God’s Place in a Supernatural Bestiary

God’s Place in a Supernatural Bestiary July 13, 2010

Commenter Aristarchus is pretty much in complete disagreement with my weighting of evidence for God in yesterday’s post. Aristarchus said:

To be convinced that a god or gods existed, I would need to see some sort of proof of supernatural powers. If someone came to me in a dream and made very specific, unlikely predictions, that I wrote down and talked about at the time, and then those things happened, that would be evidence. (If the event was sufficiently unlikely to be true by chance, it might be strong enough evidence for me to really question my belief.) If the Pope or someone was able to make predictions of this sort that routinely came true, that would probably also work. Similarly, if the holy book of some religion had such clear and correct prophecies, or if it had revealed some extensive new scientific knowledge, that might work. I need actual proof of the supernatural, not just proof that the idea of the supernatural is appealing to many people (myself included). 

I confess, I still don’t see evidence of the supernatural as particularly potent evidence for god.

To begin with, the prevalence today of magicians, con artists, and special effects artists makes it a good deal more difficult to offer any proof of the truly supernatural, were it to exist. Illusionists perform at such a high level that it requires a higher level of expertise than I possess to detect their trickery. Thus, I am incapable of properly investigating these claims myself and must employ and expert (who I feel I can trust) to do it for me.

Assuming the expert verifies the supernatural claim (which only means saying that no explanation could be found at this time), what should I believe?

Seemingly supernatural events aren’t automatically evidence against a naturalistic theory of the world. It is only evidence that my current understanding is incomplete. It might be a case of sufficiently advanced technology. It might be Shermer’s corollary that “sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.” It might just be magic.

Drawing on my steady diet of fantasy novels, I take magic to be any activity that is supernatural, but limited in scope and which imputes no special moral status to the practitioner. Thus, even if the Pope proved himself to be a reliable oracle, I wouldn’t presume that he was necessarily a better guide to religious or moral life than Sybil Trelawney.

Aristarchus said:

I also don’t care that much about the nature of God. Once someone proved he did exist, I would see no reason to default to him being bad, so pretty weak evidence might convince me that he’s probably good. 

Ultimately, I see proofs of God’s existence as tied up in proofs of his goodness.  Verifiably supernatural events make it more likely that entities exist that can essentially perform miracles.  God is just one of many elements in this set, and he is not necessarily more plausible than any of the other possible purveyors of the paranormal.  It is true that miracles and other supernatural occurrences are weak evidence for god, but they are equally weak evidence for a community of wizards actively resisting entropy.  It is beyond my ability to distinguish one from the other on the basis of supernatural experiences alone.

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  • Aristarchus

    Some of this is a definitional question. If you're looking for evidence of the Christian god in particular, you will have a higher standard. I was referring to evidence for any god. When I say I would need evidence of supernatural powers, I'm not saying that any evidence would suffice. Making rabbits come out of hats is not sufficient. Anything remotely like what a magician can do on stage is insufficient, since we know people can do those sorts of things. Prediction of the future is one that I think would be sufficiently impressive to me. Yes, it could be advanced technology, but I'm willing to grant that it's unlikely that the Catholic church has a secret brigade of physicists that's decades ahead of the academic physics community.The other things you say could explain it (magic and wizards, rather than a god) seem to me to be hard to separate from an actual god. What counts as a god? I say I am an atheist, meaning not only that I don't believe in an omnipotent Judeo-Christian-like being, but also that I don't believe in gods of the sort in Hinduism or Native American religions or ancient Egyptian mythology. I think the normal definition of a "god" would definitely include those things, but I don't see what definition would include them but not also include oracles and wizards and other things of that sort. I therefore see basically any "entity that can perform miracles" as in fact a god.The reason I care more about existence claims than goodness claims is that my atheism basically rests on Occam's Razor. I see no evidence for any god, but it's obviously also impossible to prove a negative in this case. I believe that the rational thing to do is default to the obvious, simple explanation as long as it fully explains available evidence. Once that default has been disproven, the claims of various religions would carry much more weight, since there's no obvious, much simpler explanation for the world than the one they're offering.

