David Wood's Argument: Does This Make Any Sense?

David Wood has made an argument I simply cannot make any sense of here. He's usually very bright, but what's this? I responded harshly at first and then later apologized, since he's at least trying to deal with the problem of evil. Many Christian theists don't want bothered by it.

Here is a short list of some of the reasons why I don't believe in an omnibenelovent God given the massiveness and intensity of suffering we experience (all posted in the comments section).

1) I don't see any reason for God to create anything...anything at all. 2) I don't see any reason for God to have given us free will (or so much free will) if he knew we would abuse it so badly. 3) I don't see any reason why God should punish us so severely when we disobey (with disasters and hell itself). 4) I don't see any reason why God would build heaven upon the backs of billions of screaming people in hell, if he's omnibenelovent.

I simply don't believe in physically brutalizing someone who breaks the law, or in maiming him, or putting him in a wheelchair, either. Our punishments are humane when compared to anything that barbaric God does. We simply put criminals in jail. Under extreme conditions we put them to death in humane ways, like lethal injection, even though most of the rest of the civilized world won't even do that. Now just compare our ways of punishing criminals to God's and you'll see a big difference. That God is barbaric.

Christians will counter-argue that God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. But does this justify how he treats sinners both here and in the life everafter? Even if he is holy he could deal with criminals like us in more humane ways.

Hume actually argued that people can learn to be good and avoid doing evil by means of pleasure and the absence of pleasure alone! That alone, he argued would be enough to motivate us. I do not believe parents have to spank their children (much at all) to teach them. I don't believe we have to hit or spank our dogs to train them. Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) has been around for a few decades and the children from these homes (if consistent and also loving) have produced obedient kids. But the Christian God breaks our arms, plucks out our eyes, and burns our skin. Why? Because we did wrong? Why? To teach us. Why? To punish us. None of this makes any sense. Can anyone actually make any sense of this at all?

David Wood claims that atheists are looking for a "blissful" existence here on earth. Would I still reject God if I received a scratch on my toe? Hardly. The force of the argument from evil is in its massiveness and intensity. Take those two things out of the problem of evil and you take the force out of the argument. It's a continuum. The more intense we suffer the more intense the problem. Would there still be a problem if I received a scratch? Maybe. But it would only be a scratch of a problem, hardly anything that would be seen as a problem at all.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...

Having read Mr. Wood's argument, I struggle to find anything charitable to say about it.

For one, he sees the problem of evil as being a problem for atheists, advanced by atheists as a way to disprove Christianity. But, of course, this is not always the case. The problem of evil is a philosophic problem with no religious agenda. That is, it comes out of a particular description of God, and is evident in the construction of that description.

If we hold that God is

1.) omniscient,
2.) omnipotent, and
3.) benevolent,

and if we acknowledge the presense of "evil," or the existence (if not ontological, then at least experiental) of suffering, then the apparent inconsistency is obvious, and must be dealt with, even if all persons identify themselves as Christians and seek in exploring the problem only to explore what we mean by God.

While the problem of evil has been wielded as a weapon against Christianity by some atheists, it is not a necessarily antagonistic problem. It is simply a philosophic problem, and honesty demands some sort of an answer to it regardless of who is asking the question and why they are asking it.

To say, then, that atheists are trying to "have it both ways" or are being in some way inconsistent when pressing theists on a logical problem in the construction of traditional theism is to skirt the issue.

If I, as a Christian, raise the problem of evil as a problem with the traditional theistic concept of God, am I open to the rambling, ad hominem attack that has here been given against atheists?

Additionally, I don't think that the "atheist claim" is that "God should protect us from harm." The atheist claim is that the existence of harm speaks against the existence of the God described by traditional theism; and, more broadly, against the existence of any sort of a God. It isn't a question of whether or not human being deserve to suffer; it is a question of whether or not any form of suffering is logically compatible with a particular description of God.

In this argument I see and feel a great deal of frustration, and I can empathize with it. I have often read rhetorical attacks against my religious tradition and been mystified and even offended. But that atheists, like all other people, can from time to time be rude when advancing their position does not make the problem of evil go away, nor does it shift the problem from the theist to the atheist. I simply don't see how a piece typed in frustration which doesn't make a single discernable rational claim in any way advances the discussion.

This, I hope, is not a reflection of Mr. Wood's best work.

For those, by the way, who may wonder how I resolve the problem of evil, the answer is simple. Recognizing the impossibility of reconciling the description of God above with the existence of suffering, in the vein of process theology I have adjusted the concept of God to fit the available facts. When people see that, they often want to attack the validity of my faith, or my standing as a Christian. I have little time or patience, however, for that sort of nonsense.

So please, well meaning Christians and atheists who read this blog, don't try to pick apart my view of God to demonstrate that it isn't sufficiently Christian. I won't participate in that argument anymore.

Anonymous said...

