A Progressive Approach to the Problem of Evil

A couple of weeks ago, a blogger identifying herself as TXBlue08 had a post on CNN titled Why I Raise My Children Without God. It went viral, and it’s now approaching 10,000 comments. You can read it for yourself – you probably already have – but it mostly boils down to the classic argument from evil: how can you believe in an all powerful and loving God when there is so much suffering in the world.

Of course, no argument from evil could be complete until a progressive Christian shows up to tell us we’ve got God all wrong. Enter Ellen Painter Dollar, a neighbor in the Progressive Christian wing.

Any Christian who tells you that God orchestrates or allows terrible suffering for some grand purpose is lying. The notions that “everything happens for a reason” or that “God just needed another angel” or “God gave me cancer so I would become a better person” are not from the Bible. They are bullshit.

What a joy it is to finally have someone who can set us straight.

There are some standard moves in the argument from evil. In response to the question of suffering, Dollar mentions free will. But when the question of natural evil shows up, we get this:

If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally.

Here, she seems to be confusing the Bible with the Declaration of Independence.

I’m a big fan of snark, but let’s not mistake it for an argument. This is the standard next step in the argument, and Dollar seems to miss it.

Heart defects and other natural problems cannot be the fault of our free will. Why was the universe created in such a way that even those who have had no chance to use their free will must suffer? If you don’t believe that God created the universe, then why does an omnipotent being allow the innocent to suffer the effect of disabilities and disasters? Free will may explain Sandy Hook, but not the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

I think that Dollar wants TXBlue08 to shift away from the classical model of God, where omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence are necessary to be worthy of worship. Instead, she wants a shift towards a more progressive model of God, but that is much harder to define. This would solve the problem of natural evil, but it’s not easy to see how one is supposed to grasp this new model.

Partly, her God seems like a mental construct. We create an idea of God and believe in that idea to inspire us and make ourselves feel better. Dollar admits that honest Christians don’t know how or if prayer works, but use it as a way of coping, “When I tell God how sad or angry I am, when I lean on God, I feel better. I feel less alone.”

Fair enough. But even as an idea her God seems to be conflicted. Dollar says that we don’t understand prayer and we don’t understand how God works. She invokes Job to say that, “God is God and we are us.” Alright, so as one interpretation of Job explains, God is beyond our mortal categories. As God told Isaiah, His thoughts are above our thoughts as heaven is above the earth.

So God is above human ideas and we don’t understand him – except to say that he is “loving, just, merciful”. Here we end up with a Karen Armstrong style contradiction: God is beyond human understanding, and we know that He loves us. It leaves me with the feeling that God’s ineffable nature only applies when it is convenient for the argument. All other times human categories can be attached to God with absolute conviction.

It makes sense to say that if you are going to define your own God, why not make it an upbeat one. But then why the retreat to vagueness whenever God is called upon to be more than an invisible friend? It seems that this God can do little more than a supportive friend or a therapist could, so why tie yourself into these mental knots worshiping Him?

  • Barry

    There is an argument to made that even natural evils are in some sense the result of free will as well. Greg Boyd argues that in a warfare view of evil and sufffering that natural evil can be explained by the use of free will by agents other than God. The idea that satanic forces have an impact on the physical world is within the orthodox tradition and bypasses the idea of an all determining God.

    Now you can argue that this makes God less than omnipotent like most calvinists would, but that is merely presupposing that omnipotence means meticulous control of the universe. Others would argue that this makes God less than omnibenevolent, but that presupposes that God isn’t justified in allowing the potential for evil in creating free will. Both of these arguments have been debated on this site for years and won’t be settled in a post. My simple contention is that natural evil can be fit into a free will theodicy logically even if the argument as a whole is rejected by either a certain types of theist or an atheist.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      I reject that presupposing omnipotence means omnipotence is anything but entirely correct. Words have meanings. This god, in our common understanding, includes the characteristic omnipotence and omnipotence includes meticulous control of the universe (or at least the capacity for it). “All powerful” can’t also mean “somewhat powerful”. As for benevolence, being allegedly justified in allowing evil to occur still conflicts with any claim to such. You can’t say benevolence might include finding some reason to allow people to suffer. A judge might be justified in passing the maximum sentence, but when he does, that makes him not benevolent. Again, you’re assuming that assuming words actually mean what they mean is somehow a fallacy.

      I also reject that natural evils like heart defects can be held to be the responsibility of free will. If this God is the creator, and omnipotent (and the word actually means what it means) then presumably it created these Satanic forces (or allows them to exist), knowing what sort of things they would get up to, and unleashed them on people who have absolutely no choice but to be born disabled or have the ground beneath their feet shake and destroy their home. If we’re going to say evil is the result of free will, but specifically the free will of agents unseen, created by god, and impossible for humans to prevent having their way with them, then it makes human free will meaningless and god remains an omnipotent asshole.

      • kessy_athena

        I would argue that omnipotence is a logically incoherent and self contradictory concept. As the old saw goes, can god create a boulder so heavy even he cannot lift it? It honestly puzzles me why people are still clinging to the notion of omnipotence centuries after it was shown to be meaningless.

        My impression of theoidiocy:

        “Dude, that was the awesomest concert ever!”
        “Hmmm, well, since the universe is infinite, then that concert must have been infinitely awesome, and further must be unique in its infinite awesomeness. Therefore the band must be infinitely awesome, but further must only have been infinitely awesome at that particular moment…” and so on and so on and so on.

        The entire discussion is simply the product of attempting to apply rigorous logic to an idea that was never logical at all to begin with. Is it any wonder the result is complete gibberish?

        • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

          Omnipotence may be logically incoherent, but the word still means something. Meticulous control of the universe is not self-contradictory and it can be understood what it means, and such a power falls within the definition of all power. I agree that the concept of omnipotence is problematic, but I’m not the one completely redefining the word just because the ramifications of it are inconvenient. The problem of evil is always going to result in gibberish answers if someone tries to hold two mutually incompatible concepts to be correct.

      • Barry

        Omnipotence obviously entails the possibility to have meticulous control, but it doesn’t necessitate the use of such power. I have the power to crush a grasshopper, my witholding of destruction isn’t an inability to do so.

        I would argue the a judge that passes a maximum sentence may be acting in a benevolent manner. He could be protecting society or preserving justice, etc. If I failed a test and a teacher gave me an A to feel better, Id feel great but that teacher wouldn’t have been acting benevolently. Benevolence is directly tied to love and justice. If that same judge passes the minimum sentence would the victim feel like the judge was benevolent even if the criminal did?

        People born into abusive homes don’t make a free will choice to be born there, but yet I would say that they are morally culpable if they make a free will choice to abuse when they are older. In the same way we may not have control over all of our circumstance like living in a world that is screwed up by malevolent forces, but the fact that we don’t have control over everything doesn’t mean that other free agents couldn’t have caused such tradgedies such as natural evil.

        I would also argue that much of our lives our determined but that free will may presuppose that truth. I’d be lost in trouble if i had to choose to have blood flow through my heart or have to choose to keep gravity going. Free will is significant even if it limited.

        • Nox

          That doesn’t fix the problem at all.

          If you don’t do something that you have the capacity to do, that represents a choice you are making.

          If an omnipotent god exists, everything that happens or doesn’t happen represents a choice that god is making.

          If there is something he can’t do, he is not omnipotent. If there is something he couldn’t do any other way, he is not omnipotent. If there is some prior condition determining how he must act, he is not omnipotent. If there is any factor outside his power determining the outcome of events, he is not omnipotent.

          If a god is omnipotent, he decided how he would act in the situation, and he decided what the situation would be in the first place.

          In an unsupervised universe, innocent people dying from diseases and natural disasters, are examples of the unfortunate effects of sh*tty luck and unconscious processes. In a micromanaged universe, innocent people dying from diseases and natural disasters, are examples of god murdering people.

          • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

            Exactly. Barry, what do you think ‘omnipotence’ actually means? You seem to be determined to have your cake and eat it.

            • Barry

              Omnipotence=the ability for God to do anything that is logically possible and within His nature.

              Omnipotence only meets a paradox when you assume it is absolute without parameter.
              1. The logically possible. The inability for God to create square circles or married bachelors is not a knock on his omnipotence because they represent a form of logical absurdity. Hence the rock so heavy to lift argument is a straw man because represents the same type of logical absurdity as asking could God create a being greater than himself.

              2. The morally possible. Now you may claim you don’t agree with the morality of the biblical God for any # of reasons, but even the biblical God claims not be able to certain things such as lie because it is contrary to His nature. Even the Biblical God doesn’t claim to be omnipotent in the absolute way that you define it.

              If you choose to take the definitions of Augustine and Calvin on omnipotence and make them the standard for Christianity that’s your perogative, but i think you’ve missed a great deal of history of Christian thought both before and after them. Your choice to define omniptotence as absolute then becomes a straw man by charging God with pseudo tasks and then finding omnipotence to be paradoxical.

