“For he is like a refiner’s fire!”

Friend of the blog Scott Hebert has written an article for Patheos titled “Metaphysical Annealing: Empirical Science, Suffering, and God.” Let this be the first of many theological essays that talk about local vs global optima as a way to talk about theodicy. I’ve skipped some of Scott’s background/analogy building in my choice of blockquote, because I think the terms may already be recognizable to readers of the blog, but do pop over to see the whole thing.

What is our search mechanism? Our lives. Each of our lives is an experiment to find God. Note that this immediately implies that no two searches can be the same, and that in most cases, the search space is not even the same.

Given my background, I realized that in this view of reality suffering can very well be the metaphysical equivalent of annealing: it shakes us loose from local optima and leaves us free to pursue the Global Optimum—God.

Metallurgical annealing implies the breaking down of internal barriers to change. Is this not what suffering does to us? It certainly breaks us down, and in doing so, it also breaks our grip on the idols that are the actual barriers to obtaining the God-Optimum.

Suffering is God applying annealing to us so that we can find Him. He is the global optimum of the metaphysical search space we traverse in our lives—more difficult to find today, perhaps, than a hundred years ago (although Chesterton might disagree) because of relativism, the new and myriad idols of our distractions, and of metaphysical techniques that give false impressions; all of which fool us. They keep us stuck on local optima, thinking we have the global—the superlative of God.

And here’s the relevant Messiah excerpt:
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About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. 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."

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  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    I immediately started singing the relevant recitative from the Messiah when I saw the title. :)

  • http://twitter.com/MrsKrishan Clare Krishan

    Can annealing be even more existential: a quotidian chasm of uncertainty, our inability to assess risk of embracing endeavors which may turn out otherwise than we had in mind, as a PBS documentary on high failure rate of two out of three for refined artisan-crafted Samurai swords shows:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/samurai/swor-nf.html
    Or better yet, the medieval metallurgy denouement at the close of Tarkowsky’s 1969 Russian movie masterpiece Andrei Rublev.
    Spoiler alert:
    Do not click on the links below if you have not yet been blessed to experience what“Roger Ebert called the casting of the Iron Bell in Andrei Rublev one of his “100 Great Movie Moments” http://catholictrailers.com/2011/03/21/andrei-rublev-top-film-on-vatican-list/ (broken YouTube link, trailer here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbguowlkZ4g) and
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/fareforward/2013/03/waiting-for-the-bells/

  • grok

    THanks I enjoyed Scott Herbert’s blog and the Messiah excerpt. Here is a piece by Kathleen Norris on the Malachi text.
    http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2007/12/Be-Not-Afraid.aspx

    She points out the echoing of the Malachi text (the last book of the Old Testament) in Revelations (the last book of the new testament:

    “This passage is echoed in the Revelation to John, when the angel opens the sixth seal, and all who have trusted more in their own strength and wealth than in God—”the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free”—flee in terror to caves and hide among rocks. They call to the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” ”

    The other image from the Malachi text is “fullers soap”. Apparently this was an alkali made from plant ashes that was used to clean and “full” new cloth. “- basically a strongly alkaline soap- i.e. not something gentle- consistent with the refiner’s fire image!
    http://www.bible-history.com/faussets/F/Fuller/
    “Carbonate of potash is obtained impure from burning plants, especially the kali (from whence, with the Arabic al, the article, comes the word “alkali “) of Egypt and Arabia.”

  • http://turmarion.wordpress.com Turmarion

    What a fascinating article–food for much thought. My background is in math, and ops research looks for optima, too, so the paradigm rings true to me. Thank you for the link!

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    Although I acknowledge that this is different in many ways, it nonetheless reminds me a lot of Sam Harris’ supposed grounding for ethics. He too likes three-dimensional charts showing local and/vs global optima (based on his TED talk, not his book). The difference between Harris and Herbert (they are both SHs!) is that Herbert may have some supposition about what values we should measure, whereas Harris does not or at least does not choose to divulge and argue for them. I’d be interested to see what Herbert is measuring. I’ll have to ask him, I guess.

  • Darren

    That is an interesting bit of apologetics. As an engineer, I appreciate that the metallurgy part was correct (simplified and with a bit of poetic license).

    I also find his discussion of searching for global optima instead of local optima to be useful.

    I do have a few questions, though.

    Hebert says,

    ”First, this requires a definition of the optimum. In my field, typical optima definitions are “maximal profit,” “minimal cost,” and “highest customer satisfaction.” Optima are, by their nature, superlative.”

    Hebert goes on to suggest such optimum criteria can be put to use in the empirical search for the metaphysical global optimum, but he never defines what those optima might be, how we might measure them.

    Hebert appears to fall victim to Pascal’s error in assuming, before he began, that any global optimum would correspond to God, and the Catholic God in particular. We can forgive him for this personally, I suppose, as we presume that no such actual search occurred for Scot Hebert; his answer has already been provided, but it is a weakness in the apologetic and reduces his “global optimum” and “empiricism” claims to little more than rhetorical devices.

    I also would like to better understand what Hebert means by suffering. Suffering is a word ripe for equivocation, and we should guard against that here. Are we thinking bourgeois ennui at the distressing relativism of modern life, or are we thinking “Christmas Shoes”. If we mean the former, fine, the later, fine, let’s just not swap back and forth between them without notice.

    ”Metallurgical annealing implies the breaking down of internal barriers to change. Is this not what suffering does to us? It certainly breaks us down, and in doing so, it also breaks our grip on the idols that are the actual barriers to obtaining the God-Optimum.”

    So far as ‘…breaking down of internal barriers to change…’, prolonged psychological distress can certainly do that and suffering is a pretty good way of bringing about prolonged psychological distress. Apply suitable psychological molding and viola’. What could be wrong with that?

    I am going to leave that one unanswered, as I have a more interesting (to me) thought.

    Do we consider the inculcation of prolonged psychological distress through the deliberate infliction of suffering as a means of rendering a sentient being more amenable to external influence as a Just and Good action?

    If so, why do we consider this Rube Godberg’esq chain of a million miniscule miraculous manipulations of the orderly functioning of probability and physics for the sake of leading a soul to God to be compatible with Free Will in a way that simple revelation is not?

    ”…more difficult to find today, perhaps, than a hundred years ago (although Chesterton might disagree) because of relativism, the new and myriad idols of our distractions, and of metaphysical techniques that give false impressions; all of which fool us.”

    I am inclined to dismiss this as just historical myopia, Good-old days syndrome, wrong but harmless, but I wonder if that is being too complacent. How much honesty does an apologetic work owe its readers? Where is the line between rhetorical device and advocating ones case, and sophistry and meme immunization?

    I am happy to keep on topic, though, and stick with the issues of: the missing definitions, Pascal’s error, the justifiability of the use of suffering, and the ramifications of such molding for Free Will.

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

      Free Will does not mean we save ourselves. We are saved by God’s grace. It does mean we need to cooperate with God’s grace. That happens over time. So “a million miniscule miraculous manipulations” are much more consistent with free will. If God gives us grace in one overwhelming act then we have no time to choose whether we want to pursue God or run back to our old life. The many small acts of grace give us a chance to react. The pains and pleasures of both roads must be real. The choice to love must be a choice to suffer but the choice to remain self-centered leads to deeper suffering. So we must experience both kinds of suffering to make any kind of free choice.

      • Darren

        Ah, the Inverse 95% Confidence Rule for divine influence. i.e. if an event is statistically distinguishable from random noise, it violates our Free Will.

        Ah, Randy, your Calvinism is showing…

        • Erick

          Darren,

          ==Hebert appears to fall victim to Pascal’s error in assuming, before he began, that any global optimum would correspond to God, and the Catholic God in particular. ==

          Obviously, from the Catholic perspective, God is defined as inherently the global optimum (whatever that is), so his post is approached that way. So for us, he is giving an analogy of the Catholic worldview. I think you can at least say that it gives you a clearer idea of a piece of the Catholic argument about suffering.

          As a non-Catholic, you obviously disagree. But I think there is a challenge here for non-believers to put into the analysis pot all known “local” optima (including God) and then analyzing which of them is the real global optima when it comes to arguing the concept of suffering.

          ==If so, why do we consider this Rube Godberg’esq chain of a million miniscule miraculous manipulations of the orderly functioning of probability and physics for the sake of leading a soul to God to be compatible with Free Will in a way that simple revelation is not?==

          Transformation in the Catholic sense is an ongoing process, not a singular event. In my way of thinking, it is concerned with the unity of one’s mind, body, and soul within the individual in the same way that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united. Much like the perfection of one’s jump shot in basketball cannot be achieved by simply watching a video, but through practice of hundred of thousands of shots uniting mental and physical coordination.

    • Scott Hebert

      Darren,

      First off, thank you re: the accuracy of the metallurgy. As an IE, not an ME, one of my biggest concerns would be that I would get the metallurgy wrong, and that it would be a turnoff for those (like you) who care about such things.

      Re: my example optima, I was not trying to create analogies of them for metaphysics. This was another example to explain the unknown area of optimization to those who were unfamiliar with it.

      However, challenge accepted. First, let us propose that ‘cost’ = ‘suffering’ and ‘revenue’ = ‘joy’. In that case, we might be able to map minimum cost objective functions to, perhaps, Buddhism; maximal profit to, say, Utilitarianism (particularly if using a systems view), and so on. This segues into your next point.

      Yes, I assume a Catholic worldview. The column was primarily for Catholics. I am also uncomfortable discussing other religions, as that is outside my experience, but I will acknowledge this freely. The above would suggest that different religions would have different objective functions. Whether that involves different decision variables, different coefficients, both, or neither, is an interesting exploration idea.

      Just like the above, I also deliberately left the definition of ‘suffering’ vague. An exact mapping of the concept to metallurgical annealing would be ‘restlessness’. I have other ideas, but I must get to work. I will respond more fully, and to other respondents, when I have more time.

      Thank you all for the dialogue!

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

    It is interesting that the biggest objection people raise to faith in God is suffering. Still we tend to find God in times of suffering. Is it because it breaks us down making unthinkable changes thinkable? To some degree. I also think it eliminates noise. Superficial pleasures drown out deeper desires. I am not sure we have reached a local optima. I think we are more often measuring the wrong variable. If we just measure how much the pleasure centers in our brain are stimulated then sex and drugs will win. I don’t think sobriety and chastity are global optima by that measure. You need to change what you are measuring.

    I do a bible study in a prison. The inmates talk a lot about being incarcerated allowing them to clear their head for a time. They don’t say the bible studies are better then their highest high. They are not. They do say they can now see that pursuing the highest high is not the best life strategy. They have changed their measuring stick. Then you get into the issue that their addiction has broken their mind and they can’t seem to follow through on their new insights. So many times they flip back to the old measuring stick. At that point they even know it is not a local optima even if they only think as far ahead as the next day. Still the majority do not break the addiction.

    I think that is the key. Involuntary suffering shows us the right way but we must choose to continue suffering to really pursue that way. We must trust the refiner even more than we trust our own mind. Not that we are giving up on rationality. It is only in breaking our addictions that we become truly rational. We just have to walk by faith for a time to get there. Faith in local optima and global optima calculations does not do it. Faith in the love of our heavenly Father does.

    • Brandon

      It is interesting that the biggest objection people raise to faith in God is suffering.
      This is not my biggest objection, it’s simply the one that many people find hardest to answer. My biggest objection is the paucity of evidence.

      • Guest

        “My biggest objection is the paucity of evidence.”

        Maybe the design of your research project is flawed and you are attempting to measure the wrong data points?

        • Alex

          What are the correct ones?

          • James Kennedy

            All of them.

  • Cam

    This is a truly horrible theodicy and has always been a horrible theodicy. Adding the mathematical wankery doesn’t actually alter much, it’s just window dressing for the core argument: “Suffering is God making you better.”

    Major Objection 1: Existence of deity asserted but not evidenced. I’ll let this go for purposes of exploring the argument, but it must be mentioned.

    Major Objection 2: Depending on what is being optimised, it has not been shown why it is necessary that the will of a deity correspond to the optimisation of that thing. If your goal is optimising the happiness of Sally, and the deity wishes that Sally be stoned to death for not being a virgin on her wedding night (Deutoronomy 22:21), the wishes of the deity will not be a global maximum for the optimisation of Sally’s happiness. The author may argue that a person SHOULD want what the deity wants, but that doesn’t change the fact that occasionally people don’t; and doesn’t the concept of free will mean that we should be allowed to not want what this deity wants, if we so choose?

    Major Objection 3 : It is a) possible, and b) probable, and c) evidenced, that some people are not searching for purpose (I think this should be a subjective test, and no example of an objective test has been given by the author). For example many atheists believe that purpose is not something to be found, but rather something to create. If a person’s subjective experience of not particularly wanting to find an external purpose does not destroy this claim, and no objective test is forthcoming from the author, then the claim is unfalsifiable and uninteresting.

    4. General objections and questions, given the proposed metaphysical system:
    4a) Why did god create a universe where he must ‘anneal’? He could have possibly created a universe where no such process is necessary. Inefficient.
    4b) Why does suffering appear to fall randomly in accordance with physical laws of the universe, rather than according to merit? Eg natural disasters.
    4c) Some people suffer long before they could possibly make moral choices. Isn’t this a violation of free will?
    4d) Why do animals suffer?
    4e) Why are there multiple types of suffering? Is your deity a sadistic fuckhead? Let’s accept all of the arguments offered by the author. This entire system could theoretically be satisfied by say, one type of physical pain and one type of mental pain. Yet your deity apparently got creative with the varieties of pain he dishes out. Ineffecient at best, unbelievably monstrous at worst.
    4f) If suffering is the will of your deity, then do doctors and modern medicine undo his good works?

    Objection 5: Fraulein Fritzl.

    The world is made better by people who treat suffering as undesirable – doctors, inventors, pioneers. If a person did find these metaphysics compelling, then at least we should hope that they act as if they didn’t. How would we act if we thought suffering was desirable?

    • Darren

      Cam wrote;

      ” Objection 5: Fraulein Fritzl.”

      Ouch!

      Now, this is not going to bother the vaccinated, not one bit. Joseph Fritzel’s free will, fallen humanity, and just tough-luck for Elisabeth et. al. Why couldn’t God have contrived some small random event, a gas leak, a civil defense drill, a Marian apparition outside of the dungeon leading to the discovery of Elisabeth’s prison 23 years earlier? That one escapes me, but maybe Randy can answer… ;)

      But, looking at Elisabeth and her children does give us an interesting bit of data for our claim that suffering can be empirically shown to lead us to virtue. How are they doing?

      • Cam

        Darren: “Joseph Fritzel’s free will, fallen humanity, and just tough-luck for Elisabeth et. al.”
        These are different theodicies. The theodicy proposed by the author seems to portary suffering as the direct application of the deity’s will.

        • Darren

          Yep, number 4 on my list of standard Catholic Theodicies:

          1. Evil is not really so bad, it keeps you from being spoiled / builds character;
          2. Evil is all caused by human sin;
          3. Evil is tolerated for free will;
          4. Evil is not so bad because it allows us to suffer and that is good;
          5. Evil is required for God to bring forth Good from it;
          6. Evil is relative; even if we had nothing to really complain about (like Malaria and Hitler), then we would just change our standards to think that rough towels were unconscionably evil;
          7. God did not create Evil because Evil is just the lack of Good and God only created Good;
          8. Evil is just part of God’s mysterious plan and / or we just don’t understand God’s plan or it would all make sense; and
          9. Who are we to question God, anyways?

          My favorite, by the way, is #1. I like to think of it as the “Evil builds character” theodicy:

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

            I would replace the word “evil” in much of your post with “suffering.” Lots of painful things are not evil. For example, if I cut your arm off then my choice to do that is evil. But the pain that causes you and even the pain it causes me would not be evil. That would be the consequences of evil playing out. Pain is a proper reaction. Then God gives both of us the chance to have a positive reaction to our pain. We can suffer redemptively. We can learn from it. We can respond by embracing God more fully. So the evil choice I made in cutting off your arm can have good consequences. Really human choices are the only thing that can be truly evil.

            That is good in theory. The trouble is that living life without an arm is really hard. Is there really enough good that comes from it? This is where trusting God comes in. We are not in a position to do the cost/benefit analysis. We know how we feel. We feel some people get a raw deal. From what we can see they do. But we don’t see everything.

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

        Why couldn’t God have contrived some small random event, a gas leak, a civil defense drill, a Marian apparition outside of the dungeon leading to the discovery of Elisabeth’s prison 23 years earlier? That one escapes me, but maybe Randy can answer…

        I would not want to disappoint you! I can come up with an answer. I would not assert that I have the only answer or even a partially right answer. Just that it is not hard to speculate about answers. The problem of evil is only a problem if you want it to be.

        What are you expecting God to do here? Limit the effect of evil in some way? Say someone can torture somebody else for a few days but after that the heavens open and the torturer gets zapped? But that would mask the nature of evil. It has no limit. We don’t have a baseline where human decency kicks in. The scary part is that none of us are far from being a Joseph Fritzel. Humanity is as evil as it has always been. That evil is not just in a few bad apples. It is in all of us. Joseph shows it to us in all its ugliness. That is why we need a savior.

        • Darren

          Thanks! I was being serious, BTW, not snarky. You supplied the answer much better than I could have. :)

        • Steve

          The problem of evil is only a problem if you want it to be.

          What kind of answer is that?

          What are you expecting God to do here? Limit the effect of evil in some way? Say someone can torture somebody else for a few days but after that the heavens open and the torturer gets zapped? But that would mask the nature of evil. It has no limit.

          So god is either complacently sadistic by allowing such things to happen or impotent to prevent them altogether?

          The scary part is that none of us are far from being a Joseph Fritzel.

          Geeze… speak for yourself.

          Humanity is as evil as it has always been. That evil is not just in a few bad apples. It is in all of us. Joseph shows it to us in all its ugliness. That is why we need a savior.

          Humans have the capacity for both good and evil things, though the extent of individual capacity for each varies from person to person. It’s puzzling why we should god all the credit for 1 and us all the blame for the other. Perhaps we don’t need a savior, but should take responsibility for saving ourselves.

    • Anonymous

      2) The idea is that the objective function is set by the deity. That isn’t terribly difficult to understand. Your personal objective function doesn’t have to match it (it likely won’t), and the author clearly acknowledges this. There’s no breaking of free will here.

      3) See (2). Your objective function doesn’t have to match the deity’s objective function. It probably won’t.

