Do Christians REALLY Believe? (part 3)

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 5, 2011 in General Atheism

Imagine you have a blue pill and a red pill, and you must swallow one of them right now and not the other.

If you take the red pill, you will die immediately. If there is an afterlife, all your sins will be pardoned and you will spend eternity there. If there isn’t an afterlife, you will just be dead.

If you take the blue pill, you will live a long, happy, and fulfilling life on Earth. You won’t die early of illness or injury. You will be an asset to society. But if there is an afterlife, you will not partake in it when you die. When you die you will cease to exist, even if there is an afterlife for everyone else.

Which pill will you choose?

If you are a Christian would you really take the red pill in this situation? Do you really believe there is an afterlife?

Or would you take the blue pill?

I’ve wondered before whether Christians really believe all the shit they claim to believe. Maybe they don’t really believe some of it, but rather have what Dan Dennett called “belief in belief.” Belief in belief refers to a situation in which someone claims to believe something, but this belief doesn’t actually fit with their behavior or determine their anticipated experiences. Instead, this “belief” appears to be more of a belief in belief: a belief that believing in the afterlife (or God, or whatever) is good, or that one ought to believe such things.

Christians: given the thought experiment above, do you really have a belief in the afterlife, or do you merely believe in belief when it comes to the idea of an afterlife?

(The analogy above brought to you by 4chan via reddit.)

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{ 150 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean JW January 5, 2011 at 4:29 am

It would be nice to see some honest answers from Christians, but I doubt there will be many. I’ve often see Christians respond to hypothetical situations like this one with simple reaffirmations of their beliefs, along the lines of “but I know there is an afterlife with heaven and hell, so how could I possibly choose not to experience the afterlife?”.

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Polymeron January 5, 2011 at 4:43 am

That… Really is quite thought provoking. I actually find myself somewhat struggling with this question, exactly because I do NOT believe in an afterlife, but can’t rule it out either. Mind you, the way the question is phrased, it doesn’t matter where the afterlife (heaven in the original version) comes from – whether it’s the Christian version, the Muslim one, something humans haven’t thought of yet… With the red pill, I get in if it exists. With the blue, I don’t.

And I shouldn’t be ashamed to admit that, yes, I sure do hope some form of afterlife exists! The alternative is ceasing to exist when I die, and I wouldn’t like that!

Now. If this is just “afterlife” as in Luke’s phrasing, the “blue pill” answer is obvious. Every possible afterlife with infinite happiness is negated by a possible afterlife with endless pain, sin absolvement notwithstanding. This is Pascal’s Wager 101. However, I find the original phrasing, that I would get into “heaven” for an infinite reward if one should exist, harder to refuse.

Funnily enough, the blue pill would give me everything I aspire to now: A long, happy, fulfilling life where I am an asset to society. It also means I will die and cease to exist, which I already fully expect. This may seem fairly compelling until one realizes that it has absolutely no bearing on the question, rationally speaking. Just because this is better than what I expect sans pills does not make it better than the red pill alternative. In fact, considering my current state despite it not affecting the outcome is akin to the Sunk Cost fallacy.

Rationally, one might try to make a utility calculation, saying: “The probability of *a* heaven existing is higher than 0; therefore multiplying it by the infinite reward would always be better than the certain finite reward, regardless of how infinitesimally small the probability may *appear* to seem. However, this trap is akin to Pascal’s Mugger ; and I haven’t yet mathematically formulated just why one shouldn’t rationally pay off Pascal’s Mugger, I’m still working on that, but I am pretty certain that an agent that would do that would not be rational.

What I’d like to say is that I need more time to think about this – but the question does not permit that (you must take one of the pills now.

Seeing as I must choose, I will choose the blue pill. It may or may not be the “rational” choice, it’s hard to say without a good long thought; but it’s risk averse, carries a nice reward, and corresponds with my current beliefs (except for the fact that such a dilemma’s existence violates my current belief’s, but I’m assuming this should be neutralized). Plus I’m not too keen on dying just yet, thank you.

Would it be unreasonable of people to choose the red pill? I’m fairly convinced heaven does not exist, but no, I can’t say that.

This only leaves us with the original question by Luke: Would Christians really pick the red pill? I am likewise curious to know.

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Lee Miller January 5, 2011 at 4:45 am

My current thinking is that essentially all Christians are in fact “practical atheists”. Christianity involves some degree of verbal assent to a set of beliefs, but it doesn’t necessarily require actual compliance with those beliefs–after all, if you violate a rule, you can be forgiven, right? What are the consequences? While there may be a tiny group of truly pious Christian believers who try to order their lives according to whatever version of Christianity they espouse, in general no one lives his or her daily life as if 1) God is real, and really present, 2) there is an objective set of rules that must be followed, and 3) prayer is a useful and effective action. People in fact live their lives according to 1) what they WANT to do, and 2) what they can AFFORD or otherwise manage to do. And moral decisions are made according to social norms, not faith.

I can’t tell you how many times when I was a Christian, someone would ask “Please pray for me about X” and we would say “Sure, of course” but in general that was the end of it, because all thinking Christians know that prayer changes nothing. You simply have to go through the motions to look good.

Your two-pill test would be a good way to remove the really fervent religious kooks from the gene pool.

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Polymeron January 5, 2011 at 5:06 am

Your two-pill test would be a good way to remove the really fervent religious kooks from the gene pool.  

Actually, would you to actually realize such a test, it would be an even better test for belief about belief. Just like in the case with the invisible dragon in the garage, “believers” would anticipate the results and would find a justification for why the red pill wouldn’t actually get you into heaven.

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ThumbtackPear January 5, 2011 at 5:37 am

When I was a christian, heaven didn’t seem all that fun to me. It simply sounded better than hell. I would have taken the blue pill.

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drj January 5, 2011 at 5:46 am

This line of questioning reminds me of an episode of the Simpsons. A hurricane came through Springfield, and everyone’s house suffered no damage. Except for one. The uber Christian, Ned Flanders’ home was destroyed.

At one point Ned is trying to pull his wife out of the wreckage, and with much visible relief she says something like, “Oh thank heavens, Ned. I thought for sure we were headed straight for the eternal bliss of paradise”.

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sven January 5, 2011 at 5:49 am

These questions are usually easier for believers to answer if it concerns somebody else’s life.
I posted the question to an christian that, if he were a surgian, and he had to between prayer or sterilizing his hand before preforming a surgical procedure. He choose prayer, without a doubt. That is fu**ing scary!
Now I forgot to ask what his wishes would be if he were to operated on, prayer of sterilization.

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Zeb January 5, 2011 at 5:52 am

I just asked my wife and she laughed and said, “The red pill of course.” That was my first instinct as well, but I felt a bit of doubt because I have thought about these types of hypotheticals before, and they are problematic.

First, what does it mean “you must swallow one…”? I literally can’t imagine a such a situation. This type of “you must choose one X” often comes up in moral hypotheticals that involve killing someone. As a pacifist, I always say that I would not choose to kill anyone, no matter the consequences. That plays in here; I believe it would be immoral to choose either – the red pill is suicide, the blue pill is rejection of God. And so I believe I should not swallow either pill no matter what. However, if you had a nuclear bomb targeted on my home that I knew you would deploy if I did not choose, my emotions might overwhelm my reasoning and I would choose the red pill.

Second, if my Christian beliefs are correct, this situation could never happen, and I would know the person offering my the pills is a liar.

However Christianity there is a story about a dilemma like this one, where Jesus is tempted in the desert. Satan offers Jesus the equivalent of a long and happy life, and Jesus declines, presumably knowing he would face an immanent and horrible death. Whether that’s because he knew Satan was lying and could not deliver, or that cooperating with Satan and rejecting his God-given purpose would be wrong, or if it was rational long term self interest the story does not say. But we Christians certainly don’t believe that Jesus was choosing a path leading to crucifixion just because his reward would be so great, and so the lesson I take is not to take any such choices offered by someone who is playing God so to speak, no matter what the benefits of the choices or the consequences of not choosing. Probably the person is lying, and even if somehow they are not, it would be wrong to cooperate with them.

But yeah my first instinct, because I actually do believe this shit, was to choose the red pill.

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Bradm January 5, 2011 at 6:28 am

Luke,

I don’t quite understand how this shows that a Christian who would choose the blue pill doesn’t actually believe. Besides believing in an afterlife, Christians also believe that God put them here for a purpose and they are called to serve him … essentially to be an “asset to society.” While picking the blue pill may mean that a Christian doesn’t actually believe in an afterlife, it also could be that the Christian was faced with a false dilemma and was forced to choose between two things that he does believe.

Additionally, I know many Christians – myself included – who say that if you are a Christian just to get to heaven, you are a Christian for the wrong reason. I’m pretty sure most of them would probably pick the blue pill. But that doesn’t mean we don’t actually believe in an afterlife it just means that we have other reasons for choosing to live our lives the way we do than “getting to heaven.”

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rob January 5, 2011 at 6:39 am

I’m with Zeb, I think the question is moot. The first denies the sanctity of human life and the idea that God has work for us to do here on earth. The second denies the sufficiency of Christ’s death in redemption. So I think you’ve given a Christian what I’d see as a false dilemma.

A different question might be. Red Pill = live a life of suffering and self denial with Christ as Lord and be rewarded in heaven or Blue Pill = live 100 safe, healthy, prosperous, self focused and self aggrandizing years but hear what the rich man heard re: Lazarus upon your gentle death.

It’s an interesting thought experiment but you might as well ask if I’d rather cut off my right arm or left. I don’t think either is a good choice and I will likely never face the situation.

Whereas with the second form of the question I think you can see plenty of Christians being faced with such a question and tangibly and measurably picking the former to one degree or another. Some like Jim Elliot traveling to a dangerous tribe or house churches in China meeting under threat of death(really well) others by putting $1 of $1 million in the plate (not so much). And plenty of people measurably picking the blue pill as well.

Glad your Christmas break is over Luke.

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Alex Dalton January 5, 2011 at 6:52 am

Yes, we believe in an afterlife. I like reading this blog but some of the posts lately are really dropping off. I hope Luke isn’t reading alot of New Atheism; it rots the brain.

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Bradm January 5, 2011 at 6:56 am

rob,

There is nothing wrong with these sorts of dilemma’s they can tell us interesting things if interpreted correctly, even though we probably will never face them. If I’m forced to choose between my right arm and left arm, for example, and I choose my right arm, it probably doesn’t mean that I don’t value my left arm or don’t believe my left arm exists. It probably only means that I’m right handed.

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Reginald Selkirk January 5, 2011 at 7:09 am

It would be nice to see some honest answers from Christians…
First, what does it mean “you must swallow one…”? I literally can’t imagine a such a situation…

Not only is the question contrived, so that people (Christian or otherwise) cannot be expected to know how they would actually respond if the choice were real, but people frequently lie about what they actually believe and what they have actually done. Two recent examples:

Walking Santa, Talking Christ
in which Shankar Vedantam discusses recent polls showing that many Americans lie about their degree of religious involvement

‘Abstinent’ teens test positive for STDs
by Cheryl Wetzstein

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PDH January 5, 2011 at 7:32 am

Are there any Christians who think that their religion is hideous but still think it’s true?

I’d like to preface this by saying that I understand that there are a range of different positions on the afterlife and so forth but many of them are simply inexcusable and these positions certainly have adherents, so these people are the ones I’m talking to.

For instance, if I thought that the vast majority of the human species were going to be tortured for eternity because they didn’t come to believe a certain very silly thing by the time that they died, I hope that I would have the moral courage to join the Devil’s side. Because any God who would do that is simply not worthy of worship.

I just don’t understand how you could think that your non-believing friends and family or even just good people you’ve never met are being burned eternally and continue to worship the torturer for any reason other than physical intimidation.

Then there’s the problem of evil. God didn’t lift one finger to save 6 million of his chosen people during their absolute darkest hour. I don’t care what his excuse is. I’m not worshipping that. I can’t say that I never would. Perhaps, I’d do it out of fear. But I would be morally wrong to do it.

There are atheists who wish it was true. Are there Christians who wish that it wasn’t? Are there people who believe something like this and still go to church? I want to hear from them.

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plutosdad January 5, 2011 at 7:45 am

The problem with this particular test is, most Christians (including me when I was one) would say taking the red pill is immoral and no different than suicide. Back then I would have said “It’s not for me to decide when to go, God put me here to do His Work and I’ll get to the good part after the work is done.”

However the links you give are interesting.

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 7:46 am

Related;

Why does every intelligent Christian disobey Jesus? (excerpt)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-slAgzJmdU#t=7m31s

> “Could it be that you claim to be a Christian because you are afraid of other Christians?”

Full video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-slAgzJmdU

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James Thompson January 5, 2011 at 7:57 am

It has been a long time since I was a Christian but I know I as left the fold, I thought a lot about how I really knew that all or most of it was not true and I realized that many of my friends that were Christian probably didn’t really believe — they had all taken the blue pill.

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Haecceitas January 5, 2011 at 7:57 am

I’d probably take the red pill.

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Haecceitas January 5, 2011 at 8:02 am

Another possibility would be to first pray and ask for guidance and then just randomly take a pill. ;-)

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 8:11 am

There seems to be evidence for a few layers of belief, all of them social conventions. The problem with this question is that answers to it slide from one layer to the next to the next, while hiding the core reason why it is being answered in the first place;

A final neuroimaging study demonstrated a clear convergence in neural activity when reasoning about one’s own beliefs and God’s beliefs, but clear divergences when reasoning about another person’s beliefs (Study 7). In particular, reasoning about God’s beliefs activated areas associated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning about another person’s beliefs. Believers commonly use inferences about God’s beliefs as a moral compass, but that compass appears especially dependent on one’s own existing beliefs.

It has been said that there are as many beliefs as there are believers, as many Christianities as there are Christians.

Is a person’s idea of a god the individual’s own ego released from the moderating restrictions of society? There seems to be quite a bit of evidence that it is something like that, and that gods act as a secondary personality that can be shared on some levels but not at the core, thus the conflicts between even religious people who seemingly have close core beliefs.