Sandalstraps,

I am actually interested in the approach to the problem of evil you mentioned, but, given the rather brief description you just made, I don't think I can fully understand what you mean.

I understand that you said you "have little time or patience...for that sort of nonsense." But can you at least point me to the right direct to see what you were talking about? A particular book or paper about Process Theology? or Maybe a link to a past discussion you had on a similar topic?

Thanks

Anonymous said...

I think it's quite right that the pervasiveness of evil is precisely where the problem is. And this gets us away from the logical and onto the evidential problem of evil.

Your (1) and (2) lay it out nicely. However, it seems to me that your requirement is too stringent. In order to satisfy you, it seems like the theist has to know God's purpose in doing (or allowing) every single dubious circumstance critics put forward. Now I can't even explain all the benevolent acts of my own mother. How am I supposed to be able to do so with God? It seems like a bit of epistemological humility might be in order. Given a basic belief in God, the theist can rightly just say, "I don't know." Or, more rigorously, the theist can adopt a Plantinga-style free will defense but add that she cannot defend this particular instance of evil, whatever the instance may be. But she knows that it is logically possible, and likely, that God has a good reason for allowing (at least some) evil.

As for Hell, since my idea on that are fairly out of the mainstream, I'll just not comment.

John W. Loftus said...

Mr. Blanshard, welcome to the world of Blogging, and thanks for commenting here. I've written more extensively on this problem here, and here.

Your questions are legitimate ones, but I am looking at this world and I see no moral reason why an omnibenelovent God doesn't do things differently. Not only do Christians have to punt to mystery with regard to the presence of so much evil in our world, but they cannot answer even the most basic questions I'm asking, in my opinion.

Sure, theists can offer reasons why an omniscient God might allow for suffering in this world (given lengthy arguments with many premises). But it's one thing to try to explain suffering given a good God, from this being the kind of world one would expect if this God existed. This makes all of the difference. Is this the kind of world we should expect if God exists?

Eustochius said...

I left this over at David's blog. I just don't think he understood the varieties and motivations of your arguments.

I don't think you understand what John is saying. This is my understanding.

(1) If God is a perfect, entirely self-sufficient being, why would he want to create, and thereby introduce imperfection in the universe?

(2) As for free will, just think of how you raise children. You give them just enough freedom that you think they will be able to handle. If they're about to make a catastrophic error -- you intervene. I see no reason why God couldn't be a more involved parent so to speak. You don't literally have to remove your child's free will but you restrict the actions of that child according to their maturity.

(3) If you actually believe in an eternal painful hell for non-believers that is an extremely serious problem. Just the amount of evil in the world is enough to cast serious doubt on the truth of theism -- but adding to suffering of humans by creating hell -- I'm mean that's almost an instant refutation of your position, given the magnitude of suffering involved.

(4) Finally, don't be frightened or angry at atheism. The way I see it -- if God is truly good in a way most humans would recognize -- we have nothing to worry about. And if you can let go of your fear, you can realize that there is true goodness without God and that pretty much anything good that has every occurred has happened by human doing -- whether one thinks God helped in this or not. I mean, look, if God cared so much about poor people as Jesus seems to, he should be airlifting in the manna all the time. Are we really so much more degenerate than the ancient Israelites? He performed such miracles for them. Why not us?

openlyatheist said...

JDB said:
"In order to satisfy you, it seems like the theist has to know God's purpose in doing (or allowing) every single dubious circumstance critics put forward. Now I can't even explain all the benevolent acts of my own mother. How am I supposed to be able to do so with God?"

I see this as a copout. I too, don't know the inner workings of my mother's mind, but that is precisely why I don't refer to her as 'infinitely good' or 'omnibenevolent'. Because I recognize that my ability to gauge the 'goodness' of anyone is contingent upon my capacity to verify said quality. I can only say that my mother is good as far as I know.

If my mother shot someone, I could not spring her from court by saying, "My mom is infinitely good, so she must have had a good reason." Yet that is the most common apologetic response to the Argument from Evil.

I'm reminded of Douglas Krueger’s response to this defense:
The Christian is merely stating: "It’s possible that the Argument from Evil somehow fails for some reason."

Of course, since I don’t believe one can confirm the actions of a being that doesn’t exist, the entire issue is moot to me.

David Wood said...

I don't see how my argument doesn't make sense (unless you just don't want it to make sense). The only point I'm making is that the more examples of man's horrendous acts you pile up in your argument against God, the more you support the idea that man is horribly sinful. In other words, if man were completely good, you might be able to say that God should give him a perfect world. But if an atheist says, "God should come and give horribly sinful man a life of complete pleasure," theists simply find this absurd.

Again, I understand that your position makes complete sense to many atheists. "Sure, God should give us a perfect world, no matter how bad we get, and no matter how much we want to spit in his face." But here you're presupposing your view that rebellion is a small matter. If rebellion is, as theists hold, a very significant matter, then God is simply under no obligation to rescue people who prefer to live by their own rules.