  • Ultimately, I see proofs of God's existence as tied up in proofs of his goodness.That remark weakly confirms something I've suspected about atheism for a long time. See here: http://mliccione.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-arguments-for-atheism-are-moral.html.Best,Mike

  • Madelaine

    Hi! I finally couldn't resist.So I basically agree with you so far on this whole conversion thing, but I'm intrigued by your standard that God be good to exist. What do you mean by good? Personally, I can imagine myself being convinced that God is more likely than wizards for X supernatural-seeming incident, but not that he's good – if he's a creator (I'd be fine with Olympic gods; that's just a proof issue. They also don't make moral claims the way most modern ones do). I find the universe and the fact that it came to be marvelous, but if it were created (let alone if it is still controlled) by a conscious entity, I see overwhelming evidence to default to that entity being bad. (Explain how a being that created chronic disease was not stupid, sadistic, or both. Creating beauty merely makes him impressive, not worthy of worship. He can create good, but I don't subscribe to a calculation-based morality and still refuse to worship anything that created this world.)So yes, it's the moral argument that Mike L linked to, but less proof-begging: either some tragedies just happen and nothing can be blamed because the universe is amoral and undirected, or we/I'd have to hate the thing that willed the tragedy. I'd rather live in awe at how an undirected set of laws can create such complexity than resent God, especially since humans create enough blame-worthy evil as is. But that's just me, and it's not so much proof against God (I think probability solves that) as proof against needing God for explanation (some good and bad we cause, the rest is random – and isn't that cool?). You could take it on faith that an objective morality exists and God knows it, but why bother suppressing your moral instincts that dramatically? Unfortunately, most religious people seem to want an objective morality and religion has them. But this discussion began by asking how to convert atheists, so.However, I'm more or less nihilistic morally and last I checked, Leah, you aren't. If someone could explain the will of God to your satisfaction, would that do it? Why don't you think God, if he existed, would be good? (And if all it takes is the will of God… is anyone willing to try, or is that position itself just as difficult to break as mine, because you need to have faith that God knows what he's doing?)

  • I agree that there are probably two different questions at hand:1) what would prove that any god exists2) what would prove that the god of religion X existsTo take Christianity as my basis (it is the religion I am currently doubting/deconverting from/examining), I think to prove such a being's existence would be wrapped up in Christianity's truth claims. There would need to be evidence for any of the following:- I was created by the trinitarian god for a purpose- Humans were created good, then fell, then were redeemed, but still retain the negative effects of original sin- god intervenes in our lives- we can trust that god is guiding us and has a perfect plan for our lives- and so onI'm with Aristarchus in that lacking any convincing evidence, the naturalistic explanations for most of the world are far superior to those put forth by theism. This has been my finding.The smooth, rising curve of evolutionary morality seems to do far better than assuming we started out infinitely moral and then plummeted. Some plots are just far more likely than others!Same for man's relationship with god. It is far more likely that it has been flat-lined at 0 than it having been extremely high during pillars of fire and cloud, parting of waters, pharaoh, prophets, burning-piles-of-sticks showdowns, and obviously… Jesus himself and then plummeting to inconsistent surfacy claims of senses/words with no specific claims or healings that often take place on their own. Why are we seeing a lack of sea partings? Why aren't we seeing Africans blessed with manna from heaven to solve their starvation? Why not AIDS healings?In any case, to prove the god of Christianity, essentially one must establish that all claims are more likely than not… for if any fails, all of Christianity fails.I read most of Mike L's post (skipped a large part in the middle to get to the conclusion) and I disagree with him. He essentially states that the Problem of Evil doesn't work because we're evaluating god's morality with an unestablished system of atheistic morality. I disagree. I think we're taking a thought experiment where we consider what the world would look like given god's morality. From there we deduce no reasons to suspect that it does, in fact exist, and we reject the plausibility of an omni-max god in the face of evil. Or at least that humans will ever know why he/she allows evil.One is left at a crossroads:- assume that god does have such a reason and choose to believe (if that's even possible) on the basis of blatant and blind faith- disbelieve and prefer the natural explanations to the supernaturalFor myself, the fact that I'm told god wants a personal relationship with me yet fails to answer my prayers to find him leads me to more doubt. It would take a lot at this point to produce belief.In a last response to Mike L: we're using the only tools we have to evaluate god's likelihood. We have reason, human established definitions of love, goodness, etc., limited realms of knowable existence and so on. Given that we're trying to set up a search party for a being who has written an explicit book of about 3/4 of a million words and can 'appear' to anyone at any time physically or 'inside' a person… why is the hunt so convoluted when it comes to establishing possible reasons he did things the way he did or why we can't instantly just 'know' him?