      4a) Possibility of such a universe asserted by not evidenced. Additionally, you really must not have read any apologetics if you can’t come up with a plausible reason.
      b) Randomness can introduce a lot of good properties in optimization routines. Also, there is probably some structure in your base space.
      c) How is suffering a violation of free will? Are you claiming that if one has free will, they must be able to determine any and all circumstances that affect them?
      d) There are a plethora of arguments on this topic, and they’re not directly related to the annealing analogy… just the general problem of suffering. Therefore, I won’t summarize them here.
      e) Why are there multiple types of courses in a university? Are curriculum designers sadistic fuckheads? Or do they construct an objective function that includes value in you being able to encounter many different complicated problems from many different perspectives and have a decent idea how to begin going about solving them?
      f) This is probably the most interesting argument you’ve presented. Surely, in the limit of complete success, where we’ve removed all suffering, it seems like we’ve subverted the process. However, knowing the behavior of a function in the limit going to infinity doesn’t give us any information about the behavior in some finite domain. You seem to want to assert that this function must be monotone, but you haven’t argued for it (and it doesn’t seem at all clear why it would be).

      5) See 4f.

      • Cam

        anon: “Your objective function doesn’t have to match the deity’s objective function. ”
        But the deity will intervene, via suffering, to attempt to ‘persuade’ you to see his point of view? This is what breaks free will. It’s not an action-consequence situation either, if the deity is a moral agent rather than a natural force.

        anon: “Possibility of such a universe asserted but not evidenced.”
        Most theologies don’t set limits on the types of universes a deity can create, but I understand that some do. We could agree that my argument is a valid objection to any theology with an unlimited deity.

        anon: “Randomness can introduce a lot of good properties in optimization routines.”
        Sure, from the point of view of an inefficient human attempting to maximise efficiency, but that’s not the actor we’re dealing with. As I understand it the deity of most monotheistic theologies is claimed to be maximally efficient, and does not need to experiment to gain knowledge of the perfect solution- he would know the perfect solution already.

        anon: “Or do they construct an objective function that includes value in you being able to encounter many different complicated problems from many different perspectives and have a decent idea how to begin going about solving them?”
        I like this, and don’t have an answer for you. (yet!) A possible response might involve pointing out that complex situations could still be orchestrated if there were only a few types of pain. There are medical conditions that go beyond any reasonable character-testing requirements. Did the god really need to create more than one type of cancer? If, as a benevolent deity, you can destroy a person’s life and happiness as required for your cosmic experiment with just a few types and intensities of cancer, why create medical conditions involving fragile bones and paper skin and flesh-eating parasites and blindness and alzheimer’s? And there are apparently limits to the types of suffering in this universe- spontaneous infant combustion is not a medical condition.

        anon: “However, knowing the behavior of a function [...] and it doesn’t seem at all clear why it would be).”
        An example might help clarify what you’re trying to say here?

        • Anonymous

          But the deity will intervene, via suffering, to attempt to ‘persuade’ you to see his point of view? This is what breaks free will. It’s not an action-consequence situation either, if the deity is a moral agent rather than a natural force.

          You’re saying that if a deity creates you and puts you in an environment designed to help you attain some goal, you don’t actually have free will. This seems strange. Can a deity put you in a random environment without breaking your free will? Any particular environment will surely influence your choices, and this influence is the mechanism by which you seem to think free will is broken. Then, it seems to me that your logical conclusion must be that it is merely impossible to create a being with free will inside any environment. At the very least, they might not want to be in that environment, and that may seem like a violation of free will.

          This is kind of interesting, but I’m not terribly persuaded by it. I’ve never understood free will to mean that you can choose to change any/all circumstances that affect you. Additionally, even in the case of our present world, it seems as though the potential deity has given you a way out of the environment (I’m sure you have a knife in the house).

          We could agree that my argument is a valid objection to any theology with an unlimited deity.

          This really depends on what you mean by unlimited.

          As I understand it the deity of most monotheistic theologies is claimed to be maximally efficient…

          So does this. I think we can agree that you have a valid objection to any theology that shares your particular conception of unlimited/maximal. I think there are plenty that don’t share your particular conception. This is a whole can of worms on its own, so we can probably stop here.

          Did the god really need to create more than one type of cancer? … And there are apparently limits to the types of suffering in this universe- spontaneous infant combustion is not a medical condition.

          Did the curriculum committee really need to create more than 3 types of optimal control courses? And there are apparently limits to the types of optimal control in this university – optimal control of systems that preserve the free will of moral agents is not in the course catalog. Clearly, the curriculum committee does not exist. :)

          An example might help clarify what you’re trying to say here?

          f(x)=sin^2(x)*exp(-x)

          lim f as x->Inf is 0, but it’s not monotone. Even if we think that this limit point would “undo his good works”, where on the curve are we? What is the domain in which we’re constrained? Without additional argumentation to demonstrate some structure or domain, I have no idea what the relationship is between increasing/decreasing on the suffering axis and increasing/decreasing on the “his good works” axis (or whatever you choose the other axis to be… it seems really strange to think that the two things you’ve identified are actually linked in a particularly interesting way).

          • Cam

            Anon: “Did the curriculum committee really need to create more than 3 types of optimal control courses?”
            We can probably distinguish the analogy here. The reasons why earthly actors, such as a curriculum committee, create multiple options don’t translate well to the omnipotent proto-human allegedly running the entire universe.

            - Assuming the metallurgy theodicy, we observe an inefficient system. Inefficiency contradicts the alleged nature of the deity, and is evidence against his existence.
            - An inefficient system is compatible with, and suggestive of, worldviews where there is no agency behind suffering, such as most types of atheism. It is not suggestive of a worldview which involves agency.

            You could argue that the system is not inefficient- eg the most efficient system of suffering involves 23 types of cancer but does not involve 24 types of cancer, or must involve flesh-eating parasites but does not involve spontaneous infant combustion. This seems a stretch, especially if simplicity is a criterea for efficiency. You could argue that inefficiency is compatible with your conception of the deity and that would undo my argument, but as far as I understand it this lurches off into the realm of unorthodoxy, and i’m mostly interested in dealing with popular conceptions of the christian god.

            Anon: “Without additional argumentation to demonstrate some structure or domain, I have no idea what the relationship is between increasing/decreasing on the suffering axis and increasing/decreasing on the “his good works” axis (or whatever you choose the other axis to be… it seems really strange to think that the two things you’ve identified are actually linked in a particularly interesting way).”

            If the deity’s mechanism to move a person along an axis toward his global maximum is suffering and pain, why would reversing that mechanism (removing suffering) not reverse the direction of movement?

          • Anonymous

            I’d like to hear your response to the bit about free will. I have a feeling you’re going to run into a situation where your drive for maximal efficiency (in whatever measure you use) will run up against your concept of free will. Clearly, you’d think that an environment which was 100% efficient in converting people to the deity’s objective function is a violation of free will. Is there a tradeoff here that you’d be willing to make? I’m still not even sure if you believe free will is possible (regardless of existence/nonexistence of deities, maximal or not), so I’m not sure I want to continue with some of the beginning part of this until that is cleared up.

            If the deity’s mechanism to move a person along an axis toward his global maximum is suffering and pain, why would reversing that mechanism (removing suffering) not reverse the direction of movement?

            …because f(x)=sin^2(x)*exp(-x)… because you’ve argued nothing about the function’s values except at a limit point (no suffering). We could also take the other limit point (infinite suffering) and imagine that it would also inhibit a person from achieving the global maximum (with all the constant screaming and dying keeping people from ever engaging with the idea of morality). What happens to the function in between these limit points? Does it go up in places? Does it go down in places? Where on this domain do we live? Which direction does doctoring take us? None of these things are argued, and we can’t infer them from intuition about one limit point.

        • Anonymous

          Gah! Sorry about the html tag creep.

          • Cam

            Re: free will,
            First, the inefficiency problem isn’t a result of free will. Reducing the number of types of suffering doesn’t affect free will, these are two separate arguments and I don’t know why you’re melding them together?
            Second, it’s a simple truth that there are types of suffering that cripple a persons life, or end it. We don’t need to have an absolute measure of free will to say that a person with full body paralysis has less freedom than a person who does not- and therefore relatively less free will. Therefore, suffering can reduce free will. Some theodicies can handle this, but the ‘annealing’ theodicy is failing hard here.
            Thirdly, a deity CAN put you in an environment where choices have consequences but do not limit free will- just as one example, a universe where no moral choice would result in irreversible physical damage/suffering to the self (like brain damage) but might have other consequences such as anguish.

            Re: annealing mechanism
            First, a retreat to agnosticism is fatal to the original argument, which featured the claim that suffering does move people toward god ‘s global maximum. If you argue that suffering does move a person in one direction, you can’t then plead agnosticism about whether the opposite is true.
            Second, we don’t even need to know exactly what effect suffering has on reaching a global maximum. What we do know, under this alleged system, is that the deity is using suffering to effect a result. So if Annie has disease (x), we don’t need to know exactly what the deity is trying to do, but it is the claim on the table that the deity is trying to do /something/. So why would curing Annie of disease X not thwart that divine will? The deity had presumably looked at Annie’s default healthy state, seen a problem and tried to put Annie at a certain position on the function, but then we by curing the disease move her away from that suffering position back to her original healthy position (which the deity had decided wasn’t good for her!).

          • Anonymous

            I think a lot is being muddled up still. When you said,

            “Assuming the metallurgy theodicy, we observe an inefficient system. Inefficiency contradicts the alleged nature of the deity, and is evidence against his existence.”

            what did you mean by “inefficient”? It proceeds to run through the remainder of your argument, yet you never defined it. Inefficient at what? What’s our performance measure?

            “…say that a person with full body paralysis has less freedom than a person who does not- and therefore [has] relatively less free will.

            I think this conception of free will conflates will with ability in a way that is not sound. This is precisely why I mucked around above with ideas about environments. If we put a measure on free will that mirrors a measure on ability (as it seems you’re doing), then where do we need to be? Where on the free will space is “good enough”? ‘Sure, it seems to you that you just need to not have full body paralysis or brain damage… but you’re just privileging your experience. You don’t really have free will unless you can fly! Anything is else is really a type of paralysis that totally infringes upon free will.’ This conception of free will is far too loose. It allows us to just object whenever we want… and remain silent whenever we want.

            a universe where no moral choice would result in irreversible physical damage/suffering to the self (like brain damage) but might have other consequences such as anguish.

            This is starting to get better (it definitely contradicts the notion you advanced just a paragraph earlier, though). What if I will to not be in the environment? This is the hypothetical I explored earlier, precisely because I thought you were conflating will with ability. It is also clearly incompatible with your previous claim,

            the deity will intervene, via suffering, to attempt to ‘persuade’ you to see his point of view? This is what breaks free will.

            You now seem to think that this is something that is totally acceptable, so long as the suffering doesn’t meet some measure of irreversibility. Additionally, your claim seems to have the consequence that Dante’s hell provides its subjects with more free will than our current environment.

            a retreat to agnosticism

            I apologize if my comment led you to believe that my argument was a retreat to agnosticism. It most definitely was not. I assume that some people who like the annealing analogy can go and answer the questions I posted. They can go to their theodicy or whatever, learn a bit about where we are on the curve, and probably say something about doctoring/suffering/growing. However, this process absolutely requires input beyond intuition about one limit point. You wanted to conclude your argument far too soon, for far too vast a class of positions. My point is that if all I have are your premises, I’m absolutely agnostic about your conclusion. You need something more. They might have it. Your argument doesn’t.

            I’m going to also explain a bit more explicitly what I mean, because I think there still might be a misunderstanding. I’m a controls guy, so I’m thinking in terms of control effectiveness. If I change a parameter (in this case, amount of suffering), I may change the control effectiveness (how quickly we move toward the optimum, how likely we are to get out of local optima, or some other measure). Your claim is, “Look, if we have some control effectiveness now, then decreasing the parameter necessarily decreases the control effectiveness. I know so because of my intuition at the limit point of zero (and a hidden assumption about monotonicity).” My claim is that we simply cannot reason about the effectiveness curve due to intuition at one limit point (like I said before, we could consider the opposite limit point… and we would come to the opposite conclusion). Other people may be able to go to their theodicies and get some better intuition about where we are and what the curve looks like. You’re claiming that we don’t need to do all that… instead, we can just stop right now and claim that the whole thing is bollocks.

            we don’t even need to know exactly what effect suffering has on reaching a global maximum. What we do know, under this alleged system, is that the deity is using suffering to effect a result. So if Annie has disease (x), we don’t need to know exactly what the deity is trying to do, but it is the claim on the table that the deity is trying to do /something/. So why would curing Annie of disease X not thwart that divine will?

            I really suggest you learn more about annealing… and simulated annealing that is used for optimization. It is expressly not a feature that produces only motion in a directly that is better than we currently are. We have gradient descent for that kind of thing. And guess what? It leads to local optima. How do we get to global optima? Do we do it by always following the curve that locally looks best? How do we do it in simulated annealing? When you can answer these questions, you’ll realize why your objection simply doesn’t make sense.

            …and then you might realize how changing this parameter could make us more or less effective at particular goals for any particular space or set of functions. That feeds into the earlier discussion. You should probably do this latter part first. I think it would help clear up a lot.

          • cam

            “Where is it inefficient?”
            1 -multiple types of suffering. This fails a simplicity test.
            2 -that people are created to require the application of pain to change. Why not merely the application of logic, or conversation? (if these two methods already exist, the addition of suffering as a 3rd unnecessary method would fail a simplicity test)

            Your burden here, to defeat these two charges, is to explain why the universe is set up in the simplest way possible, with it’s plethora of types of suffering all being the absolute minimum necessary. Alternatively you could argue that simplicity isn’t a good test of efficiency.

            Re free will;
            I realise I’ve presented two contradictory arguments about free will, fair point. If its okay i’l clarify it as a two-tiered argument: 1st, there is no free will if the deity bullies us with pain when we don’t choose to follow his global maximum; 2nd, that even if for some reason there must be suffering, it doesn’t make sense under this theodicy for it to be dished out in a way that reduces free will more than necessary eg brain damage, paralysis.

            With the 1st argument, I think the issue here is that the bizarre rats-in-a-maze theology of Christianity doesn’t actually feature free will, which you’ve hinted at with comments like ‘we can’t fly’. The deity has free will, but we as his stupider, weaker creations, can only make minor decisions (some of the time) in his cosmic ant-farm. So to my complaint about annealing and free will, a Christian might reply ‘So what? This rat loves god and is happy to run the maze’.

            To the second point, you are correct that everybody sits on a scale of experience that limits free will, but the conclusion you draw from that is odd. Il raise three subpoints:
            1- some people are /relatively/ more limited than others. This is unfair if we’re all supposed to be playing the same ‘love god’ game. Annealing further disrupts the playing field.
            2- if we must define an objective measure of free will, there’s no reason that can’t be set at ‘absolute’. Flying and all. The deity presumably has actual absolute free will, unfettered by suffering.
            3- suppose a person is at a certain state of free will. Not necessarily a limit point- they might have a cold and a headache. God then paralyses them and gives them a brain condition that means they can’t make moral decisions. Is he really ‘annealing’ them to his global maximum, if he’s irreversibly removing their ability to eg make moral choices, love others, etc? I say no. Other theodicies that involve eg punitive suffering don’t have this problem.

            Re medicine-undoing-gods-work;
            No, I’m not intuiting about a certain limit point, nor am I claiming what local direction annealing must move a person. You seem to think I’m arguing if the deity is moving a person UP a curve via suffering, them medicine moves them DOWN a curve; to which your rebuttal seems to be ‘but we can’t say annealing moves us up- it may be moving us down locally’
            Which is irrelevant to my argument, il try break this down.

            A person is at point X for a given search, not necessarily a limit point, and we don’t need to know what this point is.
            Assuming the annealing theodicy, if we see this person suffering then we can deduce that point X was not a global maximum, and that the deity is trying to anneal them.
            Under the theodicy, applying annealing moves a person FROM point X. Doesn’t matter in which direction, we can agree that god is perfect at annealing and will get them through the curve to a global maximum eventually somehow.
            However, we then cure the suffering which was moving the person from point X- it is logical that they would return to point X, or at least their motion from point X would slow or halt.

            The only way you can rebut this is to argue that there isn’t a strict relationship between suffering and the given search- that undoing the suffering doesn’t undo the annealing, that motion on a curve only goes in one direction. But then the theodicy falls apart, because if suffering only needed to be applied once, long-term illness would not be a thing. All suffering would be instantaneous and short-lived. If suffering DOES require long-term application, then we cut that short by healing people- and undo the good god’s works.

          • Anonymous

            Cam,

            I’m still missing a good, useful definition of inefficient. I’m an engineer; I need a cost function or an objective function. Terms like “free will” should be included… whether they’re included in the objective function or a constraint. What’s our goal here?

            there is no free will if the deity bullies us with pain when we don’t choose to follow his global maximum

            Misunderstanding of annealing. This is not a feature.

            it doesn’t make sense under this theodicy for it to be dished out in a way that reduces free will more than necessary eg brain damage, paralysis

            ..and I’m sure that no theodicy has ever encountered, much less engaged with or explained, the seemingly ultimate reduction in free will – death.

            some people are /relatively/ more limited than others. This is unfair if we’re all supposed to be playing the same ‘love god’ game.

            Got it. If I want to create beings, I have to create every single one to be exactly identical and be in exactly identical situations. This colloquial idea of fairness will certainly show up as a term in the objective function you’re going to give me (actually, it’s probably going to come in as a pretty hard constraint rather than just a term in the objective function… you seem to be pretty absolutist about this). I really need you to flesh out all the terms that you must have before I can believe you when you say it’s inefficient.

            if we must define an objective measure of free will, there’s no reason that can’t be set at ‘absolute’.

            That depends. What do the objective function and constraints look like? Clearly, if n>1, we can’t set the free will level at ‘absolute’ for every being. This is logically impossible given your conception of free will, regardless of whether we’re a deity. Unless your claim is that other, non-deity agents that are created can totally infringe on your free will and that’s not a problem for saying that your free will is ‘absolute’ (of course, it would be quite strange that a non-deity could do the exact same thing that you won’t allow your deity to do).

            suppose a person is at a certain state of free will. Not necessarily a limit point- they might have a cold and a headache. God then paralyses them and gives them a brain condition that means they can’t make moral decisions. Is he really ‘annealing’ them to his global maximum, if he’s irreversibly removing their ability to eg make moral choices, love others, etc?

            Again, complete misunderstanding of what annealing is. Let’s go to the breakdown.

            A person is at point X for a given search, not necessarily a limit point, and we don’t need to know what this point is.

            Already, we can see where you’ve failed to understand annealing. I’ve said nothing about a limit point for where any particular person is in the base-space.

            if we see this person suffering then we can deduce that point X was not a global maximum

            False. Misunderstanding of annealing. There is no reason they couldn’t have been at the global maximum.

            Under the theodicy, applying annealing moves a person FROM point X. Doesn’t matter in which direction

            Ok. Pretty reasonable.

            …we can agree that god is perfect at annealing and will get them through the curve to a global maximum eventually somehow.

