“Who are you to judge God?”

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 7, 2009 in General Atheism

god_on_trialWhenever an atheist says that God, if he existed, would be wrong to allow pointless suffering or command rape and genocide, a believer is quick to ask

Who are you to judge God?

A reader, Chuck, illustrated the atheist’s position like so:

If God were an alien who, 4 billion years ago, seeded the earth with the organic matter that would later give rise to all the forms of life, if he then left and later returned, and proceeded to do everything the Bible says [Yahweh] did, then we would all conclude he is an evil rat-bastard, and if he demanded that we all bow down and worship him or die, we would – as a planet – rise up and fight him with our dying breaths.

In the course of that discussion, I outlined the moral theory I think is more probably true than any other: desirism. According to that moral theory, the Biblical God would be judged as extremely evil.

Another Christian reader, wrf3, responded:

…on what basis is your moral judgment superior to [God's]? Do you really think that this being has to agree with whatever moral theory du jour you’ve come up with…?

Against all logic and reason, you actually think that you have valid grounds for judging god.

For a moment, let’s put aside the question of whether God exists in the first place. If God exists, are humans in a position to judge him?

Theists certainly seem to think so. They regularly judge God as good, merciful, just, forgiving, and so on – with the utmost certainty. When they witness an event and attribute it to the will of God, they are quick to judge it as “for the best” or “morally good.”

So it is hypocritical – a double standard – for believers to say that atheists cannot look at the same event (say, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami) and provide a judgment (“Hmmm… that was probably not ‘for the best.’”)

If someone makes a claim – whether it be that God is good or that God is evil – he must judge.

So perhaps what a believer like wrf3 is trying to say is something like

If the Creator of the universe tells us that his actions are always moral, we are in no position to question this.

But I do not accept this, either. Imagine the following scenario:

God does not exist. But one day, a man named Brad is born, and he is incomprehensibly smarter than everyone else who had ever lived. By age 12 he cures cancer. Gradually, scientists test his cure and it works every time. The cure is distributed across the globe and cancer is eradicated, with no major side effects.

By age 13 Brad solves over a dozen unsolved mathematical problems that have stumped mathematicians for decades. The world’s greatest mathematicians pore over his proofs, and eventually conclude that they are all correct, though perhaps they could never have discovered these proofs by themselves.

By age 14 Brad proposes a solution for world peace and total nuclear disarmament that is able to persuade – and is enacted by – every national leader in the world.

By age 15 Brad proves beyond doubt the correct Theory of Everything that has long been the holy grail of physics research. The theory makes more accurate predictions than even the Standard Model, predictions which are verified thousands of times. The theory is also consistent with all other successful theories of science, is mathematically consistent, and is startlingly simple.

In his 16th year of life, Brad rapes a young girl.

There is a large public outcry, but Brad explains, “Listen, people. I have finally solved the problems of morality. I have discovered the most accurate moral theory possible, and according to this moral theory, it was morally obligatory that I rape the young girl. The theory is so complex that I could never make your average human minds understand it, but you’ve got to trust me! After all, aren’t I the smartest man on earth? Haven’t I cured cancer, solved the toughest problems in math, solves world conflict, and discovered the Theory of Everything? You’ve got to trust me – my raping the young girl was for the best. I can’t explain why to you, because the correct moral theory is beyond your comprehension. But who are you to question me? You know your minds are vastly inferior to my own. You should trust that I know what I’m doing. Raping that girl was for the best.”

Most people are persuaded by Brad’s appeal, and accept that raping the young girl probably was for the best, though they will never understand why. These people come to be known as Bradists.

A minority of people remain unconvinced by Brad’s appeal. They think raping the young girl was morally wrong. They propose various moral theories they think are plausible, and show that each of them demonstrates that raping the young girl was morally wrong. These people come to be known as anti-Bradists.

Brad goes on to rape 65 pre-teen girls in California, which he again claims is for the best. The gap between the Bradists and the anti-Bradists grows deeper, the Bradists still defending Brad’s actions, the anti-Bradists protesting even more loudly that rape is wrong, no matter what Brad says.

In his 17th year, Brad builds a machine capable of causing volcanos to erupt. Without warning anyone, Brad uses it on the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the North American continent. The eruption is the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. Within days, millions die as a result of the eruption. The ash surrounds the globe and causes deadly environmental irregularities all around the world.

The Bradists remain faithful, convinced that Brad knows what is best even if they can’t begin to comprehend how the eruption was morally good. Anti-Bradists protest in disbelief at their fellow humans who defend Brad in spite of his mass killing. But the Bradists repeat, “Who are you to judge Brad? Are you as smart as he is? Can you prove he is incorrect?”

I think the lesson is clear.

While the anti-Bradists can’t hope to understand Brad’s moral theory that justifies mass rape and mass killing, they nevertheless have reason to doubt that Brad has the correct moral theory. These humans have reason to suspect that though Brad is smart, he has some desires which lead him to rape and kill and try to persuade us that he has moral reasons for doing so when really he does not.

And if Brad was so smart that he eventually created another universe that evolved sentient life, those new sentient beings would also have reason to question his morality if he raped, tortured and slaughtered them while claiming that this was all moral for reasons they could not understand.

So I think we are in a position to judge God, to question what he supposedly tells us, and to question his supposed properties. We do the best we can. If God exists, is the best explanation of the facts that he is a good God?

The theist judges: “Yes. The best explanation of the combination of good and evil on earth is that God is all-good and all-powerful.”

The atheist judges: “No. The best explanation of the combination of good and evil on earth is not that God is all-good and all-powerful.”

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{ 102 comments… read them below or add one }

ayer October 7, 2009 at 7:26 am

lukeprog: “Theists certainly seem to think so. They regularly judge God as good, merciful, just, forgiving, and so on – with the utmost certainty. When they witness an event and attribute it to the will of God, they are quick to judge it as “for the best” or “morally good.””

Your use of the term “judging” seems to be unusual. It usually means “evaluating against a standard.”

If believers describe God as good, just, merciful, forgiving, in terms of his attributes, they are simply affirming the traditional Christian theistic definition of God as a being “greater than which nothing can be conceived.” That does not seem to be “judging,” just “acknowledging the definition.”

If they presume to know whether each particular event was or was not within the specific will of God, that also does not seem to be “judging” (as in “evaluating against a standard”) but arrogantly presuming to know an omniscient being’s purposes (perhaps the event occurred to preserve a necessary amount of natural order, or to preserve free will?)

Now, asserting that a passage of the Bible is inconsistent with the definition of God as a morally perfect being DOES appear to be judging–but it is judging the bible, not God. Every statement in the Nicene Creed could be true even if passages of the Old Testament were deemed to be in error.

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Reginald Selkirk October 7, 2009 at 7:40 am

ayer: If believers describe God as good, just, merciful, forgiving, in terms of his attributes, they are simply affirming the traditional Christian theistic definition of God as a being “greater than which nothing can be conceived.”

You seem to be confusing two senses of the word “good,” one if which is a lesser statement of greatness, and one which refers to moral standing.

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ayer October 7, 2009 at 7:46 am

Reginald Selkirk:
You seem to be confusing two senses of the word “good,” one if which is a lesser statement of greatness, and one which refers to moral standing.

Yes, “morally perfect” would be clearer (since it would include the other virtuous attributes)

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fallen October 7, 2009 at 8:27 am

Forgive me if my observations and questions are elementary. I have only recently begun to question the religion I was born into. The basic explanation I’ve always received from the church is that the existence of evil and suffering is really OUR responsibility. Conveniently, everything we recognize as good can be attributed to God, and everything we recognize as bad is blamed on us. That way, God is off the hook, and we have reason to need him (we’re evil, flawed, and in need of God’s grace). In his act of bringing this world into being, he graciously granted us free will. What we did with our free will was essentially see it as an opportunity to sin, to turn from God, and thus we are reaping what we’ve sewn.
I’m assured that it “breaks God’s heart” that he cannot intervene and stop our suffering, but if he were to intervene, he’d be violating our precious free will. God is a gentleman, after all. Even better, we have the hope of eternal life, the point in our existence when God will indeed intervene, punish the wicked, and take away all of our tears, disease, suffering, and death.
Questions:
1) How does the human misuse of free will explain natural disasters? Are we to believe that our selfish choices are effective enough to influence the weather, and we are therefore ultimately responsible for even the suffering brought on by hurricanes, tornadoes, and drought?
2) If God exists and is all-knowing, and he did decide to make everything and grant us free will, knowing that we would end up murdering, raping, and abusing each other with that will, isn’t he really to blame for starting it all in motion? In other words, why didn’t he just skip right to paradise? I think many people, especially those who have been the victims of abuse, war, etc., would gladly hand over “free will” if it meant they could have lived without these de-humanizing atrocities committed against them and their loved ones. Maybe I’m wrong, but if a paradise where we are free of suffering and are all under the protective bliss of God is what Christians are hoping for anyway, why did God take this seemingly sadistic detour?