  • After a long, strange trip, I'm back in the Catholic Church. I assent to every thing that the Church teaches about what I must believe and how I should live. And I am convinced that she cannot be wrong.@Leah,I think that the Zero Aggression Principle is valid (if incomplete) morality. I have seen nothing in my studies of Catholic doctrine to suggest that it ever does not apply. Therefore, if God is good, He will absolutely refuse to compel you. In fact, He will very likely decline to overwhelm you with evidence until you decide that He is good enough to deserve your allegiance and worship — that you want to believe in, love, and follow/obey Him. In other words, confirmation bias is required to find Him.As you yourself have pointed out, isn't He a bully if He does otherwise?@Madelaine,If you ascribe to the Zero Aggression Principle, then God, to be good, must permit His creations to do evil. Now, the Church teaches that evil is a mystery; that is, the real motive for it is incomprehensible. So we blame the introduction of evil into the world on the pride of the devil, but we wind up having to believe he was irrational to be so proud.Aren't prior restraint and denying liberty evil? How could God prevent evil without doing one, the other, or both, and thus becoming evil Himself?@Hendy,Do you really believe that the 20th century, with its >100,000,000 government-sponsored murders (60+M in the PRC, 20+M in the USSR, 13M in Nazi Germany, 2M or so in Turkey … and that's just the democides), two world wars of unparalleled butchery, ever increasing objectification of people, ever-decreasing liberty, and all the rest, indicates a smoothly RISING morality? If so, why?I'm going to provide a definition of love such as God offers; the Latin used by the Church is caritas, usually rendered as "charity" in English. Caritas is the sincere desire to obtain and give to the beloved that which is authentically to his/her/their good.The greatest good is communion with Him. But remember, it's a gift; as such, He cannot force it on you, else it ceases to be a gift.And I'm going to issue a challenge. Find out what sort of behavior the Church teaches is loving. And get it straight from the horse's mouth, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It's available online from the Vatican; they use an annoying parchment graphic as the background of their pages. Or you could read it in black on white on the Knights of Columbus site, but their table of contents and navigation are not as good. Or you can buy a copy; mass market paperback or trade paperback. Or buy from Amazon, if you like.Once you've absorbed what the Church teaches is moral behavior, ask yourself: would the world be better, or worse, if everyone ascribed to that morality?

  • Rek

    @ArkanabarThere is nothing inherently violent about overwhelming us with evidence. Indeed, people like Hendy and Leah have, to the best of their ability, sought god for quite some time now, and the god remains as absent as ever. A loving god that claims to want a relationship with me ought to overwhelm me with evidence that he exists, just as a loving parent who wants a relationship with me ought to first ensure that I am overwhelmingly assured that said parent exists and is communicating with me. I see no violence or coercion, so your point to Leah is rather misleading. Put another way, it is rather cold and callous–not to mention unloving–to hide from people and claim that you 1) want a relationship and 2) require them to radically alter their approach to life and 3) will throw them into a lake of fire (lovingly, of course) if they don't. I don't think we would find "love" in such a situation in any other context, so I see no reason to pretend it is love when god allegedly behaves thus.Your point about evil is still misguided. The Bible teaches that man is by nature evil and so inclined from birth to sin (hence the Catholic invention of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary so as to escape this problem for her). The significance of nature is all the more salient now that we know that the bulk of our "free choice" is actually the result of subconscious priming from the environment. You're much more inclined to think positively of someone if you're holding warm coffee vs. cold. You're more likely to be infatuated with someone if you're breathing heavily. You're more likely to work harder if you see a briefcase on a table at work. Etc, etc. Thus, god (assuming for argument's sake that Christian god exists) went further than just "permitting" man to do evil, but made him powerfully inclined to do so. So much so, in fact, that the Bible alleges it is impossible for man to be good. How odd, given that god is allegedly moral.I believe the 20th and 21st centuries are significantly more moral than the preceding eras. The wars (we might as well include the countless millions in the Balkans and Africa that have been and still are being killed for religious and other reasons) are deadlier because technology is deadlier. Morally, that makes them a wash. However, we have eliminated war among the civilized powers, and, at least in the First (and much of the Second) World, people are enjoying unprecedented rights and opportunity. Even in the Third World, there is unprecedented investment in the eradication of poverty by people and nations that could just as easily ignore these ills (and would have in earlier times).There are a lot of moral systems that could in theory work well if everyone ascribed to them and found that they accorded with their happiness. As it is, this is not the case with Catholicism or any other conservative religious tradition. Thus, how the world would be if we were constituted so differently that we all found Catholicism enticing is a moot point. It also says nothing about whether god exists or has anything to do with morality, but that is another discussion.