            False. Free will allows a person to choose most aspects of the path they’re going to follow. As you’ve argued, it could be considered a violation of free will if it was 100% guaranteed that you absolutely would end up at the global maximum, regardless of what you choose to do.

            However, we then cure the suffering which was moving the person from point X- it is logical that they would return to point X, or at least their motion from point X would slow or halt.

            There are other types of suffering, so curing one type of suffering turns down a global parameter. If we cured all suffering, we would turn this global parameter down to zero. In this case, we have intuition about what would happen to we mere local optimizers (we’d find local optima (so if X was a local optima, they might return to X upon turning the parameter all the way down… but certainly not for general X)). But what happens when we turn that global parameter up/down just a little bit? What happens if I turn it up all the way to infinity? What does changing this parameter do to our likelihood of getting out of local optima?

            The only way you can rebut this is to argue that there isn’t a strict relationship between suffering and the given search- that undoing the suffering doesn’t undo the annealing, that motion on a curve only goes in one direction.

            This doesn’t make any sense when you actually understand what annealing is. I think you’re still thinking of annealing as a, “There are two beings, god and one person. God ‘anneals’ that person” thing. This simply does not make sense and is not compatible with the idea of annealing. Annealing is a global property… a matter of general environment design. It takes into account known properties of the agents (they’re thought to be local optimizers… gradient descenters) and adds a feature that can help get out of local optima.

            I really don’t think there’s anything here that can’t be cured (no pun intended) by learning about what simulated annealing actually does. Try it. Find a minimum for something like f(x)=(4 – 2.1*x1^2 + x1^4/3)*x1^2 + x1*x2 + (-4 + 4*x2^2)*x2^2 (this classic example function actually shares your name). Use a handful of different initial conditions. Either retain a constant global parameter (and learn about how it can affect the results) or make it vary through the course of the optimization (and learn about why we turn down the parameter over time in practice (and then maybe intuit why doctoring could be a good thing)). Now assume that your local agent isn’t an optimizer. They have free will and just want to watch the world burn. Maybe they perform gradient ascent rather than gradient descent. Do they still reach the global minimum? Or did their choices lead them somewhere else, regardless of the global presence of annealing?

          • cam

            Haha gah, with you now. But your interpretation of the theodicy makes less sense than mine, and it’s not immediately clear from the OP that the deity is setting up a mechanistic system rather than intervening personally based on a persons circumstances, consider this para: “If the analogy holds, then consider a definition of God as the optimum that can manipulate an experiment, so that the experimenter can find it (in this case, Him). Clearly, such an optimum draws everything to itself.”

            -indifferent annealing is just as likely to shake a person from the global maximum as from a local optimum, and wouldn’t we agree that’s not desirable from anyone’s point of view, including and especially the deity?

            -if suffering isn’t determined by a person’s position on the search function, then it’s no longer clear how suffering ‘shakes’ a person from their local optima, i’d have to hear more about how that’s supposed to work. If suffering correlated to a particular choice or feeling, then a person could be expected to reconsider that position, but if there was no correlation then surely something else would be driving change for that person.

            -curing suffering and reducing the global parameter to zero would still be wrong as everyone would settle in local maxima, as you pointed out. So medicine is only ethical provided we don’t get too good at it?

          • Anonymous

            I think what bothers you is the statement, “Clearly, such an optimum draws everything to itself.”

            I think this is compatible with the view I have advanced. A deity could draw everything to itself in different ways inside this framework. One aspect is the design of the local agents. They generally have the ability to choose to follow local gradients (free will + some capabilities). Of course, as you’ve argued, free will prevents this drawing from being inevitable. One could use their free will and capabilities to choose to go the wrong direction… but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t drawn in some sense. (Most people who do bad things are aware that they’re doing bad things. Often, they think they’re trying to achieve some greater end. Clearly, they don’t have the right rule set or idea of virtue. The suffering they experience or cause can shake them into refining their rule set.)

            Most of all this is my conception. It may not be shared by the original posters. I would also like to add something that is in my mind from previous discussions here. If we add in ideas from virtue ethics, I think we can make even more sense of this whole idea. There are a couple things that we sometimes think of as constants in simulated annealing that probably aren’t constants. I think they’re state-dependent.

            1) If the base space that we’re considering is, itself, a measure of one’s virtue, then someone who has reached the global maximum has perfect virtue. This means that they are likely to be less moved from their spot by suffering. They already understand it will; they already understand The Good (whatever that is) well. There’s a sort of decreased effectiveness when you’ve already got it all figured out. I don’t know how much of a role this actually plays (we should also see some measure of decreased effectiveness in some local maxima… but the wide variety of situations and types of suffering are more likely to lead you to see a contradiction in your current rule set or understanding of virtue when you’re not at the global maximum), but it’s clear we could have some state-dependent effects defray a bit of your concern about getting randomly shaken from the global maximum.

            2) The global parameter (amount of suffering overall) is also state-dependent. We have a lot of different types of suffering. Even if we got perfectly good at doctoring, we probably still have some jerks out there who want to make life miserable for others. We’d have to get perfectly good at doctoring, perfectly good at economics, perfectly good at interpersonal relations, perfectly good at politics, etc., in order for the global parameter to get all the way to zero. Our progress in reducing this parameter seems pretty state-dependent. We (as a society) would have to be at a pretty high point in virtue space for this to seem even remotely manageable. Notice that this seems like a necessary condition, not a sufficient one. Being perfectly good at virtue doesn’t seem to necessarily imply that we’d have perfect knowledge of doctoring and such.

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

      #2. Nobody says it is God’s will that Sally be stoned. He would have preferred she remain a virgin. It was God’s will that that law be applied to that society at that time. The law was a crude way of making that society better. God now has advanced mankind to a point where such methods are no longer needed.

      God did and does intervene in human history. His interventions became more spiritual over time and involved less blood. Still He reaches out to us because we are on the wrong road. Does it interfere with free will? If I punish my son for lying does that interfere with his free will? To some extent, if I do it well, but not punishing him gives him even less choice.

      #3 People not searching for purpose? That is just weird. You example of atheists trying to create purpose works against your point. Creating purpose in a purely material world is nonsense. Yet very smart atheists seriously advance this idea. Why? Because a purposeless life is unthinkable. Even the stupidest argument is better than defending a meaningless life. So they say they can make their finite life meaningful in the context of eternity.

      • ACN

        “#2. Nobody says it is God’s will that Sally be stoned.”

        Actually that’s precisely what you’re saying. You’re saying that if Sally isn’t a virgin, it’s god’s will that she be stoned to death.

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

          God gave the law. The net effect of the law was to push Israel towards God’s will in sexual morality. It showed them and us that sexual sin is serious and gave them a practical incentive to remain a virgin. Consequences are always put in place first and foremost to produce good behavior.

          What shocks us here is not that the death penalty is used but that it is used for something modern society accepts as normal. Consider the next verse, Deut 22:22:

          If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall purge the evil from Israel.

          So all sexual sins were taken very seriously. God still sees them that way. It is a betrayal of a covenant rather than some harmless fun. Understanding that any such betrayal would be dealt with severely was exactly what Israel needed at the time.

          • ACN

            That’s the ticket! The stonings were NECESSARY.

            Those who were killed by stoning should be thanking those priests who meted out the swift justice of the omnipotent lord of the universe in order that their nation be purified of sexual sin!

            You don’t have to be an apologist for authoritarian nonsense. You can reject the absurdity of the punishment for that crime.

      • Darren

        Randy said;

        “Because a purposeless life is unthinkable. “

        Hardly unthinkable, I think about it all the time, or rather, I don’t, and live all the same.

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

          Avoiding thinking about the meaning of life is inhuman. Animals do that. A mouse does not contemplate his eternal significance. He just finds food, avoid predators, and tries to reproduce. You are a man and not a mouse. You deserve more than that.

          • Darren

            Oh, I think about the meaning of life all the time. My life is just chock full of meaning. There just happens to be no purpose to it.

            My life is the Louvre, not the lav.

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

            Exactly where does that meaning come from? From work? From family? From personal creativity? I ask this because at some point you have to connect with something meaningful. I don’t think you can manufacture meaning from manipulating meaningless things. So what I wonder is whether your sense of meaning is consistent with your atheist worldview. Did you just assume meaning without evidence somewhere?

          • Darren

            Randy, good questions, but you first.

            ”Exactly where does that meaning come from? “

            Presumably you will say your meaning comes from God. And then…

            ”I ask this because at some point you have to connect with something meaningful.“

            Who says?

            ”I don’t think you can manufacture meaning from manipulating meaningless things. Did you just assume meaning without evidence somewhere? “

            And here we go. Other than a naked assertion that God is inherently meaningful, and that he is interested in and able to share that meaning with you, what do you have?

            God is inherently meaningful.

            Darren is inherently meaningful.

            FSM is inherently meaningful.

            Now, one of these _might_ be true (but it is not necessary that any be true), but that truth is not established by the statement, it has to be established by something else and what do we have for that?

            Faith.

            Those are no less circular, though. I must have faith in that thing which I believe I should believe in until I actually do believe in it…

            Grace.

            God make me have the faith to believe in you. Even further down the trail. Munchhausen pulling himself out of the pit by his own hair…

            This is why I find Calvinism to at least be the most intellectually honest Christianity.

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

            This was my point. That finding meaning requires faith even for an atheist. I am not saying it is a bad thing. With faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains. With no faith everything remains flat.

            To me knowing that God is love makes it easy to accept that communion with God is meaningful. There is something about love that I find it easy to believe it is the key to what life is all about. Do I have a proof for you.? No. I just think it breaks the parallelism you claim.

            Calvinism suffers from that. It paints a picture of God that does not seem loving. At least a God that does not love everyone. I know when I was a Calvinist most of the Calvinists I knew would not talk much about those predestined for hell. It is a pesky problem.

            Sure we still have it in some way because not everyone has an equal chance of salvation. For example, being born into a good Catholic home helps. Still all experience God’s grace in some form and all are loved by God and have the freedom to choose God on some level. Everyone makes choices that effect not just their own soul but the souls of those around them. Yet God remains sovereign. Like Augustine said, if you can understand it it is not God. Calvinism is pretty close to being understandable.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            This is why I find Calvinism to at least be the most intellectually honest Christianity.

            No love for the relentlessly skeptical Anglicanism of Don Cupitt? I’m surprised.

      • Steve

        God’s will that the law be applied.
        Law is stoning non-virgins.
        God’s will that non-virgin be stoned.
        … That seems about right.

        His interventions became more spiritual over time and involved less blood.

        Did god do some reflecting on his past actions and, like many ‘reformed’ violent offenders he found Jesus? Sometimes self-reflection turns into people finding themselves, but this takes the cake.

        Because a purposeless life is unthinkable. Even the stupidest argument is better than defending a meaningless life. So they say they can make their finite life meaningful in the context of eternity.

        Unthinkable to you perhaps. Better to defend a real life without inherent purpose than a fake one based on superstition. Should the purpose of your finite life be to make it as experientially rich while you have the opportunity to do so, even if all those experiences evaporate upon death, you might inspire someone else to have the courage to live as such, who might then inspire someone else to live as such, etc. Might that not be a worthy purpose in the context of eternity?

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

          Did god do some reflecting on his past actions and, like many ‘reformed’ violent offenders he found Jesus? Sometimes self-reflection turns into people finding themselves, but this takes the cake.

          No. God’s revelation changes over time because the human capacity to accept grace grows. God does not change. We change. We no longer need a death penalty to communicate the evil nature of someone’s actions. Back in the time of Moses it was needed.

          Should the purpose of your finite life be to make it as experientially rich while you have the opportunity to do so, even if all those experiences evaporate upon death, you might inspire someone else to have the courage to live as such, who might then inspire someone else to live as such, etc. Might that not be a worthy purpose in the context of eternity?

          Not sure what experientially rich means? Does that just mean stimulating the pleasure centers in your brain a lot? If so then it would not mean much. If you were orienting your life to some ultimate experience then maybe. But then you get into the transcendent again.

    • Erick

      Cam, this is terrible reasoning/understanding of the concepts.

      ==If your goal is optimising the happiness of Sally, and the deity wishes that Sally be stoned to death for not being a virgin on her wedding night (Deutoronomy 22:21), the wishes of the deity will not be a global maximum for the optimisation of Sally’s happiness==

      First, you are assuming that the deity’s annealing for Sally is intended to be the stoning to death. In this case, the annealing could have been any number of events in the sequence, beginning with Sally first thinking about breaking sexual laws.

      Second, you are assuming that the global optimum for Sally’s happiness was having sex. Perhaps the global optimum, considering the society she lived in, was to not have sex — it would have saved her from stoning, would have saved the people who stoned her from killing, would have saved the man she slept with from his death also, would have saved the community from the scandal she caused, etc.

      ==4a) Why did god create a universe where he must ‘anneal’? He could have possibly created a universe where no such process is necessary. Inefficient.==

      Again, this assumes that the inefficiency comes from God. As has been taught over and over about free will, the inefficiency necessarily results from man.

      ==4b) Why does suffering appear to fall randomly in accordance with physical laws of the universe, rather than according to merit? Eg natural disasters.==

      This is only a problem if you know perfectly the identity of the specific person being annealed at the time of said disaster/tragedy, which you can never know. The problem is no one has perfect knowledge but God. Though you may think that the annealing is for the victims of the disaster, the truth is that the annealing could just as likely be for the government leaders, the rescue responders, the family members of the victims, etc. — a multitude of many other people.

      ==4c) Some people suffer long before they could possibly make moral choices. Isn’t this a violation of free will?==

      Perhaps because they can suffer the suffering, and God is using their situation to anneal someone else.

      I could go on and on, but basically I’ll just be rephrasing the same thing over and over. Unless, you can, with perfect knowledge, actually figure out who is undergoing annealing in the scenarios you present, then your arguments are null and void.

      • Darren

        Erick, that is pretty good. You hit, I think, numbers 2, 3, 5, 8, and 9, all in one comment!

        Standard Theodicies

        • Erick

          I missed some? Well, I am not God. I can’t be efficient all the time, I guess.

          • Darren

            I should have put a smiley in there, your own comment indicated we are to some extent just throwing canned arguments around.

            I propose we all agree on a numbered list, then we can just shoot those back and forth. :)

      • Cam

        Erick: “First, you are assuming that the deity’s annealing for Sally is intended to be the stoning to death.”
        No, i’m giving an example of an optimisation search which would have a global maximum that is not identical to the deity’s position. I’m not arguing that the stoning is the annealing, im arguing that the stoning is the deity’s position, or his attempt at providing a ‘global maximum’. Which would be different to the actual global maximum, for the optimisation search: ‘Sally’s happiness’. My burden here is to provide a /possible/ example of a situation where the deity’s will may not actually be the global maximum for a search.

        Erick: “Second, you are assuming that the global optimum for Sally’s happiness was having sex.”
        No, i’m assuming that the global optimum for Sally’s happiness involves not dying, and especially not dying painfully and slowly.

        Optimisation search: Sally’s happiness (a valid search if we agree god has an interest in this, and that he tries to provide a global maximum for sally for this search)
        God’s mechanism: annealing
        God’s position/’global maximum’: Sally dies slowly and painfully from stoning
        Actual global maximum: something other than Sally dying slowly and painfully from stoning

        So if this is a valid example, what does it mean? Well, it doesn’t disprove that the deity uses suffering to move people toward his position. But it would disprove that the deity’s position is necessarily the global maximum for every search, which was a basic assumption behind the model. It would have also consequences for most theologies.

        • Cam

          Actually, ignore the Sally example. It’s weak, and I think it would be trivial for a theologian to define a valid test as one where God’s position is the global maximum.

    • Guest

      “Is your deity a sadistic fuckhead? ”

      This is why atheists shouldn’t be on a Catholic forum. Most of you have no clue how to speak with even minimal civility let alone respect.

      • leahlibresco

        That is not a difficulty that is unique to atheists.

        • Guest

          Perhaps not, but to allow such vile blasphemy to stand on a Catholic blog would be reprehensible. I expect to see such filth on the atheist forum which is why I don’t go there. I don’t see why Catholics should be assaulted by it on a ostensibly Catholic blog.

          • Mike

            Because we’re actually tolerant and “open minded” unlike well you know who.

          • Cam

            We can phrase evil ideas in superficially polite language, such as in the original post where even the worst of suffering is declared to be the good work of a creature who has the author’s support, just as noble ideas can be expressed with impolite language. I’m more interested in goodness than civility, and I checked the comment policy, but will moderate my language if that’s Leah’s request

        • Darren

          Seemed relevant to the post; thank God he didn’t quote from Tom Sawyer, though.

      • Steve

        And perhaps there are also better ways to address this rather than reposting the actual text. The outrage might then come across as more… sincere…

      • Darren

        Guest said;

        “Perhaps not, but to allow such vile blasphemy to stand on a Catholic blog would be reprehensible.”

        Perhaps you would have a better time on the heavily moderated blogs where blasphemy and dissent is not tolerated; pretty much every other Patheos: Catholic blog would do…

        Give Leah some time to learn how to properly submit, will’ya?

    • Scott Hebert

      Cam: I am very sincerely sorry if you believed I went that far in my analysis. That was not my intention.

      I believe the primary issue here is that I included a tangential thought/query, “Y’know, God can actually impact the search Himself, and so the mapping doesn’t exactly fit,” along with the main thrust of, ‘Suffering is a way to get around local optima.’ I am perfectly fine with someone making the argument that God not abrogating Free Will means that He doesn’t impact things.

      I do not think the original argument is really an issue, though. I will return a bit later and give some completely non-metaphysical examples to illustrate what I mean.

  • Mike

    Suffering is what leads many ppl away from God while it along with my inability to comprehend a real world without a god is precisely what leads me to Him. Unless what seems like real existential suffering is a grand illusion it must mean something and if it is meaningfull it must point to something beyond. How could it be so real so powerful and life altering and yet totally bereft of real meaning? It seems impossible to me.

    I like the analogy with metallurgy. It is in the fires of our suffering that we are re-made, stronger, that we discover things we didn’t know existed, that we learn things we didn’t know. What is it that someone said about the man who’s never suffered? What can he know.

    Suffering and the crucible of our suffering is also something that always pops into my head whenever I think about what Christ is doing on a cross. Why is that the symbol of God’s real presence on earth, what mysteries does it contain, what clues? It seems to me it is simple: there is meaning in our suffering, I’ve been through it, hold fast to me, I will get you through. Redemptive suffering, what a gift.

    • Brandon

      Unless what seems like real existential suffering is a grand illusion it must mean something and if it is meaningfull it must point to something beyond.

      So, suffering must be meaningful, because if it wasn’t, that would really suck?

      • Mike

        It would just be a delusion: it would seem real, feel real but be no more real or of import than what happens to the bark of a tree when it gets pulled off.

        • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

          it would seem real, feel real but be no more real or of import than what happens to the bark of a tree when it gets pulled off.