Source;

Believers’ estimates of God’s beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people’s beliefs
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2787468

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 8:13 am

BAH! The second paragraph of my last post was a quote from the document referenced at the end.

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Michael January 5, 2011 at 8:14 am

PDH

I am a pretty “hardcore” Christian if I can say that. I honestly believe in Christianity, and yes, there are things I don’t find all that likable within it. Hell is a big one, along with the demolition of people groups that we find in the Old Testament. But my belief in God and Jesus somewhat override my hesitations in these situations, since I also understand that my personal likes and dislikes or what makes me comfortable has absolutely no bearing on whether something is really true or not. I don’t at all like the idea that so many people, even ones I know personally, could wind up in Hell. But in my philosophy, a perfect God cannot be in the presence of sin, end of story. So if one does not accept his forgiveness that is freely offered to them, then whether He wants them in heaven or not doesn’t matter. And I think that God doesn’t like Hell either, but it flows naturally and logically from His nature of perfection.

As for pills, what if I can’t swallow pills because of my gag reflex? Do they come in liquid form? haha But on a serious note, tough question. Depending on the day, sometimes I find the idea of dying and finding myself in heaven comforting, and other times I think of dying and the… not really fear, more like an anxiousness since I don’t know what heaven is like or the “whatever” that comes before heaven but after death is like. But I would say that this dilemma is deceiving, which I think rob pointed out earlier, since these are not really the options. The ones that rob lays out are much cleaner, and I think a much easier decision since it wouldn’t involve possible moral conflicts.

My answer: I would like to say I would choose whatever allows me to end up with God and pleasing Him, but I also fully understand that I mess up and have turned from Him before in being selfish, and would not be surprised if the blue pill was tempting. Its like when people ask me what I would say if someone held a gun to my head and said renounce your faith or you die, or anything along those lines. And I would hope I have the courage to profess my beliefs, but can’t say for sure until the situation actually happened. So I think I can say the same thing for the pills.

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Patrick who is not Patrick January 5, 2011 at 8:15 am

Are there any Christians who think that their religion is hideous but still think it’s true?

Yes.

I’ve listened to a LOT of people describe their deconversions. A common (though not ubiquitous) theme was some variant on this:

1. Coming to the realization that not believing in God wasn’t some weird, aberrant thing that obviously indicated wickedness or willful deception.
2. Concluding that not believing in God was either not morally blameworthy, or not very morally blameworthy.
3. Realizing that their religion claims that cosmic justice dictates that God must (must!) inflict miseries on non believers worse than any crime committed by any human despot or war criminal.
4. Feeling that this was horrific.
5. Finding the explanations for this offered by their religion to be facile at best in the face of the absolute horror involved.
6. Feeling as if the universe was ruled by a demon, and worse, that the demon demanded you love it… and knew that you didn’t.

I only know about this reasoning process as it relates to people leaving Christianity. I expect that there are some people who go through this and then come to terms with it while remaining Christians.

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 8:16 am

On the afterlife;

No souls, no way to get to an afterlife
http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=6546

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Michael Caton January 5, 2011 at 8:23 am

What Dennett calls “belief in belief” is what psychiatrists would call “not fully endorsing one’s delusion”. I’ve tried to look at it in a way that’s more charitable but that’s really the best explanation. It’s worth remembering though that this phenomenon is something that exists in all humans and it just seems particularly prominent in this class of belief systems.

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PDH January 5, 2011 at 8:27 am

PDH

I am a pretty “hardcore” Christian if I can say that. I honestly believe in Christianity, and yes, there are things I don’t find all that likable within it. Hell is a big one, along with the demolition of people groups that we find in the Old Testament. But my belief in God and Jesus somewhat override my hesitations in these situations, since I also understand that my personal likes and dislikes or what makes me comfortable has absolutely no bearing on whether something is really true or not. I don’t at all like the idea that so many people, even ones I know personally, could wind up in Hell. But in my philosophy, a perfect God cannot be in the presence of sin, end of story. So if one does not accept his forgiveness that is freely offered to them, then whether He wants them in heaven or not doesn’t matter. And I think that God doesn’t like Hell either, but it flows naturally and logically from His nature of perfection.

Thanks for your honesty. I purposefully separated the question of whether it was true from whether it was abhorrent.

I don’t think I could ever love a being who would do that.

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PDH January 5, 2011 at 8:33 am

Patrick (I think!) wrote,

Yes.I’ve listened to a LOT of people describe their deconversions.A common (though not ubiquitous) theme was some variant on this:1. Coming to the realization that not believing in God wasn’t some weird, aberrant thing that obviously indicated wickedness or willful deception.
2. Concluding that not believing in God was either not morally blameworthy, or not very morally blameworthy.
3. Realizing that their religion claims that cosmic justice dictates that God must (must!) inflict miseries on non believers worse than any crime committed by any human despot or war criminal.
4. Feeling that this was horrific.
5. Finding the explanations for this offered by their religion to be facile at best in the face of the absolute horror involved.
6. Feeling as if the universe was ruled by a demon, and worse, that the demon demanded you love it… and knew that you didn’t.I only know about this reasoning process as it relates to people leaving Christianity.I expect that there are some people who go through this and then come to terms with it while remaining Christians.  

I think this is a more interesting question for me: assuming you do believe, how do you deal with this stuff?

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 8:33 am

Reginald & Lee Miller, good comments and Reginald thanks for the links.

* “And moral decisions are made according to social norms, not faith.”

* “You simply have to go through the motions to look good.”

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 8:44 am

Michael Caton: “What Dennett calls “belief in belief” is what psychiatrists would call “not fully endorsing one’s delusion”.”

Do you have a reference/link to psychiatrists presenting/discussing this? Sounds like something I should be aware of. Thanks for anything if you have it handy.

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Conor Gilliland January 5, 2011 at 8:45 am

Fallacy of excluded middle. Splitting the horns of the dilemma – the way of the Cross. The only thing that could potentially force a person to take either pill is the threat of death (of self or loved ones). In the case of self, the Christian does what Jesus did and lets the executioners kill him. In the case of loved ones, she takes the death pill thereby preserving the lives of her loved ones, in hope and faith of the resurrection. Taking the pill is something like God experiencing death through the incarnation. Jesus would have eventually died either way, and so God by taking on flesh essentially “took a pill of death” so that his loved ones might be saved.

Horns split.

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Michael January 5, 2011 at 9:18 am

I think this is a more interesting question for me: assuming you do believe, how do you deal with this stuff?

1. Coming to the realization that not believing in God wasn’t some weird, aberrant thing that obviously indicated wickedness or willful deception.
2. Concluding that not believing in God was either not morally blameworthy, or not very morally blameworthy.
3. Realizing that their religion claims that cosmic justice dictates that God must (must!) inflict miseries on non believers worse than any crime committed by any human despot or war criminal.
4. Feeling that this was horrific.
5. Finding the explanations for this offered by their religion to be facile at best in the face of the absolute horror involved.
6. Feeling as if the universe was ruled by a demon, and worse, that the demon demanded you love it… and knew that you didn’t.I only know about this reasoning process as it relates to people leaving Christianity.I expect that there are some people who go through this and then come to terms with it while remaining Christians.

I can agree all the way up to number 4, but can’t agree with 5 or 6. And only somewhat with number 3. First, I don’t know what Hell is like, and hopefully won’t ever have to find out personally. But if God is just, I think that someone like Luke or John Loftus and such would have less torment or what have you than say Stalin or Hitler or rapists and the like. So I think the punishment will somewhat fit the crime. I know the common objection is how anything we could do on earth would merit eternal punishment. The answer is somewhat simple for me, and that is that God is always perfect, and as soon as we mess up once, we cease to be perfect and that taint is on us unless it is pardoned. So even if we get through life with a minimal number of these blemishes, they are there nonetheless. And since God is perfect, he can’t be in the presence of any sin, which is why it has to be forgiven. And the only way to be forgiven completely is to accept forgiveness, and that means accepting that Jesus died for our sins and by rising from the dead gave us the opportunity for new life. Of course, this is all pretty common Christian doctrine, but it makes sense to me. And God cannot be held responsible for our decisions to not accept His free gift.

The only time that I find this really hard to grasp is in the case of someone who is sincerely searching yet doesn’t find before their death. But I think, though I am not God, that if I could see into one’s heart and see their honesty and intentions in their search, that even though they never came to belief, they may receive the pardon anyway. I think this is similar to people that are never introduced to the Gospel yet feel that something is missing. I think that we are judged by what we know, and the more we know, the higher standard we are expected to reach. So while it may seem common sense that a minister would get into heaven, the standards that he is held to are much higher than that of a new convert and the majority of lay people.

I believe that God seeks out people and wants them to come to Him, but He isn’t going to override free will, and therefore isn’t going to be able to get all people. And this is unfortunate, but to no fault of his and only our own. And the fact that He is so loving that he would give me, knowing all my faults and stupid decisions and rebellious actions, would want to forgive me and want me to be with Him is humbling, and in my mind makes Him worthy of worship. I know that He dislikes Hell and that it has to exist, but truth is objective even for Him, and that shouldn’t affect His person and whether He is worthy of worship. That would be like judging me for my sisters actions or my parents for my actions. They can do their best to guide me into making smart choices, but ultimately it comes down to me, and what my mistakes are not their mistakes, so they cannot be morally culpable for them, though it seems so often that we, Christians included, want to blame God for our mistakes and not helping us out more. To that I say own up and take responsibility, and so many things, not just religious but social and political, would be solved.

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 9:21 am

Michael, perfection is an abstract absolute and like other abstract absolutes is impossible in reality.

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Michael January 5, 2011 at 9:32 am

And your proof is…?

And what other abstract absolutes are we talking about? Because every absolute that I can think of is abstract. And maybe perfection is at least possible, and that is true by way of modal logic in that it is at least ontologically possible, just maybe not actualized in all worlds. That is to say that perfection is not an incoherent and self-defeating concept. So why could it not be actualized in God at least as far as moral perfection goes, which is all that is necessary in this case. And surely that is feasible, for one to be morally perfect, since minimally this means never having been morally wrong, or possibly as far as being incapable of being morally wrong, though I think that the perfection required of God in this case would have to be the latter. But I see no reason to say that moral perfection, or any perfection for that matter, is impossible in reality and would love to hear why you say this is so, since you gave no support for your assertion.

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Polymeron January 5, 2011 at 9:33 am

PDH,

Are there people who believe something like this and still go to church? I want to hear from them.  

Such people generally discard or revise their faith.
Here’s a good (and fairly inspiring!) example of the latter.

Haecceitas,

Another possibility would be to first pray and ask for guidance and then just randomly take a pill. ;-)  

I like this solution. Presumably if you are surrendering your will to some higher power, that is the way to go.

Michael,

And I think that God doesn’t like Hell either, but it flows naturally and logically from His nature of perfection.

This is only true if you believe in a hell that is simply a separation from god. If you believe in a literal interpretation of hell (torture and flames), then I can’t see how that would follow.

Its like when people ask me what I would say if someone held a gun to my head and said renounce your faith or you die, or anything along those lines. And I would hope I have the courage to profess my beliefs, but can’t say for sure until the situation actually happened. So I think I can say the same thing for the pills.  

So to clarify: You don’t have doubt about the existence of heaven, just doubt that you would get in when you die?

To no one in particular:
I was going to include a nice comic from Wellington Grey, but it looks like his site is down indefinitely. So I’ll summarize it real quickly.

Two people are sitting together. The first asks the second: “So, you really believe the Rapture will happen in our lifetime?”. The second replies something to the effect of “with all my heart”. So the first asks, “are you still investing in that 401k plan?”, to which the second says “Yeah, I get employer matching! It’s great”.
(Not long after he spun the exact same scenario using the Technological Singularity. Touche.)

The point is, sometimes we DO have indications that people will act as though what they profess they believe is false. I wonder what other real-life markers we can draw, rather than rely on a hypothetical pill dispenser.

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Michael January 5, 2011 at 9:42 am

This is only true if you believe in a hell that is simply a separation from god. If you believe in a literal interpretation of hell (torture and flames), then I can’t see how that would follow.

I guess maybe? haha It would take quite a theodicy to explain that, and I know that I have heard some, but I remain undecided on what Hell is.

Its like when people ask me what I would say if someone held a gun to my head and said renounce your faith or you die, or anything along those lines. And I would hope I have the courage to profess my beliefs, but can’t say for sure until the situation actually happened. So I think I can say the same thing for the pills.

So to clarify: You don’t have doubt about the existence of heaven, just doubt that you would get in when you die?

I guess I should rephrase this. I was talking about my decision about which pill I would take and comparing it to the martyrdom question that gets posed as well. I do not doubt that if heaven exists that I will be there, I am confident that if my beliefs are true then that follows. The point the part you quoted here was to say that I am simply not sure which pill, if these were in fact the two options, I would end up taking unless actually presented with the pills. I would say that I would favor the red one, but I cannot say for sure, just as I cannot say for sure whether I would take the bullet or recant unless it actually happened. I can refer you to a previous paragraph where I say that sometimes I am anxious about heaven and what lies after death, but not because I don’t know where I will be, but because I don’t know what this “where” will be like.

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Rob T January 5, 2011 at 9:46 am

I like this pose, Luke. Besides reminding me of The Matrix – it also makes me think about a video lecture given by Univ. of Southern Indiana Asst. Professor of Philosophy Garrett Merriam (aka YouTube user,”SisyphusRedeemed”) that I watched a couple of months ago and really enjoyed.

The lecture is available on YouTube and is titled, “Reason, Emotion & The Afterlife (or Why YOU Don’t Believe in Heaven)”.

In it, Merriam uses a thought experiment in an attempt to argue that most peoples’ emotions ultimately betray their belief in a paradisiacal heaven. He asks you to think about a very good friend or loved one who gets the exciting opportunity to land their dream job of becoming the 1st person to visit a planet outside our solar system. Unfortunately, due to the vast distances that will be traveled, and the limits on current technology, you and this person will be unable to see or speak to each other ever again. Basically, he/she will be gone forever.

