.

          • R.C.

            Okay. I’ll have to review your three examples more closely. At first glance I don’t see why they would reject the “wounding” idea outright; it seems to me that they’d adopt it and integrate it into their own principles and terminology.

            I mean, I can imagine a Utilitarian saying, “A person with a coarsened moral sense is more inclined to commit immoral acts in the future, and this is a counterproductive, rather than a useful, trait for people to have. Just as it’s not useful for society to be populated by persons who are hobbled or blinded, it’s not useful for society to be populated by persons with desensitized consciences, and desensitized consciences qualify as a wound every bit as much as a temporal lobe lesion or a gash in the thigh.” So, while the Utilitarian wouldn’t think of self-wounding as the primary harm of doing what is wrong, he would think of it as part of the harm. And, always assuming that wrongdoing really does coarsen one’s moral sense, wouldn’t deontologists and principlists likewise be able to accommodate that observation? I don’t suppose they’d want to say that their views couldn’t accommodate it.

            As to the validity of the observation itself: I don’t see why one has to prove that doing something immoral ALWAYS coarsens one’s moral sense, in a “100% of the time rather than merely 95% of the time” kind of way, to defend Leah’s statement. Why wouldn’t it be sufficient to show that it happens frequently enough to constitute a risk, and thus, another reason not to do the wrongful act?

            But while I’m agnostic about whether it’s 100% or 95%, I have to admit I find it nearly inconceivable that it could be less than 50%. Hell, every time I use profanity I’m indulging in something that I initially found difficult. It got frightfully easy, with practice! (Ouch, I just wounded myself.)

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “I mean, I can imagine a Utilitarian saying [stuff]. So, while the Utilitarian wouldn’t think of self-wounding as the primary harm of doing what is wrong, he would think of it as part of the harm.”
            But notice, in your rephrasing, that you could only get down to the level of specifying harm to society. What Leah said was that immoral actions always harmed the immoral actor, not that they harmed someone. Your rephrasing, in other words, is not really a rephrasing – it’s an entirely different claim, albeit perhaps one that’s inspired by the original one.

            “And, always assuming that wrongdoing really does coarsen one’s moral sense…”
            I roll my eyes at you, sir.

            “As to the validity of the observation itself: I don’t see why one has to prove that doing something immoral ALWAYS coarsens one’s moral sense, in a “100% of the time rather than merely 95% of the time” kind of way, to defend Leah’s statement. Why wouldn’t it be sufficient to show that it happens frequently enough to constitute a risk, and thus, another reason not to do the wrongful act?”
            Well, because her analogy was to a law of physics. (“When I say that if you step out of your window, you will fall, I’m not saying that because gravity decided you deserved to break your leg.”) I guess now we can get into a philosophy-of-science discussion wherein we talk about whether causality is really a 100%-of-the-time thing or not, but even that wouldn’t really help – causality is something that works at least 99.[many 9s]% of the time, and the stuff you’re talking about doesn’t even approach that level of consistency. It may only be a difference in degree rather than in kind, but it’s easily a significant enough difference in degree to wreck her argument.

            “But while I’m agnostic about whether it’s 100% or 95%, I have to admit I find it nearly inconceivable that it could be less than 50%.”
            Again, even 50% is a gigantic step away from the sort of consistency we expect from causality.

          • R.C.

            Got it. You were leaning hard on the certainty of the consequences in the analogy to the physical law; I didn’t even notice that aspect of the analogy.

            I thought Leah was merely making an analogy to another situation where “if I do X, I am at risk of Y” without expressing any particular opinion on the certainty of Y. (In any case, I expect that uncertainty would be balanced against the severity of Y: If a thing is a mild injury like a stubbed toe, even 100% certainty of that injury might not be sufficient to dissuade a person; but if it’s a 1% chance of being grilled alive like St. Lawrence, a lot of folks will steer clear.)

            Re: “I roll my eyes at you, sir.”: Hey, now, you needn’t roll your eyes at me! (I’m saying this with a grin.) I realize that that (whether moral desensitization actually occurs) is one of the contested points, but I wasn’t obligating you to grant it to me!

            I was just saying that “IF that is the case, then it follows that….” Perhaps I should have phrased it, “…always assuming for the sake of argument that wrongdoing really does coarsen one’s moral sense….” It’s a legitimate form of argument so I shouldn’t get the Charlie Brown treatment! (Again, I’m smiling as I type; I don’t really mind. In comboxes, one is privileged indeed to receive any reaction so mild as an eye roll!)

            About my Utilitarian rephrasing, you say, “But notice, in your rephrasing, that you could only get down to the level of specifying harm to society. What Leah said was that immoral actions always harmed the immoral actor, not that they harmed someone. Your rephrasing, in other words, is not really a rephrasing – it’s an entirely different claim, albeit perhaps one that’s inspired by the original one.”

            Hmm. I’m not quite confident you’re right about that…but before I say why, let me profess my lack of expertise: Not being a Utilitarian, I have to go strictly by the “textbook definition(s)” of Utilitarianism and ask myself, “were I one of these, how would I deal with XYZ?”…but as an outsider, I worry that in doing so, I’m missing some nuance that long-immersion in that philosophy would have clarified for me.

            Okay, having set that proviso in place….

            How DOES a Utilitarian describe “wounding” in the first place? What qualifies as a wound? Can he use the popular understanding of the term — calling anything a wound if the average Joe in the street would call it a wound — without violating his ethics? If he can, I suspect my translation is a valid one; but if he can’t, perhaps it’s because his philosophy is incomplete as a description of reality.

            As an example: Perhaps it would be useful, to society, for all thieves to have a hand chopped off. But, unless he was indulging in common parlance, would a Utilitarian even call that a “wounding?” What I mean is: Does some change to a particular structure of the body which impairs the healthy functioning for which that structure is normally suited (I’m desperately trying to avoid design-oriented phrasing, here, but I fear that the word “healthy” may be a problem) constitute a “wound” if the overall utility to society is increased by it? Doesn’t the increased utility rule out our use of the negative-sounding word “wound,” requiring us to call it something with neutral or positive connotations? A “tweak” or even “augmentation?” We “augment” the thieves through forearm-shortening and the elimination of socially un-useful protuberances?

            I ask, because I think the question “Utility for whom? Useful to whom?” must be answered before we can determine whether I succeeded in translating “self-wounding” into “Utilitarianese” or not. Your objection to my “Utilitarian translation of self-wounding” seems to hinge on drawing a distinction between “wounding” as damage done to me and “wounding” as damage done to society, or to the human race, or to anything else which is more than just me (even if I’m a part of it).

            If we hold to a Utilitarianism which values a “more-than-just-me” utility (e.g. “utility to society”), then there’s no such thing as “damage” done to me as an entity distinct from society. The very word “damage” is only measurable in terms of how the “more-than-just-me” is affected, and its goods are my goods. If we choose “society” as the “more-that-just-me” whose utility is our standard, then we might call an evil act “self”-wounding for convenience’ sake to identify what sub-part of society got wounded, but the only thing that qualifies it as “wounding” is the damage done to society.

            So the Utilitarian has to be careful: To qualify as an Atheist who believes in “objective morality” he has to make a choice about which of these two utilities (mine, or society’s) really counts. If he says that my immoral act really helps me (that is, really has utility for me) even though it’s “immoral” (that is, really reduces utility for society, or the human race, or at least something other than me) then he is refusing to make up his mind about which utility is objectively the right one. If my utility is the right one to measure by, then the act is not actually immoral. If the more-than-just-me utility is the right one to use, then the action actually is immoral but its utility to me doesn’t count because that is not our objective standard: The only share in the consequences of the act our standard allows me judge is my share in the utility to society, and if that has been reduced, I have therefore been harmed. And if the Utilitarian refuses to choose which utility is the right one, then I suspect he doesn’t, in the end, believe in objective morality…and thus doesn’t qualify for inclusion in this conversation.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “I realize that that (whether moral desensitization actually occurs) is one of the contested points, but I wasn’t obligating you to grant it to me!”
            Yeah, I sort of realize that, but I try my best to avoid engaging in counterfactual reasoning when the counterfactual is past a certain level of unseriousness. Which, you’re right, I do have a fairly strict standard – eye rolls being pretty low on the unseriousness scale – but still.

            “How DOES a Utilitarian describe “wounding” in the first place? What qualifies as a wound? Can he use the popular understanding of the term — calling anything a wound if the average Joe in the street would call it a wound — without violating his ethics?”
            I mean, if you’re asking me personally, ctrl+f for “rustb” and then click on the links; I’ve actually been down that road with another commenter in this same thread (although he seems to have stopped talking, at least for now). If you’re just asking in general, I really don’t know, not least of all because I don’t know what “the average Joe in the street would call a wound.” The average Joe in the street, as it turns out, can be a pretty unpredictable guy.

            “What I mean is: Does some change to a particular structure of the body which impairs the healthy functioning for which that structure is normally suited…constitute a “wound” if the overall utility to society is increased by it?”
            I have a hard time imagining any utilitarian saying that such a change would not constitute a wound.

            “Doesn’t the increased utility rule out our use of the negative-sounding word “wound,” requiring us to call it something with neutral or positive connotations?”
            Why would it? Calling something a wound just means that it’s bad for the person to whom it happened. This reasoning, so far as I can see, would also have us deny that an individual is impoverished if I steal their money to help the greater good. The greater good has essentially nothing to do with whether you have less money than you did before I robbed you, or whether you were healthier (or whatever) before I chopped off your hand.

            “Utility for whom? Useful to whom?”
            Again, ctrl+f rustb, at least for my answer.

            “Your objection to my “Utilitarian translation of self-wounding” seems to hinge on drawing a distinction between “wounding” as damage done to me and “wounding” as damage done to society”
            Well, yeah – that’d be because “SELF-wounding” sort of by definition specifies wounding oneself. If that has anything to do with utilitarianism, I can’t see what.

            “If we hold to a Utilitarianism which values a “more-than-just-me” utility (e.g. “utility to society”), then there’s no such thing as “damage” done to me as an entity distinct from society.”
            Huh what? Social utility is incoherent unless individuals have utility; social utility is necessarily composed just of individual utilities. (True, you still have to ask which utilities and how to combine them and stuff, but still.)

            “The very word “damage” is only measurable in terms of how the “more-than-just-me” is affected, and its goods are my goods.”
            I think you’re thinking of one of Ayn Rand’s various straw men of utilitarianism…

            “If my utility is the right one to measure by, then the act is not actually immoral. If the more-than-just-me utility is the right one to use, then the action actually is immoral but its utility to me doesn’t count because that is not our objective standard”
            Yeah, I really think these are Ayn Rand’s mistakes that you’re re-making.

          • Anonymous

            I see three important things in utilitarianism:

            A) What a person does want.
            B) What a person should want locally, i.e. more good feelings and fewer bad feelings for himself. (Note that this is not equivalent to A, as we can easily want things which don’t in fact lead to more good feelings and fewer bad feelings.)
            C) What is moral, i.e., what a person should want globally, i.e., the magic mix of individual utility and social utility that comes out of a gigantic calculator.

            I think Leah’s trying to say, “Assume that you’re a person trying to get from A to C. Assuming further, arguendo, a potentially empirically testable fact about moral desensitization, if you do something immoral (perhaps pursue B in a place where it conflicts with C), then (via the assumption of moral desensitization) you’re harming your ability to get from A to C.”

            You can reject the assumption that utilitarian theory says anything about trying to get from A to C. (It might be difficult since C is the matter of fact thing we evaluate our actions in light of, so I think it’s likely implied in some fashion, even if the process itself is not assigned “value” in the way a virtue ethicist would. Also note that the “evaluation in light of” business seems to hold whether you end up in hedonistic utilitarianism or some other atheistic objective morality.) You can reject moral desensitization, but this may be an empirical matter, so it’d be a much quieter conversation than one which claims that entire branches of thought have been misrepresented.

            I think, “Harming your ability to get from A to C,” is the utilitese for what Leah means by “self-harm”, whereas a utilitarian might reserve the term for B. She thinks this is an actual harm, so she uses the word. At the very least, you could view it as a harm in the way that a speed bump or a detour harms my ability to get to my destination quickly, even though it might not actually damage my vehicle. She doesn’t mean harm in the sense of B (or damaging vehicles), so there’s no reason to demand that her claim makes sense if you read it to mean B. Of course, you could also just ask Leah to stop using your word “harm” or to add a qualifier when she does. I often find it hard to remember what different people in different fields mean when they use certain words, but I think we’re fighting an uphill battle if we want it to stop.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “I think Leah’s trying to say…”
            That is a whole fucking lot of reading between the lines, man, and as with most attempts to read something into the space between the lines, it doesn’t work. In particular, “harming your ability to get from A to C” is in no way analogous to harming yourself in the sense of falling out a window or sinning yourself into hell (unless, of course, you presume the whole of virtue ethics, which we have not done here).

            “You can reject the assumption that utilitarian theory says anything about trying to get from A to C…”
            Just for the record, along these lines: http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/04/why-i-generally-stick-to-moral-theory.html

            “I think, “Harming your ability to get from A to C,” is the utilitese for what Leah means by “self-harm””
            Right, see above; I think this is very clearly apples and oranges.

            “At the very least, you could view it as a harm in the way that a speed bump or a detour harms my ability to get to my destination quickly…”
            Except, again, insofar as getting to your destination quickly is good specifically for you and acting morally in utilitarian terms is just good broadly speaking. Which, y’know, is the whole point.

            “Of course, you could also just ask Leah to stop using your word “harm” or to add a qualifier when she does.”
            Or, perhaps more appropriately, to stop using the word “atheist” when she really means “atheist who thinks just like I did when I was an atheist, which as it turns out wasn’t very much like an atheist, was it.”

          • Anonymous

            That is a whole fucking lot of reading between the lines…

            If you want to claim that it’s impossible to ever interpret the words on the page using additional words… well, then we probably should have all gone home a very very long time ago. If you’d rather me be just more authoritative and say, “Leah certainly is saying _____.”, I’ll just refuse. I can try to interpret other people and still leave open the possibility that they’ll correct me.

            …”harming your ability to get from A to C” is in no way analogous to harming yourself in the sense of falling out a window or sinning yourself into hell (unless, of course, you presume the whole of virtue ethics, which we have not done here).

            Of course we’re not presuming the whole of virtue ethics to be true. We’re assuming that the words Leah uses have meanings as ascribed to them by the virtue ethics she espouses. We can then take those meanings, rather than the words, and see if other theories permit or reject them.

            Falling out the window seems to be just an analogy in order to say, “we can’t opt out of this one. That makes it binding as a matter of fact.” If moral desensitization is empirically true, then there is a matter of fact chain of inference between acting immorally and harming your ability to get from A to C in utilitarianism.

            Leah expressly identifies that atheists wouldn’t agree with the sinning yourself into hell bit, so there’s no point in continuing with that.

            From your link: “This is not to say that there’s no way to help people become better at doing the right thing, or that there’s no need for such training. I just wouldn’t want to be assigned the task of generating that curriculum, is all.”

            It’s a very difficult and complicated process to get people to actually go from A to C (and there may be limits to how much of C we can actually account for… our calculator is too small), but I don’t think you’ve claimed anywhere that utilitarianism rejects that getting from A to C is what we would like to do, individually and collectively.

            Except, again, insofar as getting to your destination quickly is good specifically for you and acting morally in utilitarian terms is just good broadly speaking. Which, y’know, is the whole point.

            When R.C. thought the harm in moral desensitization was found in reducing “good broadly speaking”, you rejected it, relying on the fact that “self-harm” implied some sort of individual thing. I’m claiming that the “self-harm” in moral desensitization is found in thwarting your individual progress toward achieving morality. Now, you require the harm to be against “good broadly speaking”. Which do you require it to be? This is the whole point of why I went through the process of identifying the individual/societal splits (which you at least didn’t disagree with). I think that in a utilitarian setting, acting immorally causes harm broadly speaking (more or less by definition), but also causes individual “harm” in the sense of slowing your journey to morality.

            (Again, this is the sense in which I think Leah meant “harm”, judging by her virtue ethics… not that utilitarianism has to also call it “harm”. The question is whether this sense of slowing, even if we call it “Blardvark”, is compatible with utilitarianism. If moral desensitization is an empirically provably true phenomenon, it causes blardvark… regardless of whether you choose utilitarianism or deontology to be what actually describes C.)

            Of course, in utilitarianism, blardvark has additional “broad sense” harm implications if it causes you to do more immoral things later… but that’s beside the point.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “I can try to interpret other people and still leave open the possibility that they’ll correct me.”
            Dude, given that she had to ask me for examples of secular ethical theories according to which immoral behavior doesn’t harm the person who’s acting? I don’t think she had quite that esoteric an idea in mind.

            “Of course we’re not presuming the whole of virtue ethics to be true. We’re assuming that the words Leah uses have meanings as ascribed to them by the virtue ethics she espouses.”
            Those are functionally indistinguishable in this case.

            “Falling out the window seems to be just an analogy…”
            You’re losing the context: falling out of the window was an analogy for going to hell. You have to keep that in mind.

            “If moral desensitization is empirically true…”
            Which it isn’t, at least not in the way it would have to be in order for her presupposition to be accurate.

            “It’s a very difficult and complicated process to get people to actually go from A to C…but I don’t think you’ve claimed anywhere that utilitarianism rejects that getting from A to C is what we would like to do”
            Well, no – if anything, what I’m saying is that going from A to C is not something we have to do, even if we would like in some sense to be able to do so. Which, in this case, is again a substantive departure from Leah’s moral story.

            “When R.C. thought the harm in moral desensitization was found in reducing “good broadly speaking”, you rejected it…”
            Huh? No, what I did was I said that broke Leah’s analogy – i.e., the same thing I just said to you above.

            “I think that in a utilitarian setting, acting immorally causes harm broadly speaking (more or less by definition), but also causes individual “harm” in the sense of slowing your journey to morality.”
            Right – those scare quotes tell the whole story. It’s not what counts as harm for utilitarians, only “harm,” sort of like how Bill O’Reilly evidently thinks that Psy doesn’t make music but rather “music.” You can’t conflate the two.

            “The question is whether this sense of slowing, even if we call it “Blardvark”, is compatible with utilitarianism.”
            Don’t be dense: the question is whether this sense of slowing PLAYS THE SAME ROLE in utilitarianism as it does in virtue ethics. Once more, the entire point here is to see whether the analogy – the falling-out-of-windows analogy, the going-to-hell analogy – can be translated into secular ethics. Just taking a tiny piece of that analogy and saying that it translates does not suffice.

          • Anonymous

            I think we might be getting somewhere!

            the question is whether this sense of slowing PLAYS THE SAME ROLE in utilitarianism as it does in virtue ethics.

            This is exactly what my entire post has been challenging. Utilitarianism doesn’t focus on the journey from A to C… probably because it’s nearly impossible for it to actually compute what C look like. As such, it hasn’t bothered to get around to doing things like calling the slowing “harm”. So no, they don’t play a role of equal emphasis in the theories. That certainly doesn’t mean that they aren’t compatible. I’ve argued that they’re compatible because utilitarianism implicitly argues that we should try to move from A to C. Do you have any reason why they’re incompatible?

            falling out of the window was an analogy for going to hell. You have to keep that in mind… the entire point here is to see whether the analogy – the falling-out-of-windows analogy, the going-to-hell analogy – can be translated into secular ethics

            Is it that hard for you to dissociate the “falling-out-of-windows” analogy, which represents “matter of fact-ness” from the “going-to-hell” statement… which she expressly stated was different?!

            Perhaps you’re confused because she used the falling-out-the-window analogy in the same paragraph where she talked about hell. However, you’d have to skip the rest of the sentence, “…I’m not saying that because gravity decided you deserved to break your leg.” This analogy is clearly speaking to matter-of-fact-ness of objective morality (which, as your blog posts confirm, you do not dispute) rather than the actual existence of hell. This is confirmed in the subsequent paragraph, where she says, “You disagree with the Christian only in that you think the wounds you inflict on yourself fade out into non-existence, along with you at death.” You can skip the going-to-hell-ness while retaining the falling-out-of-windows-ness.

            if anything, what I’m saying is that going from A to C is not something we have to do, even if we would like in some sense to be able to do so.

            This is probably the biggest real contention. If going from A to C is not something we have to do or should try to do, then how exactly is C “the matter of fact thing we evaluate our actions in light of”? If you have a good reason why utilitarianism is just totally cool with us hanging out in stage A, I’ll concede. But then we’d probably have to get around statements like, “So long as we’re really talking about having a self-contained reason to act one way as opposed to another (and not just, say, describing our behavioral tendencies using suggestive language), we’re either talking about morality or we’re wrong.” and “we’re going to use the word “morality” to pick out a binding guide to action” and “morality tells us first and foremost what we must do (in order to do the right thing). Another way of saying that is what morality tells us which actions are needed” and even the aforementioned, “This is not to say that there’s no way to help people become better at doing the right thing, or that there’s no need for such training.”

            Finally, I’d still like an answer to my question. When you’re trying to interpret “self-harm” in terms of your utilitarianism, are you going to require it to be an individual harm (as you requested with R.C.) or against “good broadly speaking” (as you requested with me)?

            R.C. claimed that immoral behavior negatively influenced “good broadly speaking” because future actions were more likely to be immoral (which again, is a possibly contentious matter of empirical fact that wouldn’t rise to the level of misrepresenting all other atheists). You now claim that you “said that broke Leah’s analogy”, but that seems to betray your actual responses, “Calling something a wound just means that it’s bad for the person to whom it happened… and “that’d be because “SELF-wounding” sort of by definition specifies wounding oneself. If that has anything to do with utilitarianism, I can’t see what.” I tried to show what it could have to do with utilitarianism.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “So no, they don’t play a role of equal emphasis in the theories.”
            Ta dah!

            “That certainly doesn’t mean that they aren’t compatible. I’ve argued that they’re compatible because utilitarianism implicitly argues that we should try to move from A to C. Do you have any reason why they’re incompatible?”
            So, again, I don’t agree that there’s a utilitarian case for moving from A to C. If it turns out to be more effective not to arrive at C – which I really think is plausible for at least some people in at least some historical circumstances – then there’s actually a utilitarian case against moving from A to C. But that doesn’t mean that utilitarianism is incompatible with the (very metaphorical!) “harm” of becoming worse at moral action. I just don’t know what that has to do with anything I’ve been saying; again, compatibility alone isn’t enough to justify the assertion to which I originally objected.

            “If going from A to C is not something we have to do or should try to do, then how exactly is C “the matter of fact thing we evaluate our actions in light of”?”
            Oh, that’s easy – because evaluation (in the sense I’m talking about in those quotes) is a post-facto thing and decision-making is a preliminary thing. You do a little bit of evaluation (broadly speaking) when you make decisions, obviously, but it’s not as rigorous nor do you have the kind of privileged access to evidence as you would after the fact (or, indeed, if you were doing it from the mythical “god’s-eye perspective”). So just because your actions are evaluated by Standard X doesn’t mean that you have to employ Standard X as your decision-making heuristic; in fact, there are plenty of cases in which you’ll perform worse if you try to perform up to Standard X rather than some convenient foreshortening of approximation thereof. So, for instance, it’s trivially true that the metric by which we measure basketball success is whether or not your team scores more than the other team, but you can’t coach someone to play basketball just by telling them that and repeating it over and over again until they come to adopt it as their personal basketball ethos. As a practical matter, you need to teach them rules of thumb: don’t settle for jump shots; box out; don’t leave your feet until your man does; etc. The best basketball players are the ones who act on those sorts of rules, not the ones who simply attempt to score more than the other guys do.

            “When you’re trying to interpret “self-harm” in terms of your utilitarianism, are you going to require it to be an individual harm (as you requested with R.C.) or against “good broadly speaking” (as you requested with me)?”
            Look, man, let me try this again: I never defined self-harm that way when I was talking to you. In fact, I said the opposite. Let me run this back for you. You said, “you could view [moral coarsening] as a harm in the way that a speed bump or a detour harms my ability to get to my destination quickly.” My response was, no, you can’t (at least not if you’re a utilitarian), because the latter involves a harm to oneself whereas the former only involves a harm to the general good. I’m denying the analogy you made, which I can only do if I haven’t adopted a second, contradictory definition of “self-harm.”

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Sorry, gave this five more minutes of thought and then realized what was going on: “I tried to show what it could have to do with utilitarianism.” I meant that in a relatively specific way, and not in the sense of “moral coarsening is incompatible with utilitarianism.” It was more along the lines of, I don’t for the life of me understand why utilitarianism would imply that the notion of harm (let alone self-harm) would have to always refer back to the greater good. In other words, it seemed to me that RC was attempting to collapse all utilitarian harms to overall utilitarian harms (or, equivalently, to say that there’s no such thing as a local utilitarian harm), which didn’t make sense.

            Admittedly, though, my phrasing could’ve been better.

          • Anonymous

            Ta dah!

            Now you just need to argue that unequal emphases implies that Leah completely misrepresented your theory. My point is precisely that two theories can focus on different aspects, but still have compatible pieces such that allow her statement to not be a complete misrepresentation.

            I don’t agree that there’s a utilitarian case for moving from A to C. If it turns out to be more effective not to arrive at C… evaluation is a post-facto thing and decision-making is a preliminary thing… just because your actions are evaluated by Standard X doesn’t mean that you have to employ Standard X as your decision-making heuristic; in fact, there are plenty of cases in which you’ll perform worse if you try to perform up to Standard X rather than some convenient foreshortening of approximation thereof… for instance, it’s trivially true that the metric by which we measure basketball success… The best basketball players are the ones who act on those sorts of rules, not the ones who simply attempt to score more than the other guys do.

            We’re definitely getting somewhere. Let’s talk basketball. Suppose you’re a highly talented basketball player, but you’ve had a tendency to decide to go 1-on-5 a lot in the offensive game… say, maybe your name is Kobe. Your ideal utilitarian sage (maybe the Zen Master qualified) cares only about C (getting more points as a team). Do you think he’s going to say, “Kobe, go ahead and stay in category A. You’re actively hurting the team, but whatever”? No. Your ideal utilitarian sage is going to say, “Perhaps going 1-on-5 all the time isn’t a very efficient method for getting to C. Maybe we should try something else.” Might he also worry that the more often Kobe goes 1-on-5, the more he’ll get accustomed to going 1-on-5, and the more he’ll have a tendency to go 1-on-5 in the future?

            This is the point – once the objective goal has been laid down (via the rules of basketball or via your argument for hedonism as objective morality), the challenge is set: get to C! Sure, even the Zen Master can’t elucidate every single minute aspect that is guaranteed to perfectly achieve maximum points in basketball (because we don’t know how to calculate it), but the rules of thumb that he gives you are necessarily going to be oriented toward achieving C. When we look back in the evaluation portion of the scheme, the question we’re going to ask is, “Did that rule of thumb actually get us closer to C?” If the rule of thumb wasn’t actually oriented toward achieving C, we’re going to try to get rid of it and find a different rule of thumb that is oriented toward achieving C. Because, again, once you fix your hedonism as objective morality or points scored as your objective goal, we can’t opt out of this one… it’s the only kind of thing that has its value inherently… the only game in town. Our single-minded goal needs to be, “Get to C.”

            So, then, the only way left to salvage a difference is actually a variation on “If it turns out to be more effective not to arrive at C – which I really think is plausible for at least some people in at least some historical circumstances – then there’s actually a utilitarian case against moving from A to C.”

            The variation I have in mind is that instead of saying, “not to arrive at C” (which would by definition be false, since C itself is fixed as our goal… the only game in town), saying “not to follow a naive gradient descent scheme for C-space.” Existence of local extrema is a fairly common issue in nonlinear optimization problems (which utilitarianism most certainly is). I suppose it is conceivable that doing the wrong thing occasionally leads us to realizing that we’re in a local minimum (simulated annealing). Of course, there’s plenty of randomness already involved, since we’re using a form of a genetic algorithm on a large scale, rudimentary rules of thumb on a small scale (rather than any precise local gradients), and there’s gobs of noise in our measurements already. Therefore, I don’t see why we would argue that someone should actively pursue going in the wrong direction randomly. We’d argue that we should try to identify rules that we think are oriented toward C… and then try to follow them so we get as close to C as possible. Of course, if you do claim that we should randomly start intentionally making our morals a little bit worse in the hopes that it pulls us out of a local extrema, I’d be rather interested to hear about how you organize the plan.

            This little nuance could be enough to claim that utilitarianism is misrepresented (if you think that utilitarianism needs to have such intentional randomness… but I’m not sure you do, because you didn’t even come up with the challenge that might work). On the other hand, there is no chance this feature exists for deontology. I’m not sure I can fault Leah for perhaps misrepresenting such a non-obvious (and probably non-necessary) feature of another theory. She surely didn’t misrepresent “all other atheist objective morality schemes”.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Now you just need to argue that unequal emphases implies that Leah completely misrepresented your theory.”
            I don’t really think that she did misrepresent it. I think that she blithely ignored it – that, in other words, it went without representation in what she said, mis- or otherwise.

            “Suppose you’re a highly talented basketball player, but you’ve had a tendency to decide to go 1-on-5 a lot in the offensive game… say, maybe your name is Kobe.”
            I like you more already.

            “Your ideal utilitarian sage…”
            I mean, he might very well do what you say, but he could also do lots of other stuff. In fact, although this is a bit of a guess on my part, I’d have to imagine that part of what makes the zen master all zen-master-y is that he can provide motivations and basketball frameworks of thought that produce the right behavior without relying heavily on C. In other words, as a coach, you don’t need your players to believe in C with any special fervor or sincerity in order to win. That’ll be enough for some of them – maybe Kobe among them, although maybe not – but there are a lot of other potential heuristics for action that you could (and that people do) use to get the desired behavioral result. These alternatives, I should add, are just as capable of preventing poor learning or counterproductive habituation as the C-oriented mindset would be.

            “When we look back in the evaluation portion of the scheme, the question we’re going to ask is, “Did that rule of thumb actually get us closer to C?”…Our single-minded goal needs to be, “Get to C.””
            Right – again, when we look back. And, in fact, if you want to take a very broad view of things, then I think I agree with you: over the really really long term (on my theory), humans probably should eliminate as much of the noise that separates our heuristics from C as we can. (That’s wildly speculative, though, given the arc of human history thus far; predicting the future is enormously difficult.) But now we’re talking millennia (or, in basketball, a whole season or career), whereas the sort of “self-harm” to which Leah is referring necessarily happens within a single individual’s lifetime – and, indeed, within the time it takes to make a given decision (or, in basketball, a single game or play). The difference is just way too vast for the stepping-out-a-window analogy to be reasonable.

            “I don’t see why we would argue that someone should actively pursue going in the wrong direction randomly.”
            Well, no, but I didn’t say that. What I said was that any given individual needn’t end up at C in order to be a morally effective agent. That says nothing about where they do end up or how they ended up there.

            “We’d argue that we should try to identify rules that we think are oriented toward C…”
            Even that isn’t necessarily true, though, at least not over the sort of short term that would be required by Leah’s position. The statistical nature of what we’re talking about is easily flexible enough to allow for someone to do the right thing while not even caring about C at all, or even being familiar with the concept of C.

            “Of course, if you do claim that we should randomly start intentionally making our morals a little bit worse in the hopes that it pulls us out of a local extrema, I’d be rather interested to hear about how you organize the plan.”
            Man, if you think I have an idea of how to organize ANY long-term plan for human learning about morality, you are giving me way too much credit. I don’t even know how to formulate the question, really, let alone provide an answer – and, to be honest, I’d be a little afraid of anybody who says anything else.

            But really, here’s the point: all of this is just a very long distraction from the fact that you’ve given up on the idea that any of this is a utilitarian SELF-harm. Given that that was the entire point of the analogy, to extend a supposedly generically secular concept to a religious context, I can’t help but feel like we’re now arguing about which room to put the TV in after the house burned down. No matter how much I concede at this point, it can’t get you any further than something like: moral coarsening can be partially analogized to something that has some sort of role to play in utilitarian theory, at least over the extremely long term. Even if I give you that, how could it possibly help to defend Leah’s original statement? As Mark Jackson would say of such a conclusion (whether you would want him to or not), the operation is a success but the patient died.

          • Anonymous

            The more I think about this, the more interested I am. We’re talking about dynamics on multiple timescales… my actual specialty!

            Clearly, you’re worried about whether we can expect individuals to achieve C within their lifetime. I highly doubt we can. Our natural dynamics are too slow. The reason why I mentioned simulated annealing and genetic algorithms and measurement noise is because I agree with your concern. On timescales of our lives, we can’t get there. But, more importantly, I think the beauty of the societal framework is that we don’t individually have to get there! The societal dynamics will take care of issues like local extrema (we hope… if we structure some things right… etc.).

            That being said, I completely disagree with the idea that we don’t have to individually care at all. First off, I previously quoted you a bunch of times talking about how singularly important the objective morality is. It would be ridiculous to claim that we simply don’t have to care.

            Instead, think about the fact that we also have multiple timescales in our lives. We have individual moral decisions, which may need to be made in weeks, days, or even seconds. On these timescales, of course we rely on simple rules, just as an athlete relies on his preparation to have trained his instincts. However, that timescale is much shorter than the timescale of an entire life. This timescale is maybe more analogous to a sports career instead of a single play or game. There’s a lot to learn, a lot to get better at. And here’s where the assumptions of genetic algorithms and simulated annealing tell us something massively important – the individual agents have to be pursuing the goal. They have to be moving toward C, even if they don’t have all the information contained in C-space. We need them to take their best understanding of local information and use it to move toward the best position near them.

            As such (now we bring it back full circle), the purpose of the individual must be to move toward their best understanding of morality. If you’re an atheist who believes in objective morality, this implies that you must move toward your theory’s version of C. (Btw, I think I’ve changed my mind. Deontology and other objective theories can probably fit into this schema. We just need to be careful, because we’d be defining some sort of “rule-space” or whatever instead of utility-space.)

            Now, again, we must only grant Leah one possibly empirical point – that moral degradation occurs. If she is right in this, then the whole thing works. Acting morally moves you closer to C individually. Population dynamics help us avoid local extrema. On the other hand, acting immorally changes individual dynamics… harming your personal journey toward the best morality you can achieve… and harming the societal dynamics by removing the assumptions that are required for getting out of local extrema. The moral coarsening is analogized to something critical that happens on an individual level in utilitarian theory, on timescales of a lifetime… but also has implications toward societal progress over the extremely long term. The patient lives, though she probably never thought about these details!

            In conclusion, I think I’ve come full circle on most things (though, I’m more confident that I know what’s going on). You can argue with Leah on whether moral degradation occurs, but that’s probably a minor empirical fight that doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of insulting the honor and dignity of other atheistic objective moral theories. If you don’t believe there’s self-harm (and probably also societal harm, especially in the long term) when you act immorally, you’re probably ignoring the fact that individuals have dynamics and probably don’t understand the possibility of societal dynamics in your theory. Constructing the theoretical possibility of a big potential field doesn’t mean we’re done with motion planning or control theory! (We’d have skipped the most interesting parts!)