          I would argue that for non-objective facts about reality (e.g. subjective suffering), seeming real and feeling real is the _only_ thing that makes it real.

          • Mike

            I know. But when you say real you mean material only and when I say real I mean real as in possessing something more something that makes it different from what happens to a tree when its limbs are torn off and this causes it to wilt and die; something that is more than the sum of the material effects. Like how we are more than the sum of the carbon atoms in us. Something like that.

  • Brandon

    That analogy’s pretty dreadful – metallurgy is a process that relies on the predictable nature of the outcomes. Suffering does no such thing, affecting each individual differently. I know I sure don’t see someone suffering horribly and unnecessarily and think, “well golly, that’s just how it has to be for me to find a god”. In fact, I’d think that requires a spectacularly self-centered view that essentially strips personhood from everyone other than the observer of such suffering.

    • Erick

      ==“well golly, that’s just how it has to be for me to find a god”==

      Funny, because I don’t think like this either. And it’s not what Catholics mean when they say “find God in suffering”.

      The mentality is supposed to be: I help you when you are suffering. The act of helping brings my being into alignment with love/kindness/moral goodness, and at the same time, it brings your being into contact with love/kindness/moral goodness. All of that is God.

      • Brandon

        This doesn’t even attempt to address all the forms of suffering from which people can’t be helped. It’s utterly useless.

        • Erick

          The idea that there are forms of suffering from which people can’t be helped is not a claim that I find convincing. Is it that they can’t be helped or you just don’t want to bear the difficulties of helping?

          • Brandon

            If someone’s dying from systemic anthrax, there’s not really anything you can do for them other than pumping them pull of morphine. That you can countenance such abject suffering being just a way of bringing you closer to a god is absolutely disgusting.

  • Darren

    Cross link re Problem of Evil

    A pretty good discussion on the Problem of Evil occurred in Leah’s Post “ God and the Moral Law in Mormonism ”. The discussion jumps around, but pretty much anything starting with Phillip’s comment is good. CarlC especially has some very nice stuff.

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

      Is that to say you are more impressed by the Mormon answer to the problem of evil? Essentially denying that God created the world from nothing? Not sure how that solves anything. If God is all powerful and creating the world from nothing would have avoided evil then why didn’t he do it?

      Beyond that you have the big problem of denying a very long standing Christian teaching. It goes at least as far back as Moses. So you have to assert that all Christians and Jews before them got it wrong. You end up with an exceedingly unimpressive guy like Joseph Smith as the center of your worship. It creates many more problems than it solves.

  • LeRoi

    If, as Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him,” then why do we need suffering to “shake us loose” or “melt us down” or whatever? Won’t we just naturally gravitate, unfulfilled, to God?

    I know, I know – we are sinners, stuck in our “local optima” which prevent us from considering our true “global optima”. But if that’s the case, then our hearts don’t look so restless after all. They look pretty happy on their default road.

    Further, for global optima, I distrust someone who wants to make me into a better, happier person. If it’s all the same to you, dear Lord, let me grow in my way on my own time, thanks.

    Finally, to Randy: Not thinking about “the meaning of life” isn’t “inhuman” – chill, man, not all your fellow humans are that intense, really – any more than is a failure to think about “the meaning of the number 2″. I agree that most of us think about what we want out of life, and what many of us want often includes love, professional achievement, making the world a better place to live. Some people want freedom and ecstatic experience instead. But I’m not sure life in general can “be” anything.

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

      So who does not think about the meaning of life? Even those who have come to the conclusion that there is only pain and pleasure do it with a sense of despair. You think there are people who don’t think about the question at all? I have not met one. Some think taking the question seriously will interfere with their fun. Most won’t even say that directly. They know that is not a good excuse for ignoring such a question. People can choose not to think deeply because they lack courage. Then something happens to bring the transcendent back.

  • Mike

    Hmmmm…Q: for the folks: does at least 1 of these have to be true? Given that the universe began 11 or so billion years ago:
    1. it was began by something or someone. (Could be God or an alien or some thing.)
    2. it began but was not began by either something or someone; it just began. (I guess this would mean it either began itself or doesn’t really exist?)
    Which 1 of these seems most plausible? Just musing here but it seems to me that all other things being equal 1. would seem most likely. Forgetting all other questions related to religion, morality etc. answer 1. seems most plausible, to me.

    Why I ask? Because I suspect that unless we agree on this first question, there is no hope for ever getting to some agreement about God, is there? I mean how could we? Serious q. Leah you have much more exp. with this type of thing but wouldn’t it just be, to start, that simple?

    PS I hope I am not making some fatal faux paux by not including a 3rd or 4th option but I can only think of the 2.

    PSS Alert ppl who don’t want to answer or think it isn’t a fair q or whatever, doesn’t that imply that the question really is critical and therefore must be answered? So wouldn’t that mean that there are serious “problems” with your given worldview if you don’t want to answer it?

    PSSS I don’t think that answering 1 necessarily means you think God is a plausible candidate.

    • Darren

      Mike, I would suggest a quick read through of Chris Hallquist’s current book. Chapter 7 is most relevant to your question:

      There are no Good Arguments for the Existence of God

      I am afraid your argument runs smack into the wall of, “then how did God (or the Alien) get there”, and the best answer that 2,000 years of effort has produced is, “He just did!

      • Mike

        Ok, see this is what I don’t get. I am not trying to construct any argument I am just asking a simple question.

        Leah, what am I missing here? Do they think I am laying a trap? I don’t get it.

        Won’t anyone else at least answer the question?

        • Erick

          Mike, I know where you’re getting at. I think if you want to know the truthful answers from nonbelievers, they are these:

          1. No one knows who/what created the universe, so the default position should be that God does not exist.

          2. Perhaps it is just an infinite regression; it’s just as plausible as a theory about “someone/thing who has no beginning”.

          3. Existence in the universe being an ephemeral phenomenon does not presuppose that there is something for whom existence is a permanent trait.

          • Mike

            Ok I know, but why won’t you just say which you think is most probable, or reasonable or which way you’re leaning?

            It doesn’t follow that just because it was began by a person or a thing that that thing/person is God or gods or anything, I agree with that; so what’s the worry?

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

        So that chapter from Hallquist is supposed to be convincing? He mostly just begs the question. He dismisses arguments rather than answering them. With Aquinas he suggests an infinite causality is possible. Yet everyone accepts that the universe began with the big bang. So we must have a big banger. Does he reject that? Then he suggest Aquinas arguments are just not fashionable anymore. That guys like Kant and Hume are now fashionable. I know that. That does not say anything about truth.

        One needs to understand that bias when it comes to questions about God is huge. Our answer has massive personal implications which almost nobody will ignore. So I tend to find the unfashionable guys more believable. A guy like Ed Feser who’s career has been hurt by his acceptance of Thomism is more credible. Not just because he writes so much more intelligently but because he is not just regurgitating the party line.

        Same thing with New Testament scholarship. He kept talking about what most scholars think. The trouble is what most scholars think makes no sense. Again it is what is fashionable because it avoids accepting claims of the supernatural. It also avoids explaining where Christianity came from. Someone at sometime wrote the bible and convinced everyone it was written in the first century and left no trace of their actions. For some reason this Jesus guy who did no miracles and definitely did not rise from the dead had captured the attention of the entire Roman world. Then somebody decided to make him God and nobody objected.

        Again Hallquist just uncritically swallows the fashionable thought and declares himself to be intelligent for doing so. Why bother to write a book if you can’t do anything more than that?

        • Darren

          Well, points for reading through it.

          I don’t recall Hallquist being quite so concerned with fashion as truth indicating or for spending quite so much time in question begging, but perhaps I am just not remembering as it has been a couple of months. I am skeptical, but you read it, so I will re-read and get back tomorrow.

        • Darren

          Randy, as promised I have reread Chapter 7 of Hallquist’s book. I am going to cross-post this on his site, as he is beta-testing the book and it would be a shame for him to miss constructive criticism.

          In your comments, I believe that you have:

          1. Misread / misunderstood what is claimed in the chapter; and / or
          2. Applied the filter of your own beliefs, rejecting arguments, not because they are wrong or invalid, but because they disagree.

          Similar claims might apply to me, but by rereading this morning I feel reasonably confident that I am not falling victim to #1. If I fall victim to the inverse of #2, well, we shall see. :)

          Now, on to your specific comments / questions.

          ”So that chapter from Hallquist is supposed to be convincing?

          I linked to that chapter as I thought it to be a useful summary of thinking very similar to my own, and where there was shortage, the other chapters and related blog-posts filled those out. A link to the other chapters might help, if you are interested:

          The Whole Book

          ”He mostly just begs the question.”

          Now, this was one of the reasons I wanted to reread Chapter 7. I have to say, I don’t see this. I did not see a single instance of this. I see dismissals, I see arguments against, but not a question begging. Perhaps you could give me an example?

          ”He dismisses arguments rather than answering them. With Aquinas he suggests an infinite causality is possible. Yet everyone accepts that the universe began with the big bang. So we must have a big banger. Does he reject that? Then he suggest Aquinas arguments are just not fashionable anymore. That guys like Kant and Hume are now fashionable. I know that. That does not say anything about truth.”

          Hallquist spends less time with Aquinas than I might like, but he gets two pages, plus two more pages on the Ontological argument. At one point Hallquist had a great deal on Feser, which IMO counts as Aquinas, but this part was cut out, though I thought it landed somewhere else (another chapter, perhaps?).

          That said, I believe you are misunderstanding both Aquinas first mover argument as well as what he had to say about Kant and Hume being fashionable.

          The finite .vs. infinite causality chain would have to be something happening “behind” the Big Bang. As we have no conceptual model for what that might be like (at least, I do not), that puts us on a similar footing with a line of infinite causality, which we also have no conceptual model for… Considering that the quantum model is showing us that causality really does not work the way that Aristotle / Aquinas thinks it does (or that most of us think it does), and considering that an uncaused causer on the other side of the BB pushing the first dominoes is a pretty big extra complication, I feel pretty comfortable with defaulting to infinite dominoes until proven otherwise.

          The part about Kant and Hume was that before them it was _illegal_, or at least suicidally imprudent, to _not_ claim that God was logically derivable. After it was not illegal, surprise, surprise, such claims became less “fashionable”.

          ”One needs to understand that bias when it comes to questions about God is huge. Our answer has massive personal implications which almost nobody will ignore. So I tend to find the unfashionable guys more believable. A guy like Ed Feser who’s career has been hurt by his acceptance of Thomism is more credible. Not just because he writes so much more intelligently but because he is not just regurgitating the party line.”

          I am afraid you have a rather naïve view of Mr. Feser’s martyrdom at the hands of the liberal intellectual elite… ;) I suspect his book sales and loyal internet following might salve the pain of mainstream academia not feting him as he otherwise deserves. But, it you would like to delve into the vagaries and petty injustices of the world of academia, I must refer you to Physicist Dave or some other learned Doctor.

          ”Same thing with New Testament scholarship. He kept talking about what most scholars think. The trouble is what most scholars think makes no sense. Again it is what is fashionable because it avoids accepting claims of the supernatural.”

          Well, that is an interesting claim. There were footnotes in the chapter, perhaps you should write to ‘the scholars’ and explain where they have gone wrong… ;)

          Seriously, though, if you would like to explain where biblical scholars are wrong, I will be happy to listen. My knowledge of such matters is incomplete, and I am always willing to learn.

          I do find your repeated claims of martyrdom to be rather amusing, though. Fashionable with whom? Here in the US, we Atheists make up a whopping 0.9% last survey, with Catholics running around 25%. Add in Protestants and the Christian percentage rolls well over 50%.

          Passion of the Christ .vs. uh… what was the last big Atheist apologetics movie?

          ”It also avoids explaining where Christianity came from. Someone at sometime wrote the bible and convinced everyone it was written in the first century and left no trace of their actions.”

          And your counter-offer is?

          ”For some reason this Jesus guy who did no miracles and definitely did not rise from the dead had captured the attention of the entire Roman world. Then somebody decided to make him God and nobody objected.”

          Oh, I think quite a few people objected. They just lost.

          ”Again Hallquist just uncritically swallows the fashionable thought and declares himself to be intelligent for doing so. Why bother to write a book if you can’t do anything more than that?”

          Again, though, I am not sure just who’s fashionable thought he is supposed to be swallowing, but I’ll just have to let Chris Hallquist take that one, if he likes.

          So far as I am concerned, I find the section on privileging the hypothesis to be most representative of my own thoughts are this point. While there are several systems that might end up being true, there are several systems that might end up being true. I am rather fond of Thomism, it being _internally_ consistent and rather aesthetically satisfying (IMO), but as “The Silmarillion” demonstrated to me, internal consistency and aesthetics do not a cosmos make. Thomism comes with some fairly large pills to swallow, though – I would call it a very front loaded system. And I have hardly given Islam or Hinduism enough time to give them a fair critique, although from past experience Santeria is a lot of fun and Germanic Neo-paganism has its appeal…

          Maybe I’ll go dust of my Elegua or my Thor’s Hammer;)

        • Darren

          Doh! Missed a html…

          Randy, as promised I have reread Chapter 7 of Hallquist’s book. I am going to cross-post this on his site, as he is beta-testing the book and it would be a shame for him to miss constructive criticism.

          In your comments, I believe that you have:

          1. Misread / misunderstood what is claimed in the chapter; and / or
          2. Applied the filter of your own beliefs, rejecting arguments, not because they are wrong or invalid, but because they disagree.

          Similar claims might apply to me, but by rereading this morning I feel reasonably confident that I am not falling victim to #1. If I fall victim to the inverse of #2, well, we shall see. :)

          Now, on to your specific comments / questions.

          ”So that chapter from Hallquist is supposed to be convincing?”

          I linked to that chapter as I thought it to be a useful summary of thinking very similar to my own, and where there was shortage, the other chapters and related blog-posts filled those out. A link to the other chapters might help, if you are interested:

          The Whole Book

          ”He mostly just begs the question.”

          Now, this was one of the reasons I wanted to reread Chapter 7. I have to say, I don’t see this. I did not see a single instance of this. I see dismissals, I see arguments against, but not a question begging. Perhaps you could give me an example?

          ”He dismisses arguments rather than answering them. With Aquinas he suggests an infinite causality is possible. Yet everyone accepts that the universe began with the big bang. So we must have a big banger. Does he reject that? Then he suggest Aquinas arguments are just not fashionable anymore. That guys like Kant and Hume are now fashionable. I know that. That does not say anything about truth.”

          Hallquist spends less time with Aquinas than I might like, but he gets two pages, plus two more pages on the Ontological argument. At one point Hallquist had a great deal on Feser, which IMO counts as Aquinas, but this part was cut out, though I thought it landed somewhere else (another chapter, perhaps?).

          That said, I believe you are misunderstanding both Aquinas first mover argument as well as what he had to say about Kant and Hume being fashionable.

          The finite .vs. infinite causality chain would have to be something happening “behind” the Big Bang. As we have no conceptual model for what that might be like (at least, I do not), that puts us on a similar footing with a line of infinite causality, which we also have no conceptual model for… Considering that the quantum model is showing us that causality really does not work the way that Aristotle / Aquinas thinks it does (or that most of us think it does), and considering that an uncaused causer on the other side of the BB pushing the first dominoes is a pretty big extra complication, I feel pretty comfortable with defaulting to infinite dominoes until proven otherwise.

          The part about Kant and Hume was that before them it was _illegal_, or at least suicidally imprudent, to _not_ claim that God was logically derivable. After it was not illegal, surprise, surprise, such claims became less “fashionable”.

          ”One needs to understand that bias when it comes to questions about God is huge. Our answer has massive personal implications which almost nobody will ignore. So I tend to find the unfashionable guys more believable. A guy like Ed Feser who’s career has been hurt by his acceptance of Thomism is more credible. Not just because he writes so much more intelligently but because he is not just regurgitating the party line.”

          I am afraid you have a rather naïve view of Mr. Feser’s martyrdom at the hands of the liberal intellectual elite… ;) I suspect his book sales and loyal internet following might salve the pain of mainstream academia not feting him as he otherwise deserves. But, it you would like to delve into the vagaries and petty injustices of the world of academia, I must refer you to Physicist Dave or some other learned Doctor.

          ”Same thing with New Testament scholarship. He kept talking about what most scholars think. The trouble is what most scholars think makes no sense. Again it is what is fashionable because it avoids accepting claims of the supernatural.”

          Well, that is an interesting claim. There were footnotes in the chapter, perhaps you should write to ‘the scholars’ and explain where they have gone wrong… ;)

          Seriously, though, if you would like to explain where biblical scholars are wrong, I will be happy to listen. My knowledge of such matters is incomplete, and I am always willing to learn.

          I do find your repeated claims of martyrdom to be rather amusing, though. Fashionable with whom? Here in the US, we Atheists make up a whopping 0.9% last survey, with Catholics running around 25%. Add in Protestants and the Christian percentage rolls well over 50%.

          Passion of the Christ .vs. uh… what was the last big Atheist apologetics movie?

          ”It also avoids explaining where Christianity came from. Someone at sometime wrote the bible and convinced everyone it was written in the first century and left no trace of their actions.”

          And your counter-offer is?

          ”For some reason this Jesus guy who did no miracles and definitely did not rise from the dead had captured the attention of the entire Roman world. Then somebody decided to make him God and nobody objected.”

          Oh, I think quite a few people objected. They just lost.

          ”Again Hallquist just uncritically swallows the fashionable thought and declares himself to be intelligent for doing so. Why bother to write a book if you can’t do anything more than that?”

          Again, though, I am not sure just who’s fashionable thought he is supposed to be swallowing, but I’ll just have to let Chris Hallquist take that one, if he likes.

          So far as I am concerned, I find the section on privileging the hypothesis to be most representative of my own thoughts are this point. While there are several systems that might end up being true, there are several systems that might end up being true. I am rather fond of Thomism, it being _internally_ consistent and rather aesthetically satisfying (IMO), but as “The Silmarillion” demonstrated to me, internal consistency and aesthetics do not a cosmos make. Thomism comes with some fairly large pills to swallow, though – I would call it a very front loaded system. And I have hardly given Islam or Hinduism enough time to give them a fair critique, although from past experience Santeria is a lot of fun and Germanic Neo-paganism has its appeal…

          Maybe I’ll go dust of my Elegua or my Thor’s Hammer;)

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

            “He mostly just begs the question.”

            Now, this was one of the reasons I wanted to reread Chapter 7. I have to say, I don’t see this. I did not see a single instance of this. I see dismissals, I see arguments against, but not a question begging. Perhaps you could give me an example?