Merriam asks you to seriously consider this hypothetical situation, and asks how it might make you feel. He supposes that you will probably feel extremely sad that you will no longer be able to see or share any experiences with this person – but at the same time, you’d probably also feel glad & maybe even excited or happy that this person has the opportunity to fulfill their lifelong dreams / desires.

Then, he asks you to think about what it is that you DON’T feel. Merriam argues that in the scenario above, you don’t feel any grief. He argues that grief is an emotion distinct from sadness – that grief is something people feel specifically when they know someone has lost something deeply meaningful. He attempts to solidify the distinction between sadness and grief by asking you to re-imagine the thought experiment above… But this time, instead of your friend traveling into interstellar space never to be heard from again, the spaceship he/she is traveling on explodes shortly after lift-off, killing everyone aboard. Having witnessed or heard about this tragedy, Merriam asks if your emotions would be the same or different – and he argues (rightly, I think) that you would indeed feel different emotions… that you would really only grieve for the person if you knew they were dead.

Merriam concludes by arguing that if you truly believe in a paradisiacal heaven, then grieving for your friend in this hypothetical situation would be completely irrational… After all, your friend / loved-one is now in paradise for eternity – why would you grieve about that? However, most people would indeed grieve if the spaceship exploded – in fact, we would probably view it as a tragedy. He argues that if there is a heaven, then it should be the exact opposite… we should rejoice when people die. But, even those who do believe in heaven don’t do this – because our emotions tell us that this life is the only one we get… which is what makes death tragic, and grief a rational emotional response to it.

Personally, I thought it was a fairly compelling argument. However, when I presented it to some of my Christian friends, they brushed it off as nothing more than semantics over the words “sadness” and “grief” – and argued that after a grieving period over the death of their friend, they would feel a sense of happiness knowing that they’d see that person again someday in heaven. Maybe I’ll pose your blue pill / red pill scenario to them instead and see if I get the same response :-)

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Luke Muehlhauser January 5, 2011 at 9:56 am

sven,

Woah. Good example.

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Luke Muehlhauser January 5, 2011 at 9:59 am

Good stuff, Rob T.

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Polymeron January 5, 2011 at 10:22 am

Rob T,

This is a really great point! And this actually presents some interesting conundrums for us as well.

I haven’t given the concept of grief a lot of thought; in my stray thoughts, it always seemed obvious that being assured of losing every positive interaction that a person used to provide would be highly disconcerting. I assumed that was a fair explanation for grief and didn’t continue to examine it.

But, what I described ALSO exists in the “exploring the galaxy” hypothetical. You are guaranteed to never have any more interaction with this person except what they leave behind. So that can’t possibly be just the selfish mechanism of losing something. Clearly this is coupled with actual caring about this person’s wellbeing.

Hmmm… I suppose I can definitely think up an evolutionary mechanism that would do this. But, I’m a little fuzzy on the details. Suppose there was some kin selection thing at work that made you want to avoid losing the genetic potential… Wouldn’t this also make us bloodthirsty in connection with non-relatives? And perhaps it did…

This needs more thought. I’ll keep this in mind and see if I can come up with an answer. Emotions are very important to me, as they are our behavioral feedback mechanisms.

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ildi January 5, 2011 at 11:15 am

Rob T:

An interesting comparison would be if people felt differently back in the day when friends/relatives died vs. left for the colonies with no chance of ever seeing them again.

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Pedro Amaral Couto January 5, 2011 at 11:26 am

While picking the blue pill may mean that a Christian doesn’t actually believe in an afterlife, it also could be that the Christian was faced with a false dilemma and was forced to choose between two things that he does believe. (…)

Additionally, I know many Christians – myself included – who say that if you are a Christian just to get to heaven, you are a Christian for the wrong reason. I’m pretty sure most of them would probably pick the blue pill. (…)
Bradm

I’m an atheist but that’s what I thought.

There’s a portuguese priest called Carreira das Neves (considered the best portuguese biblical scholar) who said he would not like to be at Heaven soon because some say it’s a boring places with chantings all day. He would like to drink, eat and joy life before going there.

He also said that he will make many questions to Jesus because he never explained exactly what’s the Kingdom of Heaven. I think he would choose the blue pill if he believed he would lost Heaven, though he believes there’s a Heaven. I mean, making the difference in this world for the best could be considered better than living forever in Heaven.

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 11:38 am

Michael: “And your proof is…?”

Thank you for your response.

I will bet that you can not name and demonstrate something that is perfect without using an abstract concept.

I use ‘something’ in the broadest non-abstract sense.

Michael: “That is to say that perfection is not an incoherent and self-defeating concept.”

I didn’t say that it was incoherent or not useful. It’s just not demonstrated in reality. As such, using it as a meaningful metric in reality is not warranted. The whole ‘we do not live up to God’ idea is incoherent and incompatible with many Christian teachings, though as you wrote it you probably were aware of that. It is possible that your specific take on the issues resolves those incompatibilities and you were mainly writing broadly to inspire and not mainly narrowly to inform.

Separately, we can use absolutes casually or in the case of mathematics. For example, I’m interpreting your use of the word “proof” to not actually be an absolute but a request for evidence or support for a comment.

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cl January 5, 2011 at 11:52 am

“Contrived,” “moot,” and “false dichotomy” are all apt responses to this thought experiment. Then again, you did get it from 4chan.

Rob T,

Merriam concludes by arguing that if you truly believe in a paradisiacal heaven, then grieving for your friend in this hypothetical situation would be completely irrational…

We hashed this same argument here months ago in Part II, and my conclusion remains the same: it is not irrational for a Christian to grieve. Grief and joy need not mutually exclude. False dichotomy.

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Garren January 5, 2011 at 12:01 pm

@PDH

“Are there any Christians who think that their religion is hideous but still think it’s true?”

For several years after I became horrified by the doctrine of Hell, I still thought it was true. And I was very confused about the shrugging attitude other Christians had about this. I’d question whether Christians really believe in Hell before questioning whether they really believe in Heaven.

I found some comfort in universalist and annihilationist interpretations of the Bible, but I never found them entirely satisfactory and, besides, I couldn’t figure out why the Holy Spirit would let mainstream Christianity get something like that wrong.

@Luke

Another thought experiment for Christians:

After dying and going to Heaven, you ask God if most people are really in eternal torment. God says yes. He then offers you the opportunity to give up your own eternal life and be destroyed into nothingness, with the guarantee that he will also annihilate one of the eternally damned. He assures you this is no test with a possible favorable outcome of letting you live for choosing to relieve the suffering of another. Do you choose mutual annihilation with a resident of Hell?

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woodchuck64 January 5, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Hermes, great link. Do you know if believers are able to offer an explanation for this result?

Believers’ estimates of God’s beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people’s beliefs
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2787468

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Woodchuck64, I haven’t heard a response from a believer. I would hope that they would pause and reflect, deeply, on the evidence instead of reject it out of hand.

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Patrick January 5, 2011 at 1:42 pm

I’m fairly certain that the idea that hell is a place of eternal separation from god, and that people go there because god’s perfection requires it, is probably the stupidest piece of illogical theology ever to be fabricated by mankind.

Seriously, I don’t have enough negative words for that piece of hokum.

It doesn’t even make sense!

For one, god is traditionally considered to be omnipresent, and that includes being present on earth, where there’s sin. So apparently there’s something missing from this argument, or else this argument requires punting on the idea that god is always with us. Or else it requires that you have a different versions of “present” that apply to god, with god being “present” on earth in a qualitatively different way than he’s present in heaven. No one ever bothers with any of these obvious details, which suggests to me that they just don’t care.

Additionally, the whole freaking story about god is that he washes away people’s sins. The idea behind this bit of theology is that you totally suck as a person, and god can’t even stand to be around you because you suck so incredibly bad, but god can fix you in some weird metaphysical way so that you don’t suck so bad, and then you can hang with him. What he’s actually doing is a good question- presumably he’s not raping your mind or anything, so you’re still you afterward, but you’re you in a way that you don’t have the ickiness about you that you used to. Ok… and there’s one more detail. He can only clean you up if you let him because it would be more moral to send you to ETERNAL TORTURE than to clean you up without being asked… because apparently cleaning you without being asked is morally worse than whatever thing he’s doing to your mind to make you no longer prone to sinfulness. Ok, fine, lets accept that too. But here’s an extra bit- he can only clean you at the moment of death, if you asked before you died. Once you died, screw you. He won’t clean you now. Why? Presumably because he literally can’t, because that’s the standard that’s been set here. But why not? How does that even make sense?

Or if its not because he literally can’t, then we end up totally flipping theologies, because the response that always shows up at this point is this: When we said you suck, we meant you REALLY REALLY SUCK. So you deserve torture and misery. Now we’re in the weird, misanthropic theology where god loves you even though you totally aren’t worth being loved. Under this new perspective, the fact that god gives you the slightest chance at an out from the HORRIFIC TORTURE you so richly deserve is more than you have the right to expect, so even if it seems unfair, or seems capricious, or seems nothing like Eternal Cosmic Justice, well, that’s because you’re forgetting that you and every other human being that ever lived is a worthless little worm, and the slightest chance of heaven is an undeserved freebie.

This whole issue turns into this weird, mobius twisted wreck that takes regular, loving Christianity (the nice religion that the guy down the street believes and that helped him give up booze and be better to his kids) and turns it into a religion where the logically proper response to, say, a tortured and murdered 5 year old, is to say that the kid deserved it (deserved worse!), but we’ll have to imprison the killer anyway because he was usurping god’s prerogative. Kindness and charity stop being something worthwhile for their own sake, or worthwhile because people deserve kindness and charity, and start being something admirable for precisely the opposite reason: they’re admirable because people DON’T deserve love and affection, and giving it to them anyway is a meritorious demonstration of your obedience to god’s orders. Love becomes the cosmic equivalent of picking up your room when you’re ordered to do so.

It doesn’t make sense, I’ve heard it explained dozens of times and it never makes sense, and if you follow it too far you turn Christianity into a monstrosity. So frustrating.

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Student January 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I’m a Christian, and I admit that I feel hesitant when confronted with this sort of thought experiment. I’m not sure what to do, or what I would do. But does this mean that I don’t believe in an afterlife? There are lots of other things going on:

1. People have different temperaments. Some people are driven by “the prize” and I imagine are more likely to think about what they might gain from the red pill, other people are naturally risk averse and may simply see the blue pill as the safe option. So, the thought experiment is going to be affected by a person’s temperament as well as their beliefs.

2. Also, it is difficult to imagine taking the claims about the pills seriously if I was confronted by them. How exactly does a pill affect my afterlife? How can it get my sins forgiven? Killing me, I can believe; but I would want some pretty compelling evidence about the rest of it, and I’m not sure what evidence there could be. This, it seems to me, is the main reason for my hesitation, and I am inclined to think that i would simply walk away and take neither pill.

This thought experiment seems a bit too messy to really an adequate indicator of what people believe.

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Rob T January 5, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Rob T,
We hashed this same argument here months ago in Part II, and my conclusion remains the same: it is not irrational for a Christian to grieve. Grief and joy need not mutually exclude. False dichotomy.  

@ cl: I’ll have to go and read the comments in Part II. But before I do that, I guess my first reply would be that I do not see a false dichotomy being setup with Merriam’s example.

I might not have summarized it entirely accurately, but having watched the lecture a couple of times, I don’t see him saying one must be either joyous OR grieving over their death… I agree that one can experience many emotions resulting from a single event or occurrence – he even mentions this fact by stating you might feel sadness knowing that you’ll never see that person again, but also feel joy or happiness knowing that their lifelong dream is being fulfilled.

But, picking it apart and looking at each emotion on its own, if one truly believes a heavenly paradise awaits a deceased friend or loved one, then to genuinely grieve over their death does seem to be irrational , since a paradisiacal heaven is (by most people’s definition) the best possible thing that could ever happen to them. If you were just a little happy knowing they’d be leaving you forever to go into outer space, then why wouldn’t you be even happier knowing they were leaving you forever to be in paradise?

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woodchuck64 January 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Michael,

And the fact that He is so loving that he would give me, knowing all my faults and stupid decisions and rebellious actions, would want to forgive me and want me to be with Him is humbling, and in my mind makes Him worthy of worship.

If I create a robot, should I be blamed if it goes out and makes a stupid decision? Sure. I determined the robot’s potential behavior when I designed it.

Now suppose I create a robot and make its behavior non-deterministic or random. Now am I suddenly free from blame if it makes a stupid decision? No way. I still determined the range of its potential behavior when I designed it.

So I see no way for God to escape the blame for your “faults”, “stupid decisions” and “rebellious actions”. He created your behavior by creating Earth and the first human genome. It’s his fault if you do something wrong, not yours.

(Now if you respond that God created human beings in such a way as to not be responsible for what human beings do, I’m okay with you believing that, but I personally see no way to comprehend such a thing; it’s like envisioning a square circle to me. And if I must believe in square circles to be a Christian, you can see that I’m going to have a good bit of trouble.)

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Rob T January 5, 2011 at 1:58 pm

@ Polymeron: Yes, it certainly made me reevaluate my thoughts on grief. Despite being close to middle-age now, I (luckily) haven’t had to deal or cope with many deaths in my family or circle friends – so I’m not all that confident that thinking about my feelings will accurately portray my actual feelings once I do confront REAL grief.

However, when I think about it, I agree with you that real grief does seem to do with a person’s well-being. In Merriam’s example, I think most people would agree that feeling genuine grief or bereavement for someone who ventures into outer space might be irrational, since you could always reassure yourself or others about their well-being in some way – even if no one actually knew for sure if it was true.

However, even if all future contact with that person were impossible – I would guess that one could at least find some solace in the hope that the person is not only alive, but that their desires and needs as a living being were still being fulfilled in some way. Knowing that he / she is no longer alive forever douses those hopes.

I have no idea on the mechanisms of how such emotions evolved – but I would love to hear any hypotheses you may come up with!

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cl January 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Rob T,

I might not have summarized it entirely accurately, but having watched the lecture a couple of times, I don’t see him saying one must be either joyous OR grieving over their death…

Well, when you wrote,

Merriam concludes by arguing that if you truly believe in a paradisiacal heaven, then grieving for your friend in this hypothetical situation would be completely irrational…

…I saw no room for middle ground, and that’s why I responded the way I did. Grief and joy are not mutually exclusive in this context. IOW, middle ground exists but did not appear to be offered.