I noticed you're still appealing to hell, John. If you ever decide to talk about the problem of evil, let me know.

David Wood said...

As for the Problem of Evil "failing for some reason," this isn't hypothetical. The Argument from Evil fails for a number of reasons.

Some of these reasons apply to inconsistencies in specific cases (e.g. I might find an inconsistency in a certain atheist's argument, or an inconsistency whenever the argument is made by a certain group). Then there are internal problems. Then there's the matter of other evidence. And all of this is before we even get to possible responses to the Problem of Evil.

Sandalstraps said...

I'm not sure why my first comment reverted to anonymity, but rest assure that comment 1 on this post is from me.

Anyway, the best book that I've read on process theology and the problem of evil is Kenneth Cauthen's The Many Faces of Evil. Yo can find it here.

I also have a few posts on theodicy at my blog, including:

The Problem With Pain is That There is Pain (the Koan of Faith and Suffering)

Teilhard's Limitation on Omnipotence

and

Looking For God in the Shadow of Auschwitz

My main objection to the project of theodicy (that is, philosophically/logically attempting to reconcile the fact of suffering with the traditional theistic description of a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent) is that it is philosophically, religiously, and morally unsatisfying.

Philosophically unsatisfying, in that the problem of pain, or the problem of evil, or however the problem is phrased, is a real problem. I've never met a theodicy that I thought sucessfully explained away the inherant contradiction between an all-loving, all-knowing/seeing, and all-loving, perfect God, and the fact of suffering.

Religiously unsatisfying in that I don't see the God of theodicy as a suitable object of worship. A God who can prevent suffering but would rather explain it away is much less worthy of worship than a God who can't prevent suffering, but is working with us to alleviate it.

Morally unsatisfying in that theodicy cultivates a callousness to suffering the mirrors the callousness of the God of theodicy. Those who advance theodicies - if they take them seriously - are, like the God that they defend in their arguments, more inclined to explain suffering away than go about the messy business of working to alleviate suffering.

For me, Christianity teaches not a far off, distant and removed God that stands apart from suffering and logically explains it away, but rather a God who enters into suffering, taking on suffering, and suffering with us to help alleviate suffering. And, that many, many Christians, captive to traditional theism and modernity, would rather construct theodicies that rationally explain the problem of suffering away, frankly disturbs me.

I do not, however, paint all or even most Christians with this brush. I am a Christian, and I work daily with Christians who see their fundamental role in life as one of working to alleviate suffering. We contend that this is also the business of God, and that God, like us, is limited, and unable to totally solve the problem.

To say that God is limited, however, is not to say that God is small. It is just to say that, as evidence by the persistence of suffering, God cannot, in fact, do all things. Some tasks, it seems, even take God a great deal of time to sort out.

Sandalstraps said...

For those interested in a more thorough exploration of theodicy, I highly recommend Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, edited by Stephen T. Davis.

The format of the book is this:

After an introduction on the topic of theodicy, there are then five chapters, each devoted to a different theodicy. First the theodicy is presented, in the form of an essay by a philosopher or theologian advancing the theodicy. Then there is a series of critiques of that theodicy, followed by a rejoinder. This format allows anyone who is able to read a philosophic argument the opportunity to see some of the best scholarly literature available on several different kinds of theodicies. This allows you to decide for yourself whether or not the theodicies in question "work." The book, as best as I can tell, has no agenda of its own save encouraging critical thought on a difficult subject.

If you're interested, you can find it here.

DagoodS said...

Hmmmm....MY comments are coming up as "Anonymous" as well! Was it a switch to beta blogger?

DagoodS (just in case)

David Wood said...

Sandalstraps,

Since you're the author of the first post, I'll address something you said, which seems to recur without end. If I see an inconsistency in a person's argument, and I say, "Hey, I see a problem in your argument," I'm not saying, "Hey, everyone has this problem!"

I'm pointing this out because you wonder how my objection affects you. Well, it doesn't. It wasn't meant to point out something about your position. It was meant to point out something about Loftus's position (and others who make the same argument).

A similar problem arises when theists give a particular theodicy that is meant to address some particular evil. For instance, in response to moral evil, a theist says, "Free will is important." The reply comes immediately: "BUT THIS DOESN'T EXPLAIN HEART DISEASE!!!" Right. But I never said it did.

What I mean is this. We have to examine an argument based on what it's supposed to do, not based on what it was never meant to do. I still don't see any problem with my objection to Loftus. Keep in mind, the objection followed a number of instances of me arguing that Loftus is presupposing his own value system in his argument (which means that he isn't really offering an internal critique). Thus we arrive at:

(1) John gives tons of examples of how horrible and selfish human beings are.
(2) I would say that, if God is just, he isn't obligated to protect horrible and selfish people from pain.
(3) John objects: "But if God is good, he would still give us a perfect world."
(4) This reflects his own values, not of mine or those of theism.
(5) Hence, John is yet again presupposing his own values in his argument.
(6) But this means that his argument only works if he's using it against someone who has the same values John Loftus has.
(7) This is one reason why theists aren't affected by John's argument.
(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).