            • Custador

              You’re ignoring the fact that in order for 2 to work, you have to define “moral” as “whatever God says moral means”. The character of “God” in the Bible lies, cheats and steals. He condones slavery, rape amd genocide. He does a lot of things thay every human knows to be immoral. Therefore your argument is bunk.

            • UrsaMinor

              You’re arguing that your god is not the final authority in the universe, then, if there are things (like aforementioned laws of logic) which limit his actions. I.e., a deity subject to such constraints is a finite being.

            • kessy_athena

              My basic question is why is this argument relevant or important in any way? Why cling to the term omnipotence when it’s quite clear to me that most christians have abandoned the concept attached to the term? The argument that I’ve heard (usually in response to no boundary proposals on the origin of the universe) is that Yahweh created the laws of nature which govern the operation of the universe. This would imply that Yahweh also created the rules of logic. How could an omnipotent being be unable to break laws that it created itself?

              “Omni” means everything, all. It is, by definition, an absolute sort of term. If you’re going to say that omnipotence doesn’t *really* mean omnipotence, why continue to use the term?

    • Tony Debono

      I would start by rejecting the presupposition that the concept of “natural evil” is even coherent. It is, in fact, a grossly anthropocentric, and logically illegitimate term typically used to denote events which happen to be unfortunate for humans and our ways of life. In reality, the very same kinds of events (earth quakes, volcanic eruptions, extreme weather, cosmic impacts, star ‘deaths’ etc) were crucial to creating the elements and conditions which were suitable for the spawning and evolution of life. Even diseases can play roles which are beneficial in the long run. And much of the time the same kinds of events – although terrible for some – continue to be crucial for producing conditions (environments, biodiversity, nutrient cycles, energy distributions, etc) which happen to enable most life to persist.

      • David Evans

        What you say is true in the real world. But we are postulating an omnipotent God, who is prepared to intervene on the largest scale when he wants to wipe out almost all of humanity. I imagine such a God could produce the conditions he wants on Earth without going through all the tedious and dangerous business of plate tectonics. If, that is, he cares about human suffering at all.

  • kessy_athena

    “…’Cuz I’d tell God, ‘Because I’m not omnipotent, asshole.’” To which God would reply, “And what makes you think I am?”

    • FO

      “Your followers yelling all the time that you are, duh!”

      • kessy_athena

        “Well they’re just idiots – they decided that all on their own.”

        • DMG

          I wonder what else they decided all on their own…

          • kessy_athena

            “Pretty much everything. All I was trying to do was tell them not to eat undercooked pork.”

            • Elemenope

              Hah!

              Well, if you were space aliens and you wanted to make sure that a primitive tribe paid attention to your instructions long after you left, how would you do it?

            • UrsaMinor

              I believe the standard approach is to carve huge cryptic drawings that can only be deciphered from the air in the chalk on a sparsely populated windswept plateau in a high-altitude desert on an out-of-the-way continent.

            • kessy_athena

              I’m thinking the conversation went something like this:

              “So, you don’t want us to eat this pig?”
              “No, no, I’m just saying you should cook it thoroughly before you eat it.”
              “So we just burn the outside and eat the rest?”
              “No, you have to make sure to heat *all* of the meat enough to kill the Trichinosis.”
              “A tricky whatsits?”
              “It’s a parasitic worm that makes you sick if you eat it.”
              “But we’d never eat meat with worms in it! Do you think we’re stupid or something?”
              “The worms are too small to see.”
              “How can a worm be too small to see?”
              “Argh! Look, it’s… you just have to cook it right.”
              “so do we use the metal pot or the clay pot to cook it right?”
              “………..Okay, let me make it simple for you. Pigs are dirty, okay? So just don’t eat them.”
              “But we washed it and…”
              “Pigs are unclean because god said so!”
              “Ohhhhhhh, well why didn’t you just say so in the first place?”

            • Elemenope

              LOLOLOL

  • Tony Debono

    Dollar’s response is the ever-more-popular “That’s not the God I believe in either” trope devised solely and dishonestly to let their God construct off the hook for everything remotely negative, claiming it’s all a mystery…except somehow it’s no mystery (i.e. they “know” by Faith) that God is loving and just, etc. It’s a classic post-modern escape hatch, and anyone who is put off by their understanding of God is simply unsophisticated.

  • http://jobsanger.blogspot.com/ Ted McLaughlin

    I always find it strange when any christian tries to use the book of Job to say anything good about god. That is the book that destroyed my faith in religion or a god. Why would anyone even want to believe in the god depicted in that book — a god that would cause (or allow) such horrible things to happen, just to win a bet with the devil?

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      What troubles me about this is that it belies a rather cruel and authoritarian attitude that lies secretly (or not to secretly) at the centre of Christianity. Often the argument from evil and concern with suffering is swept aside as an unsophisticated trifle, as though it is immature to expect god to make your life easier. God’s purpose is higher than you, god’s thoughts and actions are higher than you, so you have no basis for complaint when used as a pawn. I would argue from the opposite end – it is absurd to be ok with this being making your life harder or allowing you to suffer when next to no effort on its part could alleviate that suffering.

      Apologists for Job seem to be suggesting that it’s ok for god to treat you however he wants; in essence, might makes right. If you suffer because of god’s action or inaction, sad day for you, but don’t ever think of complaining about it or you’ll be the bad guy. Shut up and accept it.

  • Bob Jase

    “God is beyond human understanding, and we know that He loves us. ”

    And he needs money! The late George Carlin knew that was the universal trait of all gods.

  • vini

    I’ve seen Christians argue that natural suffering exists because Adam and Eve chose to screw everything up (using their free will), and so now we must all pay the consequences. To which I respond, so where’s my own free will to not want to be bound to my supposed forefathers’ spiritual fuck-ups?

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      That’s essentially what I was saying to Barry, above, but unfortunately he does not seem to want to listen. Christians tend to get uncomfortable when the consequences of their logic is pointed out to them, which is probably a good thing – it shows they’re not really the monsters their god would want of them.

  • brian.pansky

    indeed:
    lightning, spider bites, cancer, appendicitis, tornadoes, effing UV radiation from the sun…the list goes on and on.

  • trj

    why does an omnipotent being allow the innocent to suffer the effect of disabilities and disasters?

    Why indeed. But it’s not as if that question seems to bother Christians. After all, it has been a central theme of Christianity and Judaism from the start – apparently to a point where it’s seen as just and fitting that we’re punished for the sins of others (see: Original Sin). And whenever this twisted doctrine is challenged it’s defended by denigrating humanity as unfit and undeserving.

    Fuck that. The Bible’s sense of justice and culpability is a joke.

  • Rich

    Why would anyone want to believe in the God depicted in the book of Job? The kind of God who, after allowing him to suffer great loss, restored him to a place where he was more blessed than he had been before, and lived a further one hundred and forty years in that place of blessing.
    It is all too easy, and very understandable, to ask how an all-powerful and loving God could allow many kinds of loss and tragedy in our lives. That question is ultimately unanswerable from our limited human standpoint.
    In times of adversity we are prone to lose sight of the bigger picture, temporarily forgetting our countless blessings, and (if we had been believers in God) our faith may be severely tested, but I would suggest that it is far too simple, and probably naive, to conclude that, because there is so much unjust suffering in the world, there can’t be an all-powerful and loving God because if there was He would have prevented all suffering from happening in the first place.

    • Gwynnyd

      Why would anyone want to believe in the God depicted in the book of Job? The kind of God who, after allowing him to suffer great loss, restored him to a place where he was more blessed than he had been before, and lived a further one hundred and forty years in that place of blessing.

      and god gave Job a whole new set of wives and children that were just as good as his old ones because women and children are always interchangeable and have no worth in and of themselves. I spit on that god.

    • Elemenope

      That same God, of course, wussed out on actually answering Job’s question. That and, as Gwynnyd points out above his disturbing tendency to treat humans like replacement goldfish, calls into serious question how such a being’s moral sense could possibly be compatible with human flourishing.

      Honestly, I think a God of the sort presented in Job is much easier to believe exists than the standard conception usually squeezed from the Bible more generally, precisely because he’s sort of a dick who fails to understand the phenomenological immediacy of suffering; only a moral idiot would be so callous as to presume that paying a guy off with goodies would make up for the indelible experience of being brutally tortured and having one’s family killed. Since the universe seems as oblivious to the moral valence of the intentional infliction of suffering as the character of God in the book of Job, there’s less room for metaphysical friction. Shortly, if God is conceded to be a prick, the problem of evil pretty much falls away.

