David Wood Still Baffles Me.

David Wood still baffles me. He has commented on what I wrote in this Blog entry of mine. Sandlestraps had the first comment there, and he is arguing the same things I am from his Christian Process Theology perspective against Mr. Wood. Here is my response to Mr. Wood (DW):

DW: (1) John gives tons of examples of how horrible and selfish human beings are.

Thank you. We must come to grips with what we are talking about when we’re talking about the suffering human beings experience at the hands of other human beings.

DW:(2) I would say that, if God is just, he isn't obligated to protect horrible and selfish people from pain.

That’s pretty much all of us, correct? That is, God is under no obligation to help any human being because we are all horrible and selfish people (in varying degrees). Would you say we deserve everything that we suffer? All of us? Including the 40,000 children who die every single day because of malnutrition, which could be alleviated by the food donations of good people, the elimination of tyrannical governments, and a good God sending manna from heaven?

How exactly is this “just” from your perspective as a Christian? I don’t see it. God purportedly created us, correct? Do you see an inconsistency within your own beliefs with a supposedly “just” God creating us in such a way that we would be so horrible and selfish in the first place? Do you see an inconsistency with a supposedly “good” God who created us with more freedom to do such things than we could actually handle? If God is as good as one of us horrible parents, he would do the same things we would do, by not giving our children more freedom than they can handle. Good parents do not grant 10 year olds permission to drive the car to the store, nor will they give them a razor blade until they know their children won’t hurt themselves or others with it. Why? Because it’s the ethical thing to do, that’s why, and it's based upon YOUR ethics. Such an ethic can be found within the text of that Good ‘Ole Book you love, which purportedly came from your God.

DW:(3) John objects: "But if God is good, he would still give us a perfect world."

If he could’ve done this as an omnipotent being, then yes he should’ve done do. I have argued that God could’ve created us with imperishable bodies in a heavenly world in the first place. Even if this present world isn't perfect, why isn't it better?..that's the real question. We all would expect a much better world than he purportedly created. You yourself must admit this isn’t the world you would expect if there existed an all-powerful omnibenelovent God. You are arguing against the goads here, and inside you know it. That’s what frustrates you so much, and why you are planning on doing your dissertation on this topic; because it bothers you…because you want to understand it yourself…because you don’t have the answers and you want to satisfy your own need to find them

DW:(4) This reflects his own values, not of mine or those of theism.

How so? I’ve argued from the moral code you yourself believe in the Bible. Good parents act better than the God who teaches them how to love and care for their children.

DW:(5) Hence, John is yet again presupposing his own values in his argument.

Again, not so. You really ought to ignore the ignorance over at Triablogue. Let me add here that what I am doing is what Francis Schaeffer did when he tried pushing someone to see the implications of what that person himself believed. That’s what I am doing with you. The fact that you reject my pushing you in the direction I am, doesn’t mean I’m arguing outside of the things you believe, at all. You simply misunderstand the nature of what I’m doing, as I think you also misunderstand what your beliefs commit yourself to.

DW:(6) But this means that his argument only works if he's using it against someone who has the same values John Loftus has.

Again, not so. You misunderstand this, and I am very surprised that someone like you doesn’t see this for what it is. You should know better than to throw up freshman type of arguments like these. I’ll expect you to do better as you become more familiar with the relevant literature. But as I said, your objections here are worthless (sorry but they are). Why don’t you think about what I just said here, instead of firing back? I’m trying to help you, but you need to step up a level before I can do so. For until you admit this whole line of reasoning is baseless and wrongheaded, you will not make a Christian contribution to the problem of evil at all.

DW:(7) This is one reason why theists aren't affected by John's argument.

Another reason might be because some theists are blinded by their faith, while another reason might be because some theists are not (or cannot) make the proper distinctions that are necessary (see above).

DW:(8) Thus, John either needs to reformulate his argument so that it doesn't presuppose his own values (e.g. that free will isn't very important, that there's nothing good about creating a world, that rebellion against God isn't very bad, etc.), or he needs to recognize that his argument doesn't work with anyone who has a different value system (i.e. most people in the world).

Exactly why can’t I wonder about the nature and value of free will from a Christian perspective? Christians themselves, if they are honest, do this, and they do so inside their own perspective. So why can’t I join in their conversation and argue what I do about free will? Plenty of philosophers of religion are atheists. Why can’t they argue about the internal inconsistency of the religious beliefs they reject?

Besides, 1) I’m asking for a reason why you believe free will is so important that God will grant human beings this gift even though Biblical morality would argue no one should give someone a gift if he knows said person will abuse that gift? Why does your God forbid one thing and yet do something else here? 2) I’m asking you for a reason why you believe God created this world even though you believe God is the all-sufficient One. 3) I’m asking you for a reason why our sins are such terrible things that God would punish us in the horrible ways we have had to suffer down through the ages. I can ask you for reasons why you believe these things and then question those answers, can’t I? Sure I can. You simply cannot respond by asserting that this is what you believe. That’s unbecoming the budding scholar you seem to be. You cannot simply assert the things you do here. You must make a reasonable case for your beliefs. The philosophy of religion is about defending what you believe with reasons. What are they? Not doing so will not advance any argument, and you’ll offer nothing to the Christian community who may look to you in the future for some answers in the face of the skeptical arguments. Surely you see this…surely.


John W. Loftus said...

One final note to my friend David. You are plainly wrong about my needing a standard of evil to assess your beliefs (since Christians themselves debate the merits of this problem), and you are plainly wrong that my arguments are not internal to what you believe (again, if for no other reason, because Christians themselves are debating the merits of this problem). Drop these two things from your discussion. They are both ignorant to the core. Move on to more intelligent things.

Not once in the philosophical literature will you see any of these things said by knowledgable Christian philosophers because they know better. I hope you will know better too, eventually. It gains you no ground, but brings upon you derision, and I want better than this for you.

Heather said...


**Do you see an inconsistency within your own beliefs with a supposedly “just” God creating us in such a way that we would be so horrible and selfish in the first place?** Thank you for mentioning that. That's the part that always leaves me puzzled when I'm being evangelized. Because God does have a perfect area where one can reside -- that's called Heaven. Why not have everyone start out in Heaven with free will, and decide from there?

And it seems as though you aren't arguing that God should give horrible, sinful people a perfect world even though they're sinful. Rather, the perfect world would encompass people who aren't created to be horrible and sinful. Am I correct?

John W. Loftus said...

Yes, Heather.
At the risk of beating this thing to death, let's say a Christian is doubting and asks the same questions I do. Then what? David cannot say they are offering an external argument different from what they both believe. My questions are legitimate and grow out of what David himself believes (especially as I get to know exactly what he believes). This is obvious. Christians who struggle with their faith ask the very same questions I do, and these Christian people believe what he believes. So please, even though my questions are rhetorically used to argue against the existence of your God does not render them unworthy to be answered. Just answer the questions.

David Wood said...


Over and over and over again I ask you to stick to a point that we're discussing, and over and over and over again you never do.

Look at what you said! The crux is that your argument entails that God must give horrible sinners a perfect world! You seem to think this is common sense! You act like this follows from theism, i.e. that this is obviously something a good God would do!

You crack me up. "Can't I talk about free will?" Of course you can. But if you presuppose, in the course of an argument, that free will is pointless, your argument will never work against a person who disagrees with your view of free will. Similarly, if you constantly say that a good God wouldn't create ANYTHING, most people will reject this. Again, when you assume that virtue, morality, and other things aren't as important as pain/pleasure, you're not getting this from theism. Once more, when you PRESUPPOSE that rebellion against God is a small matter, you are again smuggling YOUR OWN views into the argument.

I'm open, John. Just show me that theism entails that rebellion against God isn't very bad. Show me that theism entails that morality is less important than pleasure. You said that these things are internal. Now show me.

And as a preemptive strike (since I know you quite well by now), don't reply, "But what about hell? Huh?! What about all our suffering? Huh? Are you saying that a good God likes to torture people?" That's what you always do when you're called to account for what you said.

So show me, without appealing to a bunch of other problems, how theism entails the views you're presupposing in your argument. If you can't, then you have to admit that you're not mounting an internal argument.

Again, please actually answer the question this time, instead of repeating all of your complaints against God. I understand your complaints. I hear them all several times a day whenever you discuss anything at all. But for now, please address this one thing--how theism entails the values you're presupposing.

David Wood said...

Heather and John,

"We're sinful because God created us this way!" Amazing.