If others don't see a problem here, then we're just going to have to disagree.

paul said...

David,
Forgive me for jumping in in the middle here.

You argue that "the more examples of man's horrendous acts you pile up in your argument against God, the more you support the idea that man is horribly sinful."

Isn't it the Christian doctrine that hell and eternal damnation exist for Adam and Eve and all of their kids. Isn't the belief that if no one had ever "sinned" again, their act of eating from the tree still condemned everyone to hell? Isn't it being born with a sin nature that condemns a person to hell not all "mans horrendous acts?" Doesn't the bible say Jesus said that thinking a sin is equal to the "act?" Atheists simply find this absurd.

John W. Loftus said...

Yeah, I switched to the new Blogger because they wouldn't let me access anything unless I did. Team members will have to Login to the google account, while things might be messed up for awhile (I hope the bugs work out).

David Wood said...

Paul,

We're not talking about hell. I know atheists find hell absurd, but I find it amazing that atheists can't defend the argument from evil without turning to hell.

Indeed, I'm learning very quickly that it's practically impossible to discuss the problem of evil with atheists. As soon as we start asking, "Is the suffering we see around us consistent with an all-powerful, wholly good being" atheists start talking about hell.

Let me be clear here (for the hundredth time). I'm addressing a philosophical argument called "the argument from evil." I'm not talking about "the problem of hell." Open any philosophical text on the problem of evil, and you will find practically nothing about hell. Why? Because it's a different issue. Philosophers understand that. Atheist bloggers don't.

So what I'm hearing is this: "David has pointed out an inconsistency in the atheist's argument from evil, but he hasn't answered the problem of hell!" Right. And I never tried to.

Please read my former comment, where I said that it's important to criticize an argument based on what it's meant to prove, not on what it's not supposed to prove.

Heather said...

**Isn't it being born with a sin nature that condemns a person to hell not all "mans horrendous acts?"**

I think this is the problem I have with this viewpoint, and the notion of 'free will' overall. If a child who is genetically designed to crave oranges, and yet oranges will send that child to an eternal hell. But if the child only has apples, that child will be "saved." However, the child's very nature makes the child go towards the oranges -- how can the child then be punished for following the nature? It's not an equal choice.

Same with evangelical Christianity -- I am told that God is my only Creator and that God loves me and wants me with Him. Yet I'm also told that I live in a fallen world, and was "conceived in sin" and "All are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God." If God is the only power in my creation, then God allowed me to be created as a sinful creature. Why, instead, couldn't God have created me to be a blank slate? Or inherently good? Why is God constrained by Adam and Eve's choice in creating humans?

I know the answer is that God didn't want robots -- but again, it's not an equal choice. We are designed to be inherently tempted by sin, and commit sinful acts.

And in saying that God should give us a perfect world, or create a world with less evil -- I don't see that as saying God should give horribly sinful people a world full of pleasure. Rather, this world should contain people who aren't as tempted by sin. In pointing out the horrible acts committed by humans, you can ask why God allowed humans to be created in such a way, and thus it contradicts the notion of an all-loving/all-powerful God.

Inquisitor said...

David,

I believe that the mistake you're making lies in the fact that you treat humanity as a single entity. It is not. It is a collection made up of individuals. If my neighbor is evil and deserving of punishment, that doesn't mean that I am.

To me, the best example is a baby. An infant does not have the capacity to be evil. And yet, god supposedly stands idly by while small children die by the thousands every day. If any human did this while having the power to stop it, we would most likely all label him as evil. And yet, when your god does this, you still see him as perfectly good.

You are left with three options:
1) your god is not able to stop the suffering of innocents (i.e. he is not omniopotent)
2) your god can stop the suffering of innocents but chooses not to (i.e. he is evil)
3) your god does not exist

Sandalstraps said...

David,

Two points, and I hope that you understand that I offer these with all charity, and not to be belligerant, or to argue with you:

1.) I'm not sure there is a necessary contradiction when someone argues that both human induced suffering and natural suffering present problems for the traditional theistic concept of God. And that is what I understand Loftus and others to be doing.

While you see their argument as being one of saying both:

a.) human beings are unjust, and even evil, commiting all sorts of atrocities, and

b.) but still, God shouldn't punish them for this,

I'm not sure that is the best, or most charitable way to read their argument.

The notion that natural evil, or natural suffering, is some sort of punishment from sin derrives from a theodicy - as I suspect you know - first advanced by Augustine of Hippo. That theodicy argued that natural evil, such as hurricanes and the like, was a result of the natural order being subverted by the Fall, and does not present a real problem for God. Implied in that argument is that somehow natural evil is deserved by the wretchedness of humanity.