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “That being said, I completely disagree with the idea that we don’t have to individually care at all.”
            I’m thinking this is just a problem with parsing quantifiers. Let’s see if I’m right…

            “Instead, think about the fact that we also have multiple timescales in our lives. We have individual moral decisions, which may need to be made in weeks, days, or even seconds. On these timescales, of course we rely on simple rules”
            Yep, here’s one quantifier issue – so now it looks like you agree that there are some decisions, for some people, that can safely be made without recourse to C or even a particularly good approximation of C. That, frankly, is enough to prove my point in and of itself: not all of us have to care about C all the time. (You’ll note that the sentence where I said “care about C at all” was strictly limited in scope; quantifiers again.) Let’s see if I can find some more…

            “And here’s where the assumptions of genetic algorithms and simulated annealing tell us something massively important – the individual agents have to be pursuing the goal. They have to be moving toward C, even if they don’t have all the information contained in C-space. We need them to take their best understanding of local information and use it to move toward the best position near them.”
            I think you’re beginning to stop thinking like a utilitarian, here. Let me see if I’m understanding you correctly: in order for us to arrive at C efficiently, you’re saying, individuals all have to do their best to move towards C (because of the genetic learning stuff); and therefore we all just have to do our best to move towards C? Is that right? If so, you’re making a very big and apparently unwarranted assumption: that getting to C efficiently is what utilitarianism demands. That may be the case, and it’s certainly intuitive to think that it’s the case, but that’s an empirical matter and not something that can be cleanly derived from the theory itself. The assumption that moving towards C is necessarily safe is a virtue-ethics assumption, I’m afraid, and so not really one that you can use in order to defend her from the charge that she meant “virtue ethics” when she said “objective morality.”

            “Now, again, we must only grant Leah one possibly empirical point – that moral degradation occurs.”
            Uh uh – watch your quantifiers. In order to make everything else fall out, you need a very strong version of moral degradation theory. I can easily grant you that moral degradation occurs without giving you anything helpful – if, say, moral degradation only occurs in some slim minority of cases and the extent of the degradation is typically minimal, it won’t mean enough to get you where you want to go. What you need is a very strong version of moral degradation theory…which, surprise!, is another virtue-ethics assumption. No other moral theory makes such an assumption, and I know of no particular empirical evidence to support it.

            “Acting morally moves you closer to C individually.”
            This, meanwhile, is a simple case of denying the consequent. Even if I grant you moral degradation theory, that only states that if you act immorally then you will move further away from C. You cannot logically use that premise alone to conclude that acting morally moves you closer to C. The if-and-only-if relationship you’re alluding to is…wait for it…a component of virtue ethics, so either this is a straight-up fallacy on your part or it’s another case of begging the specific question you said you weren’t going to beg.

            “If you don’t believe there’s self-harm (and probably also societal harm, especially in the long term) when you act immorally, you’re probably ignoring the fact that individuals have dynamics and probably don’t understand the possibility of societal dynamics in your theory.”
            Dafuq?! You still haven’t said anything about how this is a harm to the individual. It’s a reduction of a certain kind of capacity, I guess, but that’s not what a harm is for a utilitarian. That’s what a harm is for (say it with me) a virtue ethicist. You talking about self-harm at this point is flagrantly question-begging.

            So, for all I can see, here’s your defended reconstruction of Leah’s claim: if you believe in objective morals, and you believe in a very strong two-way theory of moral degradation, and you believe that moving towards moral truth is always automatically a net gain, and you believe that harm is (at least partially) a matter of how your habits develop, then you believe that you’re always harmed whenever you do the wrong thing. Well, no shit: those assumptions are the core of virtue ethics, and the conclusion is a virtue-ethical conclusion. Even if I granted you all of the empirical stuff (although why I would I have no idea), there’s still that last assumption, the one where you say that becoming more immoral is a harm in and of itself. There’s no empirical content there; all you’re doing is defining vice as a harm. Utilitarians don’t buy that, nor do most deontologists. So, again, even if I granted you all the empirical stuff, there’s still a direct and unavoidable appeal to virtue ethics happening.

          • Anonymous

            there are some decisions, for some people, that can safely be made without recourse to C or even a particularly good approximation of C.

            You can get lucky or have a decision where both sides have equal moral weight in any moral theory. That doesn’t mean that utilitarianism doesn’t evaluate our actions in light of C. Actions that are less favorable in C-space are evaluated as less favorable (ummm, by definition) than those which are more favorable.

            you’re making a very big and apparently unwarranted assumption: that getting to C efficiently is what utilitarianism demands. That may be the case, and it’s certainly intuitive to think that it’s the case, but that’s an empirical matter and not something that can be cleanly derived from the theory itself.

            So what does the theory demand? You just have to acknowledge that C exists, and then you can go on shooting 6 for 24 all day long with no moral concerns? If so, this is the moment when all moral relativists rejoiced and adopted Eli’s version of utilitarianism. Also, how in the world is this empirical? Utilitarianism orders behavior according to their score. Done. Higher scores are more preferable. Get higher scores. The only game in town. Finally, when did I ever require “efficiently”. Utilitarianism doesn’t really care about how efficiently you move from not scoring points to scoring points… but if you don’t start scoring points soon… you’re probably not going to like the evaluation.

            The assumption that moving towards C is necessarily safe is a virtue-ethics assumption

            False. Utilitarian theory specifically orders actions with respect to their distance from C (see above). It does so faux-mathematically, since real utility is to complicated for us to actually calculate anyway.

            I can again agree that the strength of moral degradation is an empirical matter. If true and strong, it will show up in all theories. If false, virtue ethics has some structural problems while the others just have convergence problems.

            Acting more morally is, by definition, more close to C than acting less morally. This is how utilitarianism orders actions. No one says that you can’t random walk your way to C. However, you would have to deny the very structure of the ordering in utilitarianism in order to deny that acting more morally means your behavior is closer to C and that acting less morally means your behavior is further from C (perhaps not in x, but in y).

            You still haven’t said anything about how this is a harm to the individual.

            Does utilitarianism require anything of an individual? Anything at all? Please tell me what… precisely.

            It’s a reduction of a certain kind of capacity, I guess, but that’s not what a harm is for a utilitarian.

            Is a reduction of some capacity to score points a harm to a basketball player?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “You can get lucky or have a decision where both sides have equal moral weight in any moral theory.”
            That ain’t true – there are some moral theories that require you to act on the right basis.

            “So what does the theory demand?”
            Whatever is effective.

            “You just have to acknowledge that C exists, and then you can go on shooting 6 for 24 all day long with no moral concerns?”
            Maybe? I mean, 25% is pretty terrible, but I’ve heard coaches say (accurately, IMO) that e.g. Dwight Howard only needs to become like a 70-75% free throw shooter, which is still well short of 100%. C is “score more points than the other guy,” not “score every point you can.”

            “Finally, when did I ever require “efficiently”.”
            I dunno, I was just guessing.

            “Utilitarian theory specifically orders actions with respect to their distance from C (see above).”
            Yeah, but it doesn’t do so with respect to the distance from your decision-making heuristic to C, so from an epistemological perspective you don’t have to get anywhere near C even over your lifetime.

            “Is a reduction of some capacity to score points a harm to a basketball player?”
            It makes you a worse basketball player by definition, but, again, that kind of thing is only a harm to the individual in a virtue-ethics way of looking at things. Look at it this way: vending machines are required to vend things, and if they sell out of stuff then that hampers their ability to do so. But that doesn’t mean that selling out of stuff is a harm to a vending machine. Again unless you presume virtue ethics from the start, harm is not coextensive with either a reduction in capacity or an inability to fulfill requirements.

          • Anonymous

            That ain’t true – there are some moral theories that require you to act on the right basis.

            We’re talking about progress over a lifetime. In that case, we’d have to think about something in “basis-space”… where you could still get lucky… and still want to move in the right direction in that basis-space.

            Whatever is effective. …effective in what? …effective in maximizing utility (or reducing y-distance from C)?

            Dwight Howard only needs to become like a 70-75% free throw shooter, which is still well short of 100%. C is “score more points than the other guy,” not “score every point you can.”

            Two issues. One, of course there may be physical limitations. That doesn’t mean that Howard doesn’t need to try to make as many of his free throws as possible. Two, notice that you just redefined the only game in town. When you change the goal, it propagates a change through the utility field. Once you’ve fixed a specific goal via your theoretical development of hedonism, the goal is set as the only game in town. Get as close to it as you can. If all you can get is 70%, get there. Don’t miss free throws on purpose (unless, of course, your particular goal allows for a successful strategy that calls for intentional misses).

            it doesn’t do so with respect to the distance from your decision-making heuristic to C

            It doesn’t need to. You can get lucky with a really strange decision-making heuristic. However, if you think that there are rules of thumb that do tend to be oriented toward C (don’t settle for jump shots; box out; don’t leave your feet until your man does), then utilitarianism requires that you try to do these things to the extent that they fulfill C. Then, you should look back on your actions, evaluate them with respect to C, and potentially revise your behavior or your rules of thumb. Even if you do get lucky with a really strange decision-making heuristic, you should similarly develop that one. If you see that a small alteration moves you closer to C, are you going to do it or try to include it in your future heuristics? Regardless of whether you use simple heuristics, the goal is still fixed. It’s the only game in town. Get as close as you can.

            vending machines are required to vend things, and if they sell out of stuff then that hampers their ability to do so. But that doesn’t mean that selling out of stuff is a harm to a vending machine.

            That depends on what the only game in town is. If the only game in town is selling the highest number of items, then reducing the capacity to sell additional things via selling out of items absolutely harms the machine that is trying to reach the goal. Again, the theory implies that they need to try to reach the goal. After all, it’s the only thing with intrinsic value.

          • R.C.

            Whoa, while I was busy elsewhere, Eli, you and Anonymous have taken the topic and run with it.

            You say I may be making an error Ayn Rand made; maybe, though I haven’t read enough of her stuff to know when she would have commented on Utilitarianism. (I mostly read enough to find myself screaming constantly that the woman needed an editor in the worst way, and her “dialogue” sometimes makes me wince even more than George Lucas’ “dialogue,” albeit for different reasons.)

            As I said, I profess no expertise in Utilitarianism. But when you say I’m making a straw-man Utilitarianism that reduces all local utilities to the aggregate…maybe I am, but that’s because I’m trying to resolve what the Utilitarian himself would say about Mr. X’s reduced tendency to do good (or increased tendency to do evil) in the wake if Mr. X doing a particular immoral thing. Would the Utilitarian call Mr. X’s change-of-tendency a “wound to Mr. X,” or not?

            Here’s how it breaks down for me:

            Leah’s original contention: She asserted that an atheist who believes in objective morality agrees that doing something immoral is self-wounding (e.g. coarsens one’s moral sense).

            My defense of Leah was to argue that Leah’s original contention, if wrong, was not a lie but an error, and an understandable one. To show this, I asserted that (as an example) an Atheist Utilitarian could hold that when X commits an immoral act, X wounds himself by coarsening his own moral sense (or at least seriously risks doing so).

            If I could show this to be correct, it would show Leah’s contention was not an error at least in the case of Utilitarianism. If my assertion was be shown to be false, not through rank idiocy but an error that even Leah might have made, then that makes it more likely that Leah was in error, not “lying.”

            So, again, my assertion was: An Atheist Utilitarian could hold that when X commits an immoral act, X wounds himself by coarsening his own moral sense (or at least seriously risks doing so).

            For that to be true, it would have to be true that:

            1. A person who acts immorally now often finds it easier to act immorally in the same way in the future, or else more difficult to reverse his previous behavior pattern and act morally with respect to the same kind of choices in the future;

            2. That a change to Mr. X which reduces Mr. X’s tendency to act morally in the future (or which increases his tendency to act immorally in the future) ought to be considered an impairment or “wound” by a Utilitarian. (Whether Mr. X himself considers the change in his habits to be a “wound” is irrelevant; in a Utilitarian observer’s philosophy, Mr. X has been wounded if Mr. X is less capable of good or more capable of evil than before.)

            If you dispute #1, Eli, please tell me in what way. To me it seems like a pretty straightforward description of human habit formation. But I think #2 was the crux of our earlier back-and-forth.

            The reason I got down into the question individual utility versus aggregate utility was because I assumed Utilitarianism, to assert that objective morality exists, must have some kind of (objective) way to adjudicate between the claims of society and of the individual when they conflicted. If Mr. X finds it useful to steal, but society finds it non-useful for Mr. X to have the habit of stealing, an objective morality needs to be able to prioritize one of these over the other and assert that, in the end, (a.) it really is bad for Mr. X to steal, no matter how he may feel about it; and (b.) it really is a bad change for Mr. X’s stealing-tendency to increase, no matter how he may feel about it.

            If Utilitarianism denies that such a judgment can be made and has meaning, then I think it can’t be an objective morality. But assuming that Utilitarianism claims that such a judgment is correct, then it is objectively immoral for Mr. X both to steal and to increase his own ease of stealing. And in that case it seems to me that when Mr. X increases his own future ease of stealing (by stealing), he thereby damages himself in the eyes of a Utilitarian (whether or not Mr. X sees it as self-damage or not).

            As I said before, I’m not a Utilitarian or even particularly well-read about Utilitarianism (I had to look it up to remind myself what its relationship was to Consequentialism). I’m perfectly willing to hear that I’ve caricatured it accidentally. If Leah “lied” in what she said about objective morality, then it must be because she knows more about Utilitarianism than I, and willfully propagated the error that I, not knowing as much, found perfectly plausible.

            But if it’s not perfectly plausible, would you mind one more time showing me why?

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Okay, one more comment in this particular thread, and then I’m calling it, because now we’ve definitely reached the point where either you two are going to agree with me or you’re going to say something such that you have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ll do that first and then deal with the peripheral stuff.

            Anon says:
            “If the only game in town is selling the highest number of items, then reducing the capacity to sell additional things via selling out of items absolutely harms the machine that is trying to reach the goal. Again, the theory implies that they need to try to reach the goal. After all, it’s the only thing with intrinsic value.”
            And RC says:
            “a change to Mr. X which reduces Mr. X’s tendency to act morally in the future (or which increases his tendency to act immorally in the future) ought to be considered an impairment or “wound” by a Utilitarian.”

            That’s where the irresolvable (though not only) problem is. Both of you are assuming that the moral frame is the frame through which we must evaluate personal harm, and both of you are wrong. This is because an individual or a person has different value-relevant properties than a moral agent, at least according to most theories of ethics and personhood, just like a basketball player and a person have different value-relevant properties. What’s good for a basketball player (e.g. inordinate height) is not necessarily good for a person (being too tall is a serious health risk), and what’s good for a person (e.g. the lack of an obsessive competitive drive) is not necessarily good for a basketball player. Similarly, what’s good for a moral agent (the ability or propensity to act morally) is not necessarily good for a person (e.g. when moral behavior calls for sacrifice), and what’s good for a person is not necessarily good for a moral agent. Indeed, if this were not so it would be a contradiction in terms to talk about sacrificing oneself (to any degree whatsoever) for a good cause; if good/bad-for-persons were coextensive with good/bad-for-moral-agents, every good act would be good for you, every bad act would be bad for you, everything bad for you would also be morally bad, and everything good for you would also be morally good. We would, basically, be living in something like a Disney movie.

            Anon’s remark, I think, presumes that person-values are intrinsic or self-packaged in the way that moral values are; this is not the case, at least so far as I and most other utilitarians are concerned. Unlike the mechanisms that generate moral value, our theories of person-values are just that: theories, that we come up with on our own for our own convenience and then impose on the world. If person-values were intrinsically valuable in the way that moral values were, then yeah, whatever a person did wrong would have to be bad for that person. But person-values are social constructions in a way that moral values (again, for utilitarians, anyway) are not. Maybe RC is making this same erroneous presumption, I don’t know. Either way, the presumption that moral values and person-values are tied together in this way is not in any way empirical; it is, rather, a consequence of pure theory, that theory being virtue ethics. Whether or not it seems like a reasonable or intuitive point of view to you two, this part of the conversation is asking after what seems like a reasonable or intuitive point of view to utilitarians, and I’m now telling you with as much authority as I can muster in an internet comment box that we don’t see things that way. Indeed, us not seeing things that way is what makes us different from virtue ethicists. If you really refuse to take my word for this – although, why would you, really – trust Leah herself to tell you, as she did in February of last year: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2011/02/a-choice-between-evils.html. Consequentialists (such as utilitarians), she says in that post, always see at least one choice as moral even if it’s the best bad option; virtue ethicists, by contrast, believe that the least bad choice is always immoral because it screws up your character, which for them is the definition of immorality. All I’m saying is what she herself has already said (and then apparently completely forgotten), only with more basketball imagery.

            Having now dealt with that issue…

            Anon:
            “We’re talking about progress over a lifetime.”
            Not if we’re talking about what Leah’s talking about. She said that you were harmed BY ACTING IMMORALLY on a case-by-case basis, not by living a long enough life that features more moral transgression than moral rectitude. Stop cutting corners for her; if this is the best you can do, you’ve given up on her.

            “One, of course there may be physical limitations.”
            C’mon, really? Dwight Howard may be physically incapable of being a 65% free throw shooter? C’mon.

            “Two, notice that you just redefined the only game in town.”
            No – no no no no. No I did not. I never said the overriding goal of basketball was to score as many points as you could, I said it was to score more points than the other guy. Don’t let the heuristic dominate the law; don’t let secondary values dominate fundamental ones.

            “You can get lucky with a really strange decision-making heuristic.”
            Great – once more, I agree with that, but Leah does not, and her statement was predicated in part on that disagreement. If you mean this in her defense, it ain’t working.

            “You say I may be making an error Ayn Rand made”
            Not about utilitarianism per se, but about conflating global harms and individual harms. Don’t worry about it too much, though, I would never ask anyone else to read Rand just for the sake of understanding an argument. It’s not worth it.

            “I asserted that (as an example) an Atheist Utilitarian could hold that when X commits an immoral act, X wounds himself by coarsening his own moral sense (or at least seriously risks doing so).”
            But even “serious risks” are too unserious for what Leah’s saying. I think this was you who did this earlier, and then I did the scientific-law thing and cut off that line of retreat; let’s not bring it back up again now. And, right, see the whole above section for the reason why “coarsening [one's] moral sense” is not a self-type wound for utilitarians even when it does occur.

            “1. A person who acts immorally now often finds it easier to act immorally in the same way in the future, or else more difficult to reverse his previous behavior pattern and act morally with respect to the same kind of choices in the future”
            This is far too simple a picture of human psychology; the structure of the argument implies, for instance, that it should be practically impossible to make anyone a better basketball player through coaching. Habituation depends not just on action but also on feedback, for one, and there are plenty of surprising human psychological features that interfere with simple habituation. My favorite one of these is the moral pendulum, which is googlable.

            “If Leah “lied” in what she said about objective morality, then it must be because she knows more about Utilitarianism than I, and willfully propagated the error…”
            So, again, see that link earlier in this comment; you tell me whether she knew about it or not. Also, boo linguistic prescriptivism.

          • Anonymous

            an individual or a person has different value-relevant properties than a moral agent…

            That’s great an all… until you claim that your objective morality is the only game in town.

            Re: Distinction between person-values and moral values.

            Person-values are like category A or B. Your moral theory expressly does not care about them. “It is, then, not that morality seeks to discriminate between multiple competing value sets in order to find the best one, but that morality seeks to (and can) identify the only game in town.”

            Of course, we could play the same trick in virtue ethics (or other moral theories). (There is some moral-value or moral-harm due to acting immorally in virtue ethics, but this may not actually harm the individual with respect to some person-value that is a social construction. You wouldn’t accept this shell game.) The whole point is that the moral theory does not care about these person-values. They’re not part of the only game in town. It’s telling that you did not respond to my question concerning what you mean by “effective” in response to what your moral theory demands. Does your moral theory demand that you do things that are more moral? Does your moral theory demand that you find a way to reduce y-distance from C? To what end does your moral theory demand you be effective?

            She said that you were harmed BY ACTING IMMORALLY on a case-by-case basis…

            And why does the acting immorally on a case-by-case basis matter? Moral degradation. In virtue ethics, they care about this as a point-wise quantity. I’m saying that utilitarians can also care about this in context of some sort of Lp norm (or maybe even on a pointwise basis, since acting immorally by definition harms the only game in town). Again, not the same emphasis, but understandable in both theories.

            Dwight Howard may be physically incapable of being a 65% free throw shooter?

            What kind of free throw shooter was Shaq capable of being with those gigantic hands? Is Dwight Howard physically capable of being a 100% free throw shooter? No. My statement about physical limitations was in direct response to your statement about how 70% may be “good enough”, since we might not be capable of 100%. The point is, our behavior is still required to be oriented toward the only goal in town… even if we can’t do everything perfectly.

            I never said the overriding goal of basketball was to score as many points as you could, I said it was to score more points than the other guy. Don’t let the heuristic dominate the law; don’t let secondary values dominate fundamental ones.

            I totally agree with you. But we have to fix a particular goal in the analogy before we can talk about it. One could pretty easily find a contradiction in values by saying, “Well, the goal may be to score more points than the other guy… but you only have to win about 70% of your games, and there is value in getting your starters some rest.” This is the whole reason why you went to the pains of pointing out that objective morality sets out to define the only game in town. If we’re going to use a basketball analogy, we have to pick one and only one goal to fix as the “fake ultimate goal”. Then, our utility space conforms to that particular goal… and our agents are compelled to try to move toward that goal. Finally, they’re harmed, with respect to the only goal in town, when they move in a direction opposite that goal… say, when they go 1-on-5 or intentionally miss free throws (which aren’t in some super minority of free throws that lead to beneficial clock behavior wrt whatever we defined as the goal).

            “You can get lucky with a really strange decision-making heuristic.”
            Great – once more, I agree with that, but Leah does not, and her statement was predicated in part on that disagreement.

            You don’t need to have the same reasoning behind a statement for the statement to have sufficient validity in your framework such that your framework wasn’t completely misrepresented or ignored. I’ve shown that the specific concept she said you would agree with is valid in your framework… even if your reasons for agreeing with it don’t match hers. Your reasons have to account for things like, “Can’t we just get lucky?” We’ve accounted for them. You still have to, starting from your lucky heuristic, develop them to move toward the goal. Unless your moral theory compels you to move toward things that it defines as immoral…

    • Pseudonym

      Clearly atheists disagree with theists, and clearly there exists some subset of all theists who mistake mere disagreement with some kind of attack. However, there also clearly exists some subset of atheists who go beyond mere disagreement. Many of these frame this beyond-disagreement as “mere disagreement”.

      If an atheist believes that a given theist is wrong about something, then that’s a disagreement. If an atheist believes that a given theist is “irrational”, or “skeptical about everything except their own religion”, then that not just a disagreement. It’s a personal slight at best, and an insult at worst. Claims of this nature should not be made lightly, and should not be made without evidence. In particular, the fact that I disagree with you is not evidence that you are being irrational. Some expertise in psychology wouldn’t go astray, either.

      While I’m on the topic, I should point out that Chris Hallquist really does not understand how the term “fundamentalist” is used in practice. I don’t blame him for this, because it’s a common mistake.

      First off, a bit of history. If the term “fundamentalist atheist” is a contradiction in terms, then the terms “fundamentalist Catholic” and “fundamentalist Islamist” are also contradictions in terms, and the term “fundamentalist Christian” does not apply to Fred Phelps.

      Fundamentalism was a specific Christian movement which started in the late 19th century, mostly in the US, as a reaction to the direction in which Christianity had moved since the Enlightenment. In particular, it is defined around “The Fundamentals”, which was a popular series of essays published in the early 20th century, which described specific doctrinal points with which they differed from Enlightenment-era Christian liberalism as it was at the time. It’s notable that many of our current “fundamentalist” talking points, including homosexuality, are not covered. Evolution was, though.

      So the term “fundamentalism” originally did not refer to those who actually followed the “fundamentals” of a religion strictly. It is named after those essays, which are actually responses to (or more correctly, rants about) specific ideas within Christianity that they disagreed with.

      To a non-fundamentalist Christian, so-called “fundamentalism” did not actually concentrate on any “fundamentals” of Christianity at all, such as living a Christ-like life and loving your neighbour. And, of course, it had nothing but nasty things to say about Catholicism (“Romanism” as it was called; non-Latin-rite churches apparently didn’t exist, nor did Eastern Orthodoxy, and nor did any protestant church or new religious movement outside the US or Germany).

      The way that the term is typically used by non-fundamentalist religious people today is in a figurative sense. Any group or individual which resembles the original Fundamentalists is described as “fundamentalist”. It’s not about what you believe as such (after all, the Fundamentalists didn’t actually concentrate on any fundamentals), but rather what you believe about people who believe something different from you.

      If an atheist adopts the us-versus-them siege mentality, then that is a fundamentalist attitude. If they believe that non-fundamentalist forms of religion are somehow inauthentic or hypocritical, then that is a fundamentalist belief. It’s accurate to call such an atheist “fundamentalist”.

  • Pingback: Is Judgement Always about Punishment? | cathlick.com

  • http://themerelyreal.wordpress.com Chana Messinger

    There’s a very similar concept in Judaism, attributed to Maimonides, which goes something like “Karet (a complicated word, but in essence, cut off from god) is poison” meaning precisely what you’ve said, which is that to do something which has the effect of karet is to take poison and therefore to do damage to yourself. It’s just the way the world works rather than god desiring to hurt and punish you. I think this is definitely an approach that must be addressed in any critique of theistic moral philosophy, or the criticizer has missed something very important.

    We must always, always ask, “What if this were true? What would it look like” And if in fact there was a moral law the way so many theists have described, this might very well follow, and calling it morally abhorrent isn’t really an argument against it.

    • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

      “We must always, always ask, “What if this were true? What would it look like””
      Oh – so you’ve done this for ancient Norse, Greek, Mayan, and African religions? For scientology, for the Unification Church, for the Time Cube? Cause, y’know, “always” is a strong word.

    • Alan

      I don’t believe that is an accurate understanding of Maimonides view of Karet, or any view. Karet is explicitly a form of punishment God asserts is required for specific acts. See Hilchot Teshuvah chapter 8.

  • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

    I think your argument requires God to be an impersonal force like gravity in order to avoid Chris’s criticism. If it were merely the case that God reliably condemns people to an eternity of torture for failing to believe in him, your claim that Chris was fighting reality would be true, but this would not make his moral criticism any less powerful: such a God remains a moral monster for condemning such people, unless you believe that such people deserve to go to Hell. Do you?

    I’ve previously argued that C.S. Lewis’s idea that the doors of Hell are barred from the inside owes more to Buddhism than the Bible: what you’re talking about is karma rather than personal judgment, and Hell here is the Hungry Ghosts realm, full of people who are dominated by their appetites.

    Of course, I was writing a critique of Keller’s book, and Keller’s an evangelical who’s supposed to believe in sola scriptura. It may be that Catholics have adopted a Buddhist reading of the Bible, I suppose. Perhaps some of those reading can comment on that: I do remember from Stephen Law’s blog that one Catholic commenter was very keen to deny that God was a person (start here, if you can bear it), so perhaps the official RCC view is that God = karma. It all seems very strange to this ex-evangelical, I have to say.

    • Kristen inDallas

      As a starting point, I’ll admit that I subscribe to Lewis’s “barred from the inside” argument, in that eternal seperation from God is a choice that we would have to continue to make until death. But know one can know what another person’s awareness or choice really looks like at the moment of death becasuse none of us has been irrevocably dead. I once heard a pretty well-read apologist say that their is only one person which bible and sacred tradition can definitively say is in hell, and that person KNEW God, and still said no. For all we know, everyone else has been given exactly the thing that they needed to have the ability to believe and repent before it was too late. We’re told there has to be a choice, but no detail on how obvious the choice is, or what our indivdual odds are of making the wrong choice. It’s concievably possible that a person could choose to hold his breath until death, but overcoming natural human reflexes would require unheard of conditioning, stamina, and will. Who’s to say heaven won’t taste a lot like air, when it comes down to it.

      Anyways, I recognize this is not definitive proof for God. Just attempting to weaken the argument that it is impossible for God to give us free will, consequences, AND genuine love. I’m sure this argument alone will not negate any one’s free will or ability to make a rational choice one way or another.

    • Erick

      Catholic layperson here.

      1. It’s not a question of personal/impersonal. God has a nature just as all things have their own natures. And these natures do not/cannot change. You can’t ask a square to be a circle. You can’t ask a human to be a dog.

      2. Two of God’s known/knowable natures is Existence and Love.

      3. The idea in Catholic (and other ancient historical Christian) terms is that if we don’t align our natures to that of God’s nature, then when God comes for us in love, we will feel the discomfort of this misalignment.

      4. The problem with Hell is not that God has abandoned the disbeliever. The problem is that God cannot stop coming for us in love, so we continually feel the misalignment; and since God is existence, our annihilation is not an option for Him.

      5. I think the basic problem with the atheist position on hell from a Catholic perspective is that eternity is defined just as a long period of time. So they have this sense that given enough time, an incorrigible individual can be corrected.

      But if you read the Bible, it’s also pertinent to define eternity as not any period of time at all. After all, in the beginning there was God, but no space and no time.

      • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

        A slightly delayed reply:

        1. Doesn’t address my argument: if God’s nature is to be a monster, this does not make him less of a monster (in fact, it makes him the Maximal Monster, the Ground of Monstrousness). Leah responds as if placating the foul tempered father because you don’t want a beating is just like not jumping out of windows. In both cases, we’re aware of certain very likely consequences if we get it wrong, but only Christians make the schoolboy error of identifying such a father as perfectly good. (Many evangelists would be tempted to do a little amateur psychoanalysis at this point, so let me add that I get along with my own father just fine).

        The rest of your points seem like a bunch of non-sequiturs, I’m afraid: why is it that, since God is existence (whatever that might mean), he cannot annihilate us? Are you seriously arguing that in heaven and hell nobody experiences anything (which would seem to be the consequence of no time passing)? Why can’t God stop “coming for us in love” if it causes people pain? He sounds like a bit of a stalker, as well as bad tempered.

  • http://nonprophetstatus.com Vlad Chituc

    I really like the analogy you’re making here, and think your critique of Chris is spot on. Though I’m not convinced that self-harm is the best way to frame moral transgressions (outside of a virtue-ethics framework, at least), I think there’s something missing here that I think goes somewhat to justify the idea that hell is retributive, at least in a compelling way that steps beyond simple causality.

    I’m not sure if I entirely buy this argument, but I think what differentiates damnation from falling out of the window (which would seem to be pure, dumb causality) is the idea that god can be viewed as something of a bystander with the possibility to intervene. If you fell out of a window and it was well within my ability to catch you, it seems shallow for me to say “well what were you expecting when you walked out the window. It’s just causal necessity that you fell” There’s still a sense that I allowed you to fall, making the strict causal relationship at least somewhat less forceful to my intuitions.

    So if God can exempt or provide mercy, but doesn’t, I’m getting a bit of feeling that the causal necessity here isn’t quite so strong, and that there is something of a large, retributive component here. The feeling is that god didn’t intervene because whoever sinned doesn’t deserve redemption.

    Again, not sure if I buy this or not. But I feel the pull of the argument a bit, and I think that’s what’s driving some of the intuitive push behind the idea that hell and such is retributive.

    • Kristen inDallas

      I find this analogy really interesting (God as a third party with the ability to catch you as you fall out the window.) I would probably extend it a bit, based on my understanding of God as I’m coming to know him trough the catholic lens. It’s more like a 3rd person who is able to witness you falling out of a window in extremely slow (frame by frame) motion and asks in each moment, “can I catch you now?, can I catch you now” but promises not to interfere with the natural trajectory as long as we say “no.” I also believe that a merciful God would ensure that the last asking, the one moments before death, would be the loudest and hardest to refuse, but that it’s always our choice, and I believe in purgatory, to account for the moments between falling and being caught. Just like with gravity, being stopped from falling requires an opposing momentum, and a possibly unpleasent “jerking” sensation, which increases in magnitude with the amount of time we’ve been falling unimpeded.

  • Kristen inDallas

    Really enjoyed this post Leah, esp. the lines “You disagree with the Christian only in that you think the wounds you inflict on yourself fade out into non-existence, along with you at death. But you don’t disagree with making causal claims about the consequences of immoral acts.”

    I think what went without saying, is that while Hallquist seems to fall into premise that non-belief is in-and-of-itself an immoral act, not all Christians believe this. The catholic notion (little “c” catholic because I am using a lay interpretation) is that the culpability of non-belief is dependant on the opportunity to believe. An what counts as “opportunity” is highly subjective, depending on what is known to the person, what falsehoods the person has been told, the person’s openess to learning, capacity to understand, etc, essentially up to God’s judgement and NMDB.

    • Kristen inDallas

      Clarification: I don’t theink Hallquist believes that premise (obviously) but he seems to be operating under the assumption that the average Christian does.

  • Jay

    Leah, as I understand the point you’re making, you’re suggesting that “if you sin, you’ll go to Hell” can be thought of as on par with “if you step out that window, you’ll fall” — neither needs has to be a retributive statement, just a factual assertion of cause and effect that, if true, everyone would have a strong interest in believing. Nothing controversial so far. I’ll certainly grant that if your/Christianity’s views as to the nature and effect of sin were correct, I would very much want to believe they were correct, and would subsequently appreciate being instructed as to their truth in the most productive way possible.

    But the question of moral dessert is still relevant because it affects how seriously we can take Christianity’s conception of God as just and loving. Maybe you don’t think I deserve to go to Hell for not accepting Christ on the current state of the evidence and/or committing various religion-specific sins, and maybe you would talk to me about salvation solely from a logical, causal perspective. But you’re also trying to sell me on an all-powerful being who is purportedly the very essence of moral truth (I’m sure this wording will bother some people, so substitute your preferred understanding of omni-benevolence), who would yet allow me to suffer for all eternity for applying Bayes’ theorem to religion as best I understand it. We don’t even need to posit that God would send people to Hell as punishment — the mere supposition that a loving God would permit such a fate to happen to anyone, much less genuinely decent people, is a compelling evidence to doubt that any such entity exists. This incomprehensible degree of undeserved suffering is sheer moral horror, whether you personally wish it or not.

    Frankly, I’d find a lot more compelling a sort of evangelism that said: “Look, bad news — turns out that there’s this mega-powerful, hideously evil invisible creature that has a list of seemingly arbitrary demands; if you follow them, you get rewarded, but if you don’t, you suffer for all time, even if you had no good reason to know it or its demands existed. So really, sad as it is, the best thing for you to do is to follow its commands. I’m so sorry I didn’t get a chance to tell you about this before your mother died.” That kind of statement is what a benevolent, factual warning about the Christian Hell would really look like.

    ADDENDUM: I’m well aware of C.S. Lewis’s “All that are in Hell, choose it” response. Even supposing that this theory is part of “true” Christianity, and not just a rationalization trying to patch moral weak points in the system, it doesn’t really help. Okay, so then people suffer forever because, at some point in their life, they “chose” to reject God. One wrong step in what is at least a very complicated, very confusing dance, and you’re doomed forever. Nature, of course, is precisely this harsh, and has not the slightest twinge of justice or mercy — only cold, absolute, unforgiving law. So if you want to tell me that warnings about sin are like warnings about gravity, you should realize that I won’t be buying into any of this “all loving” nonsense. At best, you’ll convince me to follow the dictates of a sadistic, cosmological tyrant.

