The Problem of Heaven (part 1a)

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 18, 2011 in Christian Theology,Guest Post

Guest blogger John D of Philosophical Disquisitions summarizes contemporary articles in philosophy of religion in plain talk so that you can be up to speed on the God debate as it ensues at the highest levels of thought. Visit John’s blog for more helpful summaries of contemporary philosophical works.

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Welcome to this the second entry in the series on the problem of heaven. As you’ve no doubt noticed, this is not officially being called ‘part 2′ but rather ‘part 1a’. Allow me to explain. It all has to do with the discussion that arose in the comments section after part one was posted. That discussion forced me to think about the presentation of the problem of heaven that I had originally offered. That presentation had followed the one in Graham Oppy’s book Arguing about Gods . Oppy is a top-notch philosopher, but on reflection it seems like his presentation isn’t necessarily the best way to explain the persuasive force of the problem of heaven. Thus, with your permission, I’d like to use this post to present the problem in a new light.

I’m going to do this by following the discussion in Simon Cushing’s paper “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma”. Cushing shows exactly how the problem of heaven joins up with the debate over the logical argument from evil (LAFE) and Plantinga’s free will defence (FWD). As a result, he gives a much clearer picture of the dialectical stakes that are raised by the problem of heaven. I hope that by reading this post you too will have a clearer sense of what’s going on than was the case after reading part one.

 

The Logical Argument from Evil

The first thing we must do in our quest to properly understand the dialectical context is to pay a visit to the classic LAFE. I don’t want to say too much about this since the internet is already teeming with excellent discussions of this argument (Luke has discussed it before); I just want to do enough to set us up for understanding Plantinga’s FWD.

The most commonly discussed version of the LAFE belongs, of course, to Mackie. As it happens, Mackie’s version is a good deal more sophisticated than you might think (you’ll see this if you read the lecture linked to above). Still, his basic idea was that the following group of propositions (premises) forms a mutually inconsistent set:

(1) God is omnipotent (all-powerful).

(2) God is omniscient (all-knowing).

(3) God is eternal.

(4) God is omnibenevolent (all-good).

(5) Evil exists.

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More straightforwardly, we’d say that propositions (1)-(4) imply that evil does not exist (because God should have the power to prevent all evils), whereas proposition (5) states that it does exist, and hence there is a contradiction. Obviously, if this is correct, a theist can only respond by denying one of the propositions in the set. But, for various reasons we won’t get into here, this is not typically done. Instead, the typical response — and the one made famous by Plantinga — is to deny that (1) – (5) form a mutually inconsistent set.

[Just a quick note: You may be wondering why (3) is included since this doesn’t seem to say anything about God’s capacity to prevent evil — this is something that will be addressed in a future post. Roughly, the idea is that different conceptions of eternity imply different things about God’s ability to prevent evil and so a reference God’s eternality must be included in the discussion.]

 

The Free Will Defense

The goal of Plantinga’s FWD is to show that (1) – (5) form a mutually inconsistent set. How exactly is this done? Again, I don’t want to get into this in too much detail since Luke has discussed it before. Still, I must sketch the basic logic and strategy behind the defence. Here’s, roughly, how it goes.

To overcome the logical problem, Plantinga needs to add some “broadly logically possible” propositions to the original set which, when taken in conjunction with the existing members, imply that (1) – (4) are true and that (5) is also true. In other words, he needs to add some propositions that show how it is possible for all five of the original propositions to be true at the same time. This strategy rests on the principle that if two propositions (call them P and Q) are formally inconsistent, then it is not logically possible for them to be true at the same time. But if there is a third proposition (call it R) that is logically possible, and if that proposition when combined with P entails Q, then P and Q can be true at the same time. And so, it follows, that P and Q are not formally inconsistent.

In the case of the FWD, two propositions are added to the original set. These are:

(6) There cannot be a state of existence containing beings with morally significant free will wherein evil will not eventually occur (call this FWD1).

(7) A state of existence with both morally significant free will and evil is better than one without either (call this FWD2).

When combined with (1) – (4), these two propositions would entail (5) and so would show that the original set of propositions are not formally inconsistent.

Before going any further, a couple of words must be said about the phrasing of (6) and (7). The phrasing is Cushing’s, not Plantinga’s, and he notes a couple of unusual features of his preferred phrasing.

First, and unlike some of the more traditionally presentations — including the presentation that was discussed in the comments section to part one — (6) does not say that there “cannot” be no evil in a universe with morally significant free will. Instead it says that in such a universe there must, eventually, be evil. Cushing opted for this way of putting it because he felt it was logically possible for a universe consisting of one being to exist for such a short period of time that no evil could be done. This would suggest that the traditional way of putting it is false. This new way of putting it is better (even if not clearly true itself).

Second, the word “better”, which is included in (7), is deliberately vague. It is, as Cushing puts it, a “placeholder for later discussion”.

 

The (New?) Problem of Heaven

To recap on the dialectic to this point: we began with a fairly typical (but incompletely spelled-out) version of the logical argument from evil (LAFE). According to this argument, a being with the properties traditionally ascribed to God cannot coexist with evil (of any amount). This a because of an alleged formal inconsistency between the propositions describing God and the proposition affirming the existence of evil. The LAFE is then repudiated by the free will defence (FWD) which, by adding propositions to the original set, shows how it is possible for God and evil to coexist.

It is at this point that the problem of heaven enters the dialectical fray. It works in a straightforward two-step manner. It starts by adding yet more propositions to the already expanded set. And it follows this by showing how these additional propositions, when combined with the propositions making up the FWD, give rise to a significant dilemma. Let’s go through these two steps in more detail.

First, let’s add the extra propositions to the set. These propositions capture orthodox claims about the nature of heaven:

(8) At least some humans (or beings who were humans while on earth) have entered heaven (note: some claim that no one has yet entered heaven, but that they will in the future. If you are one of them, or if you encounter one of them, you can simply restate the dilemma we are about to formulate in the future tense).

(9) There cannot be evil heaven (or “necessarily, there is no evil in heaven”).

(10) Heaven is the best possible state of existence.

We will deal with the objections to these propositions later, for now we accept them as true and move on to consider how they create a the dilemma alluded to above. The idea is that (6), (8) and (9), taken together, imply the exact opposite to (7), (8) and (10), taken together. As follows:

(6) There cannot be a state of existence containing beings with morally significant free will wherein evil will not eventually occur.

(8) At least some humans (or beings who were humans while on earth) have entered heaven.

(9) There cannot be evil in heaven.

(11) Therefore, no humans who have entered heaven have free will.

Versus:

(7) A state of existence with both morally significant free will and evil is better than one without either.

(8) At least some humans (or beings who were humans while on earth) have entered heaven.

(10) Heaven is the best possible state of existence.

(11*) At least some of the humans who have entered heaven have free will.

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Obviously, these two conclusions are formally inconsistent — so something has to give. Either: (a) we give up the orthodox conception of heaven and keep the FWD; or (b) we give up the FWD, keep the orthodox conception of heaven, and reopen the LAFE. This, then, is the dilemma posed by the problem of heaven.

 

Summing Up

With any luck, this restatement has achieved its intended goal: to clarify the dialectical stakes raised by the problem of heaven. Obviously clarifying the dialectical stakes of the problem is not the end of the story. It is now possible to move on to consider the objections to the problem. These will all come in the form of challenges to the conception of heaven presented by propositions (8) – (10). We’ll talk about those the next day.

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

debunk July 18, 2011 at 4:32 am

When debating this subject I have, more than once, had my opponent reject the premise “There cannot be evil in heaven”, with them using Lucifers/Satans rebellion against god and the wars in heaven (as mentioned in Revelations and the book of Daniel) as examples of evil occurring in heaven.

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LilRobbie July 18, 2011 at 10:10 am

Yes, based on some of the comments from the “original” POH Part 1, I’m expecting to see the same objection put forth by a theist, in 5… 4… 3… 2…

When debating this subject I have, more than once, had my opponent reject the premise “There cannot be evil in heaven”, with them using Lucifers/Satans rebellion against god and the wars in heaven (as mentioned in Revelations and the book of Daniel) as examples of evil occurring in heaven.

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cl July 18, 2011 at 10:10 am

John D, I appreciate your interest in this subject, and the fresh enthusiasm you’re bringing to this blog. You’ve actually encouraged me to revisit the problem of evil! I’ll read the entire post and comment on the metadebate in greater detail later, but for now, I want to highlight the following as a perfect example of what I allude to in yesterday’s post on the POE:

More straightforwardly, we’d say that propositions (1)-(4) imply that evil does not exist (because God should have the power to prevent all evils), whereas proposition (5) states that it does exist, and hence there is a contradiction. Obviously, if this is correct, a theist can only respond by denying one of the propositions in the set.

I don’t think that’s true. Nothing in (1)-(4) forces the claim that evil doesn’t exist. Rather, the atheist simply uses human intuition and conceptual analysis–the very same type of human intuition and conceptual analysis Luke decries as unreliable elsewhere, mind you–to arrive at a conclusion that can be summarized as, “I can’t possibly understand how a good God could allow the evil we see.”

Instead, the typical response — and the one made famous by Plantinga — is to deny that (1) – (5) form a mutually inconsistent set.

In my opinion, he’s correct to do so. Tease out the assumed premise[s], and you will see that (1)-(5) only form an inconsistent if we consciously or unconsciously sneak something like, “A good God should never allow any evil for any reason” into the argument. IOW, the proponent of (1)-(5) holds at least one card under the table.

In the case of the FWD, two propositions are added to the original set. These are:

(6) There cannot be a state of existence containing beings with morally significant free will wherein evil will not eventually occur (call this FWD1).

(7) A state of existence with both morally significant free will and evil is better than one without either (call this FWD2).

I accept (7) as stated, but at the same time, I acknowledge that my acceptance is nothing more than an intuitive preference. I would also claim that anyone who wishes to deny (7) is required to do so on the same grounds. Therefore, (7) seems to be a weak link here, but I don’t want to talk too much about that at the moment. I deny (6) as stated, and will explain how that factors into the metadebate in an upcoming comment… gotta run.