GOD: Human beings, I give you the ability to choose how you will live.

HUMAN BEINGS: Well, we're going to look out for ourselves. Who cares what you say! We want pleasure, pleasure, and more pleasure! It's the most important thing there is!

GOD: If that's you're choice, you'll have to live on your own. I'm giving you a world of natural laws. It's not perfect, but you'll make it. See you later.

HUMAN BEINGS: Ha! Now we get to do whatever we want! Hey, wait a minute! Why didn't he give us a world of sensual delights, where we can blaspheme him day and night forever? Why doesn't he give us whatever we want? We deserve it! If he were GOOD he would give it all to us!

GOD: You chose to live apart from me.

HUMAN BEINGS: Only because you made us this way! It's your fault! We hate you! If you won't give us the world we demand, we'll show you! We won't believe in you! We'll spend all our time complaining about you. We'll blaspheme every day. That'll teach you to interfere with our pleasure!

JOHN: God shouldn't have created anything.

DAVID: I'm very thankful that God created us.

JOHN: Free will is useless! Why would God give it to us?

DAVID: I'm so grateful that God gave me the ability to choose whether I would follow him or not.

JOHN: David, according theism, pleasure is the most important thing in the world, pain is the worst thing in the world, free will is pointless, morality is insignificant, virtue is useless, and rebellion against God just isn't a major concern. Based on all of these theistic claims, I'm going to mount an internal critique.

DAVID: I think you're projecting your own views onto theism.

JOHN: What? What about hell?

DAVID: John, could you show me that your values are really derived from theism?

JOHN: People are going to burn in hell! Hell! Hell! Hell!

DAVID: But John, you're making an argument here, and I see some problems.

JOHN: How can you talk about arguments at a time like this? What about spiders? Huh?!! People get bitten by them! That's just not fair!

DAVID: Can we stick to an issue for once?

JOHN: Sure, so long as the issue is hell (and spiders).

HEATHER: You tell him, John!

David Wood said...


As for God not creating us in heaven, if by "heaven" you mean a place where we would be in the presence of God, this would rule out free will. The presence of God is too overpowering.

(Yes, I know, I know. "But what about the angels who rebelled? Weren't they in the presence of God? Not really. God appeared to them in some form, but they weren't in the full presence of God.)

There are lots of other reasons. According to Kant, there could be no morality in such a world. Haig argues for an "Informed Consent" theodicy. I would add that, in the presence of God, we would never get a chance to show our true colors. That is, even if we wanted to rebel, we wouldn't. In our world, we get to display our hearts. And that's a good thing.

David Wood said...


I find it interesting that you pointed out that Sandalstraps agrees with you. You actually went to my blog just to announce that someone agrees with something you said!

You do this quite often. Anytime anyone agrees with you about anything (which is rare), you run around proclaiming it as if this proves your point. But it doesn't. Sandalstraps is wrong, just as you're wrong.


John W. Loftus said...

David, let's say a Christian comes up to you and asks you the very same questions I am asking. She asks you 1) Why did an all-sufficient God create anything; 2) Why did God give us so much freedom (knowing full well we would abuse it so horribly)? 3) Why does God punish us so severaly when we disobey (with disasters...)?

Now what would you say to her? Those are my questions, you know. What would you say? I am very interested.

Now let's say this Christian is smart and doesn't think you have answered her by just saying "because it's good to create," or "it's our fault if we abuse our freedom." And let's say she is in a Ph.D. program and decides instead to offer better answers than you do. What's wrong with that? Why does it matter to you who asks the questions? Why does it matter to you the motivations behind the questions? It shouldn't matter at all. Why? Because these questions are internal to what you believe; they can be asked by someone who believes what you do; and most importantly they still need some satifactory answers.

John W. Loftus said...

DW: Anytime anyone agrees with you about anything (which is rare), you run around proclaiming it as if this proves your point.

Yes, I know. It's rare indeed that anyone would agree with me. As an atheist I am in the minority. And so yes, whenever I can get that one lone individual to agree with me on a minor sub-point of a sub-point, I'll go around to every site and proclaim a major victory, 'cause that's exsactly what I do.

Sorry. I'll try to do better from now on. I'm glad you don't do that. ;-)

John W. Loftus said...

I'm open, John. Just show me that theism entails that rebellion against God isn't very bad. Show me that theism entails that morality is less important than pleasure. You said that these things are internal. Now show me.

I'm trying to do so. You just aren't buying it. Just because you don't buy it means nothing to me. I'm pressing you to explain what an Omni-God should do. You believe in the Omni-God, not me, right? Well then I'm merely taking you at your beliefs and trying to argue that given your belief about God you can't explain why there is so much suffering in our world (both moral and natural).

So once again here's the problem:

If god is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. The reason is that a perfectly good god would be opposed to it, an all-powerful god would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it.

So, the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that: either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of evil in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge.

I'm not done yet, but these are YOUR problems. You do realize this, right? Everything I say, and everything I argue against your faith starts with what YOU believe about God.

So now when it comes to our sin and morality, I want to merely ask why your God would have parents do for their children what he doesn't do for us. Why did God give us the gift of free will when he knew we would abuse it so badly? Good parents don't do this. And why would a good God punish us so severely when we disobey? Good parents don't punish their kids in life threatening ways. In fact, with Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) parents can morally guide their children by giving and taking away their approval alone! No spanking is involved here at all. But unlike this loving approach your God not only spanks us when for disobeying (when he doesn't even clearly reveal what he wants us to do), but he plucks out out eyes, burns us alive, and maims us for doing so.

All I'm doing is asking you to explain these things in light of what you believe.

When will you do so?

Heather said...


I was merely commenting on something John mentioned that has confused me. I have two friends that are evangelical Christians, and they haven't been able to answer in such a way that removes my confusion. I wasn't addressing the problem of evil. I was focusing on free will, and why we're created the way we are.

I'm not using this as an excuse to live in sin, or justify human behavior. My confusion comes from as follows: the argument of evangelical Christianity is that we're all sinners. Yet only God can create. So I'm left wondering why God *allowed* us to be created inherently sinful. Why not create us 50% good and 50% evil? How can it be an honest choice if we're already inherently attracted towards one position? And how can we be punished for following our nature? As I mentioned in an earlier comment, it seems like it's creating a child to inherently crave oranges, and then punishing the child for pursuing the oranges. Or telling the child they have free will not to choose the oranges -- but does the child really have free will if that child is inherently drawn to the oranges? We seem to be born in the state of rebellion, because by the time we're mature enough to comprehend what rebellion against God means, we've already rebelled thousands of times.

I'm not using these questions to mock your position. I wasn't asking John for a clarifcation to mock your position. I was thanking him for addressing something that truly puzzled me. And, honestly, in response, I haven't seen you give me an answer to that. Rather, you seemed to mock that position, even though it's something *I seriously don't comprehend.*

I'm also not using that as an excuse to justify living a sinful life. I don't wonder the whole 'why born inherently sinful' as a way of saying God must give us a life full of pleasure, or why doesn't God give us whatever we currently want.

Out of curiousity, where do you get your support for the rebelling angels not being in the presence of God? I thought the Bible stated that there was a battle in Heaven and Satan and 1/3 of the angels were cast out.

And if the presence of God is overwhelming, doesn't that mean that whoever ends up in His presence in the end becomes a robot? (Not asked sarcastically -- it's a genuine question)

That, and I wouldn't argue that God should give sinners a perfect world. Sinners are a huge part of the fallen world. I would say the perfect world should include elements that

Heather said...

Sorry, David, I posted my last comment before finishing it.

**That, and I wouldn't argue that God should give sinners a perfect world. Sinners are a huge part of the fallen world. I would say the perfect world should include elements that **
--that don't have sin. Elements such as people. I would never argue that God should create a world where I can sin to my heart's content and suffer no consequences for that sin.

David Wood said...


I'm absolutely shocked that I found someone who's actually interested in an answer (on John's site). So I'm sorry if I responded harshly, and I'll try to answer.

God didn't create us with a desire to sin. He created us free. This means that we can act for ends of our choosing. This leads us to a decision regarding the end we will act for. The most basic division is "I will act for me or not-me," (i.e. I will act for selfish ends or for selfless ends). The most important "not-me" is God, our creator, who gives us life, a world, and every other good thing we have.

We therefore have two primary ends to choose from. I can act for my own sake, or I can act according to God's will. This is what we find in Genesis. Adam and Eve could obey God or they could look out for number one. "If you eat of this fruit, you will be like God." So they had to choose: act according to God's will, or act according to what we want.