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Steven October 7, 2009 at 8:48 am

Even belief in God requires “Judging” God. We must assume that he is an evidence-granting God who operates supernaturally in the world in a minimal capacity. There is no reason to think this. Did God create the world as in the Bible, or did he create everything 5 minutes ago, planting memories inside us? Why is the former more likely than the latter if arguing supernaturally?

So the beginning of arguments for God require a judgement about the nature of God.

If we cannot judge God then we cannot argue for his existence.

Also, Psalm 82 is one of the most fantastic pieces of Scripture in the Bible. God takes his place in the divine council and judges the other other gods. Is it because God is more powerful than they? No, it’s because of their inability to “give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintains the right of the lowly and the destitute.” God judges the gods according to what is right. As Crossan says, “they are dethroned for injustice, for divine malpractice, for transcendental malfeasance in office.”

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anselm October 7, 2009 at 8:51 am

fallen: 1) How does the human misuse of free will explain natural disasters? Are we to believe that our selfish choices are effective enough to influence the weather, and we are therefore ultimately responsible for even the suffering brought on by hurricanes, tornadoes, and drought?

Natural disasters have two complimentary explanations:

(1) the predictable order of the natural environment inevitably results in some natural “pain”–e.g., the same fire that can warm you can burn you; the same water that can sustain you can drown you, etc.

“Having made the world to work in certain consistent ways, like the force of gravity, he does not arbitrarily change these whenever potential harm rears its head. Though this does not rule out what we call miracles, if God kept changing the way things normally operate in the world, it would be impossible for us to rise to genuine challenges or act with real responsibly within it.” (http://www.cslewistoday.com/blog/the-problem-of-pain)

(2) there is also a spirit world of demonic forces whose actions can on occasion result in natural suffering; this, e.g., is why Jesus “rebuked” the storm. See http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/apologetics/problem-of-evil/satan-and-the-corruption-of-nature-seven-arguments/

fallen: If God exists and is all-knowing, and he did decide to make everything and grant us free will, knowing that we would end up murdering, raping, and abusing each other with that will, isn’t he really to blame for starting it all in motion? In other words, why didn’t he just skip right to paradise?

If God’s purpose is to have a freely loving relationship with human beings, then to deny free will and create automatons would defeat that purpose. Love requires the freedom to choose. See http://www.gregboyd.org/qa/predestination-free-will/verses-in-question/what-is-the-biblical-basis-of-free-will/

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Steven Carr October 7, 2009 at 9:02 am

Who are we to judge Mr. Incredible for the total lack of incredible feats of rescue we never see occurring in the world today?

By definition,Mr. Incredible is just, well, incredible, so believers in Mr.Incredible are doing no judging in claiming he is incredible.

It is only non-believers in Mr. Incredible who put on airs and claim that if he were really incredible, Mr. Incredible would never allow such suffering in the world today.

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Steven Carr October 7, 2009 at 9:07 am

How do Christians know they are not worshipping a demon?

A demon would obviously tell his worshippers that he is good, while allowing them to be persecuted, tortured and killed not in despite of their faith in this demon, but directly because of their faith in this demon.

The more Christians have faith in their demon, and undergo persecution for their faith in their demon, the more this demon would enjoy seeing their tortures.

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Brad October 7, 2009 at 9:32 am

Yahweh’s moral theory is actually quite simple: he likes the smell of burning goats, and the Hebrews like to loot cities and take young girls “for themselves.” Yahweh and the Hebrews just help each other attain their respective goals. Startlingly simple, ain’t it!

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Yahweh October 7, 2009 at 9:33 am

Brad shut the FUCK up

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Derrida October 7, 2009 at 9:56 am

ayer:
If they presume to know whether each particular event was or was not within the specific will of God, that also does not seem to be “judging” (as in “evaluating against a standard”) but arrogantly presuming to know an omniscient being’s purposes (perhaps the event occurred to preserve a necessary amount of natural order, or to preserve free will?)

If an omniscient being’s purposes are unknowable, then it seems that theists know a lot less than they think they do.

Can theists for instance know:

- The age of the universe. Maybe God has some unknowable reason for creating the universe five minutes ago, with the appearance of age.

- The existence of other minds. Maybe the people you know are automata, created by God for some unknown reason.

- The many doctrines of Christianity. For instance, the resurrection of Jesus. Maybe God has some unknown reason for making it appear as though Jesus arose from the dead.

The “unknown purpose” response to the problem of evil is wholly unconvincing when applied to any other area of knowledge. It is clear that the suffering in the world is unjustified, as it is clear that the universe is more than five minutes old.

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MacGuy October 7, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Luke,

You forgot to include “Who are you [to] judge God” in the first quote. I do not accept this type of reasoning because this can apply equally to other gods. It also fails to recognize that we have the moral law, and if we assume that this is accurate, then we by all means should go with what best explains that moral law. Otherwise, we’d be talking nonsense with terms like “good” and “evil”, as they’d be essentially meaningless to us. There’d no sense in saying that God is good anymore than saying He is a hubba tubba.

People could say that whatever God does is good, but what does He “do” that makes it good? Defined this way, there’s no difference between “doing” and “good”. I might as well say that everything I do is good because I can preform an action just like God. If lying is something that God does, then it must be right. It really just begs the question!

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Reginald Selkirk October 7, 2009 at 1:48 pm

MacGuy: It also fails to recognize that we have the moral law, and if we assume that this is accurate, then we by all means should go with what best explains that moral law.

Which moral law?

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exrelayman October 7, 2009 at 1:54 pm

fallen – nice points, well articulated.

Who am I to judge God? An entity, using my judgment, as it is the only judgment I have. I am not judging God, as there is, according to my judgment, no God to judge. I am judging scripture, and it fails to convince me of God because of its incoherency, inconsistency, contradictions, and clear derivations from antecedent cultures. I am also judging the sellers of the God idea for utilizing hypnotic/brainwashing methods such as: emotional coercion, regular meetings, employing sermons rather than discussions, singing, and ritual. Scientists don’t have to pray for gravity to work or cars to start, or sing hymns to Darwin. The methods of the churches do not withstand intelligent scrutiny. I use my best judgment when buying a car or choosing a mate, why should I not do likewise in evaluating the claims of religion?

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ayer October 7, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Steven Carr: How do Christians know they are not worshipping a demon?

Perhaps because demonic character conflicts with the definition of God as that being than which nothing greater can be conceived, which would include the attribute of moral perfection?

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ayer October 7, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Which moral law?

Perhaps the same one against which atheists measure the Old Testament and find it morally lacking?

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MacGuy October 7, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Reginald Selkirk:
Which moral law?

That was a GRANTED assumption of Christianity. You can beg to differ, but that was not the purpose of my comment. It was simply to show an inconsistency within that form of theology. And I figured that Luke would agree that there is an objective moral intuition. The ontology of that morality is completely different of course. I have yet to read his work on desirism so perhaps I am presuming too much here but that’s not the central issue.

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Hylomorphic October 7, 2009 at 5:36 pm

ayer:
Perhaps because demonic character conflicts with the definition of God as that being than which nothing greater can be conceived, which would include the attribute of moral perfection?

If one amends Steven Carr’s question to “How do Christians know they are not worshipping a demon instead of God?” I think the inadequacy of that response becomes quite clear.

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ayer October 7, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Hylomorphic: “How do Christians know they are not worshipping a demon instead of God?”

Because they are worshiping the being greater than which nothing can be conceived. There can only be one such being; a demon lacks moral perfection, and thus does not qualify as that being.

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akakiwibear October 7, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Lukeprog, you should stay away from long analogies – God does not commit evil as your mate Brad does.

That said you seem to miss a key point of the debate about our ability to judge God.
Within a system of belief that defines God as omniscient it is irrational for us, who are not omniscient, to claim to know better than one who is … it is all about the definition.

… it is all about the definition … and you can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t claim that your wisdom exceeds that of an omniscient god and then argue that the god is not omniscient … well maybe you can, lots of atheists do, but it is irrational.

Sala kahle -peace

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akakiwibear October 7, 2009 at 8:48 pm

fallen: Are we to believe that our selfish choices are effective enough to influence the weather, and we are therefore ultimately responsible for even the suffering brought on by hurricanes, tornadoes, and drought?