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EvanT July 18, 2011 at 10:26 am

I’ll be the devil’s advocate for a moment (gotta put all that time I spent as an amateur apologist to good use, now don’t I? :P )

They equate the Realm of Angels with Heaven for Humans, which I don’t think is sustainable with the data contained in the canonical Bible. The Realm of Angels is more comparable with the Garden of Eden (i.e. communion with God, but evil is possible and evil warrants expulsion). Furthermore, if I’m not mistaken, isn’t that whole Lucifer rebellion part of the apocryphal Book of Enoch (and hence not Scripture)?

However, let’s grant that argument: A person enters Heaven, then commits evil and gets sent to Hell (like Lucifer). Doesn’t that invalidate the New Testament promise of life eternal or that Heaven is an eternal “reward”?

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Patrick who is not Patrick July 18, 2011 at 11:18 am

Once upon a time, I was really fascinated by formal logic and its use in constructing philosophical arguments. But nowadays I tend to think that it obscures more than it illuminates. There are really only a few fundamental insights doing work in this argument.

1. Atheist: If God wants the universe to be a particular way, why isn’t it? I’m talking about suffering, evil, stuff like that. If I spent all day saying I wanted a soda, and I had a refrigerator full of soda just across the room, you’d wonder why I complain so much instead of just getting one. Well, same thing.

2. Theist: Maybe God has a good reason. If he wanted something else more than he wanted to prevent evil, that would explain things. Like maybe you want to lose weight, AND you want a soda, but you think losing weight is more important. So, people having free will seems like a plausible nominee. Maybe God wants that more than he wants to stop evil.

3. Atheist: But that requires you to bite some bullets about this “heaven” place you believe in, doesn’t it? I’ve always been told that heaven is all blissful and awesome, but if its full of those free willed humans then it shouldn’t be much different than earth. Or you could look at it the other direction, and conclude that free will isn’t an impediment to God cleaning up the joint a fair bit, which puts us back at the start.

4. Theist: I can see that integrating the idea of free will in heaven into my theology is problematic. But I don’t like biting bullets, so I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to gesture vaguely at the fact that its possible there’s a harmonization of these ideas, and then go back to not worrying about this. And I assure you that I will never, ever tell my congregation about this entire issue, because I wouldn’t want to make faith difficult for them.

…and that’s pretty much the debate.

If you run things in formal deductive logic, its actually really easy for the theist to slime his way out of it by post hoc reasoning. You can ALWAYS slime your way out of these things post hoc, because all you have to do is fabricate a hypothesis about God’s desires that exactly matches the state of the world. For example,

Hypothesis: Free will is a moral good that is so important that it is worthwhile to allow other evil to possibly exist in order to allow free will. This is true because it is the nature of God that it be true. Also it only applies to beings with physical bodies, so it doesn’t count in heaven. That’s also part of God’s nature, so don’t bring your Euthyphro ’round these here parts.

And done. Or the theist could squirm with a bunch of other arguments. Just claim that free will only necessarily creates the possibility of evil if you have a physical body, or that it only counts in universes below with fewer than 15 dimensions (and heaven has 21), or any other made up rule. The entire debate began with a presumption that “moral goods” could be defined as any possible moral good the theist can come up with, and the nature of “moral goods” is clearly up for grabs, so all the theist has to do is gerrymander something.

I think we’d all be a lot better off if we didn’t spend hours on that. The core argument is simple: the theist claims that God wants the universe to be a particular way, and that he’s capable of making it that way, but it isn’t that way. That’s odd. The theist ad hocs himself an explanation, and then has to deal with the implications of that ad hoc explanation for his other religious beliefs. End of story.

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cl July 18, 2011 at 11:38 am

Patrick Who Is Not Patrick,

Once upon a time, I was really fascinated by formal logic and its use in constructing philosophical arguments. But nowadays I tend to think that it obscures more than it illuminates. There are really only a few fundamental insights doing work in this argument.

I tend to agree with you there, but:

4. Theist: I can see that integrating the idea of free will in heaven into my theology is problematic. But I don’t like biting bullets, so I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to gesture vaguely at the fact that its possible there’s a harmonization of these ideas, and then go back to not worrying about this. And I assure you that I will never, ever tell my congregation about this entire issue, because I wouldn’t want to make faith difficult for them.

…and that’s pretty much the debate.

Oh please. Give your opposition a little credit. I mean, here I am, trying to the best of my ability to tackle these questions head-on, and you’re gonna sit there and pretend that “that’s pretty much the debate?” Or that I simply “don’t like biting bullets?” How is that not a welcoming embrace to the argumentum ad hominem?

It’s been stated the free will in heaven / new Earth is problematic, yet, in Part 1, I gave arguments and real-world examples defending my belief that it is not. If you notice, nobody’s really stepped to those. I mean sure, there have been some related questions, and of course the dialog remains open, but nobody has yet offered anything to counter what was said. Be my guest if you think you can.

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Cristian July 18, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Traditionally, the Church had a rather different perspective on the problem of evil. I may be inexact, but here’s how I see it:

1. Evil does not exist. Evil does not have a substance, matter. Elementary particles are not good or bad, so anything that it’s built upon them is neither bad or good. Good, on the other hand, has substance. God is good, the ultimate good. In the apophatic way of saying it, God is actually beyond good. But when speaking about good, God would be the reference.

Evil is the absence of good. Harming someone is not essentially bad, as the harmed person can very well turn that harm into a good thing. In the person that does the harm, the act itself reflects the absence of love, of good.

2. God created man in His own image and with the potential likeness. That is, man is supposed to achieve God likeness. God likeness, among other things, means the the ability and impossibility to do evil, to sin. Once you achieved in yourself the state of being like God, you will actually be like God, that is, not sin anymore. Those in heaven are simply the people that achieved the state of theosis.

It’s really hard to talk about heaven without a proper theological anthropology. I’m afraid different christian denomination have very different views on this topic. I’m a member of the Easter Orthodox Church, which traditionally had a very nuanced view on the salvation, sin and human nature with respect to the other Christian denominations.

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Ex Hypothesi July 18, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Christian:

Fair enough, evil is not a thing but merely the deprivation of a thing’s nature or proper good. But the truth of this theory wouldn’t itself answer the following problem: Even if there is no evil per se, surely there is such thing as the *state* or *condition* of being deprived one’s proper goodness. (Any Christian must accept something like this, lest she agree that there is no need for redemption (or deification, as the East would put it).)

Put this way, here’s the problem: If there is the Sovereign Good (or beyond it) and all things that He makes are good, then none of His creatures will be in a *state* of deprivation with respect to their nature (lest the Sovereign Good is impotent in this respect, as Plato and Aristotle would suggest). But, creatures are in such a state of deprivation. Hence, There is no Sovereign Good (thus described).

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joseph July 18, 2011 at 10:37 pm

CL,
Would you mind expanding on your idea of using free will to submit to God’s will? I know it might be frustrating but whenever I read your posts on the matter it reminds me of:

‘And, if thy right hand doth cause thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast from thee, for it is good to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be cast to gehenna.’ -Young’s

I see it like a freeman deciding to become a slave. It would be true that the act of becoming a slave was one taken freely, but after that freedom is lost. Maybe it’s a ru bish metaphor (as slaves could sometimes buy freedom, or be freed for good deeds etc), but it captures the essence of my objection to that proposed solution.

Thankyou.

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Christian July 18, 2011 at 11:47 pm

If there is the Sovereign Good (or beyond it) and all things that He makes are good, then none of His creatures will be in a *state* of deprivation with respect to their nature (lest the Sovereign Good is impotent in this respect, as Plato and Aristotle would suggest). But, creatures are in such a state of deprivation. Hence, There is no Sovereign Good (thus described).

By saying this, you actually bound God to create other beings in the state of deification. The problem with that is if a being is created in a state from which she can not choose evil, she lacks one of the defining attributes of a person: free will. But only a person can be like God, because God is personal. Humans, and angels the same way, would not be able to freely participate in a communion of loving free persons as God is, because it will not be in their nature.

First man was created good in the sense that he had all the abilities to fullfil his existence. He chose a shortcut to the deification. The moment God asked Him what he’s done, instead of asking for forgiveness, Adam blamed God and the woman He gave him. He was free not to blame the others, but take the responsibility of his acts. He didn’t.

But what we see here is the relationship between free persons. Not God talking in the mirror, not Adam/Eve unable overcome limitations of their created nature.

So, I wasn’t trying to go around the free will argument, but rather to explain why it’s actually possible to people not to sin anymore, not to do evil. Here on Earth, as well as in Heaven.

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joseph July 19, 2011 at 12:23 am

Christian,
As God is in a state of deification (if I have not presumed too much) does God then lack free will?

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Christian July 19, 2011 at 12:46 am

Christian,
As God is in a state of deification (if I have not presumed too much) does God then lack free will?

No, deification for humans means that the free will is definitely set on doing what’s good. Choosing between two goods it’s still free will, you know.

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Christian July 19, 2011 at 12:51 am

Christian,
As God is in a state of deification (if I have not presumed too much) does God then lack free will?

To put it another way, God is good and also God is love. He can not not love. Which is not say He is not free. He is, as He free not create anything. He didn’t do it out of necessity, but out of love. Love is not love if it’s not free.

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Templestream July 19, 2011 at 1:05 am

“..be up to speed on the God debate”

That’s a good idea.

This is a friendly challenge to Luke Muehlhauser to see if his atheism is up to speed with reality. I’ve noticed there’s often a lot of posturing and show-boating at atheist blogs. If you really believe atheism is based on truth and sound reasoning, it should be easy to refute my article:

http://templestream.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-identity-logic-and-physics-prove.html

The language and concepts are fairly easy to understand.

Regards,

Rick

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joseph July 19, 2011 at 2:51 am

Thanks for the clarification Christian (“No, deification for humans means that the free will is definitely set on doing what’s good. Choosing between two goods it’s still free will, you know.”) My instincts where telling my that was what you meant, but in that case (deified being can have free will, by choosing between ways of doing good) why can’t they be created in a deified state.

That is on one hand we seem to be saying:

if a being is created in a state from which she can not choose evil, she lacks one of the defining attributes of a person: free will

And on the other:

Choosing between two goods it’s still free will, you know.

Can you understand my difficulty? Sorry…

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Christian July 19, 2011 at 3:33 am

Joseph, to give you an example of what I mean: it’s the same thing as giving a pill to a woman so she has feelings for you and marry you. You can’t call that love anymore. She is actually a machine, or a slave.