But I don't think that most atheists see the problem posed by natural evil in this way. Rather than seeing it as somehow related to and deserved from human behavior - though I'm sure some would be more than willing to argue that some forms of natural evil do result from human behavior, with global warming as an example - they see it as a supplement to their point concerning human evil. That is, that both speak against the traditional theistic concept of God, and that they speak seperately to it.

That is, they might argue, if God were omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, then it would be reasonable to expect that God would order the universe such that neither human nor natural evil would exist. That both exist speaks powerfully against the traditional theistic concept of God, though, incidentally, either by itself would still be a compelling reason to assume either

a.) there is no God, or, at least

b.) if there is a God, then that God is not best described as being omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent.

To claim that they are trying to have it both ways, you must first argue for a relationship between human evil and natural evil, as Augustine does. And, while you may assume that relationship, I don't know of a single atheist that does. As such, your representation of their argument is not recognizable to them or to me as their argument, and as such it fails to be a charitable construct.

2.) Your case would be made more compelling if, instead of attacking apparent contradictions in uncharitable constructions of atheistic arguments, you instead embraced the best possible constructions of the problem of evil, and then attempted to reconcile your views of God to that problem. In other words, even assuming that you're right about what Loftus et al are doing, and even if you have caught him and them in a silly contradiction, what now?

Where does that leave theism in the face of the problem of evil? How do you resolve the problem, no matter who it is that is pressing you or how it is that they are pressing? Because, philosophically speaking, the problem remains, even if your oppoent in a particular debate doesn't press it very well.

As a PhD student you ought to be dealing with the very best arguments, wrestling against them with all your might, not getting caught up in silly language games.

I don't say this to antagonize you, though I recognize the very real danger of my comments coming across like that. Rather, I say that to try to motivate you to do something worth doing with you time and ability. The problem of evil is not a contest pitting Christians against atheists. Rather it is a very real problem with theism, that demands the attention of our best theological minds.

Do better.

paul said...

David,
Okeedokee, sorry I made you repeat something "for the hundreth time." I'll try to break down what I'm saying and I'll leave the "h" word out.

In a biblical context, evil entered the human race because two people decided to eat from a forbidden tree. All generations after that were born evil as a result of their relatives act. The act that Adam and Eve committed was to "eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." I find the notion absurd that people became evil by eating fruit from a "tree of knowledge of good and evil." Fast forward. The bible says that Jesus taught that if you think the sin (okay, I guess I'm equating "sin" with "evil." It is isn't it?) it's as though you've done it. That takes evil out of the action category and seems to make us all evil in Jesus eyes.

There seems to be a shift between the Tenach and Christian idea of evil. The law of Moses has different treatment for different acts of evil. This suggests to me that in the Tenach there were degrees of sin. "Jesus," however, seems to suggest that sin is sin and if you break one command you've broken them all.

eas239 said...

sandalstraps said: A God who can prevent suffering but would rather explain it away is much less worthy of worship than a God who can't prevent suffering, but is working with us to alleviate it.

How is this a god who is worthy of worship at all? What you end up with is a god who is completely inactive...except through humans. Okay, now you can just let god vanish in a puff of logic.

I think, from reading here and on your own blog, that you are a humanist who is not quite willing to give up your theology. :) BTDT

I would be interested to hear your take on this.

Sandalstraps said...

eas239,

That's not what I'm saying at all. There are a great many more options than just these two:

1. God is omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, or

2. God is inactive, save through human action.

Yes, a part of my theology is that human beings are part of the activity of God, but our actions are not the entirity of God's activity.

And, yes, I am a humanist, and a Christian. And, in that I have great company. Christian humanism is nothing new.

eas239 said...

ss - Where do you see god's action in alleviating suffering and evil, then? I am truly curious as I do not see it.
If you say god answers prayers, I have to say studies show that is not true. What other options do we have here?

Sandalstraps said...

eas239,

In my view, God's activity is not entirely seperable from any other activity. That is to say, there is not a moment at which God is acting exclusively and all other beings are failing to act.

God acts in and through all things. To see what I mean by this, please do check out the above link to the piece titled Teilhard's Limitation on Omnipotence. His account for how we observe the activity of God is very similar to my own.

See especially Teilhard's rejection of a model of God that holds that God is a "dominant causality among [italics his] the other causalities," and as "a force interpolated into the series of experiential forces."

As Teilhard puts it, "sometimes by excess of extension [italics his], sometimes by excess of depth [italics his], the point at which the divine force is applied is essentially extra-phenomenal."

You will find here no compelling reason to believe in God, as both Teilhard and I claim that one cannot empirically observe the activity of God. Because of this claim, I can't parse out for you what you want to know concerning God's action in alleviating suffering.

What Teilhard and I are both doing is working within a theological tradition that assumes, on the strength of other arguments - especially from religious experience - that there is a God. Granting that, when then try to reconcile our experience of that God - from within a religious tradition - to certain facts, including the impossibility of empirically observing the existence or activity of God, and the existence of suffering in the world.