            He talks a lot about how theist arguments are so silly they are not worth responding to. That he tries to take on the best arguments but alas there are no good ones out there. He goes on and on and on about this. It feels like question begging to me. Then who does he actually take on? Bill O’Rielly! Talk about picking on the weakest theist he can find. I was not aware O’Rielly had made an argument against atheism. After reading his argument I can understand why nobody talks about it. Not sure why Hallquist does either. If you want to find good arguments for theism you have to do more than watch FOX news.

            Maybe question begging is not the word. Maybe it is more the phantom argument fallacy. He keeps confidently referring to logic that is so much better than that of the theists but he never actually presents such logic. He mocks people who complain that he does not interact with guys like NT Wriight and Ed Feser. I can see why people make that complaint.

            The finite .vs. infinite causality chain would have to be something happening “behind” the Big Bang. As we have no conceptual model for what that might be like (at least, I do not), that puts us on a similar footing with a line of infinite causality, which we also have no conceptual model for… Considering that the quantum model is showing us that causality really does not work the way that Aristotle / Aquinas thinks it does (or that most of us think it does), and considering that an uncaused causer on the other side of the BB pushing the first dominoes is a pretty big extra complication, I feel pretty comfortable with defaulting to infinite dominoes until proven otherwise.

            I am not sure how much difference this makes. If we look at the cause of the big bang with the huge level of tuning that we see is required to support life then we have a cause of all causes which itself is not caused by anything we can discern. So how different is that from a first cause?

            Supposing infinite dominoes does seem like a logic problem. If the big banger had a cause that would be greater than the effect. Then suggesting greater and greater and greater causes back and back and back without limit seems incoherent. I suppose any conclusion is easier to accept than God if that is you bent.

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

            I don’t have much time to respond so I will try and be brief with the rest of it. You keep quoting the 0.9% atheist number like it means something. Scholarship has been essentially atheist for a long time. They have not been explicitly atheist but have had an anti-supernatural bias so strong they can only come to atheist conclusions. So no scholar can evaluate a claim of a miracle. They can only say it is false. There is such a fear of accepting faith-based claims of miracles that they arrive at their own faith-based claim that all miracles are frauds. There is no academic freedom on this question. There is no intelligent discussion permitted. It is dogma and if you question it you are excommunicated from the intellectual elite.

            This has stifled historical analysis. You can’t make any sense of how Christianity developed. When you try and fill in the details of exactly when and where and how these supernatural stories came to be you end up with a mess. Nothing makes sense. Did the apostles make stuff up? Did it happen in the 4th century after Christianity became legal and the church had real power? All these theories have huge problems. They lack evidence and they lack plausibility. But you can’t suggest the obvious. Maybe the apostles did what they did because they really saw Jesus rise from the dead. This is what NT Wright argues for. Scholars can’t take him seriously because he violates their anti-supernatural dogma. This where it feels like question begging.

            So far as I am concerned, I find the section on privileging the hypothesis to be most representative of my own thoughts are this point.

            This seemed strange to me to. I see the anti-supernatural hypothesis as being privileged. If there are 1000 supernatural theories out there they somehow cancel each other out and the anti-supernatural is obviously true. Sure there is a lot of work to sort through all the claims but dismissing them all because there are many does not make much sense to me.

          • Steve

            Scholarship has been essentially atheist for a long time. They have not been explicitly atheist but have had an anti-supernatural bias so strong they can only come to atheist conclusions.

            I’ll give you this. The more people use their intellect, the more their views suffer from a reality-bias.

            So no scholar can evaluate a claim of a miracle.

            Anyone can, regardless of leaning, evaluate a miracle claim. The evidence of such events shouldn’t change, regardless of potential bias.

            There is such a fear of accepting faith-based claims of miracles that they arrive at their own faith-based claim that all miracles are frauds.

            No fear involved. Should there not be sufficient (or any) evidence that suggests truth to supernatural claims, in addition to all other verifiable claims being to the CONTRARY to such claims makes the only rational decision to be to label them as false until shown otherwise. It’s not the result of fear, or fraudulence or faith based conclusions.

            This has stifled historical analysis. You can’t make any sense of how Christianity developed.

            There has been fairly rigorous study as to how christianity has developed in it’s many forms. It’s well documented and well researched. It

            When you try and fill in the details of exactly when and where and how these supernatural stories came to be you end up with a mess. Nothing makes sense. Did the apostles make stuff up? Did it happen in the 4th century after Christianity became legal and the church had real power?

            I’d like to offer into evidence “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. The documented evidence for Abraham Lincoln’s existence is miles (or kilometers if you prefer) beyond that for the evidence for Christ. We have hand written letters by both him and others around him, we have portraits and even some photographs, we have his signature on laws, clothes that he wore, the bullet physical bullet that killed him, a tomb and with his buried body (or is it…) etc. In addition, the world we observe and see is consistent with the one displayed in the film and book, of course with the supernatural elements ‘hidden’ in the shadows. I’d say the supporting evidence for stories of him being a vampire hunter is greater than that for christ being the son of god.

            I see the anti-supernatural hypothesis as being privileged.

            They are privileged… they literally have an entire universe of evidence to support their position.

            Sure there is a lot of work to sort through all the claims but dismissing them all because there are many does not make much sense to me.

            The plurality of differing supernatural claims doesn’t automatically demand they all be false, however when there are conflicting claims between many, the best you can do is say that of the hundreds of conflicting claims, only one MAY be true. Were you to demonstrate that your claims are superior to all others, including the claim for no supernatural phenomena, then you’ll have a leg to stand on. til then…

          • Darren

            Randy said;

            ” You keep quoting the 0.9% atheist number like it means something. Scholarship has been essentially atheist for a long time. They have not been explicitly atheist but have had an anti-supernatural bias so strong they can only come to atheist conclusions. So no scholar can evaluate a claim of a miracle. They can only say it is false. There is such a fear of accepting faith-based claims of miracles that they arrive at their own faith-based claim that all miracles are frauds. There is no academic freedom on this question. There is no intelligent discussion permitted. It is dogma and if you question it you are excommunicated from the intellectual elite.”

            Well, if you want to complain about the liberal intellectual elite oppressing the truth, I am not sure if I can help you. You do, though, have pretty much everything written between the Monday after Easter and Strauss’s “Das Leben Jesu” all going your way, so I suppose just ignore everything else and you should be good.

            ” This seemed strange to me to. I see the anti-supernatural hypothesis as being privileged. If there are 1000 supernatural theories out there they somehow cancel each other out and the anti-supernatural is obviously true. Sure there is a lot of work to sort through all the claims but dismissing them all because there are many does not make much sense to me.”

            This deserves an answer.

            No anti-supernatural bias on my part. I am happy to evaluate every supernatural claim using the same methods and standards of evidence that I use to evaluate every other claim. Heck, I click through every time Ted Seeber puts up a link. You should here what I put my wife through every time she wants to give me homeopathic medicine!

            The problem, or one problem, with supernatural claims is that, yes, the 1,000 supernatural claims _do_ cancel each other out, because they _say_ they do. Christ founded the church and the Hold Spirit has guided it through 2,000 years to today.

            Maybe.

            That’s not what the Muslims say. They say he didn’t and you guys are a bunch of dirty liars.

            Or the Mormons. They say you guys have cocked up Christ’s teachings and that is why he had to fly all the way across the ocean to America, where he found some directionally-challenged Jews and told them the _real_ story.

            Etc., etc., etc.

            So, without some method of _testing_ a supernatural claim, there is no way to distinguish between any one of the thousand.

            With Materialism, this is not the case. I test it every time I turn on a light switch. I may not be able to see an atom, or to really understand quantum mechanics, but my DVD player still works, and the Electrical Engineers who understand such things assure me that unless there were atoms and quanta, my DVD player would do no such thing.

            If there were some controversy, some rival theory as to atoms and quantum and such, and those engineers made DVD players that worked just as well based off of phlogiston and Aristotle’s Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water, then I might have to reassess my belief in materialism.

            It is a bit like the old joke of looking for one’s keys under the streetlamp, but take it a bit further, and with the area away from the lamp entirely devoid of light, sound, solidity, or any other property or quality, in fact, the area away from the lamp may not even exist, what else can one do? Look for your keys next to the lamp until you are sure they are not there, they set up a tent and start a new life where the light is.

          • Chris Hallquist

            Randy: I talk about Bill O’Reilly, because yes, it’s obvious that his arguments suck, but seeing exactly what’s wrong with O’Reilly’s arguments allows you to see other people making what at bottom are the same mistakes, e.g. Robin Collins. Same thing with William Lane Craig, who I devote all of chapter 8 to.

            The problem is that no matter who I talk about, someone will claim I should be dealing with someone else. My challenge to them is this: put up or shut up. Don’t tell me how to spend my time, give me the amazing arguments you think are so convincing.

            I deliberately ignore Feser, because I’ve concluded that Feser has nothing to contribute beyond declaring other people wicked for not paying more attention to Ed Feser. It’s worth noting that Feser is not taken seriously even by other philosophy of religion people who would LOVE to be able to stick it to atheists and have knock-down arguments for the existence of God. He’s taken seriously only by internet fanboys who desperately want to believe everything he says about those nasty atheists is true.

            I could go on, but probably shouldn’t waste any more time arguing with someone like Randy, so I’ll just drop the link to chapter 8 for other people to read.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Steve,

            I’d like to offer into evidence “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”.

            Lots of people being crucified upside-down rather than recant their witness to the truth of that movie, eh? Hadn’t heard about that. Here I was thinking everyone involved with making or viewing that film knew it was fiction, and that it had the generic marks of fiction. This kind of atheist apologetic hasn’t advanced since it was mocked (by Carlyle, IIRC?) with the idea that it could be used to argue that Napoleon was a mere solar myth.

            They are privileged… they literally have an entire universe of evidence to support their position.

            The universe disclosed by science is consistent with either atheism or theism. It doesn’t “support” either argument.
            .
            Darren,

            With Materialism, this is not the case. I test it every time I turn on a light switch.

            Nope. You test science, and science works. Which is great. But you do not test materialism or any of the other metaphysical systems by flipping a light switch, since all of the “live option” metaphysical systems argued for nowadays exist in formulations consistent with modern science. Deciding between metaphysical systems has to do with what leads to the most precise and coherent conceptual suite for thinking about how there can be anything at all (and related issues). It’s a discursive enterprise, not an experimental one.
            .
            Rant: I don’t know if this is an LW thing or what, but it seems to me there’s a tendency here to reject a priori concerns out of hand (as I know LW advises the “rationalist” to do), and to try to turn everything into the “rationalist ritual of making a falsifiable prediction” (which I think is an LW thing somewhere in the Yukowsky corpus, too.) Thing is, metaphysical arguments are almost entirely about having the most elegant, coherent suite of non-falsifiable a priori-type concepts. That’s what, as a human language game, metaphysics is about. And every time someone here tries to do metaphysics, someone else shows up to announce “You’re doing science wrong!” which isn’t really helpful. /rant.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            It’s worth noting that Feser is not taken seriously even by other philosophy of religion people

            As a mere internet fanboy myself, that’s at least some cause for me to reevaluate my view of him if it’s true. Do you have something I might read to corroborate your assessment?

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

            Just when it is getting good we have out comment nesting getting maxed out so this will get confusing. I don’t have much time anyway.

            Darren,

            With Materialism, this is not the case. I test it every time I turn on a light switch

            This just is not true. Materialism, Catholicism, Islam, and almost any other metaphysics agree on how a light switch works. You are confusing the metaphysical claims of materialism with the material claims of science. It happens all the time. Science tells us how matter and energy function. The fact that science does that well does not imply that what they do is the whole story. So no, turning on a light or a DVD player does not imply anything about metaphysics.

            Steve,
            You make the same mistake as Darren. You suppose that science being reliable somehow proves your metaphysics true. Many atheist say this. It just proves that many atheists can’t make simple philosophical distinctions.

            Chris,
            I read all the bravado about all arguments being lousy. I actually don’t think there is one amazing argument that will convince everyone. I do find Aquinas convincing but I know not everyone will. I do take it as a given that the intellectual elite won’t go there so just citing a few professors does not do much for me.

            Anyway, the best arguments for God are connected to the fact that the world seems to have many things that are more than their material. Beauty, truth, morality, love, purpose, etc. We can become convinced some of these things have a component that is not reducible to matter and energy. Can we have an absolute, irrefutable proof of that? I doubt it. But our non-material senses can convince us that non-material reality cannot be dismissed much like our material senses convince us that we are not a brain in a vat. Less than absolute proof but good reasons nonetheless.

            So I was surprised to see you interacted with none of that kind of reasoning in declaring there are not good arguments for God. I will read chapter 8 in the next few days. I hope it engages in more serious reasoning than chapter 7.

          • Darren

            No, I am afraid Randy and Irenist are confusing science (and technology) with Materialism which underlies it.

            Science and technology are a product of Materialism, not the other way around. I trust Materialism because its products work and there is consensus as to why they work. This was the point that if we had DVD players that started working on some other system, phlogiston, prayer power, whatever, I would have to reassess. Likewise, Theists are welcome to pray to their DVD players all they want and see if that works for them.

            My kids get sick because the material structures of their bodies are defective or become degraded. They get better because that structure is repaired. Not because I sinned, not because I prayed. Same as a DVD player that works or doesn’t.

            When every metaphysician gets together and agrees on something the way electrical engineers agree on why a solid-state laser works, then we will talk.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Darren,

            Science and technology are a product of Materialism, not the other way around. I trust Materialism because its products work and there is consensus as to why they work. This was the point that if we had DVD players that started working on some other system, phlogiston, prayer power, whatever, I would have to reassess. Likewise, Theists are welcome to pray to their DVD players all they want and see if that works for them.
            .
            My kids get sick because the material structures of their bodies are defective or become degraded. They get better because that structure is repaired. Not because I sinned, not because I prayed. Same as a DVD player that works or doesn’t.

            Below I link to an article about materialism/physicalism as a metaphysical position. What the heck does any of it have to do with DVD players or medicine? Where are the testable, falsifiable predictions? It just doesn’t seem to me to be that kind of thing, any more than any other metaphysics.
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/

            When every metaphysician gets together and agrees on something the way electrical engineers agree on why a solid-state laser works, then we will talk.

            Very few human discursive practices will meet this bar. If this is your standard, you now have nothing to talk about w/r/t ethics, politics, economics, artistic criticism, jurisprudence, or much anything else besides mathematics, science, and engineering–and not everything in those three fields, either.

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            ”Very few human discursive practices will meet this bar. If this is your standard, you now have nothing to talk about w/r/t ethics, politics, economics, artistic criticism, jurisprudence, or much anything else besides mathematics, science, and engineering–and not everything in those three fields, either.”

            The line of thought was all proceeding from the (far up-thread) question of privileging the hypothesis and Randy’s assertion that selecting the non-supernatural (materialist) option instead of the one thousand competing supernatural options was unfairly privileging the materialist option.

            Going back to an even earlier example: 1 + 1 = 2 .vs. (1 + magic) + (1 + magic) = 2

            Saying my body is really (body + magic) is on a par with saying my DVD player is really (DVD + magic). Materialism says nothing doing, and every time I use my DVD player and telos does not come shooting out, I consider that a test.

            So far as the various discursive practices, when there is broad, even nearly universal consensus on them (or I am elected King), I will consider that strong evidence to privilege one point over another (i.e. when everyone is a Communist, I will strongly suspect that Communism might be the best option).

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Darren,

            Going back to an even earlier example: 1 + 1 = 2 .vs. (1 + magic) + (1 + magic) = 2
            .
            Saying my body is really (body + magic) is on a par with saying my DVD player is really (DVD + magic). Materialism says nothing doing, and every time I use my DVD player and telos does not come shooting out, I consider that a test.

            Your DVD was designed to perform the function of playing DVDs. That is its telos. If your DVD player plays DVDs, then you are witnessing a very simple example of teleology. Your DVD player, if it looks anything like mine (which looks kind of like an 80′s VCR), has roughly the shape of a rectangular prism–i.e, a box. That’s a simple example of formal causality.
            .
            You might prefer to describe things differently. But there is no evidentiary issue here. The issue is what kind of descriptive practices lead to the best thinking. Take Ray, for example. I don’t agree with his physicalism, but I can confidently judge it to be discursively richer and clearer than the eliminative materialism of an Alex Rosenberg or the Churchlands. That’s a metaphysical judgment: Ray’s physicalism will lead to a higher quality of thought about ontology and causality than Rosenberg’s because Ray’s terminology is better.

            So far as the various discursive practices, when there is broad, even nearly universal consensus on them (or I am elected King), I will consider that strong evidence to privilege one point over another (i.e. when everyone is a Communist, I will strongly suspect that Communism might be the best option).

            Argumentum ad numerum? Of all the fallacies for an awesome atheist like yourself to appeal to on our religion-haunted globe, that one is unexpected!
            .
            Also, what does “evidence” have to do with anything here? If I tell you I thought “Empire” was the best “Star Wars” movie, does “evidence” have anything to do with that? What if I tell you I prefer virtue ethics to utilitarianism? Is there some falsifiable prediction I need to make? Not everything is about evidence.

          • Chris Hallquist

            Irenist: Mostly, I’ve read a lot of philosophy of religion and haven’t come across a single instance of anyone of the stature of Plantinga or even Craig even mentioning Feser. I haven’t seen him dismissed by the important people, but rather ignored.

            If you do a Google scholar search for his works (Google scholar does both papers and books) and look at the number of citations they get, they’re getting far fewer citations than someone like Plantinga or Craig gets, and most of those are for his work in libertarian political philosophy. The thoroughness with which his books on Aquinas have been ignored is striking. See here.

          • Darren

            Irenist;

            OK, I am failing, spectacularly, to get across what I am trying to get across. The failure is mine.

            I surrender on this topic, everything after “light switch”.

            As Guilda Radner would say, “Oh, never mind!”

          • Steve

            Irenist… I believe it was Randy who had said:

            When you try and fill in the details of exactly when and where and how these supernatural stories came to be you end up with a mess. Nothing makes sense. Did the apostles make stuff up? Did it happen in the 4th century after Christianity became legal and the church had real power?

            My point with bringing up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire hunter was that a story with certain historically credible or at least feasible claims does not somehow lend credibility to supernatural claims. So that numerous people might or might not have been crucified, could be feasible if not historically credible, but lends as much support to supernatural claims as Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter does to it’s supernatural claims. In answer to his questions, I offered a similar example of a story that (lord, I hope) is clearly a work of fiction and if you apply the same reasonings to 1 and understand the high possibility that it’s fictional you can apply it to the other.

            The universe disclosed by science is consistent with either atheism or theism. It doesn’t “support” either argument.