      Then you’re just left with the equally difficult ethical problem of whether it is appropriate to actually worship such a being. Neither power nor knowledge themselves have any intrinsic moral value, so the notion that God is a very–even insuperably–powerful and knowledgeable being doesn’t get you anywhere. The fact of creation is likewise morally neutral, since after the instance of creation the consequence of the creation departs from the intension of the creator; this is only intensified by the ready evidence that the purported creation we are talking about includes so much capacity for suffering and moral evil that one can easily be forgiven for calling it a massively incompetent construction if its motivating intension is to produce something of substantial moral value, as those first chapters in Genesis seem to suggest. One is left, rather, merely with the question of attrition. Is it morally good to bow, scrape, and worship a being merely because it can smite you or make you suffer if you irritate it with your insouciant doubts?

      • kessy_athena

        This is the main reason I like the classical Greco-Roman pantheon. The Greeks were always entirely up front about the fact that the gods can be total pricks at times. They have their own lives, their own interests, and sometimes can be mean, selfish, and manipulative. In other words, they’re people like everyone else. From that perspective, the Christian notion that Yahweh is always on your side and always looking out for you is basically putting a cosmic “Kick Me” sign on your back and inviting Eris (or some other less then pleasant deity) to use your life as a plaything. Which, if you think about it, is kind of what happened to Western civilization as a whole, dontchya think?

      • Brian K

        This is why I (semi-jokingly) call myself Gnostic. The demiurge as a monumentally incompetent and flawed creator makes sense.

  • Brian M

    What bigger picture justifies a deity punishing FOR ETERNITY sentient beings who He himself make unable to believe in him (because the evidence is in no way at all as clear and convincing as Christians claim, or there would be no other religions, instead of thousands).

    This doctrine, which is NOT of the vindictive Old Testament version of Yahweh but a fervid creation of Jesus, alone puts to lie your argument. Your deity is not WORTHY of worship, it is a vindicitve monster, because it itself created the Video Game it is playing with the universe. It makes the rules. It is omnipotent.

    I’m sure the hundreds of thousands of Haitians are comforted by the Big Picture which required them to lose everything.

    Your argument is basically “Shut up and believe what we tell you. Just because”. My choice is either disbelief, or a Gnosticism which recognizes how monstrous your Demiurge deity really is. Of course, the wonderful Christian church committed a holocaust against those who asked these questions, but luckily it no longer has the temporal power to do so.

  • kennypo65

    25,000 children will die of starvation today. That has nothing to to with any god; that fault lies entirely with us. We are responsible for most of the evil in the world, not some imaginary deity. Until we straighten up, we have no right to blame anyone else. Blaming god or gods is just a cop out.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      No, blaming fallible, mortal humans who are not omnipotent is a cop out for anybody who believes in a powerful and loving deity. I can’t wave a magic wand and feed those 25,000 children. Neither can you. Together, we still can’t defeat droughts that wreck harvests, floods that wash away crops, and other natural phenomenon that cause famines. We would also have to deal with human greed and war, something that this supposed creator god didn’t see fit to make not part of our fallen character.

      The only thing I agree with you about is that starvation has nothing to do with god, but that’s only because there is no evidence such a being exists. If it did, it can’t blame us for its own failings. It literally, by definition, has no excuse.

  • Keulan

    It both saddens and amuses me to see theists try to reason around the Problem of Evil, twisting themselves into knots trying to explain why their supposedly loving god allows suffering to happen. However, I’d much rather see them address the bigger problem with the god they claim exists- the complete lack of evidence for its existence.

  • Rich

    If there is a God, who is powerful enough to create this universe and ourselves out of nothing, with an infinitely greater mind than ourselves, why should we expect that empirical evidence can be produced for His existence?
    And what difference would it make in our attitude towards the existence of suffering if God’s existence were empirical proven?
    On the other hand, if there were empirical evidence that God does not exist, the question “Why does an all-powerful , benevolent God allow suffering?” could not be asked, and so the question changes to a straightforward “Why is there suffering and injustice in the world?” The answer to some of this is that people are responsible, but what is the cause of the other kinds of suffering which appears arbitrary??

    • Len

      … but what is the cause of the other kinds of suffering which appears arbitrary??

      It sounds like you’re heading down the “everything happens for a reason” road, which typically ends up at “therefore (my specific) god”.

      • Rich

        I was actually interested to know if you as atheists/agnostics have an explanation of the origin of arbitrary suffering (natural evil) or if you just say “We don’t know, life’s not fair.”
        :)

        • UrsaMinor

          Sure. It’s an inevitable consequence of living in a universe full of stochastic processes.

          The word “evil” can’t be applied to events like hurricanes and volcanic eruptions unless there is a conscious moral agent directly responsible for them, but they can certainly cause suffering.

          • Rich

            Ok – thanks. Stochastic is a new one to me :)

          • kessy_athena

            Slight tangent, Ursa. Strictly speaking, stochastic refers to things that act in a probabilistic way, right? So would a process that is truly unpredictable and completely random be stochastic?

            • trj

              A random process is always stochastic. The other way round I think (!) you’re justified in calling a process stochastic even if it’s only partially random.

            • UrsaMinor

              A stochastic process is one that involves several random variables, any or all of which may follow a probabilistic distribution in their outcomes (typically some kind of bell curve distributed around a mean value), but the interaction of those variables means that the overall outcome of the process is nondeterministic; it can take on any of a set of final values even for the same initial conditions, and cannot be predicted.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      “If there is a God, who is powerful enough to create this universe and ourselves out of nothing, with an infinitely greater mind than ourselves, why should we expect that empirical evidence can be produced for His existence?”

      That question is coming at the problem a little backwards – the question is why is there no evidence for that being’s existence and significant evidence that this universe could have formed through natural processes? If we’re going to posit the existence of something, first it should have a shred of evidence, otherwise we’re just guessing completely at random, a la Russel’s Teapot. An omnipotent being that creates a universe that looks, smells, and tastes exactly like it was made naturally, and never interferes in said universe in a detectable way, becomes irrelevant to that universe.

      “And what difference would it make in our attitude towards the existence of suffering if God’s existence were empirical proven?”

      It would make us call him an asshole, like the image in the OP suggests. If god’s existence were proven, god has to assume responsibility for its creation. Atheists tend to hold god accountable to begin with, but be careful not to confuse this with a presupposition that god does exist – it is simply a thought experiment, positing that IF god exists, THEN it is responsible for the suffering in the world.

      “if there were empirical evidence that God does not exist, the question “Why does an all-powerful , benevolent God allow suffering?” could not be asked,”

      Sure it could. Why did Darth Vader allow Luke Skywalker to blow up the Death Star? I just asked a question about three things we have empirical evidence for the non-existence of. That evidence comes in the form of scripts and notes written by their creator, who was making a hodgepodge of earlier mythologies and archetypes to tell his own story. I wonder who else might have tried that.

      “and so the question changes to a straightforward “Why is there suffering and injustice in the world?” The answer to some of this is that people are responsible, but what is the cause of the other kinds of suffering which appears arbitrary??”

      I disagree that it is necessary to change the question, because the previous question is actually answerable. However, this one is answerable, too – lots of things cause suffering in the world, including the decisions of other people and natural processes that make bad things happen to the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. As UrsaMinor points out, there’s a word for that. The problem of evil, like so many issues regarding an all-powerful, loving god, is so much simpler to explain if you remove the god from the equation.

      I’d also like to point out that UrsaMinor is correct, ‘evil’ as a motivation is not really the right word for natural phenomena like cancer and storms and earthquakes, but sometimes people do talk about these things as ‘natural evils’ and I wouldn’t want you to get confused. The term ‘natural evil’ or evils in reference to natural events just means “something that sucks when it happens to us”, rather than “something sent by the devil that gleefully causes us harm”.

  • kessy_athena

    If a being possess the ability to create a universe, that tells you exactly nothing about them other then that they have that ability.

    Why *wouldn’t* the process of creating a universe leave empirical evidence? That’s (presumably) a rather large intervention in the natural course of events, and as a general rule, the larger the intervention the more evidence it leaves.

    How exactly are you measuring the “greatness” of a mind? Processing speed? Memory storage? Ability to perform certain types of tasks? And what would it mean for that to be infinite? Infinity is a very peculiar concept, and invoking it brings in all sorts of logical consequences, some of which can be quite bizarre. You shouldn’t carelessly through the term around when all you really mean is that something’s really really cool.

    Why is there suffering and injustice in the world? Because life’s not fair. Why would you expect it to be?

  • Rich

    It depends on the kind of evidence that would be considered sufficient to validate the hypothesis that there is an omnipotent being who created the universe. Of course the natural world contains amazing design, structure, and order which begs the question “Who made it all?”
    But with regard to producing scientific evidence of the existence of God this would seem impossible since observation of an unseen being is impossible and so experimentation cannot take place.
    Infinite to me means unlimited.

    • kessy_athena

      “Of course the natural world contains amazing design, structure, and order which begs the question “Who made it all?””