If you don't find the enduring nature of religious experience and tradition compelling, and if you don't find your own experience - whatever it may be - of religion meaningful, then I can't help you see the activity of a God than none of us have ever empirically observed. That, however, does not pose any problem for me, or for my own experience of God. It just fails to be, in and of itself, a compelling reason for you to believe in God.

What is it, exactly, that you are looking for from me? That is what I often wonder when I wander into discussions here. Are you looking for me to try to convert you? Are you looking for me to build some sort of contrived argument for the probability of the existence of a God who happens to entirely correspond with my own beliefs? Or, are you just trying to understand my perspective?

If the former, you will be disappointed. If the latter, then I will happily give you a guided tour through my writings, though such an effort will probably take more time, effort, and energy than you are likely to have for this subject.

For our purposes in this narrow topic, suffice it to say that I cannot parse out for you when God is working, because I do not see God as an individualized expression of being that can be observed, nor do I see God as one form of activity independent from other forms of activity. That answer is sure to fail to satisfy you, as I am not sure what it is that you are looking for by way of an answer from me.

Again, if you are really interested in understanding my theology, read my writing, and by all means, ask questions of it.

pat said...

I haven't read the conversation that has resulted from this posting b/c I'd like to try and answer John's question's as purely as possible. I will make an honest effort to address the questions/comments.

John said, "1) I don't see any reason for God to create anything...anything at all."

Being creative is awesome and interesting... I can see why He created humans, angelic beings, and the universe. It's all fascinating... don't you think?

" 2) I don't see any reason for God to have given us free will (or so much free will) if he knew we would abuse it so badly."

Freewill isn't always abused, there are unlimited examples of beauty that happens every day as a result of freewill being used in wonderful ways.

"3) I don't see any reason why God should punish us so severely when we disobey (with disasters and hell itself)."

With freewill being our gift, we can choose to serve Him or Satan. If we choose Him, then we are promised life with Him in His Kingdom. If we choose Satan, then we are promised eternity in Satan's kingdom/hell. It's not YHWH doing the eternal punishing in hell... it is Satan doing it. It all just depends on who we choose to serve.

"4) I don't see any reason why God would build heaven upon the backs of billions of screaming people in hell, if he's omnibenelovent."

He is also just and tells/warns us of the consequences of our choices... we have the choice/freewill to choose Him or Satan.

"Christians will counter-argue that God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. But does this justify how he treats sinners both here and in the life everafter?"

The treatment that sinner's recieve is the fault of the sinner, not YHWH's.

"I do not believe parents have to spank their children (much at all) to teach them."

Some children respond better with spanking. I know parents who exhaust all methods before resorting to spanking and have found spanking to be more effective with one child while verbal warning may be all that child's sibling may need to be obedient.

"I don't believe we have to hit or spank our dogs to train them."

Spanking them for chasing cars could save them from getting run over.

"But the Christian God breaks our arms, plucks out our eyes, and burns our skin. Why?"

He doesn't do that to you... Satan does.

John W. Loftus said...

Pat, thank you for your honest attempts to answer my questions. Since you say you haven't read much of this discussion I have written about these types of questions here, and here. Read those and then you can see what I think of your solutions.

Again, thanks for the attemps.

Anonymous said...

We humans brought death, suffering, destruction, and all evil into this world. God could have made us without freewill, but we would have merely been drones. Genesis 1:26 says "Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." God made earth for us, for human beings. He loved us us so much that he created the universe just for us.

Adam and Eve decided to disobey God. That caused a major rift between God and Man. God's perfect world had been destroyed by one decision. Today, we still have to deal with the consequences of sin. We inherited sin from our parents, all the way down the line to Adam and Eve.

God doesn't want to punish us so severely. Ideally, he wants everybody to believe and be saved, but humans can still reject him, and many do. Isn't belief by choice better than belief by force?

The bible tells us that bad things are going to happen. Wouldn't it make sense to accept God and be freed from your bondage to sin? All humankind will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ is all that is needed to put your name into the book of life.

Anonymous said...

God is:

1) Omnipresent. "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there" Psalm 139:7-8

2) Omnipotent. "For nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). Does this mean that God can do anything? No. God cannot do something that violates His nature, or that results in a logical contradiction. For example, God cannot lie; nor can God force one of His creatures to love Him since, by definition, love is something that cannot be forced.

3) Omniscient. "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" Hebrews 4:13

John W. Loftus said...

God is:

1) Omnipresent.

Is he also present in hell?

2) Omnipotent.

Can he send manna from heaven to feed the starving people? Could he have made the Titanic to float like he made an axe head float?

3) Omniscient.