    • Jay

      I posted this before I saw Paul’s prior comment, so I apologize for the substantial redundancy with his post. But the similarity suggests that “okay, but this still makes God himself a moral monster” is the obvious response from the atheist perspective.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      At a higher level. the criticism that atheists confuse Being with a being makes a frequent appearance. However, mainstream Christian religious thought seems hopelessly muddled on this issue as well. Being is estranged from Being through the actions of Being and redeemed by Being the son of Being. Law, Person, and Being are contradictory qualities as presented.

      “You disagree with the Christian only in that you think the wounds you inflict on yourself fade out into non-existence, along with you at death.”

      Do I? Certainly my existence is shaped by the pain of a prior generation. But does mean that “I” will persist after death in a way that’s comprehensible to me, much less the views of Dante, Bosch, or Lewis? I have my doubts. I’m less dubious of the conviction that whatever happens is universal. If God is, he neither plays dice or games of “Simon says” in these matters.

      • CBrachyrhynchos

        “You disagree with the Christian only in that you think the wounds you inflict on yourself fade out into non-existence, along with you at death.”

        There are, of course, a quite a few more options on the table than Christian afterlife or nothing.

    • Maiki

      I think you are putting what Leah is saying backwards. If you step our a window, you fall, because there is a law of gravity — that is how the world was build, so that everything else in the world can work, like the rotation around the sun and what not. The law of gravity is not there to punish you for stepping out of a window.

      Similarly, moral laws are there so that everything else works, because there is such a thing as the value of truth (which allows the world to be knowable), and the value of human life (that allows us to interact with persons rather than objects). Violating a moral law will hurt you, not as punishment, but in the same way stepping out a window hurts you. That is the premise here. The laws aren’t arbitrary any more than windows or gravity are arbitrary — they are there for a purpose, and if you ignore that (treating a window as a door) you might get hurt.

      What you need to not be hurt when stepping out of a window is not to disbelieve in gravity, but have someone or something catch you if you do. That is Leah’s point about needing a Person to save us, show mercy, exceptions, etc.

      God does two things: he constructed a universe that has laws (both moral and physical) which are good and allow us to do good things, but he also shows mercy when we are not good, provided we take it.

      • Alan

        So, accepting for a second the story as you tell it, God is an ass for not showing mercy when we are not good even if we don’t take it.

        Your framing runs right into the point – this God cannot both be all powerful and loving, he could not both be able to choose to show mercy and omnibenevolent if he doesn’t show said mercy to all in the face of eternal damnation.

    • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

      <blockquote<Frankly, I’d find a lot more compelling a sort of evangelism that said: “Look, bad news — turns out that there’s this mega-powerful, hideously evil invisible creature that has a list of seemingly arbitrary demands; if you follow them, you get rewarded, but if you don’t, you suffer for all time, even if you had no good reason to know it or its demands existed. So really, sad as it is, the best thing for you to do is to follow its commands. I’m so sorry I didn’t get a chance to tell you about this before your mother died.” That kind of statement is what a benevolent, factual warning about the Christian Hell would really look like.

      Yup :D

  • http://wagonwheeling.blogspot.com/ joematcha

    I agree with Paul and Jay that there is no way to hold this belief without God being a moral monster. Christianity rests on the idea that He is a personified force that acts on and in the universe. He created the moral system; so there’s no way for it to be indifferent. In that light, the concept of Purgatory could easily make a lot of sense because it allows people to make up for their sins and re-enter his loving embrace, but Hell (eternal damnation in any of its possible forms – literal fires or just cut off from God) just can never be anything other than retributive and cannot be reconciled with the Christian conception of an all loving God.

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      You need to understand that going to heaven involves an intimate relationship with God. So God forcing anyone to go to heaven would be a violation worse than rape. So does God send everyone to purgatory where any resistance to the loving embrace will be removed? That would not be love. Love lets someone go and if they don’t come back accepts that choice.

      • Darren

        If you love someone, set them free. If they return to you, they are your’s forever.

        If not, chain them within a pit, pour gasoline over them, and set them on fire. It was their choice.

      • Brandon

        You need to understand that going to heaven involves an intimate relationship with God.

        How do you know this to be the case?

        • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

          This is Catholic teaching. Heaven is to know God and to be fully known. To share in something called the beatific vision. God is love. When we go to heaven we become pure love as well.

          On the other side we can think about our sin. How intimate a process would it take to remove every sinful thought or impulse from your heart?

          • Brandon

            I didn’t ask who taught it, I asked how you know it to be the case. If the answer, in full, is that someone said so and didn’t actually provide evidence of the claim, I’m not terribly impressed with that. An opponent could as easily construct their own narrative for what heaven putatively is, and there would be no objective way to show their idea to be less correct.

            When you tell someone , “you need to understand X”, it might be best to preface it if it’s not actually predicated on something than can be objectively shown to be correct.

          • R.C.

            Brandon:

            Fair enough, but keep in mind the context of Randy’s “you need to understand”:

            The accusation is that no Christian formulation can make Christian view of Hell sensible. To refute this, one need not prove that all or several formulations make it sensible. One need only show that at least one does. So he offers the Catholic formulation, saying, “here’s one.” For that reason, he doesn’t bother proving anything; the context required only that he offer an example.

      • an atheist

        If the choice is forcibly being taken to heaven or stumbling into hell, I would ask god to take me to heaven. Even though I don’t believe in him, finding out I was wrong and sinful and really needed Jesus’s blood to cleanse me still sounds much better than an eternity of torment.
        I suspect that if we lived in a world where the gates of hell and heaven were clearly signposted, very few people would choose to walk through the former.

        • R.C.

          “an atheist”:

          Of course I agree with your last sentence.

          As for the first two sentences: If what you say is true, I doubt you have much to worry about.

          But the tricky thing, for anyone, is the “Know Thyself” part: Is it really true that you (or I) would choose God over everything else, even at some irrevocable moment of clarity? Would doing so seem natural to us? Would it be a continuation of who we already are? Are we already irrevocably in the habit of doing it, of preferring God to all else? I’m not picking on you please understand: I’m expressing my own skepticism about myself.

          Would I choose God over everything else? I find this question unsettling, because I see how often I ought to do X, and yet almost without thinking — but not entirely without thinking — I “end up doing” Y. Do you see that “end up doing,” there? That’s me reflexively trying to avoid responsibility for choosing to do Y. So is the “not entirely without thinking”: There is this in men psychological avoidance, a dancing around the issue, a not-mentioning of the elephant in the room, the desire to be distracted from what we are doing by anything we can find that can command our attention for the requisite few moments. The reason so few of us are saints is because so few of us wholeheartedly want to be.

          So, yeah, sure: A boring if insipid paradise with streets you can dent with a fingernail does sound better than getting grilled, or whatever.

          But from the very first, Christians have taken such imagery with a grain of salt: We’re taught that it relates to the reality in much the same way that picturing an electron as a “little ball in orbit around the nucleus” relates to the reality of that.

          And we have to admit that the “streets paved with gold” imagery is less helpful to us moderns than to the ancients because, for us, “streets paved with gold” more quickly suggests Las Vegas or the Wizard of Oz than any place of joy and majesty. (And “gold as clear as glass” just leaves us saying “Huh?” …or perhaps we’re reminded of the “transparent aluminum” of Star Trek IV.)

          Thus informed of the limits of the usefulness of such images, we fall back on the more reliable theological generalization: Nothing impure shall enjoy the Beatific Vision. But apparently one can experience the Beatific Vision and not enjoy it. Why not? Well, because some souls can’t bring themselves to give up whatever non-God thing they wrapped their identity around. (You see how, from one perspective, it comes down to a question of idolatry, or even fetishism.)

          For me, C.S.Lewis’ book The Great Divorce is a better analogy for understanding this idea. It is still only analogy, but I think the Clergyman, the Dwarf-Ghost with the Tragedian, the Grieving Mother, the Artist, the Businessman who said he’s “not asking for anybody’s bleeding charity,” Napoleon endlessly saying “it was Ney’s fault, it was Josephene’s fault,” and the rest are a pretty good picture. I think it especially works well in conjunction with The Screwtape Letters — another book which Lewis explicitly states is not intended to be taken as speculation about “what Hell is really like” but rather to offer a fresh insight to lives and decisions of people.

          Take some very conservative Catholic, a devotee of Germain Grisez who keeps the Friday fast year-round: Does he want to go to Heaven…and even, perhaps, be appointed for a very special role therein? “Sure!” he says! “Excellent,” says God, “for I have a duty for you, there, and I’m overjoyed to find that you, my son, will be available to do it. There is a daughter of mine who will need some help when she arrives, and I wish to especially honor her by having you serve as her attendant for her first million years in Paradise. Her name is Nancy Pelosi….” That’ll be the moment that tests whether that particular Catholic thinks it’s better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven!

          (And obviously one can apply alternative frustrations of one’s political/religious/cultural affiliations to different folk. It’d be a fit Purgatory for me to be assigned as soundman for the praise-and-worship team of Britney Spears and Justin Bieber. I worry there might be limits to how much I’m willing to obey God!)

          • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

            Is it really true that you (or I) would choose God over everything else?

            As I read it, “an atheist” wasn’t talking about choosing God over “everything else” but over the very specific option of eternal damnation. That’s a pretty easy choice, but no, you can’t necessarily extend it to “everything else.”

          • R.C.

            Hmm.

            Delphi, you’re right that “an atheist” didn’t specifically state, word-for-word, that he was talking about choosing God over “everything else.” Just over “damnation.”

            But the Christian idea is that the choosing of God over everything else is implicit in the experience of choosing anything other than damnation. A person who prefers anything to God — who would say “no” to God provided that by so doing he could gain this other thing — is making that other thing an idol. But whatever is good about that other thing (whatever it might be!) exists in Heaven only in a fashion which glorifies God and brings Him honor. There’s no idolatry (!) in Heaven (!!), and anything and anyone in Heaven not only stands in right relation to God, but cannot be considered or experienced in any fashion other than in right relation to God.

            So the Christian idea, to express it in figurative language, is that the afterlife and all the host of Heaven are full of God. Full to overflowing. Everything you experience is saturated with God. Any deceased relatives you may have who’re in Heaven are “united to God” or “one with God”; while they remain themselves, God’s scent hangs about them, God’s light illuminates them, God spills over and out of them in their every interaction. Once the veil is lifted which separates a person from the direct experience of God/Heaven, any part of a person which stands in a state of emnity to God simply would detest the sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel of everything that has Him in it. The only way to be rid of Him is to minimize one’s contact: Get away from everything and everyone united to Him.

            Or, of course, one could opt instead to reject that part of oneself which stands in emnity to God, which prefers something else over Him. Depending on how dearly one loved that addiction, that unhealthy fetish, that idol, giving it up might be excruciating. It might feel like one was amputating a part of one’s soul. And the more central the idol was to one’s soul, the more wrenching the amputation.

            But in the end, whatever was left of oneself could embrace Him. And in Him, one would find again whatever was good about what one had given up, and experience the thing in a pure way. In Him, one gets back everything one has renounced for Him, better than before; whereas anything chosen in preference to Him not only leaves a soul without Him, but even without the good and undefiled parts of the thing being chosen!

            I’m sorry if that’s not particularly clear.

            But that’s the reason I answered the question the way I did. If one is arguing from the Christian premise, then there’s no difference between choosing something other than God in preference to God, and choosing damnation. In which case there’s no difference between “choosing God over everything else” and “choosing God over damnation.”

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    What we need to understand is that we are all deserving of hell. So a failure to believe in God does not damn you. You are already damned. You need salvation. So a failure to interact with God at all just allows the status quo to remain.

    Secondly, the Catholic church does allow for the possibility that one might interact with God without knowing it is Him. You might encounter God in your own conscience and receive saving grace that way. So choosing to reject Jesus explicitly is a bad thing but one could still accept Him implicitly. The road is harder. Accepting the bible and the sacraments means you will have greater grace and will be more likely to persevere. It is the difference between being in Peter’s boat that will make it through the storm for sure or hanging onto a piece of driftwood.

    • Brandon

      What we need to understand is that we are all deserving of hell.

      I’m insufficiently capable of self loathing that would be required to believe that I’m deserving of eternal torment.

      • ACN

        Hell, I can’t even conceive of why any finite number of immoral acts should result in ANYONE mapping to eternal torment. Once you’ve shoved pineapples up hitler’s bum, or whatever strikes your fancy, for 100 years for every man, woman, and child he killed, what exactly is the point? Anyway, I don’t see how we’re supposed to believe that a mind, even if I granted that disembodied minds exist, could hold up under continual anguish for arbitrary lengths of time.

        So congratulations, you’ve annihilated their “mind”, turned them into an insane groveling husk, that lacks any resemblance to the “person” you began torturing. Now what? Unless God is the kind of psychopath who just likes to torture, what is the bloody point?

    • Jay

      Randy, I know the idea that “we are all deserving of hell” is seen as reasonably uncontroversial within Christianity. But the initial inspiration for this post was an atheist finding the claim that he deserves to go to Hell to be “the height of moral insanity,” and Leah trying to respond by suggesting that even an atheist should understand that the risk of going to Hell is akin to the risk of stepping out a window (if it’s factually correct, it’s worth taking into account). So presumably, we’re talking about how to discuss salvation and damnation without coming off as crazy.

      From that perspective, I hope you can at least understand why saying “everyone, including you and your little sister, deserve to suffer for all eternity” is a little maddening. That candy bar you stole in elementary school? Damnation. That mutually rewarding sexual relationship with your non-spouse? Hellfire, baby, you deserve it. I mean, do you get why those without your very specific set of moral and factual commitments find this sentiment repulsive, if it’s even intelligible in the first place?

      • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

        The point is we are on a road to someplace bad. You may not feel it is just. But if you say the human species is on the road to extinction that is OK? That means your little sister too. If we are on the road to something bad we may as well face it. We can contemplate everyone dying in a nuclear war but we can’t contemplate everyone living in a state where the love and joy we know we are meant for can never happen?

        It is not that we are so evil. We are evil compared to God. Compared to each other many of us look OK. But that just means we are going where the mass of humanity is going. That turns out not to be a good place. So what can we do about it? We can improve. We can ask Jesus to bring us up to God’s level. That is a level of holiness that is impossible for even my little sister. Turns out that level leads us to heaven. Infinitely better then where we would end up otherwise.

        So what is repulsive? That we are on the road to hell? God didn’t create us that way. Adam and Eve chose it. Deep down inside we all know humanity has a problem with evil. Humanity has some real goodness as well but if we are honest evil is there and it should not be. Something has gone seriously wrong. So is it repulsive? Sure. Is it plausible? Yes. In fact, something repulsive about humanity has to be true for it to be plausible.

        • Brandon

          It is not that we are so evil. We are evil compared to God. Compared to each other many of us look OK.

          Compared to a being that sentences children to infinite suffering for no actions which they’ve committed, I look much better than I do compared to the typical man on the street.

          So what is repulsive? That we are on the road to hell? God didn’t create us that way. Adam and Eve chose it.

          One problem with this claim, of course, is that we know beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt that Adam and Eve are characters in a story, not real people. Even if we overlooked that, a narrative in which descendants are made to suffer for the actions of their ancestors paints any entity that’s causing the suffering as unimaginably evil.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            It is not that we do not do evil. We do. The question is why are we incapable of the supernatural love that we long for? It flows from our parents inability. It is like losing the mineral rights to your land. You don’t just lose it. Your children lose it as well because you cannot pass it on to them.

            As for the historicity of Adam and Eve, there are a lot of ways to understand that. The point is it describes spiritual truth. If it is just a story it is still God’s revelation of how the world came to be. How we were created good. How we fell into sin. Do we know we have no Adam and Eve as ancestors? I don’t think we know that but I don’t think the spiritual truth of Genesis requires it.

          • Brandon

            The question is why are we incapable of the supernatural love that we long for?

            I do not long for supernatural love.

            It flows from our parents inability. It is like losing the mineral rights to your land. You don’t just lose it. Your children lose it as well because you cannot pass it on to them.

            Inheriting evil as one does land is incoherent.

            As for the historicity of Adam and Eve, there are a lot of ways to understand that. The point is it describes spiritual truth.

            Well, no. Described events are true in the sense that they happened or they’re fiction. Those are the two options. We can learn things from fiction if it’s well written and has good principals, but that doesn’t make it true.

            Do we know we have no Adam and Eve as ancestors? I don’t think we know that

            You’re insufficiently informed about how populations evolve then. The story of Adam and Eve is a creation myth, not a reflection of reality.

            I don’t think we know that but I don’t think the spiritual truth of Genesis requires it.

            This is nonsensical. If the entire premise for a set of conclusions is founded on the basis of something that didn’t actually happen, there’s no reason for anyone to take those conclusions seriously.

          • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

            @Brandon

            Described events are true in the sense that they happened or they’re fiction.

            Unfortunately, you are operating under a different definition of the word, “true” than we use in the Catholic Church (see Leah’s comments about false cognates). See, while the events in Genesis may not have happened, they are still “true” in the theo/philosophical sense of the word. Perhaps in modern non-theist it might be rendered, “true, but only quasi-literal” or sometimes even, “true, though not literal at all.”.

        • Jay

          “But if you say the human species is on the road to extinction that is OK? That means your little sister too. If we are on the road to something bad we may as well face it.”

          Yes, I agree. If we are on the road to something bad, we should face it, and do our best to correct it. And if I ever found it sufficiently likely that there really was a God, and a Hell, and that if I didn’t live as God wanted I would go to Hell, then yes, I would do my best to live as God wanted or whatever. The point I’m making isn’t about ignoring reality, or pretending that “unfair” consequences aren’t possible in the universe. They clearly are.

          My point is that the degree of injustice implied by any sort of Hell is so extreme and horrific that it seems irreconcilable with any meaningful conception of an all-powerful, loving God. Perhaps not absolutely 100% logically impossible, but so unlikely as to be unworthy any serious consideration. So ultimately, Leah might be able to warn me about the risks of Hell without herself saying that I deserve it; but if there’s not at least some moral defense of eternal suffering, then she has no standing to warn me of Hell and also tell me about a loving God. It’s one or the other, or neither, but not both — at least, not without an exceedingly persuasive reason to take this theory seriously in the first place.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            Why is injustice implied? Can you not see that man is evil? If there is a heaven where nothing impure can enter is it not reasonable to think we would need help?

            If our evil leads to suffering is that injustice? The only unjust thing is that anyone goes to heaven.

        • an atheist

          Wait, you’re saying that an infalliably perfect creator exists and something has gone wrong with the world he created?

          That isn’t possible.

          A perfect creator can only create a creation that works exactly as he intended it. Either our world is perfect or God is an imperfect creator.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            He created the possibility that we could do good or evil. We can choose. Sometimes we choose evil. That is where evil comes from. God did not make us robots. He gave us the dignity of free will.

          • Jay

            We’re fast approaching very general “problem of evil” territory, which presumably most of us have gone 20 rounds on any number of times. All I’ll add is that it’s probably not too helpful to think in terms of “evil and suffering, therefore no God” vs. “free will, therefore no problem.” Better to think in terms of probability.

            Is there a vast amount of evil and suffering in the world? Yes. Does the Christian concept of Hell itself entail a massive degree of suffering? Yes. Does this automatically and logically rule out the possibility of an all-powerful and loving God? Plantinga’s a pretty clever guy, so I’ll say, probably not. But does it make the existence of that sort of entity highly unlikely, absent some independent, extremely persuasive justification? Yes, and that is what I think the atheists here are getting at by noting the, shall we say, moral awkwardness of anyone condemned to eternal suffering.

            Even assuming that “man is evil” and that “Heaven’s completely pure, so evil can’t enter” or whatever (note of course, that this is another limit on God’s supposed omnipotence), the eternal suffering implied by the Christian Hell hardly seems like an optimal solution. That’s really the heart of the problem. Even if some amount of suffering is necessary so we can have “free will” (which again, I think is a confused concept), it hardly seems like Hell — not to mention Earth — is optimized to provide the minimal amount of negative repercussions needed to constitute freedom. And presumably, one would expect an all-powerful, infinitely creative, omnibenevolent God to at least minimize unnecessary suffering?

    • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

      What we need to understand is that we are all deserving of hell.

      Um…why do we need to understand that? It seems to me that an appalling amount of self-loathing must be required to actually believe such a thing.

  • Darren

    Since I have heard this from a number of Catholic friends, I suspect this must be in Catholic 101. It is characteristic of the strategy to defend the punishment of damnation while maintaining that God is not the one actually doing the punishing.

    Honestly, Leah, I am surprised to hear you repeat it. I doubt you would ever have allowed such a claim to pass unchallenged in your pre-conversion days.

    • Darren

      Doh! Forgot the quote to which I refered:

      ” Hell/sin/separation from God doesn’t need to be framed exclusively as retribution. It can also be described as logical necessity. When I say that if you step out of your window, you will fall, I’m not saying that because gravity decided you deserved to break your leg.”

      • Erick

        Yes, it’s found in the Catechism.

        As any Catholic leader could tell you, human language can never convey God as he actually is. So when we describe anything relating to God, we use words only analogously.

        You should also probably account for the idea of free will.

  • Darren

    ” Hell/sin/separation from God doesn’t need to be framed exclusively as retribution. It can also be described as logical necessity. When I say that if you step out of your window, you will fall, I’m not saying that because gravity decided you deserved to break your leg.”

    This is actually a very good reason why I do _not_ believe in Objective Morality.

    Gravity is Objective, it is observable, it is testable, it is universal. Where there is disagreement, it is about matters so far down in the number of decimal places as to be imperceptible to we meat beings. Even when we had not a clue as to the How of gravity, we knew full well the What.

    Where objective moral laws to actually exist, would they not be as universal, as apparent, as observable?

    To carry the analogy further than it perhaps warrants, after some few millennia of investigation, with Gravity we are arguing the finer points of Quantum theory, with Morality we have yet to reach a consensus as sophisticated as “What goes up, must come down”.

    • savvy

      Darren,

      It’s more like choices have consequences or in this case sin has consequences. We can either choose fire or water, life or death. We cannot chose both. Just as nature reacts as in the law of gravity. Our human nature also reacts to sin. Holiness cannot exist with unholiness.

      • Darren

        ”It’s more like choices have consequences or in this case sin has consequences. We can either choose fire or water, life or death. We cannot chose both. Just as nature reacts as in the law of gravity. Our human nature also reacts to sin. Holiness cannot exist with unholiness.”

        Savvy;

        First, let me say that I appreciate the honest attempt at an answer. However, this is really just an attempt to deal with an uncomfortable conception of divine justice.

        This also reflects a very limited conception of God and his abilities. Realize, God is the foundation of not just our world, not just our universe, but the very underpinnings of reality. Causality, logic, truth, human nature, his own nature.

        Can God create a rock too heavy for him to lift? No, he just changes the laws of logic such that he can do both at the same time.

        There is no reason that God could not create a universe where free will is compatible with full and complete knowledge of God (I would argue that this universe is, but you would disagree), or a universe where holiness and unholiness can exist together, or where we could choose life and death.

        There is also no reason God could not create a universe where humans are born, live, and die in perfect free will, choosing God or not, then when they find themselves at last in eternity, in the actual presence of God, when, as Paul says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”, then every soul could truly choose.

        Satan knew God in all his glory, and he chose darkness. We humans see only dimly, shrouded in flesh. Why does God demand more from us?

        • LeRoi

          I like this reply. I think Darren is playing with a particular conception of God that owes something to negative or apophatic theology.

          Negative theology proffers a dao-like conception of God as outside all human categories (personally I compare it to Derrida’s undeconstructible gift, s’il ny en pas, if any exists – you can’t define it, but it seems to hover at the edges of language).

          Darren uses negative theology to flip moral realism on its head. If God is outside all our conceptions of him, then why can’t he transcend logic to end evil acts, or unite free will and certain knowledge? So Darren invites us to choose between a God limited by our human conceptions, or a God who is not logically barred from ending suffering (because he is outside logic), but just won’t.

          Maybe I’m being a little creative with Darren’s assumptions, but I hope not too much. I’m merely rather delighted to find a quite sophisticated notion of God being used in (to me) a counterintuitive way.

          Darren, if I’ve got this right, I might question a bit of mix-and-match I think I see. God is outside logic, and so could end suffering (and our limiting free will), but won’t. We judge this a poor state of affairs. Isn’t this mixing logic/morality with the dao? Are we sure our intuitions will guide us as far judging the completely Other? I would feel safer with a sort of Humean pessimism: your conclusion means we are just in no position to construct a coherent God.

          • Darren

            ”I like this reply. I think Darren is playing with a particular conception of God that owes something to negative or apophatic theology.
            Negative theology proffers a dao-like conception of God as outside all human categories (personally I compare it to Derrida’s undeconstructible gift, s’il ny en pas, if any exists – you can’t define it, but it seems to hover at the edges of language).”

            LeRoi;

            Thank you, but I am afraid you accuse me of more sophistication that I truly possess.

            ”So Darren invites us to choose between a God limited by our human conceptions, or a God who is not logically barred from ending suffering (because he is outside logic), but just won’t.”

            The later, as any other conception is incoherent.

            Where I was going with this, though, and where I might make a contribution to the discussion, is in pointing out that Theists have an overly-narrow conception of the counter-intuitive and truly weird places that the Omnipotent / Omniscient model takes us (the Omnibenevolent drops out, as if God is the font of all Goodness, then anything God says, does, or is is Good by definition, thus dropping out of the equation).

            A definition of Omnipotence that I have heard is that God can do anything that is not a logical contradiction for him to do. But, a being who _could_ do that which was logically contradicted would be greater still, thus God must actually be able to do that which is logically contradicted else he would not be the greatest being. Now, the free will argument flies out the window, as God can not only make a universe in which agents have free will and yet still inevitably choose God, not only make such a universe, but make such a universe _effortlessly_. I say effortlessly, as any such creation is finite, and God’s power infinite, and as Calc. 201 taught me, any unimaginably large, though finite, number divided by infinity is zero.

        • savvy

          Darren,

          One could say that in Christianity, God has already done two things at the same time.

          At Calvary, judgement and mercy, life and death were mixed in Jesus Christ. This was a big deal, since the cultures where atonement and sacrifice were held, the two were never mixed, as in afro-asiatics and temple Judaism.

          So either God broke his laws, or found a way to safely mix them.

          God expects more from us because of the incarnation. Satan was an angel, but God became human, mixing our blood with his, our humanity with his divinity.

    • an atheist

      I think it’s possible to argue that some acts have predictable consequences. If you steal something from someone, for example, they will probably be upset and feel that the sanctity of their property has been violated. If you punch someone, they’ll feel pain and probably fear, anger or a mixture of the two. If you have sex with another person and your spouse finds out, they will most likely be very hurt emotionally and it might damage their ability to have close relationships in the future. There are some consquences that are likely for you as well. If you steal from people then they’re likely to get annoyed and not trust you. You’ll most likely get punished if you’re caught. If you rely on stealing to make a living, you might find your ability to do honest work is reduced. If you punch people a lot, they will often punch you back. If you cheat on your spouse, their trust in you might be ruined and you could find yourself being sued for divorce. If you get a reputation for cheating it can effect your reputation and you might find it hard to get married again.

      These things aren’t like gravity but I think it’s possible to argue that harm is real and predictable. Certainly if you inflict physical damage on people it can be measured. Stress also has an effect on people’s health. Emotional pain activates the same centers in the brain as physical pain.

      Of course, some things that don’t cause measurable damage like atheism or gay sex or sex outside of marriage can still be seen as ‘sinful’, so I don’t agree with the Christian position here. I just think some aspects of morality can be observed and quantified.

  • Darren

    As it would be relevant to the topic of whether or not judgment and damnation are inherently punitive, I would suggest a read of Robert A Heinlein’s “Job: A Comedy of Justice”.

    I read it while still a Christian and found it amusing, though it is clearly a Heinlein book with all the good and bad that comes with that particular pedigree.

    • Darren

      Uh, yeah, never mind.

      This discussion appears to be done, but for the sake of completness I wanted to warn off anyone inclined to read my (poorly) recomended book. After this discussion, I pulled a copy from my local library and re-read.

      Ugh. Tiresome would be an understatement. While the ending of the book does have some small relevance to this discussion, the effort is just not worth it.

      Clearly my standards at the age of 15 where a bit lower than they are some 30 years later…

  • LeRoi

    Quite a variety of responses here! Some question the Virtue Ethics underpinning this post; others go after the immorality of the idea of Hell. Here’s how I approached the idea of Hell before I went all agnostic. I’d contend this version isn’t particularly crazy.

    1. Yes on Virtue Ethics. Of course, virtue ethics depends to some degree on the notion that a person has a core or essence which can be harmed. (While I now dislike the limiting/controlling idea of an essential soul, I still find virtue ethics a useful shorthand.)

    2. Hell represented a state of complete severance from the source of one’s own life. This sort-of depends on a metaphysical idea that some unified Truth/Good/Beauty is the real source of everything we enjoy and love in life. We humans are able to make a “fundamental option” for or against God (existentialist overtones, no?).

    3. Note that virtue ethics has little to do with belief, except insofar as one makes ethical decisions about honest pursuit of truth. As Vatican II indicated, we are all judged on our fidelity to the truth we see. So many Catholics think they are somewhat less likely than atheists to make it in, since they’re held to a higher standard (kind of condescending, yes, but they’re trying. also note that fornicatin’ and stuff isn’t the standard either, per se, though relevant).

    I really don’t think this is irrational, or particularly evil, so far. How about the judgment and suffering stuff?

    4. Richard Neuhaus used to say that we are entitled to hope Hell might be empty; Peter Kreeft says “nothing” happens in Hell, since nothing is the opposite of the full and abundant life of Heaven. Note that these are two of the most influential Catholic writers, at least in the United States, and theologians with a lot of heft in Vatican circles, like Urs von Balthasar, hold similar positions (I’m pretty sure).

    5. Put this together with Lewis’ idea that all of us who live in the gray areas simply continue our “journeys” after death (maybe toward really feeling the harm our bad choices made to others, until we’ve really changed) – those who journey away from the truth, will continue in that direction, getting further away and becoming less and less of an existence.

    6. I think this more modern (albeit admittedly rather vague) Catholic version of Hell should be given more weight in our debates than Dante’s beautifully, luridly cruel descriptions. Many Evangelicals don’t like this version, but that doesn’t entitle us to lump Catholics in with them (or to lump many modern Catholics with their medieval brethren).

    7. I think this version, or significant parts of it, is at least as widespread and influential, probably more so in my anecdotal experience, and probably ascendant (if you disagree and you’re Catholic, fine; if you disagree and you’re not, please contribute more than random medieval quotations).

    • Brandon

      Thanks for this reply, it’s a good read! One thing really stood out to me though:

      Richard Neuhaus used to say that we are entitled to hope Hell might be empty; Peter Kreeft says “nothing” happens in Hell, since nothing is the opposite of the full and abundant life of Heaven.

      I want to ask these folks basically the same thing I want to ask anyone that tells me things about what heaven or hell are like – how in the world do you know? If there’s not some objective way of knowing if this is true, what makes it any more valid than any other conception? Without any objective way of knowing this, it seems like little more than fan fiction.

      • Jay

        ^This. Doesn’t it seem at least a little suspicious that intellectual Christians keep trying to make Hell blander and blander in the face of criticism that anything else would be morally reprehensible? I mean, seriously, the Bible doesn’t talk about a “great nothingness” or “emptiness” or whatever — it talks about the lake of fire, wailing and gnashing of teeth, lots of generic references to flames and burning, etc. If you neutrally approached the question “What does the Bible suggest about Hell?,” without knowing in advance that you wanted to make the answer morally palatable for your audience, I sincerely doubt you’d come up with “oh, well it’s probably just boring — not torture or anything.”

        This attempt to paint Hell as something sad, but not horrific, strikes me as little more than rationalization — not unlike the Herculean efforts to continually refine which stories and lessons in the Bible are taken at face value, and which are “just allegorical” and “part of the historical context” or whatever. Can you find plausible bases on which to draw those interpretive judgments? Sure. It’s a big book. Would you make those same judgments if you didn’t have an interest in harmonizing the text with modern values? I doubt it.

        • LeRoi

          Jay, I can’t wave away your critique, but I think I can soften it.

          First, I’d just point out that my post didn’t reference the Bible at all, so asking why my philosophizing still hangs on to the Bible seems a little beside the point, at first blush.
          (my post is typical of much of Catholic philosophy in that way.)

          But I might expect you to reply that the Bible is where the idea of Hell came from in the first place, and that’s why (old me) held on to the idea, so I’m still guilty of harmonizing the text with modern values (nice phrase, by the way). Maybe you’re right – historically speaking, you’re probably right.

          (textually speaking – parenthetically because i don’t find this terribly interesting – the case for largely dismissing the bizarre visions of Revelations, or allegorizing Jesus’ references to the burning trash dump outside the city, is not bad. If you just sit down and read the Bible, I agree with you – probably a rather nasty picture. If you go a bit more in-depth, and throw in the Old Testament and its Sheol underworld, I think the picture is less clear. but maybe my scholarship has been tainted by modern wishful thinking.)

          Philosophically speaking, I think we can find other reasons (if we’re Catholic) to hang on to the idea of a Bad Place, or Not-So-Good Place. My post indicates some of those reasons – a generally soul-centered, virtue-ethics approach to humanity, which seeks to discover how one may become suited to the beatific vision.

          • David

            LeRoi, sorry replied before seeing your post. But if we can largely dismiss Revelations, then why have any confidence that the rest of the Bible is true? And how can we grant any authority to the Church if it has been so fundamentally wrong in its understanding of one of the basic features of Christianity? Catholicism seems to me to rest on a belief in the Church as the only solid authority on how to be saved. But it seems like you don’t think it was a very good authority for its first 1900 years.

          • LeRoi

            Well, we are writing at the same point in time! Ships in the night and so on.

            I think your critique is rather precisely aimed at a Catholic conception of the Church’s role in the world.

            As far as (mostly) dismissing Revelations, I’d say many Catholic thinkers take it book by book. The Gospels and the history we have of the birth of the early Church are sufficient for them to think the basic and essential story is reliable, even if apocalyptic meanderings on Patmos aren’t of much help. (though I think some of the imagery is pretty).

            But what about the millenia-old definition of orthodoxy: “that which has been everywhere, by everyone, and at all times been believed” – as you say, it’s a catch-22 – if the Church changes, it’s not immutable any more, but if it doesn’t, gosh-darn those are some mean doctrines.

            I suppose a Catholic would first distinguish between plain ol’ teachings, and infallible teachings. The Church has always harbored a wide array of philosophical teachings and doctrinal positions, and ideas like annihilationism (Hitler got all burned up and is no more) have never been ruled heresy, just a not-so-respected minority position. And only really serious, infallible teachings can never be changed. So the Church can change a bunch of stuff and still be on the right track.

            I suppose a Catholic would also say some seed of doctrine has been preserved, that the Holy Spirit continues to very slowly guide the Church toward discovering more truth. A conservative Catholic wouldn’t have a “nicer” doctrine at all, and so no issues about changing. ;-)

            I could be wrong. Maybe more of this hell stuff was taught infallibly than I think. That would make it harder to fit the old and new jigsaw pieces together.