[Merriam] even mentions this fact by stating you might feel sadness knowing that you’ll never see that person again, but also feel joy or happiness knowing that their lifelong dream is being fulfilled.

Then, on what grounds does Merriam claim grieving for one’s friend would be completely irrational?

…picking it apart and looking at each emotion on its own, if one truly believes a heavenly paradise awaits a deceased friend or loved one, then to genuinely grieve over their death does seem to be irrational, since a paradisiacal heaven is (by most people’s definition) the best possible thing that could ever happen to them.

I disagree. Presumably, you’re an atheist, correct? Then, imagine one of your loved ones in immense suffering. For them, death would end their suffering, and that would [perhaps arguably] be the best thing that could happen to them, correct? Would it be “irrational” to grieve in such a situation? I’m betting your response is along the lines of, “Of course not,” in which case I ask: why would it be “irrational” for a Christian to do the same?

If you were just a little happy knowing they’d be leaving you forever to go into outer space, then why wouldn’t you be even happier knowing they were leaving you forever to be in paradise?

One could be. I’m not arguing that a Christian can’t be happy knowing a loved one has entered paradise. I’m arguing that it’s not irrational or inconsistent for a Christian to grieve over what they perceive to be a temporary loss.

Patrick,

It doesn’t make sense, I’ve heard it explained dozens of times and it never makes sense, and if you follow it too far you turn Christianity into a monstrosity. So frustrating.

Now that’s funny: this is exactly what Ethan implied in This Is What It’s Like To Debate A Christian, and some in that thread resisted my claim that many atheists rely on arguments from personal incredulity!

Student,

This thought experiment seems a bit too messy to really an adequate indicator of what people believe.

I agree. That’s why I think it’s a silly rhetorical device.

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Zeb January 5, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Re: grief and losing a loved one to death, I agree that it seems unreasonable to have that same kind of grief when a loved one goes on a journey with certainty of no return. But I can think of an everyday example of feeling true and deep grief without death – breaking up a romantic relationship. I wonder if there is not a similar loss in both of those that does not accompany the journey-of-no-return. Could it be the loss of relationship? If a parent dies one might say “I don’t have a mom anymore,” and after a divorce one might say, “I don’t have as wife anymore,” but in the case of a journey you would not say, “I don’t have a sister anymore.” And while one’s ex-wife may be happy and healthy, and one may genuinely wish the best for her above all else even if that requires the divorce, one may still love her, miss her, and grieve that loss of relationship.

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Ex Hypothesi January 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm

If Christianity is true, then the first conditional statement is necessarily false. That is, if Christianity is true, then there is no possible situation whose obtaining will make the proposition

(1) there is no afterlife

true.

Seeing how a Christian is one who believes the denial of (1) is true and necessarily so, I don’t know how a committed Christian, on pain of conceptual incoherency, could believe both in the truth of her Christianity and the possible truth of the second consequent of taking the red pill. Given her Christianity, by modus tollens she would say that there is no such red pill.

Given that she thinks that necessarily there is no such red pill, I don’t know why a serious Christian would have to take this “dilemma” seriously.

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Hermes January 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Patrick, excellent post.

Ex Hypothesi, good analysis.

I realize this is a philosophy blog, but it seems that few people are interested in clinical data. Only (?) Reginald Selkirk, Michael Caton, woodchuck64, and me. I would think that there would be high levels of interest and comment in something like this;

“A final neuroimaging study demonstrated a clear convergence in neural activity when reasoning about one’s own beliefs and God’s beliefs, but clear divergences when reasoning about another person’s beliefs (Study 7). In particular, reasoning about God’s beliefs activated areas associated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning about another person’s beliefs. Believers commonly use inferences about God’s beliefs as a moral compass, but that compass appears especially dependent on one’s own existing beliefs.

Yet, not much even in respect of a dismissal from the loyal opposition. Maybe it got lost in the shuffle? If not, why is something like this so uninteresting?

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Charles January 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm

My version of this dilemma for rationalists.

If you take the red pill, you will die immediately. If mind uploading works, you will spend all eternity living out whatever fantasies you choose. If mind uploading doesn’t work, you will just be dead.

If you take the blue pill, you will live a long, happy, and fulfilling life. You won’t die early. But if mind uploading works, you will not be uploaded when you die. When you die you will cease to exist, even if uploading works for everyone else.

Which pill will you choose?

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DaVead January 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm

When you think about any kind of strict realism, whether its Christian or even scientific, it seems absurd that people who accept it actually believe what they say. Do you scientific realists really believe the world is composed of electrons? quantum probabilistic fluctuations or strings? No, you don’t. Your world is made up of people, places, and things. The analytic worldview being presupposed here is generating all these problems. If you’re marred and confused, continentalism will save you.

Why should we interpret the claims of everyday Christians as if they’re being advanced in a properly metaphysical, realist, objective way in the scientific or philosophical enterprise? And just because some Christian philosophers do so is irrelevant. Christians have their own definitions and uses for ‘believe’ and of the ‘things’ they ‘believe’. Why is it so disconcerting that people can have non-philosophical, non-scientific beliefs about non-scientific, non-philosophical things? I’d recommend Gabriel Marcel for reading on the problem of the afterlife, and Nietzsche, Heidegger, Satre, Tillich, and Gilkey as background for shedding the analytic, literal analysis of religion and religious beliefs. Modern theologians have this issue covered and have moved on to bigger and better things.

Second, I don’t think eschatological beliefs in heaven or hell are essential to a Judeo-Christian worldview, at least not if one is aiming at following the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. Biblically, these doctrines are vague and understated when compared to how much emphasis they receive. If you look at eschatological passages in the proper historical context, they don’t even support the contemporary beliefs. Soul-body dualism isn’t even present in the vast majority of the Bible, and only entered in after Greek influence. According to Jesus, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you”.

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Rob January 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Charles,

Bravo! But what does mind uploading have to do with eternity? Seems to me the heat death or whatever needs to be accounted for in your question. So, I will interpret your question as eternity = 100 billion years.

Red Pill

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Patrick January 5, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Charles-

I don’t take the mind uploading option. I don’t see any reason to think mind uploading would work, and I see lots of reasons why it wouldn’t. If mind uploading could create a self aware entity in a computer, then there’s no reason to think that entity would be “me.” After all, if you can imagine a means of destroying your brain to copy it entirely to a computer, you could surely imagine a means of copying your brain to a computer without destroying it… in which case I suspect you’d have little trouble figuring out which was “you” and which was the copy. And if the science of self identity ever advances to the point where it can tell me that I’m being silly for worrying about continuity as an aspect of the self, and that I, right now, have no reason to preference one of two otherwise identical copies of me that might exist in the future when one came into being from biological processes (cell replacement, etc) and one came into being from mind uploading, then that wouldn’t tell me to value the copy more, it would make me value my future self less.

I mean, its kind of an interesting question, but I don’t see what it has to do with rationalists. Its not like rationalists are committed to believing in mind uploading.

Hermes-

This keeps worrying at me. How is it that cleansing someone of their sins without their permission is WORSE than sending them to hell without their permission?

If the answer is that god doesn’t send you to hell, you send yourself to hell, thereby creating an act/omission gap between actively cleansing you and allowing you to go to hell, then going to hell must require no action on god’s part, now, or in the past creating the system that put you in hell. That is, your soul must get ferried off there without any active effort on god’s part, and this fact must be a background truth about the universe that exists independently of god. Otherwise the act/omission gap can’t do its work, because both options are acts.

If the answer is consequentialist, ie, if there’s something consequetially bad about cleansing a person’s sins without their permission, then it has to outweigh the harm of eternal damnation… which seems a high bar given that eternal damnation is usually considered to be the worst thing logically possible. And if that’s the answer, then… what are these consequences?

It can’t be rights based, because its generally believed that god has the sovereign right to do anything at all to you, and that humans are incapable of having rights at all in comparison to god. If that latter part is omitted, and humans ARE capable of having inherent rights that god is obliged to respect, then not only would that be quite a shock to most theologians, but it would demand that we ask why your rights prohibit god from cleansing you of your sins without permission, given that god can do so much else without your permission.

And all of this has to begin by explaining why permission only has moral importance if it happens while you’re still alive! Because if the issue is just whether you give permission or not, then I’m sure permission could be readily obtained by handing a few clipboards around the Pits of Tartarus.

Of course if you go with the “everyone sucks” theory of christianity, it completely changes things, because while it does answer some questions it makes others worse and denies certain apologetic defenses. Why is cleansing someone against their will an act god cannot take if humans suck so bad that even the best of us deserves eternal torture? Is this wrapping us back around to the unexplained consequentialist answer?

What it seems to me is that people are applying objective, deontological rules to god. Its Just Plain Wrong to cleanse someone without their permission, given while alive, and god is bound by this moral rule. But once made into a stated premise, it seems obviously in contradiction with the normal christian schema.

I hate this argument almost as much as I hate the free will theodicy. They seem like throwaway points that never get integrated into the overall theology.

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Charles January 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Rob,

Nice catch. Even more worrisome is the phrasing “mind uploading works”.

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bossmanham January 5, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Wow, Luke. You’re really devolving into just another one of those vitriolic new Atheist types that are all over the internet. Maybe you should change the whole section about why this blog is so different to why you decided to be just like everyone else?

As far as the silliness in the post, I’ve wondered before whether [Atheists]really believe all the [poo] they claim to believe. Maybe they don’t really believe some of it, but rather have what Dan Dennett called “belief in belief.” Belief in belief refers to a situation in which someone claims to believe something, but this belief doesn’t actually fit with their behavior or determine their anticipated experiences. Instead, this “belief” appears to be more of a belief in belief: a belief that believing in the [external world] (or [other minds], or whatever) is good, or that one ought to believe such things.

Yawn. Really? I wonder if you really believe this stupid post.

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Patrick January 5, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Oh, and the mentally handicapped and those too young to understand. The “unrequested salvation as rape” framework that typically gets bandied about when you inquire into these subjects seems to dictate that these groups would have to be eternally damned, because they can’t consent (while they’re alive, remember, so no curing them after death then asking then). And if you go with the “everyone sucks” framework, then its not even sad that they go to hell. They deserved it. Sure, they never had a chance, but they never deserved one so who cares.

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Rob January 6, 2011 at 12:37 am

Patrick wrote, concerning mind uploading:

“and I see lots of reasons why it wouldn’t”

I’m curious, can you name one?

I’m not assuming the mind upload necessarily means to silicone. It might require growing a clone body and then having nano-bots restructure the brain of the clone to be identical to your own brain. I have a broad understanding of what “mind upload” might mean.

Yudkowsky discussed this stuff on bloggingheads a while back.

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Beelzebub January 6, 2011 at 2:17 am

On a somewhat related note, I don’t think we’ll be able to evaluate theoretical possibilities of afterlife until we understand more about the nature of consciousness. We all have greater or lesser empathies with the other people, and sometimes animals, that we meet in life. Imagine now a person who shares a very great deal of your experience in common. To what extent, if any, could they be said to extend your own life vicariously. Next imagine an exact duplicate of yourself. To what extent would your conscious life be preserved in them should you cease to exist. The moment you die, your existence becomes detached from any time reference. A million years will be the same to “you” as a billion or a hundred billion. If there will ever be a being that shares the essential conscious determinants as you, then you will immediately reawaken (or at least it will seem to you) as that being. The trouble is, you may not realize that it is “you” who has reawakened. This is something like how I consider the possibility of afterlife, and it’s the reason I don’t completely dismiss accounts of previous lives.

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anuska January 6, 2011 at 2:52 am

“Blue pill= long, happy, and fulfilling life on Earth. You won’t die early of illness or injury. You will be an asset to society.
BUT IF there is an afterlife, you will not partake in it when you die. When you die you will cease to exist, even if there is an afterlife for everyone else.”

A true atheist would take the blue pill ( I would) because when you introduce doubt with your “BUT IF” this should not shake the point of view of the atheist. I reject the introduction of the second premisse which aims to create doubt on my mind. This is the strategy used by relion to convert people. They introduce assumptions that are likely to be untrue, just to create the need to be saved. It is like advertising. Nobody really needs an iPhone, but once the market induces the belief in your mind that you could not live without it, then it creates a need to be rescued from those mundane unactractive blant phones. Religion can only convert those who think they need to be saved. To do that they must introduce that need by creating doubt even if the assumption is false.

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Mike Gantt January 6, 2011 at 5:27 am

The analogy is not useful because it’s based on a false premise. That is, the premise is based on the heaven-or-hell theory of afterlife promulgated today largely by evangelical Christianity – and it is not biblical.

The Bible actually teaches that everyone is going to heaven and everyone is judged for their sins. Therefore, whether you believe in this or not, you will go to heaven when you die. However, the degree of enjoyment you have with that life there will be based in large part on morality with which you lived your life on earth (including the kindness you showed others who were less fortunate).

As to the charge that many professing Christians are practicing atheists, I don’t see how anyone can successful deny that.

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D'ma January 6, 2011 at 5:35 am

I’m a Christian. Let me rephrase that. I claim to be a Christian. I’m kind of on a journey here. Forgive me for barging in but you asked for responses from Christians. I haven’t read them all, but have been quite amused at some of the answers given by people to rationalize their choices.

This is what I observe. This is how I feel. If you really read your Bible and are a “Bible Believing Born Again” you essentially make that choice every day. If you study closely there are a number of things that St. Paul tell us that will cause us “not to inherit the Kingdom of God”. However on a daily basis I make the conscious choice and I see other people make the conscious choice to do those very things. So in essence no matter what you say you believe, you’re taking the blue pill every time you put your happiness before God. So to be perfectly honest I’m not seeing a lot of difference between atheists and Christians. Putting your life ahead of God is idolatry and none of us will be making it to the “afterlife”. Jesus says you must loose your life to gain it.

I’m not trying to rationalize anything here. I’m just being honest about myself and what I observe in others.