But if a woman chooses to love and marry you, out of free will, that is love, free love.

And as an apostle says, one that loves God does not sin anymore. He has the strength to persist in being and doing good for ever. It’s a strength that was acquired through a synergy between his effort and God’s grace.

Even if you don’t agree, have I made myself a bit more clear? :)

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soupsayer July 19, 2011 at 4:09 am

The Free Will Defense

The goal of Plantinga’s FWD is to show that (1) – (5) form a mutually inconsistent set. How

The above line may have a typo. I think the goal of Plantinga’s FWD is to show that (1) – (5) are a mutually consistent set. But, I could be wrong, because I think I’m developing early onset dementia. Please excuse the interruption if I’m all mixed up.

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joseph July 19, 2011 at 5:02 am

Oh Christian,
I am sorry but I will have to say I am none the clearer.
Would it be testing your patience if I said why?
Sometimes when maybe I was a Christian (some would say I never was) I used to feel very bad that I couldn’t understand such things…sometimes I still feel I should keep trying and maybe it will make sense. Which is why I am here, listening and questioning and thinking.

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Christian July 19, 2011 at 5:15 am

Joseph,

Maybe it’s me (and my English) that can’t make it clear enough. There are numerous books on this topic. Here’s a bibliography of useful resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Orthodox_Christian_theology

Take your time to read and learn about it.

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Larkus July 19, 2011 at 7:46 am

It’s been stated the free will in heaven / new Earth is problematic, yet, in Part 1, I gave arguments and real-world examples defending my belief that it is not. If you notice, nobody’s really stepped to those. I mean sure, there have been some related questions, and of course the dialog remains open, but nobody has yet offered anything to counter what was said. Be my guest if you think you can.

This can of course be turned around. I mean, I offered some objections to cl’s argument. If you notice, nobody’s really stepped to those. I mean sure, there have been some related questions, and of course the dialog remains open, but nobody has yet offered anything to counter what was said. Be my guest if you think you can…

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cl July 19, 2011 at 9:39 am

Larkus,

I mean, I offered some objections to cl’s argument. If you notice, nobody’s really stepped to those.

You didn’t, though. I asked you to explain why you think my argument doesn’t work, and your reply, both times, was a variant of, “because it doesn’t work.” Honestly, if you can explain why, I’d love to hear it. I’ll either think you’re correct and go from there, or my argument will be made that much stronger and we can go from there.

But you’ve got to explain why it’s not working for you.

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Peter Hurford July 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm

In discussions of the Free Will Defense, has it ever been brought up that God could work to eliminate evil without violating Free Will at all — such as by simply visiting wrongdoers and attempting to educate them on the folly of being evil, like any other human would be capable of? Or by identifying wrongdoers and imprisoning them them in jail?

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Peter Hurford July 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm

(Ignore this comment; I just wanted to check the “notify me of followup comments” box.)

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Christian July 19, 2011 at 12:48 pm

In discussions of the Free Will Defense, has it ever been brought up that God could work to eliminate evil without violating Free Will at all — such as by simply visiting wrongdoers and attempting to educate them on the folly of being evil, like any other human would be capable of?Or by identifying wrongdoers and imprisoning them them in jail?

That would be indeed an option if the whole purpose of your existence was being morally correct. But that is not the purpose, in my view, but love. And love has as a consequence moral values, but not necessarily the other way around. You can be correct, with really caring or actually loving the others.

The Old Testament law was given not from the beginning, when people were still able to understand God as being more than a angry judge.

The prophets, on the other side, were still able to see Him in a ‘new testament’ light, as being loving, forgiving and merciful, and most of all patient.

If God would start to strike from the sky every and each that do wrong, we all will be victims, because we all do wrong at one point or another. That would actually stop us from our process of becoming better.

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Peter Hurford July 19, 2011 at 1:01 pm

@Christian:

If God would start to strike from the sky every and each that do wrong, we all will be victims, because we all do wrong at one point or another. That would actually stop us from our process of becoming better.

This is true, but that’s not what I am asking. Sorry for not being clear, but I would suggest more along the lines of sincere dialoguing, not striking people down.

Imagine what a loving parent does when (s)he finds out that his/her child has done something wrong. It wouldn’t involve smacking the child upside the head or locking the child in his/her room for a year, it would ideally involve taking the time to explain to that child why what the child did was wrong, and why that action shouldn’t be repeated, and answering any questions the child may have.

There are lots of actions like this that God could undertake that show love and also have nothing to do with violations of Free Will. For example, God could provide food for the children who are starving at now fault of their own, or remove birth defects from existence, etc.

This is why I am unconvinced that the Free Will argument even makes sense; I don’t think the Problem of Evil is seen in it’s bigger picture. This is why I’m so interested nowadays in dialoguing with believers about the Problem of Evil.

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Christian July 19, 2011 at 1:33 pm

@Peter,

I know that’s not what you mean, the example I gave you. I just wanted to give an extreme case to make my point.

Thing is that we already have god walking among us in the form of people, created in His own image like everyone, that are more experienced spiritually.

At one point in the gospels, Christ tells the story of a Samaritan man who takes care of a wounded person. He takes him to an inn, where he lets the man in the care of the inn owner, giving him two coins.

Well, that’s exactly what Christ is doing with humans. He gave us the Church, and the Holy Spirit to guide it through the centuries. Guidance which materialized in the New Testament and the writings of the Parents of the Church, which, together, form the parental guidance that people need. If they really want it, it’s there, at their discretion. It’s not being kept secret by anyone.

Starvation is a tragedy, indeed, but bread from the sky is not the solution. If we don’t take care of each other…

However, suffering is not the be seen strictly from a ‘within this life only’ perspective. We should add the equation the other life, too. Still, suffering is by far the most difficult equation we have to solve.

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Larkus July 19, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Starvation is a tragedy, indeed, but bread from the sky is not the solution.

It might not be the solution, but it is a solution, to prevent starvation at least.

“Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t plant or harvest or gather food into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are more valuable than they are, aren’t you?”

Are they?

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Patrick who is not Patrick July 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm

“Well, that’s exactly what Christ is doing with humans. He gave us the Church, and the Holy Spirit to guide it through the centuries. Guidance which materialized in the New Testament and the writings of the Parents of the Church, which, together, form the parental guidance that people need. If they really want it, it’s there, at their discretion. It’s not being kept secret by anyone. ”

So you’re officially repudiating the free will defense, then?

Or more likely… you don’t see that this repudiates it, because of that thing I wrote way up above in this thread that enraged cl. Because the goal of apologetics isn’t to come up with a coherent theology, its to make the bad feelings go away.

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Patrick (Christian) July 19, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Peter Hurford: “In discussions of the Free Will Defense, has it ever been brought up that God could work to eliminate evil without violating Free Will at all — such as by simply visiting wrongdoers and attempting to educate them on the folly of being evil, like any other human would be capable of? Or by identifying wrongdoers and imprisoning them them in jail?”

If God imprisoned wrongdoers in jail all would end up in jail, as all people are sinners. Actually it’s not jail that sinners deserve but death.

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Patrick (Christian) July 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Peter Hurford: “In discussions of the Free Will Defense, has it ever been brought up that God could work to eliminate evil without violating Free Will at all — such as by simply visiting wrongdoers and attempting to educate them on the folly of being evil, like any other human would be capable of?”

In fact God attempted to educate wrongdoers by providing them with the Bible.

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Peter Hurford July 19, 2011 at 4:57 pm

@Christian:

At one point in the gospels, Christ tells the story of a Samaritan man who takes care of a wounded person. He takes him to an inn, where he lets the man in the care of the inn owner, giving him two coins.

Certainly, but as others have pointed out, that isn’t the Free Will Defense at all. That’s the “God wants us to help ourselves” defense. But now we need reasons for why God wants us to help ourselves and is unwilling to provide any assistance.

God has a cure for cancer. God knows how to cure all birth defects forever. God holds the secret to ending famine. But he’s keeping all this to himself. Why? Is he lazy?

Starvation is a tragedy, indeed, but bread from the sky is not the solution. If we don’t take care of each other…

Why isn’t bread from the sky a solution?

However, suffering is not the be seen strictly from a ‘within this life only’ perspective. We should add the equation the other life, too.

Justice delayed is justice denied, not to mention the whole question of why the earthly life exists in the first place.

-

@Larkus:

Nice to see you again.

-

@Patrick (Christian):

If God imprisoned wrongdoers in jail all would end up in jail, as all people are sinners. Actually it’s not jail that sinners deserve but death.

Certainly not? Are you really going to suggest that all sins are equivalent — that the kid who told one lie deserves the exact same punishment as those who commit serial murder or mass genocide?

Surely we could only imprison a subset of prisoners; the ones who really need to be imprisoned for the safety of others. God knows who these people are and where they are hiding, yet also withholds this information from us, allowing them to keep killing.

In fact God attempted to educate wrongdoers by providing them with the Bible.

I agree, but surely you admit that the Bible didn’t solve this problem once and for all? The Bible has still left millions dwindling in nonbelief and millions more confused over Christian theology. Certainly God could fix that, no?

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joseph July 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm

@Christian

You’re English is great, relax. I think it’s me. The first it of the page you posted was aout the trinity doctrine, I spent an hour trying to make it make sense then gave up, so it’s me. I will keep reading though, as it is safe to say I know very little about Eastern Orthodox Theology.

@Patrick (Christian)
That would be indeed an option if the whole purpose of your existence was being morally correct. But that is not the purpose, in my view, but love. And love has as a consequence moral values, but not necessarily the other way around. You can be correct, with really caring or actually loving the others.

It seems implicit, does it not?
If the reason for existence is to enter a loving relationship with God being morally correct at some point (in Heaven, in Paradise etc), though not necessarily now. A morally correct scheme of things would be the desire of a moral, loving God, no?

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Christian July 20, 2011 at 6:36 am

But now we need reasons for why God wants us to help ourselves and is unwilling to provide any assistance.

God has a cure for cancer. God knows how to cure all birth defects forever. God holds the secret to ending famine. But he’s keeping all this to himself. Why? Is he lazy?

I don’t that God is not providing assistance. He’s just not doing what we’d expect humans to do. He knows the depths of our hearts, He keeps us alive. Our earthly existence is there for us the learn to love the good, consistently.