They chose to act for what they wanted. This isn't because God created them as selfish. It's simply a product of having a free being. A free being will have an inclination to honor and respect the creator, and a free being will also have an inclination to serve "self." But then the free being must choose which inclination to follow, and it appears that self wins.

So people decide to serve themselves, but they still have an inclination to honor their creator. It's hard being divided. So we have another choice. Either try to suppress the desire to serve self, or suppress the desire to honor God. This is the fallen equivalent of the choice Adam and Eve had to make. We suppress the desire to serve self by submitting to God, by the Christian disciplines, by prayer, fasting, scripture reading, and so on. Or we can suppress the desire to honor God by focusing on everything that bothers us about the world, until we become obsessed and finally dedicate our lives to complaining about God.

I can write more if you like. That's my gut response.

Angels in heaven. Here's an equivocation on the word "heaven." Wherever the angels were, they weren't in the full presence of God, which, for Christians, is heaven. God was surely present to the angels in some way, but not in his fullness. I suspect it was something like the way he appeared to Adam and Eve. Notice that he didn't appear in all his glory. He appeared as a person walking in the garden.

I suspect God appeared to the angels in some limited way, just as in the garden. This is the only way to preserve the free will of the angels. Then some of the angels rebelled, and some remained faithful. I believe that the faithful angels were able to come into the full presence of God, and that's why they can no longer rebel.

What does this mean for us? Well, I'll qualify this by pointing out that I'm in the minority here. Most Christians believe that we have free will in heaven, but that our sinful nature will have been replaced by a glorified nature. I think this is a good view. But I don't agree. I think that being in the presence of God is too powerful an influence, at least on choices that involve rebellion.

This wouldn't, however, make us robots. Being in the presence of God, and knowing him, we will do his will, but we will not want to do anything else.

I would add that free will, as far as I'm concerned, is the greatest thing imaginable, with the sole exception of knowing God. Thus, I would gladly forfeit my ability to choose for this one thing--knowing God.

(You can see why I'm appalled at John's comments. He would trade his free will for pleasure, which to me is like trading it for a piece of cheese.)

David Wood said...


You never cease to amaze me. You made an amazing claim, by saying that you're offering an internal critique. I listed some of the things that are presupposed in your argument, and I asked you--I begged you--to show me how they are internal to theism, and I asked you to do so without simply restating your arguments.

And in response, you (1) restated your arguments, (2) didn't show how these values are internal to theism, and (3) asked me to answer some questions. To be honest, John, the only questions I'm interested in answering here are Heather's.

I will try to clarify one thing, however. Let us not forget that this is YOUR argument, and the argument you call "the rock of atheism." You're claiming to have an argument that proves the non-existence of God.

But then you simply ask a bunch of questions. Questions aren't arguments! Saying "Why X?" does not show that anything is true or false. Now watch how this works. You ask, "Why did God create anything at all?"

Let's look at two possible beings:

(1) An all powerful, wholly good being who creates absolutely nothing, and
(2) An all powerful, wholly good being who creates something.

I believe that (2) is better. You believe that (1) is better. But who cares that you believe (1) is better? How is this an argument? How could you ever show that a non-creative being is better than a creative being? You can't, which is why it's ridiculous that you bring this up EVERY SINGLE DAY as part of some argument (or, more accurately, as one of a never-ending series of questions). I like worlds. I like free beings. I like a God who creates. Until you can give me some reason for adopting the pessimistic view, your questions are a waste of time.

Moreover, you act like it's my job in life to argue you out of your absurd viewpoints. Let me be clear here. If a person doesn't see anything good about our world, if a person thinks there's no value in free will, if a person doesn't see that pain and pleasure AREN'T the most important things in life, what can I hope to accomplish? I'd have more luck arguing with Muslims.

Heather said...

Hi, David.

I suspect that if we continue on my question, we may want to move it to a place other than this particular blog, just because this isn't 100% relevant to the debate you and John are having.

Do you believe that humanity is created inherently sinful, due to Adam and Eve's behavior in Eden? Because the way it's been presented to me is that we are. So when you say that God created us free, you say that He created us free to choose. And that our incliniation to honor our creator is not as strong as our inclination to sin. Because we still have that desire to sin, and what/who put that desire there? Because the Bible clear states that God is the only creator and created everything. It goes back to my orange analogy. And, honestly, I don't see you addressing the inherent sinfulness of human nature. Or the fact that we seem to be born in a state of rebellion.

My conflict over free will is that one doesn't 'choose' to love. It's something that just develops without a conscious choice. Any action that's comes from loving someone is a natural outgrowth of that love, and not someone choosing to express their love.

So while we may be free to choose, we're not on equal footing between the two inclinations. Because you do state that we must choose which inclination to follow ... but would you argue that it's an equal choice? Such as here: **Either try to suppress the desire to serve self, or suppress the desire to honor God.**

The explanation you give also makes it sound logical. But this is dealing with emotions. Most sin is -- lust, jealousy, hatred. It's hard to deal with those on a logical fashion. Same with love, peace, goodness. Most people don't think, "I'm going to lvoe or hate this person." They simply do. Most things that people are really passionate about were initially followed due to emotion.

**Or we can suppress the desire to honor God by focusing on everything that bothers us about the world, until we become obsessed and finally dedicate our lives to complaining about God** This would depend on how one defines 'God' though, and what one's concept of God is.

You are appalled by John trading free will over pain/pleasure, because you treasure the right to choose. But for someone who has had a life full of pain/pleasure. But for someone who has had a life full of pain, the concept of a God allowing that life of pain for giving humans free will is appalling. Or for someone who watches the news, they could honestly ask God, "Why is the world created this way, if You're the only Creator?" Because for someone like that, free will looks like a loaded gun.

In reference to Heaven -- I'm afraid I don't see that. Because the Bible does state that there was a war in Heaven (depending on how much relevence one puts in the literalness of Revelations). And Jesus makes constant references to His Father in Heaven.

I'll probably come across as supporting John's viewpoint, since this seems to vaguely (or maybe not so vaguely) echo what he's saying. But the problem of evil has also bothered me.

I'm not asking/wondering any of this in order to complain about God. Rather, it's me looking at God, at how He's portrayed in the evangelical Christian circles, and then looking back at God, who is my Creator and Parent, and saying ... "Why am I created with this much sin, or any sin at all? Why am I punished for Adam/Eve's choice?"

John W. Loftus said...

To be honest, John, the only questions I'm interested in answering here are Heather's.

I don't see why this matters at all, David. Because as a Christian I was interested in answers to my honest questions at one time. Whyshould it now matter that I have settled into some answers and that I challenge you with my conclusions. The questions still need to be answered regardless.

Anyway, answer Heather's questions from now on, since she's asking them to learn. While I was once where she apparently is, I am no longer there. I still don't see why that makes any difference at all, and I consider it ignorant to think that only sincere questions from an honest seeker are the only questions that are worthy of answering. It's the questions themselves--they need answering regardless.

But I know this about you so far. You simply do not understand me. You don't even try to understand me. I however, do understand you, and I'll challenge you to state my argument in your own words as evidence you don't. I haven't seen any evidence of it yet. So try it on your Blog. Try to state my argument in your own words. Go ahead. Try to do it.

David Wood said...

State your argument? You don't really have an argument. You have questions. They go like this:

"If God is good (in my sense of the word), why does he torture us with so much pain in this world and then torture us with fire in the next? Why are there so many examples of so many different kinds of suffering? Why doesn't he give us a perfect world of sensual delights? That's what I would do. Why isn't God more like . . . me. Any God that isn't like me isn't worth worshiping."

I think that about sums it up.

David Wood said...


If you want to move the discussion somewhere else, leave a message at answeringinfidels.com.

You said "created inherently sinful." This certainly isn't my view. As I said, I believe that the first humans were created with free will, and they chose to rebel. God withdrew partially from our world, and God is the one who upholds all things. Thus, without God's presence, the world starts wearing down.

But I think you're talking about us. Well, biblically, we were "in Adam." That is, God created human beings that reproduce. Adam and Eve sinned, God withdrew, and they therefore had a fallen nature. But they had children, and passed on that fallen nature.

When my wife gives birth to a child, we can say that God created that child. But I think here I would mean two things: (1) God created humanity with the ability to reproduce, and (2) God is sustaining us, and thus he is in a sense "at work" in the production (i.e. he knitted me together in my mother's womb).

