Cognitive Dissonance and the Problem of Evil

This article is a summary of a portion of an interview with Social Psychologist Carol Tavris on Point of Inquiry, the Podcast of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry. She and Social Psychologist Elliot Aronson are the authors of a book on Cognitive Dissonance called Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs and how it affects us in everyday life. It covers the manifestation of Cognitive Dissonance in prosecuting attorneys, law enforcement officials, politicians, smokers etc. In the interview she was asked if Cognitive Dissonance is manifested in religious belief and this article summarizes her response.

In the beginning of the interview she talks about characteristics of Cognitive Dissonance and how it manifests itself in Attorneys that have discovered they have wrongly prosecuted someone, law enforcement officials that are trained to believe the person being questioned is just as good as guilty thereby justifying whatever means necessary to elicit a confession, and politicians that support policy that is shown over time to be wrong but will not change their position. She uses the resulting situation of the Iraq War and the position of the Bush Administration as an example of a manifestation of Cognitive Dissonance.

Q: There are religious people that don't demand proof for their beliefs, is this a way of relieving their cognitive dissonance?

A: The more important a particular belief is to us the more strongly we will ignore or reject evidence suggesting we are wrong. Religion is central to what gives many people meaning and purpose in life. This type of belief will be defended at all costs. Examples of dis-confirming evidence creating Cognitive Dissonance are Evolution, the Holocaust and disasters.
Most religious people are not threatened by evolution. They find a way to fit it into their beliefs, but some cannot fit it into their beliefs and they will go to great lengths to try to refute the dis-confirming evidence.
How do Jews deal with the Holocaust? The Jews believe they are the chosen people, and god is looking after them. How could a good loving god have permitted genocide? Students of Cognitive Dissonance Theory would predict that people would become more religious and their faith would be strengthened. What most people do is not lose their faith in God but reduce the dissonance by saying God is responsible for the Good in the world, human beings are responsible for the Evil or God is testing faith. The Christian response to the question of how Jesus could permit enormous suffering to happen is to believe that it is to test faith. Anything that is not consonant with a belief in God is reinterpreted to make it consonant. For example after a terrible disaster the survivors will say something like "god was looking after me" but discounting the fact that God was not looking out for other people that died.

Another interesting interview related to cognitive dissonance is from the radio show "All in the Mind". They interviewed Phillip Zambardo, the lead researcher involved with the Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment had to be canceled because it got out of control. The participants started self-justifying doing terrible things to each other and it had to be stopped. He was the expert witness for the defendants in the Abu Ghraib trial, explaining how situational factors can make good people do bad things using cognitive dissonance to self-justify their actions. He talks about it in his book The Lucifer Effect.

It made me think about slavery, the crusades, Old Testament atrocities and Craigs defense of killing pregnant mothers with a sword. (thanks Steven Carr!)

REFERENCES
Point of Inquiry podcast with Carol Tavris interview.

Science Friday podcast interview with Elliot Aronson

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs

Wikipedia on Cognitive Dissonance

All in the Mind

Stanford Prison Experiment

The Lucifer Effect


32 comments:

Allen said...

That article by Craig defending genocide was a hoot. I wonder if he hurts himself whne he ties himself in fantastic knots like that!

King Aardvark said...

allen, I can't agree more about the Craig article. Hell, most of it was diverting away from the simple question to talk about how, no matter what, the whole topic can do no worse than undermine biblical inerrancy, not Christianity as a whole. He also seems to define good as "whatever God says," which is always nice to hear.

David B. Ellis said...

I'm glad you brought up the topic of cognitive dissonance.

We skeptics tend to pay most of our attention to philosophical arguments and empirical evidence.

However, human beings are only marginally rational creatures and we would do well to spend a bit more time discussing the psychology of religion as well.

Jospeh said...

King aardvark said, "He also seems to define good as 'whatever God says,' which is always nice to hear." I'm wondering whether it is ever OK to question "whatever God says," especially if this God commands things which seem to violate common sense or innate morality. Many Christians have trouble accepting that a God of love would destroy the entire world with a flood or order the slaughter of thousands of women and children. Yet they force themselves to accept contradictory notions about God, simply because the Bible said it was so.