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corn walker January 6, 2011 at 6:24 am

If I take the blue pill and cease to exist, there is nothing incorporeal to know that I no longer exist. I don’t know what I’m missing out on because there is no “I” to know or miss. Therefore, in taking the blue pill, there is no way to regret after death, whether an eternal afterlife exists or not.

If I take the red pill, and the afterlife does not exist, then it will be the same as if I had taken the blue pill. There is no longer an “I” to regret not having taken the blue pill, and I won’t know of the long and productive life I might have led because there is no “I” that could be aware of such a thing. But if I take the red pill and an eternal afterlife exists, I’m automatically in.

Seems to me like I win no matter what I choose since none of the consequences can lead to a state of regret. The difference between this contrived scenario and the current scenario some Christian theologies present is that there is a blue pill case where I am eternally tormented in hell. That, of course, would be bad, and leads to taking the red pill on Pascal’s wager.

Fortunately there is no evidence of god, nor heaven, nor hell (and I find the concept of eternal life somewhat abhorrent anyway), so I don’t spend any time worrying about it.

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Polymeron January 6, 2011 at 6:26 am

anuska,

I have a problem with a lot of what you’re saying here.

A true atheist would take the blue pill ( I would) because when you introduce doubt with your “BUT IF” this should not shake the point of view of the atheist. I reject the introduction of the secondpremisse which aims to create doubt on my mind. This is the strategy used by relion to convert people.

A “true” atheist? Do we suddenly have a purity test? If you think a “true” atheist should be unswayed by doubt and must always unwaveringly fail to believe in a deity despite whatever evidence is presented, then you are welcome to your own type of stubborn worldview.
A *reasonable* atheist, on the other hand, is one who disbelieves because the evidence is simply not good enough, but would reconsider if new evidence is brought forth.
What religion’s strategy is is irrelevant to this discussion. Either betting on an afterlife is a good idea or it’s a bad idea, and its plausibility should play a part here.

Mike,

The analogy is not useful because it’s based on a false premise.That is, the premise is based on the heaven-or-hell theory of afterlife promulgated today largely by evangelical Christianity – and it is not biblical.

This is not really relevant. A LOT, and I mean a heck of a lot, of people DO profess belief in a very literal heaven and hell. Luke clearly feels that at least some of them are not as certain of this as they seem.
I do agree that this hypothetical is not a good test of faith. One should rather use predictions of how one would behave *in actual life* according to this belief.

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Epicurus444 January 6, 2011 at 6:33 am

My critique of these discussions about belief, whether one is approaching it as a “believer” or “unbeliever” is that it is impossible to believe what one does not believe. One can say, I believe (in God, or whatever), but it is one thing to profess belief and another thing to believe. To believe, as hard core Christians or Muslims do, one has to decide to believe, and one has to continually shut out evidence that enters the consciousness that would undermine that belief. But that process continually involves renewing one’s decision to believe. Such folks do value “belief in belief.”

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bitwhizzle January 6, 2011 at 6:44 am

On first instinct, I was going to say “Red pill!” But, after thinking about it for a second, I’d have to go with neither. If I took the red pill, I would effectively be committing suicide, and that’s against God’s law, and if I took the blue pill, I would be denying myself the afterlife with God that I believe in. So, while blue is tempting, my faith is about overcoming temptation, and so I would pick the purple pill. It’s filled with sugar and quite tasty.

BTW, Luke, it maybe “shit” to you, but it’s not “shit” to us. Have a little respect.

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Mike Gantt January 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

@Polymeron re: your statement “This is not really relevant. A LOT, and I mean a heck of a lot, of people DO profess belief in a very literal heaven and hell. Luke clearly feels that at least some of them are not as certain of this as they seem.” As far as the exercise itself, I take your point (I admit my intent was to cut the Gordian Knot rather than untie it). As far as Luke’s observation, I obviously agree with that as well.

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PDH January 6, 2011 at 8:39 am

Charles wrote,

My version of this dilemma for rationalists.If you take the red pill, you will die immediately. If mind uploading works, you will spend all eternity living out whatever fantasies you choose. If mind uploading doesn’t work, you will just be dead.If you take the blue pill, you will live a long, happy, and fulfilling life. You won’t die early. But if mind uploading works, you will not be uploaded when you die. When you die you will cease to exist, even if uploading works for everyone else.Which pill will you choose?  

I’m not in any way committed to mind uploading but I got some honest responses to my question so I want to try and address the spirit of your argument head-on. Because there are some problems with this dilemma and, yes, I agree that many of them are also problems with Luke’s version.

If some guy comes up to me in the street with two pills and claims that one of them will send me to paradise, I’m probably just going to think that he’s trying to sell me drugs. We’re being invited to ignore things like this but there are two separate issues here and both have a bearing on the decision we’re going to make: (1) the probability that we assign to our beliefs about the afterlife (2) the probability that we assign to the sales pitch of a drug dealer being true.

We might be very sure that heaven/mind uploading are real and yet doubt that a pill can take us there. Now, if I could be sure that this guy really does have a pill that can take me to an eternal paradise then, yeah, of course I’m going to take it. Why wouldn’t I? But it’s hard to see how I could be convinced that that was the case without being given some indication that he could actually do what he claims. You would need some very reliable demonstrations that mind uploading works given the price of admission.

But perhaps I have to choose. Maybe the guy pulls out a gun or something. OK, well absent some very convincing evidence the choice I would make in that situation is going to have very little to do with the metaphysical possibility of mind-uploading and a lot to do with the fact that I don’t want to get shot, so I’m not sure how useful it is. He asserts that one of these pills will kill me dead and – even if I believe in mind-uploading – the probability that this is a lethal pill is going to be a lot higher than the probability that it will upload my mind. Because I’ve never seen anyone get their mind uploaded but I do know people who have died from ingesting various substances that they probably shouldn’t have ingested. So, I’m going for the other pill in that situation. Not sure what that tells us.

Maybe this is a better analogy:

Let’s say we’re living in the future. Mind-uploading goes on all the time and we have good reason to believe it works. At least, people who have had their minds uploaded report that they are still ‘them.’ I guess there should be some measure of doubt about whether this is the case or not if the analogy is to work. It also seems pretty sweet. They get to live forever and experience new forms of pleasure that the rest of us will never experience. However, there’s a catch. You have to be uploaded before you die because the procedure doesn’t work on a dead brain. So, every second that you waste trying to come to a decision you risk being run over by a space-bus and depriving yourself of an afterlife.

In that situation – I think – I would go for it.

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ildi January 6, 2011 at 8:57 am

Hermes:

Yet, not much even in respect of a dismissal from the loyal opposition. Maybe it got lost in the shuffle? If not, why is something like this so uninteresting?

Because thought experiments in a vacuum are so much more fun! When the data seem to indicate that we’re just meat puppets, it’s time to invoke those “other ways of knowing”…

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Michael January 6, 2011 at 10:44 am

Hermes

Hmmm… if you could clarify what you mean by demonstrate I will do my best to think about it and give an example if I can.

Patrick

Or else it requires that you have a different versions of “present” that apply to god, with god being “present” on earth in a qualitatively different way than he’s present in heaven. No one ever bothers with any of these obvious details, which suggests to me that they just don’t care.

The answer to this is yes, there would be qualitatively different “presents” that God would have. That’s the easy answer. There are many long theodicies that explain this, and the idea that there are levels that certain angels can be in that lower angels can’t, but that these lower angels are in a higher presence than we are, etc. But this would probably not help you much since the other stuff already seems incoherent to you, and I am sure you have heard why it should so many times, and I will not be the one to bore you with it again haha

Now if you respond that God created human beings in such a way as to not be responsible for what human beings do, I’m okay with you believing that, but I personally see no way to comprehend such a thing; it’s like envisioning a square circle to me. And if I must believe in square circles to be a Christian, you can see that I’m going to have a good bit of trouble.

Haha yes yes, very true. And I would say that the answer lies in God giving us free will, and not just random acts, that He would know given His omniscience, because yes, that would seem incoherent, which is why I am not a strict Calvinist that is a determinist. Rather, a truly free will. In this case, the same reason that my parents are not culpable for my mistakes is the same reason that He is not culpable for mine, since it comes down, ultimately, to my choice an no one elses, though others may impact it, and in fact do.

This keeps worrying at me. How is it that cleansing someone of their sins without their permission is WORSE than sending them to hell without their permission? I hate this argument almost as much as I hate the free will theodicy. They seem like throwaway points that never get integrated into the overall theology.

I do try to apply the free will theodicy to my theology. And the point here is the in Christianity, right or wrong, forgiveness is a two way street and repentance is key. If one is not repentant and seeking forgiveness, even if God wants to clean his slate, He couldn’t. At least thats how the story goes. So its not that one is worse than the other, its that God simply is unable to extend this to a person if they do not want it. Though honestly, why this is is somewhat mysterious to me.

When you think about any kind of strict realism, whether its Christian or even scientific, it seems absurd that people who accept it actually believe what they say. Do you scientific realists really believe the world is composed of electrons? quantum probabilistic fluctuations or strings? No, you don’t. Your world is made up of people, places, and things. The analytic worldview being presupposed here is generating all these problems. If you’re marred and confused, continentalism will save you.

Hmmm… I guess I would say that yes, that is what I actually believe, but that they make up the people and place and things, which is what the theory states. Having said that, I have no issue with my analytic philosophy and it does not cause these problems for me, but answers many that the continentalist cannot. And realism seems quite right to me given the fact that our world seems quite objective and quite real and not subject to my thoughts and whims. As I sit here I attempt to believe that if I place my hand on a hot stove, that it will not burn me… But certainly if I touched a hot stove, I would be burned despite that belief. So extreme relativism fails quite clearly. And a middle ground still seems less plausible than realism at least of a minor form.

This keeps worrying at me. How is it that cleansing someone of their sins without their permission is WORSE than sending them to hell without their permission? I hate this argument almost as much as I hate the free will theodicy. They seem like throwaway points that never get integrated into the overall theology.

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Michael January 6, 2011 at 10:58 am

Oh, and the mentally handicapped and those too young to understand. The “unrequested salvation as rape” framework that typically gets bandied about when you inquire into these subjects seems to dictate that these groups would have to be eternally damned, because they can’t consent (while they’re alive, remember, so no curing them after death then asking then). And if you go with the “everyone sucks” framework, then its not even sad that they go to hell. They deserved it. Sure, they never had a chance, but they never deserved one so who cares.

Well, the usual doctrine is that we are judged based on what one is capable of believing or has been introduced to. So the mentally handicapped or those who have not reached the “age of reason” or those who never were introduced to Christianity would be judged differently than those who were, and ministers and lay people are judged different as well. If that helps at all. But yes, it is still sad that anybody has to go to Hell either way.

The analogy is not useful because it’s based on a false premise. That is, the premise is based on the heaven-or-hell theory of afterlife promulgated today largely by evangelical Christianity – and it is not biblical.

The Bible actually teaches that everyone is going to heaven and everyone is judged for their sins. Therefore, whether you believe in this or not, you will go to heaven when you die. However, the degree of enjoyment you have with that life there will be based in large part on morality with which you lived your life on earth (including the kindness you showed others who were less fortunate).

Really, man? Really? And this is where? I dislike the doctrine of hell very much as a Christian, but Christ was is purported to have talked about it Himself… Paul talks about it. It seems quite clear that it is a real place at least so far as the New Testament says. This is a massively minority view within Christianity today and even more so in early Christianity. This is a universalist position that gets criticized quite often and is nearly untenable when it comes to biblical Christianity.

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Mike Gantt January 6, 2011 at 11:09 am

@Michael

I understand your skepticism but I provide the biblical case that everyone is going to heaven at http://bit.ly/dSt5Ry

What you see in the Bible as references to hell are usually references to judgment, which is quite real. That everyone is going to heaven does not eradicate personal responsibility. That’s why moral atheists find more approval with God than immoral Christians. (Of course, God’s not even looking at the social labels we apply; He just pays attention to how we live.)

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Henry January 6, 2011 at 11:31 am

I’ve always found the Pew Forum surveys an endless source of enlightenment and amusement regarding what Christians really believe. My favorite statistic comes from the survey that asked whether the respondent thought there was just one or many paths to salvation. Amazingly, 75% of self-identified Christians and 57% of self-identified evangelical Christians agreed that there is more than one path to salvation — flatly contradicting one of the core beliefs of their faith. So rather than face the contradiction that the God they think is all loving would condemn the vast majority of humanity to eternal torment, they create a loophole.

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Rob January 6, 2011 at 11:41 am

Henry said:

“flatly contradicting one of the core beliefs of their faith”

Who determines what the core beliefs of Christianity are?

We have as many Christianities as we do Christians. It seems to me the only way to determine “core beliefs” is to take a poll. Based on polling, all non-Christians burning in hell forever is not a core belief.

Not that I want to squabble about what a real Christian is. My axiom has been that if a person says she’s a Christian, then she is. We have more version of this muddled mess now than ever before. I expect that trend to continue.

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cl January 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Hermes,

Your first link contains too many false claims for me to take it seriously. As just one example, the maker of the video implies that Christians who don’t “sell everything they own” disobey Jesus. This is false. While I commend your fondness for clinical data, it should not come at the cost of commitment to accuracy in exegesis.

Mike Gantt,

The Bible actually teaches that everyone is going to heaven and everyone is judged for their sins. Therefore, whether you believe in this or not, you will go to heaven when you die. However, the degree of enjoyment you have with that life there will be based in large part on morality with which you lived your life on earth (including the kindness you showed others who were less fortunate).

Can you support this with scripture? If so, I’m interested.

bitwhizzle,

BTW, Luke, it maybe “shit” to you, but it’s not “shit” to us. Have a little respect.

Bravo to you. This isn’t the first time Luke’s made that type of derogatory comment, and I suspect it won’t be the last. Bossmanham, a commenter here, recently wrote,

While I was initially impressed by Luke’s ability to think more deeply about issues than most atheists I have encountered online and his superb ability to catalog resources both for and against his position, his deconversion account and his seeming unwillingness or inability to respond to objections to his arguments has been a turn off. He seems to be devolving into nothing better than another “new-Atheist” with the same type of ridiculous vitriol.