So it doesn't make much sense to me to say that God "created" my sons with a sinful nature.

You say that we don't choose to fall in love. True. But there's something quite different from what happens with us and what happens with, say, a Stepford wife. The difference is that freedom is involved in our case (even if other things play a role as well).

You said: "But for someone who has had a life full of pain, the concept of a God allowing that life of pain for giving humans free will is appalling."

Actually, that's almost never true. The people who find suffering so appalling are usually the people who don't go through it (i.e. people watching other people's suffering from the sidelines). People who experience tremendous suffering typically don't see a conflict with theism. Please read the story about Mabel on my blog. (There are exceptions, of course, such as Elie Wiesel.)

As for the war in heaven, I'm not denying this. I'm saying that there is an equivocation on the word "heaven" here. That is, the "heaven" referred to in reference to this war isn't the place Christians will be spending eternity with God. And whatever "heaven" was for the angels, it wasn't a place where they knew God in his fullness.

Hope that helps.

Joe E. Holman said...

David, you are trying REALLY hard to downplay the existence (and extent) of evil. You're doing a terrific job (as far as that goes).

The problem is, no amount of downplaying will ever solve these issues or lesson the emotional impact that believers themselves feel in taking issue with the existence of God because of suffering.

All people everywhere understand the problem of evil--until they get a Christian education and learn how to attack it and make it look otherwise.

But in the meantime, People are still finding fault with God's setup of the world the way it is, why? I point out that a god who sets up a world where a baboon plucks off the feathers of a small bird and pulls the legs out of sockets of this poor animal, and makes it squirm around in front of him before he finally eats it and kills it. That is a terrible being. Common sense says its isn't right. What do you do with this? You walk right over it. You can provide no explanation for it. it doesn't matter to you, but the problem doesn't go away.

You yourself will likely run over to get involved and stop a rape or a horribly violent occurence because you yourself recognize that something is wrong with the natural order. It is enough that we recognize things could and should be otherwise. This is the argument from evil. There will be snowball fights in gehenna before you give us a good answer.

John has tirelessly explained this and still you miss it, David.

To justify this imperfect world as a work of a god is to accept that the god served is indeed "evil," as we would call him, but "good" in his own right and by his own warped standards. That means he can't be evil as a pure matter of definition!

Such "standards" mean nothing to anyone but believers who must, of necessity, think this way to maintain their faith. It is illogical and hopelessly strained.

You mentioned people not being convinced of certain arguments who don't have the right values system. I'd say that's true. How many pictures of tortured children would I have to show you, David, to convince that the being you serve is a monster? The answer is probably, none! Your position can't be falsified. God does a thing (or allows it) and it is "right" because it was done or allowed by god, end of story!


Drunken Tune said...


I was surpised that you didn't realize the basic problem of an 'all powerful, wholly good being' (who I presume is perfect as well)creating something that is clearly imperfect and not wholly good, and could easily be improved. That's been a problem for thests since - I don't know - they took the time to think things through.

These are the facts: The universe is imperfect, has natural and moral evil, and is not wholly good. Both you and John recognize this. You believe that an 'all powerful, wholly good being' created an imperfect world with natural and moral evil. John believes that an 'all powerful, wholly good being' - since, if it existed, since it would have the power - could easily create a better world than this one; or, an all powerful, wholly good being could not create a world that has natural and moral evil.

The two of you believe different things, but so what? It's incoherent for an 'all powerful... being' to give us free will (thus either losing the attribute of 'all powerful', or not creating free will);

it's incoherent for an 'wholly good being' - knowing the results of its actions - to create something evil, or not wholly good (thus either losing the attribute of 'wholly good' or not creating in the first place);

it's incoherent for a perfect being to create, since a perfect being cannot, by definition, have additions - especially additions that are full of natural and moral evil, along with imperfection (thus either losing the attribute of perfection or not creating to begin with).

Does this make sense?

David Wood said...


I have a quick question. (I'll leave your friends to discuss the problem of evil on their own.)

The question may sound negative, but I don't know how else to say it.

Did you dislike the world this much when you were a Christian? In other words, when you were a Christian, were you constantly saying to yourself, "Man, why did God create anything? Why did he give us free will? It's awful. Just awful."

I only took one semester of psychology, but I've had some experience with psychiatric issues. It sounds like you're suffering from depression. If this started after you left Christianity, then one might argue that Christianity is psychologically more healthy than atheism. On the other hand, if it started while you were a Christian, depression may play a role in your attitude towards God.

David Wood said...

I just read what I wrote, and I didn't mean it to sound so harsh. It really was a thought that occurred to me, and one I'm interested in.

Drunken Tune said...


I have this nagging question that's been bothering me for some time:

Have you always been this passive aggressive, such as dodging questions when they make you feel uncomfortable?

Yosei said...

"If this started after you left Christianity, then one might argue that Christianity is psychologically more healthy than atheism. On the other hand, if it started while you were a Christian, depression may play a role in your attitude towards God."

What if someone was psychologically insecure and turned to Christianity? Is that not possible?

But a more important question: If it all begins and ends in the mind (psychology of belief, depression), what are we left with when it comes to God?

John W. Loftus said...

DW:Did you dislike the world this much when you were a Christian?

I was oblivious to the problem. That's O-B-L-I-V-I-O-U-S, like so may other Christians are who are living happy lives in America and born with silver spoons in their mouths.

I only took one semester of psychology, but I've had some experience with psychiatric issues. It sounds like you're suffering from depression.

No offense taken. However, this tells me you don't understand my argument. I am "happy as a lark." I don't have to defend what "God" has done any more like you do. Life is good to me, but that's beside the whole point of this problem. I cannot judge whether or not God is good based upon anecdotal evidence of my own good personal life. My life is good. I love life. But that means nothing in the aggregate. Why you even ask me this means you don't understand my argument, and the fact that you say I'm only asking questions is proof you don't understand my argument. You really don't. Isn't that the first step to arguing against a position. One must first sekk to understand. You clearly do not understand. Why? Don't take any offense here, but it means to me that you are blinded by your faith and unwilling to consider just exactly what I'm saying. And if that's the case with my argument itself, then it should cause you to question why you believe despite the problem of evil. If you're so blind as to not understand me, then you are probably too blind to respond adequately. The other option is that you're ignorant and unintelligent, but I don't believe that for a second. But those are the options, it seems to me.

David Wood said...


You can't be "happy as a lark." It doesn't make sense to say, "Man, I love this world! I'm so happy!" and then to turn around and say, "I don't see why God would create a world at all." If you love life, then why wouldn't God create life for you to love? Indeed, one might question the goodness of a God who doesn't create life.

As for everyone else, I'm not trying to psychologize all belief. I simply noticed that my opinion of the world changed dramatically when I converted from atheism to theism. So I was wondering if John's changed dramatically when he converted from Christianity to atheism. He says he's happy, but I'm not sure that someone who complains about suffering all day long, who argues that a good God would never create this world, and that a good God would never create free beings like ourselves, etc., is really enjoying life.

Of course someone can come to Christianity, or atheism, or Islam, or whatever for emotional or psychological reaons. That's not the point. The point was a question about John's belief, and how it relates to his pessimism.

As for those who say I'm dodging issues, be realistic. I've done two debates on the Problem of Evil, I switched my dissertation topic to the Problem of Evil, and I just started a blog on the Problem of Evil. Can you honestly say that I'm dodging the Problem of Evil just because I try to choose which questions I answer? (Note: I don't choose which questions to answer based on whether I like the question. I choose based on the questioner. If a person really seems to be interested in an answer, I will do my best to answer. If a person just wants to argue and complain about God, then I will answer if I have free time, and not answer if I've got something better to do.)

I'm getting ready for a conference, so I'll catch you guys some other time.

John W. Loftus said...

You can't be "happy as a lark." It doesn't make sense to say, "Man, I love this world! I'm so happy!" and then to turn around and say, "I don't see why God would create a world at all."

Again, you fail to understand. This baffles me. How do you expect to deal seriously with the problem of evil when you cannot make simple distinctions? I personally love life, yes. But I don't believe in God. You do. And I'm arguing that if your God exists then this world speaks volumes against his knowledge, power and love in creating this world. That's the proper distinction, and you still don't get it.

He says he's happy, but I'm not sure that someone who complains about suffering all day long, who argues that a good God would never create this world, and that a good God would never create free beings like ourselves, etc., is really enjoying life.