Our existence is made up of lots and lots of variables/equations. Food and health are just two of them and not are the most important. God has to solve all equations, and men need not only food, but also spiritual food. And there’s a very fine balance between how much you’re given and what you give in return.

If you provide someone with everything needed, materially, almost certainly he’ll forget about being and doing good. Or even about being thankful. If you remember, Christ at one point heals 10 lepers. And only one came back to Him to say ‘thank you’. In the desert, bread actually fell down from the sky, but the ones that received it did not change for the better.

Yes, there are people that are starving to death, but there are others with plenty of food that are missing the point of their existence, far way from God and love. And the bigger tragedy is that once this Earth life is ended, those children would have forgotten the temporarily pain and suffering for ever. On the contrary, those that lived a conscious life of God denial, well, they will not be able to forget that, because that’s what they are, their inner self changed because of their intellectual views. See, for instance, the parable of the poor Lazarus from the gospels.

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Peter Hurford July 20, 2011 at 7:45 am

@Christian:

I don’t that God is not providing assistance. He’s just not doing what we’d expect humans to do. He knows the depths of our hearts, He keeps us alive. Our earthly existence is there for us the learn to love the good, consistently.

Certainly he keeps *us* alive. But there are others he allows to have worms bore through their eyes, and others he allows to have raped and killed. We have to love the good, but we can’t ignore the evil. Hence, the problem of evil.

God has to solve all equations, and men need not only food, but also spiritual food. And there’s a very fine balance between how much you’re given and what you give in return.

But why is this balance so thoroughly unequal, especially coming from a just God?

If you provide someone with everything needed, materially, almost certainly he’ll forget about being and doing good. Or even about being thankful.

Right, because surely the only reason to do good is so that others will be thankful? Are you really going to defend the position “Yes, we had to let that kid be raped and murdered because if we didn’t, she would have forgotten about being good and thankful.”

In the desert, bread actually fell down from the sky, but the ones that received it did not change for the better.

Sure. But does that mean that it is impossible for God to help people in any direct way? Sorry if I’m not properly understanding you, but my point of view is that a God that doesn’t exist would never manifest himself obviously, whereas a God that does exist would manifest himself obviously.

Yes, there are people that are starving to death, but there are others with plenty of food that are missing the point of their existence, far way from God and love. And the bigger tragedy is that once this Earth life is ended, those children would have forgotten the temporarily pain and suffering for ever. On the contrary, those that lived a conscious life of God denial, well, they will not be able to forget that, because that’s what they are, their inner self changed because of their intellectual views. See, for instance, the parable of the poor Lazarus from the gospels.

I don’t understand what you mean by this.

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Christian July 20, 2011 at 8:30 am

How obviously should God manifest is not an easy question to answer. It needs to take into account every single soul that ever lived on earth. Sometimes God manifested more obviously, some other times less. In the Christian tradition that I live in, I believe that God makes Himself obvious just enough. Through the wonders of nature, through people, through the wisdom of Church Parents, through the beauty and depth of Church prayers and services.

If God exists, He had the power to create this Universe from nothing, in such a splendor and complexity, from elementary particles to galaxies. If He was able to come up with complex life forms such as humans, as a mixture of bodies and souls, capable of reason and feelings, He must also be able to somehow handle the harming we do to each other in this world.

If God does not exist, from my point of view this discussion is almost useless. At least my side. Because all we’d have to do then, is to agree on a common moral ground on which we minimize the harm we cause to each other, for the limited amount of time we actually exists (after-life is out of discussion too).

Raping is an extreme case. If God would stop that from happening, maybe He should also stop drunk father from actually being fathers at all. I know how it’s like to live with such a father, and although he was not violent, he pretty much was absent from my life. And that left marks too.

Where is the limit then?

My final point was exactly this: even raping and the psychological marks that it leaves can be healed. But selfishness, egoism, atheism (if God exists) can not be healed because they are voluntarily.

The eternal life perspective, shades a whole different light on everything that happens with us, good or bad, in this life. Birth is painful, both for the mother and the child. But short after, all the pain is forgotten. What’s this life span compared with eternal life?

Of course, one may argue that eternal life is just an illusion and a false hope. But, to me at least, it gives a whole lot more sense to this, otherwise, pointless short existence, and for me it’s strong indication that it’s not just an illusion.

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Peter Hurford July 20, 2011 at 9:04 am

@Christian:

In the Christian tradition that I live in, I believe that God makes Himself obvious just enough. Through the wonders of nature, through people, through the wisdom of Church Parents, through the beauty and depth of Church prayers and services.

This is what I have heard, yes. But how would you explain an atheist like me? Am I deluded and unreasonable? Am I not earnest enough, faithful enough, or honest enough? Will God reveal himself to me in time?

Interestingly enough, I’ve heard many times that all the beauty in the world is proof for God. But what of the ugliness in the world? Is this disproof of God?

Raping is an extreme case. If God would stop that from happening, maybe He should also stop drunk father from actually being fathers at all. I know how it’s like to live with such a father, and although he was not violent, he pretty much was absent from my life. And that left marks too.

I don’t think that necessarily so. Perhaps he could just stop the extreme cases. I think my life, though it has undoutably had ups and downs, is still rather perfect. I have had no instances of undue hardship, especially extreme hardships like rape. If I had my way, everyone would be able to live a life with similar comfort as my own; people would be free from disease, rape, murder, natural disasters, and so on.

My final point was exactly this: even raping and the psychological marks that it leaves can be healed. But selfishness, egoism, atheism (if God exists) can not be healed because they are voluntarily.

Depending on what you mean by healed, I think selfishness, egotism, and atheism are healable. In the first two, you would need to convince them of the futility of a shallow life and how much better a worldly life is, and in the last (atheism) you would need to demonstrate they were mistaken like any other hypothesis they hold. Perhaps the person is unreasonable, and I suppose then your task would be a lot more difficult, but it’s possible, in principle. Surely not too difficult for, say…, an omnipotent God.

The eternal life perspective, shades a whole different light on everything that happens with us, good or bad, in this life. Birth is painful, both for the mother and the child. But short after, all the pain is forgotten. What’s this life span compared with eternal life?

I think the eternal life perspective is the most interesting on the Problem of Evil, and the most bothersome to me. First, from my perspective, it is trading one thing I have doubts on (God’s goodness) for another (the afterlife), so I feel kind of swindled, but I see how that works from your perspective.

But most troublingly, the idea of an afterlife seems to completely negate the idea of this life. What can we do here that we couldn’t do better in Heaven? If bliss, or at least justice awaits us, why don’t we want to die?

It just seems mind-bogglingly odd that here’s this Earthly life, where some people live in very good comfort and others live with painful infections and starvation. Furthermore, there’s all this great science, art, and discovery, yet the only reason we’re here and the only important thing we do is to decide to choose God or not.

Furthermore, this choice is kind of bogus, since it is met with the threat of Hell if we fail to comply; is met with confusion over how and which God to accept; is met with psychological and sociological inequalities that lead people to reject the Christian God; and seems to be, at least I’ve been told, a choice God, knowing the future, already knows if we’re going to make.

My apologies if this misrepresents you, but I hope you can see why I don’t just “get it”, think you’re obviously wrong, and am really curious as to why you believe.

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cl July 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Peter,

Interestingly enough, I’ve heard many times that all the beauty in the world is proof for God. But what of the ugliness in the world? Is this disproof of God?

Personally, when I run that sort of thing in my head, I substitute “proof” and “disproof” for “consistent / inconsistent with the hypothesis of” and then fill in the blanks with the hypothesis as needed. Is the beauty in the world consistent with the hypothesis of a majestic and splendorous God? Seems reasonable to me. Is the ugliness in the world inconsistent with the hypothesis of a majestic and splendorous God? I’d say if any only if the majestic and splendorous God was being posited as the only entity capable of initiating causal sequences ultimately experienced by sentient beings. I’d also say that the ugliness in the world is consistent with the hypotheses of 1) evil, but not omnipotent gods; 2) judgment of sin; and 3) the existence of free-willed, sentient beings who can commit either good or evil.

This seems to be exactly the ontology I find myself in.

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Peter Hurford July 20, 2011 at 12:53 pm

@cl,

I agree, but I think it depends on what the “hypothesis of God” is that we are being consistent / inconsistent with.

For instance, if we take the generalized Bayesian definition of evidence as “X is evidence for hypothesis H if and only if X is more likely on H than on ~H” and “X is evidence against hypothesis H if and only if X is less likely on H than on ~H”.

I think if beauty counts as evidence for God, then ugliness has to count as evidence against God. It seems that the God hypothesis holds that God would prefer beauty over ugliness, and therefore ugliness is less likely given the existence of a God. Even if ugliness came as a result of something other than God, God would likely want to get rid of it if he can. You’ll find this is the very basis for the evidentiary problem of evil and arguments that a perfect God would not allow an imperfect world.

Additionally, do you hold that beauty can come *only* from God? “[T]he existence of free-willed, sentient beings who can commit either good or evil” seems to allow the creation of both beauty and ugliness. If beauty and ugliness both can come from somewhere other than God, how do we know what beauty/ugliness to attribute to God?

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Patrick (Christian) July 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Peter Hurford: “Certainly not? Are you really going to suggest that all sins are equivalent — that the kid who told one lie deserves the exact same punishment as those who commit serial murder or mass genocide?”

I don’t hold the view not all sins are equivalent. As a matter of fact one pillar of my theodicy is the idea that there are degrees of punishment in the afterlife. However, any sin separates man from God.

Peter Hurford: “Surely we could only imprison a subset of prisoners; the ones who really need to be imprisoned for the safety of others. God knows who these people are and where they are hiding, yet also withholds this information from us, allowing them to keep killing.”

In the thread “Accounting for Natural Evil (part 3)” (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=15584) I pointed out that criminals will be punished anyway, if not in this life, then in the afterlife. In the same thread I also gave a reason, based on Exodus 20,18-19, Isaiah 6,1-7, or Acts 9,1-9, why God may not be inclined to speak to sinful men.

Peter Hurford: “I agree, but surely you admit that the Bible didn’t solve this problem once and for all? The Bible has still left millions dwindling in nonbelief and millions more confused over Christian theology. Certainly God could fix that, no?”