Could God have forseen the carnage of American slavery in the South and condemned slavery by saying "Thou shalt not own, buy, sell, or trade slaves? If I can think of things God could've done differently, and I am not omniscient, then why couldn't God? I at least know enough that had I created the world I would've created all human beings as vegetarians (no law of predation), and I would've created us with just one color of skin (hence no racial conflict and no race based slavery). Now if I can think of these things easily, why didn't an omniscient God?

4) Omnibenelovent. God is perfectly good.

If so, then why does he do things we think are immoral, and which Christians believe are wrong? A good parent would not grant her children to drive a car before they can handle driving a car, and a good parent would not give razor blades to her children before they can handle that responsibility. If a parent did that, she would be guilty of causing harm to her children. Christian ethics agrees with this, based upon what they believe God himself would want parents to do. But then God turns right around and grants human beings more freedom than they can handle and as a result their is killing, murder, rape, kindapping, and robberies. The giver of a gift is responsibile for how the receiver of the gift uses that gift, especially if the giver knows the receiver will abuse said gift, and in this case it's free will.

mrieder said...

John Loftus Wrote:

Would I still reject God if I received a scratch on my toe? Hardly. The force of the argument from evil is in its massiveness and intensity. Take those two things out of the problem of evil and you take the force out of the argument. It's a continuum. The more intense we suffer the more intense the problem. Would there still be a problem if I received a scratch? Maybe. But it would only be a scratch of a problem, hardly anything that would be seen as a problem at all.

This may be true, but perhaps not. Perhaps if the extent of pain and suffering we could possibly experience was a scratch, then a scratch would be the worst thing imaginable and inflict great emotional and physical distress and suffering. Pain is modified by emotional and experiential factors to some extent. Perhaps a drastic modification such as removing all noxious stimuli worse than a scratch would drastically change our perception of suffering. On a side note, I wonder how anyone could die in such a benign environment. We would overwhelm ourselves in just a few generations! Thank God for pain! (that was supposed to be funny and ironic)

The point is, I think that any suffering requires an explanation. If you expect a good God to prevent a lot of suffering, then why should he also not prevent a little suffering. If it is indeed in his power to stop all suffering, then a little suffering is just as unacceptable as a lot, in my mind.

Cheers,

Matt R.

eas239 said...

Sandalstraps,

I'm not looking for anyone to convert anyone else, although I do think we should all be willing to analyze our beliefs. I'm looking for intelligent discourse on theology, which you seem willing to engage in. Although I gradually went from deist to atheist as I studied religion, I am still open minded. By which I mean, I am willing to consider any evidence against my position. Like many former theists here, I gave up my belief in god very reluctantly. A small part of me still wishes that there were evidence for an afterlife, at the very least.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Although, as you said, you have nothing concrete in terms of evidence, I can see that you are sincere in your beliefs.

You can count on me to question you again. :)

Eric said...

The nature of God as described in especially the OT is megalomanaical. He wanted someone to worship him, so he made us. It's really ironic, the way it's set up: Either love him and still be "fallen" and end up in Purgatory, or hate him and suffer for eternity. Talk about totalitarianism: Stalin, Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, and Ayatollah Khomeini gave their people a choice: Respect/follow them and still be suspect of individual thought, or simply be killed/tortured. Did Lolita have a choice when she was victim to Humber Humbert? Or Mr Parsons of 1984 to Big Brother: though he swallowed everything hook-line-and-sinker, they still got him. To me, this is God: Nothing more than a vain megalomaniac, with a different, Orwellian definition of "good" attributed to him, which devoids him of any "parental" obligations towards his "children," who still do not recognize the similarities their God shares with the megalomaniacs I've described above, specifically because the vast difference in definition between "god good" and "human good." The standards, as I have posted a while ago, are completely different, and humans trying to mirror "god good" cause extremely destructive moral and political anomalies. Simply apply human standards to God and see that he is really no good at all.

Human shortcomings to each other do not alleviate God's "benevolent" clause. Why must I live under Bush or never have a girlfriend, or why should people have to fight wars they dont believe in, or why should young people get cancer or AIDS and die? Did they "deserve" it? Why were people in Europe tyrannized in 1920s-1950s? Did they deserve it? Admittedly, some did. The manipulated are just as responsible as the manipulators, but the rest of the population didnt.

mrieder said...

This is a response to Eric's post above:

Eric,

Do you speak solely against Moses' perception of God, the fundamentalist Christian God, or any God?

Regarding the Old Testament, if one reads it as an allegory to learn the dangers of attributing human actions to God, or justifying one's actions based on God, it reads quite well. It also works very well as a prologue to Jesus. It gives a glimpse of the culture Jesus lived in. It shows firsthand the things they believed about God and the things they attributed to him. It is a good key for understanding what Jesus says.

Some people look at what Jesus taught and then look at the Old Testament and see discrepancies and therefore criticize the Bible, but I think that Jesus' critique of some of the Levitical law shows much about Moses and Jesus.

Cheers,

Matt R.

paul said...

The question of evil, in the Bible anyway, seems untenable to me.