  • @Arkanabar:Thanks for the response.- Regarding your citation of war and violence, Steven Pinker has covered this. Don't you watch TED?- Regarding morality (or at least the negative consequences typically associated with immorality), the most religious countries are far worse than those where religion is absent (LINK)- Regarding your challenge… I'm a former/currently-doubting Catholic so I have no objections to your statement for the most part. The problem with forms of objective-morality-prescribing systems is that they are subjective in practice. In other words, these values exist but must be somehow discerned and translated. You can hide behind the authority of the Catholic Church, but arguments from authority/group consensus/long-history-of-not-changing-any-policies doesn't equal alignment with whatever objective morality actually exists…Also, the Bible itself relies on subjective interpretation of the writers which relies on what was subjectively deemed to be spread via oral tradition (assuming that such a word-of-mouth-chain took place at all). You can surely point to the Church's teaching on inspired scripture (I'm familiar with Verbum Dei (no I didn't just look that up…)) but this becomes circular… scripture is inspired in all parts and god inspired only to be written what he wished to be written because this is the Holy-Spirit-inspired teaching of the Church who will not be led astray in all her ways… but how do we know that scripture is true? We already told you: because the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and will not be led astray. But how do we know the Church is right? Because we have a lineage of popes from Peter and Jesus said, 'upon this rock I will build my church.' Sweet. Thanks. Got it.It's circular. They key is to ask one's self:- does it make sense that contemporary historians were in no way concerned with the widespread teaching ruckus Jesus caused or any particular miracles or any factual details about his childhood, parents, disciples, etc.? Such historians were most certainly obsessed with documenting Herod's wicked deeds and the showy stunts of other 'magicians' at the time… but not Jesus who roamed the country side for 1-3 years doing things no one had ever before seen? Odd.- Or why we have no note of Joseph? Or why give eye witness testimony was the standard we have differing accounts even of who Gabriel appeared to… or where the Holy Family traveled to and from post-infancy. Odd.- Or why Luke, the only one who says, 'Check it out, y'all. I'm about to get all the facts straight' completely botches the date of the infancy to the census of Quirinius when current historical scholarship favors the reign of Herod in Mt. (mutually exclusive time periods) instead?Those are just the beginnings.I am confident that one can derive 99% of what the Catholic Church teaches from non-religious moral systems. It comes down to a proposition:- Here's a Catholic moral system. It works for these reasons. Please accept it and live it. Ok.- Here's a system of desire utilitarianism. It works for these reasons. Please accept it and live it. Ok.

  • Madelaine

    Briefly @ Arkanabar: I can buy that argument, as I said, for evil that to my eyes seems to be caused by humans. But my horror at the idea of God doesn't really stem from how he's (not) controlling the world at the moment; my issue is that if he exists he must be a really bad architect. If he must allow his creations to do evil, then why did he create viruses in the first place? Was he not a very good geneticist, to allow genetic diseases to form? If one doesn't believe in evolution, one can't even think him stupid; he must have created every virus and bacteria as they are, and he must have created us with faulty wiring on purpose. Why couldn't he have made the Earth one solid plate, and so never have to restrain his creation to prevent earthquakes and tsunamis? If Satan introduced all that (presumably up to and including the rupture of Earth's crust, which is I suppose suitably brimstone-y) by tempting Eve, then God overreacted – which is again my own moral judgment, but I'm as disinclined to worship a being that reacts like that as I am one that simply created all of this; either scenario paints a picture of a stupid, petty, and/or sadistic entity. If his reasoning is unknowable, then I'd much rather presume his nonexistence and skip the whole abusive-relationship-style thought processes about "well he seems like a jerk, but I'm sure he loves me and means well, because he says so!" on my compliant days and just resenting whoever created all this on my sensible ones.Sure, prior restraint and denying liberty are bad. That merely begs the question of why God created (either the first time around or in a fit of pique that his oh so wonderfully free-willed creations actually exercise said will) a world that needed to be restrained.