      That is very much in the eye of the beholder. Generally speaking, the only way to tell the difference between something created by design and something created by natural, random processes is by having examples of both and being able to compare the two. For example, a stone fence made from unfitted, unmortared field stone looks an awful lot like a line of glacial moraine, especially if the fence is old and in disrepair. Basalt column formations such as the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland look very artificial, with interlocking regular hexagonal columns, but is simply produced by lava flows cracking as they cool and contract.

      Actually, infinity is defined as an unbounded limit. And it can produce some seriously weird results. For example, multiplying infinity by zero (or equivalently dividing infinity by infinity or dividing zero by zero) can have *any* value. So, in an infinite universe, things with a probability of zero can still happen. Some infinities are larger then others. Handling infinities without proper safety precautions can lead to very big booms; it’s really not recommended.

      • trj

        multiplying infinity by zero (or equivalently dividing infinity by infinity or dividing zero by zero) can have *any* value. So, in an infinite universe, things with a probability of zero can still happen.

        No. Some equations have no solution, which is not the same as any solution. There’s a difference between saying you’ll accept any answer to a meaningless question and recognizing that the question never made sense to begin with. Dividing by zero is meaningless.

        Another of your examples, zero times infinity, does have a solution, which is precisely zero. A zero-probability event will never happen, even if repeated infinite times.

        • UrsaMinor

          Yup. If an event can happen at all, its probability is nonzero, Q.E.D.

        • kessy_athena

          No, dividing by zero is not meaningless. In the general case, it’s undefined, because you need to know the particular equation in question and apply a limit. That limit can have a finite value, be infinite, approach more then one value, or be undefined. So,

          lim x => 0 (1/x)

          Is +- infinity. Whereas

          lim x => 0 (sin (1/x))

          Is a closed interval from -1 to 1, and

          lim x => 0 (x/x)

          is one. I would point out that this one is an example of dividing zero by zero. And since zero and infinity are inverses of each other, it’s also an example zero multiplied by infinity.

          Like I said before, introducing infinities can have very strange results. Remember, infinity is *not* simply a very very large number, and it doesn’t behave as such. So yes, in a truly infinite universe (and not just a very very big one) even events that have a probability of zero and are impossible can happen.

          This is why physicists start crying when an infinity pops out of an equation.

          • FO

            Dividing for a number that *tends* to zero and dividing by zero are two different things.

            • kessy_athena

              True, and a limit isn’t the same thing as the actual value of a function. And infinity isn’t actually a number at all. All of which gets back to my original point – that handling infinities without the proper safety gear is a very bad idea. ;)

          • trj

            Dividing by zero never provides any sensible result (at least in ordinary arithmetic), which is why the result is said to be undefined. This also applies to zero divided by zero.

            Limits are derived from functions, but they are not the value of a function, as you say yourself. So why even bother bringing them up?

            Also, zero is not the inverse of infinity. 1/infinity is not zero. The asymptotes of 1/x is (x=0) and (y=0), but that doesn’t make 1/infinity equal 0.

            I think you should apply some of the caution you advocate to your own understanding of infinities.

            • kessy_athena

              When you’re talking about infinities, you’re not talking about ordinary arithmetic. Like I said, infinity is not a number, so strictly speaking it’s incorrect to apply any arithmetic operation to it at all. I bring up limits because that’s how you usually deal with infinities and other mathematical singularities. It’s generally understood that when you talk colloquially about multiplying by infinity (or something similar) you’re talking about limits. The terminology may be a bit sloppy in a formal sense, but I’m sure the mathematics department will find some way to blame it on physicists. ;)

  • Dave Harris

    While the so-called problem of evil is a legitimate theological argument, the best reason not to believe in God is that our established religions are so incredibly ridiculous. I mean just look at them. Child molesters, liars and thieves run them with no objection from their all-powerful God. They even whore themselves out to the Republican Party. How likely is it that anything they say is true? I’m over that.

  • David

    When Christians argue that evil is caused by free will I don’t think that they mean just human free will. I think God created a world in which there is a certain amount of free will, or chance at the cellular level. It creates a system in which adaptation and evolution are possible. Without that kind of free will the world is static and unchanging. In that sense God is responsible for children with cancer, not in the direct involvement way, but in that He created the system in which bad things are allowed to happen.
    Is that a good world? Well it’s a scary world in some ways. Good works may not save us. I may never drink, but I could still die of liver disease. But a world in which good works always makes for a good life presents an ulterior motive for goodness. There are a lot of plates to keep spinning here. Sometimes I do take comfort in the book of Job and try to be content with not knowing.

    • Sunny Day

      Please tell me more of what god can’t do.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      What happens to the idea of how the world works that you just expressed if you remove god?

      I’m honestly curious. Without god, your system appears to remain intact, except no longer is there a question of “so what was the boss thinking and why is he such a jerk?” Bad things like cancer and disease still happen, but nobody set up a system that allowed them to happen. Good works still don’t automatically make your life good, but there is no ulterior motive for goodness, especially with nobody looking over your shoulder and grading you so you can graduate to the next level. What changes that makes god a necessary addition?

      I have to wonder why you would take comfort in the book of Job when you’re describing a belief in an entirely different god. In Job, god is just a nasty, capricious gambling addict. Chance doesn’t come into it – he makes bad things happen, on purpose, for his own selfish motives.

      • David Haakenson

        John,
        Thanks for your reply. So what happens when you remove God from that system? Well for starters there would be no system. In the system I described God acts as a first cause so there would be no system without Him. (Yes, I know that there doesn’t have to be any first cause, and a first cause wouldn’t have to be an omnipotent being who loves us, but I am positing a possible system in which there could be a God who creates the universe and loves us and is aware of pain and so forth.)
        I hate to open another can of worms, but you seem to be asking about the purpose of God, or what else does God do besides create the universe. Besides creating physical laws, God also created moral laws. He exists to assist us in living by those moral laws for our good and for Good generally speaking.
        I like Job for the heart of the message and that message is mystery. We see through a glass darkly and it is nice to remember that. Also, Job is an allegory for the capriciousness of nature. At least I think.

        • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

          You cannot say there would be ‘no system’ without god. That’s begging the question. We are talking about the system of how the world itself works, as in why seemingly arbitrary and random things happen, sometimes good and sometimes bad. If I say “well if we don’t presume god is involved in this system of chance and evolution and adaptation, you still have the exact same things happen”, the response “but if god didn’t do it, it can’t have happened” makes no sense.

          I’m not asking what else god does, I’m asking what it is that suggests the laws of the universe you proposed yourself could not have occurred without god. I had hoped you were interested in an honest debate and I don’t mean to seem unfriendly, but already you have suggested you’re not even really understanding your own original point because you are so taken with the concept that god must have been the creator. I’m asking the hypothetical of what difference dropping god from the proposed world makes, and you’re insisting that “well god did everything, he created moral laws and physical laws and assists us…” That is nothing like what you originally described: “I think God created a world in which there is a certain amount of free will, or chance at the cellular level. It creates a system in which adaptation and evolution are possible. Without that kind of free will the world is static and unchanging. In that sense God is responsible for children with cancer, not in the direct involvement way, but in that He created the system in which bad things are allowed to happen.”

          We have a mechanism for adaptation and evolution and I (and biology) posit that god isn’t necessary for it to work. Your adding god hasn’t changed it in any way, it has only made us ask “why is this being such a jerk?” when we consider parasites and malaria and AIDS. I’m asking you, again, what taking god away does. Please don’t repeat that it makes the whole system fall apart, because otherwise your system boils down to ‘magic man did it’ which is nothing like free will or chance or evolution and is simply a celestial toddler slamming blocks together. What would be different about the world we see functioning now if we knew for sure no god had been involved?

          “I like Job for the heart of the message and that message is mystery” This sentence makes no sense. I might as well say I like the Icelandic national anthem for the words even though I don’t know what they are and could never pronounce or understand them. Job may be an allegory about the capriciousness of nature, but you forget that in your framework, god created nature, so god still is responsible for its injustice. If you remove god, it still sucks but it makes a whole lot of sense, but if you have a supernatural being making somebody’s life miserable for the purposes of a bet, that being is just a monster. There’s nothing to take heart from here, it’s just a demonstration that we are powerless and can’t trust god to even be moral. Not sure why anybody would listen to the moral diktats of a being that thinks it is fun to kill somebody’s family just to see if he gets mad.