        • David

          Just to add on here, and give my own gloss to Jay’s point:

          Fine, say that Hell is merely separation from God and it’s not really that bad, and heck, there might not be anyone in it anyway. This seems morally appealing and makes me think your religion doesn’t have a deeply evil vision of the structure of the universe. We now, though, get to the problem that you claim your religion is true, that its truth is immutable, and that said truth is expressed in the Bible (and, for Catholics, the teachings of the church). If your vision of Hell is not consonant with that expressed in the Bible, or taught by the Church for most of its history (yes, Dante isn’t the Catholic Church, but his depiction of Hell didn’t depart in the fundamentals from what the Church was teaching its parishioners about Hell for almost all of its history. The magnificent sermon written by Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man shows that a view of Hell as a place of physical torment full of the souls of the damned was still being taught in early 20th Century Ireland; again, he didn’t just make up the style and content of the sermon) , then on what basis do you claim that the Bible and the teachings of the Catholic Church are a good depiction of truth? Jay points out that you are rationalizing the meaning of the Bible; I’ll go even further (though I suspect he’d agree) and say that you are demonstrating that by doing so, you disprove the very foundation of your religious beliefs.

      • LeRoi

        Thanks, Brandon – I appreciate the positive feedback!

        On the “how does one know” objection, I’ll flipflop in two directions. First, yeah, I think a lot of it is just fan fiction. Randy Alcorn is a serious evangelical writer on the topic of heaven, who advocates thinking about heaven a lot, with lots of concrete imagination. Often sounds a lot like fanfic.

        Second, well, I can offer a sort-of ‘coherentism’ defense. If one understands our current life to be a journey of becoming, of growing as one becomes a better person (more just, more knowledgeable/wise, more loving, more prudent/sensible, more humorous, etc.), then given other beliefs it may make sense to extend that journey after death. Put another way, these guys think they understand what human life consists of, so they feel justified in making cautious generalizations – here is what more life looks like, here is what less looks like.

        That this vision differs qualitatively from the medievals is not surprising. The medieval model of penal retribution (and atonement) – enthusiastically shared by the Calvinists and many evangelicals! – inexorably moves toward a hell-fire-and-brimstone picture. The Orthodox have always had a more mystical picture of humanity as wounded (not as criminals), and thus in need of healing. I’d view these modern Catholics as coming to share in the Orthodox vision of wounded humanity, being healed.

        But yeah, no hard data from the other side as yet, so all pretty mushy. ;-p My real problem is with conceiving of a unity of human purpose and goodness, on which these ideas rely (I think).

  • Darren

    ”Suppose that everything you say about the nature of man, souls, God, Hell, etc. is correct. Suppose that the eternal torment of Hell is something that all of its inhabitants chose of their own volition. The point that most of the non-theists here are making is that this vision of the universe is still a moral horror, and it severely undermines the idea that any all-powerful, all-loving God could permit it to be.”

    I really like where Jay is heading with his comment, that a universe in which sentient beings are _allowed_ to damn themselves is morally abhorrent… Nice.

    Not the best analogy, but I am picturing the Dan Aykroyd “Bag’o Glass” skit… “Kids love it!”

  • Darren

    ”I think that your objection really does come down simply to the free will question. What you seem to be saying is simply that you would prefer a universe where people aren’t allowed to do themselves harm.”

    dbp;

    Try as I might, as often, as earnestly, as vigorously as I try, every time I flap my arms, up and down, over and over, I just cannot manage to lift myself into the air.

    Has God violated my Free Will with his establishment of the law of Gravity?

    Why then, if God founded the cosmos with moral laws in addition to physical laws, am I able to murder, and rape, and do injury to my own soul as well as others?

    • ACN

      Duh, because if god people kept anyone from murdering and raping he’d be interfering with their free will!

      Just don’t ask too many questions about what’s happening to the free will of those are getting raped and murdered.

  • Benjamin

    ‘If you want exemptions, mercy, and grace, you need a Person, not a Law.’

    I think these is the problem, here.

    In sinning we can imagine us separating ourselves from God. Fair enough. So hell isn’t exactly God purposefully throwing you into a lake of fair, but rather the results of our actions. Like my gut from too much fatty foods, or a person who is now blind from willfully poking out there eyes.

    So the metaphysics of hell itself isn’t too hard to grasp, but only if God and God’s Presence is looked on like a force of nature.

    But you yourself said God is a Person. So then there are a few problems as I see it:

    1. Why would a loving Person create a world where it is so easy to go to hell. Almost everyone has an understanding of the dangers gravity presents to us. But in human history, it seems that only a small fraction of people understand the Incarnation or will ever receive the Sacraments. Why not start human history off with the Church right there? Every civilization would know the workings, then, of God’s plan, and at least more people would act accordingly.

    2. It seems strange that the consequences of being wrong are complete separation from God (this is what I’m understanding hell to be). Why wouldn’t it be at the end of the life of the person who is wrong, there is a long Great Dialogue. So at least if it was understood that everybody goes to Purgatory and eventually to heaven, well that would be Just. It seems very odd indeed that a Loving and Just God could not design a universe where more people would have an opportunity to be saved.

    • Benjamin

      lake of fire* their*

    • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

      Almost everyone has an understanding of the dangers gravity presents to us. But in human history, it seems that only a small fraction of people understand the Incarnation or will ever receive the Sacraments.

      As someone else has mentioned, the Church also teaches about invincible ignorance with regards to such people.

      It seems very odd indeed that a Loving and Just God could not design a universe where more people would have an opportunity to be saved.

      More people? Because, what, there’s an ideal recipe out there – and also, you know it?

      • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

        “More people? Because, what, there’s an ideal recipe out there – and also, you know it?”
        Oh no you don’t – you’re the one who’s positing a perfect god, not us. We therefore have every right to err on the side of god being too perfect. The obligation is on you to argue for god’s limitations, not on us to argue for god’s powers. You can’t very well say that there’s a loving and just god and then immediately turn around and act all agnostic when that god is challenged.

        • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

          Oh no you don’t – you’re the one who’s positing a perfect god, not us.

          I am? Also, who the heck are you? Whoever you are your psychic powers are on the blink. Even if I did and do support the claim that god is ‘perfect’, that doesn’t mean *your* standard of perfect is the metric I’m using.

          We therefore have every right to err on the side of god being too perfect.

          You have every right to come up with some absurd, inane standard of ‘perfect’ and then judge God by it if you want. I have every right to question your standard. Also the right to laugh at it when you respond to my questioning you with some kind of internet panic attack.

          The obligation is on you to argue for god’s limitations, not on us to argue for god’s powers.

          Baloney. You tell me that a perfect god would do X, and you’re making a claim – support it, or don’t be too surprised when I fail to take you seriously. There’s something so damn telling about the fact that so many atheists are forever fleeing from the burdens of proof they intellectuall take on or the responsibility to support their claims. It’s almost as if they know that they’ll do a rotten job of supporting their views.

          Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how outraged you are at my response. I mean, you keep pulling the righteous rage thing on the first comment, so I’m rather curious how you’ll handle it after someone’s regarded your reasoning and behavior as leaving much to be desired.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “I am?”
            Dialectically, if nothing else. Also, the header of your blog says you’re a theist, soooooo…

            “Even if I did and do support the claim that god is ‘perfect’, that doesn’t mean *your* standard of perfect is the metric I’m using.”
            But this wasn’t your argument: you didn’t say, “my version of perfection doesn’t require god to save more people.” You said, in effect, “god can’t do what you’re asking.”

            “You have every right to come up with some absurd, inane standard of ‘perfect’ and then judge God by it if you want. I have every right to question your standard.”
            Yeah, what kind of lunatic would require a perfectly loving god not to torture people eternally for no good reason. Such a ludicrous, psychotic, mentally unbalanced assumption on my part…

            “You tell me that a perfect god would do X, and you’re making a claim – support it, or don’t be too surprised when I fail to take you seriously.”
            Actually, the theist here has made the first dialectical move by positing a perfect god that’s compatible with hell. Even if you want to do the you-started-it thing – which, by the way, is a totally arbitrary way of assigning the burden of proof – you’re still the one on the hook.

            “There’s something so damn telling about the fact that so many atheists are forever fleeing from the burdens of proof…”
            Pot/kettle, asshole.

            “Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how outraged you are at my response. I mean, you keep pulling the righteous rage thing on the first comment, so I’m rather curious how you’ll handle it after someone’s regarded your reasoning and behavior as leaving much to be desired.”
            What, like this is my first time? I’ve had actually smart people call me names, I don’t think that you’re going to make me lose sleep or anything.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

            Also, the header of your blog says you’re a theist, soooooo…

            Hahaha.

            The header of my blog identifies me as a “DEIST NATURALIST THEISTIC EVOLUTIONIST ID SYMPATHETIC TRADITIONAL ORTHODOX CATHOLIC SINNER!”

            And from that you concluded that I not only believe God is perfect, but *your* view of perfect? C’mon man.

            But this wasn’t your argument: you didn’t say, “my version of perfection doesn’t require god to save more people.” You said, in effect, “god can’t do what you’re asking.”

            I didn’t make an ‘argument’. I asked two questions: namely, is there an ideal recipe for a universe out there which contains the perfect saved to sinner ratio, and also that they know it?

            So no, I didn’t say that “in effect”. You seem to love reading claims into relatively paltry statements. Whatever thrills you, I suppose.

            Yeah, what kind of lunatic would require a perfectly loving god not to torture people eternally for no good reason. Such a ludicrous, psychotic, mentally unbalanced assumption on my part…

            Again, who said ‘required’? Again – who the heck are you? Do you always make grand assumptions about the theists you interact with, when all you really have to go on with them is having watched them ask a couple skeptical questions and read the convoluted header of their freaking blog?

            I dispute the ‘no good reason’ part, which is convenient since I question the ‘eternal torture’ part, and I further am skeptical of your definitions of perfect and loving. You’d have found that out a bit more politely if you just inquired, rather than – yet again – played the Righteous Rage card. Then again, it more and more seems like you can’t operate without it.

            Actually, the theist here has made the first dialectical move by positing a perfect god that’s compatible with hell. Even if you want to do the you-started-it thing – which, by the way, is a totally arbitrary way of assigning the burden of proof – you’re still the one on the hook.

            It doesn’t matter ‘who started it’. What matters is who is making a claim. Make a claim of your own after I’ve made a claim, and surprise – you still have a burden of proof to meet. You still have to support your statement.

            Further, the mere acceptance of theism doesn’t even get one to hell questions.

            Pot/kettle, asshole.

            Oh gosh, he’s busting out the Big Boy words now!

            Sorry, it’s not pot-kettle, pal. You don’t have to go far to find atheists struggling to cryptically define atheism in a way such that atheists have no beliefs, or are making no claims, *precisely* to avoid any burden of proof or responsibility for supporting their claims. Theists typically accept that they have a burden of proof and try to meet it.

            What, like this is my first time? I’ve had actually smart people call me names, I don’t think that you’re going to make me lose sleep or anything.

            Less calling you names, more pointing out the all too obvious. And who said anything about losing sleep? I wanted to see your reaction. But hey, compensate however you have to, I suppose. ;)

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “The header of my blog identifies me as a [moron]”
            Note how that was my secondary piece of evidence.

            “And from that you concluded that I not only believe God is perfect, but *your* view of perfect?”
            Actually, no – I was assuming what I took to be Benjamin’s view of perfect, given that he’s the one who started this particular conversation thread. Which brings me immediately (and inevitably) to the next obvious question: you yourself aren’t trying to push your idea of perfection onto the conversation, are you? Because, y’know, it sure sounds like your idea is very different from the one that Benjamin probably has.

            “I didn’t make an ‘argument’.”
            Yeah okay, man, you keep trying this sleight-of-hand bullshit and see how often it works.

            “Do you always make grand assumptions about the theists you interact with, when all you really have to go on with them is having watched them ask a couple skeptical questions and read the convoluted header of their freaking blog?”
            Do you do anything besides ask nonsensical questions?

            “I dispute the ‘no good reason’ part, which is convenient since I question the ‘eternal torture’ part, and I further am skeptical of your definitions of perfect and loving.”
            You’re “skeptical” of my definitions? You must not be aware of how definitions work, I guess. Also, what, you think I’m surprised that you dispute the good reason part? I’m doing this specifically in order to get you to explain WHY you dispute it, you dunce.

            “It doesn’t matter ‘who started it’. What matters is who is making a claim.”
            Ah – so now the only question becomes why you don’t justify your own claims. Oh no wait, sorry, I forgot: you very specifically don’t make claims. You ask very leading rhetorical questions instead, because apparently you think that that gives you some kind of magic cloak against the normal rules of debate.

            “Sorry, it’s not pot-kettle, pal. You don’t have to go far to find atheists …”
            You do know what pot/kettle means, right? Because this counter-argument misses the point by a long, long way. Here, let me do the heavy lifting for you: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=pot%2Fkettle

            “Less calling you names, more pointing out the all too obvious. And who said anything about losing sleep? I wanted to see your reaction. But hey, compensate however you have to, I suppose.”
            I have to admit, this has to be my favorite of all the look-how-clever-I-can-be responses: casting aspersions on my genitals. I’m flattered that you think about me so much in that way, but I’m afraid that I’m happily spoken for. Tell you what, though – if it’s really that important to you to know how big I am, make me an offer and maybe I’ll send you an autographed photo.

      • Benjamin

        @Crude
        I don’t think I have to provide a specific recipe. It is enough to say that if in Scenario A ten million people are damned and then in Scenario B four million people are damned, Scenario B is -all else equal- preferable.

        So we can imagine a scenario where less people are damned- where the conversation is eternal for example, rather than an arbitrary cut off point (‘that’s it, you’ve had your chances, time to go to hell’). A cut-off point for repentance is hard to reconcile with an Eternal God.

        Or we can imagine a scenario where God reveals Himself much more clearly. So instead of Jesus just going to Judea, Jesus is more like Vishnu (an international Vishnu): he keeps coming back generation after generation to multiple peoples.

        I also find Eli’s style very confrontational. I’m just not comfortable with that. Sorry, Eli. I didn’t read much of your posts.

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          “I also find Eli’s style very confrontational. I’m just not comfortable with that. Sorry, Eli.”
          You’re forgiven, I guess? I have to admit, I’m not real sure what exactly you’re apologizing for. If it’s the first sentence, you’re right – it is, and not by accident (although also not all the time; I tend to get angry around here because there are a lot of very bad reasoners around here). If it’s the second sentence, there’s really no need to apologize for your personal level of comfort. De gustibas non disputandem est, right? (Possible spelling mistakes notwithstanding…)

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com Crude

    This is why talk of “atheist fundamentalism” is ridiculous. Atheists do not have any holy book we consider infallible. We have no traditional dogmas to defend. We certainly do not reject central discoveries of science for the sake of any holy book or dogma.

    If you want to get specific, then neither do ‘theists’. Theism doesn’t require a holy infallible book, traditional dogmas, or rejecting (“central?”) discoveries of science.

    On the flipside, you have atheists engaging in rejecting scientific discoveries for the sake of their dogma (why, even regarding evolution), personality cults, and plenty of behavior that looks an awful lot like extremism/fundamentalism.

    Comparing the most anemic, general conception of atheism to a very specific subset of theism is like comparing the most anemic, general theism to a very specific subset of atheism.

    Even if some specific subsets seem pretty darn common.

    • an atheist

      PZ Myers isn’t such a bad person and he’s changed his blog’s comment policy since that was written.
      It’s true that the comments could get quite nasty before that but I think comparing him to Mao is a serious overreaction. No-one has been murdered on his orders or is ever likely to be. Being sworn at on the internet might be highly unpleasant but it’s not morally the same as being thrown in prison without trial, beaten up or starved to death. Phryngula is not very welcoming to theists or to anyone who is against feminism but his posts on biology are still worth reading.

    • Richard Bell

      An example is probably in order. The cosmological theory proposed by Georges Lemaitre (a catholic priest) to explain Edwin Hubble’s observations was soundly ridiculed and rejected by atheists, because it meant the end of the Steady-State universe. The existential crisis for the atheists was that a universe that has always existed does not need a creator but a universe that did not always exist would need something to explain why it came into being. It did not help that the Vatican was first astronomical institution to endorse it. To add to their discomfort, in the beginning of Lemaitre’s description of the universe, it was too hot for their to be anything but light. In an attempt to denigrate Lemaitre’s theory of space, time, and energy expanding from a point, they called it “The Big Bang”. The rest is history.

  • JohnE_o

    It is eternal because it is absolute, and it is absolute because our freedom is equal to God’s.

    I’m sorry if this has been addressed elsewhere, but the above idea and also the idea that God letting atheists into heaven is akin to rape because He would be forcing Himself on the atheists both seem to ignore the fact that there is an asymmetry of information in the relationship between the human and God.

    To state the obvious, humans don’t know for sure that God exists. If God exists, He knows that humans exist.

    Now, am I misunderstanding the doctrine? Is Hell here said to be something that Atheists choose affirmatively because they reject the idea that God exists?

    Is the inquiring Agnostic also at risk of hellfire for not being convinced that the world works the way orthodox Christianity claims?

    It seems kind of cruel for a God to condemn someone to Hell because that person didn’t see convincing evidence that God was there. Definitely not the sort of thing you’d associate with Omnibenevolence or being All-Merciful.

    • JohnE_o

      And some of the “This is the big thing I want a response to” feedback is particularly helpful in a 130+ comment thread.

      Would you mind addressing the above? I think the problem of asymmetry of knowledge is important, especially given the claimed outcomes.

  • an atheist

    I think the closest thing to ‘unfixedly broken’ in a moral sense would be a psycopath. They are said to be incapable of feeling remorse, pity or emphaty. They are considered nearly immposible to treat by psychologists and have high rates of recidivism after release from prison. Of course not all people who fit the diagnosis of psycopath are criminals. Many of them lead lives similar to the rest of the population.
    The rest of us are on a kind of sliding scale for things like how much empathy we naturally feel.
    I think you are right that things like war can deaden the natural empathy that people might feel, and so can things like an abusive childhood. I’ve read that reading fiction can increase people’s ability to empathise, and that if someone lacks empathy for a particular group of people, meeting members of that group and completing a task together with them can reduce prejudice and increase the level of empathy towards them.
    The main thing I disagree with is the idea that atheism causes ‘moral damage’. Since you were an atheist yourself, I wonder if you now agree that atheists somehow know god is real and are purposely trying to avoid meeting him? Or is it the case that people are atheists because the evidence they see seems to them to point in that direction? Do you think atheism causes ‘moral damage’? In what way?

  • jose

    If I don’t give the mugger my money, I die, plain and simple. It’s up to me, only up to me. Either I give him the money and I live, or I don’t and I die. Simple fact. Totally my choice.

    That’s what the mugger tells me to excuse himself from the fact that he’s pointing a knife to my throat.

  • Arizona Mike

    Leah: If you want exemptions, mercy, and grace, you need a Person, not a Law.

    Bono (of U2) had an interesting exchange recently on this subject in an interview, describing why he believes in Divine Grace and not the Law of Karma:

    Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

    Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

    Assayas: I haven’t heard you talk about that.

    Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

    Assayas: Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.

    Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

    Assayas: I’d be interested to hear that.

    Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

    from: http://www.thepoachedegg.net/the-poached-egg/2010/09/bono-interview-grace-over-karma.html

  • Darren

    Leah;

    Goodness, and if this were a dinner party you would have sparked the most lively discussion!

    • Steve Schuler

      Indeed!

      And yet another conversation which she initiated but would not participate in, even when directly and politely questioned. What’s up with that, Leah?

      In any event, thanks to all of those who have participated in this interesting and informative exchange of ideas and perceptions. For my purposes the best aspect of Leah’s blog are the comments threads and the overall civil and thoughtful exhanges I am able to read here.

      Thanks again, to all of you!

      • Jay

        I would find it frustrating not to hear any more from Leah on this subject, especially since the non-theist comments have coalesced around a clear and significant objection to her original post — that the risk of wounding your soul has a moral element that the risk of gravity lacks, because God himself ordains/permits/is complicit with/fails to sufficiently warn you about/declines to alleviate the suffering; either you need to explain why the suffering of those in Hell is morally justified, or else acknowledge that this degree of suffering is in tension with the notion of an all-powerful, loving God. (Not trying to start a new round of debate; just trying to condense the basic argument.)

        Of course, it’s only been a day, and Leah may well be working up a brilliant rejoinder as we speak — or else she may just be busy with other things (gasp!). I have noticed a trend, however, that Leah has seemed less willing to enter the fray since her conversion, which trend I hope is only temporary. She’s obviously free to do with her blog whatever she wants, but I imagine she’ll start to lose lots of her atheist readers if they feel like their best arguments continually go unaddressed.

        • leahlibresco

          There are a lot of you, and I have a full time job. I’ve flagged this to look at more over the weekend, since I can’t keep up with the 128 comments since yesterday.

        • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

          What do you expect. This is a classic “problem of evil” objection. Is she going to find a brilliant response that nobody has found before? It has been discussed at least since the book of Job was written perhaps 5000 years ago. At least give Leah a few days!

          The short answer is “free will.” Does that end the questions? No. Would a just God have respect Hitler’s free will enough to let him kill so many? It is more an emotional question than a logical one. Does God need to let so many die before people will see how bad atheism is? Apparently so. The worst might still be to come.

          • Jay

            Well, no, I don’t necessarily expect her to come up with a brilliant theodicy no one has found before. You’ll notice that my framing of the problem posed a dichotomy: either you need to explain why the suffering of those in Hell is morally justified, or else acknowledge that this degree of suffering is in tension with the notion of an all-powerful, loving God. Your short answer — “free will” — is a way of accepting the former; Hell is morally justified because those in Hell choose it, and the risks of that choice are necessary to allow for free choice generally. I grant that your answer is a satisfactory response to my dichotomy, even though I don’t think it’s a good answer to the general problem of evil.

            The problem for Leah is that her original post seemed to be trying to back away from biting this bullet. Chris Hallquist says “obviously I don’t deserve eternal suffering — that’s insane,” and she responds “hey, I’m not saying you deserve to suffer in Hell — I’m just warning you about the risk, like I would warn you about gravity; there’s nothing we can do to change this state of affairs, so we might as well accept and respond to it.” And the reason that doesn’t work is because of the extra supposition that there’s an all-powerful, loving, perfectly just God who yet permits this degree of suffering. So even if you wouldn’t adopt the cackling, retributive tone of “haha, can’t wait to watch you burn in Hell!,” you still have to be willing to say “but yeah, at the end of the day, if you suffer in Hell, you deserve it.”

            You clearly have no problem admitting this last point (indeed, you say everyone deserves it), but I’m wondering if Leah is willing to do the same. If so, then it doesn’t seem like she has a good answer to Chris Hallquist, because she’s basically owning up to the position that he calls “the height of moral insanity” (albeit in gentler terms than he’s probably accustomed to). But if not, then I wonder how she can be so confident about the existence of an all-powerful, loving God in the first place.

  • Iota

    Jay,
    ” I have noticed a trend, however, that Leah has seemed less willing to enter the fray since her conversion, which trend I hope is only temporary. ”

    I’m not Leah (well, duh!) and apparently we are now on the same side of the barricade (in a sense) but just a quick comment on this – I think (I might be utterly wrong) that people, especially some of Leah’s atheist readers (who are understandably impatient) maybe underestimate the amount of thinking one has to do in the process of converting.

    Leah has made the decision to make her conversion process somewhat public (as opposed to, say, shutting up that blog) but I’d assume there is still a lot of thinking, formulating arguments and so forth going on. And since she has pretty much stated that this blog isn’t a place where she spontaneously thinks aloud, but rather posts already “processed” stuff, so to say (unless I have utterly misunderstood this – with a particular emphasis on “When I was an atheist, I didn’t feel a ticking time-bomb urgency to explain and explore every part of my metaphysics (and arguably, the situation was more timebound then, since that’s how I lost the boyfriend). If you think I’m wrong, I’ll still be wrong in a month, and you’ll have more data to use in your attacks.” – some other statements she occasionally made, and the general way she handled her conversion), I don’t find it in the least surprising that she’s doing the thinking somewhere else. Obviously, unlike some for her mystified, angry or just curious atheist readers I don’t have any emotional stake in this, so it might be easier for me to accept.

    On top of that, Leah was always a particular kind of atheist (I’m reminded of the general tenor of responses to her guest-posts on Daylight Atheism – go look that up, no links :)) and, while she was being sometimes treated (I think) as “The Spokeswoman of Atheism” most commenters who wanted to view the debate that way seemed to have either gone away eventually or adjusted to the fact they are not talking to Embodied Atheism but Leah Libresco, all intellectual quirks included.

    My impression of what has happened after her conversion is that an awful lot more people suddenly want to put her in this spokesperson role. Either as a “model convert”, a “person who has to answer all controversial arguments against theism,” “person whose conversion is so mystifying I WANT answers NOW” or some other, similar thing. Now, I’m not Leah (yes, I’ve already said that) ad I sure can’t read minds, but if I were ever put in this position (I sometimes am, albeit not in religious debates), I’d find this extremely frustrating. And I would. probably, come to the conclusion that not all arguments deserve my answer because, y’know, I never made them in the first place and this is not what I wanted to talk about, in the first place. And the ones that do deserve an answer might take a long time, because I want to provide high quality stuff. But people who thought I had made arguments I didn’t, or am somewhat co-responsible for them would probably not be happy with that kind of (lack of) response.

    TL;DR: Patience. :)

    • Jay

      I was very sympathetic to Leah’s original “please be patient” post that you linked to above. Of course, that post was made on June 25, 2012 — a mere week after Leah’s public conversion post — and I guess I didn’t expect at the time that we would be waiting almost half a year before she felt comfortable returning to the thrust-and-parry of sharp debate. But more significant than the length of time is that Leah was officially accepted into the Catholic Church in mid-November, which suggests that she’s reached solid enough ground at least to go through with that commitment. That obviously doesn’t mean she needs to have everything figured out with perfect satisfaction, but I would hope it means she at least feels comfortable responding to the most obvious objections.

      Now, as to this particular subject, I wouldn’t have expected an immediate and fully satisfying response — it’s a big question, and I assume Leah wouldn’t want to rush out a thoughtless reply. Her comment above, noting that she’s flagged the issue for review and will look at in the near future when she has the time, is perfectly sufficient for now to convince me she’s taking the objection seriously. I do apologize if I suggested to the contrary. Again, I’m not trying to tell Leah what to do with her blog or what she “owes” us or whatever; I’m just trying to provide feedback on what will make her blog more and less worthwhile to follow for her non-theist readers.

      • leahlibresco

        And some of the “This is the big thing I want a response to” feedback is particularly helpful in a 130+ comment thread.

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          …the big thing I want a response to is why you misrepresented atheists, especially after having been one yourself and spending some large portion of your time talking about how bad it is to misrepresent people.

          • leahlibresco

            Citation please? I seldom talk about atheism-the-unity, cause it’s not. I have spoken about my own beliefs when an atheist.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “if you’re an atheist who believes in objective moral laws, then you do believe that you’re harmed by transgressing them”
            …is what you said. Notably absent from this statement was any qualifier like “if you’re an atheist who shared my beliefs at the time I was an atheist.”

          • leahlibresco

            That’s not a comment about all atheists, that’s a comment about atheists who are moral realists (possibly verging on neo-platonism). I don’t know of any atheist philosophies that say “Moral laws are real” and “humans are not harmed by transgressing said laws.” I don’t know all philosophies that exist, though, so I welcome a correction.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “I don’t know of any atheist philosophies that say “Moral laws are real” and “[law-breaking] humans are not harmed by transgressing said laws.””
            Are you f-

            Okay. Sure. Let me just go ahead and do your basic research for you, then:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentialism
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontological_ethics
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principlism

            But seriously, it’s more than a little disconcerting to compare the very significant amount of seriousness and attention to give you theism with the apparently minimal amount of seriousness and attention you give to secular theories of various sorts (moral, ontological, etc.). I’ve seen you say some pretty severe things about people who do to Christianity what you’ve just done to atheism.

          • Alan

            Come now Eli, she clearly is familiar with consequentialism as she argued it in the past (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2011/02/a-choice-between-evils.html). She must either be asserting the it doesn’t hold as a philosophy that moral laws are real or objective or part of the conversion process is erasing all preexisting knowledge and replacing it with standard apologetic caricatures of others ideas.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “She must either be asserting the it doesn’t hold as a philosophy that moral laws are real or objective or part of the conversion process is erasing all preexisting knowledge and replacing it with standard apologetic caricatures of others ideas.”
            Indeed – and I’ll bet you can guess which of those seems to me to be the more plausible explanation, at this juncture.

          • Andres Riofrio

            It’s ironic (but not surprising, it happens!) that Leah herself would be the target of what borders on incivility. Let’s assume the best of our ideological opponents!

            Disclaimer: I am not as well-read as other people around here. If I say something wrong, correct me! :-)

            == Agreement with Eli ==

            I agree with Eli in that non-egoist consequentialist theories (especially altruistic consequentialism) do not say anything about immoral actions harming the agent.

            Principlism strikes me as an incomplete philosophy of morals, since it doesn’t answer the question “Why be moral?” Rather, it presupposes that it’s theory fits well with what people already do. It’s more like a practical guideline. This is demonstrated by the context of its use: human subjects biomedical and behavioral research. However, it indeed says nothing about immoral actions harming the agent.

            == Criticism of Eli ==

            However, I don’t see how Deontological ethics *does not* say that immoral actions harm the agent.

            Eli, In Deontological ethics (or at least in Kantianism), moral laws come from reason and logic, and one must obey moral laws in order to conform to rationality. To transgress a moral law is to be odds with rationality. Most people, including skeptics, (I don’t know if Kant included) would agree that to be at odds with rationality is harmful.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “It’s ironic (but not surprising, it happens!) that Leah herself would be the target of what borders on incivility.”
            “Borders on”?? Clearly I’m not trying hard enough…

            “Principlism strikes me as an incomplete philosophy of morals, since it doesn’t answer the question “Why be moral?””
            Yeah, well, you and me both, but there it is nonetheless.

            “Most people, including skeptics, (I don’t know if Kant included) would agree that to be at odds with rationality is harmful.”
            Okay, but we’re not talking about “most people” or “skeptics,” we’re talking about deontological theory. And so far as I’m aware, nothing in deontology (Kantian or otherwise) says that irrationality is a kind of harm. Unless you’ve got a really striking quote or something to demonstrate this, it sure looks like you’re just arbitrarily conflating “action X merits disapproval” or “action X is bad in some sense or other” with “action X is a harm to the actor,” which is not really convincing.

        • Jay

          It’s unfortunate that the commenting format doesn’t allow for upvotes and downvotes, which would make it far easier to just glance across the comment threads and figure out which points readers found more and less compelling. At first I thought this system was uniform across all of Patheos, but then I looked at some other blogs that use Disqus, which does have such votes, and also lets you rank by newest, oldest, or highest ranked.

          I have no idea what would would be involved in switching this blog over to that format, or if Leah has reasons I’m unaware of for keeping things as they are. But if the switch would be feasible, it might go a long way toward helping Leah figure out which points most demand a response, and also toward helping the readers prioritize the most important threads.

          • leahlibresco

            It was Disqus briefly, but then all the old comments blew up in some way, and then we reverted.

        • David

          What I want to see is an explanation of how you understand and deal with Hell, one that is informed by your experience of having been an atheist. If nothing else, this comment thread has shown that atheists, basically unanimously (even atheists I don’t agree with on a whole lot seem to agree with me here) find Hell to be a tremendous moral problem for a religion that defines its God as both just and loving (that is, if anything, his justice should err on the side of compassion), separate from the generic problem of evil. I assume you felt the same way as an atheist (if not, feel free to correct me), and wonder how you have managed to deal with that since or during your conversion.

          The problem with what you’ve given us so far is that
          1. We don’t think Hell, or something like it, is the natural destination that human immorality takes us to, or would be under any sort of universe created by a moral being (as Christianity posits). And even compared to the problem of evil question, free will seems to fail as an answer here.
          2. We don’t think that sending Jesus to rescue us from it is a sufficient way to save us from Hell if it is our destination, given that belief without evidence seems to be required. Surely you, as a former atheist, can understand how a well-meaning person might fail to come to the belief in Christ that is necessary for our salvation during his or her lifetime. And yes, I know that the Catholic Church does not teach salvation through faith alone, but it seems to be a required part of, say, making a sincere confession and having one’s sins forgiven, which seems to be basically necessary.
          3. We don’t believe that eternal torment can possibly be justified for any sentient being, no matter how much evil they have committed. If you deny that Hell consists of unending torment, how does that reflect on the authority of the Catholic Church, which taught that it did so pretty consistently for most of its history? Since God has the power to either not condemn people to Hell or to rescue them from it, why, does he not do so?

          There are a few more points I could bring up, but that should give you plenty to get started on.

          • savvy

            “And yes, I know that the Catholic Church does not teach salvation through faith alone, but it seems to be a required part of, say, making a sincere confession and having one’s sins forgiven, which seems to be basically necessary.”

            Salvation through faith alone basically meant that we cannot believe unless God willed it. So we cannot choose to be righteous, and become righteous. Unless God makes us righteous first.

            Catholicism sees this as a BOTH/AND. Yes faith is a God’s gift, but we can still be made righteous by choosing to do so.

            The sacrament of reconciliation, just carries special grace with it. It’s true that everyone is capable of loving their neighbour, but loving your enemy as Jesus said, does not come automatically.

          • Darren

            ^ this!

            Leah, if you must prioritize, and at 215 comments I think you must, then engaging with pretty much anything David or Jay has stated would suffice.

          • David

            savvy,
            Sorry, my “it” in that quote referred to “faith”, not “salvation through faith alone.” I admit, that sentence was unclear. My point was simply that even in Catholicism, faith seems necessary to salvation, even though the emphasis is less extreme than in Protestantism.

      • Iota

        Jay,

        Warning – controversial statement ahead:
        “Leah was officially accepted into the Catholic Church in mid-November, which suggests that she’s reached solid enough ground at least to go through with that commitment. That obviously doesn’t mean she needs to have everything figured out with perfect satisfaction, but I would hope it means she at least feels comfortable responding to the most obvious objections.”

        I’m not sure if that’s a good expectation. Or more specifically, I’d think it might be way harder to do this well than many people assume…
        - What she considers sufficient might not be what y’all consider sufficient (cf. this – some arguments only make sense within a much bigger paradigm and people might reject not just the argument but the paradigm, making any further discussion between these two people VERY difficult). On a meta level, someone might be even aware that the argument will be unconvincing to a person with a different paradigm and therefore refrain form making that argument, because they predict where the debate would go from there and consider it pointless.
        - Some arguments might boil down (intellectually) to stuff that is already widely discussed in Catholic apologetics and – I’d tentatively assume – could be just plain “boring” to her atheist readers, who sometimes seem to expect she should some sort of nuke-power-like-argument-up-her-sleeve. Personally I tend to think that expectation is possibly wrong. In most cases I’d assume that when two informed people meet in a debating space neither of them is going to hear anything that’s earth-shatteringly new. Because (warning, gross generalization) much of the time the linguistic (and logical) formulation of an argument or a position has a set, typical shape. What changes is usually the content behind the formulation, the personal experience if you will. And, by definition, you can’t transfer experience to another person – when I argue about the horrors of certain kinds of death, for example, what informs my argument is the fact that I personally experienced the death of a close person. But, because there is no way to “transfer” the experience to my interlocutors, I have to rely on language and that often ends up sounding sentimental, cliché, tacky, whatever.
        I’m sort of expecting the same thing here – that some people either expect, hope for or demand that Leah have some new, fundamentally different way of explaining why Catholicism is right and this may not be the case (or it might, if she’s brilliant :)). Which would be a position between a rock and a hard place – on the one hand you don’t want to make obviously stupid, trite observations that don’t do justice to the argument, on the other, there really isn’t much else you can say because the core elements (the raw experience, raw awareness, whatever) cannot be communicated and the language is already so often heard. so abused even, it’s extremely hard not to make the argument sound tacky.