  • @MadelaineNo, no, no… you've obviously got it wrong! God had to create a world such as ours to preserve the greatest thing of existence: free will!Just sayin'… (that was a joke, btw).I concur with your points. It's very frustrating being on a path of doubt seeking answers and to run into constant confrontations about how my process of thinking about things works everywhere except with god, which led me to coin this definition of theology:Theology: a field of study in which the objective is to convince rationally capable individuals that what they would expect the world to look like were an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator and intervener to exist… is utterly wrong and that, in fact, not only does this being exist, but the world we see is the only possible way this being could have done things.Also, I wrote a guest post on Debunking Christianity that you reminded me of when you talked about the 'abusive-relationship-style thought processes'! Check it OUT.

  • @Rek,It's possible to search for something without wanting to find it, perhaps in hopes of demonstrating as best as one is able that it does not exist. The determinant as to whether people find God is not whether they search, but what they want to find. If you do not want a relationship with God, He knows. He will respect that, and decline to press you into one. He won't stalk you with supernatural phenomena.Another way I might put it would be to say that God's place is fixed. It is up to you to move toward Him, and to accept those things He sends you to help you do so.As for changing your life — if we presume that God is good, and your life is contrary to that, then what excuse do you have for not wanting to change?Road to Damascus experiences that lead to immediate, dramatic and radical alterations of your lifestyle are rare. Far more common is the awkward, stumbling, difficult slog towards greater sanctity, with detours and reversals along the way.Hell was not made for you. It was made for the devil, after he rebelled. The people who go there do so because they want nothing to do with God, and He will not require them to live with Him, no matter how much He would rather they did. Since they want nothing to do with God, they want nothing to do with good of any sort, nothing to do with light, and nothing to do with love. Such is Hell; a place devoid of God and thus, all good, all light, and all love. Is it any wonder it's so horrible?You certainly don't seem to understand the point of the Church, or the Gospel. This is something I am likely to explain rather poorly. The whole point of the Good News, the Gospel, is not, "Do this! Don't do that! Be good or else!" That such an understanding of Christianity is common is unfortunate, because that understanding is wrong. The point of Christianity is better understood in the Divine Mercy. No matter how evil you have been, no matter what horrible things you have done, no matter what your sins, regardless of your inclinations, circumstances, past, present, habits, or anything else — God will forgive you, if you want Him to.God has given us free will. It is the power to make choices other than those we are most powerfully motivated to make. Your arguments seem to suggest you believe that, since we never do, it is a distinction without a difference. I have to disagree. What you call "subconscious priming from the environment" I might call the still, small voice of God. Just because something affects me doesn't mean I lose free will. After all, those stimuli you cite only make me "much more inclined" or "more likely" to behave in a given manner; they do not guarantee any given behavoir.As an aside, your understanding of original sin is also mistaken. It is common to us, but not natural. The Blessed Virgin had the same natural freedom from sin as Adam and Eve, but accepted the grace to avoid sin throughout her life. You also ignore the devil's freedom to tamper with Adam & Eve's environment, which would mean it is him, and not God, who powerfully inclined us to do evil.Those 100 million or so I listed in my previous post were not the people who died in wars. They were all murdered by their governments, most of which were specifically anti- or non-religious. See Simkin and Rice.

  • @Hendy,re TED: no, I hadn't. Pinker cites figures wrt warfare and homicide, but not democide and genocide. Wait, he did mention that genocides dropped 90%, at the end of the cold war. Inasmuch as Communism is explicitly Godless, the correlation between fewer Godless governments and fewer genocides seems pretty obvious. And I would cite the the One Child Policy of the People's Republic of China as a genocide.Of course, he completely ignores the outrageous death toll from abortion, now in excess of 1,000,000,000. That's 14% of the population (or would have been, had they not been killed), and all non-combatants. Thus, I contend that Pinker has used cherry-picked data. And I expect you to justify it by dehumanizing the dead.He also ignores completely the civilizing influence of the Church. Where, before the advent of the Church, does anyone suggest that there is no difference between male and female, slave and free, or Our People and Other People?I will contend that you're looking for reasons not to believe. As such, I have no doubt that you'll find them, and they'll be far more compelling than anything I can suggest. For example, you seem to be operating on the assumption that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John don't count as historians. Beyond "I don't believe the history they report," what reasons do you have for dismissing them? And why do you think it is so important that their histories of Jesus all emphasize the same details at the same level, when they were different people, writing for different audiences, in different cultures, decades apart? Supposing you were out to convince people Jesus is a myth, would you give the same talk to Jewish tenured Ivy League professors as you would to Evangelical dropouts working in an Alabama yarn mill? Does Matthew mentioning Gabriel visiting Joseph's dreams necessarily preclude Gabriel ALSO making a visit in person to the Blessed Virgin?Much to the annoyance of my wife, I have spent my entire afternoon and evening on this; I don't have time to read your link on religious vs. non-religious prosperous democracies. Or post in reply to Madelaine and your follow up. I apologize.