          • David Haakenson

            Of course this system could arise without God. I’m not saying it couldn’t, I’m just saying that it could. People often say that the problem of evil either makes God a jerk, impotent, or non-existent. I’m suggesting a system in which God could still love, be powerful, and exist even with evil. Let me be clear: You are absolutely right in saying that this system could arise without God, but you haven’t shown that this system somehow contradicts the existence of God so it is possible that God exists even if evil is rampant.
            Also, not to split hairs, but you asked what would happen if God was removed from “MY” system and since in my system God is the creator, then yes there would be no system. I am starting with the framework that God is the creator.
            As far as Job goes, I am often struck that Atheists and Agnostics read the Bible in the same way that Fundamentalist Christians read the Bible: literally. People that think God sits around planning bad stuff for people, just for giggles or to gamble with the Devil, are probably missing the forest for the trees.
            So take away God and sure the natural world could exist, but I also think that if you were to take God away then Life would be different. God talks to me and that changes my life. So If God were gone then it would make a difference, at least to me.

            • vorjack

              As far as Job goes, I am often struck that Atheists and Agnostics read the Bible in the same way that Fundamentalist Christians read the Bible: literally.

              Umm, I think our interpretation is pretty close to the one intended by the original author, although the multiple levels of authorship do make it a bit tricky. Job is part of Wisdom literature, like the Bible’s other profoundly unsettling work, Ecclesiastes. See Biblical scholars like Thom Stark:

              Ultimately, the book of Job never acquits Yahweh of the charges brought against him by Job. In fact, the narrative does not shrink back from impugning Yahweh, vindicating Job’s accusations that Yahweh does what he will simply because he can. [...] Job is never told why he had to suffer, and today’s pious readers tend to see an air of mystery and profundity in that fact. But they miss what would be obvious to the ancient audience. Although Job does not know why he suffers, the audience is privy. Job is suffering because the gods in the heavens have made a wager. [Human Faces of God, p.8]

            • Custador

              Starting with the assumption that God is the creator, is the problem. Why do you start there? It’s not because there’s any evidence for that position.

            • UrsaMinor

              Your argument boils down to “Sure, the universe could exist without X, but that doesn’t preclude X’s existence.”

              Two problems:
              1. If X is not necessary to explain something, there is no need to postulate its existence in the first place.
              2. Your chosen value of X (the Christian god) is completely arbitrary. Many other things could be stuffed into that gap. The argument equally supports Allah, Brahma, Shangdi, and several thousand other creator deities.

            • kessy_athena

              John, David, forgive me if I’m misinterpreting something, but oddly enough, I think you two are basically agreeing. It sounds to me as if you’re both saying that the current state of the universe doesn’t logically require the existence of a god. So wouldn’t that make it a question of fact, not possibility? The question is, “Did god create the universe?” not “Could the universe exist only if god had created it?”

              David, what you’re describing sounds to me very much like Deism. However, one thing you said really struck me. “…you seem to be asking about the purpose of God, or what else does God do besides create the universe. He exists to assist us in living by those moral laws for our good and for Good generally speaking.” I’m assuming that you didn’t mean it this way, but that statement does almost suggest that god exists for the good of humanity. It seems to me that the notion that god is primarily or exclusively concerned about humanity really implicitly puts humanity at the center of the universe, not god. My personal opinion is that the gods have their own lives and their own interests, and that they aren’t all that concerned with what humans do.

            • kessy_athena

              You know, I’m not sure that David really is starting with the assumption that god created the universe. It sounds to me like the real starting point is some personal experiences that David vaguely alluded to. If you start with a belief in the Christian god based on personal experience, it is not an unreasonable assumption to ascribe the origin of the universe to him.

            • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

              Custador, Ursa, thank you. That’s exactly what I was getting at, distilled to a much more cogent form. Kessy, I’m afraid you got the wrong end of the stick, though I admit as I tried to continually repeat the core argument in a variety of ways it became a bit unclear what I meant. David and I are not really on the same page here. I was trying to demonstrate, as Custador eloquently put, that starting with the assumption god is the creator is what David is doing and is a problem worth looking at because he proposes the way the world works that does not actually require a creator god to have anything to do with morality. It becomes a case of just speculating randomly that something, somewhere, might feel like holding us accountable for moral choices and that part does not make sense either since this being never seems held to account for his abject moral failures.

              David, when I said you can take god out of your system without it falling down, I was trying to demonstrate to you that you had essentially created the system the rest of us call objective reality or the natural world. That’s why pulling god out of it doesn’t make the system fall down – your idea that chance and change cause bad things to eventually happen, seemingly indiscriminately, is what actually happens already. When you posit that god created this, you’re just adding a superfluous step. There’s always a chance that step exists, but logically speaking, it’s redundant and would raise far more questions than it answers.

              I understand that you feel you have experienced god, but you forget that a lot of us felt that way too, at one point. I appreciate though that you admit to a sense of “what’s in it for me”, because ultimately that’s what I feel this is. I don’t mean that to sound rude, we are all rather egocentric beings, but that seems to be the core reason for belief: “I feel like I’m getting something out of it”. And it’s fine if you want to continue to believe, but it is simply not logically supportable. I used to be in awe of god and felt rapture at church, but eventually there came a point where I was unable to see god as at all a good being. Morality is a complex thing but the word means something and has some boundaries – enslaving, murdering, raping, drowning and psychologically tormenting people is not moral. I haven’t done any of these things; the biblical god supposedly has. I imagine you’ll claim “that’s not the god I believe in” but it’s the one that is written down and the one you refer to, and it is a jealous, petty, vindictive, racist, homophobic, sexist being, and I outgrew it morally. Does it really make sense that human individuals are more tolerant and loving than god? Only one out of the two of us has ever actually spoken to you.

  • David Haakenson

    Vorjack – Thom Stark says “Job is suffering because the gods in the heavens have made a wager.” I wonder how many ancient Israelite people thought that the God and the Devil spent time talking. My guess is not very many. It was common for ancient folks to put their gods into stories or settings that weren’t necessarily true in a literal sense. While it is true that some Christians today believe that the book of Job is literally about a deal between God and the Devil, most probably do not. The whole intro to Job is probably more cultural flourish than prophetic insight. But suffering does seem arbitrary, as if God woke up on the wrong side of the bed. And that is the kind of truth the book of Job is aiming at. Truth in feeling, not in fact. Also, there are other books that I find harder to reconcile than Ecclesiastes :)

    Custador – I’m not sure how to go about answering your question. On a surface level, since you only asked me why I start with God as a creator I could say that God, being beyond time must have come before the universe and if only God existed and then the Universe existed it would follow that God was the cause of that Universe. But I think you are asking why believe in God to begin with, which is a big topic, and I’m guessing has been hashed out by other folks on this forum in a much more eloquent manner than I could. Besides my personal experiences with God, which you can’t confirm or deny, I will ask a simple question: Imagine a God with power and love, the kind of God that wants to interact with people on a spiritual level and guide them on their moral journeys. Assuming that people have the faculties to be aware of this spiritual being and maybe even to respond, what do you think we would see on Earth? You would probably see a lot of people freaking out about this God fellow. And I look at the world, and that’s what I see. If I were the only one that felt God speak, then I would be more likely to question my sanity.

    Ursa – I feel that I have done some work on answering your concerns in my response to Custador. But, let me be more specific. First, thanks for summing up my argument mathematically. Math has never been a strength of mine. However, I think you have over boiled it down. Remember, I wasn’t trying to prove that God created the world, only that there could be a God that loves us that did create the world while recognizing the problem of evil. I have given a logical possibility that solves the problem of evil (Not to sound too pompous or pat myself on the back too much). So you are right, there doesn’t need to be a God, but in the scenario given in my first post there could be a loving God and evil could still be abundant. (As is obviously is) So my argument doesn’t go the distance and prove God, true.
    I would like to respond to your second concern. I think you are implying that these thousands of different creation deities are actually different forces. It seems to me that these names were applied by many different peoples at many different times to the same force, God. A rose by any other name is still a rose.

    Kessy – Yes, I think John and I have found some good common ground. And you were right, I did not mean to imply God’s role in assisting in our moral lives is by any means exhaustive. God may do all kinds of things. I suppose when talking about purpose there is some sort of egocentric “what’s in it for me” feeling comes out. I actually talked about God’s involvement in our lives to show that I don’t consider myself a Deist! And thanks for your second post. Personal experience is the corner stone of belief. I can see how the Bible or Christian doctrine looks to an unbeliever (I have had it spelled out to me in no uncertain terms!) but experience of God adds such depth and breath to understanding other people’s experiences. That’s what the Bible is, a bunch of different people trying to explain an experience(s) with the divine.

    Whew! sorry for typo’s but I’m too beat right now to look for mistakes

  • UrsaMinor

    Remember, I wasn’t trying to prove that God created the world, only that there could be a God that loves us that did create the world while recognizing the problem of evil. I have given a logical possibility that solves the problem of evil (Not to sound too pompous or pat myself on the back too much). So you are right, there doesn’t need to be a God, but in the scenario given in my first post there could be a loving God and evil could still be abundant.