A few responses:
1.1) If we believe the climate change argument them we are indeed influencing global weather.
1.2) Perhaps you mean to focus on specific events – e.g. the recent devastation in Samoa. It is the freewill of people to live in low lying coastal regions. I live in a city littered with “dormant” volcanoes – my choice, if one erupts (maybe when not if) then I should not blame God for my choices.
1.3) The world is subject to the laws of physics – hurricanes happen! No where does God tell us that he will protect us from these events. The parable of the man who built his house on sand illustrates that these are know dangers

fallen: In other words, why didn’t he just skip right to paradise?

OK this is a good question and again, I can only offer my views. The answer seems to lie in how you value free will. You say:

fallen: would gladly hand over “free will” if it meant they could have lived without these de-humanizing atrocities

… but would we be not be de-humanised if our free will was taken away. How do you rank the atrocity of turning us all into vegitative beings?

Without free will you would not be asking this question, nor choosing what to have for dinner. Is my computer happy – it has no free will, it does not suffer much either. Life, but not as we know it?

As for a fast forward to paradise, my view is that there is free will there too … so maybe it would be good if we understood how it worked before we got there and stuffed that up too.

Hamba kahle – peace

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drj October 7, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I tend to think theists are right to some degree on this… if a being was omniscient, he probably would do many puzzling things that seem immoral to the rest of us, but are the actually the least immoral actions he could possibly take, assuming he was constrained by logical possibility. But so what?

Is it actually reasonable to believe that an omnipotent and omniscient universe creator was constrained by logical possibility to such a degree that the least immoral action available to Him was to command genocides? Sure, one can conjure up some theodicy to wrap it all up in a nice little package… but why would one go to the trouble when such action is well within the bounds of plausible human behavior and explained much more sensibly and parsimoniously by it?

To me, it seems ludicrously improbable that an omnipotent super-being would be constrained to such a degree by logical possibility that he would have to resort to such destructive, war-like behavior – behavior that perfectly mimics what we would expect from primitive war-like tribes – to accomplish his perfect plan.

It boggles the mind that people actually believe otherwise.

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Steven Carr October 7, 2009 at 11:36 pm

AYER
Because they are worshiping the being greater than which nothing can be conceived. There can only be one such being; a demon lacks moral perfection, and thus does not qualify as that being.

CARR
I like it.Totally circular reasoning. Christians are not worshipping a demon, because they are not worshipping a demon.

How this (imaginary) god must be laughing as he watches his worshippers being tortured simply because they worship him. He will laugh even harder as these deluded worshippers claim this being is moral perfection as it watches them being tortured.

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Beelzebub October 7, 2009 at 11:47 pm

I think this scenario actually illustrates one of the drawbacks to advocating objective morality and perhaps why sticking to relative moralities is less perilous. If you believe in objective morality you can still just salvage the flexibility of thinking multiple competing systems can still exist that can be rated for merits and demerits; however, you’re still stuck with the situation that actions can be justified on an objective scale that is perhaps beyond anyone’s comprehension. Thus one can still argue that Hitler was actually “good” because an abstruse moral Calculus produced a positive figure, or I can justify murder just by saying “I knew he would become a Hitler.”

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Steven Carr October 7, 2009 at 11:59 pm

AKAWIKIBEAR
It is the freewill of people to live in low lying coastal regions

CARR
Yes, those people could have chosen to live in Beverly Hills, but decided to live near the sea that God created in a part of the world that this God had carefully fine-tuned to allow life to flourish.

So they died. What idiots! Fancy believing that God had fine-tuned that bit of the universe to allow life.

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Beelzebub October 8, 2009 at 1:53 am

The trouble with asserting the existence of an absolute moral judgement beyond reproach is that in the end it cancels the entire enterprise of human moral philosophy. This was a point Luke made in is second letter to Vox Day. If the absolute moral principles by which we are judged are beyond our comprehension and beyond our right to question, then what purpose does it serve to even formulate thoughts of morality? In fact, what purpose is there to lead a moral life? It seems to me that either morality is within the human domain or it remains non-binding to humans.

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Kiwi Dave October 8, 2009 at 3:38 am

Ayer: ‘Because they are worshiping the being greater than which nothing can be conceived. There can only be one such being; a demon lacks moral perfection, and thus does not qualify as that being.’

On what basis have you assumed that ‘greater’ includes moral perfection? Why not immoral perfection. As Steven Carr suggests, this looks like a circular argument.

Which leads to the question. ‘Conceived by whom?’ Not just a moralist or immoralist as in the previous paragraph. I can conceive of a demon or god with greater conceptual powers than I have, and they in turn can conceive something greater still.

We seem to have a circular argument combined with infinite iteration going in opposite directions. No wonder I feel dizzy.

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ayer October 8, 2009 at 4:13 am

Kiwi Dave: On what basis have you assumed that ‘greater’ includes moral perfection? Why not immoral perfection. As Steven Carr suggests, this looks like a circular argument.

Granted, it assumes there is a difference between “moral” and “immoral” (which all but a complete nihilist would affirm); but if the atheists are denying such a difference, then on what basis are they condemning the actions of God in the Old Testament as “immoral”?

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Salt October 8, 2009 at 4:16 am

If God were an alien who … seeded the earth with the organic matter

So, God is now an alien who seeded the earth with organic material. Tell me, did this alien make his own dirt?

Epic fail.

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ayer October 8, 2009 at 4:25 am

Steven Carr: I like it.Totally circular reasoning. Christians are not worshipping a demon, because they are not worshipping a demon.

No, Christians are not worshiping a demon, but instead are worshiping the singular “morally perfect” being, which has attributes that a demon (by definition) cannot have. Now perhaps such a morally perfect being does not exist, and they are worshiping a fiction. But it is not circular reasoning. I know it is annoying to you that Christianity is internally coherent and self-consistent in this way, but to be effective you will have to concentrate your objections on de facto, not de jure, arguments against it.

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lukeprog October 8, 2009 at 5:27 am

Salt: So, God is now an alien who seeded the earth with organic material. Tell me, did this alien make his own dirt?

Red herring. This is entirely beside the point I am making.

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Steve October 8, 2009 at 5:39 am

ayer: No, Christians are not worshiping a demon, but instead are worshiping the singular “morally perfect” being, which has attributes that a demon (by definition) cannot have

But no! christians are`nt judging,the thought of a “morally perfect” being just floated on in like a frisbee

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Josh October 8, 2009 at 5:45 am

Ayer,

This is circular. The only reason you know that god is the being greater than which cannot be conceived is because you read that in the book that god wrote! God could just be totally deluding you. I mean, technically you could be sending your prayers to “The being greater than which cannot be conceived”, but then you’re not really justified in taking any of the words of the bible as truth… because those might be the deluded fantasies of a demon who likes toying with people.

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ayer October 8, 2009 at 6:01 am

Josh: Ayer,This is circular.The only reason you know that god is the being greater than which cannot be conceived is because you read that in the book that god wrote!God could just be totally deluding you.I mean, technically you could be sending your prayers to “The being greater than which cannot be conceived”, but then you’re not really justified in taking any of the words of the bible as truth… because those might be the deluded fantasies of a demon who likes toying with people.

No, that definition of God is a philosophical one, independent of any particular scriptures. It could be embraced by a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or a generic theist.

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Steve October 8, 2009 at 6:01 am

akakiwibear: Within a system of belief that defines God as omniscient it is irrational for us, who are not omniscient, to claim to know better than one who is … it is all about the definition.

Yep lucky for sure we know how to define everything right always.

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Kiwi Dave October 8, 2009 at 6:04 am

Ayer, I would be surprised if any atheists deny a difference between moral and immoral (and, of course, you don’t imply that they do). My question is, expressed somewhat differently to make the point clearer I hope, ‘On what basis, other than our imperfect human judgement, do we decide that ‘greater’ means morally perfect?’ And closely related, ‘On what basis, other than our imperfect human judgement and knowledge, do we know that this god is actually morally perfect?’

A psychopath might decide that an extremely immoral demon, the mirror image of your god as it were, is a being greater than which nothing can be conceived, and such a demon would agree. How would you dispute the pschopath without using your human judgement?

Morality, as I understand it, is a set of human conventions which make social living better (more pleasant, more productive, less stressful, etc) and the only moral judgements I can make are human judgements in human contexts. So when God zaps a number of King David’s subjects because David insists on a census of his military, IIRC, this seems morally indefensible. Defences of such actions which rely on variations of ‘You can’t question God’ or ‘God has her reasons’ fail because they don’t address the human nature of morality.

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Salt October 8, 2009 at 6:24 am

lukeprog:
Red herring. This is entirely beside the point I am making.