            The observed universe is consistent with natural claims. I won’t waste my time here listing the inconsistencies with easy targets like young earth creationists. Yet even the most reasonable Christian still supports the truth of Jesus dying, rising 3 days later and ascending into heaven. Human death isn’t a reversible process. If Jesus wasn’t dead, then the claims of him being so were incorrect. If Jesus was in a state something closer to legally dead (heart stopped, minimal brain activity) and came back, then his resurrection is not a remarkable event as many people have done so, nor does that seem likely in a situation where his body didn’t have the benefit of being chilled sufficiently or access to anything close to proper medical care. I believe it’s also fair to assume his executioners would have been certain beyond a reasonable doubt that he was infact dead, as in dead dead, which is of course what the Christian claim is to begin with. Our scientific understanding and observations of human biology is inconsistent with these claims. And last I checked the ascension into heaven violates all understood laws of gravity. Observations of the universe have yet to support a single supernatural claim from any system of belief. The observed universe only seems consistent with both atheistic & theistic claims if the theistic doesn’t make any specific claims at all. If the supernatural remains hidden from any and all observation, on what grounds should we say it exists at all?

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

            My point with bringing up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire hunter was that a story with certain historically credible or at least feasible claims does not somehow lend credibility to supernatural claims.

            Historical fiction is a genre that exists. Do we confuse it with non-fiction? Almost never. Why not? There are many subtle ways we tell them apart. Would people in the say the 3rd century have been unable to make similar distinctions? We know they did. The Protoevangelium of James is an example of it. It contains some fact and some fiction. The book itself and the way the community treated the book tells us this. The opposite is true with the 27 books of the New Testament.

            Yet even the most reasonable Christian still supports the truth of Jesus dying, rising 3 days later and ascending into heaven. Human death isn’t a reversible process. If Jesus wasn’t dead, then the claims of him being so were incorrect.

            You are still assuming the claim of a miracle involved the denial of science. In fact, miracles imply scientific principles that are not normally violated. If the bible talked about the resurrection as a normal thing then you could say that it must be fiction. The truth is the resurrection is talked about as a miraculous thing. Something that nobody had ever heard of. Even when Jesus predicted it his disciples assumes he was talking figuratively because nobody rises from the dead. In other word they understood the relevant scientific principle.

          • Steve

            Historical fiction is a genre that exists. Do we confuse it with non-fiction? Almost never. Why not? There are many subtle ways we tell them apart. Would people in the say the 3rd century have been unable to make similar distinctions? We know they did. The Protoevangelium of James is an example of it. It contains some fact and some fiction. The book itself and the way the community treated the book tells us this. The opposite is true with the 27 books of the New Testament.

            Why is it inappropriate to apply the same obviousness of it’s fictionality to AL: VH to the entirety of the biblical account of things?

            You are still assuming the claim of a miracle involved the denial of science.

            Is that not what a miracle is? If it doesn’t violate any scientific law or unreasonably high abandonment of plausibility, couldn’t we substitute something like ‘That was fortunate’ or ‘That was lucky’ for ‘That was a miracle’

            In fact, miracles imply scientific principles that are not normally violated.

            Which miracles are those?

            If the bible talked about the resurrection as a normal thing then you could say that it must be fiction. The truth is the resurrection is talked about as a miraculous thing.

            That doesn’t make a lick of sense. If everyone in Metropolis could fly, the story must be fiction, but since it’s only Superman who flies it can be true. That such ‘miracles’ happen rarely does not change the fact that they are still events that run contrary to the observed world.

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

            Why is it inappropriate to apply the same obviousness of it’s fictionality to AL: VH to the entirety of the biblical account of things?

            Because it is not historical fiction. Historical fiction tries to tell a story. The kinds of details and characters it includes are those that serve the story. Non-fiction is a lot more messy. There was this healing and then this teaching and then there was an argument about something else and then we celebrated a passover and on and on. The gospels and the book of Acts read like that.

            The epistles are even less likely to be historical fiction. Lots of moral and theological teaching about Jesus. Focus on specific churches and naming people in those churches like the readers are supposed to know the names.

            “You are still assuming the claim of a miracle involved the denial of science.”

            Is that not what a miracle is? If it doesn’t violate any scientific law or unreasonably high abandonment of plausibility, couldn’t we substitute something like ‘That was fortunate’ or ‘That was lucky’ for ‘That was a miracle’

            It is not a denial of science. It is a claim that the laws of science were overridden in this special case by a supernatural power. Science remains in force in almost all cases. Christians don’t expect their relatives to rise from the dead after 3 days. They don’t because they know science and believe science just as much as atheists. They believe the laws of science are broken in rare cases called miracles. They are so rare as to make them irrelevant to everyday life.

            That doesn’t make a lick of sense. If everyone in Metropolis could fly, the story must be fiction, but since it’s only Superman who flies it can be true. That such ‘miracles’ happen rarely does not change the fact that they are still events that run contrary to the observed world.

            Exactly, but what do you do with the fact that they run contrary to the observed world? There are 2 possibilities. Either the story is false or something happened that is outside our normal experience. Excluding the second choice is not science. You cannot exclude it based on any experimental data. You can only exclude it based on your philosophy. Science does not prove your philosophy. There is no physical experiment that would have different results if atheism were true rather than Catholicism being true.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Excluding the second choice is not science. You cannot exclude it based on any experimental data. You can only exclude it based on your philosophy. Science does not prove your philosophy. There is no physical experiment that would have different results if atheism were true rather than Catholicism being true.

            ^I am some guy on the Internet, and I endorse this message. Well said, Randy.

          • Steve

            Geeze… you really have to scroll up far to respond here. By the time I found it (I clicked the wrong ‘post comment’ the first time and had to work my way back) I forgot was I was looking to respond to. Anyway…

            Because it is not historical fiction. Historical fiction tries to tell a story. The kinds of details and characters it includes are those that serve the story. Non-fiction is a lot more messy.

            Perhaps I haven’t been clear here. What thought process do you go through to label AL:VH as historical fiction? What’s to say biblical accounts aren’t also historical fiction rather than non-fiction? If you’re convinced, or even mostly leaning towards hailing the bible as non-fiction, by what reasoning can you attribute this to be an accurate accounting of things and all other stories to be myths?

            It is not a denial of science. It is a claim that the laws of science were overridden in this special case by a supernatural power.

            The temporary suspension of physical laws IS a denial of everything we know scientifically. In addition this view can be used to justify the existence of magic or dragons (or anything else for that matter). I’m willing to concede this point of the equivalency of supernatural religious claims with the existence of other unobserved magical phenomena.

            There are 2 possibilities. Either the story is false or something happened that is outside our normal experience. Excluding the second choice is not science. You cannot exclude it based on any experimental data.

            This line of reasoning is ultimately no different than asking an atheist to prove the non-existence of god. That we should attribute equal likelyhood to two choices 1) the temporary abandonment of physical law or 2) that such descriptions were incorrect or outright fabrications is silly, nor is it any sort of reasoning we’d entertain in any other area of our lives. If you walk into the kitchen and find a child with a broken cookie jar on the floor, were your child to say ‘it was an angel who broke it’, you’d have to believe that to be true. If you find a scratch on your car door that is the same color paint as the car next to you, which also happens to have a mark of the front bumper with the same color paint as your car and you’re 100% sure that scratch wasn’t there mere moments earlier, you’d have to believe him and his buddy that said it wasn’t them, it was the Keebler Elves.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Steve,

            This line of reasoning is ultimately no different than asking an atheist to prove the non-existence of god

            That’s fair. Given that Randy and I both argue that, as he put it, “[t]here is no physical experiment that would have different results if atheism were true rather than Catholicism being true,” we are not taking the burden upon ourselves to make a falsifiable prediction. An absence of any god belief would therefore be an entirely reasonable default for anyone for whom warranted beliefs are those which stem from falsifiable predictions. However, for me (and perhaps Randy), metaphysical arguments can also be grounds for warranted belief. So although I don’t think I am likely to be persuaded to abandon Christianity by scientific evidentiary arguments, that doesn’t mean I’m not persuadable. E.g., I posted this in the “Why I Am Catholic” thread earlier this morning, but I suspect no one is reading that thread anymore, so I repost it here for clarity. It was in reply to Ray’s Dennett-derived defense of physicalism.

            Ray,
            Took your advice and read “Quining Qualia,” which was great. Couldn’t find a Kindle edition of Consciousness Explained, but I downloaded Content and Consciousness Monday night and it’s just fantastic so far. His discussion of why no one is a dualist about “voices” is a really intriguing set up for what I expect will be a superb argument against qualia. I’m not persuaded yet, but it’s obvious that this guy’s physicalism deserves a respectful hearing–he’s obviously got more philosophical talent in his fingertips than I have at all. With some shame, I have to confess that I haven’t really read any Dennett, having been so unimpressed both with the other three “Horsemen” and with other eliminativists I’ve read. By directing me to Dennett, you’ve persuaded me to give physicalism another (very serious) look–with all that implies for Catholicism. Following the truth wherever it leads sure is a roller-coaster.

            The upshot is that Dennett’s argumentation (which is about things like the way English-speakers employ the word “voice”) has impressed me very much, and might lead me to abandon Thomism. Whether a non-Thomist Catholicism is salvageable for me is an open, and obviously fraught question in my life. You’re not dealing (entirely, anyway) with unpersuadable Catholics on this blog, Steve. You may, however, be dealing with Catholics who are more persuaded by non-evidentiary arguments.

        • MountainTiger

          That is an exceptionally poor summary of scholarly views on early Christianity. A more accurate summary would be: beginning in the mid-first century, various authors began to produce proto-Christian texts. The earliest extant texts among these seem to be a corpus of letters written by an itinerant preacher (Paul), but the vagaries of dating and survival call for some caution here. Somewhat later, people produced biographical texts that survive in whole or in part, as well as letters claimed to be written by earlier figures in the movement. During the first, second, and third centuries, Christianity grew slowly and the first disputes over which texts were authoritative arose. By the early fourth century, Christians were a substantial enough minority to be somewhat familiar to most educated people and a series of rapid changes led to the formal toleration of the church, the adoption of the church by Constantine and most of his dynasty, and the most important attempt to establish a textual canon. During this period, Christology became a major issue, with the view of Christ as God eventually triumphing over a few views that stopped short of declaring them to be identical. Far from occurring without opposition, this was a long-lasting conflict that included decades of imperial support for positions the Catholic Church considers heretical.

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

            The key dates here are the death of St Peter and St Paul around 6 AD and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The book of Acts refers to neither of these events. The only reasonable explanation for that is it was written before they happened. But Acts itself refers to Luke as the first book. So that was written even earlier. Likely Matthew and Mark were written around the same time.

            Christology didn’t become a major issue in the 4th century. The central teachings of Christianity were the divinity and resurrection of Jesus. The precise nature of the Godhead and how Jesus could be both God and man were clarified later. Still the Septuagint’s most common word for God was Lord or Kurious in greek. That was applied to Jesus freely. Titles like Christ and Son of God were used very early as well.

            So when I said the divinity of Jesus came without opposition I mean in the earlier church. There was controversy in the 4th century but it was resolved by those who looked to earlier teaching. Where did that come from? The assumption of the church was it came from Jesus through the apostles and their successors. Of course modern scholars scoff at such a notion. What is the other option? There really isn’t one.

          • MountainTiger

            What reason is there to think that Acts must have contained death accounts for Peter and Paul if it could? Because Randy thinks it should have? And given that the Gospel of Luke is aware of the destruction of Jerusalem, it is odd to try to date Acts based on the criterion of not mentioning that event. Unless you want to reject the same author producing both of those books, it would seem that he was aware of the city’s destruction.

            Again, the evidence for a unified position on Christology is not present even in the four canonical gospels, much less the larger body of early Christian writing. On the specific issue of using κυριος as a form of address, you need a much more developed case for a few reasons. First, κυριος is also a standard form of respectful address; like dominus in Latin, each use needs individual attention. Second, it is not equally common in all gospels; Mark, in particular, almost never uses it to refer to Jesus. The other titles have a greater problem with interpretation in light of later sources; nobody disputes that Χριστος came to be understood in light of the belief that Jesus was God, but the evidence for its first-century meaning is spotty.

            It may surprise you to learn that proponents of a non-divine Jesus pointed to…earlier teaching. Nobody in late antique debates would admit to inventing something new, and few if any of these people were dissembling. Disputes were not between “those who looked to earlier teaching” and those who did not but between various groups who all looked to earlier teaching. It is trivial, given how disputes were carried out, to say that the eventual winners looked back to earlier teaching.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Nobody in late antique debates would admit to inventing something new, and few if any of these people were dissembling.

            That’s a great point, MountainTiger. Those ancient debates were a lot like constitutional originalists in the U.S. debating the meaning of the Second Amendment (or whatever) with their dueling (if you’ll pardon the expression here) quotes from the Framers. Jehovah’s Witnesses, e.g., with their specific translation of John 1 and their other Scriptural arguments for a non-Divine Christ, are participating in a very ancient exegetical practice.

        • MNb

          @Randy: “”the universe began with the big bang. So we must have a big banger. ”
          That’s a non-sequitur. First prove causality (and refute entire modern physics while you’re proving it). Then prove there was only one big banger (with all the natural constants polytheism is more likely), then prove why big bangers don’t have a cause and finally show why the Universe couldn’t be its own cause like you assume your big banger to be.

    • Steve

      Mike… Age of the universe is currently estimated around 13.8 billion years, though for this particular conversation you were close enough I suppose.

      Because I suspect that unless we agree on this first question, there is no hope for ever getting to some agreement about God, is there?

      I’m unsure how your question really makes any sense in being a deal breaker to a continued conversation. Paraphrasing, but essentially the universe was or was not intentionally created by someone. Are there any other choices? It seems your set of choices encompasses all (both) possible options.

  • http://thepoetryofthesingularity.wordpress.com Peter

    Don’t like it. I’m still stuck on what Ivan imparts in Brothers Karamasov.

    Even if suffering does bring us closer to God, the cost at which it comes is too great. What is the point of a 1 year-old dying from AIDS. They’re innocent, they suffer immensely, and they do not even know anything. The cost is too great.

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

      How do we know the cost is too great? How much pain has to be suffered to make it too much? Would that not be determined by the love of the pain-sufferer? What if that innocent 1 year-old was somehow allowed to give his consent before God? What if God created this little child to be able to love that much? What if after his death he continues to minster to those on earth and bring great grace? Do we really know the cost is too great?

      • Darren

        Randy, we are not debating whether that innocent’s life is worth living, to him or anyone else.

        We are debating whether it is Good for God to inflict untold suffering on him and billions of others in the pursuit of God’s goals. We are debating whether this is Good considering that God is able, definitionally, to accomplish any goal he wishes without suffering.

        • http://thepoetryofthesingularity.wordpress.com Peter

          “We are debating whether this is Good considering that God is able, definitionally, to accomplish any goal he wishes without suffering.”

          Exactly. It is so typical of privileged first-class folks to think that suffering can be good since our suffering is so milquetoast, and really, it probably does help us to find growth. But suffering to complete my honors thesis is not the same as dying of Malaria because I can’t afford some bed nets.

          • Mr. X

            The theodicy you’ve been referring to has been around since at least Irenaeus in the 2nd century AD, a time when people most certainly did experience real suffering. So I don’t think the “You only say that because you’ve never experienced any proper suffering” argument is particularly strong in this case.

        • Erick

          Darren,

          The question always in return of course, is whether human free will can really be free without suffering? In my mind, you are basically saying, it is better to be a slave with a wonderful master than it is to be a free man with a terrible boss.

          • Darren

            I am not so convinced that free will in the presence of an omniscient being is even an intelligible concept, but, assuming such a thing could even exist, I feel satisfied that an Omnipotent God would be able to create a world with little, or even no, suffering and evil yet still be compatible with free will.

            The slave with a wonderful master part sounds more fitting for Theists, IMO, as they are the ones who believe it is God dictating “My rules or roasting in the pit”. Personally, I would take that trade, unjust as I think it to be, but the problem of finding out just _who’s_ hell I am avoiding is difficult.

          • Erick

            Darren,

            ==assuming such a thing could even exist, I feel satisfied that an Omnipotent God would be able to create a world with little, or even no, suffering and evil yet still be compatible with free will.==

            I have two issues with this line of reasoning.

            1) It does not give consideration to the part of man in the relationship, which is essential because free will is by definition “freedom from God’s will”

            2)It seems to me that the statement “A can control B if/when B is independent from A” makes no sense logically speaking.

            ==The slave with a wonderful master part sounds more fitting for Theists, IMO, as they are the ones who believe it is God dictating “My rules or roasting in the pit”==

            As we Christians are fond of saying, this argument is only valid in a sterile, intellectual exercise with a worldview based on power relationships. But if your worldview is based on love relationships, then this view is irrational. Would one spouse think themselves a slave because the other spouse says adultery is wrong? If you love your spouse, then doing what they want is not slavery.

            ==Personally, I would take that trade, unjust as I think it to be==

            Welcome to the matrix! :)

          • MountainTiger

            Indeed, early Christians used slavery as a model for their relationship to God.

          • Darren

            Erick said;

            ”It does not give consideration to the part of man in the relationship, which is essential because free will is by definition “freedom from God’s will””

            Well, my friend, I think you are just screwed, then. I have not heard that particular formulation, but from where I sit it lands you in paradox.

            If free will is the freedom from God’s Will, and yet God’s Will is that we have free will…

            BOOM!

            ;)

            Back on the Mormon thread, I worked up a mental experiment that demonstrates (to my satisfaction if not everyone else’s) one plausible manner in which the three-O God could create a cosmos with no suffering or evil yet with all actions freely chosen by the sentients within. CarlC was running with a similar idea, and I happily absconded with his thoughts and twisted them to my own ends.

            The Best of All Possible Worlds

            So, given a logically possible Best of All Possible Worlds _with_ free will and _no_ suffering, I consider our present world incompatible, not with a God who is Omnipotent and Omniscient, but with a God who is Good. Take that where you will.

          • Darren

            Did I just link to a conversation with the _same_ Erick? It would be funny if I did…

          • Darren

            Mountain Tiger said;

            ” Indeed, early Christians used slavery as a model for their relationship to God.”

            I prefer to think of God like a really big Mafioso: Show him the proper respect, give him a cut of the action, and enjoy some social and financial benefits, plus one’s business does not mysteriously burn to the ground.

          • Erick

            ==Back on the Mormon thread==

            I do remember that. It was in reply to me :)

            ==one plausible manner in which the three-O God could create a cosmos with no suffering or evil yet with all actions freely chosen by the sentients within==

            I believe I was one of those not satisfied with the answer you gave. Your reply with the Harry Potter book was quite interesting. I was engaged. There was just one problem with the conclusion.

            Your conclusion is basically that God is not Good, because we are not living in the best of all possible worlds. Instead, we are a Harry living in a TPS where Voldemort killed our parents. Of course, this completely disregards the fact that in the example, the inefficiencies in the system are created by the characters, not the reader. The same mistake I pointed out here.

            It was basically another variation of your “impotent bodies that can’t actually physically harm anyone/man, I wish I was an angel instead” scenario.