LOL! This is so misguided it's funny. I do not complain about suffering all day long. Where did that come from? Like I said, I love life. Once again, I'm arguing against your conception of God and what we should expect if that God exists, irrespective of my love of life. Again, David, just in case you just entered this discussion, I am an ATHEIST.

As for those who say I'm dodging issues, be realistic. I've done two debates on the Problem of Evil, I switched my dissertation topic to the Problem of Evil, and I just started a blog on the Problem of Evil.

No, you're not dodging the issues, David. You're just not answering them, yet.

I choose based on the questioner. If a person really seems to be interested in an answer, I will do my best to answer.

I understand. But remember what I said in an email to you. I said that if you can answer my questions sufficiently, then you are smarter than I am. Even though I do not think you can answer them (regardless of who is smarter), I am still honestly interested in the best answers a Christian can offer me. I hope to learn from you as I watch you struggle with the questions that I could not answer, and I wish you the best of luck, because you'll need it. ;-)

I'm getting ready for a conference, so I'll catch you guys some other time.

I'm jealous. Which one?

Heather said...

**If God is good (in my sense of the word), **

Random comment to no one in particular, and maybe this is just me.

If we call God 'good,' don't we automatically impart our finite definition of 'good' upon God? Because words themselves require a frame of reference. So John in saying that 'if God is good' is imparting a certain definition of 'good' upon this, whereas David saying 'If God is good' is another frame of reference.

Or even in saying that God is loving, merciful, just -- we're imparting our own sense of the words upon our description of God. We have an idea of what 'love' is when we say God is love. We need that sense of the word, in order to understand.

Same with saying 'God is good.' We need an understanding of what 'good' is in order to understand what that means about God.

An extreme example -- if one says that a good God would not allow the Holocaust to happen, and since it did happen, how can God be good? We would say this because if we took a human and said that if they sat aside and let the Holocaust occur even though they had the power to stop it, that human is then not good.

I realize that we can't apply human concepts of 'good' to God, because God is higher. But our only way of understanding those concepts is through a finite, human perception. Even in saying the ways of God are mysterious, or who are we to judge God, and God is good because that's His nature -- true, given the nature of God, our judging Him makes no difference. But the only way we have of trying to come to terms with God is this finite, human perception -- which has a certain definition of good. God saying, "I am good" needs to be comprehensible to us on some level in order for us to love/trust/follow Him. Otherwise, we're blindly following.

Or am I missing something?

John W. Loftus said...


So, either 1) God is not bound by the ethical standards he sets down for Christians, or 2) God’s ethical code is absolutely mysterious to us. At this point, the whole notion of God’s goodness means nothing to us at all, as John Beversluis has argued: “If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.” [C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (Eerdmans, 1985)].

Heather said...

Hi, John.

I'd like to take a stab at cliff-noting your argument. I've read most of what you and David have discussed, but if I miss something pivotal, my apologies. You and David get deep, and it makes my head spin sometimes. :)

As I understand it:

If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent and a loving God, then why is the world created in this way, with so much evil. Why does a world exist with this much suffering, given the nature of God described. Why not create a better/perfect world. You aren't arguing that humans as they are deserve a perfect world. But since humans would be a part of this perfect world, their nature would also have been created differently. As in, more intune with good.

God, being all-powerful, could have created a world with less suffering. God, being all-knowing, knew what this world would be like as He created it in the way it is now.

The answer seems to be free will, as in humans can accept or reject God. But, given what you see in the world, you say that humans aren't always equipped to handle the consequences of free will, and why would an all-knowing God give such a violtile gift to people lacking the maturity to handle it.

You don't seem to be focusing on God should've designed this world with sensual pleasures, but rather was designing a world where free will is paramount worth the trade-off in terms of suffering. People are free to act as they please, but negative actions carry consequences for others. Such as theft. Someone exercises his free will to rob a home. The people living there suddenly have no way of paying their house payment -- they didn't have free will in deciding to be robbed, so those people might view free will as a bad thing (in this circumstance). How can that be good based on how you understand the Bible and God.

In essence, you are looking at how a human parent would behave towards a child, and not seeing God behave in that way.

Am I on target?

Heather said...

Hi, David.

Thank you for your response. Before I go further (in case this hasn't already come across), I don't follow the evangelical Chrstian viewpoint, and have had confusion over the nature of God vs. the problem of evil. I am still interested in your answers.

When saying "created inherently sinful," I'm just speaking of the act of creation itself. Not the entity that did the creation. As you stated earlier, in order to make a choice, there must be two or more options we desire to follow. In order to have free will to follow God, we must be presented with those choices for the choice to be an honest one. So we need two desires for the choice to be a true one. Therefore, who 'put' those two desires into us? Or are you saying that God puts the desire to honor Him in us.

The reason why I used "inherently sinful" is because I do see Psalms 51 quoted: "True, I was born guilty, was a sinner from the moment my mother conceived me." In looking at the world from an evangelical perspective, it appears as though sin very much as the upper hand. Whereas if the two inclinations were equal, the world seems like it should be more half-and-half.

I also say "inherently sinful" because when approaching this, I seem to be told I can do no good acts of myself, but only with God working through me. But wouldn't God, being my creator, have also created me to do good within itself? The other quotes used are, "For all have sinned and fallen short --" and "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves." By the time we can comphrehend these verses, we have 'sinned' so many times, through inclination. You have to teach a child to share -- you don't seem to have to teach a child to be selfish. A child can very easily break the commandment of 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's possessions.' But is the child accountable for that coveting, given that the child isn't old enough to comprehend good/bad? Why isn't it the other way around? Why isn't more of who we are in God's image and likeness?

Even in terms of the Adam and Eve story -- we're already operating under horrible conditions, because we're born with that sin nature. We didn't have the same choice nature as they did -- they were almost blank slates. We aren't.

This isn't me saying to God this isn't fair, or trying to hold God accountable or blaming God for my life.

In God creating -- doesn't God have a direct hand in the creation, in terms of our souls? Doesn't He choose who is created when? So does He have complete control over our creation and determines how we'll be created?

(Note: this may come across as God created me sinful. That's not what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to understand the origin of this desire to sin. When discussing this with others, there's been the subtle comment that in saying, "If God is the only Creator, He must be responsible for my sins," I am in fact saying that it's God's fault I sin, and thus sinning is okay. That type of reasoning is a cop-out for those who follow it. I don't. Sin/wrong actions/evil behavior clearly brings suffering. What I'm actually trying to understand is how one can be held accountable for following the desires not of one's making)

For the suffering -- I did read Mabel's story, and really admired her faith. But for many people I've seen, or stories I've read, those that are suffering have lost all faith in God, and would find it ludicrious to have faith, given their life. These are people who experienced the suffering directly. So it can go both ways.

We're going to have to disagree on the 'heaven' aspect in terms of the angels. :) I understand what you're saying and why, but I'm still left with why not call it something else. Why still call it Heaven, since Heaven is equivalent to the presence of God.

Lok said...

Though I had been following this debate, I personally am tired of it. To be honest, at the beginning I was more on Wood's side that the problem of evil alone is not too strong, but now I am fully convinced that John is right on quoting Sennett that "if they are Christians and the problem of evil does not keep them up at night, then they don’t understand it.”

That is because how can one sleep if he understands that he is trying to explain all the suffering in the world?How can one sleep as soon as he understands what the suffering in the world is like?

Call me closed-minded if you will: I simply can't even agree the ground on which the problem of evil can be solved, because any solution of POE presupposes the idea that the allowance suffering in the world can be explained. Whenever I remind myself the tiny bit of knowledge that I have of the actual degree of suffering that people experienced, I can't, at all, come up with enough encourage to even begin thinking about any being can be called good to allow it.

So go on if you want to explain all the suffering in the world, but you and your God's cruelty amaze me.

John W. Loftus said...

Heather, correct.

Lok said...To be honest, at the beginning I was more on Wood's side that the problem of evil alone is not too strong, but now I am fully convinced that John is right on quoting Sennett that "if they are Christians and the problem of evil does not keep them up at night, then they don’t understand it.”

Wow! Many atheists don't see the problem of evil for what it is. I'm very happy to see you change your mind. This is a very serious problem that people on both sides of the fence don't properly understand.

Lynda said...

Hi everyone,
I am an atheist/agnostic and checking out this blog for the first time. Interesting debate.

According to the Bible's account of the beginning of humankind, humans were created perfect and without "sin" or "evil". Through the act of one human this apparently changed, changed so much so that one of the offspring of this perfect couple killed his own brother. That's an extremely quick descent into evil.