As you state “A reader, Chuck, illustrated the atheist’s position like so”, then the atheist’s foundation is built on moved goal posts, and therefore all your arguments, even this one, proceeding forth are spurious at best.

If God actually be God, as Vox says “His game, His rules”, then it is no wonder that you need move the goal posts. You must define the rules in order to play. If you get to play, how can it be God’s game?

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Penneyworth October 8, 2009 at 6:25 am

“…I outlined the moral theory I think is more probably true than any other…”

If you had a way to test whether any of the tenets of a moral theory were “true,” you would already have access to the answers to all moral questions, making the theory superfluous.

The best you can do with your theory is have a majority consensus decide that they like living by such a code at some particular time. This would just be lawmaking in a democratic fashion. If my little tribe in some remote jungle comprises .1% of the earth’s population, and it is our custom to eat our recently deceased to pass on their lifeforce (or something), why should the strong desires of the other 99.9% for us not to perform our sacred custom be of consequence to us? For us, mob rule (democracy) is tyrannical.

Where you at Yair? Help me beat this dead horse to a pulp.

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Steve October 8, 2009 at 6:46 am

Salt: You must define the rules in order to play. If you get to play, how can it be God’s game?

Thats why its lucky words we read from faith books have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with humans.

Wouldnt be gods game if it did.

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Haukur October 8, 2009 at 7:29 am

ayer: No, Christians are not worshiping a demon, but instead are worshiping the singular “morally perfect” being, which has attributes that a demon (by definition) cannot have.

How do you know that the being who approves when a Christian kneels down to pray and delighted in the smell of burnt offerings back in Old Testament days is actually this morally perfect being?

Chris: I’m supporting the greatest president in history!

Sam: Oh? How do you know the guy you’re supporting is so great?

Chris: Silly question, I just told you! I’m supporting the best president EVER! It’s right there in the definition.

Sam: Uhm, and how do you actually go about supporting this great leader?

Chris: Well, for example, when it comes time to vote I go down to the voting booth and I pull the lever for him.

Sam: You pull the lever for who?

Chris: I just told you, I pull the lever for Obama!

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ayer October 8, 2009 at 8:19 am

Haukur: How do you know that the being who approves when a Christian kneels down to pray and delighted in the smell of burnt offerings back in Old Testament days is actually this morally perfect being?

That’s a good question for interreligious apologetics (e.g., Christian vs. Muslim vs. Judaism, etc.) (See, e.g., the list of Christian-Muslim debates compiled by lukeprog here: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=171) i.e., presupposing the existence of a morally perfect being greater than which cannot be conceived, has that being interacted with humanity, and if so, how, when, where, etc.?

But since the question presupposes the existence of a morally perfect being, why is it relevant to the atheist? If that presupposition is made, theism is granted, and atheism is irrelevant.

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Haukur October 8, 2009 at 8:29 am

ayer: But since the question presupposes the existence of a morally perfect being, why is it relevant to the atheist? If that presupposition is made, theism is granted, and atheism is irrelevant.

It doesn’t necessarily presuppose such existence, or at least it can be trivially rephrased to avoid doing so. It’s entirely possible that the monotheistic god does not exist but that lesser gods and/or demons do. And in any case I’m not much of an atheist. I certainly participate in religious activities. So does Hylomorphic, if I recall.

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ayer October 8, 2009 at 9:04 am

Haukur: It’s entirely possible that the monotheistic god does not exist but that lesser gods and/or demons do.

Yes, it’s possible (though asserting a possibility does not constitute an argument). However, even if that were so, that does not change the fact that theists are worshiping the being greater than which nothing can be conceived. Perhaps such a being does not exist. And perhaps that being has communicated to use through the bible, or some of the bible, or none of the bible, or the koran, etc. But the issue of whether and how such a being has interacted with humanity is a debate for interreligious apologetics, and is irrelevant to the issue of theism vs. atheism.

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the being greater than which cannot be conceived October 8, 2009 at 9:49 am

For good luck each day, put your left finger on a door and blink three times and then put your right finger on the door and open and close your mouth once. Spit on the face of the first person you see. If you do this with the sincere belief that it will bring you good luck, not only will you experience good luck, but also an indescribable sense of well-being.
It’s futile to judge anything I say, so please just look out for no. 1 and follow this free advice – my gift to you.

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Steven Carr October 8, 2009 at 10:05 am

So according to theists , not only does an all-good god allow his worshippers to be tortured because they worship him, but his worshippers can’t even CONCEIVE of a being that would save his worshippers from torture.

Apparently they worship a being so great that they can’t even conceive of a greater being.

But it is easy to conceive of a being that would not allow his worshippers to be tortured.

I can conceive of that. I just did.

Therefore , the Christian god does not exist, by the very Christian’s own definition of a god so great they cannot conceive of a greater being.

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ayer October 8, 2009 at 10:06 am

the being greater than which cannot be conceived: For good luck each day, put your left finger on a door and blink three times and then put your right finger on the door and open and close your mouth once. Spit on the face of the first person you see. If you do this with the sincere belief that it will bring you good luck, not only will you experience good luck, but also an indescribable sense of well-being.
It’s futile to judge anything I say, so please just look out for no. 1 and follow this free advice – my gift to you.

See, another candidate for the interreligious apologetics debate! As you notice with this example, some will have a weaker case to make than others. Even the Muslims who lost debates to William Lane Craig could take many of them down.

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Steven Carr October 8, 2009 at 10:13 am

AYER
the traditional Christian theistic definition of God as a being “greater than which nothing can be conceived.

CARR
SO by definition,we are talking about our conceptions of good and evil, not this imaginary gods.

So the Christian definition of God says flat-out that atheists can compare the alleged actions of this imaginary god with THEIR conception of what good is.

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Rules For October 8, 2009 at 10:14 am

If everything I believe is true (this is a central part of my definition of “my beliefs”), it would (by definition!) be false for anyone to claim that any of my beliefs are not true. Or something like that anyway.

God is just one of an infinite number of semantic games that hairless apes can play with each other – it’s true (as this is how I define “God”). Ayer has clearly played this game for a long time, and is quite good at it – I don’t think anyone can beat him! I would turn this into an exquisite proof, but I won’t – QED.

Did you know that over a million Earths could fill the volume of the Sun, and that more than a billion Suns could fill the volume of the star Mu Cephei? Most amazing of all is that Mu Cephei is real and can be seen from your backyard (if you’re north of the equator).

I apologize in advance for any fallacies/falsehoods in this post… there are enough all over the place, and I really hate to mankind’s problems.

By the way, how do you worship “the being greater…”? If the goal of worship is to soothe your anxiety, I don’t see any problems, but if the goal is to somehow please this “being,” how could you possibly figure out dot dot dot?

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Haukur October 8, 2009 at 10:15 am

ayer: that does not change the fact that theists are worshiping the being greater than which

Well, that depends on how you define ‘worship’. If the-being-greater-than-which-nothing-can-be-conceived didn’t care one bit about the libations and burnt offerings offered by the Hebrews and meanwhile another being did very much care about this and granted the Hebews some boons in return (victories against their enemies, some nice real estate in the Middle East etc.) then which being were the Hebrews really worshipping? If I tell you I’m sending a bunch of money to a prince in Nigeria who will repay me generously at a later time does that mean I really am sending money to a prince in Nigeria? Just because Christians *say* they are worshipping the-being-greater-than-which-nothing-can-be-conceived and just because they *believe* they are worshipping the-being-greater-than-which-nothing-can-be-conceived doesn’t mean they are *actually* worshipping the-being-greater-than-which-nothing-can-be-conceived. Unless you define ‘worship’ in a weird way.

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Rules For October 8, 2009 at 10:17 am

Ayer,
How can you judge one case to be weaker than another? God’s working on a level you can’t possibly comprehend, and this is his game after all. So what’s your secret? I want to know the secret!

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Steven Carr October 8, 2009 at 10:20 am

How can Ayer not judge one case to be weaker than another?

He is so limited in imagination that apparently he cannot even conceive of a being that would not allow its worshippers to be tortured for their faith in it.

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Steve October 8, 2009 at 10:21 am

ayer: But the issue of whether and how such a being has interacted with humanity is a debate for interreligious apologetics, and is irrelevant to the issue of theism vs. atheis

No its got absolutely nothing to do with theism vs non theism .Issues of whether and how such a being has ACUTUALLY did interacted with humanity,could never likely make any real difference.I mean if i did it did,and if it didnt well it still must have did anyway.

So just good old plain styles common sense type Christianity really.

Cant fault it.