But there have also been many sinners who have understood the Biblical message of redemption and have changed their lives accordingly.

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Christian July 20, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Peter, you make some extremely good points! Point that I personally think are kinda hard to be answered without face to face conversation. However, I’ll give it a try for some of the points.

Am I deluded and unreasonable? Am I not earnest enough, faithful enough, or honest enough? Will God reveal himself to me in time?

I don’t think you’re being unreasonable. See, I think that atheism is a very complex phenomenon, just as theism is. None of the two is 100% reason or faith. Nor is it like theists are free of selfishness and egotism. If you mix into that the cultural, social, and family background, you got yourself a nice big picture of which only God can make sense. The last thing missing from this picture is someone pointing fingers at who’s going to hell and who’s not.

We all need to understand and accept our nature, limits and limitations. The humbleness that comes out of that, plus the continuous search, will get you to the right place. If Someone is out there, cares more than enough and appreciates your more than obvious honesty.

Depending on what you mean by healed, I think selfishness, egotism, and atheism are healable

Yes, they are healable, but through your own will only, whereas external trauma factors may not be healable just like that. Plus, in the case of those traumas it’s not your fault. A whole different matter, but what I want to point out is that there’s a way out of it. In the end is not unfair. Think of abortion, what will actually happen to those babies (which, if there’s a God, are indeed human beings)? Their only solution is God, who gave them life, accepted their death and took their soul in His hands afterwards. But they are victims of our concepts of freedom of choice. Why, instead of putting it on God that He should stop the evil, don’t we just stop that ourselves?

If bliss, or at least justice awaits us, why don’t we want to die?

This has actually been a driving force of Christianity from its inception. Death is a much awaited event for any christian that has hope in Christ. Of course, not by causing death on yourself, but eagerly waiting for it. But, all this while hardly working on being ready for that moment. That means healing yourself of egotism and sinful passions. (Sorry, I’m not used with the christian english terminology)

It just seems mind-bogglingly odd that here’s this Earthly life, where some people live in very good comfort and others live with painful infections and starvation. Furthermore, there’s all this great science, art, and discovery, yet the only reason we’re here and the only important thing we do is to decide to choose God or not.

There’s a lot to say here. First, remember that humans are an image of God. That means they are able to create and that’s OK. There’s a whole period on art’s history called Byzantine art. Music, paintings and literature are an important part of Christian culture. Once decision’s made, we need to live your life up to that choice.

The decision is getting harder and harder because our society is getting more and more secular. But God knows were we’re born, He knows the context, He know how much He gave and what to expect in return. People often bring up the ‘if you were born in an Hindu country’ argument. In that case I would be seen and judged as someone born in an Hindu country. It’s there, stated in the St. Paul epistles: those that knew not the law, will be judge by the law written in their hearts.

My point is that the decision, as easy or complicated as it may be, can and, dare I say, needs to be taken. I think you’re more than half way through, given your honesty and reasonable questions. You really got to the bottom of it, for what can be asked.

It’s me that I have to apologize for not being able to properly answer your questions. Feel free to be unconvinced or disagree. My only wish is that you’ll keep searching.

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Peter Hurford July 20, 2011 at 10:24 pm

@Christian:

Peter, you make some extremely good points! Point that I personally think are kinda hard to be answered without face to face conversation. However, I’ll give it a try for some of the points.

Thanks for the compliments, and I agree on the face to face conversation thing. Though I do find that exchanging text does allow moment to think and focus on how arguments are presented.

I don’t think you’re being unreasonable. See, I think that atheism is a very complex phenomenon, just as theism is. None of the two is 100% reason or faith. Nor is it like theists are free of selfishness and egotism.

Of course; I agree wholeheartedly.

If you mix into that the cultural, social, and family background, you got yourself a nice big picture of which only God can make sense.

I don’t follow what you meant by this, sorry.

We all need to understand and accept our nature, limits and limitations. The humbleness that comes out of that, plus the continuous search, will get you to the right place. If Someone is out there, cares more than enough and appreciates your more than obvious honesty.

I hope so. But this seems to be the Paradox of Christianity, you must keep searching, and the Christians know you haven’t searched enough, because… well… you never found God, eh? At what point are we allowed to give up? How many times do I need to read the Bible or listen to Craig lectures before I find atheism justified?

What about you? I know you’re here at commonsenseatheism.com, hostile territory. You clearly want to test your faith, and I’m proud of that. Have you ever had doubts? What would make you succumb to them?

Plus, in the case of those traumas it’s not your fault. A whole different matter, but what I want to point out is that there’s a way out of it. In the end is not unfair.

The fact that these traumas can be healed surely doesn’t mean these trams are excusable, does it?

Think of abortion, what will actually happen to those babies (which, if there’s a God, are indeed human beings)? Their only solution is God, who gave them life, accepted their death and took their soul in His hands afterwards.

But what if the baby is born with a painful birth defect? Why did that happen? Why does God permit that? I think that’s a reasonable question for someone to ask.

Why, instead of putting it on God that He should stop the evil, don’t we just stop that ourselves?

Think of it this way: Imagine Dr. Bob has finally finished his research and hold a 100% effective cure for cancer. However, Dr. Bob refuses to give anyone the cure or share how the cure was made, instead saying “Why should I stop cancer? Why don’t you stop it yourself?”

On my view, God is Dr. Bob. God holds the cure for cancer. But he won’t share it with anybody. Of course we will work on our own to get it, but this working is only a means to an end. We would much rather have our suffering cured by God, because people’s lives are at stake.

Maybe this makes a lot less sense from an afterlife-oriented perspective, in which case you might want to take a look at what I said to Patrick about how muddled the view looks like to me.

This has actually been a driving force of Christianity from its inception. Death is a much awaited event for any christian that has hope in Christ. Of course, not by causing death on yourself, but eagerly waiting for it. But, all this while hardly working on being ready for that moment. That means healing yourself of egotism and sinful passions. (Sorry, I’m not used with the christian english terminology)

Why do people die seemingly at random then? Sometimes good Christians die still before they had a chance to heal themselves of egotism and sin.

There’s a lot to say here. First, remember that humans are an image of God. That means they are able to create and that’s OK. There’s a whole period on art’s history called Byzantine art. Music, paintings and literature are an important part of Christian culture. Once decision’s made, we need to live your life up to that choice.

But on the view that this life is just an eyeblink compared to Heaven, why should we bother with all this art and creation?

The decision is getting harder and harder because our society is getting more and more secular. But God knows were we’re born, He knows the context, He know how much He gave and what to expect in return. People often bring up the ‘if you were born in an Hindu country’ argument. In that case I would be seen and judged as someone born in an Hindu country. It’s there, stated in the St. Paul epistles: those that knew not the law, will be judge by the law written in their hearts.

That’s a comforting start, but there’s still a lot of muddle. Why is this situation permitted to persist? On your view, can someone who earnestly seeks, but never comes to Jesus because he was busy defending Hinduism or Humanism… can that person still get into Heaven?

My point is that the decision, as easy or complicated as it may be, can and, dare I say, needs to be taken. I think you’re more than half way through, given your honesty and reasonable questions. You really got to the bottom of it, for what can be asked.

It’s me that I have to apologize for not being able to properly answer your questions. Feel free to be unconvinced or disagree. My only wish is that you’ll keep searching.

I’m going to have to, for the time being, be unconvinced and disagree. It’s furthermore annoying because a lot of my arguments against Christianity aren’t just in the Problem of Evil, but in what appears to be the dismal quality of the Bible. But I think that’s best discussed somewhere else, to not be off-topic.

I also want you to know that I have indeed been seeking; I’ve carefully thought out all my philosophical positions, and even defend some of them in writing on my blog (http://www.greatplay.net) and will continue to do so. I’ve read the Bible, and studied the history behind it. I’ve studied up on natural theology. I’ve earnestly dialogued with Christians before and am redoubling my efforts to do so.

As I said above, when do I get to say all my earnest seeking didn’t lead me to God?

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Patrick (Christian) July 21, 2011 at 4:10 am

From 1 Corinthians 13,12, 1 John 3,2, and Revelation 22,3-4 one can draw the conclusion that the residents of Heaven have perfect knowledge of God. In this life people change their mind about persons or matters when being faced with new insights that make them revise their views. In a situation however, in which one has perfect knowledge of God any decision concerning Him may be definitive; one cannot change one’s mind due to new insights. So, it may indeed be the case that for the residents of Heaven it is impossible to turn away from God. But this doesn’t mean that they have no free will. They made use of it when they freely chose to turn towards God and love Him. Moreover, from John 14,15 one can draw the conclusion that those in Heaven are willing not to sin, from Galatians 5,16-18 that they are able not to sin.

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Larkus July 21, 2011 at 9:34 am

@Peter Hurford

Nice to see you again, too.

@joseph

Thanks for the answer, much quicker than CL. We should continue on the next article.

Okay.

The trouble I have with the solution that one act would be enough to count as free will, is oddly enough, not primarily one of number (so little choosing!), but that that one act of free will is prior to entering heaven…i.e. there would be no free will in heaven, but getting in requires it. So this answer is actually contains a hidden objection to the proposition of free will in heaven, as I see it.

That’s funny, in my previous comment to you I already wrote something about the objection that you now make, but then decided to delete it to make the comment shorter.

Even if “freely submitting to God’s will” is a one off act and for every free willed being besides God this act happens outside of heaven, there would still be God’s will in heaven. If God has free will, then there would be free will in heaven, even if God’s will would be the only free will in heaven.

Now the interesting question is: “Does God have morally significant free will?” If you accept Plantinga’s free will defense, this leads to complications:

From the IEP:
http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-log/#H10

B. Another problem facing Plantinga’s Free Will Defense concerns the question of God’s free will. God, it seems, is incapable of doing anything wrong. Thus, it does not appear that, with respect to any choice of morally good and morally bad options, God is free to choose a bad option. He seems constitutionally incapable of choosing (or even wanting) to do what is wrong. According to Plantinga’s description of morally significant free will, it does not seem that God would be significantly free. Plantinga suggests that morally significant freedom is necessary in order for one’s actions to be assessed as being morally good or bad. But then it seems that God’s actions could not carry any moral significance. They could never be praiseworthy. That certainly runs contrary to central doctrines of theism.

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Christian July 21, 2011 at 11:16 am

@Peter:

At what point are we allowed to give up?