Free will may appear to be present in all people who came after that first couple, but one must seriously consider whether the first humans were allowed free will.

The "evil/sin" of disobedience to god comes through their eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. A few verses after the couple has eaten of this tree, god laments that the couple now know what evil is.

Now I seriously question how humans can be seen as possessing "free will" if they are not knowledgable about the choices they can make. If prior to eating of the tree they are ignorant of evil, according to the Bible, then they must not have known that it was evil to disobey god. Therefore, they could not have exercised free will.

When one is thinking of free will the issue of coersion needs to be addressed as well. In human societies a person's confession to a crime is deemed a fraud if that person if forced to confess under the threat of death or torture. For present day humans, according to most Christian theology, god threatens death or even everlasting torture if one does not obey/worship god. In order to have "free" will one must not be under the threat of punishment. It is a mystery to me how anyone could believe that free will is present under the Biblical declarations.

From my studies of the Bible I have not actually found the term "free will" used. It does not seem consistent with the other attributes of the Biblical god, especially the Ten Commandments which offer no indication that anyone has a free will option to follow those rules. Some Christians over the evolution of Christianity have rejected the doctrine of free will and insist that god's chosen have been predetermined.

If free will is good. Then god must possess free will if he is wholly good. Therefore, he was free to not create humans or the earth. He could have prevented much suffering and evil by choosing not to create this planet, especially since he knew (another attritube of god is apparently omniscience)that evil would erupt from his creation.

To state that god had to create humans in order for them to exercise free will, eliminates his other attribute of omnipotence. So the Christian must decide which of god's attributes he/she can comfortably dispense with and still find that god worthy of worship. It's quite a dilemma as far as I can see. One with which I am grateful to have dispensed since I do not believe this god, or any other, exists.

Lynda said...

Your speculation about John's psychological state indicates a significant lack of understanding of depression. I have known a number of Christians who suffer from depression and have been treated with drugs to control the condition. Others persevere waiting for some miracle from their god to cure them, which seems mighty dangerous to me. To date I have not come across an atheist who suffers from depression, but this is not to say they do not exist. Atheists are in a minority.

One of the underlying beliefs that depressed individuals often have is that they do not measure up somehow. They consider themselves unworthy of happiness. Christianity's constant bombardment with messages of sinfulness cannot possibly help one feel content with one's accomplishments. The lack of self-esteem contributes significantly to distorted cognitions that are responsible for depressed emotions.

If one, such as John, is discussing the incongruity of god's attributes with the "problem of evil" then one may appear to be focusing on the suffering in the world, but this certainly should not be construed as a general attitude towards one's life. That's just silliness.

Eric said...

Lynda: I wholeheartedly agree.

I do suffer from depression and I am an atheist, and I'll tell you why: My world is governed by people like David Wood who have no useful or plausible "knowledge" of the natural world, and I am very fearful that other people believe what these suchlike shapeless people say. Humanity's ease of being manipulated by demagogues and charlatans is simply frightening. People, more often than not, are more concerned by securing their bubble of comfort than being correct in their beliefs, regardless of the often disastrous consequences (simple hypocrisy, leading to mass political movements, resulting in tyranny and totalitarianism, and dark ages). I live in an Atlas Shrugged-like universe, governed by Nabokov's "Party of the Average Man," whose ideology is simply described as anti-intellectual. Other reasons I shall not go into because they have no relevance here.

I think I have described accurately why God created the universe in the 31st post of "David Wood's Argument: Does This Make Any Sense?" saying that God is simply a megalomaniac.

I think that with many other arguments against the validity of religion (spiritual and political usefulness, scientific facts about the natural world), the problem of evil is almost minuscule.

Lynda said...

The actions of other people do not need to result in your depression. I have been told that Cognitive Behavior Therapy can be very useful for learning to deal with cognitions that cause depression. You might consider checking out http://www.livinglifetothefull.com

Religionists have robbed the world of so much as it is. There is no sense in letting them rob us of emotional health as well.

Eric said...

I simply have no sense of security in my world.

What you say is true, but how else am I supposed to react when the government works to marginalize respect for the individual and rational thought, my way of life? I have very little to hold onto in the event of fully-gestated Christian Reconstructionism. I neither see the cup half-full or half empty: I see people drinking out of it.

Eric said...

I dont want to pay for others' stupidity.

Jose Solano said...

Hi David Wood,

I’ve taken a leave from another thread I was commenting on to peruse through this one. You’re doing a fabulous job in addressing the problem of evil and I am learning a lot from your comments.

I want to touch on two points here. One that Heather brought up on another thread and that I do not remember addressing, as there were so many other questions I was focusing on. Heather brings it up again here. She states: "My conflict over free will is that one doesn’t ‘choose’ to love. It’s something that just develops without a conscious choice."

This a very low level of love, a natural and instinctual love. It is the love that comes and goes. Conscious and willful love is much greater. It is the love that comes from accepting obligation and responsibility, like it or not. It is the love that acts because it recognizes the essential goodness of its action. And it is the love that demonstrates the ultimate value of free will because it comes from a real conscious volition and not from the restrictions of some tyrant god or some compelling instinctual drive. Without free will one cannot attain this dependable and even predictable love. This is the love that God has for us and it is the love that He wills each of us should have for each other. This is the love that cannot come from a robot and must be why God in His wisdom has placed so much at stake for its realization.

Now, I offer a second point just to be pondered for the time being. If symbolically we are told that Adam and Eve had the freedom to choose in the Garden of Eden and they made the wrong choice, the choice of disobedience to the Summum Bonum, then perhaps in this degeneracy they lost in the fall the freedom to choose again or they had it but only in potential. As they entered a bestial state they had no more freedom to choose than does a dog, and all of the general ability of a person to choose was no more than mere behaviorist (Skinnerian) mechanical reactions devoid of true freedom and will, leaving only the illusion of freedom and will. And this remains the present state of humanity. We act, for the most part, according to our likes and dislikes without any concept of some objective good for which we must take responsibility. What if this were the case but we were told that there is at least the possibility of attaining free will. Would we try to attain it?

I share this simply as another perspective on this question of free will and love that I suspect may have much to do with this discussion.

Adam said...


Cognitive Behavior Therapy (often combined with medication) is the state of the art in depression treatment. You could pick up a few books on it and perhaps your general physician could prescribe antidepressants, if you can't afford to see a psychologist/psychiatrist.

But you should also realize that atheism is actually on the upsurge -- in backlash against the Christianism our country has witnessed. I think the worst of the Christianist crazies has passed -- at least for now. Atheists were recently featured in a fair light on night line -- the rational response squad. Dawkins, Harris are on the Colbert Report and elsewhere. You've gotta watch some comedy central to get your spirits up. Go out and find people whose company you enjoy as well. Again, I'm actually pretty upbeat about the prospects for atheism. We have a Democratic Congress and Bush will be gone soon.

Heather said...

Hi, Lynda.

**If prior to eating of the tree they are ignorant of evil, according to the Bible, then they must not have known that it was evil to disobey god. Therefore, they could not have exercised free will. ** I've pondered this as well. What's interesting is that after they eat the fruit, God says that they're now like God, knowing good and evil. So were they not aware of either before?

Also, one of the consequences of disobeying was that they would die, both spiritually and physically. But death was only a consequence of sin, and before there was sin, could Adam/Eve understand what that meant?

If you tell a child not to touch a hot stove because it will hurt, the warning means nothing if the child hasn't experienced pain. It's only after touching the stove that the child understands what 'hurt' means. So the next time you tell a child that an action will hurt, the child has the first-hand experience of the stove, and will fully comprehend the consequences of going against what you're telling them.

The Adam/Eve story seems to place them in the same situation as the child who has no way of comprehending pain.

Heather said...

Hi, Jose.

**This a very low level of love, a natural and instinctual love. It is the love that comes and goes. Conscious and willful love is much greater**

In referring to the love that one doesn't choose, I was using it in reference to the love a parent has for his/her child, the love between husband and wife, or between friends/siblings/other family members. so I wouldn't refer to that as a 'very low level' of love, because of how essential it is in meaningful relationships. Overall, parents never stop loving their children in this fashion.