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Rules For October 8, 2009 at 10:41 am

How can you worship something you can’t understand?
Are there an infinite number of these “beings,” each just one step removed from their neighbors by a single tiny imperfection?
All this talk reminds me of the Tenacious D song “Tribute,” where the band play the greatest song in the world, but it isn’t the actual song itself, which is just a tribute to this greatest song. Surely the song greater than which nothing can be conceived is actually out there somewhere? It must be, as I’ve been imagining it my whole life – I can’t wait to finally hear it someday!
I know my answer the next time someone asks me what my favorite band is: The Band Greater Than Which Nothing Can Be Conceived. I’m surprised that’s not the name of an actual band, though. Their biggest hit was The Album Greater Than Which Nothing Can Be Conceived – you can’t even begin to imagine how good it really is – you can only dimly imagine how poorly you can imagine how great it is.

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ayer October 8, 2009 at 10:44 am

Rules For: Ayer,
How can you judge one case to be weaker than another? God’s working on a level you can’t possibly comprehend, and this is his game after all. So what’s your secret? I want to know the secret!

See William Lane Craig’s debates with Muslims (links available right here on this site: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=171) for a good example of how it is done.

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ayer October 8, 2009 at 10:51 am

Rules For: How can you worship something you can’t understand?
Are there an infinite number of these “beings,” each just one step removed from their neighbors by a single tiny imperfection?
All this talk reminds me of the Tenacious D song “Tribute,” where the band play the greatest song in the world, but it isn’t the actual song itself, which is just a tribute to this greatest song. Surely the song greater than which nothing can be conceived is actually out there somewhere? It must be, as I’ve been imagining it my whole life – I can’t wait to finally hear it someday!
I know my answer the next time someone asks me what my favorite band is: The Band Greater Than Which Nothing Can Be Conceived. I’m surprised that’s not the name of an actual band, though. Their biggest hit was The Album Greater Than Which Nothing Can Be Conceived – you can’t even begin to imagine how good it really is – you can only dimly imagine how poorly you can imagine how great it is.

You don’t seem to be familiar with the ontological argument. It can be reviewed here: http://www.angelfire.com/mn2/tisthammerw/rlgnphil/ontological.html

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Steven Carr October 8, 2009 at 10:54 am

So Ayer still can’t even conceieve of a being that would not stand back and watch its worshippers being tortured because they worship it.

To him, a being that saves its worshippers from persecution and torture is literally inconceivable, in case such a being turns out to be more worthy of worship than the god he praises.

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Rules For October 8, 2009 at 11:11 am

Ayer, you could be “the being greater…” for all I know. Indeed, how could I ever know one way or the other?

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fallen October 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm

akakiwibear: 1.1) If we believe the climate change argument them we are indeed influencing global weather.
1.2) Perhaps you mean to focus on specific events – e.g. the recent devastation in Samoa. It is the freewill of people to live in low lying coastal regions. I live in a city littered with “dormant” volcanoes – my choice, if one erupts (maybe when not if) then I should not blame God for my choices.

I appreciate your responses! You are right- global warming is an example of humans adversely affecting weather patterns/the environment. But yes, I was actually referring to specific events such as this hurricane, that tsunami, a sudden, tragic “act of God.” Human beings live in a world where we can slowly destroy ourselves as well as be the victims of natural savagery. That this is “how things are” for us means that God decided that it would be this way. We may choose to take the blame for living in tornado alley, but if God designed the world so that tornadoes are a reality and people will get maimed by them, then the reality he created can be no one’s fault but his. It’s like saying that I decide to build a house for my family that is wired with explosives, and that it’s their fault when they get injured or killed, because they are living there. Bad analogy, maybe (they could just move, but the human race cannot move to another reality), but you get my point.

akakiwibear:

Without free will you would not be asking this question, nor choosing what to have for dinner. Is my computer happy – it has no free will, it does not suffer much either. Life, but not as we know it?As for a fast forward to paradise, my view is that there is free will there too … so maybe it would be good if we understood how it worked before we got there and stuffed that up too.

I don’t think the only options- from a theistic standpoint- have to be limited to either “you have free will and you suffer” or “you don’t have free will and you’re a robot/computer/vegetable.” (And I don’t think that having the ability to choose what I eat for dinner in any way makes me feel better about the reality of war, torture, etc. “It’s too bad about the genocide in Africa, but you know, without free will I wouldn’t be enjoying this meal that I picked of my own volition!” Not that that’s what you’re saying…).

You accept that with free will comes suffering. But why didn’t God, if he is an all-powerful creator, choose to make reality the best of both worlds? You believe in paradise- an alternate reality where we can have free will AND not suffer. It’s conceivable, it’s desirable, and God will apparently turn that into reality whenever he chooses. What’s he waiting for? Are we really supposed to be thankful for free will if with it we must take rape, murder, and torture? If paradise is possible and hoped for-the best option before an all-powerful God about to create a world- NOT to choose that reality, but to lure us along with it’s promise, sure seems like a carrot on a stick, an inexcusable trick by a bastard god who’s holding out on us.

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blindingimpediments October 8, 2009 at 12:59 pm

interesting analogy. brad seems to be very similar to the character ozymandias from the “watchmen” comic where he killed millions of people in order to save billions of people.

it is obvious though that this hypothetical brad character’s actions appear evil given this scenerio. but what if brad had proven himself in the past to be an extremely moral person (risk his life for others, greatest philanthropist in the world, honest etc…) and has a record of committing numerous, at first glance, morally corrupt actions that later prove to be, in retrospect, more morally beneficial in the long run (maybe he murdered someone who the cops later found out was in fact a terrorist and would have killed hundred of thousands of people and there was absolutely no other way to stop him except kill him yada yada etc… ). Would he then deserve or warrant the benefit of the doubt when he commits other crimes in which he claims were necessary for the greater good?

also, in the moral theory of “desirism” is there any situation/scenerio where an action that most of society would generally perceive as immoral such as rape/homocide/stealing etc… would be considered moral? (i apologize if this topic has already been discussed somewhere else on this blog)

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Lee A. P. October 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm

ayer: See William Lane Craig’s debates with Muslims (links available right here on this site: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=171) for a good example of how it is done.

He lost some of those.

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ayer October 8, 2009 at 2:34 pm

fallen: Are we really supposed to be thankful for free will if with it we must take rape, murder, and torture? If paradise is possible and hoped for-the best option before an all-powerful God about to create a world- NOT to choose that reality, but to lure us along with it’s promise, sure seems like a carrot on a stick, an inexcusable trick by a bastard god who’s holding out on us.

The free will that you are not thankful for will enable you to choose to spend eternity outside the presence of this “bastard god,” so why are you complaining so much?

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Steve October 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm

ayer: The free will that you are not thankful for will enable you to choose to spend eternity outside the presence of this “bastard god,” so why are you complaining so much?

Yes its so very very true.But lucky its still got absolutely nothing to do with us making any judgements,cause all these ideas just simply float into our heads like wayward frisbees.

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akakiwibear October 8, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Steven Carr: What idiots! Fancy believing that God had fine-tuned that bit of the universe to allow life

Yes, I guess they never heeded the warnings of previous floods – perhaps we should ask why God created people who are stupid or place convenience ahead of their safety, it must be God’s fault!! Could not have us accepting the responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

By the way, great straw man: God ”fine tuned” the entire planet for perfect safety? Good to see you managed to bowl it over!

sala kahle – peace

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akakiwibear October 8, 2009 at 6:29 pm

fallen: You accept that with free will comes suffering.

Not really, I accept that some people may choose to inflict suffering on others but recognise that this not the only possible outcome – nor the most desirable. People choose to inflict suffering on others – neither you, I, anyone else or God makes them do it.

We should face up to the consequences of our actions people, not God, inflicts the suffering so we should stop blaming God for giving us the free will to do what we choose to do!

fallen: You believe in paradise- an alternate reality where we can have free will AND not suffer. It’s conceivable, it’s desirable, and God will apparently turn that into reality whenever he chooses.

Not sure about the whenever he chooses , but I will set that aside for now.

This paradise implies that suffering is possible (we have the free will to inflict it) but that everyone freely chooses not to. Now for this to work everyone will need to have a clear perception of suffering to know to avoid it … guess they learn it here.

You might argue that they don’t need to understand suffering to avoid it – that is just a rule that cannot be broken … well there goes free will.

Perhaps they have a hard wired, instinctive, avoidance of causing suffering. They don’t understand it, they don’t have to choose not to do it because they just can’t think of it … well I guess that some may call it free will, others may say it is simply mind control.

If one thinks through all the ramifications of limiting free will one seems to conclude that we are better off with it, but that we should face up to the responsibilities that come with the privilege.

Sala kahle – peace

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steve October 8, 2009 at 7:24 pm

I love this post this thinking and its real use of common sense and logic is my opinion,maybe because im bias.I dont know.