          • MountainTiger

            Darren: That sounds more OT than NT to me (well, excepting the whole Job business, but sometimes you need to prove a point) :).

          • Darren

            Erick said;

            ”Would one spouse think themselves a slave because the other spouse says adultery is wrong?”

            If I were in an arranged marriage and my options were: stay in the marriage till death do us part, or file for divorce and my ex-wife would then cover me with gasoline and set it alight?

            I might have a few qualms about that one no matter how much my wife told me she loved me…

            And yes, I am aware that some _contemporary_ Catholics think that Hell _might_ be empty… I am unconvinced that is the official teaching of the Church itself, though, and it certainly is not the teaching of most other Theisms… And my wife keeping a gas can and lighter next to the bed, even if she promised to never use it, would not exactly fill me with confidence…

          • Darren

            Erick said;

            ”Of course, this completely disregards the fact that in the example, the inefficiencies in the system are created by the characters, not the reader. The same mistake I pointed out here.”

            Well, I am glad it was interesting, even if unconvincing.

            As I don’t actually think free will makes sense in a world where the future has already happened, I am not particularly concerned. The example was plausible enough for me and the point being (IMO), with an omnipotent God, he could make the laws of free will work that way if he wanted them too.

            But, even taking man caused evil off the table, I think there is more than sufficient natural evil to render the cosmos non-good. There is far more of that any ways.

            And why take man caused evil off the table? Sure, Free Will, woohoo! Why Elisabeth Fritzl, and Nanking, and Hiroshima, and Rawanda? With Hell empty (as my V2 Catholics tell me it is) and everyone ending up on the clouds thinkin’ ‘bout the ole’ days, why not a world were the most heinous evil imaginable is a really vigorous Indian Burn? I hate those…

            You want some evil, fine, lets have some evil, can we just turn the knob down from 11, there, God? Thanks, that would be great…

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

          God does choose to do good through suffering. He chose the cross. That was the ultimate good done through suffering. He also chooses to allow us to participate in that. There are temporal consequences to sin. When we suffer we can lift it up as penance to deal with those temporal consequences either for our sin or for another person’s sin. This gives our suffering meaning if we unite it with the suffering of Christ.

          That is how God deals with suffering. He does not eliminate it from out lives but makes it a powerful force for good. is that immoral of God? No. God justly requires sin to have consequences. He can and sometimes does eliminate them but leaves the general principle of sin requiring payment in place. We need it. Just like I can put punishment in place for my children, God can put punishment in place for us.

          So when David and Bathsheba sinned God could have forgiven them with no punishment. Instead He decided that the child they had together should die. I have had the experience of having a baby die. I would not wish that on anyone. Yet if God just forgave with no punishment would David have committed the same sin again? God knows we need real pain to remember these lessons. So yes, free will is part of His plan but so is suffering. Sometimes the suffering of an innocent is there too. Sometimes it seems like too much. Sometimes it seems like people do bad stuff and nothing bad happens. We don’t really know why but that does not mean there is no why.

          • ACN

            So he punished david by murdering a baby. A baby that was no party to david’s moral choices.

            How reasonable.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            It’s not really accurate to say that God “murders” anyone, anymore than an owner taking back the lawnmower you borrowed can be said to have committed “theft.”

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            In fact, the issue goes deeper than that. God no more murders anyone than Shakespeare “murdered” Hamlet. God-creature is a different kind of relationship than that of one human to another.

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            ”It’s not really accurate to say that God “murders” anyone, anymore than an owner taking back the lawnmower you borrowed can be said to have committed “theft.””

            Oho, you are asking for it with that one!

            No, but we can say that a master has murdered his slave, even if he has clear legal title _and_ the legal system he and his fellow slave-owners have instituted explicitly allows such an act.

            At least I can.

            And this, I think, is where I diverge from Randy, and apparently, from Irenist. No one owns a sentient except that sentient, not even God.

          • Mike

            Is what Decker did in Blade Runner murder? Wasn’t he simply terminating someone else’s creation? And wasn’t that his right? It seems to me it was. God-creature would fit that.

          • Darren

            Great example, Mike. Yes, Decker was a murderer, and he knew it, that is why he was out and had to be blackmailed back in.

            No, it was not his right, for all that it was legal.

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ”Wasn’t he simply terminating someone else’s creation? And wasn’t that his right? It seems to me it was.”

            Reminds of a conversation I had a long time ago, back in my brief vegetarian phase. I was arguing with someone who claimed that vegetarians cold eat fish.

            My reply was, “If it tries to run away when you stick a fork into it – it counts as meat!”

            So, if you tried to kill a replicant, would it run?

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Darren,
            Ownership is one way to look at it, but perhaps not the best. You are doubtless familiar with the pro-choice argument that even if a fetus possesses personhood, the mother is entitled to decide whether to allow the fetus to live in her womb and live off her body’s resources. On the classical theist view, our very existence from moment to moment is necessarily sustained in being by God. Our existence is not our own.
            .
            Further, there is an analogical language issue here. No created person should own another (or abort another, for that matter, in the analogy above). But God transcends us so unfathomably that our relationship to Him really is more like that of a character to an author than it is like that of one human to another.
            .
            BTW: I agree with you on one thing. In the universe of Blade Runner, in which androids are depicted as being sentient rational persons (as opposed to the p-zombies I think they would actually be), Decker was a murderer.

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            ”You are doubtless familiar with the pro-choice argument that even if a fetus possesses personhood, the mother is entitled to decide whether to allow the fetus to live in her womb and live off her body’s resources.”

            This may be a surprise (apparently it is), but I would disagree with this argument. _If_ a fetus is a person, then I do not think a woman has a right to kill it. You will also have noted my use of “sentients”, and so the crux with me lies at what point does a developing human step into that territory. It will be interesting to see, as neurological models advance and scanning technology improves, what light science can shed on that question.

            ”On the classical theist view, our very existence from moment to moment is necessarily sustained in being by God. Our existence is not our own.”

            Ah, you are mixing your science and your metaphysics, now. From my understanding of the Catholic acceptance of the teachings of science, and the Catholic conception of the Fall, it would be _only_ the Rational Soul which would be so sustained, the body and the lower souls happily going about their business as science dictates. And the Rational Soul is sustained eternally, even after physical death, and in fact cannot (or God chooses not, same thing) be destroyed.

            ”Further, there is an analogical language issue here. No created person should own another (or abort another, for that matter, in the analogy above). But God transcends us so unfathomably that our relationship to Him really is more like that of a character to an author than it is like that of one human to another.”

            Now that is just a naked assertion or a victory-by-definition, take your pick. My ‘sticking a fork in it’ analogy holds, as I am pretty certain that Hamlet did not try and run away…

            ”BTW: I agree with you on one thing. In the universe of Blade Runner, in which androids are depicted as being sentient rational persons (as opposed to the p-zombies I think they would actually be), Decker was a murderer.”

            As it was presented in the movie, the replicants developed sentience over time. Were Decker to have approached a newly un-tanked replicant, and told it to shoot itself, it would have happily done so.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Darren,

            This may be a surprise (apparently it is), but I would disagree with this argument.

            Good for you. You’re full of pleasant surprises.

            Ah, you are mixing your science and your metaphysics, now. From my understanding of the Catholic acceptance of the teachings of science, and the Catholic conception of the Fall, it would be _only_ the Rational Soul which would be so sustained, the body and the lower souls happily going about their business as science dictates. And the Rational Soul is sustained eternally, even after physical death, and in fact cannot (or God chooses not, same thing) be destroyed.

            Not exactly. The Catholic (or at least Thomist, but I think Catholic generally) view is that every last quark is sustained in being only by the omnipotent love of Being. Allowed to go on about its own secondarily causal lawlike physical business by the indulgent Father of the cosmos, but always sustained in being by the mother hen-like love of Being, lest it fall into the abyss of nothingness if it is dropped for an instant. Creation is not held to be something that happened only “in the beginning,” but something that continues forever. Always reminds me of this bit of Christ-like cosmology:

            The highest good is like water.
            Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
            It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

            Tao Te Ching, viii.

            Now that is just a naked assertion or a victory-by-definition, take your pick. My ‘sticking a fork in it’ analogy holds, as I am pretty certain that Hamlet did not try and run away…

            Victory by definition, please. But I think the definition is logically warranted.

          • Darren

            Irenist;

            Not exactly. The Catholic (or at least Thomist, but I think Catholic generally) view is that every last quark is sustained in being only by the omnipotent love of Being.”

            Fah! I thought I had you for a moment, but I am not done with this one… tomorrow…

            ”The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
            –Tao Te Ching, viii.”

            Neat!

            ”Victory by definition, please. But I think the definition is logically warranted.”

            Very well, I shall try and remember to share an extended thought on this, again tomorrow.

      • http://thepoetryofthesingularity.wordpress.com Peter

        “What if after his death he continues to minster to those on earth and bring great grace?”

        Um, if she’s dead, she can’t do that.

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

          Do you understand the Catholic teaching on saints? Even though they are dead they live and reign in heaven.

          • http://thepoetryofthesingularity.wordpress.com Peter

            Do you? Can a 1-year-old become a saint?

          • Erick

            A 1-year that’s been baptized, yes.

            An unbaptized, not even the Church knows. Contrary to popular opinion, while the idea of limbo was popular for a while, it was never a doctrinal/dogmatic teaching of the Church.

  • stanz2reason

    I guess we’re going with Disqus now… Hope we didn’t lose all the old posts… there was good stuff there.

  • Mike

    How can a person like a nobel winner say come to believe in a god for whom there is zero evidence? What can account for that, on the atheism is true hypo. I guess it would be cultural sociological mental factors that would explain it but not the evidence because there isn’t any. So, would not the cultural sociological and mental factors, although incorrect, still not be real and valid as evidence for say at least something that seems really weird in that there is no evidence for it yet this nobel winner says he/she believes in it.

    Isn’t that a quandry on the atheism prop. Not implying there aren’t a million on the theism side in case you’re wondering.

    • Steve

      Belief in god(s) isn’t evidence for their being one. There are plenty of reasons an otherwise intelligent person (which I’m assuming a Nobel Laureate would be) might believe in a god. You mentioned cultural factors, which of course are not evidence. There are psychological factors, as the mind might reflexively find itself open to the suggestion of the supernatural when honestly considering the alternative, the ultimate ‘hail mary’ pass if you will and again, but wishful thinking is not evidence. That they’ve considered and agree with the overwhelming scientific evidence against certain specific religious claims, but that there is enough unknown gray area left to justify a belief, which finally again, is not evidence.

      • Mike

        Agreed.

        But are we using evidence as a catch all phrase when we seem to agree implicitly that there are different levels or kinds of evidence? Or are you saying that all evidence except material scientifically reproducable data is not really evidence at all or is not eligible?

        • Steve

          Certain evidence is of course more compelling than others. Evidence that has been reviewed & confirmed through rigorous observation & experimentation can and should be more granted more weight when drawing conclusions about the world than someones unverifiable claims to have seen jesus in a bowl of cereal. Both are evidence, though the former is clearly the only evidence worth considering.

          Scientific evidence has the benefit of being verifiable, identically observed from anyone, anywhere, reproducible, and rigorously peer reviewed before it’s granted ‘fact’ status. Different forms of evidence are acceptable of course, though in cases of conflict, tie goes to science.

        • Darren

          Mike said;

          “But are we using evidence as a catch all phrase when we seem to agree implicitly that there are different levels or kinds of evidence? Or are you saying that all evidence except material scientifically reproducable data is not really evidence at all or is not eligible?”

          IMO, belief in Gods counts as evidence, but there is a lot of evidence and it needs to be added up.

          So, evidence for Catholic God, evidence against Catholic God, evidence for Muslim God, evidence against Muslim God, evidence for UFO abductions, evidence for Easter Bunny, evidence for Holocaust, evidence against Holocaust, etc.

  • Gary

    If there were not evil and the suffering that is caused by it we would be living in a “heaven on earth”. Would we then even have the need to seek a higher entity? Would we even question where our ” heaven” came from?

  • Erick

    Darren

    ==If I were in an arranged marriage==

    It may be arranged, but it is arranged to the _Best of All Possible Worlds_. The fact that the marriage is arranged does not negate the fact that love can still exist in the relationship. Besides, Hell for me is not like this at all. It’s more like you divorced your “arranged marriage spouse who is the best thing that ever happened in your life”; you realized you made a mistake, but didn’t want to admit it (Break Up movie with Vince Vaughn & Jen Aniston style); so you decided to self-immolate in despair.

    • Darren

      Nice. :)

      Lunch.

      Later.

  • Erick

    Getting back to the OP, I would like to get into this whole annealing/suffering thing a bit more.

    Is it possible to input known “suffering” into Scott Herbert’s optimization scheme and analyze variables to determine which of the various optima (including God) is the true global optimum?

    • Scott Hebert

      Erick: It’s not exactly the same. In the analogy I built, suffering is exogenous to the search mechanism itself. The simulated annealing technique, in its essence, prevents ‘settling’ for _any_ optimum, even the global optimum. It keeps the search moving. It can _and does_ sometimes result in losing the global optimum, if it is not properly tuned.

      Therefore, what you are discussing is akin to the how fast you let the simulated annealing ‘cool’ or attenuate. I would fully agree with prolonged intense suffering preventing anyone from seeing God. I will see if I can paint a picture with this.

      If you refer to the picture of the response surface in the article, you can see two maximal points as ‘hills’. Consider if the bottom of the graph was ‘sea level’ or perhaps the water table level. Simulated annealing ‘raises’ the water level, and thus obscures minor differences among optima. (They become equivalent.) If the water level rises enough, you get a flat plain and any point is as good as any other point, thus negating the usefulness of the search. Generally, in simulated annealing, you let the ‘water level’ lower slowly over time so that the first optimum that appears is the global optimum. (This is still rather imprecise, but gets the point across, I hope.)

  • Beadgirl

    I am really hesitant to jump in that this point, but all this talk reminds me of an incident when Beadboy2 was a toddler. He asked me for a cookie before dinner, and I said no. He began to scream and cry that he was hungry and that I was being unfair. Of course, I wasn’t — I know so much more than he does, I understand the world infinitely better than he does, and I was not actually being cruel by denying him a cookie. But in his mind, with his limited understanding, I was — he was hungry, and we had cookies, and my saying no made him genuinely suffer, as evinced by his tears and emotional pain and hunger.

    More seriously, I’ve had to permit real, actual physical suffering on Beadboy1 — open heart surgery at three months that left him in so much pain he could not even cry properly, and eye surgery last year that left him asking us why we let the doctors hurt his eyes. In both cases he could not — was incapable of — understanding that what we did was for the greater good; especially because he has D.S. and has not yet developed his reason enough to understand as another child his age might.

    I don’t know if anyone else will be satisfied by this, but when I think about how unfairly some people suffer in this world, I can’t help but think that God is so far above us and understands so much more that I am as child, with a child’s much more limited understanding of suffering and fairness.

    • Darren

      Beadgirl;

      Thank you for sharing. I am sorry to hear of the struggles of you and your son. Clearly, you see and have seen the reality of natural evil and suffering. Normally I would leave you to what comfort your faith provides, but you are here and participating. Perhaps this means you are unhappy with the answers you have been given.

      Yes, the analogy of a child’s understanding is often used. You propose that God’s reasons are incomprehensible and so you must simply trust.

      1. Do you really think you are incapable of understanding God’s plan in afflicting your son with his suffering? Could you not understand at least at little? I certainly think that I could understand.

      2. Do you really think that God is so limited, in power or understanding, that his purposes could not be accomplished with your son healthy? You have a very low opinion of God. I could do better and I suspect you could as well.

      3. Do you think that the opportunity you have had to demonstrate love and compassion in the face of your son’s suffering is worth the cost that he has had to pay? I doubt very much you would have agreed to such an arrangement, had you been asked.

      There is nothing that can justify your son’s suffering. No excuse, no hidden plan, no greater good. Not when the excuses are false, not when the plans could be accomplished without it, not when the price of good is evil to innocents. Were I God, with his power and knowledge, the world would not be thus. I suspect you could say the same. Why are we better than God?

      • Beadgirl

        I find your responses kind of puzzling, Darren. I am not here because I get no comfort in my faith. I’m not even sure I would discuss it in terms of comfort — my faith is my faith, it has been there always. And suffering is suffering, it is there always; sometimes I understand why there is suffering (for the greater good, that is apparent to me) and sometimes I don’t. So I trust God.

        1) I think I can understand a tiny fraction of it, in the sense of what many people argue D.S. people contribute to society — namely, a way to see what is truly important. Nothing better prevents a parent from obsessing about whether her child is smart enough, talented enough, getting into the right preschool, taking all the right extra-curriculars, winning enough trophies, headed for the right college, destined for a lucrative high-powered career, than a special-needs child. Why does he have to deal with all the physical and mental problems to bring this about? Why me? Why allow DNA mutations like this in the first place? I have no idea. I’m curious as to what you understand about this.

        2) No, of course not. He could have chosen another way. But I believe He has His reasons, and I accept that I can’t know what they are (just as I accept I cannot know certain things about the material world).

        3) And now we get to the crux of it, something that often comes up with regard to D.S. children or other disabled people. Here’s the thing — it’s not at all about whether my opportunity to demonstrate love and compassion is “worth the cost.” That’s the wrong question to ask. My son’s live has value regardless of how much or little he suffers and regardless of how well or poorly I handle it. I do not take a utilitarian view where a human life has more or less value depending on how much that human suffers, or what she achieves or doesn’t in life, or how short or long it is, or how many people love her. He is what he is, and I accept that, and I do what I can to help him. I would also never presume to judge for him whether his life is “worth it.” And for what it is worth (heh), he is, despite his disabilities, a very happy child. In many ways, he suffers far less than other children around the world and in this country.

        “There is nothing that can justify your son’s suffering. No excuse, no hidden plan, no greater good. ”

        But how to you KNOW that? That’s my point. I am not expecting you to suddenly convert, still less am I saying that we should all give up trying to reduce or end suffering while we are here on Earth. Instead, I am pointing out that maybe, just maybe, you don’t know everything and your understanding of life is imperfect, incomplete. Just like 3-month-old Beadboy1 could not understand that his heart surgery was necessary so that he could live, or Beadboy2 couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t give him a cookie, perhaps you are not able to see the true purpose of all the suffering we experience.

        “Were I God, with his power and knowledge, the world would not be thus. ”

        You can’t know that either, because you have no idea what it is like to have God’s power and knowledge; you don’t even know (and can’t!) what His knowledge is. God isn’t just a better/smarter/longer-lived version of us. We are made in God’s image, but our mistake is in thinking that God is in our image, that He thinks like us and He understands as much as we do and He values what we value and He should choose to do things the way we would.

        • Darren

          Beadgirl;

          Nicely put. Raincheck?