To me, 'conscious and willful love' is a contradiction, almost. It makes it sound like love is an on/off switch controlled by the person. Yes, in a marriage or raising children there needs to be an active committment -- you can't just rely on the love itself. There will be times when you're so angry that it seems like you forgot that you love the person. But after a while, you realize the anger just seemed to overshadow the love, and it was always there. (Granted, in those emotional circumstances, you do have to remind yourself that you love the person ;)

Now, people do end up doing things they don't want to do because they love a person. Such as the obligation and responsiblity -- but the action is conscious, because of a love that developed. Such as marriage. It's telling a person, "I love you enough to want to build a life together, and work together, even though this will require sacrifice on my part and hard times." The love's already there. In your experience with God -- did you choose to love God, or did you realize you loved God and what He did, and that inkling of love was enough for you to accept the obligation/responsility? And even when it's very difficult, you hold on, because you know that you love God. You just can't feel it at all times.

I could face someone that has unbelievably cruel to me and say, "I'm going to love you no matter what." But I can't just produce that emotion. I can act in a loving fashion, yes. But the emotion itself isn't generated by my will. Now, yes, it would take an effort on my part to not respond in kind, and be willing to learn how to love the person, and actively seeking loving qualities.

Perhaps what you're using as "conscious and willful love," I'm seeing as the actions that come out of the instinctual love.

Lynda said...

I hear your frustration. I want to bang my head against a very hard surface everytime I hear GW Bush pontificate about being the "Decider". Intelligent people, like yourself, have always found it depressing to deal with the likes of Bush and Cheney and religious Fundamentalists. Imagine the state of the minds of people like Galileo who had virtually no support network of atheists to encourage them in their fight against ignorance.

I think you'll find that dealing with your feelings of depression, and perhaps futility, through Cognitive Behavior Therapy will really improve your ability to find some hope. I tend to be pessimistic when I spend too much time listening to the idiots managing the White House or British parliament. So I read Carl Sagan. Adam's suggestion to watch Comedy Central is good and I find Monty Python's movies very helpful too when the stress of dealing with stupidity becomes overwhelming.

Try not to jump to conclusions about what the future will hold politically or religiously. Great thing about science is that there is no "holy" scripture forecasting the future. You don't know what's going to happen. It may be a lot better than you're anticipating.

Lynda said...

Hi Heather,
Yes, that example of the hot stove is very appropriate. The Christian god really is a lousy parent!

José Solano said...

Hi Heather,

I understand what you are saying with regard to loving a child or spouse. By my use of the comparative term "low level" I am not belittling that love which of course varies in itself from parent to parent, and there are some very bad parents. But this love is fairly automatic. By conscious and willful love I am referring to that love that does not come automatically but rather by decision; the love that one would actually prefer running away from, prefer not even thinking about it. It is the love that most of us ignore practicing just about every day, illustrated in the good Samaritan story. That "certain priest" and the Levite who "looked and passed on the other side" most likely had the love that you speak of for child, wife and family. But they lacked the higher love that I speak of from which it is so easy to walk away. Attaining the higher level strengthens us to stabilize all other forms of loving.

You talk about the “emotion” of love and that emotion of love may exist or not. But when that emotion is not there, when one would rather flee or cross the street, but a particular premeditated determination, based purely on a conscious sense of responsibility is exercised, we have the higher level of love that I am referring to. Now, regular practice of this higher level of love will cultivate within the individual a more consuming emotional correspondence with all acts of love. Merely emotional love is unreliable. This is the great underlying problem leading to the family fragmentation epidemic these days, where it is so easy to just say, “I am sorry darling, I do not love you anymore. Goodbye.”

The Scriptures are filled with examples of a higher love. If you see the distinction I am making we need not squabble over words. When most Christians, or others who imagine themselves good, observe a life truly lived in this love we suffer embarrassment. Mother Teresa embarrasses us.

Heather said...

Hi, Jose.

I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this. :) I agree that one cannot just rely on emotion -- because how one loves at twenty will differ from how one loves at sixty. Love does have many facets. Very often, in cases of divorce, it will be because people did not act upon that emotion, and let other obligations and such interfere with keeping the marriage strong. Relationships do require nurturing, but the basis for that is the emotion. Maybe what you're seeing as 'emotion' is the superficial aspect? Because usually when people live life to the fullest, they do so in a no-holds barred emotional aspect.

The danger I see in in saying, "conscious and willful love I am referring to that love that does not come automatically but rather by decision" or "but a particular premeditated determination, based purely on a conscious sense of responsibility is exercised" is that, to me, it comes across as purley rational, something that you can talk yourself into, and thus talk yourself out. It seems strips any emotional involvement, moving it entirely into the 'rational' area. People who are hate-filled can act more responsible than those who love consistently. That, and in keeping it rational, would make it almost harder. Those who experience God's love, or any love like that, have a hard time putting it in rational terms, because it goes so far beyond that. It goes beyond words, beyond understanding. It's the emotional at its most primal, pure level. A consistent, never-ending emotion. So when I say you can't 'choose' to love, that's the type of emotion I'm referring to. This is one that doesn't ever wane, or shift. This is the love for a brother/child that you're supposed to transfer on a worldly scale. The priest and Levite may have had the love for a brother -- they simply weren't seeing the injured man as their brother. And that's how you 'active' this love: by seeing everyone as your brother (used in a generic sense).

I don't think Mother Teresa just acted out of a sense of responsiblity, with no emotional involvement whatsoever. It was also because of her horror and sense of compassion. Again -- a very deep emotion that apparently never went away for her.

I suppose what you call an active effort and determination to love, I would call an active determination to see everyone as my brother -- to put myself in a mental state where I can access the love that's already there, it's just hard to see at times (or feels near impossible).

José Solano said...

Hi Heather,

Better than agreeing to disagree I prefer agreeing to agree, to find the means by which we may agree. This requires some effort and good will. I think a great deal of disagreeing has to do with the misuse of words or the use of words meaning something other than what the person is saying. People often imagine they are speaking a common language but since the major words they use have different meanings they might just as well be speaking different languages, indeed they are.

Think of how much misunderstanding there is over this word "love" that people love to use. Someone said we should probably do away with it altogether and simply say what one means without using it. I do not think we should scrap the word, even if we could, because people have a very valuable lofty ideal related to the word and it is best for them to just work on clarifying its meaning.

As you know people talk about "eros" and "agape." Maybe this is a good place to begin the clarification. At the risk of provoking a torrent of wrath and indignation on this blog, let me recommend as a starter a reading of Deus Caritas Est, the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI. It can be found at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est_en.html

Let me warn those disturbed by such readings that it contains citations from the Scriptures and could be rated PG.

Heather said...

Hi, Jose.

The thing about agreeing to disagre is that we will probably run the risk of repeating ourself.

I'm familiar with the three usages of Greek words for love: eros, philia, and agape.

When I say instinctive love, I'm not referring to a base instinct, or a self-interest instinct. I wasn't ever referring to 'eros.' To use the parent and child reference again, I was referring to an instinctive self-sacrificing love, a love that is much higher than sensual, 'it's all about me' love. An instinct that makes you look beyond yourself, the purest kind of love there is. Or, to go back to loving someone who's cruel to you -- a love that sacrifices one's self perception of the physical evidence of cruelty, and looks beyond that, to the core/inner person. Basically, love in the same instinct that God loves. I do believe that it can be instinctive, and have seen people prove that. So this may be where our 'disagreement' is generated.

So to me, 'love' in its 100% form is always attached to an emotion -- the self-sacrificing kind. Otherwise, you could end up doing the 'duty' of love while hating your neighbor in your heart. The thing about the New Testament is that Jesus said it wasn't enough to just follow the Ten Commandments. That was the letter of the law, but not the spirit. It started as an internal drive, an instinct. Such as even though you don't kill someone, if you harbor hate you are, in a way, killing that person. So not killing the person is the loving action -- but it's an empty action if not accompanied by loving that person. There should be a sincere joy in doing so. If it's just with the 'obligation and responsiblity,' then that seems to lead to the danger of, "I'm doing this because I'm told to because it'll lead to rewards in the end." That looks like one is 'programing' one's self to love.

Lynda said...

Jose and Heather,

Your discussion of "love" is interesting. Philosophers and psychologists have been trying to get a firm grip on what exactly that emotion or action entails for centuries. The research I find most enlightening are primate studies that examine great apes behavior where acts of kindness sometimes appear to have no selfish motive.

Mother Teresa's actions, given her religious conviction, do not lead me to think of her as one filled with love for humankind. Trained as a nun to subjugate herself to the needs of others she was conditioned to behave that way. Her thoughts of afterlife rewards or duty to god probably affected her decisions significantly.