Unfortunately, I have to agree.

DaVead,

Kudos to you for your comment January 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm.

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Rob January 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm

cl,

DaVead’s first paragraph was po-mo nonsense.

“Do you scientific realists really believe the world is composed of electrons? quantum probabilistic fluctuations or strings? No, you don’t. Your world is made up of people, places, and things.”

Yes, I really believe the world is made of electrons and quarks. I also believe the world is made of people and places, love affairs and grief, and the color red.

One level of description does not exclude the other.

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Mike Gantt January 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm

@cl
re: “Can you support this with scripture? If so, I’m interested.”

Yes. See http://bit.ly/dSt5Ry

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woodchuck64 January 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Michael,

Rather, a truly free will. In this case, the same reason that my parents are not culpable for my mistakes is the same reason that He is not culpable for mine, since it comes down, ultimately, to my choice an no one elses, though others may impact it, and in fact do.

Well, as you’ve guessed, a truly free will is a square circle to me (and to most atheists I think). Note that your parents did not design your genome and have limited control and involvement in your environment; therefore, they escape most responsibility for your behavior. But God can not use the same out, having planned each nucleotide on your DNA as well as foresaw the location of each atom in your environment.

PDH,

However, there’s a catch. You have to be uploaded before you die because the procedure doesn’t work on a dead brain. So, every second that you waste trying to come to a decision you risk being run over by a space-bus and depriving yourself of an afterlife.

In that situation – I think – I would go for it.

Another catch is what happens to your old mind after uploading. Like bits and bytes, data can only be copied, never moved. But we can’t have you in two places at once, right? Please report for euthanasia after you remove the electrodes. :)

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DaVead January 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm

The proper metaphysical/philosophical stance on properly scientific entities and the scientific worldview as a whole is a huge issue. If what I said seems strange to you, this is probably because strict, literal scientific realism is widely assumed and unquestioned without people realizing the difficult problems is raises. This isn’t really a criticism on any naive realists out there; most people are ignorant about most things. For now, I can only refer you to the vast literature on the philosophy of science.

And to touch on my mention of continentalism briefly, something that really shook me was Heidegger’s distinction between the “what” question of Being from the “that” question of Being. Science has little or nothing to say about the latter.

Lastly, and probably most interestingly (especially for fans of Daniel Dennett), Luke cited Dennett in this post, so it might be curious to you to know that he’s actually not a scientific realist, at least not based on any analysis of his professional works that I’ve encountered. He thinks the patterns scientists observe in the world are mind-dependent, and that electrons and other such entities exist only as abstractions.

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corn walker January 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm

@cl
re: “Can you support this with scripture? If so, I’m interested.”Yes.See http://bit.ly/dSt5Ry 

Mike,

That page contains a lot of sloppy language, and the argumentation is fairly flawed. You make several major assertions (example: Therefore, He is “the righteous” that gets resurrected and the rest of us are “the wicked.”) that would require supporting evidence themselves, and as a former Christian myself I can tell you right now the Bible contains many passages that contradict your assertions (example: 2 Cor 5:21 to counter the example above).

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DaVead January 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm

And the presuppositions behind my opposing a world of places, persons, and everyday objects to a world of electrons and quarks are (i) non-reductionism is not viable, (ii) reduction is eliminative, and (iii) if persons etc. reduce to electroncs etc., then talking and living as if persons, etc. exist is silly. That would take a lot to flesh out though so I’m okay if you disagree at every stage.

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Hermes January 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm

ildi, shame on me. I’ve let my imagination go to waste in the presence of observations about reality. Egads! What was I thinking??!?!?!?!

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Henry January 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Rob said: We have as many Christianities as we do Christians.It seems to me the only way to determine “core beliefs” is to take a poll.

Oh, I agree. There is no point in atheists quibbling over the definition of “Christian,” although I know it is a hot topic within the believer’s camp. The humor I derive from the Pew poll results is from the fact that every evangelical I have spoken to and every evangelical church statement of belief that I’ve read includes John 3:14 (“I am the Way and the Truth, etc.”) as a core principle for evangelicals. At the time the poll came out, I was married to an evangelical, and when I pointed out that 57% of self-identified evangelicals gave an answer that contradicted John 3:14, she replied, “Well, then, they aren’t doing it right.”

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Hermes January 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Patrick, that’s interesting. So many layers to dig through.

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cl January 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Rob,

DaVead’s first paragraph was po-mo nonsense.

You should know by now that I’m no respecter of subjective opinions masquerading as argument. Focusing on a single aspect of DaVead’s comment – one that I think you took out of context, mind you – does not support your claim.

Mike Gantt,

The article you linked to fails to cite even a single scripture in support of its claims. Were you alluding to one of the supporting links? If so, which one?

DaVead,

If what I said seems strange to you, this is probably because strict, literal scientific realism is widely assumed and unquestioned without people realizing the difficult problems it raises. [presumably to Rob]

Kudos again. In the same way that many Fundamentalists resist statements that conflict with their beliefs, I expect those with strong faith in scientific realism to do the same.

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Mike Gantt January 6, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Mike,That page contains a lot of sloppy language, and the argumentation is fairly flawed. You make several major assertions (example: Therefore, He is “the righteous” that gets resurrected and the rest of us are “the wicked.”) that would require supporting evidence themselves, and as a former Christian myself I can tell you right now the Bible contains many passages that contradict your assertions (example: 2 Cor 5:21 to counter the example above).  (Quote)

Hang in there, corn walker. You’re going to find gold if you keep digging.
All Bible scholars know – but, as with the textual criticism issue, do not teach in the churches – that Sheol (Hades) was the place to which, during Old Testament times, everyone went at death – righteous and unrighteous alike. Therefore, what’s needed is an explanation of how we got to the heaven-and-hell scenario evangelicals have today. There is no biblical bridge from Sheol (Hades) to heaven-or-hell. There is, however, a biblical bridge from Sheol (Hades) to heaven for all. The link at the end of the post you read will take you to “The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven” which will walk you through it. Yes, there are isolated “proof texts” which seem (I stress “seem”) to suggest hell as an afterlife. The truth is that references to hell in the Bible are speaking of awful things that happen in this life. Don’t give up. The truth is there!

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Luke Muehlhauser January 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Off-topic:

“People are always amazed by how much “free time” I have.
They’re also amazed that I don’t know who Ally McBeal is.
Frankly, I’m amazed that they can’t make the connection.”
– Robert Wenzlaff

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Mike Gantt January 6, 2011 at 1:34 pm

@cl

Yes. It is: The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven http://wp.me/PNthc-i6

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Mike Gantt January 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm

@cl
@corn walker

The initial page to which I sent you is indeed a “proclamation” page and not the underlying biblical proof. The proofs and corollaries are found in links at the end.

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cl January 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Mike Gantt,

Thanks. That’s exactly what I was looking for. I shall peruse…

Luke,

I am always amazed by how much free time you claim you don’t have. I’m also amazed that despite such claims, you find plenty of time to make trivial comments, call names, and offer joke posts while so many serious questions remain unanswered. Frankly, I’m amazed that you can’t make the connection.

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Rob January 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm

DaVead,

What you wrote did not seem strange to me, just confused. You are confusing the map for the territory. Reality, whatever that is, is the territory. Electrons and quarks are a map at one level, people and places are maps at another level. I find both maps useful.

I am rather sympathetic to anti-realism, and share your observation that many folks are naive realists. I ain’t one of them.

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Patrick January 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Michael wrote,

The answer to this is yes, there would be qualitatively different “presents” that God would have. That’s the easy answer. There are many long theodicies that explain this, and the idea that there are levels that certain angels can be in that lower angels can’t, but that these lower angels are in a higher presence than we are, etc. But this would probably not help you much since the other stuff already seems incoherent to you, and I am sure you have heard why it should so many times, and I will not be the one to bore you with it again haha

Ah, but you see, this also destroys this particular heaven/hell doctrine. The whole idea is that there are only two choices: gods presence in heaven, or gods absence in hell. If there’s a third choice, going somewhere that god is partially present or present in a qualitatively different manner, then this theological position fails. Hell no longer becomes the only possible destination for a soul that can’t live in god’s presence because it sucks too much and god is incapable of cleaning it without permission given by the soul when it was still alive.

Well, the usual doctrine is that we are judged based on what one is capable of believing or has been introduced to. So the mentally handicapped or those who have not reached the “age of reason” or those who never were introduced to Christianity would be judged differently than those who were, and ministers and lay people are judged different as well. If that helps at all. But yes, it is still sad that anybody has to go to Hell either way.

Remember that I’m responding to a specific theological position. If you don’t hold it, then there’s no worries.

Here’s the chart of where we are at the point I brought this up, in the form of an imaginary conversation.

Atheist: Why can’t god just forgive you and let you into heaven even though you didn’t believe in him?
Theist: Because to let you into heaven god would have to cleanse you, and cleansing you of your sins without your permission would be like rape (for some reason that I will not articulate).
Atheist: What about people who are incapable of giving permission? Do they all have to go to hell, because cleansing them of their sins without their permission would be like rape?

And the logical answer at this point is yes, IF cleansing someone of their sins without their permission is like rape, THEN cleansing someone of their sins who doesn’t give permission is like rape. Its not even a very complex point.

Your response takes an entirely different approach. I think it has its own problems, but they aren’t the ones being discussed.

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Rob January 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm

So when I wrote:

“Yes, I really believe the world is made of electrons and quarks. I also believe the world is made of people and places, love affairs and grief, and the color red”, that was not a well thought out description of my position. The next sentence should have cleared it up though.

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Patrick January 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Patrick wrote, concerning mind uploading:“and I see lots of reasons why it wouldn’t”I’m curious, can you name one?I’m not assuming the mind upload necessarily means to silicone.It might require growing a clone body and then having nano-bots restructure the brain of the clone to be identical to your own brain.I have a broad understanding of what “mind upload” might mean.Yudkowsky discussed this stuff on bloggingheads a while back.  

You know the whole Ship of Theseus thought experiment? Look it up if you don’t, I’m going to use it as an example.

1. If you believe that only the ship that has continually journeyed to Crete is the “real” ship, then mind uploading can’t work.

2. If you believe that both ships are the “real” ship, then mind uploading isn’t important.

3. If you believe that neither ship is the “real” ship, then mind uploading isn’t important.

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Hermes January 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Michael: Hmmm… if you could clarify what you mean by demonstrate I will do my best to think about it and give an example if I can.

I’ll leave it wide open for you.

Any unambiguous non-abstract observation of perfection or secondarily some actual absolute.

So, it could be an action, an object, a situation, or something derived from one of those (caution on that last one: still has to be unambiguous!).

I am not limiting the form of demonstration beyond that it can not be abstract, so don’t take these possible categories as the only ones you can provide a demonstration from.

Examples of things we call perfect but are not actually perfect;

* A player who scores from an incredible distance in the last moment to win the game.

* The perfect peach. I get a basket of peaches at the height of the harvest season. With me are a few people who love peaches. You join us. We all sit down, and start going through the basket, each person picking a peach and slicing off part of it to sample. Imperfect peaches are tossed, contenders are passed around for others to sample. After a while, we have a range of peaches. We toss all but the top peaches, and independently determine if those few peaches are perfect or not. If we don’t find the perfect peach, we get another basket or call it a day. Let’s say that we find the one peach that — independently — we all agree is perfect.

Now, in the case of the game and in the case of the peach we are not talking about actual perfection. What we are talking about is perfect for. The point was scored perfect for the game. The peach was perfect for eating. In each case, the focus is limited to humans and even then only a small subset of all humans.

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Rob January 6, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Patrick,

“If you believe that both ships are the “real” ship, then mind uploading isn’t important.”

I don’t follow your reasoning. Suppose some advanced technology made an identical copy of me, then both iterations are equally “real”. How does that make mind uploading unimportant?

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Hermes January 6, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Henry, Re: Pew. Yes. Interesting yet not surprising. There are so many Christianities, so many religions, and so many theisms. This fits nicely with my earlier quote.

Rob: “One level of description does not exclude the other.”

Well said.

Luke, Re: Robert Wenzlaff quote. One to remember.

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Patrick January 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Patrick,“If you believe that both ships are the “real” ship, then mind uploading isn’t important.”I don’t follow your reasoning.Suppose some advanced technology made an identical copy of me, then both iterations are equally “real”. How does that makemind uploading unimportant?  

Because once you accept a definition of “you” that can allow there to be more than one “you” in existence, each of which is capable of (and actually is) having independent, unshared experiences, then you need to completely re-justify what “you” means, and why it matters whether “you” exist from moment to moment into the future, from scratch. For example, in 10 years you will have different experiences from the ones you have now. Your opinions will have changed. Under this framework, how is that “you?” What if we made a copy of you with our future technology, but before completing it, we made adjustments and changed it to an amount that approximates 10 years of experience. Is that you? The problems go on, and I don’t think they can be solved.

Notice that I’m not endorsing any theory of selfhood. I don’t know that its any more rational to worry about how I’ll feel in 24 hours than it is to worry about how my cloned self will feel 24 hours after the copying process. But since there’s no other options, we don’t worry about it too much.

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Rob January 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Patrick,

I understand and have thought about all that. But if the process that is my current state of consciousness is about to cease, and I have the option of continuing that process by mind upload, then right now I would choose that option. So, it is important. To the current “me”, whatever that is.

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Patrick January 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I probably shouldn’t have used the word “important.” “Liable to count as letting “you” live forever.” might have been better.

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Charles January 6, 2011 at 3:51 pm

PDH,

In my version, the pill is just a metaphor.

Taking the blue pill corresponds to living your life normally, joining Alcor or CI, and hoping for the best. Taking the red pill corresponds to a pre-mortem suspension under controlled conditions when you are relatively young (i.e. the risk of Alzheimer’s is low).

If you really believe mind uploading is going to work, then you won’t wait until after death to be cryopreserved. You will find a way to make it happen sooner.

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PDH January 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Charles,

I took it as a metaphor and tried to get to the spirit of the argument (this is why I ignored the issue of whether mind-uploading constitutes continuity of self).