Never. Even you if you found God, as a Christian, I don’t think you should stop. Just knowing or believing that God exists, is far from enough. You need to know God, and that implies a TON of questions, very much similar to the ones you have.

How many times do I need to read the Bible or listen to Craig lectures before I find atheism justified?

Reading the Bible is not necessarily the best way to start. There’s indeed a branch of Christianity that thinks the Bible is all we need (Craig, I think, belongs to that branch), but I strongly disagree. The Bible is a sacred text and a complex of writings. More than that, it’s the artefact of a living Church. You need to find the most representative persons in each Christian denominations (Evangelical, Catholique, or Orthodox) and ask them your questions. I don’t think there’s anyone that came to faith thorough reading text. God reveals Himself mostly through people, created in His image, that also achieved a significant level of likeness.

What about you? Have you ever had doubts? What would make you succumb to them?

Absolutely. My faith in God’s existence is so deep now that I don’t think I could tell myself one that that there’s no God. BUT, that doesn’t mean that I’m always able to live up to that faith. As I said earlier, you need to know God and act like God in every single moment of my life. That takes a lot of practice, awareness and you have to go through a lot (good and bad). And sometimes, many times actually, I just don’t know what to do. There’s a whole range of reasons for why this happens. Sometimes is because my own pride (I create impossible situations myself). The way out of it is humbleness and asking more experienced persons (the Orthodox church puts a lot of emphase on the sacrament of confession which is also a way to get answers to questions).

The fact that these traumas can be healed surely doesn’t mean these trams are excusable, does it?

If we forgive others, we will also be forgiven in turn. The true trauma is in not forgetting the harm someone did to you. The real strength is in being better than the one that is doing you wrong. Christ was innocent and suffered wrong from others. That should say we are able to do the same. Not easily, I agree. And if God raised Christ from the dead, He’ll do the same with every other innocent man, woman or child, that suffers wrong from other people or because of other people’s acts.

But what if the baby is born with a painful birth defect? Why did that happen? Why does God permit that? I think that’s a reasonable question for someone to ask.

I believe that more painful is the distance from that child’s state to what we understand to be a ‘normal’ life. A blind child, for instance, will not suffer physical pain as much as he will feel isolated because he can’t do things that others consider ‘happiness’. If the society as a whole would really feel the tragedy of a painful birth defect, I’m most certain that those children will pass through the suffering much easier. One thing we ignore is that humanity is a whole. Eve was taked out of Adam, and Christ was born out of human as a human for a deep reason, because humans are deeply connected. Children suffer because of us, for us and for themselves. For a reason that it’s hard to comprehend most of time. I know it sounds harsh, but that’s one way I can, for instance, pass over the bad effects my parents had on me. We’re together in this. The more we live a life of holiness, the more we’ll see suffering differently, and the less suffering we’ll see.

God holds the cure for cancer.

God invented cancer, as He did with any other body desease we suffer from right now. Suffering is a mystery, and the only way to ‘solve’ it, for me at least, is to think that God is greater than me and He must know better. I know it’s not really an answer, but hey!, I didn’t invented the quantum particles (not even quantum mechanics as a discipline), He did.

Why do people die seemingly at random then? Sometimes good Christians die still before they had a chance to heal themselves of egotism and sin.

Everyone gets the time he or she needs. More than enough. If you’re not done by the time you die, well…

But on the view that this life is just an eyeblink compared to Heaven, why should we bother with all this art and creation?

Because people need. Here I can point out the simplicity of the rit of evangelical curches, or even Catholique ones. People have sense, you know. Eyes, ears, smell, touch. All senses must enjoy the creation of God and all sense must be used in the relation ship with God and the others. The life we have should be used to grow the relationships we have with everyone.

That’s a comforting start, but there’s still a lot of muddle. Why is this situation permitted to persist? On your view, can someone who earnestly seeks, but never comes to Jesus because he was busy defending Hinduism or Humanism… can that person still get into Heaven?

It’s God’s decision. He knows best the heart of the one that defended whatever view. If God’s true religion was presented to someone, in the right way, and he refused it, it’s God that saw what actually happened in that person’s heart. From outside, no one is really able to say. No one should judge.

As I said above, when do I get to say all my earnest seeking didn’t lead me to God?

There are many Christian denominations. Statistically, is best to check to more than a couple of the most representative persons for each denomination. And other religions, too, of course.

We’ll all find out or our death. That’d be the moment. Search for as long as you have breath in your nose. :)

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cl July 21, 2011 at 11:30 am

Larkus / Joseph,

I agree that God doesn’t have “morally significant free will” by Plantinga’s definition. God cannot choose evil.

Plantinga suggests that morally significant freedom is necessary in order for one’s actions to be assessed as being morally good or bad.

That’s where I suspect Plantinga and I would part ways — of course, presuming that’s a charitable interpretation of Plantinga’s actual position. I don’t think God needs the ability to do evil to be called praiseworthy. I think God simply needs knowledge of evil’s ramifications. Then, all acts of God that thwart said ramifications are praiseworthy, as they are made in an earnest effort to maximize the good.

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Patrick (Christian) July 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Larkus: “Now the interesting question is: “Does God have morally significant free will?” If you accept Plantinga’s free will defense, this leads to complications:”

As far as I can see from a Christian point of view free will is not primarily about being able to choose between good and evil acts (Romans 7,14-19, Ephesians 2,1-3), but to choose between acknowledging one’s sinfulness and turning towards God for help on the one hand or failing to do so on the other hand (Luke 18,9-14). But if that’s what free will is about it is clear that it can’t be applied to God.

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Peter Hurford July 21, 2011 at 4:34 pm

@Christian:

You need to find the most representative persons in each Christian denominations (Evangelical, Catholique, or Orthodox) and ask them your questions. I don’t think there’s anyone that came to faith thorough reading text.

Honest question: have you done this? Are you doing this? For every religion and denomination within that religion?

My faith in God’s existence is so deep now that I don’t think I could tell myself one that that there’s no God.

Is there anything, even in principle, no matter how unlikely, that could convince you God is not real? What would that be?

Me: The fact that these traumas can be healed surely doesn’t mean these trams are excusable, does it?

You: If we forgive others, we will also be forgiven in turn. The true trauma is in not forgetting the harm someone did to you. […] And if God raised Christ from the dead, He’ll do the same with every other innocent man, woman or child, that suffers wrong from other people or because of other people’s acts.

But what of the acts that never heal, such as Alzheimer’s or cancer? What of the acts that never teach lessons, such as painful deaths as a result of natural disasters, or birth defects in babies?

I believe that more painful is the distance from that child’s state to what we understand to be a ‘normal’ life. A blind child, for instance, will not suffer physical pain as much as he will feel isolated because he can’t do things that others consider ‘happiness’. If the society as a whole would really feel the tragedy of a painful birth defect, I’m most certain that those children will pass through the suffering much easier. One thing we ignore is that humanity is a whole. Eve was taked out of Adam, and Christ was born out of human as a human for a deep reason, because humans are deeply connected. Children suffer because of us, for us and for themselves. For a reason that it’s hard to comprehend most of time. I know it sounds harsh, but that’s one way I can, for instance, pass over the bad effects my parents had on me. We’re together in this. The more we live a life of holiness, the more we’ll see suffering differently, and the less suffering we’ll see.

God holds the cure for cancer.

God invented cancer, as He did with any other body desease we suffer from right now. Suffering is a mystery, and the only way to ‘solve’ it, for me at least, is to think that God is greater than me and He must know better. I know it’s not really an answer, but hey!, I didn’t invented the quantum particles (not even quantum mechanics as a discipline), He did.

Why do people die seemingly at random then? Sometimes good Christians die still before they had a chance to heal themselves of egotism and sin.

Everyone gets the time he or she needs. More than enough. If you’re not done by the time you die, well…

But on the view that this life is just an eyeblink compared to Heaven, why should we bother with all this art and creation?

Because people need. Here I can point out the simplicity of the rit of evangelical curches, or even Catholique ones. People have sense, you know. Eyes, ears, smell, touch. All senses must enjoy the creation of God and all sense must be used in the relation ship with God and the others. The life we have should be used to grow the relationships we have with everyone.

That’s a comforting start, but there’s still a lot of muddle. Why is this situation permitted to persist? On your view, can someone who earnestly seeks, but never comes to Jesus because he was busy defending Hinduism or Humanism… can that person still get into Heaven?

It’s God’s decision. He knows best the heart of the one that defended whatever view. If God’s true religion was presented to someone, in the right way, and he refused it, it’s God that saw what actually happened in that person’s heart. From outside, no one is really able to say. No one should judge.

As I said above, when do I get to say all my earnest seeking didn’t lead me to God?

There are many Christian denominations. Statistically, is best to check to more than a couple of the most representative persons for each denomination. And other religions, too, of course.

We’ll all find out or our death. That’d be the moment. Search for as long as you have breath in your nose. :)

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Peter Hurford July 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm

@Christian:

I accidentally posted when I didn’t mean to. Here are my responses to the remainder of your comments (continued from above):

One thing we ignore is that humanity is a whole. Eve was taked out of Adam, and Christ was born out of human as a human for a deep reason, because humans are deeply connected. Children suffer because of us, for us and for themselves. For a reason that it’s hard to comprehend most of time. I know it sounds harsh, but that’s one way I can, for instance, pass over the bad effects my parents had on me. We’re together in this. The more we live a life of holiness, the more we’ll see suffering differently, and the less suffering we’ll see.

That sounds rather similar to secular humanist philosophy — since we can’t count on God to solve our problems, we should work hard to spread comfort and joy to each other, make the world a better place to live, and tackle these problems on our own.

God invented cancer, as He did with any other body desease we suffer from right now.

You’re the first person I’ve known to directly state that God made things for people to suffer from. Sounds a bit cruel and sadistic to invent something like cancer, doesn’t it? Or consider “loa loa” — if you’ve never heard it, researching it is kind of a shocker.

Suffering is a mystery, and the only way to ‘solve’ it, for me at least, is to think that God is greater than me and He must know better. I know it’s not really an answer, but hey!, I didn’t invented the quantum particles (not even quantum mechanics as a discipline), He did.

You’re right that it’s not an answer; it’s actually circular reasoning. What you are saying is that “We know God is good because God is good”. Such a statement is meaningless, devoid of any actual description of God’s character.