Sometimes i get head ache`s just studying these different formulars.This one seems easier.

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Steven Carr October 8, 2009 at 10:44 pm

I see Ayer still cannot conceive of a being so great that it would not allow its worshippers to be tortured and persecuted because they worshipped it.

But I *can* conceive of such a being- a being greather than Ayer’s god.

So on Ayer’s own definition of god, there is no god.

And it seems that god fine-tuned the universe for life, but it is our fault if we live in a bit of the universe that kills us.

People get skin cancer. This is because they freely chose to live on a planet where there is a sun. Their choice, not god’s.

And if somebody chooses to get nailed to a cross, he should expect no sympathy from Christians. That was his free will choice. His death was his fault. He chose to suffer because people who choose early deaths are rebelling against god, which is why god does not save children who burn to death in house fires while screaming to god to help them.

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lukeprog October 8, 2009 at 10:47 pm

LOL again @ Carr’s post.

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Beelzebub October 8, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Can the “Being Greater than Which Nothing Can be Conceived,” which hereafter I’m going to refer to as “The Artist Formerly Known as God” (TAFKAG) conceive of something greater than itself? If not, then he/she/it is not as great as the being that can conceive of something greater than itself. If so, then a greater being can be conceived. If it doesn’t exist, then it’s not as great as the conceptual being that does exist. A clear (?) contradiction. So it exists, okay? Now, this means that TAFKAG is not as great as the being that I just conceived, which is inconceivable. Conclusion: go listen to “Little Red Corvette.”

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Steven Carr October 8, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Can I conceive of a being so great that it would help its worshippers when they cried out to it for help?

Yes. That means the Christian god is not the greatest conceivable being, and so it not a real god.

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Beelzebub October 8, 2009 at 11:22 pm

The sheer ludicrousness of a concept like TBGTWNCBC is that it’s merely an amateurish replay of the concept of “infinity” in mathematics. This is precisely analogous to “the natural number greater than all others,” and it’s a bogus statement. There is no natural number greater than all others. The sideways 8 is just a placeholder denoting a limit. The next recourse is to say that God is infinite, but infinity doesn’t exist as a thing, that’s a grade-school fantasy; it’s only a shorthand to denote that there is no upper limit to an enumeration.

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UNRR October 9, 2009 at 3:04 am

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 10/09/2009, at The Unreligious Right

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ayer October 9, 2009 at 5:14 am

“but infinity doesn’t exist as a thing, that’s a grade-school fantasy”

Do you realize you just agreed with the key premise of William Lane Craig’s kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God?

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ayer October 9, 2009 at 5:26 am

“Can I conceive of a being so great that it would help its worshippers when they cried out to it for help?

Yes. That means the Christian god is not the greatest conceivable being, and so it not a real god.”

It seems I have really hit a nerve here. You do realize that the existence of evil has been conclusively shown not to be inconsistent with the existence of God, as established (of course) by Plantinga. As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says: “it seems that the Free Will Defense successfully defeats the logical problem of evil.” Indeed, atheist philosopher J.L. Mackie conceded defeat on the issue:

“Since this [Free Will] defense is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another” (Mackie, J. L. 1982. The Miracle of Theism, p. 154).

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fallen October 9, 2009 at 5:28 am

Dear God-defenders: We will have to agree to disagree, and move on. My questions are not being answered, and that’s fine. At this point it’s going to be round and round we go.

Ayer, I can see why you advise me to “stop complaining.” You’re right- I could just bend over and take it. But I’m not that kind of girl.

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ayer October 9, 2009 at 5:43 am

fallen: “Ayer, I can see why you advise me to “stop complaining.” You’re right- I could just bend over and take it. But I’m not that kind of girl.”

In Christianity you are offered the prospect of eternal bliss after a limited temporal existence involving a mixture of suffering and joy (suffering which the creator participated in by becoming incarnate and being tortured and crucified by those he created). If you think the temporary suffering is not worth it and choose to reject the eternal bliss because of resentment over the temporary suffering, that’s fine, it’s the beauty of free will–it just doesn’t make sense to me.

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faithlessgod October 9, 2009 at 6:11 am

Following on from Steve Carr’s point I have always thought that the ontological argument proves that the Christian god does not exist, since it is easy to conceive of a greater god than the Christian god, namely both one that does not cause so much suffering and death between religions over who has the correct conception of god and that a greater being would not have done something so arcane, absurd and immature as to incarnate as a man and then die for all our “sins”, resurrect and then expect any sensible person to believe such tripe, let alone worship it.

Really why don’t Christians just grow up.

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Steven Carr October 9, 2009 at 6:13 am

SO Ayer says because it is logically possible that an all-good being would watch its worshippers being tortured, it is therefore *inconceivable* that an all-good being would save its worshippers from being tortured.

What sort of logic do they teach them in Christian schools nowadays?

Ayer defined his god as a god greather than any conceivable being.

But I can conceive of a being that would not watch its worshippers being tortured for their faith.

I can also conceive of a demon that would watch its worshippers being tortured for its faith.

Therefore the imaginary Christian god fails by Ayer’s own defintion, despite his desperate switch to distract attention from what he claimed his god was.

Can Ayer conceive of a being that would save its worshippers from being tortured? If Ayer can even conceive of such a being, then his god is a demon by comparison with the god Ayer can conceive of.

Ayer still does not explain why he is not worshipping a demon. By definition, his imaginary god is not the greatest conceivable being.

Oh and quote mining Mackie is not impressive either. He went on to state that Plantinga’s argument missed the point and illustrated the failure of the free will defense.

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Steven Carr October 9, 2009 at 6:29 am

Ayer’s argument is like claiming that because it is logically possible that Wayne Gretzky will turn out to have been the greatest ice hockey player ever to play, then it is *inconceivable* that anybody could ever play better than Wayne Gretzky.

Christians love their fallacies. The demon they worship must be laughing as he watches them being tortured, persecuted and killed for their faith in it, getting extra sadistic joy from knowing its followers are thinking up reasons why they are not worshipping a demon.

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ayer October 9, 2009 at 6:49 am

Carr: “Ayer defined his god as a god greather than any conceivable being.

But I can conceive of a being that would not watch its worshippers being tortured for their faith.”

Then you are conceiving of a being which creates automatons (or perhaps “pets”) without free will, which is a less morally perfect being than one which creates humans who are free to do good or evil and voluntarily suffers on their behalf to redeem them to eternal life and everlasting joy.

The beauty of free will, however, will also provide you with the freedom to be separated from this awful being forever, and really–isn’t that how you would prefer it anyway?

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steve October 9, 2009 at 10:24 am

“If God exists, are humans in a position to judge him?

Theists certainly seem to think so. They regularly judge God as good, merciful, just, forgiving, and so on – with the utmost certainty.”

So ayer its a real fallacy or false notion isnt it?. To say somebody (cant judge) what a god should not likely be like.

After all thats all anybodys really done so far when they wrote books n bilbles and said oh we(can judge) god is like this lets worship him .

What logic is this?

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Steven Carr October 9, 2009 at 10:29 am

Ayer is still religiously copying the answers his apologetics books tell him works, oblivious to the fact that these answers only work in his apologetic books and not in the real world.

Apparently, Ayer cannot even conceive of a being that saves its worshippers from being tortured because a being that did that would deprive people of their free will.

Like when a SWAT team rescue people, they first turn them into zombies….

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ayer October 9, 2009 at 10:57 am

Carr: “Apparently, Ayer cannot even conceive of a being that saves its worshippers from being tortured because a being that did that would deprive people of their free will.

Like when a SWAT team rescue people, they first turn them into zombies….”

Actually, it’s the free will of the torturers that would have to be eliminated under your notion (like the Roman torturers who crucified Jesus). And God did perform a rescue operation that preserved free will–it was called “the atonement.” It is why the option of eternal life with him is available–if you use your free will to accept it. (Of course, it sounds like you will prefer the other option).

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ayer October 9, 2009 at 10:58 am

Carr: “So ayer its a real fallacy or false notion isnt it?. To say somebody (cant judge) what a god should not likely be like.

After all thats all anybodys really done so far when they wrote books n bilbles and said oh we(can judge) god is like this lets worship him .

What logic is this?”

I think you need to go back and read my first comment on the difference between “describing” and “judging.”

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steve October 9, 2009 at 11:30 am

Carr”I think you need to go back and read my first comment on the difference between “describing” and “judging.””

Look even the posts are evolving.

Ayer please do explain how one discribes something,without judging what it might actually be??

Is it the floating frisbee scenario.You just happen to be quietly thinking nothing in particular,then wizzzzz bing! a thought just floats on in.No need of any judgment at all on your part?.