    Hmmm, the problem here is that your hypothetical god is incompatible with the omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent god of Christianity. Which is fine in and of itself, because an omniscient creator is not compatible with the existence of free will, and without free will, you can have no moral culpability and no sin or redemption. Your hypothetical god is either a lesser being who can’t know and do everything, or is not perfectly benevolent. But if you’re correct, what is the point of being Christian?

    I think you are implying that these thousands of different creation deities are actually different forces. It seems to me that these names were applied by many different peoples at many different times to the same force, God. A rose by any other name is still a rose.

    No, I wasn’t implying that these other creation deities are actually different forces, but let’s examine that. The “all gods are actually aspects of one god, and it is my god” is an old argument, but not a valid one. The problem is that your argument goes like this:

    1. Many cultures have attributed creation of the universe to a god.
    2. ???
    3. Therefore my own culture got it right, and my creator god is the true one.

    You need to fill in Step 2.

    You’ve advanced no arguments or evidence that, say, Brahma is not the true creator. Using your own argument, Hindu theology could equally well be the correct description of the Divine. Out of the many creator gods described by human religion, you have simply made an arbitrary choice (well, not totally arbitrary, as I presume you were raised in a Christian culture and that is a very strong predictor of what religion one will find natural or plausible, but it is certainly logically arbitrary when viewed in the global context).

    • kessy_athena

      You know, guys, you should be a bit more careful; at times in this thread it almost sounds as if people have been forgetting that “Christianity” and “Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity” are not the same thing. People believe what they believe, and whether or not they chose to call themselves Christian is beside the point. Be careful not to get caught up on labels, or to sound like you’re straying into “You’re either with us or against us,” territory.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

        The problem is when it comes to theodicy, none of the Christians make sense. Jews can make sense of it (YHVH is Not Nice), the Greeks and Romans could make sense of it (their gods weren’t all-powerful or especially benevolent), Hindus can make sense of it (karma, non-omnipotent gods). Many other religions can make sense of the question of evil.

        But Christians? It’s a central part of all Christian teaching that God is omnipotent, omnipotent, AND omnibenevolent. This isn’t an indictment of Christians per se- I’m not saying they’re all bad people or all believe horrible things. I am saying that all Christians believe in a logically impossible deity.

        • kessy_athena

          Not all Christians believe the same thing. and as far as I can tell, it seems like large numbers of Christians don’t actually believe in an omni god. They may use the words, but when you look into their actual beliefs and attitudes, it seems clear that their concept of god doesn’t really have all those omni properties. Of course, those concepts are logically incoherent to begin with, so it’s arguable that nobody *really* believes in it, since believing in a concept implies understanding it. I really don’t understand at all why christians seem to be so attached to those terms, but well… (shrug) There’s no accounting for taste, I suppose.

    • David Haakenson

      I would like to say that I started with the objective of showing that it is logically possible that an omnipotent(and I take Kessy’s point-I don’t want to go into areas that are so beyond human understanding that it is no good talking about), omniscient, and benevolent God exists. The problem of pain or evil is aimed at knocking one, two or all three down. However, I think that Free will, not just in humans but in nature itself, accounts for pain and evil. So, God created a system that allows for flexibility, evolution, and change and with all those things comes pain/evil. It may not be logically necessary for God to exist to have this world we live in, but it is logically possible. So it is not illogical to believe in God.
      Ursa (and M) – You seem to think that there is a contradiction between omniscience and free will. If there is then my theory is no good, so let me take a shot at showing that there need not be a contradiction. I’m going to guess that your argument would run something like this: “If God knows everything, then He knows what I will do tomorrow. But if he knows, and can’t be wrong, I must do that thing, I have no choice. I must do what he knows I will do, or make God a lair. ”
      The problem with that particular line of reasoning is that it makes the assumption that God experiences time in the same way that humans experience time. What if God doesn’t see past, present, and future? What if God is outside of time and he experiences all things in the present tense. (Boy, it sure is hard talking about non-temporal beings in a temporal language!) But to be more clear, What if God knows what I will do in the future not because he sees me doing it in the future, but he sees me doing it as I do it? You may say i’m playing with words, and coming up with ad hoc modifications to fit an absurd reality, but I like to think that a complex question deserves a complex answer.
      As far as me needing to fill in step 2 of your argument, I don’t. I haven’t said anything other cultures being wrong, to the contrary, actually. I was implying that other cultures have all tapped into God and it express it uniquely through their cultures. I haven’t advanced arguments to say that Brahma isn’t the true creator. because I’m not trying to argue that! I’m saying we may very well be worshiping/following the same thing, just said in different ways. If I had been born in Iran, I’d probably be a Muslim.
      John – If God is redundant to the system it still doesn’t mean that God makes it illogical. It may not fit Ocam’s Razor, but not illogical. God is logically supportable for the reason’s I’ve given above, and even you say there is a chance of it in your post, so I think we agree that God is a logical possibility. Now, you totally have my number, because I would say that the God you described is not the God I worship. The Bible is harsh. But also, not literal. It is also not infallible. It is a book written by people trying to explain their experiences with the divine. Naturally a warring tribe values martial skill and that is reflected in some of the writings. The Bible demonstrates an evolution of the understanding of God from mystery to vengeance to merciful. Of course, If I actually thought God was out there killing people, then I would be a nut for thinking He was a good guy. But I don’t think God flooded the world, even if it says so in the Bible. But the Bible isn’t trash just because it isn’t literal truth. I read fiction for truth about life, not because the events are true, but because they express some other truth. (Not that I would put the Bible in the fiction section, but you see what I mean)

      • Sunny Day

        I kinda figured you were going in the direction of making up your own nebulous god in a way that lets everyone “win”. I especially like how you hand-waived logical problems by redefining words.

        Basically the ham sandwich on my table is god because I’m worshiping differently and its not logically impossible. Don’t be mad now, Hammy just wants me to deliver a message, you’re fucking dumb.

        • kessy_athena

          @Sunny:
          Ah yes, because obviously your preconceived categories of things could never ever need to be modified. After all, anything that doesn’t fit your categories can’t possibly exist, and anyone who says anything that suggests that such a thing might possibly exist is a complete idiot.

          As always, Sunny, your open mindedness and dedication to making your thinking fit reality instead of vica versa leaves me awestruck.

          @David:
          Given what you’ve said, I’m not quite sure why you use the terms omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Wouldn’t it be better to just say powerful, wise, and kind? It seems to me that would convey the same meaning while leaving behind the logical absurdities and contradictions that omnis inevitably bring. (Can god create a boulder so large even he can’t lift it?)

          • David Haakenson

            Sure, we could use those words. But I think the reason we might use those words has more to do with our limitations of understanding than God’s power. We can’t really understand, in a normal way, logical contradictions.

          • Sunny Day

            Kessy could you tell me what your fucking problem is? I”m getting a little sick of you following me around thinking everything I say has something to do with you.
            Please use smaller words because I’m obviously incapable of anything too complicated..

            • kessy_athena

              I’m not following you around, we both just hang out here at the same site. It’s not like UF is a sprawling metropolis or something. And my problem is that 1) you’re rude and obnoxious, and 2) you don’t think. Either one by itself I find mildly annoying but don’t mind too much. When they’re combined, I have a pretty limited tolerance, especially after those have been directed at me. You said before that you’re low hanging fruit. That doesn’t leave you a whole lot of room to complain when you get picked.

            • Sunny Day

              I see.
              You’re still butthurt over your wacky pet bigfoot thing, you carry a grudge and I’ve somehow greenlit you to berate me whenever you feel like it.
              Well sheeeeit, I thought I had done something serious that warranted an apology. That’s a relief. I’ll just go on thinking of you as a smart person who has a few silly bugaboos that we should all tip-toe around like a giant landmine.

            • kessy_athena

              @Sunny: Good grief, just how dense are you? Let me make this really simple for you. If you act like a jerk you can expect to be treated like a jerk. And insulting and demeaning someone who is having a civil discussion for the horrible crime of disagreeing with you is being a massive jerk. Especially since you seem to be completely incapable of making an actual argument yourself.

              David has been polite to everyone and has been responding reasonably to the points people make – you know, this weird thing some people do called having a conversation? There was absolutely no call for the ham sandwich comment or calling him fucking dumb, and you were way out of line. What were you trying to do, anyway? Start a flame war? Trying to get people into us vs them mode? Trying to chase him away? Or do you just enjoy being a childish prick?

              Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all? Or not to go around insulting random strangers? Or not to interrupt people who are having a conversation? If you just want to scream at mindless fundies and get into a shit slinging contest with them, there are plenty of places to do that. When we’re having an intelligent debate with someone, if you don’t have something meaningful to contribute, then shut your friggin mouth.

            • Jabster

              @Sunny Day

              Yep you’ve got it in one well expect for the thinking of her as a smart person.