Me: Why do people die seemingly at random then? Sometimes good Christians die still before they had a chance to heal themselves of egotism and sin.

You: Everyone gets the time he or she needs. More than enough. If you’re not done by the time you die, well…

But why would some people be given more time to “figure things out” than others? Clearly some people die young, and not yet Christian. I don’t see how you can possibly show that “everyone gets the time he or she needs”, since it seems to me that quite clearly there are some people who don’t.

Unless you want to suggest that everyone who dies young and not Christian, never would have become Christian, but that’s a fairly bold claim. And God keeps non-Christian old people around too, who still die never accepting the Christian God.

It’s God’s decision. He knows best the heart of the one that defended whatever view.

This seems circular again. The question of whether God knows best is exactly what I’m challenging here, and I’m suggesting that it is not born out in the evidence. How do you know God knows best?

If God’s true religion was presented to someone, in the right way, and he refused it, it’s God that saw what actually happened in that person’s heart. From outside, no one is really able to say. No one should judge.

Fair enough. But why doesn’t God just present his religion to everyone by himself, then? What’s the need for all the secrecy and fallible middle-men? Why does God risk having his religion presented in the wrong way?

Search for as long as you have breath in your nose. :)

I must admit, though, talking with you is still reassuring, even if I don’t agree with you.

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Christian July 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm

@Peter

I do not understand much about everything that’s out there. From elementary particles and what’s beneath them, to the the galaxies and beyond. More than that, I haven’t created anything ex nihilo, I haven’t gave substance to anything that exists. And I don’t sustain into existence anything that exists. So it’s not only a knowledge limit. Even if I knew everything about everything, there would still be this ontological gap between me, as a mere existent object, and the existence as a whole.

But here I am, sitting in the (subjective) center of the Universe, asking myself about the reason why I’m here and wether there’s anything beyond what I can see with my eyes. But, as others have asked before me, why is there anything in the first place, rather that pure nothingness? How are questions possible? How can a bunch of particles be self-conscious? How can small electrical impulses become questions about the very reason the body they flow in even exists? The bricks are at 10^-10 or lower, and the building is at 10^0?

So what should I do? Wait for someone to come up with a perfect, non-circular, self-sufficient reasoning proving that there’s or there’s not an intelligent Creator beyond/behind the material Universe?

I keep thinking about something that would shake my faith that there’s a God (which is somehow different from having faith in God). But I can’t think of any. Even the fact that I’m thinking kinda ‘says out lout’ that there’s God.

In the end, how can a contradiction in my mind prohibit something from existence? Who am I? What do I know? Aren’t there so many contradictions caused by ignorance, contradictions that are solved by learning new facts? Don’t we, as young teenagers, think we know everything, but as we grow up we become more and more humbled by the things we don’t know? On what do we base the feeling of wrong and good when we say ‘this feels wrong’? Can an arbitrary and subjective line between right and wrong determine the existence/non-existence of God as Creator or, say, law of gravity? If an eye parasite is wrong and God does not exist, what makes existence possible? Isn’t that ‘something’ cruel and sadistic?

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joseph July 22, 2011 at 2:45 am

@Larkus and Patrick (Christian)

Yes, I really, really, really wish I had the Divine free will, where I could choose only between Good acts, instead I was created with the human version of free will, that alllows me to pick evil acts.

Sadly my down graded version of free will seems necessary to explain why evil exists, without it being a case of “God did it”.

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Christian July 22, 2011 at 3:03 am

Sadly my down graded version of free will seems necessary to explain why evil exists, without it being a case of “God did it”.

Joseph,

If I may, God is not only a sum of attributes like we are, and He can not be enclosed in a restrictive set of categories like good, free, free will, love, existence. Actually, not amount of human categories and attributes will actually define God.

That’s why is inappropriate, for instance, to speak about a contradiction between His omniscience and His omnipotence. God, being eternal, is beyond change, beyond time, new and old, evolution or anything like that. He is uncreated and we, as created beings, can not possible fit an complete idea of how He really is in your minds. There’s an ontological gap that we can not overcome.

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joseph July 22, 2011 at 4:27 am

Christian,
Thankyou for replying kindly to my post. It’s fair to say you could have viewed it as an attack, and gone on the offensive, I was attempting to parody Platinga’s free will defense rather than God.

I have many conceptual problems with the idea of “beyond time” etc, and have been having a nice chat with Zeb about it.

I have conceptual problems with things like wave-particle duality too, but tolerate them because they are testable (the predictions made) and falsifiable…or the short version; the theory works well enough for now.

If I am to re-commit to a monotheistic world view, let alone religion, I would like to be shown a probable logical argument, some predictions and how it could be falsified. I think this is a fair and possible challenge, but if you can’t personally come up with one there is no reason for you to change you views on the matter.
Doubting Thomas was my favourite…I also prefer consensus building in this regard rather than adverserial contests, though a couple of posters in the “thank Jesus” blog attracted my ire.

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Christian July 22, 2011 at 4:53 am

Joseph,

It’s OK, I merely commented for the sake of conversation. I’ve heard many times this demand, of a testable, falsifiable prediction for the existence of God.

The problem with that is the fact that God existence is not the actual problem. If God would show Him self like everyday, to everyone and every where, as easy as a push of a button, would everyone believe God exists? For sure. Would everyone care? I doubt so.

Even in countries with death penalty, people are still ignoring the law for their own, hard to understand, reasons. Why? You may say they are stupid, but wouldn’t they do the same with God? Spit in His face, slap Him, beat Him? There are people that hate from their most inner guts. Is existence of God a problem for them? I’d dare to disagree.

Here in Romania, in the communist prisons, Christians were beaten to death for the sole reason they believed in God. (http://www.thegenocideofthesouls.org/public/english/the-last-witnesses/) Just the other day, a survivor priest and monk died, at 97 years, who suffered about 14 years of brutal imprisoning.

Do you think that those brutal guardians missed a logical, testable and falsifiable proof of God existence? Some of them were converted by the resistance of those that suffered the horrible torture from them.

They are an extreme case, I agree. But where is the line for needed obviousness for God? How can we, as humans which can’t read other people’s mind and hearts, tell what’s best for everyone? Isn’t there a danger that we build an artificial wall between us and God? If 95% of the people don’t need an scientific evidence, why would we?

What could God actually do that will be interpretable as anything else (UFOs, the Matrix architect)? And if he’d do that, would we be humbled out of fear, respect, or love?

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joseph July 22, 2011 at 5:54 am

First of all I am extremely saddened by your reports of what happened in Romania, I remember seeing video’s of my (at the time) fellow witnesses being beaten and spat on by Russian Police and members of the Orthodox Church.

However does such things are missing so much more than a proof of God in their lives.

But basically, well proof was good enough for the Israelites, proof was good enough for doubting Thomas. It’s good enough for me.

Telling apart from the Architect of the Matrix, or a much higher Tech community…hmmm…let me think on that one, it’s a fair challenge.

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joseph July 22, 2011 at 8:46 am

Sorry ’twas Georgia, just to show i wasn’t making it up in a pathetic tit-for-tat way….
http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,IRBC,,GEO,,3f7d4d971f,0.html

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Peter Hurford July 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm

@Christian, in response to your comments directed to me:

So what should I do? Wait for someone to come up with a perfect, non-circular, self-sufficient reasoning proving that there’s or there’s not an intelligent Creator beyond/behind the material Universe?

I think that’s an interesting question, but I would think the most honest position is just to say “Well, gee, I don’t know how the universe came into existence” rather than try to say “Yep, a deity most certainly did it” without further evidence (which I think you probably have).

This is off topic, and I’m still not sure how to organize this thought in a way that makes sense, but I don’t think the God hypothesis really furthers our understanding of the origins of the universe. I’m not even sure anything was ever created ex nihilo. I’m definitely uncertain and agnostic here, but I currently think an eternal universe/multiverse is a good fit for the evidence.

All your questions are good questions indeed and still largely mysteries. But there’s a huge frustration of saying God is an explanation for all of these mysteries. When I try to fully parse the idea of “God did it, end of story” together, my curiosity is not satisfied. It reminds me of the times when “élan vital” was supposed to be the answer to why things lived. It’s not even an answer.

I keep thinking about something that would shake my faith that there’s a God (which is somehow different from having faith in God). But I can’t think of any. Even the fact that I’m thinking kinda ‘says out lout’ that there’s God.

I think a good strategy for this is to think of all the evidence that convinces you that there is a God (you seem to be focused on the cosmological argument, the design argument, and the transcendental argument but there could be others), and then realize that if all of these arguments are refuted, then you have no basis for a belief in God. (That doesn’t automatically imply metaphysical naturalism, it could just throw you into a very deep “I don’t have a judgement either way” belief.)

There are many atheist critiques of all these arguments; maybe you could engage them and show how they don’t actually overturn the argument. I’d be happy to dialogue with you further about all these arguments, but they’re irrelevant to the problem of evil or problems of free will, and I don’t want to get off topic here. So I’d have to ask that we dialogue about it elsewhere. And I’d definitely like to to that; this conversation seems very open, honest, and valuable.

On what do we base the feeling of wrong and good when we say ‘this feels wrong’?

This is a good question, and it requires us to stipulate a definition of “wrong” that makes sense objectively — we’d need an objective, realist moral theory. I don’t think it must be purely subjective and feeling-driven, but my thoughts on morality are as yet unformulated.

Even theories of morality that are subjective aren’t also arbitrary — people condemn the things they do for specific, and often logically sound reasons.

Can an arbitrary and subjective line between right and wrong determine the existence/non-existence of God as Creator or, say, law of gravity?

No, but no one should be using arbitrary and subjective lines.

If an eye parasite is wrong and God does not exist, what makes existence possible?

Arrangements of matter and energy, and other properties of how things work, such as natural selection and logic. There’s tons more that could be said about this, but it would all be off topic.

Isn’t that ‘something’ cruel and sadistic?

Yes and no. If you mean “cruel” by causes needless suffering, then yes nature can be cruel. If you mean “cruel” by holds a malevolent intent, then no, because nature isn’t something capable of intent, character, or virtue.