And then some book gets written saying this how god be.

It truely is magic

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Steven Carr October 10, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Gosh,Ayer still can’t explain why he is not worshipping a demon.

He still can’t explain why he literally can’t conceive of a being that would save its worshippers from being tortured because of their worship of this being.

He still can’t explain why it is easy to conceive of a demon that got sadistic glee from seeing its worshippers being tortured, while those worshippers made excuses as to why their demon should be worshipped.

He still copies out his apologetic books, explaining that if God wanted to rescue Jews from the Holocaust, he would have to turn the Nazis into zombies.Oskar Schindler managed to rescue Jews without turning Heinrich Himmler into a zombie, so I think Ayer’s imaginary god might be able to do what Oskar Schindler did.

These apologetic answers only work in apologetic books. They don’t work when talking to real atheists who can answer back, rather than the strawmen in the book.

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ayer October 11, 2009 at 4:31 am

Carr: “He still can’t explain why he literally can’t conceive of a being that would save its worshippers from being tortured because of their worship of this being.”

Sure, I can conceive of such a being. But such a being (one who treats humans like pets) is morally inferior than one that preserves free will and redeems humankind by becoming incarnate and sacrificing himself for their sins, vouchsafing their eternal bliss, and thus enabling both justice and mercy to be served in the greatest act of love conceivable.

Carr: “These apologetic answers only work in apologetic books. They don’t work when talking to real atheists who can answer back, rather than the strawmen in the book.”

Yes, I am overwhelmed by your awesome powers of argumentation; I don’t know if I can take much more of this without breaking down and renouncing my awful God.

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Jeff H October 11, 2009 at 5:13 am

ayer, you really think that the only options are that God allows us to be tortured, or else he treats us like pets? Seems like a pretty limited God for someone who’s apparently omniscient. Don’t you think that someone who knows EVERYthing could come up with a way to have free will without suffering?

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ayer October 11, 2009 at 8:32 am

Jeff H: “ayer, you really think that the only options are that God allows us to be tortured, or else he treats us like pets? Seems like a pretty limited God for someone who’s apparently omniscient. Don’t you think that someone who knows EVERYthing could come up with a way to have free will without suffering?”

No, because free will logically entails the ability to reject good and choose evil, just as God could not create a “square circle” or a “married bachelor.” And what’s interesting is that the burden is on the atheist to come up with a plausible account of the notion you raise; if he can’t then the Christian free will theodicy prevails.

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Steven Carr October 11, 2009 at 9:26 am

SO Ayer thinks that if his God rescues people from persecution, he has turned them into zombies.

And his definition of a being greater than any conceivable has now been exploded as his conception of a great god is actually a conception of a puny god who can’t even save Ayer from being beaten up by any atheist who has a stick of 2 by 4 theological debating wood….

How the demon Ayer worships must be laughing as he listens to his followers make excuses for his diabolical schemes involving their torture, persecution and death.

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drj October 11, 2009 at 9:29 am

No, because free will logically entails the ability to reject good and choose evil, just as God could not create a “square circle” or a “married bachelor.” And what’s interesting is that the burden is on the atheist to come up with a plausible account of the notion you raise; if he can’t then the Christian free will theodicy prevails.

What being with a sound and cogent mind would use free will to choose eternal torment over eternal bliss? None would. Rejecting such an offer is not an exercise of free will… it is disfunction, ipso facto.

So, on the contrary…. its incumbent on the theist to expalin why its beyond the powers or will of an omnipotent, all-loving being to allow hopelessly ignorant, disfunctional beings suffer so harshly and completely at the hands of their disfunction, which they have no true power over. Most of us find that it is our duty to fix disfunction, when we have the capacity to do so, and minimize the self-inflicted suffering that a severely disfunctional being will inflict upon themselves.

Furthermore, its also incumbent upon the theist to explain what is so morally wondrous about the capacity to freely choose to suffer for all eternity – this is thrown around as if its just common sense… but I don’t see that it makes any sense at all.

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drj October 11, 2009 at 10:13 am

No, because free will logically entails the ability to reject good and choose evil, just as God could not create a “square circle” or a “married bachelor.”

The other issue with this statement is that its clearly contradictory in Christian theist land to say that free will actually requires the possibility of choosing evil. God is free-willed and incapable of evil, Saints are presumably still free-willed and presumably incapable of evil, Jesus had free will and is incapable of evil, etc etc.

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ayer October 11, 2009 at 12:16 pm

drj: “What being with a sound and cogent mind would use free will to choose eternal torment over eternal bliss? None would.”

Are you saying that if, after death, you discovered that the Christian God did exist, and you were given the option of spending eternity in a heaven where you would continually worship and praise him, you would accept the offer?

drj: “The other issue with this statement is that its clearly contradictory in Christian theist land to say that free will actually requires the possibility of choosing evil. God is free-willed and incapable of evil, Saints are presumably still free-willed and presumably incapable of evil, Jesus had free will and is incapable of evil, etc etc.”

I agree that God is free and yet incapable of evil because his very character is identical with what we call “the Good,” but as a noncreated being he is in a category by himself. In terms of Jesus’ human nature, why do you assume he was incapable of evil? He was tempted and successfully refused to succumb, which is one of the reasons he constituted a sinless sacrifice. In terms of the saints, on earth they obviously made evil choices–even Francis of Assisi was a sinner. In heaven, who said saints no longer have free will; perhaps they can choose to leave for hell (but why would they)? And even if they no longer have free will, they freely chose that state during their existence on earth (just as you can freely choose eternal separation from God during your existence on earth).

If this is the attempt to meet the atheist burden of proof in challenging the free will theodicy, it fails badly.

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drj October 11, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Are you saying that if, after death, you discovered that the Christian God did exist, and you were given the option of spending eternity in a heaven where you would continually worship and praise him, you would accept the offer?

Lets remember that heaven is supposed to be paradise… rephrasing the idea in terms you feel would be unpleasant to the average atheist (ala, “eternity of praise and worship”) doesn’t sweep that under the rug. If, lo and behold, Christianity is true, it would be the ultimate act for one’s own self interest to accept the offer. Same if Islam is true, or any other religion.

Furthermore, condemning oneself to eternal torment would be the ultimate act against ones own self-interest (and for no sufficient reason). We have reason to act against our own immediate self-interest in some situations in life, but this is not the case for our choice of heaven or hell. Rejecting the offer, if made fully aware of the facts, would be absolutely irrational, and disfunctional.

How could one actually choose hell or reject heaven and still be considered of sound mind, non-disfunctional, and good judgement? How could an omnipotent God (that authored the laws of physics) be so impotent as to not be able to rectify this disfunction in a way that leaves free will intact?

I agree that God is free and yet incapable of evil because his very character is identical with what we call “the Good,” but as a noncreated being he is in a category by himself. In terms of Jesus’ human nature, why do you assume he was incapable of evil? He was tempted and successfully refused to succumb, which is one of the reasons he constituted a sinless sacrifice. In terms of the saints, on earth they obviously made evil choices–even Francis of Assisi was a sinner. In heaven, who said saints no longer have free will; perhaps they can choose to leave for hell (but why would they)?

I was implying the opposite – that there is free-will in heaven, but no sin… or so it is usually believed… one is supposed to be cleansed of the bits of one’s nature that compels one to choose evil. Besides… if its hard to believe that saints would have a good reason to leave heaven, how can it be hard to believe that anyone has any good reason to reject heaven?

And even if they no longer have free will, they freely chose that state during their existence on earth (just as you can freely choose eternal separation from God during your existence on earth).

The point is that free will and the incapacity to do evil are not contradictory qualities, even by Christian standards. If you don’t want to accept that Jesus or the saints show that this is the case, well ok… I’m not really keen on going down that theological rathole, though – for the record – I don’t think you are correct.

The proposition is generally that we would be worthless automatons (I think you said “pets”) if we could not choose to do evil – a standard part of a typical free-will theodicy. But in almost every situation where we can express choice, there are a variety of ways for us to act with “goodness”. Only having it in one’s nature to choose that which is good, does not mean one has no choices or cannot express their will. It simply means one has a good nature – this is your workaround for the problem that God himself poses for your contention that free-will and incapacity to do evil are contradictory. But this is clearly absurd – even though its only in one’s nature to choose evil, it simply does not mean that they have no choice at all.

The free-will theodicy has never succeeded.

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ayer October 11, 2009 at 5:57 pm

drj: “Lets remember that heaven is supposed to be paradise… rephrasing the idea in terms you feel would be unpleasant to the average atheist (ala, “eternity of praise and worship”) doesn’t sweep that under the rug.”