          • Beadgirl

            Sure, I have a train to catch :>

        • Steve

          Beadgirl. Thanks for sharing. I share Darren’s sentiment in an admission that I’m not 100% comfortable challenging your situation, but that your here and willing to share I take that as permission to bring up the following.

          It is true that viewing the world from an omniscient POV as god might is something that we’re not capable of, though that does not mean we are unable to make any sort of judgments at all. It is possible to posit a world identical to the one we live in now where the suffering of a single person is even slightly less than it is in ours. Not enough to change their fate, or change anyones responses or subsequent actions. It would then be fair to say, under the assumption that less suffering is preferable and better than more suffering, that we can imagine a world preferable and better than the one god has provided.

          Perhaps we learn from suffering, or that such suffering shifts focus to other things in your life you might have missed. Surely, however, such lessons can be learned and taught better. A child need not get hit by a car to learn not to walk in the street. I’m glad to hear your son with DS suffers less than children elsewhere, and I’m glad he’s growing up in an environment where he has the people and resources to look after him. But it’s not difficult to think of a scenario where the specific additional burdens of caring for something with DS didn’t exist. There is a difference between 1) making the best of a situation (which is a good thing of course) and 2) that that situation is optimal in terms of the previously mentioned suffering/joy cost benefit analysis. While it’s important to accept #1 as reality, I feel chalking it up to god’s mysterious ways is letting him off the hook if #1 doesn’t equal #2.

          • http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com Beadgirl

            I get that, Steve, and believe me, I understand how because of suffering people may default to a belief that there is no god. Of course we are capable of making judgments; my point is simply that we may be wrong in those judgments, because we may not have complete information. We can posit a world where there is slightly less suffering, but we can’t really know if there are unforeseen consequences to such a world.

            Now some people may just stick with the information they do have, and make their judgments based on that, and hold that it is pointless to wonder if there is more information out there that might change our judgments. But others may, for whatever reason, wonder (and try to learn) about whether there is information we are missing. And in my case, because of my faith in God, I know (so to speak) that there is a lot of information I am missing, and so I accept that I can’t understand some things about the world.

            Again, my point was not necessarily to convince anyone of the rightness of my opinion, but simply analogize the problem of suffering in a way that shows that the issue could be that we simply don’t know enough or understand enough to definitely understand suffering.

        • Darren

          Beadgirl;

          When refereeing to your son’s suffering, I had in mind the heart surgery and eye surgery. Down’s Syndrome is a delicate topic, and so not part of my initial comment, but it would be fair enough to say that I thought it even if I did not say it.

          By my system, everyone has the meaning they choose to have, and so your son is every bit as valuable, IMO, as anyone else by that score. Certainly I think it unfair because it was un-chosen, but tautologically, if he does not suffer, then it does not count as suffering. I am truly glad.

          The surgeries suffice, but we can include the DS if you like. It reads the same.

          The “God has a plan” theodicy is, IMO, one of the weaker ones. I find it downright silly. I think it is logically incoherent within its own framework. For me, I tend to formulate Omniscience as “God is able to do anything that God chooses to do”; Wikipedia tells me this comes from City of God, lest anyone mistake me for a scholar.

          To say that God could not create a cosmos fulfilling any goal he had and with no natural evil is to contradict this omniscience (in general I use natural evil for any pain, suffering, or all round bad thing not directly the result of human will).

          It is pretty obvious that this thought, combined with the rather horrifying world in which we find ourselves, leads to some uncomfortable conclusions about God’s nature and intentions. Thomas Aquinas certainly noticed, and spent a great deal of time reining that rascally omniscience in and all round making excuses. I don’t buy them, others do. I’ll not win a fight inside a Thomist model, they’ll not win a fight outside of one; there we are.

          You asked, though, how I could _know_ that I, or you, could do better, and I think I can at least ramble on a bit about that.

          The world is filled with humanities’ bad decisions. Filled. Humans are horrible decision makers, how could we ever be trusted to know better than God? I like to think of the movie, “Bruce Almighty”, where Jim Carey is invested with all God’s powers and must then fulfill all God’s responsibilities. He screws it up and learns a valuable lesson, that it is not so easy being God as we might think.

          Non-sense.

          First off, Bruce is given power, but not the infinite knowledge of how to effectively use it. God is not some super-powered Ben Bernacke, doing the best he can riding an elephant along a cliff in the dark.

          Humans make bad decisions all the time, when we act out of ignorance, or greed, or prejudice. But humans also make great decisions, and the effectiveness of those good decisions are only limited by our power to conceive and implement them. No human level intellect could ever crate a world free of evil and suffering, it is too complicated, but even I could make a better one that you see here, and what does that say about God? I’m just not that smart…

          How would I make a better world? Simple. On my first day, I would imagine the world, exactly as it is today.

          On my second day, I would get rid of Malaria.

          Best regards;

          • Beadgirl

            Thanks for the response, Darren. I can see how “God has a plan” can seem like a cop-out, but for me it is either that or “everything is meaningless” (and I am grossly simplifying, here, because I want to be brief). I can’t determine on my own which of those is true, but I have to pick, and this is where my background comes in — the fact that I was raised Catholic; the fact that I have a belief in God; the fact that I have seen people “annealed” by suffering (whether that suffering comes from human action or nature); the fact that I find the former more comforting than the latter; and most importantly that when I look around the world and see happiness and suffering, beauty and ugliness, ballets that move me to tears and books on quantum theory that make me marvel at how very very weird our world is, “God made the universe” just makes more sense to me than “everything is the result of random fluctuations at the beginning of space/time.”

            As for getting rid of malaria: I’m not trying to be annoying here, but are you absolutely, 100% positive that a world without malaria is a world that is better than ours, that there would be no long-term, grand-scale, take-the-very-very-very-long-view bad consequences? It’s kind of like alternative history — “what if Hitler had won???” — we can imagine a world different from ours, and it can be lots of fun (and God knows I’ve spent a lot of time thinking how the world would be better if everyone would just listen to me) but I think we cannot know for sure that what we imagine is what would actually happen. Nobody is smart enough or intuitive enough to take into account 13+ billion years of history and every possible factor to declare “this version of the universe would be absolutely, positively better than what God has supposedly created.”

          • Beadgirl

            Yeah, that was “brief.”

          • Darren

            Beadgirl;

            I think everyone has a right to believe whatever makes their life better, so more power to you on that, I would not change it if I could.

            As for getting rid of malaria: I’m not trying to be annoying here, but are you absolutely, 100% positive that a world without malaria is a world that is better than ours, that there would be no long-term, grand-scale, take-the-very-very-very-long-view bad consequences? It’s kind of like alternative history — “what if Hitler had won???” — we can imagine a world different from ours, and it can be lots of fun (and God knows I’ve spent a lot of time thinking how the world would be better if everyone would just listen to me) but I think we cannot know for sure that what we imagine is what would actually happen. Nobody is smart enough or intuitive enough to take into account 13+ billion years of history and every possible factor to declare “this version of the universe would be absolutely, positively better than what God has supposedly created.”

            For your amusement, the funniest alternate history comic ever.

            You are absolutely correct, though, that unforeseen consequences lurk beneath the most seemingly straightforward changes. Cane Toad, Kudzu, the automobile (originally considered a solution to the problem of millions of tons of horse dung on city streets).

            Malaria is a “gimmee”, an easy one, though. It is a parasite that lives in only two places on earth, the salivary glands of a mosquito and a human’s bloodstream. Nothing eats it, it provides no advantage to the mosquito, and other than possibly exerting selection pressure on humans to evolve sickle-cell anemia as a protective measure (which itself is arguably worse than the Malaria) it certainly does not benefit us. Further, if we think it might have some unforeseen benefit, then for God’s sake somebody tell Bill Gates because he has dedicated his retirement to eradicating Malaria, and he has a pretty good shot at doing it in the next ten years. We have already gone from ~ 1 million dead per year to ~ 600K, so good for him.

            That was not even a weird one like re-wiring the nervous systems of all prey animals to avoid predators exactly as they currently do, but to not be in mortal terror while doing so, and should they be caught, to continue to struggle for freedom, but not to endure agonizing pain as they are rent to pieces…

          • Beadgirl

            My favorite: http://xkcd.com/1063/

            You know quite a bit more about Malaria than I do. I guess we the best we can do is hope (pray?) Gates doesn’t ruin the world. :>

            Is the latter one, re-wiring prey animals, even possible? That sounds like wishful thinking to me, far too complicated for us to attempt. Oh! You are going to say God should be able to do it! Only if it is not logically impossible. Ah well.

          • Darren

            Yes, love me some xkcd, thanks for sharing. One more thing Leah has introduced me to.

            Well, now you know about as much about Malaria as I do.

            Yes, the animal thing would probably require greater than human intelligence, or at least greater than my intelligence. As a purely speculative matter, a weakly God-like AI armed with some nano-tech could probably manage it.

            I might be easier to program lions to eat tofu and give birth control pills to zebras, though… :)

          • Steve

            Beadgirl & D… Something else to consider is that we’re already taking it upon ourselves to eliminate or at least severely reduce Malaria already. That Darren Almighty might eliminate it in one swoop speaks to the convenience of omnipotence, rather than a questioning of whether or not he should do it in the first place. We don’t question ‘what ifs’ when we distribute bed nets to prevent being stung at night and make medicines more available.

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

    Darren,
    Just to let you know. I did read Chapter 8 of Hallquist’s book. It does get a bit better. He focuses on William Lane Craig. I have not been into his stuff too much. In a way I respect him. I would never try and claim to be able to prove the existence of God in any forum let alone in a debate with a well known atheist. He does it and more often than not wins the debate. That is pretty good.

    The trouble is I don’t really believe in verbal debate as a way of arriving at truth. There are too many rhetorical tactics that work well to sway audiences but actually are not useful for discerning truth. Craig uses many of these. Hallquist points some out. Like cherry picking quotes from your opponents. Craig does that. Hallquist complains. The trouble is it works. Many of these tactics border on dishonesty. Again I blame the forum more than I blame Craig. You spring something that is slightly skewed at a debate and you can put your opponent off balance.

    As for the content of the arguments. Hallquist shows why such arguments are difficult. Skepticism is easy. If you doubt me try and prove the theory of evolution to a skeptic. I don’t deny evolution. I am just trying to find an analogy for how hard it is to argue with someone who starts by saying all the fossils are probably forgeries and all the scientists are probably dishonest.

    Craig does skip a few steps. Again, is it because of the nature of verbal debate? Hallquist says even his scholarly papers are not much different. That would be disappointing because many of the problems are not drawing all the needed distinctions. Say with the moral argument. He states as a premise that moral absolutes come from God. That is not quite right. If he makes it more precise then his argument does not prove God. It just proves some immaterial reality.

    Like pre-conversion Leah believed in the existence of virtues. So then she has to ask where did virtues come from? Why should humans order their lives towards these virtues? How can we know what they are? For Leah those questions did eventually lead her to God. For many that will be true. But that process is nontrivial. Still Hallquist just stops at the fact that you have not proved God exists. He does not seem to get the significance of the fact that the moral argument, if you accept the other premise, does prove the existence of something supernatural.

    Anyway, chapter 8 was better. Hallquist points out real problems with one theist’s arguments. That is something Theists benefit from. We don’t expect secular society to respect Christianity. We do expect Christianity to be logical. So the fact that Craig is not held in high esteem by the intellectual elite means very little. Seeing evidence that he is not careful in his reasoning is quite a concern. He is supposed to be a scholar. Still the fact that Dawkins knows Craig would destroy him in a debate is quite amusing. Again, so what? But it is fun to see him squirm.

    • ACN

      “If you doubt me try and prove the theory of evolution to a skeptic.”

      http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

      I suspect you don’t mean “a skeptic”. I suspect you actually a mean an indoctrinated YEC. Darwin and Huxley actually DID have to convince the skeptics. And they succeeded.

      • Fr.Sean

        ACN,
        I would imagine you probably know that many if not most Christians are not the “young world type”. I would also suspect that you believe the evolutionary theory is a scientific estimate about how many things came about although because it is an estimate it’s not an exact science? In all honesty, i’m not trying to argue with you, I’m just curious? If many Monotheists believe much of evolution is true, than why do you contrast evolutionary theory with monotheism?

        • Darren

          Fr. Sean said;

          ”ACN, I would imagine you probably know that many if not most Christians are not the “young world type”.”

          Fr. Sean, I am afraid you are mistaken and ACN is correct:

          ”PRINCETON, NJ — Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God’s guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.”
          ~Gallup – 2012

          If you look at “real” Christians, as Randy has described them in previous comments, the figure goes up to 67% belief in YEC.

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

        Actually atheists are not always skeptics. On a lot of subjects they are willing to weigh evidence quite reasonably. Just when the subject of God comes up the burden of proof goes sky high. Much like the burden of proof for a YEC goes sky high when discussing evolution. Actually I don’t think anyone is always skeptical. Maybe someone in an insane asylum might be.

        • Darren

          Randy said;

          ”Just when the subject of God comes up the burden of proof goes sky high.”

          Oh? Have you seen me demand a higher standard for: God exhists -> he made the cosmos -> he is capable and motivated to interact with we, his creations -> he has established rules we must/should live by -> those rules were written down in one, and only one, particular book -> he gave that book to the Catholic Church for safekeeping; .vs. the statement, “The Sun will almost certainly rise tomorrow”?

          I’m pretty certain I have applied a similar standard of evidence to both claims. Please do correct me if I am mistaken.

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

            Actually, I do. I am not saying atheists are way different from others. I see Calvinists demanding a higher standard of evidence when you try and show them Calvinism is wrong. I am even not naive enough to suppose I am immune to this although I try and be fair. It is the human interaction between reasoning while holding on to foundational beliefs. This is why Catholicism matters. If humans can’t avoid privileging certain foundational hypothesis then we need some infallible place to get those from.

            BTW, we don’t believe God’s rules were written down in one and only one book. We believe they are written on our hearts. They are in many religions. Just that those are imperfect approximations of God’s will. Scripture, tradition, and the magisterium gives us the fullness of God’s truth.

  • http://jackhudson.wordpress.com Jhudstone

    When I see the complaint about the varities of suffering and evil, I am reminded of the line from Anna Karenina that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. The principles that can prevent much suffering are fairly straighforward, the creative evil of humans is endless. How God uses that evil and suffering to bring about ultimate good would be expected to be just as multifaceted. I don’t think the exitence of multiple theodicies makes any of them any less useful in understanding why they exist.

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  • Darren

    Testing, testing. “Duplicate comment detected”, but comment not displaying?

    Banhammer? Oh, poop.

    • Darren

      OK, not banned. Technical glitch?

      • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

        I get “you are posting comments too quickly” a lot (surprise, surprise, right?), and this green “Oops!” error message saying they think I’m requesting too many pages too quickly (as if I were part of a DDOS attack or something?) about half the times I try to click on any Patheos page using my Droid phone.

        • Darren

          I get the too quickly message often, I just reload and it goes through.

          This is different. A single comment, it appears to go through, but then does not display. Does not matter if I post as a reply (originally) or at the bottom of the thread. Eventually, I get a duplicate comment error message. Odd. There does not appear to be any wonky html in the message, one hyperlink, that is all. Maybe something in the link itself?

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Perhaps. When that happens, my advice is to replace the html with instructions about how best to google whatever it is.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Sorry. Replace the link, not the html.

          • Darren

            That seems to have fixed the problem… I wonder if it was the “.aspx” suffix on the link…

  • Darren

    Irenist said;

    ”The upshot is that Dennett’s argumentation (which is about things like the way English-speakers employ the word “voice”) has impressed me very much, and might lead me to abandon Thomism. Whether a non-Thomist Catholicism is salvageable for me is an open, and obviously fraught question in my life. You’re not dealing (entirely, anyway) with unpersuadable Catholics on this blog, Steve.”

    Well, you are an exceptionally reasonable person, and by reasonable I mean that you listen, sift the arguments, and update your beliefs when that is warranted.

    I am just stunned, though. Thomism is a pretty formidable fortress…

    Off to read Quining Qualia myself…

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      Darren,

      Well, you are an exceptionally reasonable person, and by reasonable I mean that you listen, sift the arguments, and update your beliefs when that is warranted.

      That’s kind of you to say. (Although it’s depressing to contemplate that those qualities might be those of someone “exceptionally” reasonable.)

      I am just stunned, though.

      Imagine how I feel! My reentry into the Church was not pleasant. I felt crazy even contemplating such claims. Further, I was pretty deeply involved in my local Democratic Party, holding minor elected intra-party office, attending the state convention as a delegate, etc., and had entertained daydreams of getting involved in (left liberal) politics since I was a kid. Once I became persuaded that the Church was right to be pro-life, I knew I had to surrender that dream. (Especially since my conversion did nothing to alter my views on the correctness, e.g., of Keynesian economics and non-neo-conservative foreign policy, so I couldn’t just go become a Republican.)
      .
      With that experience in mind, the thought of going through a de-conversion back to atheism (but now alongside my wife whom I met on the “Catholic Match” website) is not a pleasant prospect. But if I can’t follow the truth where it leads, what good am I to anyone?

      Thomism is a pretty formidable fortress…

      True. It’s going to take me a lot of reading and thinking before I know how this all shakes out.

      Off to read Quining Qualia myself…

      You’ll like it. IIRC, I found a link to a free copy on Dennett’s Wikipedia page.

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

        Count me among the stunned. I shall pray for you. Not sure how many good Thomists you know. You might try and e-mail Bryan Cross from this site:

        http://www.calledtocommunion.com/

        God bless you brother.

        • Darren

          Dude, Irenist _is_ the best Thomist I know.

          (no disrespect intended towards Brandon Watson, who Irenist says is even better, I just haven’t seen as much from him on this blog).

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

          Randy,

          I shall pray for you.

          Thank you, Randy. That’s a great comfort.

          Not sure how many good Thomists you know.

          Personally? None. That’s part of why I hang out here.

      • MountainTiger

        If there isn’t a wiki link, Chris Hallquist linked to it not too long ago.

      • Darren

        Did I ever tell you that around the time we first began speaking that I made an attempt to change my mind in regards to Thomism and the RCC? You were a persuasive advocate for that path.

        Ultimately I did not do so, for reasons we have since discussed, but I still find it a very appealing system. I confess that the prospect of explaining to my wife that I would be going to Mass from then on was not the most appealing thought. :}

        Either way it shakes out you’ll still be the same great person.

      • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

        I found a link to a free copy on Dennett’s Wikipedia page

        Dennett keeps most of his papers on his Center for Cognitive Studies website:

        http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/incpages/publctns.shtml

        (QQ is 1988.) Almost anything of his up to about 1995 is worth reading (although sometimes it requires a sense of the disputes at the time, particularly those involved in Dennett’s endless arguments with Fodor), and a fair number of things afterward.

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