My answer is that I don’t really believe that mind-uploading is going to work but if I did and could be reasonably sure that it did constitute a proper continuation of self (assuming that could even be defined to our satisfaction) then, yes, I would take the death pill and enjoy my eternal paradise.

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PDH January 6, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Although, thinking about it…my friends and family aren’t going to be there, are they? Maybe exact copies of them could be regarded as the same thing but then we’re getting into issues that do turn on the some of the philosophy I’ve just ignored.

Let me just say if I thought I could get to a genuine paradise (i.e. with all the stuff I would want from such a thing, including the presence of the people I love) by killing myself then, yes, I would. It would only depend on how sure of it I was. I’d have to be pretty sure.

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Zeb January 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm

DaVead, I don’t have enough time (or education) to add much, but I’m really glad to see your contribution and I hope you’ll keep representing that sort of approach around here. It’s sorely needed.

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DaVead January 6, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Rob: Understood. Thanks for the sympathy.

cl: Props to you too. Keep bringin’ the heat.

Zeb: I look for appropriate opportunities, but often times such issues and such presuppositional core objections are too destructive to a given topic at hand that it just doesn’t seem worth it. This time it seemed relevant to the question of one’s ‘beliefs’ not matching up to one’s everyday life or everyday experiences, since this issue seems equally problematic for any strict realism, be it theistic, Judeo-Christian, scientific, etc.

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DaVead January 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Mike Grant:

“Therefore, what’s needed is an explanation of how we got to the heaven-and-hell scenario evangelicals have today. There is no biblical bridge from Sheol (Hades) to heaven-or-hell.”

If you’d like one, I’d be happy to give it.

So the question is: what happened between the time of the Hebrew Bible’s creation, where beatific afterlife beliefs were absent, and around about the first century, when Judaic eschatology would birth Christian doctrines that would later come to influence the popular notions of today?

Before this point, the afterlife was not very significant for the Jews, and it is important to elucidate that as far as the importance of the afterlife, the state of affairs had by no means turned around in the post-exilic period. What had changed was the introduction of new ideas into Judaism, the most significant of which was the idea of resurrection from the dead. Emanating from possible sources like Ezekiel’s description of God making dry bones covered in flesh (Ez. 37:8) and Daniel’s talk of new life for “those who sleep in the dust of the ground” (Dan. 12:2), resurrection had officially entered the Judaic discourse as a controversial idea. Additionally, Zoroastrianism was also a likely influence, since it contains central doctrines of both the resurrection of the dead and the reality of a bodily heaven that were, as many scholars believe, reinvented in Judaism and Christianity in Hellenistic times. The idea of resurrection may have gained further momentum during the Maccabean wars, which subjected persecuted Jews to the phenomenon of martyrdom and introduced doubts of God’s mercy and a longing for immortality. In view of this, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead demonstrated God’s continuing mercy in vindicating those who suffer martyrdom, and served as a promise that the martyrs would regain their lost years and the pleasures of bodily existence.

Eventually, after what might be called its religious ‘gestation period’, the doctrine of resurrection had furthered the division between Pharisees, who embraced notions of the afterlife and resurrection, and fundamentalist Sadducees, who rejected survival after death or of any beatific retribution beyond the grave. The teachings of Jesus would fall under Pharisaic thought, paving the way for the eventual proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection by his followers. But the influence of these historical circumstances and brief scriptural references pale in comparison to the work of Jewish interpreters, who slowly developed eschatological notions from scriptures that lacked all measure of explicitness in this area.

Some of the most significant interpretive texts that elaborated on the Hebrew Bible’s virtual silence about the afterlife were the books attributed to Enoch, the son of Noah. In one passage he is described as a godly man who “walked with God,” but mysteriously, he was then “no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). This was widely interpreted to mean that Enoch had not actually died, but that he had ascended bodily into heaven where he gained heavenly knowledge. Since Enoch was believed to have ascended into heaven and was still physically alive, this entailed that heaven was a physical place. It followed that in books that were slowly discovered that were allegedly filled of his divine wisdom, a key tenet of Judaic eschatology was developed that associated the Garden of Eden from Genesis with a heavenly paradise awaiting the righteous after death. According to these extra-Biblical sources, once Enoch was in heaven, a man or angel explained to Enoch where he was, claiming “This place has been prepared for the righteous… for them this has been prepared as an eternal inheritance” (En. 2 8:1-9:1). This passage was interpreted to mean that God had taken the garden he had created for Adam and Eve and made it the reward and final resting place of the righteous after death. From this perspective, twice in Genesis the Jews could now read references to a beatific afterlife.

The Enochic works inject allusions elsewhere, such as in Moses’ final speech to the Israelites before his death. The Hebrew Bible records Moses preaching to his people, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, so that you and your descendants may live” (Deu. 30:18). We find this choice between life and death in Enoch’s writings, when God says, “I gave him [Adam] his free will and I pointed out to him the two ways, light and darkness” (En. 2 30:15). The interpretive stance conveyed here is that this choice between life and death was between life as the reward of the righteous and eternal death. Hence, here we see indication of a developed notion of the afterlife, one that is radically different from the ancient Hebraic one, and that is found throughout the books of Enoch, which compose merely a few examples among many.

Beyond the scope of the Enochic works, the story of Enoch’s experience of being taken up into heaven actually led to an entire interpretive tradition that popularized Judaic eschatological notions even more so than the references found in the books.

Richard Bauckham, in his paper entitled “Early Jewish Visions of Hell,” expounds upon a genre of Judaic and Christian literature called the ‘tours of hell.’ These works contain accounts of religious experiences similar to Enoch’s, but attribute them to many different figures from the Bible including Elijah, Moses, Abraham and Hezekiah. Bauckham describes that in each of these accounts, the characters are given visions of visits to hell, in which they are shown a variety of punishments being inflicted on various categories of sinners. Another example would be Abraham’s troubled sleep, when “a dread and great darkness fell upon him” (Gen. 15:12), which came to be viewed as a prophetic apocalypse in which Abraham was given a view of all of human history, of heaven and hell. What Bauckham credits the development of this interpretive tendency to is an increasing obsession in the fate of the dead that was brewing in ancient Judaic thought in the time before the advent of Christianity.

Here, we see the capability of interpreters to take one verse from the Hebrew Bible and fabricate additional scriptures and eventually an entire literary genre in the advance of a previously forlorn concept, namely, the reward of heaven and the punishment of hell. This Enochic example is merely one thread in the tapestry of Judaic interpretation regarding eschatology that has grown out of the Hebrew Bible.

For sources on everything I’ve said check any of the following: Philip Johnston’s “Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament”, James Kugel’s “The Bible As It Was”, Alan Segal’s “Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West”, and Eliezer Segal’s “Judaism: Life After Death in World Religions.”

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DaVead January 6, 2011 at 10:01 pm

^(excerpt from a paper I wrote on the subject, by the way. No, I didn’t just on-the-spot spew that out complete with Biblical references in the 24 minutes between comments. )

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DaVead January 6, 2011 at 10:03 pm

* Mike Gannt (sorry)

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Rob January 6, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Gantt

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DaVead January 6, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Lol, sorry. Again. Slightly intoxicated.. >.>.. maybe Luke’ll fix that up nice and good.

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Mike Gantt January 7, 2011 at 1:26 am

@DaVead

Thanks for the response. Much of what you say is interesting and relevant, though you’d be more accurate to say that Jewish interest in resurrection intensified as the 1st Century approached than to say or imply that it was previously nonexistent. (After all, the only reason Abraham went along with the idea of sacrificing Isaac was that he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead.) However, you have not addressed the point. The point is that evangelicals claim to have a biblical case for the heaven-or-hell scenario yet they have no biblical answer for how people stopped going to Sheol. Your comment speaks to the context of New Testament times but not to what the New Testament itself says about this issue.

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Stephen January 7, 2011 at 1:43 am

That’s incredibly easy, honestly — the red pill. And I actually have more doubts than most Christians I know of.

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DaVead January 7, 2011 at 2:33 am

Mike Gantt,

Yes, belief in bodily resurrection was not non-existent before he 1st century, but it was a controversial and divisive doctrine. The claim that the Hebrew people going as far back as Abraham (assuming he actually lived) believed in the resurrection is quite the leap. I don’t know of any textual support for that, and the idea that Abraham was willing to kill Isaac because he trusted that God would resurrect him is the result of centuries of interpretation, re-interpretation, and attempts at justifying Abraham’s radical obedience.

I agree that evangelicals have a lot of strange beliefs, especially about the afterlife, that are not derivable from the biblical text alone. The list of Christian doctrines that aren’t strictly “biblical” is very long indeed. Most have been shaped by the Christian interpretative tradition over the past two-thousand years, and many denominations are explicitly okay with this. For instance, no where does the book of Genesis suggest that the serpent is Satan. This is a part of Christian tradition though. There are also things in the Bible that Christians don’t believe. Why did God flood the earth (biblically speaking)? Because angels seduced and impregnated human women, who then gave birth to a race of demi-god giants called the Nephilim, who were abominations in God’s eyes, and needed to be wiped out alongside the sinful humans. Pretty awesome, eh?

Now, perhaps when evangelicals “biblically” support their beliefs they are reading these later theological developments into the text, but that is hardly a threatening criticism, speaking intra-religiously anyway. This practice is essential to the religious phenomenon of scripture. What is silly is the idea that we can achieve some sort of unbiased, non-interpretively influenced reading of scripture. The texts are truly too vague and inconsistent to formulate anything religiously relevant without an interpretive medium of a religious community, authority, or a background of tradition. The Hebrew alphabet has no vowels for God’s sake! The translation of every phrase is rooted in religious tradition.

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Mike Gantt January 7, 2011 at 3:09 am

@DaVead

If you think the Scriptures are “…too vague and inconsistent to formulate anything…” why do you read and write about it?

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corn walker January 7, 2011 at 5:31 am

@Mike Gantt

@DaVead
If you think the Scriptures are “…too vague and inconsistent to formulate anything…” why do you read and write about it?  

Are you suggesting that people should be ignorant of the Bible unless they truly believe?

I can’t speak for DaVead, but I continue to read and write about it because Christians continue in their attempts to peddle their nonsense in the public square. And as long as one of their “arguments” is that I am “ignorant” of what their scriptures say, I’m going to ensure that is not true. (Of course I had a head start, being on the seminary path before I de-converted). It seems to be working too; ever since I invited the Jehovah’s Witness canvassers in for a cup of herbal tea and a chat about their “good news” they skip my house when they come through the neighborhood.

More seriously though, if you’re going to debate a subject, you should know your opponent’s position as well as or better than your own. And part of attacking your opponent’s argument is to show that the center doesn’t hold, and expose their attempts to whitewash over ignorance, brutality, blatant contradictions or mere “inconsistencies” in the so-called scripture. And in exposing the evolution of theology, it makes it much more likely that the so-called “scriptures” are of completely human origin and that man made god, not the other way ’round.

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Mike Gantt January 7, 2011 at 7:53 am

@corn walker

It was a little over 30 years ago that I began reading the Bible for the very purpose of refuting the various people who were witnessing to me. Since they all had varying opinions about its contents, I was confident that what I would read would be subject to interpretation. The process backfired on me. While I did find some things that were subject to interpretation and some things hard to understand, I also found central ideas that were impossible for me to say were “too vague and inconsistent to formulate anything.” Among them were,

Jesus Christ is God
Everyone is going to heaven
We are all judged according to our morality
All Bible prophecy has been fulfilled
God doesn’t care whether people are Christians, Jews, Atheists, or whatever
God doesn’t want people to go to church; He wants them to live morally
*
I still find things in the Bible that are subject to interpretation, I still find things in it that are hard to understand. But I’ve learned that just because I can’t understand all of it, and just because some people misunderstand lots of it, doesn’t mean we can’t understand any of it.

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Michael January 7, 2011 at 8:20 am

I know this is somewhat not on the topic that the post was originally intended to be on, but now that it has come up, I decided to invest some more time on the ideas of Hell and Heaven and will post on my blog here in the next week or so on it, feel free to join in on a discussion there if you would like. The only thing I will say here about it is what is Gehenna then if not Hell? Hades is indeed commonly thought to be the same as Sheol, but Gehenna is the part associated with torment and such.

As for the link to the post about everybody getting to Heaven and as soon as they die, this is in contrast to what the early Church believed, and what the Church still believes. Paul seems to make a distinction between Heaven as the New Earth and where we go immediately following death. This would explain the worry of some of his churches when they questioned how the resurrection would happen and what would happen with those who had already died. So while it may not be entirely relevant and useful, I think it is important to show that some of the earliest doctrines on the matter are that we die and go to be with God in spirit, and that the resurrection comes at the end of the earth and at the final judgment in a mass resurrection.

As for realism vs. anti-realism, I will admit that I have studied no continental philosophy and only analytic, and a somewhat recent philpapers.org survey had about 81% buying into non-skeptical realism, making any sort of idealism or anti-realism a small minority that rarely is supported in the analytic tradition. This is by no means meant to be an argument for realism, only that I have not been introduced to the serious concept of an anti-realism that was formulated very well. In my philosophy of science classes, most of our work has included realism in it as a major basis for the progress of science. On a side note here, reductionism is certainly a favored view in the philosophy department, though not held by me personally.

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Steven January 7, 2011 at 9:26 am

As an Atheist, I can just say that I would choose the blue pill. Why? Because I have no knowledge whatsoever of what the state of death is, and, as such, I cannot make an accurate decision. It is knowledge I can never have and as such, I am better off choosing the pill that I know will bring me happiness and meet other goals I have (such as being a productive member of society). The other isn’t a risk, it’s an outright step into the wild. That’s my two cents.

Though I doubt the Theists that frequent this site are adequate “test subjects” for this thought-experiment because they probably believe that they are really right, which is why they’re here to defend their faith. However, a 2003 poll found that many Christians do NOT believe in all the tenets of their religion, so I think it’s a fair guess to say that many do have a “belief in belief”.