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Patrick (Christian) July 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm

From Simon Cushing’s paper “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma”: “Saintly freedom (so named because it is presumably the freedom exercised by moral saints) is genuine freedom that in fact never results in evil. But if there can be a state of existence with truly free beings but no evil, then an omnipotent God could have given us all that saintly freedom here on Earth, thereby both giving us freedom and preventing evil, and a God who was both omnipotent and omnibenevolent would have done so.”

According to Ezekiel 11,19-20, John 8,34-36, Romans 8,29, 2 Corinthians 5,17, and Galatians 5,16-18 God indeed provided us with the possibility to attain that saintly freedom here on Earth, at least to some degree (1 John 1,8). It the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to be in such a state. But one must be willing to strive after this freedom (Romans 6,11-14, 12,2, 13,13-14, Galatians 5,16-18, Ephesians 4,17-24). God will give the Holy Spirit to anyone asking Him (Luke 11,13). We may even expect that one day the vast majority of humankind will be in such a state here on Earth (Isaiah 2,1-5, 11,1-10).

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Patrick (Christian) July 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm

From Simon Cushing’s paper “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma”: “God is eternal in the sense that he is outside of time, able to see the beginning and end (should it have them) of the universe (or universes, if there are several) and all events in between simultaneously (or rather, atemporally). His omniscience includes knowing all that anyone who will ever live will ever do because in effect all time is to him as the past would be to the perfect historian with all events laid out.

This view of God’s relationship to the world faces the problem of the apparent inconsistency of God’s omniscience and human free will, if free will requires that, for any free being considering action A at a certain moment, that person genuinely could either do A or not do A. If God already knows that that being will do A, then not-A is not a genuine option.”

I’m not sure if I understand the argument correctly, but it seems to me that unless God explicitely tells a person what he or she will do in the future, God’s omniscience isn’t incompatible with human free will. One can imagine that from God’s perspective all our future acts have already happened. So, He is in the same situation as we are with respect to acts that have already happened. But clearly, the fact that I know how a certain person acted in the past doesn’t mean that this person’s free will is in any way violated.

From Simon Cushing’s paper “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma”: “According to metaphysical libertarianism, my truly free action is genuinely undetermined by the sum of facts about me (and indeed the entire universe). That is, you could imagine two parallel universes with completely identical histories up to a particular point where I, a free being, am making a choice; the metaphysical libertarian insists that the nature of freedom allows that it is perfectly possible for me to make one choice in one universe and my counterpart another in the other, and that both would be rightly endorsed by the “me” in that world as the choice that he fully intended to make. But if this is so, then it does not matter which action I perform—whichever act I perform will be equally a free action. This point in itself could be enough to subvert the supposed relationship between freedom and desert that T12 seems to require. Surely I only deserve punishment if something about me determined my choice of evil. But if for every evil choice I make there is a good choice that I, with exactly the same history, beliefs, desires and current mental state could have made, then in what sense would I deserve condemnation for the evil choice or praise for the good? Neither is a product of me or a reflection of my character.”

I don’t think that we can always at any time choose any act we want. In my view it’s more that by choosing to act in a specific way we create circumstances which gradually make it more likely that we act in a specific way. The following analogy can illustrate my point: Someone walking on a crest is deviating from the path. The further he goes away the steeper the ground becomes and the more difficult it becomes to walk upright, until there is some point of no return and consequently he is falling down the mountain.

From Simon Cushing’s paper “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma”: “However, even if the libertarian can block this apparent implication of his view, there are further problems for the theist who wishes to use this libertarianism to respond to the Heaven Dilemma. For it would appear that it implies that God could prevent all evil without disrupting freedom. Let us suppose, for example, that I am contemplating a heinous murder. I raise the knife. At this point I could genuinely go either way – stab or not. The future where I go ahead and kill is as possible as the future where I put the knife aside, and both are equally consistent with everything about me up until this moment (so that, on Swinburne’s view, not even God can predict which would happen). Suppose, at this point, God intervenes and ensures that I do not kill, and that therefore evil is averted. Has he subverted my freedom? I do not see that he could be said to have. This action is just as in keeping with all of my character and intentions as the evil action. I can endorse it as my choice just as willingly as the action of committing murder, and with just as much justification. It is possible that I would have done it anyway, but if I had, it would feel no different to me from the case where God intervenes. Nobody can claim that God has altered my character or intentions or made me do anything against my will. But if all that is true, then it is surely within the power of an omnipotent God to have a world of free beings without evil, provided he is prepared to intervene (which, as an omnibenevolent being, he certainly should be).”

In the thread “Accounting for Natural Evil (part 3)” (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=15584) I gave a reason, based on Matthew 13,27-29, why God may not be inclined to interfere in this world more conspicuously.

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joseph July 22, 2011 at 8:13 pm

@Patrick (christian)
Thankyou, really interesting.
I think the question “Why not create us with Saintly Free Will?” still applies. It seems like an upgrade.
If I made a sentient being, which I wanted to act in a morally sound way but have free will (not enslave humanity, and use our brains as processors, as Hollywood has taught us they are want to do), I’d pick that option.
I wouldn’t create a load that had a choice to be a bunch of proper mean, little b@st!rds, then cull (or eternally have them subjected to torture) all the sentient beings that did act horribly so I was left with nice ones.
If I proposed that, in a room, in front of you, I rather suspect you would back away rather nervously…

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joseph July 22, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Which gets us back to Platinga, to believe in a God who is omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, we must find a logical reason why God could not have done differently

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Patrick (Christian) July 23, 2011 at 8:10 am

joseph: “If I made a sentient being, which I wanted to act in a morally sound way but have free will (not enslave humanity, and use our brains as processors, as Hollywood has taught us they are want to do), I’d pick that option.”

As I see it God’s primary aim was not to create morally sound beings but beings with whom He can enter into a loving relationship. Moral behaviour would only be a side effect of this relationship (John 14,15, Galatians 5,16-18). Moreover, He provides people, even those who would not enter into a relationship with Him, with a conscience (Romans 1,29-2,16) and at least with a limited ability to act morally (Matthew 7,11).

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joseph July 23, 2011 at 10:43 am

Thanks Patrick (christian),
But isn’t it strange to create beings, in order to form a loving relationship with, with such immorality? Such immorality that God’s Justice would mean God would have to cull (or sentence many to eternal torture) perhaps the majority of them? We’ve merely outsourcrd the problem.
Do you have any preference which translation of the bible I check those scriptures in (it’s not a trick question, just out of respect).

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joseph July 23, 2011 at 9:18 pm

“Telling apart from the Architect of the Matrix, or a much higher Tech community…hmmm…let me think on that one, it’s a fair challenge.”

On reflection isn’t this as much of a problem for you than for me? Could you ever be sure? I would even guess it may be more of a problem for you than for me, as my horrible, faith denying scepticism might offer me a little protection…

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Zeb July 24, 2011 at 7:35 pm

(6) There cannot be a state of existence containing beings with morally significant free will wherein evil will not eventually occur (call this FWD1).

I realize that the Problem of Heaven is just taking a formulation of the Free Will Defense as given by some theists and responding, but this premise of FWD is troubling to me. I can’t figure why a theist would say “…wherein evil will not eventually occur,” rather than “…wherein evil can not eventually occur.” I suppose it has something to do with modal logic that is beyond my education, to the effect that if there is a possible world with free will where no moral evil was chosen by free agents, then God should have created that one rather than this one. But it seems obvious how the word “free” in free will undermines that argument, so I’m probably guessing wrong.

Another problem I have with (6) is the word “eventually.” It implies a sense of absolute time that need not apply to all states of existence, and I think does not apply to Heaven.

Lastly, (6) seems to not include “choosing the good” as a state of existence in itself. If we give the name Heaven to the state of existence of each being when it is choosing the good, then there can be no evil in “Heaven” even though there are free beings in Heaven that can choose evil.

But, taking 1-7 as granted by a theist, I agree that the Problem of Heaven seems to overturn that theist’s Free Will Defense.

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Larkus July 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm

@Zeb
Simon Cushing notes about premises (6) and (7) in the cited paper :
“Again, these statements do not have to be proved true to constitute a successful defense against LAFE: they (taken as a pair) just have not to be necessarily false.”

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joseph July 25, 2011 at 7:34 pm

@zeb

With regards to:

“. I can’t figure why a theist would say “…wherein evil will not eventually occur,” rather than “…wherein evil can not eventually occur”"

I’m not saying this to annoy CL, but my best answer would be:

If you use the word “can” you could make in a 1:infinity probability. I.e.

(6) There cannot be a state of existence containing beings with morally significant free will wherein evil can not eventually occur (call this FWD1).

(7j) the probability is 1:infinity

(8j) this never occurs within a finite time (except when that little man starts tossing infinite coins, in infinite universes for eternity, pesky little guy)

(9j) therefore God could have produced a world where no evil occured within a finite time span

(10j) he didn’t, so he doesn’t exist. Let’s all go throw heavy rocks into Nietzche’s Abyss, fornicate and believe humanity isn’t special as Agnostics and Atheists it is our want.

My (10j) may be a little wrong, though I was taught believing in Evolution would inevitably destroy society.

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joseph July 25, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Simple way, borrowed from.william lane craig, difference between potential (can) and actual (will?)?

I.e. william lane craig argues future can be infinite as it’s a potential infinity, but past cannot as that would be an actual infinity.

On the same basis God is not actually infinitely powerful but potentially infinitely powerful (this makes my head hurt).

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Zeb July 28, 2011 at 10:10 am

Thanks Larkus, so does that mean that 6 and 7 each could or should be prefaced with, “It is possible that…“? Even so, I think 6 is a contradiction. The concept of free will implies that any available option can be chosen. There is no set of non-evil choices that can be impossible to an agent with free will (unless the only options are all evil, but that would contradict the “ought implies can” common to moral theories). And so to necessarily exclude states of existence “wherein evil will not eventually occur ” seems to exclude free will. However, if the “will not” was changed to “cannot” in (6), that problem would go away. Given free will, evil is possible but not necessary.

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Nightvid Cole September 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Also, another problem raised by the FWD is the Problem of Paralysis, namely, if it is so important for us to have this supposed “free will”, why does paralysis exist? And in particular, why does paralysis correlate with exactly what you would expect on naturalism (i.e. strokes, etc.) and not at all what you would expect on theism (e.g. whether someone has been good or accepted the “right” religion)?

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