        I’m probably completely wrong, but this is the vibe I get from Leah’s pre-baptismal reflections. That the way she could sort of try to communicate stuff (at present) was through metaphor. But the problem is that one side of the audience (Catholics and theists in general) are much more welcoming of metaphors. Atheist discourse seems to generally focus on linear, clearly defined, debate-style arguments. Which is cool, except when the experience you want to communicate can’t really be put into that format, without amputating most of it….

        I might be completely wrong, obviously.

        (BTW: Leah – you don’t need this but just in case – if I’m misrepresenting your positions in some gross, awful way, please tell me to shut up. I seem to have recently developed this willingness to make arguments based on your old posts and my meta-reflections and I’d like to know if this is not, perhaps, extremely unwelcome, unhelpful and stupid of me)

        • Darren

          It is understandable that such things take time, no argument.

          However, _one_ of the attractions to this blog is that Leah is not just intelligent, but is intimately familiar with all of the (to the non-theist mind) strong and convincing arguments for _not_ being a Theist. Leah is also a skilled debater and has demonstrated this faculty repeatedly, pre-conversion, on the very beliefs she is now obligated to endorse (whether she really believes them now or not). Lastly, Leah has demonstrated sensitivity to the different ways in which opposing groups use common language differently, and has shown the ability to translate between them.

          That said, I am very interested in how she now has come down on the other side of some very prickly objections to Theism.

  • Erick

    @ Eli

    Here’s the show me part of my Catholic morality. I want to leave that other question thread to the Hallquist question.

    Would you agree that the ultimate null position is non-existence? That nothingness in and of itself (without comparison to anything) by its very nature is neutral, without any sense of positive or negative values.

    • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

      Oh – didn’t see this; let me now go back and address the stuff you were asking. Yeah, nothingness is neutral (although I don’t really know what you mean by “sense of values” as opposed to just “values”).

      • Erick

        ==“sense of values”==

        I just want to convey that there is no iffiness. It’s complete and utter zero.

        Do you agree that existence compared to non-existence is a value addition?

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          Like, in that values appear, or that the value automatically goes up? Cause I actually don’t agree with either – just existence itself doesn’t always involve values – but I disagree with the latter much more strenuously than I disagree with the former.

  • Kewois

    I agree with most of the atheist side post so no need to rephrase them.

    Just a few points:

    - Leah misunderstands “consequences” with “punishments”.
    Even she assumes that punishment is just some kind of consequence.
    It is not.

    Leah>So, if you’re an atheist who believes in objective moral laws, then you do believe Leah >that you’re harmed by transgressing them.

    I do not believe that there are objective moral laws. Moral laws are a human construction and you not necessarily are harmed by transgressing them.
    And if you are harmed you are not ethernally punished.

    Catholics in fact have made a selection of what bible commands they must obey and say that all the massacres approved by God and brutal Moses laws were given to them because that was what was used those days. Pure moral relativism.

    Finally she seems to forget that not only people who is sent to hell are suffering an eternal punishment but also people who manage to go to heaven. They see their loved ones (friends, parents) suffering for all eternity. The usual response is that once in Heaven you fully understand that that situation is “good” and automatically begins enjoying their time.

    Of course I also have been waiting for ANY answers from Leah to this and older questions.

    But it seems that she has fully converted to catholicism, not only believing things that are uttery nonsense because “catholics do” as transubstantiation but also evading direct questions and getting quickly offended as well.

    That´s fine as just any other believer, but seems that it is not fair in a lot of personal interviews to pose as the “Rational Atheist” who became Catholic for “good reasons”.

    So far… she just talk like a priest form the pulpit giving no answers, no reasons, no nothing.

    Kewois

    • Alan

      “That´s fine as just any other believer, but seems that it is not fair in a lot of personal interviews to pose as the “Rational Atheist” who became Catholic for “good reasons”.”

      Yep, that is my only critique of her behavior on this blog. That she emotionally needed a ‘person’ to love her to save her from her imperfect virtue is all well and good – a fairly common conversion for someone who needs emotional justification for her morality. But to pretend like she had some unusual conversion reason or some new and different thought that was remarkable for a ‘rational atheist’ is at best misleading and at worst intentional deception. And while I respect her right to have her conversion in private and take her time figuring out her own emotional justifications – she didn’t really take up that right, she chose to have her conversion in public and very willingly allowed it to be presented as some grand conversion of an arch-atheist. I don’t know if she just likes the attention or she now thinks it is her responsibility to convert others and feels this emotional appeal in the guise of rational thought helps – but in any case, it does make it her responsibility to address the serious questions raised to her in the forum she has chosen for public display.

  • Irenist

    Some responses to the arguments above:
    1. In Thomist thought, the saints in Heaven dwell in neither time nor eternity, but rather the aevum (or “aeviternity,”) which is a mean between time (characterized by change) and eternity (characterized by permanence), since the saints in Heaven are changeable beings in communion with the Changeless. Hell, which is even farther from God than mortal life, is characterized by change and by time: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1010.htm

    2. In Christian thought, God is the source of the being of all goodness. Thus, to reject God, and to choose to move farther away from God, is necessarily to move farther from pleasure (or “experiential utility,” to use the terminology on Eli’s well-worth-checking-out blog) of any kind. If you insist upon definitively rejecting ice cream, then you can’t have a sundae; if you want a sundae, then that’s going to involve eating some ice cream. No divine tyranny is involved. Nor is this idea some kind of epicycle of modern apologetics: it is axiomatic Christian thought going back to Augustine if not sooner.

    3. In a cosmos of radical moral freedom, agents may elect to move toward or away from God. To move as far as possible from God without ceasing to exist at all has to be a possibility if the universe is to be a free space. But we Catholics believe ourselves entitled to hope that Hell will prove to be empty of human souls: that no one will make/has made that radical choice. Instead, we hope that after sufficient (if necessarily unpleasant) healing in Purgatory, all may choose to attain to God: conservative Catholics are quite fond of adding the Fatima prayer to the end of each decade of the Rosary, which runs “”O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have most need of your mercy.” (emphasis added) The stress on Hell (as opposed to Purgatory) seems as much a product of the anti-purgatory polemics of America’s Protestant heritage as anything else. Atheists who grew up in that milieu can be prone to read its assumptions into Catholic arguments, IMHO. Then again, it is undeniable that earlier generations of Christians dwelt on the possibility of (others’) damnation with a distressing relish that modern Catholics tend to wish to forget.

    4. One of the goods in the universe is the absence of physical pain. If you voluntarily choose to move away from God (the source and sustainer of all goodness) then logically this will entail a diminishment of the good of the absence of pain. In other words, Hell is necessarily the state of maximal pain and minimal pleasure, because it is the state of maximal distance from all goods.

    5. That’s enough for one giant comment, so I’ll leave with this unfinished suggestion that I haven’t room (or wit) to flesh out: Perhaps the suffering in the universe that isn’t the product of human free will is the product of the free will of Lucifer and other fallen angels, akin to the way Melkor mixes his malice into Creation in Tolkien’s Ainulindalë. If it were, it would presumably have been baked in before the Big Bang and at a level below that at which physics and evolutionary biology operate; my idle suggestion here doesn’t involve constant anti-miracles of malevolent magic or anything.

    • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

      Re: 2 – sure, that part isn’t the epicycle part. The epicycle part is the part where people assume that god would’ve created beings like us, in a world like this one, with the sort of theological evidence that we see (or, more to the point, don’t see), and so on, just because those happen to be the things we observe. Or, in short, the epicycle part is more like your point #3 (why a cosmos of radical moral freedom?) or your point #5 (why angels, even?).

      (Also, note that this comment falls prey to Jay’s comment here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/12/is-judgement-always-about-punishment.html#comment-88166. In particular, neither your definition of hell nor your hope that it’s empty does anything to blunt or deflect the obligation to also say that anyone in hell deserves to be there.)

      • Irenist

        Thanks for the response, Eli.
        a1. I’m going to try to reply helpfully, but I think I may be missing what you mean by “epicycle” here. The Christian beliefs that theodicy, sin, and the solution to the problem of evil all have something to do with free will is at least as old as Augustine. The belief in angels was a Christian universal from back when Christians were a just a Jewish sect. So it seems to me that you’re using “epicycle” to refer more to things that are not deducible from the bare premise of theism or “mere Christianity” or whatever you take Leah and her fellow travelers here to be arguing from, rather than to refer to ideas that have only been bolted onto the Christian model by postmoderns to appease the delicate sensibilities of the targets of modern apologetic arguments. Above, I took you to mean epicycle in the latter way. Could you please clarify a little more what you mean by it?
        a2. In the sense of epicycle I now take you to be using, I take you to be arguing something like this: Your premises include an omnipresent omnipotent omnibenevolence. Why would an OOO create people free to sin, angels free to sin, or really anything that wasn’t perfect? My answer there would be that since God (Who is interchangeably describable as the Perfect, Good, True, Beautiful) is to create anything or anyone at all other than Himself, that creature can only differ from God through some privation of his goodness, beauty, etc., since if the creature shared the Creator’s Perfection, it would of logical necessity just be God Himself. So if there is to be any universe at all, it will have to be somehow imperfect. As to the degree of imperfection, I concede that is just a matter of empirical observation of how imperfect our light-cone happens to be, rather than any deduction from first principles. Perhaps God has created every conceivable existent, and thus every degree of on the continuum of existence exists somewhere and sometime. Haven’t the foggiest.
        b1. I concede that Jay’s argument is a telling one against many Christians’ idea that if you die without having assented to certain propositions about Christ (vulgar Protestant formula) or after having done something naughty without visiting a confessional (vulgar Catholic formula), you go straight to Hell, there to remain. Given the premises of divine love for humanity and the infinite direness of an election against God, I am inclined to think that the doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell may be taken to involve Christ giving each of us a chance to make that choice with full knowledge of its implications. This is a controversial position: the Catechism may be cited against it, as may at least some traditional understandings that it had only to do with those among the just who predeceased Christ. However, John Paul II and Benedict XVI seem to have followed Hans Urs von Balthasar in seeing some merit in it. I’d certainly concede that it’s something of an epicycle, as you might put it.
        b2. Deserving Hell is an idea with juridical connotations that grate on postmodern ears. We might more helpfully think of it as “being in a state such that we will, when given the choice, reject God with as much predictability as a heavier-than-air object, when let go, will fall.” Since that free election of the evil over the good is vicious, desert is not a false way of talking about it. But it is a way of talking about it that seems to generate more heat than light nowadays. And since, apropos of Heaven and Hell, we should prefer the Light to the heat, it might be best avoided. If that feels evasive, though, I’m okay with chatting more about it.
        b3. All goods come to us, on the Christian understanding, as the free gift of God; this includes our existence, our faculties, etc. So we all “deserve” non-existence, Hell, or anything else in the trivial logical sense that we have no claim on God: he doesn’t owe us life or Heavenly afterlife: this is part of the point of St. Paul’s simile of the Potter in Romans. Since Hell is the painful absence of God who is the Good, and God doesn’t owe us His Presence, then we all deserve Hell in that sense. I think that sense (which Christians see as an inoffensive one if our theology is granted arguendo is often conflated in online apologetics with the monstrous claim that, say, children who’ve never accepted Christ as their Personal Savior (or whatever) deserve (in the non-trivial, juridical sense) a punishment worse than we’d inflict on Hitler. I don’t think, e.g., Chris Hallquist “deserves” Hell in that sense. But I don’t think he’s entitled to Heaven, or continued existence, or any other favors from God, either. Neither am I. The language of desert is I think really a complaint against entitlement and presumption as to what God owes us, as employed in Christian theology.
        b4. One implication of virtue ethics (as opposed to the utilitarianism you find more reasonable) is that our lives shape us into certain kinds of people, prone to make certain choices. Although Hell is defined as being characterized by change (akin to the way restless discomfort is more changeable than homeostatic satiety), Christian theology seems to imply that it is our conduct in mortal life that straightens or twists our character: that at death the to-God or from-God direction of the soul’s habits is somewhat more fixed, even if Purgatory might allow further development in the now-fixed direction for the souls of the just. A sufficiently vicious life could conceivably warp someone so completely that, even given a choice by Christ Himself in the Harrowing of Hell, his or her character would be so warped that the choice of maximal awfulness would be freely made. Christians certainly belief that Lucifer (the most intelligent and beautiful of all creatures) made precisely that choice. Reason does not tell me it is logically necessary that at least one human has made that choice, and the Revelation vouchsafed by Scripture and Tradition do not tell me that, either. So I dare to hope that there are no humans in Hell. But I don’t know or have reason to believe that there are or not.

        • Val

          But (assuming that any of this actually has meaning), if what G creates is necessarily imperfect, and if by being imperfect we are damned unless we accept salvation, then G has made us to comply or be damned. ‘Free will’, whatever that is, is constrained by the ultimate form of coercion: eternal suffering. What a choice.

          That may make sense to an ancient tribal, or medieval mindset, but it sounds like sheer hideous lunacy to a modern non-Christian.

          • Irenist

            It does sound like lunacy, doesn’t it? It might help to unpack some of the terms. I will rephrase them as I understand them:
            “If what [God] creates is necessarily imperfect, and if by being imperfect we are [away from God] unless we [choose to allow God to bring us closer to Him, even unto divinization/theosis, perhaps], then [God] has made us to [freely choose him] or [freely reject him]. [Choice] is constrained by [the fact that one of the two choices is extremely unpleasant].”
            I think the problem may in part be that the juridical language of American Protestantism and other traditional Christian (including Catholic conservative) preaching styles sounds a lot more like “Obey or Writhe” than my interpretation above, and “Obey or Writhe” is about as evil and worthy of opposition as anything imaginable. However, I think that the way I’ve cashed out those terms (which is akin to the way C.S. Lewis or John Paul II might’ve cashed them out) has a claim to being more accurate. Other Christians will differ, as will many atheists. Unfortunately, the problem of arguing about Christianity online is that the question of “which Christianity?” gets really tiresome really fast, and since I’m just some guy, and not the Pope or anything, arguing against what I think the Pope and the Magisterium are saying (when you can google some right-winger who will disagree with me and think my reading of what they’re saying is heretical) must feel like rather a bore and a waste after a while. Sorry about that.

          • savvy

            The Catechism holds that all sin stems from a lack of love in a person.

            1990 Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God, and purifies his heart of sin. Justification follows upon God’s merciful initiative of offering forgiveness. It reconciles man with God. It frees from the enslavement to sin, and it heals.

            1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

            To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”

            Jesus went as far to say, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

            Based on my own personal experiences, I would not be able to forgive and love my enemies, if it was not for the grace of accepting Christ’s love into my heart.

          • Val

            Irenist:
            I guess I’m returning pretty quickly to the position made much more eloquently by others here… that this makes no sense while claiming it all to be the action of a loving God (though it could make a lot of sense as the action of a mad Demiurge). The assertion seems to be that we are damned by default… why not saved by default? If the love is that great, why not just erase all that nasty sin and imperfection when we die, so we can bask in the light of the big loving G?

            I’ll tell you what I think: because it’s not the action of any kind of god at all… it’s just the rationale compiled by lots of people Thinking Really Hard about how to establish a moral system (or, at least as often, a doctrine of social control), but based on a faulty premise.

            As for the metaphor that started this whole (really fascinating) thread: I wonder if Leah knows that there are people who, if they really took the challenge seriously, would walk right off that cliff with their eyes forward and their middle fingers raised?

          • Irenist

            Val:

            The assertion seems to be that we are damned by default… why not saved by default?

            Our first parents were supernaturally saved by default. They chose to break that link. God has spent the whole recorded history of civilization on a restoration project spanning from the days of the first city states to your local parish Church.

          • Alan

            Irenist – a loving God didn’t have to put the tree of life there, make it so tempting or even make a note of it to them in the first place. A loving God (assuming all powerful as well) did not HAVE to damn all progeny of Adam and Eve for that choice. A loving God could have sped the restoration project up by bringing Jesus immediately – or through whatever other means, etc.

            The point is, an all powerful God did not have to make the world any specific way and did not have to respond to human choices in any specific way – given the Catholic story of how he has chosen to does not leave the impression of a loving God.

          • Irenist

            Alan,

            a loving God didn’t have to put the tree of life there, make it so tempting or even make a note of it to them in the first place.

            The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (the Tree of Life is different) is a logical necessity of freedom. God may be thought of as saying, “You are blissful. Your knowledge of your bliss is only incomplete in that you do not know the horror of separation from Me, so you do not know what the absence of bliss is like. Since you are free agents, not automatons, you may choose that awful separation. I will not force any choice upon you. But I strongly advise against it.”

            make it so tempting or even make a note of it to them in the first place.

            Satan made it tempting. God merely honored our first parents by not condescending to them by withholding information.

            A loving God (assuming all powerful as well) did not HAVE to damn all progeny of Adam and Eve for that choice.

            Your problem here is the word “damn,” with all its juridical associations. What happened was a metaphysical privation. The human body/soul had both human nature and the supernature of grace. The first parents’ descendants inherit only the human nature they had to give. Had they still had both, we’d have inherited both. God didn’t take anything from the descendants.

            A loving God could have sped the restoration project up by bringing Jesus immediately – or through whatever other means, etc

            An omnipotent God could have chosen other means, sure. But for lots of reasons adumbrated in libraries of Christian theology at length, the way God chose was the most fitting. For Jesus’ message to be universal, He had to form a literate monotheistic people and come to them when they were part of a literate civilization records from which would survive. By suffering, Jesus paradoxically fulfills justice and mercy simultaneously: the laws of cosmic nature are respected, rather than arbitrarily zapped away, even as they are overcome. By taking flesh, Jesus takes the whole human superorganism (which looks rather arboreal on a four-dimensional view) up into God’s own supernatural Life. (“I am the Vine and you are the branches.”) Etc. Not the way you’d run the cosmos, perhaps, but not self-evidently stupid or malevolent as has been asserted here.

            The point is, an all powerful God did not have to make the world any specific way and did not have to respond to human choices in any specific way –

            Again, sure. But God likes to work through secondary causes. He could abolish physics and work as depicted by occasionalists. But he respects the freedom of humans and the integrity of nature. So he operates in His way, not yours. He prefers intricacy to saying “zap” like some anthropomorphically conceived bearded old wizard in an undergraduate theological thought experiment. Thus He prefers to create bios through evolution and zoe through Incarnation. He doesn’t share creationists’ and atheists’ conceptual taste for simplistic exertions of raw divine power.

            given the Catholic story of how he has chosen to does not leave the impression of a loving God.

            A Crucified God in suffering solidarity with every sinner ever leaves me with more of an impression of love than any other narrative I’ve ever encountered. YMMV.

          • Alan

            “The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (the Tree of Life is different) is a logical necessity of freedom”

            Your understanding of the word logical is different from mine. It is not logically necessary that the world God creates includes a condition for which he must punish you eternally. It is like saying it a logical necessity for the warden to leave the door open but if you happen to walk out you have left him no choice but to shoot you in the back.

            “Your problem here is the word “damn,” ”

            No, it isn’t. You could replace it with the word punish if you like – makes no difference.

            “But for lots of reasons adumbrated in libraries of Christian theology at length, the way God chose was the most fitting.”

            Only in a question begging sort of way – really your just so story that follows foes not come across as the simplest, most fitting way to have done it. Sorry you can’t see that.

            “But God likes to work through secondary causes.”
            Because he isn’t all loving but instead just is playing a game with his pet humans? What God ‘likes’ to do isn’t interesting at all in the question of whether this is how an all-loving diety would choose to act. And while your busy telling me what God prefers (or more precisely what medieval Europeans who have formed the theology prefer for God) you never address the core problem that these preferences contradict the notion of an all-loving, all-powerful deity.

            “He doesn’t share creationists’ and atheists’ conceptual taste for simplistic exertions of raw divine power.”
            Because he is a masochist who prefers to see his pets dance.

            “A Crucified God in suffering solidarity ”
            A crucified god is a needless sacrifice of someone who likes the taste, smell and feel of blood. It is like the sado-masochist who likes to be choked for pleasure while simultaneously choking his companion. That is what suffering solidarity is for the being that could end the suffering if he so chose.

          • Irenist

            Alan,

            It is not logically necessary that the world God creates includes a condition for which he must punish you eternally.

            Sure. But it is tautological that:
            If God is going to give you the choice to exist in communion with Him or separately from Him
            then He is going to give you the choice to exist separate from Him. And that’s all Hell is.
            That Hell involves suffering is a logical consequence of God’s being the source and summit of the Good: any state separate from Him will therefore be bad. Which I agree makes Hell awful. So don’t go there. No one is making you.

            You could replace it with the word punish if you like – makes no difference.

            There are some ways (in that it fulfills justice, e.g.) that Hell is like damnation/punishment. But there are other ways, extremely important ways, in which it is more like Leah’s example.

            really your just so story that follows does not come across as the simplest, most fitting way to have done it.

            It certainly isn’t the simplest. But I’ve addressed that: intricate evolution/arbitrary creationism, etc. As for other ways in which it’s the most fitting: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4001.htm

            Only in a question begging sort of way . . . . Sorry you can’t see that.

            Can you help me see how it’s question-begging? Is it something to do with my concession below that the exact mechanics by which the Passion conquers sin and death aren’t explicitly stated? Or something else?

            you never address the core problem that these preferences contradict the notion of an all-loving, all-powerful deity.

            The Christian attitude toward suffering is that, through love, it can be transformed into a greater good. That God permits evil is the basic problem of theodicy, and not specific to the discussion of Hell here. (To prefer, e.g., nonexistence to sorrow strikes me as a choice made by certain Schopenhauerian pop-Buddhisms of the West. How accurately they reflect historic Buddhism I don’t know.)

            A crucified god is a needless sacrifice . . . . That is what suffering solidarity is for the being that could end the suffering if he so chose.

            Christians believe that the zoe won on the Cross will exceed that which would’ve come about some other way. I concede that’s not a provable point of theodicy. The data Thomists take ourselves to be working with is this:
            1. Metaphysics demonstrates that God exists and is the Good.
            2. And yet there is suffering.
            3. There are also accounts of that suffering somehow being vindicated through the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of God.
            Thus, we reason that since suffering seems incompatible with the God of classical Theism, but this God is nevertheless demonstrable, then the Passion looks like a solution to precisely our conundrum. Nevertheless, the mechanics of how the Passion vindicates suffering are not revealed. We can theorize (fanfic, epicycles) about how it might work, and that’s sometimes edifying, but we don’t know. Still, it’s the best resolution (IMHO) of our particular conundrum. Absent the first premise (the existence of the Good God of classical theism), skepticism makes more sense, since then there’s no conundrum.

          • Alan

            “But it is tautological that: If God is going to give you the choice to exist in communion with Him or separately from Him then He is going to give you the choice to exist separate from Him. And that’s all Hell is.”
            And here I thought the very definition of mercy would be for him to let you in even if you chose not to. Didn’t think it had anything to do with nailing yourself/son to a cross, but I guess I’m not god. But to summarize, it is not a logical consequence – it is gods chosen consequence as he could have chosen otherwise.

            “But there are other ways, extremely important ways, in which it is more like Leah’s example.”
            No it isn’t if god is indeed all-powerful. He need not make ‘laws’ that require the existence of eternal hell.

            “Can you help me see how it’s question-begging?”
            I’ll try, but it has been pointed out in multiple ways by different people and still isn’t getting across. It really is simple, I can assert a more fitting way for an all-loving god to have structured the laws of morality – in fact I have given several through the course of the discussion with the most simple being showing your mercy without requiring any convoluted actions by man. The only way it which you can say what is is the most fitting is because, at root, you assume that god would create the most fitting, he created the world as it is and therefor what he has created is most fitting. That is classic question begging.

            “Christians believe that the zoe won on the Cross will exceed that which would’ve come about some other way”
            But god created the rules of the game – he could have made it won through simpler means like I have done when playing monopoly with my 3 year old.

            And then you go ahead and provide a great example of a question begging argument – how do you not see it? The best resolution to the conundrum is to acknowledge either there is no god or said god is not “the good” – drop the premise instead of bending your conclusions to try to protect it.

          • Irenist

            Alan,

            And here I thought the very definition of mercy would be for him to let you in even if you chose not to.

            That would be more authoritarian than merciful.

            No it isn’t if god is indeed all-powerful. He need not make ‘laws’ that require the existence of eternal hell….
            I can assert a more fitting way for an all-loving god to have structured the laws of morality – in fact I have given several through the course of the discussion with the most simple being showing your mercy without requiring any convoluted actions by man….
            But god created the rules of the game – he could have made it won through simpler means like I have done when playing monopoly with my 3 year old….

            Ah, so you think the Problem of Evil is a defeater for Christianity: omnipotent benevolence coupled with suffering doesn’t compute for you. Some responses:
            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1049.htm
            http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/12/thomas-aquinas-question-evil
            http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0019.html
            http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/king-aquinas.shtml

            The only way it which you can say what is the most fitting is because, at root, you assume that god would create the most fitting, he created the world as it is and therefor what he has created is most fitting. That is classic question begging.

            Why the Incarnation was the most fitting solution to sin and death:
            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4001.htm

            The best resolution to the conundrum is to acknowledge either there is no god or said god is not “the good” – drop the premise instead of bending your conclusions to try to protect it.

            But the premise is demonstrably true, so why should I drop it?
            Here’s two Feser cites on the premise, to get you started:
            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/classical-theism-roundup.html
            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/cosmological-argument-roundup.html

          • Alan

            Ah Irene, I have no intention of re-litigating basic apologetics – it is boring and given that you are big on using the words of other I have low expectation of hearing anything new.

            It should suffice to say that you have a much lower confidence requirement for something to be ‘demonstrably true’ than I do.

            And Christianity isn’t defeated by the problem of evil – it is defeated from being untrue rooted in ahistorical mythology, silly childish conceptions of an incarnated diety who dies as a sacrifice to his father diety and two millenia of human manufactured theology designed to increase the power of the manufacturers of said theology. But if it makes you feel more comfortable with the fleeting life to believe it, more power to you.

          • Erick

            ==Yeah, but the funny thing is that scientists will also tell me that consciousness of any sort also only happens inside spacetime.==

            That’s funny. Last I heard, there was no definitive scientific definition of consciousness. Indeed, neuroscience has pretty much admitted that research into consciousness was at too early a stage scientifically to the define it with any kind of precision.

            And this doesn’t even take into account all the philosphical ruminations on the topic that’s taken millenia without resolution.

            So I dispute this claim of yours.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Last I heard, there was no definitive scientific definition of consciousness.”
            You don’t need one in order to have located it to within spacetime.

            “Indeed, neuroscience has pretty much admitted that research into consciousness was at too early a stage scientifically to the define it with any kind of precision.”
            Again, “within spacetime” is a pretty imprecise criterion (although I’d also suggest that you go back and look at the literature again).

            I didn’t say that scientists would tell you what consciousness was, I only said they’d tell you (so to speak) where it was.

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          Re: a1, from wiki: “The term might be used, for example, to describe continuing to try to adjust a theory to make its predictions match the facts.” The thing about bolting pieces on to appease modern sensibilities is such that it’s a proper subset of that definition, right? So it’s not really an either/or sort of thing so much as a particular variation on a theme, or something like that.

          Re: a2 – “My answer there would be that since God (Who is interchangeably describable as the Perfect, Good, True, Beautiful) is to create anything or anyone at all other than Himself.” So I’m sure you saw this coming, but: why create anything or anyone at all? Also, I think this is you conceding the point: “As to the degree of imperfection, I concede that is just a matter of empirical observation of how imperfect our light-cone happens to be.” I think b2 is also a concession of the relevant point. You’ll have to let me switch gears if you want to actually talk about whether people (might even conceivably) deserve to go to hell or not, but the short version is that this stuff about “free gifts” from god seems to me to be incredibly hard to fit into any kind of coherent moral theory. If you’re an arbitrary divine command theorist then I guess you can get away with that, to some degree, but otherwise…I don’t see how it makes sense.

          b4, I guess, is an attempt to make some of that stuff fit some of the way (although not all of it, not all of the way!), which, okay. But now I have ontological concerns: what kind of self (soul? whatever?) could actually be such that it’s immune to substantive change over an eternity and regardless of which kind of stimuli it encounters? Even when Leah talks about being “unfixably broken,” we have to implicitly read her as saying “unfixably broken, given the fixing tools we have available and the time constraints under which we’re operating.” A god wouldn’t face those limitations.

          • Irenist

            Eli,
            a1. Thanks for the epicycle clarification. That makes sense.
            a2. “why create anything or anyone at all?”
            Short answer: Because as imperfect as our lives and those of other living things are, they contain at least some joy. I for one would rather exist, and am grateful for my imperfect lot.
            b2A. If it’s the wrathful juridical God in which you specifically disbelieve, then that makes two of us.
            b2B.The “free gift” stuff is sort of like certain pro-choice arguments: we are more utterly dependent upon God than a child in the womb. God (like a loving mother) does choose to sustain us. But like a pro-choice atheist, I’m merely noting that this is a choice made out of love, not as a repayment for services rendered. To clarify, we pro-lifers would say that the mother owes the child more in justice as a fellow creature than the nothing the Creator owes us, but that we hope she will make a similar choice to that made by Him Who Sustains us all through every moment of existence.
            b4A. “what kind of self (soul? whatever?) could actually be such that it’s immune to substantive change over an eternity and regardless of which kind of stimuli it encounters?”
            Dunno, but now you have me curious. The nature of the soul is complicated, and the nature of the stimuli is only hinted at.
            b4B. “A god wouldn’t face those limitations.” True. So we dare to hope that Hell is empty. But we’ve only been promised that Christ and the sacraments of His Church will save us. As you say, our God logically can, and we hope will, do more.

          • ACN

            “I for one would rather exist”

            If you didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have any opinion on the matter, because there wouldn’t be a ‘you’.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Short answer: Because as imperfect as our lives and those of other living things are, they contain at least some joy. I for one would rather exist, and am grateful for my imperfect lot.”
            Yeah, that’s really not convincing. This makes god into a sort of minimally okay being, not a maximally great one. I mean, if this is all it takes to be morally perfect, why do the rest of us spend so much time trying to make people’s lives better than just “I would rather exist than not”? So long as that homeless person on the street isn’t actively considering suicide, that’s good enough!

            “To clarify, we pro-lifers would say that the mother owes the child more in justice as a fellow creature than the nothing the Creator owes us, but that we hope she will make a similar choice to that made by Him Who Sustains us all through every moment of existence.”
            Yeah, sure, but now you’re saying that there are some humans who (at least in limited cases) act more justly (or whatever) than your god does, which is by definition impossible. The usual response here is that god’s justice is tempered with mercy or whatever, but that speaks directly to the point I just made: now what you have is an apparently irreducibly pluralistic moral system (justice sometimes, mercy sometimes, love sometimes…) that looks an awful lot like you made it up specifically to justify the facts as we see them.

            And, last, re: b4B, if you have confidence in a logical deduction that reaches from your premises to a conclusion, you really should do more than just hope that the conclusion is true; you should believe it. That you don’t seem willing to do so makes me think either that there’s some skeptical premise that you’re still hiding or else that you’re putting too much weight on what you’ve “been promised” as opposed to what you yourself can see to be true.

          • Irenist

            Eli,

            This makes god into a sort of minimally okay being, not a maximally great one.

            The deists’ Great Chain of Being idea, IIRC, was that God created every degree of excellence/privation from the highest angels down to subatomic particles or whatever the bottom was taken to be. That would make it less arbitrary, although it’s a speculative epicycle, not a core doctrine. Then again, various multiverse theories are similar epicycles for modern cosmologists uncomfortable with the Anthropic Principle. (Admitting that there are tons of flaws with that analogy, and that analogies with physics generally have the danger of veering off into Deepak Chopra-inflected woo.) Unless the Bible (and written Tradition) were the size of Borges’ infinite library, there would always be some doctrinal point open to further refinement.

            I mean, if this is all it takes to be morally perfect, why do the rest of us spend so much time trying to make people’s lives better than just “I would rather exist than not”? So long as that homeless person on the street isn’t actively considering suicide, that’s good enough!

            At the end of time, God will remake us and all Creation in a more perfect way. (The lion will lie down with the lamb, etc.) These are just the birth pangs of that process. Why not zap it into being that way immediately? Because now that perfection will be freely chosen. And He seems to like complicated and intricate.

            Yeah, sure, but now you’re saying that there are some humans who (at least in limited cases) act more justly (or whatever) than your god does, which is by definition impossible.

            No. God sustains all souls in being for all time. Even the souls (if any) in Hell. He’s not aborting/annihilating any of them. Nor is He choosing to condemn them without their having chosen it themselves (if any of them indeed have!), which is a better deal than an aborted fetus gets.

            now what you have is an apparently irreducibly pluralistic moral system (justice sometimes, mercy sometimes, love sometimes…) that looks an awful lot like you made it up specifically to justify the facts as we see them.

            We live in a pluralistic cosmos. To me, criticism of authentic development in the doctrine of Hell reads like someone complaining that General Relativity was just an epicycle to good, honest, forthright Newtonianism. (Again with allowances for the general awfulness and woo of religion-science analogies.) Anyhow, no one is claiming that Catholicism is deducible from logical first principles. Thomists claim that rational deduction can make us theists, but that only the revealed truths of Scripture and Tradition (both of which are canon, neither of which is fanfic) can make theists Christian (and preferably Catholic). Catholics don’t claim that humans would’ve thought of the intricacies of God’s supernatural plan unaided, anymore than scientists claim that humans would’ve thought of the intricacies of nature without inductions from observation and experiment.

            And, last, re: b4B, if you have confidence in a logical deduction that reaches from your premises to a conclusion, you really should do more than just hope that the conclusion is true; you should believe it.

            I think this may be the crux of our disagreement here. I don’t see Christianity as entirely a set of deductions from first principles, but a combination of those with revealed truths and deductions from those, and a fair amount of induction from lived charitable, contemplative, and ascetic praxis.

            That you don’t seem willing to do so makes me think either that there’s some skeptical premise that you’re still hiding

            There is no skeptical premise. However, the Church’s logical deductions from Revelation lead only as far as a doctrinal development toward the possibility that Hell is empty. The premises don’t support a conclusion that it is. So we hope, but we don’t know. Honest lab reports have error bars on the data.

            or else that you’re putting too much weight on what you’ve “been promised” as opposed to what you yourself can see to be true.

            Scholastic reason can only tell me that theism is true and that Christianity is not contrary to reasonable theism. Faith in the veracity of the apostolic witness of the martyrs that the God I deduce to exist is in fact Jesus Christ is . . . a leap of faith. Not a deduction from first principles.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “The deists’ Great Chain of Being idea, IIRC, was that God created every degree of excellence/privation from the highest angels down to subatomic particles or whatever the bottom was taken to be. That would make it less arbitrary”
            Er, yeah, but my accusation wasn’t that it was arbitrary. My accusation was that it was suboptimal, which this does nothing to remedy.