Evil enters humanity because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit that somehow contained "the knowledge of good and evil." God had purportedly told Adam and Eve, don't eat from this tree or you will surely die. Up to this point, it seems, Adam and Eve had no "knowledge" of what good and evil are. So, not having said knowledge, how could they have known it was evil to eat from the tree? How would they know it was evil to disobey God and what the heck is "die." Up to this point, the items of sin, evil, good, death, were not part of their paradigm.

I think the argument can be made, from the bible, that it wasn't the eating of the fruit that constituted "sin" and thus the entry of evil into humanity, but disobeying God. I think that argument finds support in the new testament when it's stated the purpose of the law is not to give humanity a code they can live by, but to demonstrate that humanity cannot keep the code, i.e., is evil.

It seems to me that, biblically speaking, evil is not the violation of some code or standard, but disobeying "God." For instance, if it was God who commanded the Jewish people to wipe out the Amorites, it was not sin or evil to violate the commandment, "thou shalt not kill." Rather, the evil would have been to disobey "God's" directive to wipe the Amorites out. If the standard "thou shalt not kill" is an inviolable standard, then God is evil. If it is "God's will" at any given time that determines what is good or evil, then the person who wishes to follow this "God" is in the position of having to get that direction straight from "God" at any given moment versus following a standard.

It seems to me,from a biblical standpoint, the question of evil is one of knowing and following God at any given moment, not a standard that all can look to and agree upon.

Kevin said...

Inquisitor said above
"You are left with three options:
1) your god is not able to stop the suffering of innocents (i.e. he is not omniopotent)
2) your god can stop the suffering of innocents but chooses not to (i.e. he is evil)
3) your god does not exist"

The answer is none of the above. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" Romans 3:23. Suffering is a consequence of our own sin. We must bear the consequenses of our sin. However, God, in his wisdom and omniscience, uses suffering to strengthen is people. We see a perfect example of his in Job. God used Job's suffering to make his faith run deeper. God gives people the opportunity to learn, to grow through suffering. Job's lesson was that God is in blessings and in suffering. "He (God) delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity" (Job 36:15). People can always come out of suffering with more faith, trust, and knowledge. God even gives the godless a chance to trust in him, but "The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them" (Job 36:13).

Jeremiah 29 11-14 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity."

Kevin said...

John,

1) Omnipresent

God is present in every part of his creation--hell included--yet God acts according to circumstances of each particular place. God is everywhere, but he is not always present with his love and forgiveness. The separation from God in hell is a separation from his loving presence.

2) Omnipotent
The answer is yes to both. He has proven that he can send mana from the heavens in Exodus. Exodus 16:4 says "Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction." Verses 12-15 continue "I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'" So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat."

As far as the titanic goes, Matthew 24:44 reads “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Moral of the story: Don’t be caught with your pants down.

3) Omniscient
Of course God forsaw the evil of American slavery. This goes along with my previous post about suffering. God commanded us like this: “Love your neighbor as yourself” Matthew 22:39. Obviously, some of the slavers broke this law, but even through great evil, he has made good come out of it.
Before the fall, there was no death. Genesis 1:29-30 says “Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so.”

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" Hebrews 4:13

Matthew 22:35-40
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[a] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

4) Not Omnibenevolent
Don’t get me wrong, God is benevolent. God is benevolent in that he does not desire the death of sinners but that they turn from their ways and live. Benevolence is a statement about God's mercy being greater than His wrath. But we can't try to limit God's knowing when to be benevolent or wrathful (in His omniscience, He knows when each is fair or just). To put an omni in front of benevolent tries to "trap" God into always being "nice" and never being able to show righteous anger.

Now, in direct response to your statements. The key words here are "we think" and "Christians believe." Where are we (sinful humans) given the right to deem God's actions as right and wrong? We get our morality from God. God gave us the law, not the other way around. He created everything. He has the right to give and take away.

It is impossible for us to fully understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Only God truly knows how that two work together. Scripture is clear that God knows the future (Matthew 6:8; Psalm 139:1-4) and is sovereignty in control of all things (Colossians 1:16-17; Daniel 4:35). The Bible also says that we have a free will. God does not force us or cause us to do anything (James 1:13-14). We are completely responsible for our own actions (Romans 3:19; 6:23; 9:19-21). How these facts work together is impossible for a finite mind to comprehend.

Shygetz said...

But even if you state that God is benevolent except for when he must be just, it does not explain the suffering of the innocent. Why does God punish the innocent (e.g. newborns) with terrible punishments and death? The baby has not exercised free will, nor has he performed some great evil.

And it is not a sufficient defense to state that many times the suffering of the innocent is due to the evil of man. If an omniscient, onmipotent God allows unjust suffering in even one case, he is not benevolent. If I kick a puppy, I cannot justify my actions by pointing to all the puppies I didn't kick, nor by pointing to the puppies that others have kicked.