  • @Arkanabar:- Re. your post to Rek, you mentioned that it is wanting to find that is important, not seeking. But you already believe God exists and thus the only judgment on whether one wanted to find, according to you, will be if he actually did find… it's circular and ineffective as a way to gauge truth.- Re. Mary: I'm not sure that saying she 'accepted' the grace is quite accurate. She was literally born without concupiscence and thus did not even have the desires to sin that we do. "Mary's Immaculate Conception is a special gift from God preserving her from original sin and concupiscence – the inclination to sin. Mary always had sanctifying grace. By God's grace, she remained free of every personal sin all her life (CCC 493)."– My jury is out on abortion. I'm recently deconvert[ing/ed] and haven't got this one thought out. Should souls not exist, I will not dehumanize them as you suspect, but I will also not assume that without central nervous systems there is anything 'spiritually' whole/intact either. I really don't want to comment on this as I haven't made an informed decision. Having Catholic roots I'm currently still opposed to abortion and thus you have a point.- You cite rehashed arguments about secular killings which occur ad nauseum in ever annoying debate between Hitchens and D'Souza. Saying that the killings were because of non-religion is different than saying that a predominately nonreligious nation (due to a political agenda) killed many people. Would our meddlings in Iraq have anything to do with counteracting a radical strike and defending our pristine Christian nation?- A contemporary of Jesus advocated for equality between slaves and masters and equal rights for women. His name was Musonius Rufus– Lastly, about the gospels:— First off, the gospels are not unbiased. What started my doubt was literally an innocent attempt to validate the gospels as I was sure that others would have written about him. Given the gospel portrait, does it strike you as odd in the least that the rest of contemporary historians could not have cared less about him?— Secondly, you answered your own question when you asked on one hand why I might not trust the gospel writers and on the other stated that the angel could have appeared to BOTH Mary and Gabriel. Thank you for providing the same response as my Theology 101 professor when I asked it in class them. Yet your solution is the answer to the question: a historian would care. A historian with access to handed down eye witnesses would actually have known Mary and Joseph and been able to get these right.The best case I have found about the state of the gospels as historical truths online may be found HERE. Skip to the conclusion at the bottom if you have little time; if you have much, read the whole essay from start -> finish.

  • Rek

    @ArkanabarYou have no empirical basis on which to assert that those—e.g. Hendy and Leah, just to name a tiny few—who have searched for god without success just didn’t want to find “him”. You did not answer the rather salient point I made earlier; it is simply nonsensical to claim you want a relationship with someone without first establishing to that person unequivocally and indubitably that you exist and are communicating with them. To repeat: “A loving god that claims to want a relationship with me ought to overwhelm me with evidence that he exists, just as a loving parent who wants a relationship with me ought to first ensure that I am overwhelmingly assured that said parent exists and is communicating with me.” It would be truly abominable if a parent were to say, “I love my child and want to know him, so if he wants to know me he will have to come look for me, except I’ll be so impossible to find that he won’t even be able to credibly suspect that I exist”. If it is abominable for your mom or dad to behave thus, it is abominable for god. At the very least, it is not loving. If you disagree, provide reasons for why there is a profoundly different standard for love when applied to god, such that what would usually be considered hateful or immoral is somehow “good”.I see no reason to presume that god (whatever that means) is good. That must be established, and if we are to believe that god is omnimax (i.e., all-everything), then I would be forced to presume he is at best indifferent to human suffering and at worst quite wicked by (the Christian) god’s own standards. Thus it would need to be demonstrated to me how this is the best of all possible worlds, as Leibniz put it, or else, omni-benevolence just doesn’t square with omniscience and omnipotence. Thus, we must first demonstrate that there is a god; secondly god is good and would have me heed its morality; thirdly that this morality is apparent. Only then could I see a reason to change my life. As should go without saying, none of these are the case.I don’t want forgiveness for who I am. If I am immoral, tell me how and then help me be a better person, but I have no use for supernatural forgiveness for a condition over which I have no control. I don’t care that the people around me be forgiven by “god”; I care immensely how they treat other people (particularly me and mine), and this is the gauge by which I assess morality. Do not mistake this paragraph as a hatred for god. My point is simply about morality; if god is to make us better people (i.e. we treat others better), then that needs to be the focus, not on “Divine Mercy” and its mercurial effects.You’re missing the point about free will. It is quite vain and silly to tell an addict, “You have free will.” In (rather stupid) theory, he can stop succumbing to his addiction whenever he pleases. In reality, it takes an inordinate amount of effort, and he often will find himself all but powerless to overcome his urges. (Indeed, the craving of an addict is perhaps analogous to the overwhelming urge to relieve oneself when one’s bladder is past the point of no-return. Again, “in theory”, there is still free will, but not in any meaningful sense). This goes back to priming and the environment. We make idle and major decisions all the time that we think we chose but actually are the result of some external influence. If, in light of this reality, you want to argue for free will and evil following necessarily from it, you must explain why god did not simply construct the priming mechanisms so as to trigger moral behavior as opposed to sin. It seems that if god had made more people like Mary, the world would be a much different (and better, at least by biblical standards) world.