No, that is simply what the Christian version of heaven is, as portrayed, e.g., in the book of Revelation–it all revolves around God and a sense of gratitude to and praise of him. Are you really going to be resentful if you are not part of that? And if you want to be part of that, then you should become a Christian.

drj: “Furthermore, condemning oneself to eternal torment would be the ultimate act against ones own self-interest (and for no sufficient reason).”

Why would it be eternal torment to be separated from the God you despise? Indeed, I believe the best evangelical interpretation of hell is the “annihilationist” interpretation, under which the souls of the lost will simply cease to exist. Are you saying you would rather be in the Christian heaven than to cease to exist? (And isn’t ceasing to exist what atheists believe happens to them anyway?)

drj: “if its hard to believe that saints would have a good reason to leave heaven, how can it be hard to believe that anyone has any good reason to reject heaven?”

Because the saint’s overwhelming desire is to praise, worship and serve God forever, which is what they are doing in heaven. Those such as Christopher Hitchens, who proudly proclaims he would reject heaven as a “cosmic North Korea”, have no such desire.

drj: “But in almost every situation where we can express choice, there are a variety of ways for us to act with “goodness”. Only having it in one’s nature to choose that which is good, does not mean one has no choices or cannot express their will.”

Without the freedom to refuse God, the decision to worship God is meaningless. A creature that never freely chose to worship God (whether that choice was made before the afterlife or on an ongoing basis during the afterlife) and only had the choice, say, of a variety of different “ways” of worshiping God, would not have free will. Such a creature would be an automaton or a “pet” of God.

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drj October 11, 2009 at 8:10 pm

No, that is simply what the Christian version of heaven is, as portrayed, e.g., in the book of Revelation–it all revolves around God and a sense of gratitude to and praise of him. Are you really going to be resentful if you are not part of that? And if you want to be part of that, then you should become a Christian.

Well, no… I think one would also have to believe that Christianity is true. Christianity is hardly unique it its promise of a great afterlife.

Why would it be eternal torment to be separated from the God you despise? Indeed, I believe the best evangelical interpretation of hell is the “annihilationist” interpretation, under which the souls of the lost will simply cease to exist. Are you saying you would rather be in the Christian heaven than to cease to exist? (And isn’t ceasing to exist what atheists believe happens to them anyway?)

I don’t actually despise God or the concept at all. I do find much to criticize about Yahweh, simply because he is not actually a God, but a phantom of the ancient middle-eastern psyche.. but this is besides the point.

The point of heaven is that it is supposed to be joyous, great, wonderful, something to be desired strongly… existence perfected. It seems as if you are sort of moving to diminish the idea of heaven – as if its not all THAT joyous if just isn’t your thing. If you want to diminish it to that extent, well, then it begs questions as to why all the suffering in the world is worth it to build this world in the first place, and others along those lines. I think such a line of reasoning has the potential to be just as problematic for Christianity.

But I stand by the notion that to freely reject heaven, if actually offered the choice, could only be the product of ignorance and/or disfunction… in other words the product of an “improperly functioning cognitive faculty” (ala Plantinga).

Note that I am not really advocating Christian salvation here, though it oddly seems like it. I am trying to highlight what I see to be a very large incoherency. It seems puzzling and contradictory that God would not, or could not fix such damaged, ignorant cognitive faculties, so that they can freely choose heaven, or at least not be the victim of circumstances that really actually have nothing to do with free will.

Without the freedom to refuse God, the decision to worship God is meaningless. A creature that never freely chose to worship God (whether that choice was made before the afterlife or on an ongoing basis during the afterlife) and only had the choice, say, of a variety of different “ways” of worshiping God, would not have free will. Such a creature would be an automaton or a “pet” of God.

Sure they would. In such a world, choice may be slightly more limited – possibly – but that does not come close to implying that choice is gone, or that a significant portion of the expression of one’s will is gone… or that the value of one’s expressions of will in the eyes of a deity is somehow diminished because that will would only choose good.

There’s simply no good reason to think that a significant amount of free will doesn’t exist in a world where people can do only good. If no one in the world could sing badly, surely that wouldn’t mean everyone could only sing the same song.

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ayer October 12, 2009 at 4:47 am

drj: “But I stand by the notion that to freely reject heaven, if actually offered the choice, could only be the product of ignorance and/or disfunction…”

Well, then you have just confirmed your need to further research the Christian concept of heaven. It is to be desired strongly, but at the price of giving up your autonomy and pride and acknowledging God as worthy of all worship and praise (you know, the “worship and praise” that Christians do in church every Sunday and that will go on forever in heaven)–and not everyone will be willing to do that. I would recommend C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” as a good starting point in your reading.

drj: “There’s simply no good reason to think that a significant amount of free will doesn’t exist in a world where people can do only good.”

I believe that statement makes its own case against itself. I will let reasonable third parties reading this exchange decide whether a “free will” that “can only do good” is a “significant amount of free will.”

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drj October 12, 2009 at 6:37 am

Well, then you have just confirmed your need to further research the Christian concept of heaven. It is to be desired strongly, but at the price of giving up your autonomy and pride and acknowledging God as worthy of all worship and praise (you know, the “worship and praise” that Christians do in church every Sunday and that will go on forever in heaven)–and not everyone will be willing to do that. I would recommend C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” as a good starting point in your reading.

I do understand this point… its exactly what I am claiming is incoherent. You (and Lewis) have failed to provide any compelling reason to believe that rejecting the choice in heaven, if freely offered it, is a rational choice that one could make in sound, healthy mind.

At the price of annihilation, all those things you mention are given up, regardless. There is no downside to accepting salvation – there is no upside to rejecting it.

I believe that statement makes its own case against itself. I will let reasonable third parties reading this exchange decide whether a “free will” that “can only do good” is a “significant amount of free will.”

I only will add then, that our “free will” is constrained by many things in this world and quite limited – we cannot violate the laws of nature, or do a great many things we would wish to do – simply as a constraint of our nature and the nature of the universe.

At best, we have “free will” to decide how to act to situations in a given a limited set of options. In the world where you are incapable of doing evil, one would still be able to choose from a range of “good” ways to act in a given situation. This is still free will as we experience it.

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ayer October 12, 2009 at 7:27 am

drj: “At the price of annihilation, all those things you mention are given up, regardless. There is no downside to accepting salvation – there is no upside to rejecting it.”

I would be interested in seeing if other atheists who read this site would agree with you, i.e., they would rather spend eternity in the Christian heaven as I have described it rather than cease to exist. I know Christopher Hitchens disagrees with you; I’m not sure how many others would.

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Jeff H October 12, 2009 at 7:37 am

drj, you say exactly what I would say, but with much more coherence :)

ayer, you said earlier, “I agree that God is free and yet incapable of evil because his very character is identical with what we call “the Good,” but as a noncreated being he is in a category by himself.”

I don’t see how the “createdness” of a being makes any difference to the ability to have free will and be incapable of evil. Let me put forward an argument and you tell me what you disagree with.

1. God has free will, yet is incapable of evil. (see above)
2. Thus, the combination of free will and incapability of evil is logically possible. (see p1)
3. God can do anything that is logically possible. (omnipotence)
4. Therefore, God could create beings that had free will, yet were incapable of evil. (see p2, p3)

Which one of these would you dispute, and why?

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ayer October 12, 2009 at 7:54 am

Jeff H: “3. God can do anything that is logically possible. (omnipotence)”

I would dispute this one, since it is not logically possible for God to create another version of himself (i.e., than being greater than which none can be conceived).

Now I would be interested in hearing your answer to the question I posed to drj regarding Christian heaven vs. ceasing to exist; do you take the Hitchens position or the drj position?

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Jeff H October 13, 2009 at 1:22 pm

I don’t think that free will and incapability of evil necessitates being a “being greater than which none can be conceived” – I mean, being that implies omnipotence, omniscience, etc. etc., none of which fall under free will or incapability of evil. So I would still say that it would be logically possible for God to create beings that are “less than himself”, so to speak, yet still have free will and be unable to do evil.

Anyway, I was going to add my two cents in about heaven vs. hell, but my response was just too long. I think there’s a big difference between the standard notion of hell (fiery eternal torture) and simple annihilation. If the choice were between heaven and hell, I would choose heaven without a doubt. If, however, the choice was between heaven or annihilation, I would probably pick annihilation. That is, of course, my own personal opinion, and others might choose differently. But I mostly just think that anything would get boring after, say, 300 billion years or so. I don’t need eternity. I’m fine with existence on earth and then death, thank you very much.

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johnny January 17, 2010 at 7:19 am

cool man, your personalization of atheism is splendid .Brad is the way of thinking of atheists.thanks for your example

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