            “Then again, various multiverse theories are similar epicycles for modern cosmologists uncomfortable with the Anthropic Principle.”
            Yeah yeah yeah, that’s why I’m agnostic about that stuff until further scientific developments arrive.

            “At the end of time, God will remake us and all Creation in a more perfect way. (The lion will lie down with the lamb, etc.) These are just the birth pangs of that process. Why not zap it into being that way immediately? Because now that perfection will be freely chosen. And He seems to like complicated and intricate.”
            Ah ah – don’t talk to me about what “He seems to like,” that’s a straight-up appeal to an epicycle. If you’re going to do that, you might as well not even bother with real reasoning and just tell me instead that “He seems to like” things exactly the way they happen to be. That’s not even an attempt to justify your position.

            “No. God sustains all souls in being for all time….”
            Let me be more clear: giving us that which we do not deserve is a violation of justice, regardless of whether we deserved more/better or whether we deserved less/worse. Your claim that god gives us good things that we don’t deserve is, therefore, no less philosophically problematic than the skeptical accusation that this life is also filled with bad things that we don’t deserve. Perfect justice, at least so far as I understand it in this context, would mean delivering to each individual exactly what that individual deserves; any departure from that, either erring on the side of too nice or too mean, is a flaw in justness, which goes directly against your definition of god.

            “We live in a pluralistic cosmos.”
            I mean, I don’t think so, at least when it comes to morality. And anyway, even if we did, you’re asking me to accept a degree of moral fine-tuning that I have absolutely no reason to accept; again, if god likes things complicated and intricate, I have to seriously reconsider my efforts to make simple, clean, uncomplicated improvements in the world, which makes no sense to me or indeed anyone I’ve ever talked to (up to and including theists who make such arguments as you’ve just made).

            “Anyhow, no one is claiming that Catholicism is deducible from logical first principles.”
            But I’m not asking you to do that. In this part of the conversation, all I’m asking you to do is coherently explain what the hell you even mean when you talk about how good god is. We can get to justification later, assuming we can get past this step.

            “Catholics don’t claim that humans would’ve thought of the intricacies of God’s supernatural plan unaided, anymore than scientists claim that humans would’ve thought of the intricacies of nature without inductions from observation and experiment.”
            But you yourself just admitted that you have no idea what the intricacies of the plan are! You believe that there’s a plan, and you see intricacies, so you assume that the intricacies must be a part of the plan somehow, but that’s epicycle reasoning 101. To pretend that any humans have “thought of the intricacies in God’s supernatural plan” is nuts – any such wrinkles would, if they were real, remain a total mystery even to today’s theologians and apologists. I mean, be serious – you haven’t even told me what the plan is, let alone how the (as-yet-unspecified) intricacies are or how they’re supposed to contribute.

            “I think this may be the crux of our disagreement here. I don’t see Christianity as entirely a set of deductions from first principles, but a combination of those with revealed truths and deductions from those, and a fair amount of induction from lived charitable, contemplative, and ascetic praxis.”
            Well, right – which is why you’re a believer and I’m not. I don’t happen to engage in the practice of setting “revealed truths” aside for special protection from disproof. But if you think that this is the crux of the disagreement, why are you even bothering to try to eliminate epicycles from your story? This quotation here is, in its essence, nothing more than an admission that you openly and knowingly embrace epicycles – at least, of a certain variety. Why not just say that, list out the “revealed truths” that you have no intention of ever questioning, and then be done with it? Why go through all the motions of arguing with skeptics as though you’re taking us seriously?

          • Erick

            ==what kind of self (soul? whatever?) could actually be such that it’s immune to substantive change over an eternity and regardless of which kind of stimuli it encounters?==

            A permanent one.

            Eternity in the Christian conception is concerned with the idea of permanence, not time; permanence being a quality of perfection. Any scientist could tell you, that change is dependent on there being space and time. The afterlife, which is beyond space and time, offers no mode of succession that could allow for change.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Any scientist could tell you, that change is dependent on there being space and time. The afterlife, which is beyond space and time, offers no mode of succession that could allow for change.”
            Yeah, but the funny thing is that scientists will also tell me that consciousness of any sort also only happens inside spacetime. If this is the road you’re taking, you have to either say that heaven and hell are going to be populated by unperceiving, unthinking, unfeeling statues or else you have to develop a whole new theory of consciousness that would explain how an individual could suffer (or, indeed, have any experience at all) without any “mode of succession that could allow for change.”

          • Irenist

            Eli,

            My accusation was that it was suboptimal, which this does nothing to remedy.

            Are you asserting that given the choice between creating nothing at all and creating imperfect beings, a good God should create nothing? Or are you asserting that an omnipotent God ought to be able to create perfect beings that are somehow distinct from Himself? Both? Neither?

            Ah ah – don’t talk to me about what “He seems to like,” that’s a straight-up appeal to an epicycle. If you’re going to do that, you might as well not even bother with real reasoning and just tell me instead that “He seems to like” things exactly the way they happen to be. That’s not even an attempt to justify your position.

            That’s fair. I think classical theism is deducible on other grounds, and consistent with the world we live in. But I don’t think that the way things happen to be, by itself, is evidence of theism or Christianity. I make only the more modest claim that Christianity is consistent with reason, not that reason requires it.

            Perfect justice, at least so far as I understand it in this context, would mean delivering to each individual exactly what that individual deserves; any departure from that, either erring on the side of too nice or too mean, is a flaw in justness, which goes directly against your definition of god.

            The substitutionary atonement theory of the Crucifixion is that it allowed justice to be satisfied while also allowing a merciful gift of unmerited grace.

            “We live in a pluralistic cosmos.”
            I mean, I don’t think so, at least when it comes to morality.

            Sure. You’re a utilitarian (IIRC); I’m a virtue ethicist.

            my efforts to make simple, clean, uncomplicated improvements in the world, which makes no sense to me or indeed anyone I’ve ever talked to

            Every Burkean conservative would say that such improvements are often full of unintended consequences that more complicated, carefully adjusted, incremental improvements might avoid. You must’ve talked to at least one Burkean conservative in your life. Or maybe a go-slow parliamentary reform socialist in the Keir Hardie/Karl Kautsky vein? Or a centrist Democrat?

            all I’m asking you to do is coherently explain what the hell you even mean when you talk about how good god is.

            To a first approximation: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1006.htm
            What do you mean when you talk about how good He isn’t?

            But you yourself just admitted that you have no idea what the intricacies of the plan are!

            I was unclear. I meant to say that pure reason wouldn’t have led us to posit the Incarnation. But lots of the intricacies of the plan are detailed in the Bible and the Catechism, for starters. It’s not that I have no idea, it’s that my idea comes from a faithful acceptance of revelation, rather than the pure reason that would lead to bare theism.

            Well, right – which is why you’re a believer and I’m not. I don’t happen to engage in the practice of setting “revealed truths” aside for special protection from disproof.

            If somebody actually disproved the Resurrection, Christianity would be in vain. Faith to me is believing Revelation on authority if it’s not inconsistent with pure reason: trust. If some infallibly defined dogma were disproven (rather than merely dubious or dubitable), then Christianity would be untenable. As it is, it can be voluntarily held, but not, IMHO, proven. That trust is a choice. I don’t expect you to make it, or think you’re awful for not doing so.

            if you think that this is the crux of the disagreement, why are you even bothering to try to eliminate epicycles from your story?

            The choice to have faith in the story doesn’t rule out that faith from seeking understanding.

            Why not just say that, list out the “revealed truths” that you have no intention of ever questioning, and then be done with it?

            I guess I’d start with the Nicene Creed. But I wouldn’t be listing truths I have no intention of ever questioning, but of truths the apostolic witness to which I choose to trust in unless they are proven to be inconsistent with reason.

            Why go through all the motions of arguing with skeptics as though you’re taking us seriously?

            You might disprove one of those truths. Or, more likely, you might undermine my independent metaphysical confidence in theism. Certainly seems important enough to seek contrarian input on.
            If I’m wrong, I want to know it. If I’m right, I’d like to help promote that correct viewpoint. I imagine you feel the same way.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Are you asserting that…”
            I’m just saying that this can’t possibly be the best that a god could do, especially considering that we humans act to a higher standard and hold each other to a higher standard all the time.

            “The substitutionary atonement theory of the Crucifixion is that it allowed justice to be satisfied while also allowing a merciful gift of unmerited grace.”
            That’s nice and all, but it’s also a contradiction in terms, and if I ask you to explain how “unmerited grace” could possibly be consistent with justice, you’ll either tell me you don’t know or you’ll deny one of the two parts. Just naming a contradiction in terms doesn’t make it non-contradictory.

            “Every Burkean conservative would say that such improvements are often full of unintended consequences that more complicated, carefully adjusted, incremental improvements might avoid.”
            Y’know, I was going to dispute this, but actually “often” is good enough for me, because it implies that I’m right sometimes, and sometimes is enough to disprove perfection.

            “What do you mean when you talk about how good He isn’t?”
            Well, that there are obvious ways in which the universe could be structured more justly, more mercifully, more lovingly, etc. – or, to play historical apologetics mad libs with you, that there are obvious ways in which it could be structured so as to make it more desirable.

            “It’s not that I have no idea, it’s that my idea comes from a faithful acceptance of revelation, rather than the pure reason that would lead to bare theism.”
            Really? Is that so? So describe the plan for me, then.

            “If somebody actually disproved the Resurrection, Christianity would be in vain. Faith to me is believing Revelation on authority if it’s not inconsistent with pure reason”
            I hate to break it to you, but dubiousness is a form of inconsistency with pure reason. It is, for instance, a paradigm of unreasonableness to believe that you’re going to roll a 12 when you pick up a pair of fair dice, even though that proposition won’t have been disproven.

            “But I wouldn’t be listing truths I have no intention of ever questioning, but of truths the apostolic witness to which I choose to trust in unless they are proven to be inconsistent with reason.”
            What would that take, exactly? I’m having trouble figuring out which sort of evidence would be enough to disprove – not merely to cast doubt on, but to flat-out disprove – something in your eyes.

        • Irenist

          Eli,

          I’m just saying that this can’t possibly be the best that a god could do, especially considering that we humans act to a higher standard and hold each other to a higher standard all the time….
          Well, that there are obvious ways in which the universe could be structured more justly, more mercifully, more lovingly, etc. – or, to play historical apologetics mad libs with you, that there are obvious ways in which it could be structured so as to make it more desirable.

          So you’re asserting that the Problem of Evil is a defeater for theism/Christianity. Okay.

          That’s nice and all, but it’s also a contradiction in terms,

          Flippant answer: Where you see contradiction, I see paradox. If you’ll pardon the woo: Justice/Mercy, Wave/Particle.
          Somewhat less inadequate answer: Christ’s suffering satisfies justice. An infinite sin (rebellion against God) was due infinite suffering. So an infinite being suffered. It also satisfies mercy. You may feel that it’s only just if the sinners themselves suffer. That’s a definitional dispute I won’t get into since I’m not a big fan of linguistic prescriptivism, not a logical inconsistency.

          Really? Is that so? So describe the plan for me, then.

          Okay.
          http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__PF.HTM
          The rest of the Catechism has more details.

          I hate to break it to you, but dubiousness is a form of inconsistency with pure reason.

          You’re right. I should’ve just written “dubitable” and left it at that.

          What would that take, exactly? I’m having trouble figuring out which sort of evidence would be enough to disprove – not merely to cast doubt on, but to flat-out disprove – something in your eyes.

          Not sure. Also not sure why you’d want to attempt to do that. If I’m holding beliefs (in apostolic witness, etc.) with insufficient warrant, what’s it to you? I think W.K. Clifford missed out on a grand adventure through epistomelogical prudery, and don’t see any reason to follow his lead.
          I don’t think Christianity is demonstrable from first priniciples, and I don’t think Christians ought to be, e.g., using the government to force others to live in a way we approve of, not least because Christian Revelation isn’t the sort of consensus truth (as opposed to, e.g., climate science) that ought to be dominating deliberations in the secular public square. However, I do think that Christianity is neither contrary to reason nor self-evidently monstrous. That limited point is the only one I’m trying to make here: that the Christian doctrine of Hell is neither contrary to reason nor monstrous. I’m not trying to say it’s compelled by reason or anything; it’s not.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “Flippant answer…”
            Yeah I’m just gonna skip that one.

            “Somewhat less inadequate answer: Christ’s suffering satisfies justice.”
            Well, then by definition whatever god does for us must be deserved, right? Justice is just desert in this context, after all. But you yourself just said that we don’t deserve the stuff that god gives us, soooooo…

            I guess you might mean that “Christ’s suffering satisfies justice” in some incomplete way that doesn’t address e.g. our very existence, but then you can’t very well offer the atonement theory as an answer to the objection I made above. Soooooo…

            “Okay.
            http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__PF.HTM
            That is really not enough data to explain what you said earlier: “Anyhow, no one is claiming that Catholicism is deducible from logical first principles. Thomists claim that rational deduction can make us theists, but that only the revealed truths of Scripture and Tradition (both of which are canon, neither of which is fanfic) can make theists Christian (and preferably Catholic). Catholics don’t claim that humans would’ve thought of the intricacies of God’s supernatural plan unaided, anymore than scientists claim that humans would’ve thought of the intricacies of nature without inductions from observation and experiment.” I mean, c’mon – that link up there doesn’t explain any natural evils, doesn’t explain the plurality of religious belief, doesn’t explain why we weren’t just created in heaven to begin with, doesn’t explain the paucity of available theological evidence…it doesn’t even explain why the plan was worth doing in the first place!

            “Not sure.”
            :-/ Yeah okay…

            “Also not sure why you’d want to attempt to do that. If I’m holding beliefs (in apostolic witness, etc.) with insufficient warrant, what’s it to you?”
            Kicks?

            “That limited point is the only one I’m trying to make here: that the Christian doctrine of Hell is neither contrary to reason nor monstrous.”
            Well, so far, the closest you’ve come to doing that is “hoping” that hell would have to be empty if it existed at all, which is really not sufficient – again, either believe this and tell me it’s true, or else understand that your “hope” may well be invalidated by the monstrous moral system you’re arguing for.

          • Irenist

            Eli,

            Well, then by definition whatever god does for us must be deserved, right? Justice is just desert in this context, after all. But you yourself just said that we don’t deserve the stuff that god gives us, soooooo…

            Whatever God does must be just. Whatever He does for us may also be merciful. If you give alms to those to whom you owe nothing, you have not done anything unjust, but you have done something merciful. Mercy fulfills the law rather than contradicting it.

            I guess you might mean that “Christ’s suffering satisfies justice” in some incomplete way that doesn’t address e.g. our very existence,

            Are you saying that our existence is unjust if it’s not somehow owed to us as opposed to being a free gift? Are you taking the Randian view that charity is a vice? What are you getting at here?

            I mean, c’mon – that link up there doesn’t explain any natural evils, doesn’t explain the plurality of religious belief, doesn’t explain why we weren’t just created in heaven to begin with, doesn’t explain the paucity of available theological evidence…it doesn’t even explain why the plan was worth doing in the first place!

            I thought about just linking to the entire Catechism, the Bible, the collected Papal encyclicals, and the works of Aquinas, but it felt too Courtier’s Reply, since I was going for more of an entree into the answers, rather than a data dump. Maybe I should’ve just linked them all. Do you have a single bite-sized text to link to that explains all of natural science? If you don’t, is that a reason for someone to reject natural science? This is, AFAIK, a thread about Hell, not about answering every conceivable objection to Christian soteriology.
            Nevertheless, here goes:

            1. natural evils:
            http://catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0032.html
            Also my Ainulindalë suggestion above.

            2. plurality of religious belief: http://frcoulter.com/books/CrossingThresholdHope/chap13.html

            3. why we weren’t just created in heaven to begin with: Lucifer was. Adam and Eve were created in a state pretty close to Heaven. They still chose sin and suffering, for themselves and for the rest of us. If you’re asking why God chose the Incarnation as the solution to that, I already linked to a portion of the Summa about that elsewhere in the thread, and I think I’ve aggravated the spam filter enough for one post, so I’ll refrain from linking it again.

            4. paucity of theological evidence: Luke 16:31 – “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.” IOW, it’s never going to be enough for some people. Even technicolor miracles out your window could be trolling extraterrestrials. Faith is a choice, although, again, one for which classical theism raises the priors.

            Well, so far, the closest you’ve come to doing that is “hoping” that hell would have to be empty if it existed at all, which is really not sufficient – again, either believe this and tell me it’s true, or else understand that your “hope” may well be invalidated by the monstrous moral system you’re arguing for.

            So the bare logical possibility of a single human in Hell is a defeater for Christianity. Not the settled belief that there is even one human there, just the bare logical possibility. And not because God wills it, but because He merely allows it, rather than exerting his omnipotence by overriding human freedom to prevent it? Really? That’s your argument? It has a sort of austere moral grandeur, I suppose, but I just don’t see it.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “If you give alms to those to whom you owe nothing, you have not done anything unjust”
            So what do you think justice is, then?

            “Are you saying that our existence is unjust if it’s not somehow owed to us as opposed to being a free gift? Are you taking the Randian view that charity is a vice?”
            I mean, if that’s how you define justice (see question above); that’s why I don’t take (that kind of) justice very seriously as an ethical concept.

            “This is, AFAIK, a thread about Hell, not about answering every conceivable objection to Christian soteriology.”
            Well, fair enough.

            “So the bare logical possibility of a single human in Hell is a defeater for Christianity.”
            First things first: don’t confuse logical possibility with empirical possibility. What seems possible to you may not actually be possible. Also, no, my point there was that the fact that you have to hope against hell is in itself a sort of proof that the idea is monstrous.

          • Irenist

            Eli,
            First of all, I think the best thing I’ve ever read against the acceptability of the idea of even a single soul in Hell is this, which I should’ve mentioned in my last comment: http://harelbarzilai.org/words/omelas.txt
            Add it to the atheist side of the ledger with my complements. It’s not a perfect analogy (or I wouldn’t be a Christian), but it’s a powerful tale.

            So what do you think justice is, then?

            Justice defined: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3058.htm
            Divine Justice in relation to Divine Mercy: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1021.htm

            that’s why I don’t take (that kind of) justice very seriously as an ethical concept.

            I honestly don’t have any idea what you mean here.

            the fact that you have to hope against hell is in itself a sort of proof that the idea is monstrous.

            Sure, Hell is monstrous. But I don’t think allowing the existence of Hell as a freely available choice, while making efforts to dissuade us from that choice, makes the Christian God monstrous, anymore than allowing the prodigal son to choose to have his inheritance early and squander it (although it was in His power to prevent it as a pater familias in an agrarian patriarchy) made his Father monstrous. At least one creature (Lucifer) has freely chosen, with perfect information, to dwell in Hell. God has made that available. He isn’t forcing any humans to join Lucifer. He’s just not turning us into automatons to prevent us from choosing to do so.
            I’ll be leaving my internet access for the night soon. Have a nice night.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Ehhhh – I personally find Omelas to be an untrustworthy premise from which to depart on a philosophical expedition. But okay.

            And see, this is what I mean about justice. If justice def= “a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will,” then it unquestionably IS unjust for us to receive free gifts that we don’t deserve. The definition isn’t “…renders to each one AT LEAST his due,” it very specifically says that you give people exactly what they’re owed, what they’re due, what they deserve, or however you prefer to phrase it. As I said, that to me is such a major deficiency in the concept that I can’t include it in my ethics in any serious way. Even you seem baffled by the idea that getting more than you deserve could possibly be unjust, but it’s right there in the definition.

            “Sure, Hell is monstrous.”
            Well okay then.

            “But I don’t think allowing the existence of Hell as a freely available choice, while making efforts to dissuade us from that choice, makes the Christian God monstrous, anymore than …”
            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/12/is-judgement-always-about-punishment.html#comment-89019

            “He isn’t forcing any humans to join Lucifer. He’s just not turning us into automatons to prevent us from choosing to do so.”
            Now this I find extremely puzzling: what can you possibly mean by this? You’ve already said that you hope nobody ends up making a certain kind of decision, and you’ve also already said that you think that that’s a reasonably plausible outcome. Why would it make us any less automated if some of us made the choice in this life and some made it afterwards? We would still all make the same choice, in the end, which to you (it seems) would mean that we never really had a choice at all. I really have a hard time figuring out which theory of free will you’re using here.

            (Just for the record, note that you’re now verging on going three for three: you haven’t given me a particularly coherent moral theory that’s capable of making sense of your position, you haven’t given me a particularly coherent theory of self that’s capable of making sense of your theory, and now it sure looks like you’re working with an equally unhelpful theory of free will. Little ol’ atheist me can do better on all three of those counts.)

          • Irenist

            Eli,

            If justice def= “a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will,” then it unquestionably IS unjust for us to receive free gifts that we don’t deserve. The definition isn’t “…renders to each one AT LEAST his due,” it very specifically says that you give people exactly what they’re owed, what they’re due, what they deserve, or however you prefer to phrase it. As I said, that to me is such a major deficiency in the concept that I can’t include it in my ethics in any serious way. Even you seem baffled by the idea that getting more than you deserve could possibly be unjust, but it’s right there in the definition.

            Ah. That’s an incisive objection: without the addition of “at least,” in some form, it’s not a very attractive ideal, is it? I suppose I had read “at least” into the definition. I certainly think it belongs there. Here’s a snippet from the part of the Summa on Divine Mercy in relation to Divine Justice that makes me think that “at least” may be legitimately read in:

            Objection 2. Further, mercy is a relaxation of justice. But God cannot remit what appertains to His justice. For it is said (2 Timothy 2:13): “If we believe not, He continueth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.” But He would deny Himself, as a gloss says, if He should deny His words. Therefore mercy is not becoming to God….
            Reply to Objection 2. God acts mercifully, not indeed by going against His justice, but by doing something more than justice; thus a man who pays another two hundred pieces of money, though owing him only one hundred, does nothing against justice, but acts liberally or mercifully. The case is the same with one who pardons an offence committed against him, for in remitting it he may be said to bestow a gift. Hence the Apostle calls remission a forgiving: “Forgive one another, as Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Hence it is clear that mercy does not destroy justice, but in a sense is the fulness thereof. And thus it is said: “Mercy exalteth itself above judgment” (James 2:13).

            IOW, it would be against justice to give someone less of the good things he or she is due, but not more of them. This might lead to the question: but what about bad things? For our limited purposes here in discussing theodicy in the context of Hell, I’d only note the privative theory of evil in Catholicism since at least Augustine: on that theory, Hell is a privation of God’s goodness, not an imposition of some freestanding badness. Someone in Hell is, like the rest of us, due precisely nothing from God, and that is precisely what he or she chooses to receive: nothing from God. As that’s a horrid fate, it is to be hoped that all choose to receive God’s mercy instead. Lucifer, in his pride, wanted nothing from God and all from himself–and that’s what he has gotten. It’s a horrid choice, but not a strictly irrational one given certain preferences: A perfect computer programmed with an Objectivist weighting of moral values would presumably make the same choice. (Which is one of the many reasons I find Rand’s thought diabolical.)
            *
            You link to Darren’s thoughtful and thought-provoking post in which he analogizes guns in the home to argue against the apologetic move that Hell being freely chosen saves God’s benevolence in allowing it as a possibility. Darren concludes:

            _That_ is why I no longer keep guns in the house. Not because one of my children might accidentally use one, but because one of them might do so deliberately.

            This gets at a lot of things for me, but one of the things it gets at is irrevocability, the key distinction between actually existing Catholic dogma, including Hell, and an alternative version of it that had as its only afterlife options Purgatory and Heaven. There are two things that maybe haven’t been fleshed out in this thread, but that I sense atheists arguing against:
            1. The idea that being set in sin at the moment of death would force a soul into Hell forever for some sin, perhaps with no chance to really make an informed choice before irrevocable consequences (Hell). It’s not the thrust of Darren’s argument, but to respond to (1.) as a way of laying groundwork for (2.), I offer this from Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:

            [S]ince Christ died for all, and since the ultimate vocation of human beings is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to everyone the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”

            So we may believe (and I do) that everyone gets a really, really, really informed choice. A choice where the bliss of Heaven and the pains of Hell are made entirely comprehensible in a way that the foolhardiness of gunning yourself down is not apparent to a distraught teenager.
            2. The idea that no matter how informed the choice is, the irrevocableness is still horrid, and would be even if it was just the “boring empty room” of some modern apologetics, and not everlasting fire. This I take to be the thrust of Darren’s comment. It’s an extremely important point, and a telling blow against Catholicism: right down there in my list of most horrifying aspects of the faith with the Amalekite genocide (even if on present archeological evidence it likely never happened, we still have God inspiring that text in His Bible, which is troubling even if it’s just a very savage allegory). Although I take “sympathy for the Devil” to be a spiritually perilous subject for contemplation, a steel-manned version of Darren’s case would seem to be able to be made as follows:

            Even allowing one creature, e.g., Lucifer, to spend forever in Hell (even if empty of any and all humans, none of whom would make that choice knowingly) makes God less than perfectly Good: after all, why allow such horror? And indeed, if arguing about what’s just for a wicked angel takes us too far afield, what if even one human makes that choice? Even one gets us pretty far toward Omelas. Why should God even permit the bare possibility? Why keep the gun lying around?

            My move in response to (2.) is twofold.
            First, I want to concede that it’s a really honorable and cogent question, and one of the questions that drives my continued respect for the decency and humanity of atheism and atheists, and the prophetically humane challenges understandably angry atheists offer to Catholic complacency.
            Second, I want to turn to the Orthodox doctrine of Hell that I.B. Bill mentions below. As summarized by the late Orthodox theologian John S. Romanides (no apologist for “Romans and Franks,” as he called us in rousingly medievalist, filioque-abhorring, Carolingophobic style), the teaching is that:

            God himself is both heaven and hell, reward and punishment. All men have been created to see God unceasingly in His uncreated glory. Whether God will be for each man heaven or hell, reward or punishment, depends on man’s response to God’s love and on man’s transformation from the state of selfish and self-centered love, to Godlike love which does not seek its own ends.

            As a Catholic, I don’t believe this in Romanides’ terms. However, given that we are talking about a spiritual state here, the Catholic view (willful separation from God) and the Orthodox view (raging incomprehension of God that makes His Presence sear rather than enlighten) strike this ecumenically-inclined unqualified layman as perhaps two descriptions of the same reality from different perspectives–Western and Eastern blind monks describing the same elephant.
            What I’m building toward is a hunch that in the nature of the case, God is the gun.
            A creature so depraved as to choose Hell would find living in the same cosmos as God an unending torment in and of itself–like a denizen of some ghastly version of “The Opposites” from You Can’t Do That On Television, the sweet savor of God’s love would stink forever in the evil one’s nostrils; the ever-dawning sun of His love would burn eternally. To be the sort of creature that would, like Satan, with total knowledge, choose Hell, would choose separation (as we Catholics describe the reality) from God, would be to be a creature that from a Christian perspective, had undergone a far more pernicious “transvaluation of values” than anything Nietzsche’s troubled dreams ever poured forth. To choose Hell would be to prefer hellfire and torment to God and joy. It’s not a choice that I can imagine any angry atheist’s little sister making just by virtue of the fact that she prefers to sleep in on Sundays instead of going to church. It’s a total, radical rejection of God Who is Joy. It’s thus a preference for pain over joy. God can’t keep Lucifer (or some to-me inconceivably bizarre human with similar preferences) from choosing to abhor Him without either ceasing to be obnoxious to him or her by ceasing to be Himself (a logical impossibility equivalent to “getting rid of the gun”) or forcing Himself on them in a way that would make Him not a tirelessly patient and sacrificing Lover, but a demiurgical rapist. He can’t put the gun away because His all-sustaining Goodness that necessarily holds the souls of even sinners in being is the gun. No gun, no God–and thus no us, either.

            Why would it make us any less automated if some of us made the choice in this life and some made it afterwards?

            It wouldn’t. That single instant of choice at death, presumably lasts a really, really long time subjectively.

            We would still all make the same choice, in the end, which to you (it seems) would mean that we never really had a choice at all. I really have a hard time figuring out which theory of free will you’re using here.

            I hope we all make the same (good) choice. But it is a real choice. I’m not sure that a discussion in this dwindling thread of the quandaries of free will is to the present infernal point beyond my saying that.

            (Just for the record, note that you’re now verging on going three for three: you haven’t given me a particularly coherent moral theory that’s capable of making sense of your position, you haven’t given me a particularly coherent theory of self that’s capable of making sense of your theory, and now it sure looks like you’re working with an equally unhelpful theory of free will. Little ol’ atheist me can do better on all three of those counts.)

            Eli, you almost certainly can do better than me. Your blog reads like the work of the philosophy prof I wish I’d had. However, I don’t know if the nature of morality, the self, and free will are necessary to give an adequate answer to our inquiry in this thread, and I do know that even if they are so implicated, there isn’t room here to do so! So with apologies for the obnoxiousness of the Courtier’s Reply, I’ll submit only that the Church generally, and Thomism in particular, have sturdy theories on all three of these worth reading about at book-length. If you can ignore the right-wingery and shamefully vituperative homophobia, the books (and bibliographies therein) of someone like Feser are probably a decent place to start looking for the longer books that would actually answer your questions.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “‘The case is the same with one who pardons an offence committed against him, for in remitting it he may be said to bestow a gift’…IOW, it would be against justice to give someone less of the good things he or she is due, but not more of them.”
            Sorry, I still think that this is too cavalier a response. Look, for instance, at article 10:

            “Objection 3. Further, the reason why the other virtues are said to observe the rational and not the real mean, is because in their case the mean varies according to different persons, since what is too much for one is too little for another (Ethic. ii, 6). Now this is also the case in justice: for one who strikes a prince does not receive the same punishment as one who strikes a private individual…
            Reply to Objection 3. The injury inflicted bears a different proportion to a prince from that which it bears to a private person: wherefore each injury requires to be equalized by vengeance in a different way: and this implies a real and not merely a rational diversity.”

            “Requires to be equalized by vengeance,” he says by way of explaining what justice is. Not, “may be equalized by vengeance, assuming that there’s no gift involved” – “requires.” (Dunno why the weird grammar, but there it is.) If you can figure out a way for justice to simultaneously require punishment and not require punishment (i.e., permit a pardon), then you’re smarter than me. Either that or you can just reject the harsher of the two definitions, but understand that if you do so you’re departing from canon, and that you departed on your own recognizance. (I know what you’re going to be tempted to say – that you’re just interpreting canon and there isn’t really a contradiction there – but that would be a convenient lie you’re telling yourself, and I certainly won’t believe it. So don’t go down that road.)

            “[Very long story...]What I’m building toward is a hunch that in the nature of the case, God is the gun.”
            So this is an admirable attempt to reframe the issue, but I don’t think it’s a successful one. As we’ve already noted at several points during this conversation, it isn’t your idea of god alone that’s turning the explanatory wheels in your belief. You also augment that idea with all sorts of additional, unargued-for premises about the way the world has to be, the way we have to be, and so on. So far as I can see, those augmentations have to be “the gun(s)” before god itself gets to be “the gun” for you. Since they’re less fundamental to your worldview but no less an important part of your defense, I should think that you’d have to lay blame there first.

            “I don’t know if the nature of morality, the self, and free will are necessary to give an adequate answer to our inquiry in this thread…”
            Well, that depends on how high your standards are for “adequate,” dunnit? :-D

            “If you can ignore the right-wingery and shamefully vituperative homophobia, the books (and bibliographies therein) of someone like Feser…”
            I actually consider Feser to be somewhat of a blowhard (see e.g. http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2009/10/case-of-selective-blindness.html). Also, I don’t mean to be confusing, so let me clarify: I’m not asking these questions of you because I think you have answers and I’m curious to learn what they are. I’m asking these questions of you because I’m fairly sure that you don’t have answers and I want you to admit as much (which, very much to your credit, you’ve been pretty consistent in doing). Indeed, I myself am pretty damn certain that there are no answers to these questions, sort of in the same way that there’s no answer to the question “Why do unicorns prefer dandelions to grass”.

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  • mickey

    hi, this has got to be the longest blogg conversation i have ever come across.. I am just reading Love Wins by Rob Bell and in it he does cover the punishment/judgement thing Lea mentioned in her blogg but really just wanted to throw that book in there because i am finding it very clear and concise and turning alot of all this upside down but doing it from a biblical perspective or at least adding some wonder and humanity etc to this kind of discussion – check it out, Peace m

  • Fr. Terry Donahue, CC

    Since Leah invited others to add useful citations, here’s a link to Blessed Pope John Paul II’s General Audience in 1999 on the topic of Hell (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_28071999_en.html). Here are a few quotes that confirm points mentioned above:
    1) Hell “is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life.”
    2) Hell “is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.”
    3) “Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”
    4) “‘Eternal damnation’, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.”

    Although these General Audiences are not at the same teaching level as an Ecumenical Council or a Papal Encyclical, they are an exercise of the ordinary and universal Magisterium (see CCC 2033 -4: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a3.htm). John Paul II gave similar General Audiences on the topics of Heaven and Purgatory, which are available in a set here: http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2heavn.htm

    • Val

      Piffle. If G made us ‘separate’ in the first place then the initiative is precisely its/hers/his. I didn’t make myself or my condition.

      • Fr. Terry Donahue, CC

        God did not make us separate in the first place, but rather in a state of holiness and justice (CCC 375). Furthermore, “since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery [God's work of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ].” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 22).

        Concerning the case of those who through no fault of their own do not know Christ, Pope Pius IX wrote that those who “lead a virtuous and just life, can, with the aid of divine light and grace, attain eternal life; for God, who understands perfectly, scrutinizes and knows the minds, souls, thoughts and habits of all, in his very great goodness and patience, will not permit anyone who is not guilty of a voluntary fault to be punished with eternal torments” (Quanto conficiamur, 10.09.1863, quoted in http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html, par. 33)

        Catholic teaching is internally consistent and clear on this point: God is not looking for ways to keep people out of heaven.

        • Val

          “Catholic teaching is internally consistent and clear…”

          Mostly by supplying endless escape clauses, footnotes and glosses on what is evidently an inconsistent and unclear aggregate of beliefs and argument… precisely because they are manufactured by people, not any god.

          If there were a god in the Christian sense, I really doubt it would be such a lawyer.

          • Irenist

            If you think His theology is convoluted, you should see His physics. He likes an intricate, complicated world.

      • Irenist

        Piffle. If G made us ‘separate’ in the first place then the initiative is precisely its/hers/his. I didn’t make myself or my condition.

        God made us without sin. Then our first parents moved away from Him. So He sent prophets, who were persecuted. So He sent His Son, Whom was killed. His Son founded a Church, which the Romans persecuted. It’s still around. These are only the aspects of His initiative that have been revealed; we hope there are more. The message of the Church may be said to be: God’s Mercy may save you outside the Church, but will save you from within it, so we urge you to seek the sure safety. God is infinite and could always do more, but what He has revealed Himself to have done is a multi-millennial rescue mission, which I’d say is more than “piffle.”

        • ACN

          “God made us without sin. Then our first parents moved away from Him…”

          Except he put the tree in the garden and barred our parents from eating from it with the full knowledge that they wouldn’t be able to resist it.