Jesus' commands to "love one another" are very open to interpretation and ambiguity. Therefore, I find them far less useful in a person's life than concrete and less ambiguous commands, as perhaps given in the Ten Commandments (if one is convinced that they are worthwhile). Interestingly, none of those commands, either Jesus' or Moses' commands, did much to stem the violence and hatred performed by the Christian Church for centuries.

Heather said...

Hi, Lynda.

I'm glad you're finding the discussion interesting. :) And thank you for sharing your thoughts.

**Jesus' commands to "love one another" are very open to interpretation and ambiguity** Given how many Christian denominations there are, you can probably argue that about the entire Bible. ;)

José Solano said...


Who do you think might be filled with that love for humankind that you speak about? The absurdity of your comment about Mother Teresa is mind boggling. And your unbelievable statement about Mother Teresa follows right after your extolling the behavior of the great apes. I like great apes but I’m afraid your comparisons and understanding of love are meaningless.

Hi Heather,

From earliest childhood we are told to do good things. It does not come naturally. For the most part selfishness comes naturally. It is pure fantasy to dream up some idyllic behavior among animals. We are most pleasantly surprised when a great ape does not rip us apart if we get close to it after allowing it to familiarize itself with our very gentle presence over a long time. There are no Good Samaritan chimps. They are often cannibals, killing and eating other chimp's babies and fight among each other like apes. Bonobos chimps pacify each other by trading sexual favors. They are very similar to many humans. Many mammals have strong natural instincts to protect themselves and each other. This is somewhat similar to that natural and emotional "love" you speak about among humans. Emotions can be very strong or weak and they do not determine the quality of our love.

The child has natural love but he/she must learn the higher love that I’m talking about and at first we simply hope he/she will at least just "act it out." Higher love needs to be defined, explained and demonstrated to the child. The child raised with the "terry cloth mother" does not quite learn it. The enormous social problems that we are encountering in society today are repeatedly shown to be the result of children not being shown the meaning of higher love. Through commercialism and the media, self-centeredness and immediate gratification are extolled, just as we find practiced among the great apes.

In time, with proper family and school education, the child may learn to understand the meaning, function and importance of the higher love and realize that is how he/she should act. This can happen passionately or dispassionately and much depends on the individual’s temperament and personality. Either one could be compassionate. Frequently an excess of emotion impedes the proper effectiveness of the expression of love.

I will leave this here for now.


Heather said...

Hi, Jose.

**From earliest childhood we are told to do good things. It does not come naturally. For the most part selfishness comes naturally.** This is another reason why we are probably going to disagree -- we see the world differently. If one's perspective is focused on the sin and how one behaves sinfully, even from birth, then that is the main stuff one sees. If one is focused on the goodness, then that is the dominant stuff one sees. We see the world through different lenses. I have seen very young children do good things naturally, and it came about in an environment where people lived in that elevating instinct.

**Many mammals have strong natural instincts to protect themselves and each other. This is somewhat similar to that natural and emotional "love" you speak about among humans. Emotions can be very strong or weak and they do not determine the quality of our love. ** I don't think you can say this is the type of 'love' I'm talking about when I keep disagreeing with you. ;) Because that's along the lines of a basic, brute, instinct. Which is not what I'm saying. I'm not putting this on the level of a survival instinct. I'm talking about an 'elevating' instinct, so to speak, that would go so far beyond human thought. Like initution or just "knowing" something without being able to put it into words. Like a sense of peace, or a sense of hope. I suppose ... you see it as the instinct which is below, I use 'instinct' as something that is above human thought.

**the child may learn to understand the meaning, function and importance of the higher love and realize that is how he/she should act** Again, though, it becomes about actions, and doing it because it is the right thing to do. What about the motivation behind that action? Because this doesn't seem to have been addressed. It's not enough to just act. Yes, the actions, regardless of motivation, makes the world and society function a lot smoother. But if you do something loving for your brother, are you in fact loving him? You have *behaving* in a loving fashion. But if you're just doing that behavior because that is what you're told to do, or it's a willful choice, then it's something that you'll constantly have to watch for, and rationalize yourself into. You are loving by law, not by spirit -- which also doesn't seem to have been addressed. What about the types that make the 'willful' part of the action irreleveant, because the type of love you're experiencing goes beyond thought? An elevating instinct? One where you're in a situation and later you realize even the person was the most wretched person ever, you never had to tell yourself to behave in a loving fashion, because 'telling' was never a factor. You were so entrenched in that elevating love that loving actions were an un-forced outcome?

José Solano said...

Hi Heather,

It does appear to me that you have a strong desire to agree to disagree. As a result you are not actually hearing what I am saying and seek to emphasize things that I have not said nor even implied. In fact, you overlook or ignore, what I specifically said in agreement with what you are saying. This agreeing to disagree business can become habitual as a reaction against something that you simply do not wish to accept and that really has nothing to do with what is actually being said. I’m not too sure how to get beyond this. For now all I have time to say is that you reread the things I have said. What I am saying is really quite elementary. There is no real profundity to it. It’s obvious. Only a certain inner buffer could prevent one from seeing it. I don’t think there is any real disagreement with what I have said in the world of education, psychology and sociology.

Later, as time permits, I’ll try to recap the things I have said that agree with what you are saying but add something else with which you should agree if you do not insist on agreeing to disagree.


Heather said...

Hi, Jose.

**This agreeing to disagree business can become habitual as a reaction against something that you simply do not wish to accept and that really has nothing to do with what is actually being said. I’m not too sure how to get beyond this. For now all I have time to say is that you reread the things I have said. What I am saying is really quite elementary. There is no real profundity to it. It’s obvious. Only a certain inner buffer could prevent one from seeing it.**

Perhaps we should stop the conversation here. Everything that you have just said in terms of my perception can be reversed, and therein lies the problem. It is elementary and not profound to you, *because that is your worldview.* You use 'instinct' in one fashion. I use it in another. And that's just one example.

Earlier, we disagreed on the concept of Jesus/God. Your comment then indicated an assumption that I must not've read the New Testament, or designed it as I wanted it, rather than considering that I have read the New Testament many times, and perhaps walked away with a different messsage. That's also the impression I'm getting here. I may not have said to you, "I understand what you're saying," and I may look deliberatly blind, but as you repeat back to me what you feel I'm saying, I'm telling you that the definition you provide is incorrect. Perhaps that's my fault, in not being clear in my explanations. But as you tell me what you agree with, my reaction was, "But that's not what I'm saying."

If we also disagree on politics, or abortion, or any other hot-button issue, does that mean I'm lacking an elementary insight, or have some sort of buffer? No, it means I see through a different worldview. Absolute truth may exist, but every person on this Earth can only see it through a subjective lens.

As Lynda said -- philosophers and psychologists have been debating this for centuries. Clearly, no consesus has been reached. Is every philosopher that disagrees with you also more eager to disagree above all else?

I appreciate that you were willing to discuss this. You can reply, but I feel it's best if we consider the matter closed. If I come across as too sensitive or wanting to disagree above all else, I apologize. I simply don't want to go in circles, and I fear that's what we'll do here. This is also not intended to look as though I get the "last word." I just felt it would be worse to say, "Okay, let's stop," without an explanation.

José Solano said...

Dear Heather,

Do reread my Feb. 6th, 1:04 AM comment to you. Where anywhere can you find anything that is not simply common sense. I am an educator and father of four children. I am not inventing twilight zone theories of natural lovey-dovey states of being. What I’m saying is pure pragmatism and empiricism that any atheist or theist should easily agree with. Think about it.

A baby is lovable but its loving is self-centered. It has natural wants and desires that serve its own survival. This is good and beautiful. When the baby receives what it wants and needs it is content and even joyful. When it does not, it rages. Only little by little does it learn what is good from a non-self-centered perspective, IF he/she is receiving a good upbringing. Babies are not self-sacrificing. They don’t know any better, They are innocent. You don’t have to be a Piaget to understand this. All parents and educators should recognize this obvious truth immediately, unless they really want to agree to disagree.

Peace. I wish you well.

Shygetz said...

From earliest childhood we are told to do good things. It does not come naturally. For the most part selfishness comes naturally.

Actually, game theory suggests that you are wrong, as do studies of other animals. Altruism is advantageous in many situations, and occurs in the natural world. In fact, the most effective solution found in the Prisoner's Dilemma is the Golden Rule with a small rate of forgiveness thrown in.