  • @Rek:I have pondered the nature of how god reveals himself much myself. My top objection when 'free-will' is employed as a reason god will not violate or 'overwhelm' me has to do with our moral and instinctual impulses.To state that god has planted moral intuitions in humans which serve as a guiding force for 'natural law' (which has been shown to be unbelievably consistent across nations and cultures) but could not give me a sense of who he is strikes me as preposterous.To put it more bluntly, if my absolutely repulsion toward killing another or eating feces is not overriding my free-will… then there seems to be no reason whatsoever that all humans could not have a very strong driving force inside that seeks after only one god.This would be universal world wide and extremely convincing. The very fact that so many can describe the same circumstances ('this amazing experience I had!!') and attribute it to radically different causes tells me that the experiences are universally human but the causes are not.

  • Rek

    @HendyYou put it much better (and succinctly) than I did. I would also add that these very same moral intuitions that god "gave" us have the curious result of us finding god (pretending there is one) to have constantly violated these intuitions. Without touching the holy books, it would seem that most people paying attention to the world (particularly now, in wake of the Recession, to say nothing of the bulk of human history) are struck with a profound sense of pervasive injustice. The theist might respond that people in poverty tend to be much more religious and happier (although the latter seems to be contradicted by psychological studies–nonetheless, let us assume for argument's sake that it is true). The moral (i.e. average) person would see such a situation and conclude that the deity was exploiting the simplicity and resilience (and determination to make the best of horrendous circumstances) of the poor. It would be similar to the criticism we would launch against Stalin, Mao, or Kim Jong Il if they could "credibly" demonstrate that their people were "happier".

  • @RekIndeed — very interesting about injustice. This is an intriguing area and, as you allude to, even more so when considering the poor and destitute. As you know from my dialogs with Justin, he thinks that the HS is 'with the Africans', a statement I'm not even sure how to take. I'm somewhat assuming he's talking about those in 3rd-world-conditioned Africa. I just finished D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity and he references god being 'alive' in many 3rd world areas of the globe.Rather than suspect that god is particularly active there (after all, these areas were 3rd world when everything was 3rd world and have remained so even as a lot of the rest of the world took off on them), I wonder how much of it just comes down to our desire for hope.I think in every human being is a desire for life that is so strong we cannot possibly admit to ourselves that nothing else cares about that desire except for us. Even D'Souza stated that 'evil' makes no sense without a 'final justice' of sorts. When this injustice we loathe in our cores encounters the presentation of some beautifully scented snake oil, we lunge at it.Now, in closing, I'd like to say that I have no judgments on those lunging at the cure-all, Christianity, in 3rd world countries. In fact, I think we all should reflect on how little control we might have if in the same place. Would I really stay rational and calm? Would I maintain that life is worth living as long as I'm alive? And so one with any number of hard questions.We're hardwired to survive and I don't know that I'd fare any differently if I had to face the reality that nothing in this world cares about me far more tangibly!