          He also let the snake into the garden without any warning to our parents that it was our/his enemy.

          Then, rather than punish “our parents” for their transgression alone, he decided to make their transgression genetic in some bizarre way, and punish all of their progeny.

          He derp’d around with a number of prophets for circa thousands of years, prophets that he KNEW wouldn’t complete his plan for salvation, until finally, 2000 years ago, 100+ thousand years after humans evolved and screwed themselves out of eternal bliss in gardens, for his closing act, he decided to send his son to one of the most backwards, illiterate, portions of the middle east. Where 2000 years later, there are still hordes of people who have never heard his divine message of salvation.

          What a plan.

          • Irenist

            Except he put the tree in the garden and barred our parents from eating from it with the full knowledge that they wouldn’t be able to resist it.

            The Virgin Mary was born without sin, same as Eve. And Mary never sinned. Resistance wasn’t futile. Adam and Eve just didn’t choose it.

            What a plan.

            So we’ve gone from “God is a vindictive demiurge worthy of atheists’ contempt” to “That’s not how I would’ve run the universe if I’d been in admin.” I consider that enough for one very long thread.

          • Val

            Irenist, you keep referring to Adam and Eve as if they were real people and as if there really was an “original sin.” I was under the impression that the modern Catholic church was pretty much on the page with paleontology, evolution, etc.

          • Alan

            Irenist – Wait, so the Virgin Mary was born without sin? You mean God didn’t have to have all of Adam’s progeny born in sin, he was capable of having them born without it? Hmm, some loving God, he saved that power for the chick he wanted to knock up and left all his other creations to suffer for the fall?

            No one is commenting on how they would run the universe, they are commenting on what would be expected if an all-loving God was running the show and what you are describing (along with what is observable in the real world) doesn’t mesh with those expectations.

          • Irenist

            Val, that’s a good question. Here’s a readable answer that describes how the Church’s conception of our first parents, and of original sin, is eminently compatible with paleontology and evolutionary biology:
            http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2011/09/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice.html
            The key point is that although all living today are descended from Adam, our first parents were not the only human ancestors around during the 10,000-individual population bottleneck now postulated by paleontologists to have occurred after the Toba supereruption or whenever. They just seem (on modern Thomist speculation) to have been the first H. sapiens with a rational (as well as sensitive and vegetative) soul, and hence the first faced with radical freedom. The various other H. sapiens would presumably have intermarried with Cain, Seth, and their descendants. Although lacking a rational soul (which makes such marriages squicky to contemplate), the sensitive soul would’ve allowed for plenty of cleverness, as the lesser but still delightfully impressive cleverness shown in the feats of sensitive-&-vegetative-souled cetaceans, non-human primates, parrots, corvids, and elephants often reminds us. Assuming the descendants of Cain and Seth didn’t have a taste for chatting about mathematics or philosophy with their irrational mates, they probably got along all right. All that said, I take much of Genesis as allegory, including Adam, Eve, Cain, and Seth. The non-allegorical kernel is just that the first rational-souled human common ancestor (who may be called “Adam” for ready reference) rebelled against God, lost the supernature of grace, and was consequently unable to pass that supernature on along with the rational-sensitive-vegetative nature that was passed on.

            Alan –

            Wait, so the Virgin Mary was born without sin?

            Sure. Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

            You mean God didn’t have to have all of Adam’s progeny born in sin, he was capable of having them born without it?

            Omnipotent, God is capable of anything. The Incarnation is how God saved Adam’s progeny. The Immaculate Conception is a consequence of the Crucifixion and Resurrection: Mary was born without sin because the Passion of her Son worked backward through time (or eternally beyond time, whatever) to effect it. It wasn’t some arbitrary zapping of a bearded wizard.

            Hmm, some loving God, he . . . . left all his other creations to suffer for the fall?

            No, He didn’t. The Harrowing of Hell saved at least those among the just who predeceased Christ, and the hard-won grace of His Passion and the Church in which that Passion is sacramentally participated in (again across/beyond spacetime) in a neighborhood parish near you, is freely available.

            No one is commenting on how they would run the universe, they are commenting on what would be expected if an all-loving God was running the show and what you are describing (along with what is observable in the real world) doesn’t mesh with those expectations.

            Sorry for my mistake. I think careful study and contemplation reveals that it meets our expectations better than we would expect. God’s plan seems to me to be far more fitting, for the reasons I’ve described in another comment, than merely zapping the supernature back into us.

          • ACN

            “Mary was born without sin because the Passion of her Son worked backward through time (or eternally beyond time, whatever) to effect it.”

            All I can do is underline remarks like this.

            Also you evaded the thrust of Alan’s comment.

          • ACN

            Val,

            And Irenist has supplied your answer.

            “All of the biology is true, except a bunch of extra stuff about divine intervention to create/add souls that we have no evidence whatsoever for and just happens to fit a story some jewish people, who had no understanding of the biology whatsoever, wrote down a long time ago.”

          • Irenist

            ACN,

            You evaded the thrust of Alan’s comment.

            Sorry about that; that must’ve been irritating. I’ll try to do better. What was the thrust of his comment?

            All of the biology is true, except a bunch of extra stuff about divine intervention to create/add souls that we have no evidence whatsoever for

            The evidence for souls is that Aristotelian-Thomistic hylomorphic dualism is the most satisfying metaphysical solution to the various mind-body problems. The evidence for divine intervention is the testimony of the apostles that Jesus claimed to be God, rose from the dead, and founded the Church that later canonized the Bible, including Genesis. YMMV as to whether this is laughably bad evidence, but it’s not “no evidence whatsoever.”

            just happens to fit a story some jewish people, who had no understanding of the biology whatsoever, wrote down a long time ago.”

            Catholicism takes Revelation as one datum, and science as another, and then attempts to reason through how to synthesize them. They are both sources of truth about how the world actually is, so synthesizing them is important. That Genesis was revealed to people who happened to be Jewish, unversed in the scientific consensus of our exact historical moment, and born a long time ago is no reason to despise it. (Upon re-reading that sentence, it sounds like a veiled accusation of anti-Semitism, for which I apologize in advance. My point is just that it Revelation to be revealed to someone sometime, and modern science just wasn’t mission-relevant expertise for the recipients of that sort of message.)

          • ACN

            Alan’s point (and I trust he can correct me if I’m putting words in his mouth) is that if your deity has the capacity to just make people born without “sin”, whatever “sin” means exactly, why is he forcing the sins of his first ensouled people genetically on everyone BUT Mary.

            From my perspective, it’s obvious. You want a doctrine of sin that makes sure that people are guilty and beholden to the church for salvation no matter what actions they pick, because it gives the church universal applicability, and power its congregants. But someone asks “wait, if Mary had original sin, doesn’t that mean Jesus had original sin also?”. So there is a retcon, now Mary had no original sin to pass-on, so Jesus could have no original sin. We’ve satisfied the first order curiosity, and if we’re pressed with further questions, we can always reply “it’s a mystery, god works in mysterious ways, etc etc”. But if god were capable of wiping out people’s original sin, why didn’t he just do that at the beginning and give Cain/Abel et al the opportunities to make their own good/bad decisions? And if he were capable of wiping out people’s original sin, why didn’t he just wipe out Jesus’ original sin without getting Mary’s involved? It’s ridiculous, and it makes no sense if we’re assuming the usual omni aspects of your deity.

            “Catholicism takes Revelation as one datum, and science as another”

            You’re allowed to do that. You’re also committing special pleading for revelations granted to your religion and not others, and opening yourself up to all manner of abuse from the sources of your revelation.

            I actually think it’s worse than that though, revelation is basically a stand-in for “stuff someone attributes to god to get authority for it”. From the POV of everyone other than the recipient of the revelation, it’s impossible to distinguish the difference between “God told me X” and “I made up X and am claiming God is the authority behind it”.

            It’s even bad from the POV of the prophet. It’s impossible to validate the authenticity of ANY divine revelation.

            It’s certainly impossible to validate the authenticity of a divine revelation (DR) without checking it’s content. If you don’t check the content, you could be being tricked by any sort of Cartesian Deceiver.

            So suppose God is trying to send a DR to one of his prophets. How would the prophet determine the message is from God? If we agree that that the only method to validate the DR’s authenticity is by checking the DR’s content, let’s check the content. How would we determine, upon reading the content, that the sender was God? We might consider checking it against a list of things that God would/wouldn’t say, but if there is already a list on our end to check the DR against, it’s a hardly a DR since someone else has clearly already revealed it to us to have put on our list.

            Given how difficult it is to actually authenticate a DR, people basically have to just trust that prophets aren’t making things up. To say that this trust is open to abuse would an understatement, and a number DRs from various religions/prophets appear to be conveniently timed to get the prophets out of trouble, or to lend authority to something that the prophets wanted to do anyway.

          • Irenist

            ACN,

            But if god were capable of wiping out people’s original sin, why didn’t he just do that at the beginning and give Cain/Abel et al the opportunities to make their own good/bad decisions?

            Harrowing of Hell. Every just person back to the time of Adam was personally offered a chance to choose Christ.

            And if he were capable of wiping out people’s original sin, why didn’t he just wipe out Jesus’ original sin without getting Mary’s involved?

            Because that would have been less fitting:
            http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/the-immaculate-conception-enter-the-subtle-doctor-duns-scotus/

            You’re also committing special pleading for revelations granted to your religion and not others, and opening yourself up to all manner of abuse from the sources of your revelation.

            Both conceded. I am convinced that classical theism is demonstrable, and I have chosen to trust Catholicism as a truth-telling thing about the God of classical theism. I have not chosen to trust, e.g., other theisms like Islam. I cannot convince you that you must make the same choice, any more then I can demonstrate by logical necessity that you ought to marry some particular person. All I seek to convince you of is that those of us who have chosen Catholicism are neither unreasonable nor in thrall to something morally monstrous. In another thread, I might defend classical theism, which certainly raises the priors on Christianity, even if it doesn’t necessitate it. Beyond that, faith is (like marriage) a choice to trust, not an argument with a demonstrable conclusion. Make the choice or don’t.

            To say that this trust is open to abuse would be an understatement

            Sure. The bishops demonstrate that every day, and always have. Still, I think that of the classical theist options available, trust in Christ is most conducive human flourishing. Of the Christian denominations, I think Catholicism has the most probably claim to being His Church. The premise I’m starting from is classical theism in a world of sorrow. We’re agreed on the imperfection of the world, so undermining classical theism might be your best move if you’re seeking to convince me I’m wrong.

  • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

    Hell/sin/separation from God doesn’t need to be framed exclusively as retribution. It can also be described as logical necessity. When I say that if you step out of your window, you will fall, I’m not saying that because gravity decided you deserved to break your leg. When you take actions that coarsen your moral sense, you’re wounded. It may not be your fault. You may have been a tough situation (you might have been pushed out the window), but the consequences of natural law follow from the action. So, if you’re an atheist who believes in objective moral laws, then you do believe that you’re harmed by transgressing them.

    Where this analogy collapses is that, by stepping out the window, I am harming myself. No outside agency is saying, “Ah, you stepped out the window, therefore I shall make you break your neck.” But no one in their right mind would send themselves to hell, and indeed the Biblical — certainly the Christian/New Testament — terminology is pretty clear that the “sentencing,” if you will, comes from an outside agency. The Greek NT word is gehenna which was a place where things were destroyed, burned, thrown away: these are all transitive verbs requiring an actor and an acted-upon. Matthew 25:31-46 outlines how “He shall separate the sheep from the goats” and send the goats off “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Note that the goats do not self-deport.

    However, I must admit that if you view hell not as a once-and-for-all eternal judgment, but as a sort of last-ditch “scared straight” effort by God to get one’s attention, it becomes a lot more credible (cf Dante, or Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle). The key is that there has to be a chance to get out, otherwise it’s totally out of proportion.

    • Irenist

      But no one in their right mind would send themselves to hell,

      But perhaps in a very wrong mind. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine who would make that choice: so we may dare to hope that Hell is empty.

      and indeed the Biblical….

      The Catholic Church doesn’t interpret those verses in that way, as the comment above by Fr. Terry Donahue clarifies. Saying that the Church is interpreting them wrong will get you nowhere in an argument with Catholics. In general, proof-texting is a practice best left to arguing with Protestants.

      The Greek NT word is gehenna which was a place where things were destroyed, burned, thrown away: these are all transitive verbs requiring an actor and an acted-upon. Matthew 25:31-46 outlines how “He shall separate the sheep from the goats” and send the goats off “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Note that the goats do not self-deport.

      To try to engage your proof-texting more directly anyway, I’ll take those verses and say that they are impossible to understand without contextualizing them with the parables of the Prodigal Son and the many parables about the Shepherd risking Himself for the lost sheep. The verses you’ve cited are about God’s Justice (which operates like an impersonal law of karma); my cites are about His Mercy (which breaks through the circle of karma with the Cross). The Prodigal Son is about how separation from God is self-chosen, and He rejoices when we return to Him.
      For a contemporary audience, the parables of God’s Mercy might not have been accompanied by those of His Justice. But to the Jewish, Greek, and Roman first century audiences Jesus was trying to communicate with, an agrarian and repulsively patriarchal audience that would’ve seen God’s desire to shelter Jerusalem like a mother-hen as “womanish” and contemptible if they hadn’t been allowed some red meat about Justice, those parables were as necessary as all the unscientific allegories in Genesis to their understanding of the metaphysical concept that God made the world rather than merely emanating it. For the right way to read those verses in a contemporary context, I’ll stick with the Pope, thanks.

  • http://delphipsmith.livejournal.com Delphi Psmith

    OK, I just have to toss my man Marcus Aurelius in here:

    “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

  • Irenist

    I’m noticing a trend in this thread:
    On my admittedly uncharitable reading, the atheist comments here often read like:
    Various Christian fundamentalists come right out and take the worst imagery in the Bible literally. Their wrathful God is a perfect target for atheist contempt. So I am going to try to convince you that the fundamentalist reading is the only correct one, so I can argue with that Christianity instead of yours. This seems (from a Catholic perspective) like a ubiquitous move within the New Atheism, and I wonder how it looks from a more charitable interpretation offered from within the atheist community. To me, it just looks unhelpful. What am I missing?

    • Darren

      The imagery is pretty grim, and also ubiquitous in both American culture and the protestant church.

      However, Hell need not be filled with sulfur and brimstone to be unjustifiably punitive. My previous comment on the relatively innocuous “Hell in a box” would still be, well, quite Hellish.

      It is also worth noting, as another poster pointed out, that the Christian / Catholic conception of Hell was initially quite extreme (being the inspiration of the popular conception). It has only been with the ‘progress’ of secular morals, and the growing embarrassment with the doctrine of Hell, that the church has begun it’s long march away from a place of suffering and torment towards a fuzzy, limbo-like, state.

      • Irenist

        “Hell in a box” would still be, well, quite Hellish.

        True. That’s a great point.

        the Christian / Catholic conception of Hell was initially quite extreme (being the inspiration of the popular conception).

        Conceded: lots of brimstone and savage relish in the contemplation of the pains of others. I would note only that: 1. The merciful imagery of the Shepherd seeking wayward sheep and the Father rejoicing in the returned prodigal is no less ancient. 2. In Newman’s sense, I think the current emphases in the presentation of the doctrine of Hell represents an authentic “development” in Catholic teaching with roots in what Jesus was getting at to begin with and we only now are beginning to learn to hear, not some sort of mulligan unmotivated by the material of Scripture and Tradition. Ancient and medieval life was often a filthy patriarchal misery of ignorance and condign punishment. Ancient and medieval theologians reflected that debased environment in their conceptions of God and of Hell, just as modern apologists reflect Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in their apparent over-eagerness to define Hell as merely boring.

        It has only been with the ‘progress’ of secular morals, and the growing embarrassment with the doctrine of Hell, that the church has begun it’s long march away

        The march began with the parable of the prodigal son: it’s not new. But the chastisements providentially visited upon the Church by the Enlightenment and the secular politics following 1776 and 1789 have indeed purged some churchmen of a certain punitive bloody-mindedness, just as I hope the failures of the bishops’ secrecy over pederasty, over-attention to the relatively minor sins of gay people, and off-puttingly cozy relationship with the G.O.P. will eventually purge them of the demographic myopia of angry old white guys who’ve taken a vow of celibacy but not one of poverty. For this increase in clarity, the Church should be grateful for the chastisements of an often-justifiably angry secular world.

        a place of suffering and torment towards a fuzzy, limbo-like, state.

        The rhetoric of online apologetics has indeed shifted toward a fuzzy, limbo-like state. I don’t find that helpful: Hell logically must be a place of hideous pain, since it is the state maximally far from the Good God at the root of all pleasure. As to the renewed emphasis on the hope that Hell may be empty, although still unfathomably awful and necessarily existent as a logical possibility for radically free agents, I think that’s an authentic doctrinal development, not a cop-out. YMMV.

        • David

          Here’s my atheist perspective. You acccuse atheists of inventing a Catholic vision of Hell that doesn’t exist (even though you admit it existed for at least the first 18 centuries of the Church’s history. Also, will you not admit that, though in decline, it is still the view of much of the church?). Then you that “Hell logically must be a place of hideous pain, since it is the state maximally far from the Good God at the root of all pleasure. ” That of course, is exactly the vision of Hell that atheists have been criticizing in this thread; as a place of hideous pain. So what is wrong with the Hell against which we are arguing?

          You seem to be upset with atheists because we portray God as wrathful, which is supposedly only a Protestant idea. But I don’t read any of the atheist objections being to God’s state of mind; our objection is to the actual state of the souls in Hell according to your vision of it, and the relationship between that state and God’s supposed morality.

          Finally, as for the possibility that Hell is empty, I will grant you that it seems to have become a stronger trend in the church in recent years than most Atheists give you credit for. But, even here, it is expressed only as a hope; that is, the belief that God’s moral and benevolent nature is compatible with unending torment is still, overwhelmingly, the teaching of the church. And, beyond that, at the very least, the Church does not consider heretical the doctrine that a huge number of souls, perhaps even the vast majority of humanity, are in Hell (at least, you can find Catholics claiming such things without any rebuke from the Church), suffering great torment. So, if nothing else, the Church considers this state to be one that is not incompatible with its dogma and its other teachings about the nature of God and the nature of Hell. So, given the moral commitments of basically all atheists (heck, I would argue basically all modern humans who aren’t trying to tie themselves in knots to defend the parts of their religion that are unthinkable to a modern moral sense), the Church considers plausible the idea that God’s goodness is compatible with a Hell full of sinners and non-believers, burning in eternal (physical) fire, and suffering neverending torment. To me, even to consider that a plausible vision of a just and good God is horrifying.

          • Irenist

            David, that’s a really helpful response. Thanks.

            You acccuse atheists of inventing a Catholic vision of Hell that doesn’t exist (even though you admit it existed for at least the first 18 centuries of the Church’s history. Also, will you not admit that, though in decline, it is still the view of much of the church?).

            I have been inconsistent (or at least confusing) there. That view has been and remains popular. So were various views against the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption before they were infallibly defined as false. The jury’s still out, but the Church is moving away from those views. Who knows what SpacePope will promulgate at Vatican XV in A.D. 4963? (Speaking of fanfic.) We’re still the early Christians, and it takes a while to figure this stuff out.

            But I don’t read any of the atheist objections being to God’s state of mind;

            Glad to be mistaken.

            the Church considers plausible the idea that God’s goodness is compatible with a Hell full of sinners and non-believers, burning in eternal (physical) fire, and suffering neverending torment. To me, even to consider that a plausible vision of a just and good God is horrifying.

            I’d say “necessarily logically possible” rather than plausible, although earlier generations certainly thought it plenty plausible, sure. And, yeah, it is ghastly and horrifying. And with the valuable help of Christian and atheist and other thinkers, we’re moving away from relishing it. Which is great. It’s shameful it’s taken us so long. But to abandon its bare logical possibility would be ahistorical, heretical, and unreasonable, so I’m afraid we’re stuck with it.

    • Jay

      It’s one thing to say “Genesis talks about Adam and Eve and a talking snake like this all actually happened; therefore, all Christians have to believe this story to be literal history.” Obviously Catholics don’t believe this to be true, and I think pretty much all the atheists here know that. Moreover, it doesn’t strike me as an obviously bad-faith reading of the Bible to say that some of the early stories are probably supposed to be allegorical or figurative or whatever. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t really care.

      What the atheists here are saying is more like this: “Look, pretty much every reference the Bible makes to Hell suggests or explicitly describes real suffering — wailing and gnashing of teeth, lake of fire, flames, burning, the damned wishing they had not been born, etc.; regardless of whether ‘flames’ is meant to be literal or figurative or whatever, it seems reasonably clear that the overall message — across both the Old and New Testament — is one of genuine suffering. And if Catholics now argue to the contrary, well, that just doesn’t seem plausible, and it’s probably the product of motivated reasoning.”

      So it’s the difference between arguing “Leviticus says ‘stone gays,’ so we should stone gays,” and “sure, Jesus says a lot of things about charity and loving thy neighbor, but that’s not really a major point in Christianity.” It’s the difference between a handful of specific, one-off lines that might not be relevant overall, and consistent treatment of a major subject across the entire Bible.

      So if you want to say that Hell’s actually just boring (but see Darren’s answer above), or that it’s basically empty because everyone gets a knowing choice and can leave, or that purgatory offers the chance for everyone to receive purification and proportionate sentencing, or some other departure from the Bible’s fairly grim picture of Hell, well, I appreciate that you’re acting on a genuine sense of justice. But it really does start to sound like fan fiction at that point.

      • Irenist

        Great points, Jay.

        So if you want to say that Hell’s actually just boring

        I don’t.

        or that it’s basically empty because everyone gets a knowing choice and can leave, or that purgatory offers the chance for everyone to receive purification and proportionate sentencing,

        I hope so. Not saying that’s the case.

        or some other departure from the Bible’s fairly grim picture of Hell . . . . it really does start to sound like fan fiction at that point.

        That’s understandable. The Church has always taught (in spite of some of its more deranged followers, perhaps) that “charity and loving thy neighbor” are the core of Christianity, not some minor accessory to a core of hellfire and homophobia. As a Catholic, I follow Scripture AND Tradition. Tradition speaks of Purgatory and a possibly empty Hell. That Tradition is rooted in Scripture, but develops it. It is of entirely equal authority: it’s not fanfic, it’s canon (as Catholics and Star Wars fans can agree to call it), authored by the Holy Spirit through His Church. If you’re going to insist on sola scripture, then Tradition reads like fanfic. Which is precisely the Protestant-inflicted aspect of Anglo-American atheist apologetic I was complaining about. Still, thanks for a helpful coment.

        • Irenist

          That should’ve been sola scriptura and “Protestant-inflected,” not -”inflicted”!

        • Jay

          Well, I appreciate the response, and I think you’ve helped isolate the major points of dispute. I doubt we can go much further in this particular argument, because now we’re getting into the subject of how I can trust that His Church has articulated the proper Tradition through the Holy Spirit. And I don’t really expect us to get very far there, but let me just note the following, which hopefully will help illuminate where the atheists are coming from…

          Try to imagine the perspective of someone fairly skeptical about the existence of God and not generally inclined to agree with applied Catholic morality, but also willing to give Catholicism a fair shake based on its reputation as the most intellectually formidable branch of theism. And suppose that you’re even fairly well-versed in the Bible, informed about major interpretive disputes, prepared to do your best to interpret the document as a whole, in historical and cultural context, and without letting any given passage dominate your assessment.

          Now suppose that after you notice some pretty questionable trends in the Bible, you start hearing about this wonderful Catholic Tradition, which in at least some respects, seems to suggest something quite different from what the Bible actually says, and in a way that — surprise — more closely matches your moral and empirical sensibilities. Of course, the Tradition hasn’t always said that, and for most of the Church’s history, the Church seemed to match more closely what you actually got from the Bible itself (when, coincidentally of course, those ideas just happened to be more popular with the general public). But now, a selection of Catholic intellectuals (not all of them, of course, but prominent, publicly respected ones) start promulgating new Traditional ideas, which just so happen to reflect modern sensibilities more closely than anything the Church used to tell people, or than the Bible itself seems to say.

          So then you say “well, I guess I’d like to check their math” so to speak, just to make sure the new Tradition is actually correct. But it turns out that’s a very messy, complicated business, dependent in part on divine revelation to certain select individuals (NOTE: if you think this misrepresents Catholicism, fine, just delete this phrase in your mind), and channeling something called the Holy Spirit. You’re told, of course, that everyone can be in touch with the Holy Spirit, but you can’t exactly hold up a piece of text, ask the Holy Spirit to interpret it for you, and see if your results match the initial experiment. If it feels like you’re honestly getting a different answer, well, you’re still supposed to trust the people who have more experience with this short of thing.

          So there you are, trying to give Catholicism a fair shake, and you end up trying to evaluate this Tradition that doesn’t seem derived from any verifiable source, that coincidentally evolves in a distinct relationship to contemporary values, and that hardly even seems bound by an authoritative text. Would you maybe start favoring the hypothesis that somebody was just making it all up as they went along?

          • Irenist

            Jay,
            Your comment was very illuminating indeed. I feel like atheists’ frustration with what looks like constant self-serving ret-conning of the Catholic canonical truths is easier for me to grok now. Thanks very much for that.

            Would you maybe start favoring the hypothesis that somebody was just making it all up as they went along?

            Absolutely. Indeed, absent independent (essentially Aristotelian) metaphysical reasons for believing in the God of classical theism, even provable miracles might be more easily woven into my worldview as just extraterrestrial adolescents trolling us or something. That’s one reason why fideism (including Plantinga’s “properly basic belief” stuff) doesn’t make any sense to me, and why evangelical apologetics that anachronistically treat the Bible as modern-style journalism that should persuade us all by itself make me wish they’d stop trying to help already.

            I think Thomists are in this position: the existence of the God of classical theism is a given datum which we take as deductively proven. That God is Goodness itself. And yet we empirically observe sorrow. So we try to reconcile these equally compelling data. Absent the metaphysical certainty, the easiest way to reconcile them would be to ditch belief in a good God, which is what atheists understandably argue for.

            As science and the humanities (including that modern social consensus that condign punishment is ghastly, driven in part by gentler living conditions, and in part by the explosion in empathy consequent upon the novel and televised/cinematic drama) provide us with new data, we try to work those in, too.

            Most of that work really is just fanfic retconning. Some is guided by the Holy Spirit. As to which is which, Newman’s “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine” remains the best guide to Catholic thinking.

            But as you suggested, if you haven’t been through some chain like Feser’s Mind/Body Problem -> Aristotelianism -> Thomism or Leah’s apparent Objective Moral Law -> Lawgiver (almost certainly a misrepresentation, but Leah’s busy) reasoning, I don’t know that the minutiae of how our retconning/doctrinal development works will seem worth the bother. For those of us of a philosophical/”jnana yoga” bent, I think starting with the wildest, weirdest doctrines (or with devotion to Jesus/”bhakti yoga”) and then working in toward the core is probably always going to repel.

    • Val

      “I’m noticing a trend in this thread…”

      If you mischaracterize a position as a mischaracterization, have you produced a MetaStrawMan? A TissuePerson, perhaps?

      • Irenist

        Yeah, I was straw-manning. Luckily, it has drawn forth rich responses from David and Jay that will help me steel-man in the future.

        • Val

          Indeed. And the idea of ‘steelmanning’ is one of Leah’s few useful contributions to this project.

          I want to offer a note of appreciation, by the way. While I remain completely unpersuaded, this thread as a whole and your contributions to it in particular have been extraordinarily well informed and informative. It all still strikes me as a bit mad, but not quite as shapeless.

          • Irenist

            That’s very gracious of you, Val. Thanks very much!
            Right before I read that, I was thinking of putting up a comment that said, “David, Eli, Jay, Val, and others are sure to keep bringing up great points, but I’m worried that if I try to respond to them I’ll just be engaging in even more unseemly thread-jacking than I already have.” So it’s very nice to read that at least someone found my contributions something besides annoyingly prolix. I hope you have a lovely evening.

          • David

            I want to add on to what Val said. Irenist, your answers have been, to my mind, the most helpful of those given by the Catholics in this comment section. You seem to be trying to really engage with the perspectives that the atheists here have offered. Thanks in large part to you, I’m 100% on board with Val’s last line: “It all still strikes me as a bit mad, but not quite as shapeless.”

  • Darren

    Perhaps a dead horse at this point, but I had a (possibly) interesting analogy and thought I would run it up the comment flagpole.

    As relates to Jay’s comment that any universe in which sentient beings are _able_ to damn themselves is morally abhorrent (paraphrasing, any errors are mine) and the numerous (good faith) counter arguments that this is required by free will or simply a consequence of its exercise…

    I do not keep guns in my house.

    This is something of a new thing for me. I grew up on a farm, and then spent six years in the Infantry, among other things teaching other soldiers how to effectively use firearms, so having a gun in the house is, for me, about on a par with keeping a screwdriver or a hammer in the house.

    Why would I not? There are certainly reasons why one might wish to have a firearm at the ready.

    I have children. Now, I could take steps to safeguard my firearms from accidental use by young hands. I have taught all of my children gun safety, they all know not to touch them if they find a gun in someone else’s house, they all know to run and tell an adult. Years ago, when I did keep arms in the house, I even tested my children on this, hiding (unloaded) guns where they would be discovered, and sure enough they always immediately came to tell me.

    But that was years ago, when my oldest child was 5. My oldest is now 13.

    My oldest is very smart, she is very mature for her age, she is very responsible. We get along as well as can be expected of a 13 y/o and her parents. My daughter is not unusually emotional, nor is she prone to bouts of depression, but like any human she sometimes has strong feelings; sometimes she is angry, sometimes sad, on rare occasions extremely sad.

    How would I feel if, some day, I arrived home from work, to find that my daughter had defeated any and all safeguards that I might have contrived to prevent the household gun from getting into her hands, and done something rash…

    What could I say to her younger brothers? What could I say to our family friends; to her grandparents?

    “She knew she was breaking the rules!”

    “She was old enough to know better; this was just a natural consequence.”

    Even, “I cannot protect her forever; after all, she has free will.”

    _That_ is why I no longer keep guns in the house. Not because one of my children might accidentally use one, but because one of them might do so deliberately.

    • Darren

      Well, the comment level caps prevent me from replying directly to Irenist, so I shall have to do so by replying to my own comment and hope it gets through. My thanks also to Eli for elevating my comment back into the thick of the discussion; no analogy is perfect, especially when it happens to be mine.

      Irenist, your thought of “God as the gun” is a very interesting one, indeed.

      Eternity is a very, very long time and preventing that continuing existence from becoming an intolerable prison, no matter how luxuriously appointed, is no small task. Being a Materialist I have more pressing concerns than eternal boredom, but being a Simulationist puts a finer point on the question. How does one keep eternity interesting?

      This has been one of my disagreements with the thought that God is entitled to dictate the final abode of immortal souls, even if such dictation is indirect through the founding of Natural Law and Free Will. The disagreement: “Who asked you to?” When did we hapless souls ask to be created? Did we really have full informed consent that to be instantiated in the cosmos as an immortal soul was a one way trip?

      I feel as though I may be moving the goalposts on you, first demanding “No Hellfire”, then demanding “No Eternal-Dentist-Office-with-only-US-Weekly-to-read”, but now I think I may be demanding, as a fundamental soul-right, so to speak, the Right to Oblivion.

      I think I may demand just that.

      Any eternity, any Heaven, would it not eventually prove intolerable in the truly deep time of eternity? Without some type of spiritual wireheading, some tinkering with our goal structure to desire nothing so highly as to eternally sit upon a cloud and strum a harp, I think it would.

      Even the Mormon conception of being set up, a God in one’s own right, with a planet to populate with my own celestial children… Really, how _many_ times is that going to be fun?

      “Well, planet 4,758,895,002 nicely wrapped up, time to start making planet 4,758,895,003… Maybe sentient squid this time… no, did that 3,421,356 times already… yes, yes, let’s try the sentient irrational numbers again, that was fun the other 2,560 times!

      So, back to your point (though admitted I am twisting your point), God as the ultimate escape hatch from the tyranny of the eternal? Provided that on the other side of that hatch was oblivion, I could support that.

      • Irenist

        Darren,
        Catholic theology can’t appease a demand for complete annihilation, since even the nullity of the complete privation that is Hell seems to involve the bare maintenance in being of the soul of the damned. However, rather like the Buddhist nirvana on my pop-Western understanding, there may be some sense in which it’s pretty close to annihilation–like a deep sleep. Nevertheless, the teaching that Hell, for those who choose it, involves actual fiery pain seems pretty well settled, so my “in a sense” is horridly inadequate to your demand. (Indeed, as the consistently interesting Paul Wright mentions above in another comment, the Christian Hell is rather more reminiscent of the Buddhist conception of the hell of the Hungry Ghosts, although as a Catholic I’d reverse the causal arrow for the similarity and favor semina verbi over his hypothesis of Abrahamic borrowing from the Vedic traditions.) Anyhow, your point about jadedness in the LDS afterlife after pioneering myriad planets sounded rather Vedic to me anyhow, in a way that dislodged some hopefully not-boring reflections:
        One of the initial attractions of Christianity and Islam for ancient/medieval Mediterranean pagans and Jews may have been a rather defined doctrine of a blissful afterlife, as opposed to a hazily conceived Hades or Sheol. Ancient Epicureans and modern Western agnostics and atheists may, if converted to Christianity or Islam, be similarly comforted by the thought of not merely ceasing to be, but continuing on in endless bliss.
        But the Vedic situation has historically been entirely opposite. With the caveat that my pop-Western understanding owes more to Schopenhauerian popularizations than to the intricate interpretive differences in emphasis and subtleties of the schools of those traditions, and in short is probably as grating to read for a follower of those traditions as it would be for me to read a summary of Catholicism taken from Chick Tracts:
        My sense of the characteristic Vedic existential predicament is that belief in endless reincarnation has been taken for granted, and contemplative attainment of some sort of annihilation / oblivion / absorption into cosmic unity (either eternally or as a way of experiencing / perceiving the dusty flow of time as actually tranquil under a certain aspect) seems to have been the goal. Thinking ecumenically (and keeping, e.g., the paradoxes of Nagarjuna and the Brahman of Shankara in mind), I might read some Merton and take all this as a kind of apophatic theology. That’s almost certainly the more accurate view of those noble traditions. But for our purposes here, I’m going to quote one of Chesteron’s caricatures instead, because it leads into a thought experiment I want to set up:

        The more we really appreciate the noble revulsion and renunciation of Buddha, the more we see that intellectually it was the converse and almost the contrary of the salvation of the world by Christ. The Christian would escape from the world into the universe: the Buddhist wishes to escape from the universe even more than from the world. One would uncreate himself; the other would return to his Creation: to his Creator. Indeed it was so genuinely the converse of the idea
        of the Cross as the Tree of Life, that there is some excuse for setting up the two things side by side, as if they were of equal significance. They are in one sense parallel and equal; as a mound and a hollow, as a valley and a hill. There is a sense in which that sublime despair is the only alternative to that divine audacity. It is even true that the truly spiritual and intellectual man sees
        it as a sort of dilemma; a very hard and terrible choice. There is little else on earth that can compare with these for completeness. And he who will not climb the mountain of Christ does indeed fall into the abyss of Buddha.