              Personally I would tell her to just fuck off and get a life, maybe in the woods with bigfoot. Well that’s if I could be bothered to reply to her but the thing is … well she’s not even as half intelligent as I think she is so nope I can’t be bothered.

              p.s. Do you think that bigfoot shits in the woods?

            • kessy_athena

              ROFLMAO You’re hilarious, Jabster. You think I’m dumb? Prove it. I’ll debate you anytime, any topic.

            • UrsaMinor

              Jabster also seems to think you’re female. As you have never made a definitive statement as to your gender, I think that is by no means a justifiable conclusion.

            • Jabster

              @Ursa

              Well I made a guess as I thought using it may be considered a bit rude … ;-)

            • Sunny Day

              Kessy, concern troll at someone else and go Fuck Yourself.

              This site is replete with past conversations with polite idiots. You think someone is responding reasonably to people by playing what if games and redefining words. I don’t. I’m not going to let someone who sets their bullshit threshold so high tell me what comments of mine are totally uncalled for. Especially since the twit, excuse me, David, agreed with me.

              I particularly like how you insult me and call me names and end it with telling me shut up if I don’t have anything nice to say. It reminded me of the time you brought up how closed minded some people are on the board by mentioning the bigfoot post and when I invoked that same imagery in the mention of silly beliefs on a different post you blew up and Custy stepped in and asked people to stop. In the future maybe you should just scroll past any of my replies so they won’t offend your delicate, hypocritical, high bullshit threshold sensibilities. It’s what I’ll be doing with yours from here on out. As for butting out of conversations you don’t want me in, you seem to have a really weird idea on how commenting on blogs work. Maybe you should read up on that.

            • Sunny Day

              @Jabby, I agree with you completely. Now. I think its weird to believe that intelligence can be determined on how someone comports themselves in a debate instead of how they interact with people in general. It’s like thinking William Lane Craig is right because he wins debates alot.

              & @ Ursa, It seemed a reasonable call to make. The name Athena seems indelibly linked to the female gender.

              I think bigfoot Does shit in the woods but it takes care of it like any good camper would. They take it with them when they go back to the mothership.

            • Jabster

              @Sunny Day

              Well quite, it’s no real different to quacks who use scientific terms to bolster their arguments. Take David’s “argument” he (I’ll assume that it’s a he and hope that doesn’t offend anyone) makes what sounds like a good argument – lots of words, all sounds rather reasonable … but when you dissect it there’s nothing really there besides god’s a bit weird so normal rules don’t apply, everybody really worships my version of god they just don’t happen to know it yet and the bits in the Bible about god acting in a way which we consider evil aren’t really true and mean something else. I might not have told her (for the sake of balance I used she this time. After all we had a famous wrestler with the name Shirley) it was “fucking dumb” but in the end what’s the point of arguing with someone whose fixed position is god is like this and anything that suggest otherwise, well you’re just interpreting it wrong.

              p.s. Glad you’ve taken my advice on kessy – so onwards and upwards there’s idiots out there to insult … :-)

            • kessy_athena

              So, Jabster, Sunny Day, would you two like a room?

              So, how one comports oneself in a debate suddenly has nothing to do with intelligence? Wow, how convenient. I suppose this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that both of you know I’d hand you your asses on a platter if you tried to debate me, and neither of you have the balls to try. Pure coincidence, right?

              Let me guess, next you’ll say that the validity of your argument has nothing to do with facts, evidence, or reason when I point out that neither of you has any of the above, right? Hmmmm, that doesn’t sound familiar at all. When your fixed position is that you’re right on X and anything that suggests otherwise, well you’re just wrong, please explain to me how you’re any different from a fundie?

              It’s so nice that all the Christians of the world have the two of you to tell them exactly what they believe, since most of them seem to be under the silly impression that they actually believe something else.

              Yes, I suppose I do have an odd idea of how commenting on blogs works. I think that people ought to act like civilized adults and show a little common courtesy. I suppose I’m a hopeless idealist.

            • Custador

              Is this mutual sniping session ever going to end?

            • Sunny Day

              I don’t know Custador.
              The internet seems to be full of jerks. Why this catches some people by surprise I have no idea. I own a mirror. Why doesn’t EVERYONE own one?

              Jabby remember it wasn’t me telling David he was dumb, it was God speaking to him from the form of my Ham Sandwich. It wasn’t logically impossible that my sandwich wasn’t god. I felt it in my heart that it was true and I was speaking completely honestly when I passed along that divine message.

              (This is me scrolling past Kessy’s post because I can’t imagine she has anything nice to say)

            • Custador

              I own many mirrors, Sunny. Not that I need them when I have a whole community of people more than ready to discuss my flaws at length whenever I exhibit any of them. I know my flaws, very well. I’m absolutely at home with them. I also know my strengths. For example, I’m very good at honesty, and very bad at sublety.

              On which note, allow me to dish out some of what I receive:

              I’m fucking sick of this bullshit. “Commenting” on this blog for WEEKS has consisted of the three of you hijacking every fucking thread with a never fucking ending whinge-fest about each other. WE ALL GET IT. You don’t like each other. She thinks you’re arrogant and closed minded, you think she’s a credulous idiot. Fine. Whatever. Now move the fuck on. And please spare us a chorus of finger-pointing about who started it and whose fault it is. Nobody cares..

            • Jabster

              Now was that sandwich plain ham or ham and mustard?

            • Jabster

              @Custy

              What the fuck are you on about you twat … why don’t you go back through this blog for weeks and find every thread that has been hijacked by the three of us. When you find that you’re basically talking bollocks I’ll expect to see your post admitting so.

              In the meantime consider this – if you hadn’t come wading into this part of the thread with your size nines then it would have all been over but heh where’s there’s a crisis good all Custy comes in to save the day!

              No crisis so small that Custy can’t make a mountain out of it …

            • Custador

              Go fuck yourself you prick. Focus on your own fucking flaws.

            • Jabster

              I’m sorry Custy … after you said that “I’m very good at honesty, and very bad at sublety.” I hoped you’d be pleased that I was very honest yet not very subtle – apparently not.

              p.s. Got those list of threads that the three of us have hijacked for weeks?

            • Sunny Day

              When I said everyone I mean EVERYONE in general and I wasn’t particularly talking about you.

              But seriously weeks? and every thread? There were 2 times to my knowledge, there must have been a bunch of blown up replies made that I’m not aware of. I know the post count on this site is low but its not that low.

              Screw what you think about finger pointing. I let you do that to me last time when Kessy went off on a rant and what did that get fucking get me except a slight delay before they went off on me again. I’m sick of it too! I’d rather they get it all out in one thread, instead of drips and drabs over every other thread that I could conceivably post in because I offended some sensibility somewhere. I was surprised as hell when I saw they replied to my post about Animal Farm without taking some sort of shot at me.

              Earlier (2 days ago) I thought about cheerleading every one of Kessy’s posts in a hilarious way to make it up to them, but after the fifth or sixth time it would be more work than the funny. I’m trying to take the high road here. Maybe you shouldn’t be trying to delay things for another time.

            • kessy_athena

              I’m also sick of this. May I make a suggestion? How about we make one thread on the forum and if any of us feel the need to continue this argument, we take it there?

              Sunny, I really don’t hold grudges, my reaction to anyone is based on how they’re behaving at the time. Your Animal Farm post was a normal post and even pretty funny, so that’s how I reacted to it.

        • David

          Sunny, I’m not letting everyone win. You still have to believe in a deity, even if it is a Ham Sandwich!

          • phantomreader42

            No, you don’t have to believe in a deity, because there is not the slightest speck of evidence that any deity actually exists, and you have not even come close to TRYING to provide any such evidence. Without that evidence, which you don’t have and never will, your god is nothing more than a figment of your diseased imagination.

            • David

              You are right, that was a vague sentence, and not what I intended to say. But, maybe I’ll take a shot at explaining why I believe in God.

            • Sunny Day

              No I don’t have to believe in a deity. But I am glad you admit that anyone can call anything they want a diety and worship it as all deities are just reflections of the “True Deity” or whatever. It seems that you’ve read the Amber series by Roger Zelazny and just took it too much to heart.

      • UrsaMinor

        OK, so you are arguing for a generic deity and not one of the Christian versions. Fair enough, and I’m sorry if I misunderstood. But it does leave all sorts of questions that are normally considered to be of fundamental importance unanswered (e.g., is there a heaven or hell, or do we reincarnate repeatedly on Earth, or do our souls split into their various components and go to separate places after we die?). “All creator gods are simply cultural interpretations of the same entity” doesn’t offer anything in the way of practical knowledge of how to live your life.