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Michael January 7, 2011 at 9:48 am

@Steven
As a Christian myself, I will confirm what you say. Many merely believe for social reasons, or because it seems like the safe option, or because it is more comforting than alternatives, and if push came to shove, would not hesitate to much to abandon it. This, to me, is sad, and they give Christianity a bad name, since given the history of Christianity, it is quite apparent that many adherents have been proud and not ashamed in the least to die for their faith, whether right or wrong.

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corn walker January 7, 2011 at 10:07 am

As an Atheist, I can just say that I would choose the blue pill. Why? Because I have no knowledge whatsoever of what the state of death is, and, as such, I cannot make an accurate decision. It is knowledge I can never have and as such, I am better off choosing the pill that I know will bring me happiness and meet other goals I have (such as being a productive member of society).   

But we do know what the state of death is, and with a fair amount of certainty. We know that the mind is a function of the brain. We know the brain is a physical entity that operates through a series of chemical interactions. All of the evidence suggests that when we are dead, we cease to exist. There is no evidence suggesting otherwise, and yet we persist with this “we can’t know…” nonsense.

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Steven January 7, 2011 at 10:59 am

Oh believe me, corn walker, I agree that we will probably cease to exist. What I have a problem with is that we have no experience on what it means to “cease to exist”. We can guess but we really don’t have any knowledge (or maybe there is none to be had) for us to be able to do anything than an educated guess, so I’m a bit cautious of saying exactly what it would be like.

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Pedro Amaral Couto January 7, 2011 at 11:08 am

@Steve:

The experience of ceasing to exist is the same experience of not existing before you were born.
It’s the same feeling and you’ll gather the same amount knowledge from the inexistence state.

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Rob January 7, 2011 at 11:13 am

What Pedro said. The question “what is it like to not exist” is a nonsense question.

Epicurus exposed this mistake a millennia ago: “When I am, death is not, and when death is, I am not.”

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J. K. Jones January 7, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Going back to the original post, this question is not hypothetical.

Some Christians literally die for their faith. Somewhere about 171,000 to 210,000 Christian martyrs ‘take the red pill’ every year worldwide (http://www.farsinet.com/pwo/world_mission.html; http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm). They have bet their lives on the Christian faith when, many times, all that would be necessary to spare their lives would be a denial of that faith.

Many other Christians heed the Bible’s call to deny ourselves in countless small ways. If I had acted on the notion that the Christian faith was false (‘taken the blue pill’), I would get back all the money I gave to the church and church-related relief efforts, all the time I spent in worship or other services, all the pleasure I have denied myself in avoidance of things considered sinful, and some other worldly trouble as well. In a figurative sense, I ‘take the red pill’ every day.

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DaVead January 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Mike Gantt,

What I meant was that the Bible -by itself- is vague, it begs to be interpreted. Without the interpretive tradition of Judaism or Christianity it is a very mysterious collection of documents indeed. I study it because it is fascinating.

Michael,

I’m not convinced by arguments and positions for full-out anti-realism. But scientific anti-realism is less extreme, and I’d wager it is a lot more popular than the philpapers survey suggests. And do try reading some continental philosophy. If you’re open to it, it will blow your mind.

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Rob January 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Michael,I’m not convinced by arguments and positions for full-out anti-realism.But scientific anti-realism is less extreme, and I’d wager it is a lot more popular than the philpapers survey suggests.And do try reading some continental philosophy.If you’re open to it, it will blow your mind.  

DaVead,

I think that is almost certainly the case, and I bet it is a position held by philosophically interested scientists. Hawking’s recent “model dependent realism” is some species of anti-realism, despite what his labeling might imply.

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clamat January 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Fun stuff. This atheist takes the red pill.

One Big Assumption: The Afterlife is desireable.

The red pill removes the biggest objections to Pascal’s Wager. (1) One can’t simply choose to believe. Red pill, done. (2) More importantly, how do you determine the correct faith to believe in? Red pill, no problem.

If you take the red pill and there’s no afterlife, you’ve thrown away your life, but you’ll never know it. You won’t be. There’ll be no you to regret making a bad bet. Likewise, you’re going to cease to be if you take the blue pill, and there will be no you to be satisfied with the good bet you made.

If there is no afterlife, in the end it makes no difference if you take the blue or the red pill. If there is an afterlife, you risk losing it if you don’t take the red pill.

Take the red pill! Take it!

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Steven January 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm

The point still remains that death is still much more uncertain than life, and the “Death Pill”. I agree with all the points made and I suppose I did give too much credit to the uncertainty of life. That said, since life is more “known” and less probably to fall to absurd stuff like an after-life, I’d take the blue pill.

To Clamat:

Exactly how does an after-life give any meaning to what you did? All the meaning of your prior life would STILL be subjective, along with the meaning of your new after-life, so I don’t see how your point is in any way valid, all that would change is how long you remember how meaningful it was to you. But if meaning lies merely on the self, and the blue pill gives you meaning, why not take it instead?

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Polymeron January 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Clamat,

One thing I did not mention in my analysis was, the red pill is a lot more selfish. If you take the blue pill you will be able to improve people’s lives, build hospitals, feed the needy, etc.

If you take the red pill, most chances are you’ve just killed yourself for nothing. Even on the infintisimally small chance that you land in some favorable afterlife, you still denied other people the benefits of living productively.

I’m not entirely sure how to calculate the utility of these ingredients put together, but it seems to me that I could not, in good faith, choose to bet on the red pill knowing the consequences.

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Patrick January 8, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Red Pill: You get to be raptured and go to heaven right now.

Blue Pill: You don’t get to be raptured. You have to live on earth through seven years of Jesus curb stomping the human race. Its going to totally suck, but you can do some good for some other people who will really need it. Eventually you’ll die of AIDS (you can’t prevent it, its the apocalypse and AIDS is mandatory). That part will suck too. Afterward you go to heaven.

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Joe Fasulo January 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm

In measurable reality there is no such thing as a Christian. Behavior is far more important that verbal declarations and superficial behavior. To be a Christian is to be “like the Christ”. If one claims to be Christian and does not behave or makes no attempt to behave as the so-called Christ did then by definition he or she cannot be a Christian. If you do not do as the Christ asked and demanded then it is incorrect to call yourself Christian. Pick a winner…..Wm Craig?…B.Graham?…The Pope?….All of them are hypocrites and phonies by definition not just because I have said so. It is not an opinion nor is it coincidental that so many are caught with their pants down on a regular basis. And for all of those caught there are many many who are not.

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Felipe Ramos January 9, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Hello Luke
I really love your question! For final choice, I will take a blue pill !

Enjoy in Life!

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ildi January 10, 2011 at 9:59 am

If you take the red pill, you will die immediately.

Will it hurt?

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Felipe Ramos January 10, 2011 at 10:41 am

Hey Luke,
I want to know which red or blue pills you will shallow?

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Luke Muehlhauser January 10, 2011 at 10:57 am

Felipe,

Definitely the blue.

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clamat January 11, 2011 at 10:59 am

@Steven

You asked: “Exactly how does an after-life give any meaning to what you did?”

Where did I say it did? My point wasn’t about the Meaning of Life. My point was that I Want to Live Forever. In any event, if meaning is “subjective” and “lies merely on the self” (and I agree it probably does) and your Self is finite, any Meaning dies with you. If your Self is eternal, so is your Meaning, right?

My point was about probability, i.e., the Wager, and involved a very cursory risk/benefit analysis. But in this context I think your first point is much stronger: Death is still much more uncertain than life. Hmmm…

@Polymeron

You said: “Even on the infinitesimally small chance that you land in some favorable afterlife, you still denied other people the benefits of living productively.”

Maybe I’m horribly selfish, but don’t think the purpose of my life is to benefit “other people.” I’ve certainly never heard anybody say a suicide was immoral because the person deprived humanity at large the benefits of their productivity.

But your statement is a variation on how my wife answered (I posted before I had asked her), although she specifically referred to our children. That got me. If I’m being entirely, abstractly selfish, I take the red pill. But in reality, I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to explain my choice to my kids, and leave them alone, without a father (flawed as he may be). That would be unforgiveable, and it hurts my heart to think about it.

[Sniffle] Fine, I change my mind – blue pill, blue pill!

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Henry January 11, 2011 at 11:17 am

I posted this question as my Facebook status and many of my friends from the Unitarian Universalist church I used to attend replied, “Blue, of course. That’s how we live now.” One of my evangelical friends replied, “Do I have to take the pill with Kool-aid?” One of my wacko friends used it as an opportunity to rant about the estate tax. Fun was had by all.

Thanks for the thought food, Luke.

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Polymeron January 11, 2011 at 7:17 pm

clamat,

I’m definitely including relationships with other people as part of that productive, fulfilling life. And yes, I consider suicide immoral for precisely those reasons – you’re causing pain to others and are depriving others from other ways you could benefit them. I’ll admit that emotionally, I always considered the first part the important one, but taking a bigger picture look shows that there actually is a lot of good you can do with your life even if, at a glance, no one would notice you’re gone.

In the absence of other people, I would consider suicide morally neutral.

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clamat January 12, 2011 at 7:11 am

@Polymeron

Not to quibble, but isn’t every action morally neutral in the absence of other people?

I can’t agree that I have a moral obligation to exist because my existence may benefit others, but its a reasonable (and admirable) position.

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Mike January 13, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I think it is true that we are betting our lives and future on one of the pills, it will just take a lifetime to feel the effects.

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Polymeron March 28, 2011 at 10:23 am

Rob T, (and anyone else who is interested)

@ Polymeron: Yes, it certainly made me reevaluate my thoughts on grief. Despite being close to middle-age now, I (luckily) haven’t had to deal or cope with many deaths in my family or circle friends – so I’m not all that confident that thinking about my feelings will accurately portray my actual feelings once I do confront REAL grief.

However, when I think about it, I agree with you that real grief does seem to do with a person’s well-being. In Merriam’s example, I think most people would agree that feeling genuine grief or bereavement for someone who ventures into outer space might be irrational, sinceyou could always reassure yourself or others about their well-being in some way – even if no one actually knew for sure if it was true.

However, evenif all future contact with that person were impossible – I would guess that one could at least find some solace in the hope that the person is not only alive, but that their desires and needs as a living being were still being fulfilled in some way. Knowing that he / she is no longer alive forever douses those hopes.

I have no idea on the mechanisms of how such emotions evolved – but I would love to hear any hypotheses you may come up with!

Well, it’s only taken me a couple of months…
I did come up with something, and it’s rather changed my view of emotions in general. Here goes…
Behavioral feedback mechanisms, as I covered last time, make perfect sense evolutionarily. You need something to regulate your intelligence into useful behaviors, after all. That we might call such mechanisms “emotions” does not seem out of the ordinary. Many emotions can be explained as simply this; it is not surprising that we have long and short-term feedback loops, immediate and gradual, etc. etc. etc.

But there are further consequences we neglected to take into account last time. Once emotions as feedback mechanisms were prevalent, the detection of emotions became useful – you can better evaluate how a person would react if you know their emotional state. This is of course widely known – we have lots of researches that show we have innate recognition of emotional states by facial expressions, as well as a few other factors such as posture, tone of voice etc.

What I have so far failed to consider, and props here go to people on LessWrong who helped raise these points, is that once these detection mechanisms are fixated in the population, the emotion itself can change to reflect this. Specifically, I think grief has a very strong signaling value: If people know that you care deeply about your friends, they’d be less worried that you might harm them. Indeed, I think we would be deeply distrustful of a person who is indifferent or happy about a loved one dying. A-la handicap principle theory, the only signal that is reliable is a signal that is hard to fake; and so grief is a cost-bearing (debilitating) condition that is best mitigated through social contact, in addition to it providing negative feedback. And so you have an emotion that is much more than a sensor for loss; it is a sensor for the (perceived) well-being of a close person, and if it dips too low we become temporarily debilitated – for all the world to see how much we really care.

Evolutionary psychology will never cease to amaze me.

Of course, it means that my hypothesis on happiness is outdated. Back to the drawing board on that one…

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snacksizegrl August 11, 2011 at 8:57 am

The thing about faith is: You must have a measure of belief WITHOUT solid proof. That is the very nature of FAITH.
To a person who wants to believe there is no god, they will find evidence to “prove” their point, and visa versa.
If you have a heart that does not want to believe there is a God, no measure of “proof” (the miracle of birth, the perfect rotation of the planets, the capacity of the human brain and the development of that and society…) All of this is just luck to the person who does not want to answer to a higher power.

I did not want to believe there was a God. That would make me accountable for the bad things I have done. I did not want to be accountable or answer to anyone. Why should I?

The free-will that God has given man gives him the GOD GIVEN right to deny HIS very existence. This does not make God go away.

This only soothes the mind of a person that is enjoying whatever lifestyle they want to fashion for themselves. They do not have to worry until they are dead and they are not dead yet, so denial is great…until their last breath is taken in which they will think to themselves:

“Was I right? ”

Are you willing to risk your eternal future ?

That is a question that can only be answered between you and God.

Don’t email me to make yourself feel better about whatever your doing. It is not up to me to judge, that is God’s job.

I did not believe in a God, until I got possessed with demons and then I found out real quick that God is real, Jesus was His Son and hell wanted me to not believe in either.

I changed my mind real quick.

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snacksizegrl August 11, 2011 at 9:01 am

http://www.shalombewithyou.com

Got demons? Get help.

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Henry August 11, 2011 at 11:35 am

I did not want to believe there was a God. That would make me accountable for the bad things I have done.

How sad that you felt that way. You created a false choice for yourself. Striving to be a good person has nothing to do with whether you believe in supernatural beings.

Good luck with those hallucinations. You may want to get yourself checked out by a doctor.

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Chulk Smash September 1, 2011 at 11:35 am

I am proud to be a Christian. I would say that in a “must take” situation, I would happily take the red pill to join my Savior in Heaven. There would be NOTHING to fear. With faith, I know that there is eternal life and look forward to spending it in the bliss that is heaven. On the other hand, those that do not believe, I feel sorry for. May the good Lord have mercy on your souls and turn your heads toward Him. May he soften your hearts and open the eyes to your minds to see more clearly. Athiest don’t believe in God. God doesn’t believe in you either. Therefore, you do must exist.

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