        IOW, Chesterton’s Buddha, like an everlasting LDS Darren bored with populating planets, like a Stoic grimly contemplating eternal recurrence, is full of ennui at all the pleasures of everlasting life, and ascetically eager to renounce them all. In other words, what we have here for thought experiment is comprehensible, humane, dignified desire for Nothing. And Nothing is a Catholic definition of Hell. So in Chesterton’s Buddha (with his horror at a Sisyphean circle of reincarnation seen in opposition to the joyfully ever-expanding arms of the Cross, in another Chestertonian image) we have a sympathetic human character who might choose a kind of Hell. For such a morose character (who is assuredly not the Buddha of history or of Buddhism, I hasten to concede again), for God not to offer Nothing as an option would indeed be to disrespect human freedom. All of this is merely suggestive: the Buddha wasn’t like that, the Catholic concept of Hell isn’t quite like that, etc. But it picks up your suggestion and thereby provide a minor buttress to my earlier arguments about Hell.
        *
        What it doesn’t do is put a ball between the moved goalposts of your very interesting question about Heaven. Three quick preliminaries:
        First, in Thomist thought, celestial bliss is characterized by aeviternity, which admits of change (like time), partakes of communion with the Changeless God of Eternity, and isn’t time or eternity but rather a hybrid.
        Second, God’s simplicity contains infinite variety. To contemplate God is to rapturously contemplate everything everywhere every time ever all at once, like a delightful version of the Total Perspective Vortex in Hitchhiker’s Guide, the machine that extrapolated the whole cosmos and your place in it by being hooked up to a cupcake (Brit. “fairy cake”). Contemplating God is like modeling the famous fractal Mandelbrot Set, an elegant equation of endless intricacy.
        Third, Thomists caution us that adjectives predicated of God are so predicated only analogously: God’s Justice is interchangeable with His Wisdom with His Mercy with His Love (as is deducible from the Divine simplicity, among other considerations), whereas in humans these are obviously distinct virtues.
        My use of these three premises is this: An aeviternal (not just infinitely temporally extended) contemplation of the unfathomably rich splendor of God (and creation through the mind of God, as though stepping out of Plato’s Cave and looking around in the sunlight for the first time) may be a kind of happiness that can be referred to analogously with the happiness we know, but is in fact so different in kind (as opposed to mere degree, as with some LDS interplanetary prosperity) that the beatitude of the saints just isn’t the sort of thing by which it is possible to be bored.
        *
        But that’s just an assertion. Let me try for more precision. Aquinas tells us of Aristotle that,

        The Philosopher says (Ethic. i, 13) that “happiness is an operation according to perfect virtue.”

        In a way, this is a more pleasant version of your dystopian thought about wireheading. Like a rat-brain wired for endorphins (or whatever) and thus transformed in an undignified way into a sated creature, the virtuous saint of Thomist virtue ethics has transformed himself or herself (in a way in accord with the noblest aspirations of human dignity) into the kind of being that aeviternally enjoys wthout boredom the ever-richer contemplation of the Good recommended to the seeker of happiness at the finale of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and which Aquinas sums up by saying

        Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence.

        Even assuming arguendo that the Beatific Vision would bore us (which it might not, as I asserted above), the virtuous saint who emerges from Purgatory into Heaven would be reformed into a being suited to the nature of Heaven’s aeviternal bliss. The Orthodox, though no believers in Purgatory, speak of the notion of divinization (“theosis”), which suggests a change in kind, not degree–not merely to be servants of God, but sons by adoption, as it were.
        A last note on this, to clear up a possible minor misconception: After the perfecting of Creation at the Last Judgment, human souls, always incomplete without bodies to inform on an Aristotelian-Thomist hylomorphic dualist account, won’t be disembodied “in Heaven” anymore per Catholic dogma. Humans will be inhabiting the blissful pass-through-walls on demand but still enjoy the occasional morsel of grilled fish sort of “Resurrection body” depicted in Jesus’ Easter appearances to the apostles. The Beatific Vision will presumably still be before the contemplative eyes of the soul as the source and summit of its happiness, but we’re not talking about some sort of unpleasantly Gnostic/Platonic realm of aeviternal disembodiment. So even if you do get bored in Heaven, Darren, just be patient until the Last Judgment….

        • Irenist

          It occurs to me that what made the Total Perspective Vortex a torture device in the “trilogy” was that it revealed to the victim his or her own paltriness in a cosmic context. For a selfless saint, there would be no egotism to be horrified at this, only clear eyes to enjoy the view. Perhaps this is another way to look at the Swedenborgesque Orthodox contention that both Heaven and Hell involve the sight of God–just seen with different kinds of eyes.

          • Darren

            Irenist;

            Wireheading was probably the wrong word, I am unaware of a word for the modification of one’s goal systems without the pejorative aspect. Your expansion to the field of virtue ethics nicely captures the positive direction in which such a thing could be pushed.

            I do not have anything pressing to contribute, and really should get back to work, but wanted to make sure and thank you for your tremendously interesting insights.

            Oh, and anyone who manages to work in a Douglas Adams reference certainly gets bonus points in my book.

        • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

          Just to note to say that I didn’t mean to suggest that Lewis cribbed from the Buddhists, though I admit my language is ambiguous.

          On the point at hand, perhaps we should consider the possibility that God could satisfy our values through friendship and ponies? This seems to avoid problems with free-will and wireheading. Note that Princess Celestia, while being quite evil in some respects, does treat humans better than we’re told the Christian God does. You know your doctrine is in trouble when someone produces a better deity in My Little Pony fan-fiction.

          • Irenist

            I’m going to take this bait, for some reason.
            I take you to mean that God ought to manipulate each of us into “consensually” accepting Him, just like Celestia does to Hoppy Times. Responses:
            1. The fanfic just recapitulates the problem with a Less Wrong/Singularitarian version of a stereotypical unrepentant sinner (i.e., someone who clings to Abrahamic religion) as the one who refuses the AI God’s overture and so perishes outside the virtual Heaven: Hassan Sarbani is the Lucifer here.
            2. Being manipulated the way Celestia manipulates Hoppy Times isn’t freedom. Compared to Catholic accounts of grace and providence, it’s merely grotesque.
            3. The whole story seems to me to bring up the problem with utilitarianism generally: spending eternity in some MLP MMOG isn’t worth doing, in part because sheer hedonism is a lousy value metric. Being dead is far better than “freely” asking some AI to wirehead you to really like lots of beer and casual sex.

  • Darren

    One for the Gamers, and since it seems tangentially relevant…

    Anyone else here remember the DOS game, “Afterlife”? Pretty much SimCity, but with Heaven and Hell instead.

    The execution left something (a lot) to be desired, but it was amusing just the same. A large part of the game was managing the Celestial and Infernal economies so that one’s rewards and punishments would become increasingly blissful or horrifying. Thus, in the Hell zone, one might begin with “The Isle of Yap Dogs”, where damned souls are slightly annoyed by invisible, unkickable, small yappy dogs, then at some point upgrading to “Out of the Frying Pan”, where the damned are given the choice of sizzling for an eternity in a giant frying pan, or jumping out, only to roast in the fire below.

    The intersection of relevance, though, is: were a version of this game programmed, perhaps in the far future, sufficiently advanced so as to contain actual synthetic, sentient beings, would it then be moral for some godlike player to torment them for subjective eternities? Would it be any more palatable if the player had instead constructed a system of rules for his simulated beings, whereby only those beings that transgressed the rules, thus rejecting communion with the player, if only those beings were roasted in the belly of the Slor on that day?

  • http://industrialblog.powerblogs.com IB Bill

    I haven’t read all the comments. I would like to offer some empathy for those who have a real moral objection to hell — it’s called the problem of hell. I’m Catholic, by the way, and could not convert until to some extent, I dealt with the issue of hell in a satisfactory manner, to myself.

    In my case, I came to a series of conclusions:

    1. I don’t do general apologetics for hell, that is, I try my best to only talk about me when I discuss hell. Last thing I want is to not only be in hell, but to have to listen to my own arguments for being there. I may try to explain a little bit of my understanding, but I’m not ever going to say (and mean it) that this person deserves to be roasted forever.

    2. Eternity is not time. I don’t understand, really, what eternity is — only that I come down on the side that it’s outside of time, and that our brains and language are ill-suited to talking about it. The point is, though, that we think so much in terms of time and space that it’s natural to think of Hell as being locked in an oven forever and ever. Because of the issue of time, it’s not that way. But explaining how it is is beyond my pay grade.

    3. This came later, after my conversion, but I came to believe during a particular devoted period of my life, when I was praying daily rosaries, and regular confession and Mass, that to some extent, the question of salvation-and-damnation truly misses the point. There is a way, through Christ, devotions, prayer, service, loving others, and the Sacraments, to come in contact with a loving God and live in loving communion with one another, and that that love and communion with God and one another will be perfected in an eternal afterlife. The point of the Gospel is this relationship. It is saying Life is here — hidden in Christ. It is everything. It is all it’s promised to be. I’m not arguing. I’m testifying. And I did get a sense that this issue of salvation-and-damnation misses the point and is a cognitive trap.

    4. There is something called sin, which is now a loaded term for most of us and gets in our way. I prefer — there are things that we do, say and think that cut us off from that hidden life in Christ.

    5. So there’s a connection to a vast and eternal perfected Love, which I testify to in the ordinary practice of Catholicism, and there are ways to break that connection.

    6. The mystery in my soul is why, knowing this, I still choose to break that connection. In my case, I think the answers are pride, laziness, and fear.

    7. I can see how I can make that disconnection permanent. But I can also see how I can respond to grace and God can make that connection permanent. I know what I hope I choose and all choose.

    8. An eternal (not forever) disconnection, no matter what the circumstances, must be hell.

    9. I am still unsure of my own answers here. But the last couple of popes have said hell is a state of being, which anyone viewing a meth addict would immediately recognize as true.

    10. I begged the question — namely, I had to learn the Eastern Orthodox view of hell before converting to Catholicism. The Eastern view is that the flames of hell and the pleasures of heaven are the same thing. That I understand. I know what it means to be so full of hate and spite and anger that love appears painful to me. That, to me, is hell — the inability to love.

    11. Finally, there is the issue of people who have given themselves over to evil. It seems that there would need to be a restraint on them. If I ever did the same thing, I would need to be restrained.

    12. I still hope for universal salvation, but I believe the eternity issue — that is, that it truly becomes too late to change because there is no more time — is probably true and may preclude that. Nonetheless, I don’t speculate too much about this because I think once we get into the afterlife and eternity, I’m outside my own conceptual understanding.

  • Jacopo

    A lot of comments… but I’d like to add something to the conversation (sorry for my poor english, it’s not my mother language): Catholicism doesn’t say that only good christians can go to Heaven.
    It says that Jesus is the only way to save yourself… even if you don’t know Him, or if you have a distorted view of Him. Nobody can judge someone else (only God can), so I can’t say “You’ll go to hell because you are an atheist”…
    Maybe an atheist does’nt believe in God because he never had someone who told him in the right way who God really is, or he has to search a bit more before to find Him…
    Maybe with his life, his actions, his choises he’s already following Jesus, without knowing it.

    Maybe he is a better person than me, so he’ll have more chances to go to Heaven… Only God knows.
    The only thing I can say as a christian to a not-christian person is “Reaching Heaven is a lot easyer if you know and consciously follow Jesus”.
    God call ALL of us, not just who believe in Him.

  • Irenist

    Eli,
    I think we’ve unsurprisingly run out of nested comments in the thread with the [very long story].

    “Requires to be equalized by vengeance,” he says by way of explaining what justice is. Not, “may be equalized by vengeance, assuming that there’s no gift involved” – “requires.”

    Aquinas in particular is working in a traditional agrarian society where the penalty for harming a noblemen would be more than for a peasant, i.e., a society where the victim’s socioeconomic status determines the severity of the crime, and presumably building toward some point about how infinite pains in Hell are justified because the offense is against God, who is kind of an infinite bigshot compared to the local princeling. This is all pretty repugnant stuff, even if it’s not necessarily false in less repugnant contexts: murdering an innocent child seems worse than murdering whatever miscreant t.v.’s Dexter is murdering this week, even if both are strictly speaking murder, rather than killing in just war or some such. That the nature of the victim matters–even if not the race, sex, wealth, or other retrograde classification–seems like a possibly fruitful moral intuition.

    Anyway, there are important senses in which a retributive theory of justice is better than the modern preference for the rehabilitative: as C.S. Lewis often remarks, the former dignifies the criminal with free will and moral agency, and has a limit in proportion to the crime; the latter, by contrast, treats the criminal like a Skinnerian black box, and opens out onto an Orwellian vista of Nurse Ratchet stuffing a human face full of meds, forever.

    When someone goes out and murders a bunch of kids or something, we can either medicalize it (including psychological and Buddhism-as-therapy variants) or we can feel that, gosh, they really need to get it. Now, in many, many ways, this is an unworthy feeling as our moral-intuitive legacies from the savanna go, even if punishing cheaters is a dominant game theory strategy. But still, it is a dominant strategy. And it is thus part of how Darwinian life works. It’s an intrinsic part of the biological order. And, on the earthly, mortal level, any society that tries to dispense with it for very long is probably going to get invaded by someone or other. The Old Testament (like Sharia, AFAIK) offers an agrarian example of a society organized to flourish within the constraints of the tit-for-tat strategy that dominates in game theory: lex talionis and all that.

    The Sermon on the Mount is a blueprint for a society that employs the game-theoretical dove strategy, and so gets conquered constantly, as far as the Darwinian order goes. Nevertheless, the Beatitudes answer a human hunger to transcend that order–to be saintly. Just as in the above-mentioned Chestertonian metaphor of the Cross breaking through the ennui-laden Wheel of Reincarnation, the Cross breaks us out of the endless circle of tit-for-tat.

    The problem is, most of us are going to be householders, not mendicants or monks. As much as we hunger for Heaven, we have to live in the world. To be martyred for the Cross is a crown, but to inflict martyrdom on your country for it is pernicious theocracy. Kissinger, of all the horrid people taking this insight too far, has a passage about the statesman being the enemy of the prophet in his book on Metternich that’s pretty much to this point.

    Eli, you’ve denied that we live in a pluralistic moral cosmos. I’ve said I differ. This is one of those places. Justice is a virtue in the natural order of republican virtue; Mercy, wherever it breaks out, is a virtue in the supernatural order of grace. Both orders have their integrity.

    The Beatitudes don’t abolish the Law of the Old Testament; they fulfill it.

    (Dunno why the weird grammar, but there it is.)

    Clumsy traditional translation of “requiritur”: you could probably substitute some construction with “calls for” if you want smoother English.

    but understand that if you do so you’re departing from canon, and that you departed on your own recognizance.

    Aquinas isn’t infallible canon: e.g., he was wrong about the Immaculate Conception and about whether personhood begins at conception. Still, yeah, I’ll cop to thinking my interpretation is a legitimate one. But if it’s not, then I just think he’s wrong.

    You also augment that idea with all sorts of additional, unargued-for premises about the way the world has to be, the way we have to be, and so on.

    In a blog comment thread about the theodicy of the Catholic view of Hell, I think Catholic cosmology is going to have to be the premise–both because that’s the system we’re testing for moral acceptability, and because there isn’t room to argue all of Thomist metaphysics!

    So far as I can see, those augmentations have to be “the gun(s)” before god itself gets to be “the gun” for you. Since they’re less fundamental to your worldview but no less an important part of your defense, I should think that you’d have to lay blame there first.

    Why can’t the core part of the worldview be the crux of the problem? I’m not seeing this.

    I actually consider Feser to be somewhat of a blowhard

    Well, we’re agreed there; the pictures of pulp sci-fi on his blog posts are cool, though. In the course of your blog post, you make the seemingly obvious remark

    Ice, of course, isn’t really inherently cold: coldness is a subjective notion.

    Which makes me think you’re smuggling post-Cartesian mechanism into your reading of Feser, in which case of course he comes off as not merely a blowhard, but trivially wrong. Maybe we can debate it in (another!) blog thread somewhere some time. Knowing you, I’d be unsurprised if you convinced me.

    I’m asking these questions of you because I’m fairly sure that you don’t have answers and I want you to admit as much

    Is that all? Well, happy holidays, man: I admit it! Enjoy. My worldview is sort of concentric circles: Rortyan pragmatism/Carneadean skepticism wrapped around a sense that Thomism is the most persuasive set of answers I’ve yet seen, so I’d best stick to that until it meets a defeater, wrapped around a leap of faith that the God of Aristotelian Theism is Jesus Christ. But do I know anything? Sheesh, no.

    Indeed, I myself am pretty damn certain that there are no answers to these questions, sort of in the same way that there’s no answer to the question “Why do unicorns prefer dandelions to grass”.

    So, like in a positivist “religious questions are literally non-sense” kinda way or in a “God is a fairy tale like unicorns and Zeus” kinda way? Neither is my thing, but I can certainly respect either view.

    • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

      “Anyway, there are important senses in which a retributive theory of justice is better than the modern preference for the rehabilitative: as C.S. Lewis often remarks, the former dignifies the criminal with free will and moral agency…”
      Which rehabilitation doesn’t do? I’d think that the two just do this differently.

      “the latter, by contrast, treats the criminal like a Skinnerian black box, and opens out onto an Orwellian vista of Nurse Ratchet stuffing a human face full of meds, forever”
      Uh. Which rehabilitative regimes do you have in mind when you say this stuff, exactly?

      “When someone goes out and murders a bunch of kids or something, we can either medicalize it (including psychological and Buddhism-as-therapy variants) or we can feel that, gosh, they really need to get it.”
      There are more options, actually – we can praise them, as societies have done; we can shrug it off, as other societies have done; etc.

      …and I sort of don’t know where you’re going with the game theory stuff, so I’ll skip that.

      “Eli, you’ve denied that we live in a pluralistic moral cosmos. I’ve said I differ.”
      I actually don’t think that this helps any, because it presumes either that there’s a proper place for justice and a proper place for mercy (in which case you’re not really a pluralist, you’re just a hidden-variables moral monist) or else that it doesn’t matter when you do justice and when you do mercy, which makes a joke of the whole system. Which is why I’m not a pluralist.

      “The Beatitudes don’t abolish the Law of the Old Testament; they fulfill it.”
      Let’s please not go down this road.

      “Why can’t the core part of the worldview be the crux of the problem?”
      It could actually be, but as a reasoning strategy I don’t see why you would make that assumption when there are other candidates available. The gun analogy is meant to make you weigh ideas against each other, and by sticking it at the core part of the worldview you’re putting a whole lot of weight on one end of the scale, thereby basically guaranteeing that you won’t have to change your mind. If you mean to engage with the idea honestly, it sure seems like you have to try it out against less weighty ideas first.

      “Which makes me think you’re smuggling post-Cartesian mechanism into your reading of Feser, in which case of course he comes off as not merely a blowhard, but trivially wrong. Maybe we can debate it in (another!) blog thread somewhere some time.”
      Ooookay – especially since I’m not sure what you’re referring to by “post-Cartesian mechanism,” which would certainly take us too far afield here.

      “So, like in a positivist “religious questions are literally non-sense” kinda way or…”
      Eh, nothing quite that extreme, I don’t think; although I could be wrong, the positivist linguistic stuff never seemed necessary to me in any way, so I didn’t bother to pay attention to it. I had in mind the old “when did you stop beating your wife” thing, so if that’s a positivist case, then yeah, sure.

      • Irenist

        Eli,

        “retributive theory of justice . . . . dignifies the criminal with free will and moral agency…”
        Which rehabilitation doesn’t do? I’d think that the two just do this differently.

        Rehabilitation has proven to be a really successful model with things like drug addiction that IMHO shouldn’t be criminalized to begin with. But if, e.g., you murder your wife’s lover, you don’t need to be psychopathologized so much as you need to accept that you have done something horridly wrong. Closure will come with accepting that and grieving about it and seeking a way to make amends, not from understanding whatever peptides were sloshing about in your brain when you shot him.

        I should add that the American penal system is inhumanly draconian: I find intuitively plausible the prison-abolitionist argument that most of us would rather receive the sorts of corporal punishment we think of as torture than be sent to an American prison for years, hence our system amounts to a kind of torture. When I say I’m arguing for retribution as a valid (even humane in its way, if proportional) penological principle, I’m not arguing for the U.S. regime of brutalizing imprisonment and capital punishment.

        Which rehabilitative regimes do you have in mind when you say this stuff, exactly?

        I’m mostly cautioning against a potential tendency. However, an example of the kind of thing I’m talking about would be the provision in the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 that allows the “indefinite civil commitment,” after the completion of his criminal sentence,

        of any “sexually dangerous” person “in the custody” of the Bureau of Prisons. Initiation of the commitment process requires only a certification from the Attorney General that the prisoner is “sexually dangerous.”

        The Walsh Act was found constitutional in the 2010 case of U.S. v. Comstock, over a dissent from conservatives Thomas and Scalia, who were concerned about state’s rights rather than human rights; the dissenters said that the states, not Congress, should be visiting this Orwellian nightmare of inescapable-because-medicalized confinement upon the most despised among us.

        Now, I’ll concede that the arguments for pathologizing pedophilia are far stronger than those for pathologizing, e.g., manslaughter. And I’m not exactly eager to have the poor souls subject to the Walsh Act walking the streets, either. But it’s prudent to think through what society would look like if this sort of thing were applied to, e.g., carriers of the lower-output 2R and 3R allele variants of the gene that encodes the enzyme monoamine oxidase A. The pop-sci press and mainstream news media were very quick to dub the MAO-A gene “the warrior gene,” and “race realist” creeps probably had a field day noting that, as Wikipedia tells us,

        59% of African-American men, 56% of Maori men, 54% of Chinese men, and 34% of Caucasian men carry the 3R allele. 5.5% of African-American men, 0.1% of Caucasian men, and 0.00067% of Asian men carry the 2R allele.

        This is already starting to happen: in State v. Waldroup, a Tennessee jury gave a (straight, white, Christian) man a reduced sentence for the grisly murder of his wife because he carries the “warrior gene.” I’m not displeased with this specific outcome; I loathe capital punishment, and had it not been for the reduction, Waldroup would have likely been sentenced to death. However, had Waldroup been, e.g., a Muslim or a black man, that genetic evidence could’ve just been an excuse to dub him a “super-predator” or something.

        If you combine the variant MAO-A gene alleles’ ethnic distribution with the structural racism in American society, with the constitutional precedent for indefinite civil commitment provided by supposed liberal do-gooder Justice Breyer’s majority opinion in Comstock, with the lasting unemployment effects of automation, outsourcing, and libertarian central bank orthodoxy leaving lots of troublesome young men idle, and with the frightful lobbying muscle of the private prison lobby, I can paint you a really dystopian picture.

        The natural law that allows some Antigone to speak out against such a regime from a stance transcending Thrasymachean legal positivism is the sense that in justice, the penalty should fit the crime–indeed, that prior to imprisonment there should have been some crime beyond some genetic version of the “pre-crime” in Minority Report. On the logic of medicalization, we’re not meting out justice to responsible moral agents; we’re mechanics fixing a broken piece of wetware. The danger of denuding the despised of their dignity demands deep caution. Plenty of left-liberal despisers of the alleged pruderies of the Church are gravely concerned about this, including my old CrimLaw prof, an Innocence Project bigwig who often worried aloud about our slouch toward racially-tinged popular acceptance of a regime of genetic “pre-crimes.” Maybe it’s worth your attention, too, even if you think C.S. Lewis is lame.

        There are more options, actually – we can praise them, as societies have done; we can shrug it off, as other societies have done; etc.

        Sure, possibility space is vast. None of these strike me as serious proposals, though.

        I sort of don’t know where you’re going with the game theory stuff, so I’ll skip that.

        TL;DR: Justice is in part about “an eye for an eye,” and is a virtue in attempting to prosper in an ecological niche or in interstate diplomacy and warfare. Although it’s an old quip that left-radicals err in trying to “immanentize the eschaton,” incremental progress toward the radical, self-giving mercy exemplified by Christ is to worked for in how we live and how we vote. Utopian attempts to bring the consummation of that mercy about right this instant, however, will fail, so we need justice, too. The New Testament (mercy) fulfills the law of the Old (justice), but Catholics aren’t Marcionists who reject the Hebrew Bible or the appropriateness for its (admittedly savage) time and place of the lex talionis it revealed to guide Israel through a very tough diplomatic neighborhood. (Pre-emptive rebuttal: people in the future may be as horrified by boss-wage slave relations as much as we are by Israelite slaveholding; it was, I concede, deplorable and bloody, but, AFAIK, a universal practice in the civilizational Ecumene of Eurasia at that stage of economic development, and far closer–if admittedly not identical–to a peasantry than to the racist brutalities of the “peculiar institution” of the antebellum South.)

        I actually don’t think that this helps any, because it presumes either that there’s a proper place for justice and a proper place for mercy (in which case you’re not really a pluralist, you’re just a hidden-variables moral monist)

        I’d need more explication of the terms to answer the question. Don’t know a lot about metaethics.

        It could actually be, but as a reasoning strategy I don’t see why you would make that assumption when there are other candidates available. The gun analogy is meant to make you weigh ideas against each other, and by sticking it at the core part of the worldview you’re putting a whole lot of weight on one end of the scale, thereby basically guaranteeing that you won’t have to change your mind. If you mean to engage with the idea honestly, it sure seems like you have to try it out against less weighty ideas first.

        What other candidates for less weighty ideas did you have in mind? Perhaps you’re saying something like: “Your worldview would be somewhat more coherent to abandon the notion of Hell but become some sort of universalist Christian, because your ethical concession that Hell is monstrous and your metaphysical theism seem more central to your worldview than your denominational membership.” If that’s more or less what you’re saying, my rejoineder would echo Leah in saying that for plausibility and coherence, Catholicism, “weak” atheism, and some form of Buddhism strike me as local optima in the topology of religious possibility space in a way that liberal Protestantism just doesn’t, for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to the sense that providing for a historically unbroken infallible Magisterium is exactly the sort of thing one ought reasonably to expect from a good God vouchsafing a revelation. So while I do mean to engage honestly, I don’t think there’s much more epistemic weight being borne by God Himself than by the minutiae of Catholic doctrine, oddly enough. Perhaps it’s just a bias in my thought-processes brought on by being ethnically Irish, but I can much more easily see myself as a blaspheming atheist than a pious Protestant of any kind. (Old joke: Bertrand Russell lectures in Belfast. Question from the audience: “This ‘God’ you don’t believe in . . . is it the Catholic God or the Protestant God?”)

        especially since I’m not sure what you’re referring to by “post-Cartesian mechanism,” which would certainly take us too far afield here.

        The Baconian/Galilean/Newtonian move of thinking of the world as odorless, colorless, tasteless instances of efficient and material causality (billiard-ball early modern atomism, quantum fields, slower molecular movement instead of “cold,” whatever) denuded of the supposedly superstitious formal and final causality of the Schoolmen, and thereby both birthing the wondrous effectiveness of modern sci-tech and sweeping hard-to-quantify qualia out of objective reality under the rug of the merely subjective mental, thereby accidentally creating much of the mind/body problem for modern monist materialists to worry about. And yeah, it would take us way too far afield. But Feser’s good on it, blowhard or not.

        I had in mind the old “when did you stop beating your wife” thing, so if that’s a positivist case, then yeah, sure.

        So something in the framing of the discussion in this thread has a hidden bias against atheism, or utlitarianism, or . . . ? That’s an interesting thought. What’s the bias? How can I guard against it?

        • Irenist

          Oh, man. Need to close my italics tags. BTW: the list of local optima was of my personal optima, not Leah’s, of course. Haven’t the slightest what she thinks about, e.g., Buddhism.

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            Yeah, that’s why I typically use caps for emphasis instead when I’m commenting here – wysiwyg editors are so much nicer.

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          “Rehabilitation has proven to be a really successful model with things like drug addiction that IMHO shouldn’t be criminalized to begin with. But if, e.g., you murder your wife’s lover, you don’t need to be psychopathologized …”
          Whether you need it or not, couldn’t it still respect your moral autonomy (or whatever)? Assuming, that is, that you actually have moral autonomy (which not all humans do)?

          “I’m mostly cautioning against a potential tendency.”
          :-/

          Well, sure, then yeah – our prison system here is totally fucked, our popular science (especially in the courtroom) is appalling, and so on. But that’s no reason to pin the blame on rehabilitation, either as a theory or a practice.

          “Sure, possibility space is vast. None of these strike me as serious proposals, though.”
          I’m just sayin, currently we don’t overlook child-murderers but we do pretty much overlook (and even reward) certain kinds of sociopaths. (I’m using that term literally, btw, not bombastically.) I’m not so eager to say what is or isn’t a serious proposal until I see it in action.

          “What other candidates for less weighty ideas did you have in mind?”
          All the epicyclical ones, basically. And note that I’m not saying (as you seem to imply) how you have to react if you end up weighing the gun thing more heavily than one of the epicycles. I guess embracing universalism might be one reaction, but it’s not the only one.

          “I’d need more explication of the terms to answer the question. Don’t know a lot about metaethics.”
          (I got myself out of order somewhere along the way, sorry…)
          Think about it in the normal way we think about pluralism: with respect to “the good life.” When we’re pluralistic about it, we assert no relevant advantage between competing options. For instance, a preference for jazz and a preference for classical are both just fine so far as the good life is concerned, so we can be pluralistic about music preferences. Good-life-wise, we’re never going to insist that someone listen to jazz if they prefer classical or vice versa. So if morality is pluralistic, and justice and mercy are both equally acceptable ways of doing things, then either justice or mercy will do in any case just depending on which one you happen to prefer at that moment. The only other alternative for a moral system that invokes justice and mercy is to say that you must use one sometimes and the other sometimes, which means that there’s some third value that acts as the judge for those two. In that case, you’re not really doing pluralistic ethics, you’re doing single-valued ethics where the single value just so happens to go unidentified (perhaps because you can’t comprehend it coherently).

          “Utopian attempts to bring the consummation of that mercy about right this instant, however, will fail, so we need justice, too.”
          Ah – interesting false dilemma, I see what you were thinking, but a false dilemma nonetheless.

          “The Baconian…”
          This whole paragraph I sort of don’t get, final causes don’t have to be sensory or experiential in nature. We could, in other words, still say that ice has a final cause without stupidly saying that its final cause is “generating coldness.” “Generating temperatures below 0,” for instance, would be a final cause that we could attribute to ice without being ridiculous and saying that ice itself is what produces our sensory experience of ice. (Likewise, his stipulated final cause for acorns isn’t experiential at all.) Possibly related, in case you’ve not yet seen it: http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2010/01/on-consciousness-contrasting-quilts-and.html

          • Irenist

            Eli,

            Whether you need it or not, couldn’t [rehabilitation] still respect your moral autonomy (or whatever)?

            You’re the one advocating a rehabilitation-only model with no place for retribuition. So I think it’s on you to tell me how that would work.

            Well, sure, then yeah – our prison system here is totally fucked, our popular science (especially in the courtroom) is appalling, and so on. But that’s no reason to pin the blame on rehabilitation, either as a theory or a practice.

            If people are being kept locked up after “paying their debt to society,” then it seems like some non-retributive principle is in play. To me, it looks like a utilitarian harm-reduction strategy of “confine them unless they’re rehabilitated.”

            I’m just sayin, currently we don’t overlook child-murderers but we do pretty much overlook (and even reward) certain kinds of sociopaths. (I’m using that term literally, btw, not bombastically.)

            Sure. In the case of corporations, e.g., we have artificial sociopaths (profit-maximizing corporate persons) helmed by human sociopaths (lots of successful executives, traders, etc.). So yeah.

            In that case, you’re not really doing pluralistic ethics, you’re doing single-valued ethics where the single value just so happens to go unidentified (perhaps because you can’t comprehend it coherently).

            Aquinas gives us the glorious nugget somewhere that the foundation of ethics is to seek the good and not the bad. Justice and mercy being special cases of “seeking the good,” the choice between which is hard to codify in advance, I suppose I’ll tentatively concede being a “hidden-variables ethical monist” for at least this thread.

            Ah – interesting false dilemma, I see what you were thinking, but a false dilemma nonetheless.

            I’m not bright enough to see what you’re getting at. If it’s worth discussing further, please show your work.

            This whole paragraph I sort of don’t get, final causes don’t have to be sensory or experiential in nature.

            Well, I didn’t mean that. But I think talking more about it would take us too far afield.

            I enjoyed the blog entry you linked to. Unpersuasive, but still well done. (E.g., I thought your counterargument to Moreland on intentionality was kind of weakened by not engaging with the fact that written sentences and computer programs only have meanings when we are around to assign them. If Maya Apocalypse 2012 killed all humans, then the sentence would no longer materially exist: just ink molecules adhering to paper molecules. Ditto computer code.)

          • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

            “You’re the one advocating a rehabilitation-only model with no place for retribuition.”
            What, where?

            “Aquinas gives us the glorious nugget somewhere that the foundation of ethics is to seek the good and not the bad.”
            As in, o rly?

            Re: the false dilemma, it’s fairly straightforward: utopian attempts to do mercy only will fail, but all that means is that we need something other than mercy. Unless justice is defined specifically as the complement of mercy (which it isn’t), then you can’t conclude that we need justice just from the fact that we need something other than mercy.

            “I thought your counterargument to Moreland on intentionality was kind of weakened by not engaging with the fact that written sentences and computer programs only have meanings when we are around to assign them.”
            Well, so I’ll reiterate: “You might be thinking at this point that Moreland can just bite the bullet and argue that any encoding really does ruin the truth-aptness of a proposition, but c’mon: we can’t think of a proposition without encoding it somehow. Either representationally, using intuitive categories that we’ve learned over time, or linguistically, using phonemes or letters, every coherent thought that runs through our minds is encoded. In fact, it’s tempting to go so far as to say that “unencoded proposition” is a contradiction in terms. Regardless, this path leads very quickly to a completely nonsensical place.” I don’t necessarily have to say that computers are at the point of intentionality yet, but his argument against them ever getting there is a bad one because it makes it impossible for us to have intentionality as well.

          • Irenist

            “You’re the one advocating a rehabilitation-only model with no place for retribuition.”
            What, where?

            My mistake. If you see a legitimate place for both a principle of rehabilitation and one of retribution, then we are in closer agreement than I thought. I think I was reading your position on the justice/mercy opposition into the related but distinct retribution/rehabilitation opposition.

            the false dilemma, it’s fairly straightforward: utopian attempts to do mercy only will fail, but all that means is that we need something other than mercy. Unless justice is defined specifically as the complement of mercy (which it isn’t), then you can’t conclude that we need justice just from the fact that we need something other than mercy.

            I was trying to argue that believing both justice and mercy to be virtuous is a coherent position. I haven’t attempted to rigorously establish that justice needs to be the companion of mercy, but I have suggested that it may be that companion. Since I take you to be a relatively pure utilitarian, I’m not sure where mercy conceptually figures in your ethics, if at all, so I’m inclined to leave it there.

            I don’t necessarily have to say that computers are at the point of intentionality yet, but his argument against them ever getting there is a bad one because it makes it impossible for us to have intentionality as well.

            Ah. I thought you were claiming that the written sentence somehow contained intentionality just sitting there unread. Happy to be mistaken.

            It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, Eli.


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