        I don’t think you can avoid the free will problem the way you are proposing. For one thing, a god outside of time would not experience all things in the present tense; it would simply have knowledge of everything, and you could equally well (or equally poorly) characterize this knowledge as a memory. But this is really a quibble. The main problem with an omniscient god that is so damaging to free will is that all events in the universe (from beginning to end, from the point of view of temporal beings like us) become fixed. All is preordained. There are therefore choices that we cannot make, because to do so would contradict god’s perfect knowledge and render it imperfect. Moral agency is annulled.

        I don’t think you’ve reconciled the traditional three-omni god with the properties of the observable universe. The benevolence of an omnipotent, omniscient god who allows the random suffering that we see in this world is highly questionable. Okay, it’s fair enough to postulate that some things are beyond human comprehension and that some higher entity might operate on a level that we could never understand- intellectually, this concept presents no problem. But if this is so, then the human concepts of benevolence and morality cannot be applied to said entity. You’re left with an omniscient, omnipotent god with a morality that cannot be characterized or understood by humans. Its actions cannot be judged or justified in human terms, and no one has any business attempting to attach a label of “good” or “evil” to it (or to anything else, for that matter, since we’ve just established that true, higher-order, fundamental moral concepts are something that humans can never understand).

        In the end, if you want to operate on the assumption that humans have free will, you have to throw out the omniscient attribute. The omnibenevolent attribute is incompatible with observed reality in human terms, and meaningless to us if benevolence is determined by a set of rules that are beyond human comprehension. You’re left with a “merely” omnipotent being.

        In the end, it’s hard to see what you get out of postulating an incomprehensible, omnipotent creator of the universe. There’s no moral guidance that can be offered by such a remote and inscrutable being. It is not a warm, fuzzy parent figure. Humans exist at its whim and sufferance, and can know nothing of its agenda.

        • David

          You are right, a belief in a creator entity does not in and of itself offer practical, life changing direction. If God exists outside of time, then nothing is preordained because “preordained” is a temporal concept. So we have a concept of preordained, but it may not be an objective reality. I’m not sure if you’re a Kurt Vonnegut fan or not, but he deals with this concept, in a couple books I think. But, of course our language, at it’s core is temporally loaded so it’s really hard to talk about it. (Vonnegut may have a different idea than I do, but he spilled a lot of ink trying to explain the difficulties of talking about time.) What may be obnoxious about discussing this with me is that I’m not really arguing for the way things are, only for how they may be. Once we agree that these things are logically possible than we can argue about whether or not certain things are true: heaven, hell, souls, morality, ect.
          I happen to think that there are moral laws, that with a little discernment can be observed in nature, and that following those laws is what God desires. (Not laws in the sense of must be followed, but laws in the sense of should be followed.)

          • Yoav

            Even if god precieve all of time at once like you suggest it still doesn’t solve the issue of free will since it still mean that events have to happen the way god precieve them. It also raise a question about his omnipotence, can god intervene and change an event in a way that contradict his supposedly perfect knowledge of how it transpire?

            • David

              I’m not making myself clear. It’s really hard to talk about time.
              “Even if god precieve all of time at once like you suggest it still doesn’t solve the issue of free will since it still mean that events have to happen the way god precieve them.”
              They wouldn’t have to happen that way, because when God perceives something, it has already happened. Imagine all events ever in the universe breathed in by God at once. All is known by God at once including all the choices everything has made. By the time God knows about it it’s all done.
              I guess that God would know if He were to intervene, in the same way He knows everything else. I don’t see a problem there.

            • kessy_athena

              If you really want to learn how to talk about time in different frames of reference, I’d suggest studying General Relativity. I think I understand what you’re trying to express, but there are some serious logical problems with it. Let me try to formalize it a little bit. Let’s say that god exists in some region of space time which is in some way distant or unconnected to our frame of reference, and that this region of space time may or may not have similar properties to what we’re familiar with. If god’s space has no time like dimensions, then everything in that space will be frozen and unchanging in its own frame of reference, and therefore unable to interact with anything else, including us. So it seems reasonable to posit that there is some sort of time in god’s space, even if it’s quite different from time in our frame of reference. Now, there are frames of reference from which our time appears to be moving infinitely fast – that is, the entire history of our universe will seem to occur instantaneously. For example, this is what an observer inside a black hole would see looking at the distant universe. However, an observer in such a frame of reference would be unable to interact with us because our entire history will occur in exactly zero time for them. And from our frame of reference, events in god’s space would seem to be frozen in time.

              So the bottom line is that god could exist in a frame of reference that would allow him to see all of our time at once, but that would make him unable to interact with us.

            • Yoav

              They wouldn’t have to happen that way, because when God perceives something, it has already happened. Imagine all events ever in the universe breathed in by God at once. All is known by God at once including all the choices everything has made. By the time God knows about it it’s all done.

              If the universe was created by god with all decision already done then free will doesn’t exist regardless of the way god precieve time.

              I guess that God would know if He were to intervene, in the same way He knows everything else. I don’t see a problem there.

              Intervention require that god would be able to interact with the universe at specific points in history which is incompatible with your model of how god precieve the universe.

          • UrsaMinor

            Once we agree that these things are logically possible than we can argue about whether or not certain things are true: heaven, hell, souls, morality, ect.

            Well, no. We would be in a position to discuss whether or not certain other things like heaven, hell, souls and morality are also logically possible within a hypothetical framework that has previously been shown to be logically possible. You can’t prove that a secondary proposition is true based on a logically possible but unproven primary proposition.

            I happen to think that there are moral laws, that with a little discernment can be observed in nature, and that following those laws is what God desires. (Not laws in the sense of must be followed, but laws in the sense of should be followed.)

            I would agree that the foundations of human morality can be found in nature (witness the behavior of primates and other social species, which show rudimentary application of what Christianity calls the Golden Rule), but again, you’re inserting an arbitrary and unnecessary element called “God” into the equation. If you can derive human morality from the observation of nature, you don’t need to introduce additional bells and whistles. Those would only become necessary if it could be shown that natural events are insufficient to explain the origin and utility of what we call moral behavior.

        • kessy_athena

          “But if this is so, then the human concepts of benevolence and morality cannot be applied to said entity. You’re left with an omniscient, omnipotent god with a morality that cannot be characterized or understood by humans. Its actions cannot be judged or justified in human terms, and no one has any business attempting to attach a label of “good” or “evil” to it”

          LOL Why did I have a feeling Cthulhu was going to get brought up in this conversation?

          It’s funny, earlier I was starting to write a post taking the position that omniscience implies that the future is fixed, but as I was typing, it occurred to me that there might be a way around that. If you look at the universe as being probabilistic in nature, you could say that an omniscient being would simply have perfect knowledge of all possible outcomes and their relative probabilities. Although that doesn’t fix the problem with omniscience at all. Knowledge is a symbolic representation of something, and all symbolism is inherently limited in how well it can represent something. You can make a very realistic painting of something, but it’s not a perfect representation. So you can take a photograph, but again, it’s still not perfect. So you can make a 3-D scan of the object, or make a model of it, or make a very good replica, and so on and so on, but each time, even though you’re capturing more and more information about the object, that information is always limited. Ultimately, the only way to have a truly perfect and complete representation of that object is for the representation to be the object itself. And that rather defeats the purpose of creating a representation of it.

          So as I see it, the problem with the omnis are as follows:

          Omnipotence: Any action implies an opportunity cost of not doing anything that directly contradicts that action – you can’t have your cake and eat it to.

          Omniscience: Knowledge by its nature is inherently limited and imperfect.

          Omnibenevolence: Being benevolent to one entity generally necessitates being malevolent to another being. Being benevolent to a polar bear means giving them lots of seals to eat, which isn’t so nice to the seals.

          • UrsaMinor

            I imagine that the “all knowledge is imperfect” argument can be dismissed with the “except to a perfect being” argument.

            • kessy_athena

              IMHO, “except to a perfect being” means exactly the same thing as “a wizard did it.” What exactly is a perfect being supposed to be, anyway? Perfect how?

            • UrsaMinor

              Actually, the definition of “perfect” has never been defined to my satisfaction, especially when it comes to describing a supernatural entity. It seems to mean different things to different people, and usually aligns with the properties they traditionally ascribe to their own deity. I’m not at all sure it’s a useful term (or argument), but I fully expect that some theist will bring it up in response to the imperfect knowledge argument.

            • kessy_athena

              To me, perfect only has meaning as it’s used to modify another concept. Perfectly flat, perfectly pure (as in metallurgy), a perfect attendance record, etc. And depending on the concept it modifies, it may either be meaningful in a concrete way (a perfect score on a test), or an abstraction (a perfect circle), or not really have any meaning at all. (What would it mean to be perfectly drunk?)

            • UrsaMinor

              As no two people can agree what something like “perfectly godlike” might mean, I see trouble applying it to theology.

              I wonder if “perfectly drunk” is similar to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld concept of being knurd. That’s when you’ve had so much alcohol that you punch straight through drunk and come out the other side inverted, achieving a terrifying lucidity.


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