But let's take a step back: how do you KNOW that God really said it to Moses or Paul? How do you know that God didn't also speak to the pope, Mohammed, or myriads of others who claim to hear the voice of God? There seems to be a big assumption that whatever is spoken in the pages of the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures is God's literal, inerrant word and the EXCLUSIVE place where God speaks. Why should I believe that?

If everything credited to God in the 66 books of the Bible is to be accepted without question, then cognitive dissonance is inevitable because the view of God is not consistent from Genesis to Revelation.

JR335 said...

I find it interesting that every now and again there's a topic that seems to get very few or no comments from theists. You've done it again!

Peter Bruin said...

Of course I do my best to defend the beliefs that give meaning to my life. And of course, since my beliefs have more content than those of an atheist, I have to work harder to integrate them with everyday experience. You may call it cognitive dissonance if you want, but to me that sounds like you think you don't really have to take believers seriously since they are "just trying to rationalize".

I believe that God can use hardship as a way to bring us closer to him. Judging from my own experience, I suspect the psychological processes that go with this resemble what you call cognitive dissonance, but there is more rationality involved (on the side of the believer) than the simplistic picture sketched in the interview.

How could a good loving god have permitted genocide? Students of Cognitive Dissonance Theory would predict that people would become more religious and their faith would be strengthened. What most people do is not lose their faith in God but reduce the dissonance by saying God is responsible for the Good in the world, human beings are responsible for the Evil or God is testing faith.

So perhaps God has given more freedom to the world than we would have liked; perhaps the possibility that things go horribly wrong is a price worth paying. I can hear you thinking: "cognitive dissonance in action!" But you cannot quite sit back and relax: using this nice explanation for why I try to justify my purportedly wrong and foolish belief does nothing to show that my belief is in fact wrong and foolish.

Put differently, the fact that I have to work hard to reconcile my Christian faith with the suffering in the world does not imply that my answer must be wrong. Difficult questions tend not to have easy answers.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Peter,
I hear you. something to consider is that cognitive dissonance spans categories of people, not just christians. It is a widespread psychological phenomena.

if it looks like a duck and quacks like it duck, in some cases it is a duck.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi all,
I am going to be offline for a little while and will close off my participation in this article today.

Thanks for your participation and I'll see you on other topics!

Michael Ejercito said...

How do Jews deal with the Holocaust? The Jews believe they are the chosen people, and god is looking after them. How could a good loving god have permitted genocide?
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006...

JEFF JACOBY
The silence of God

By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist | June 4, 2006

It is the inevitable question in Auschwitz, that vast factory of death
where the Nazis tortured, starved, shot, and gassed to death as many
as a million and a half innocent human beings, most of them Jews. ``In
a place like this, words fail," Benedict said. ``In the end, there can
be only a dread silence, a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to
God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent?"

News reports emphasized the pope's question. Every story noted that
the man who voiced it was, as he put it, ``a son of the German
people." No one missed the intense historical significance of a German
pope, on a pilgrimage to Poland, beseeching God for answers at the
slaughterhouse where just 60 years ago Germans broke every record for
shedding Jewish blood.

And yet some commentators accused Benedict of skirting the issue of
anti-Semitism. The national director of the Anti-Defamation League
said that the pope had ``uttered not one word about anti-Semitism; not
one explicit acknowledgment of Jewish lives vanquished simply because
they were Jews." The National Catholic Register likewise reported that
he ``did not make any reference to modern anti-Semitism."

In fact, the pope not only acknowledged the reality of Jew-hatred, he
explained the pathology that underlies it. Anti- Semites are driven by
hostility not just toward Jews, he said, but toward the message of God-
based ethics they first brought to the world.

``Deep down, those vicious criminals" -- he was speaking of Hitler and
his followers -- ``by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God
who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to
serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If
this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke
to humanity and took us to himself, then that God finally had to die
and power had to belong to man alone -- to those men, who thought that
by force they had made themselves masters of the world."

The Nazis' ultimate goal, Benedict argued, was to rip out Christian
morality by its Jewish roots, replacing it with ``a faith of their own
invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful." Hitler
knew that his will to power could triumph only if he first destroyed
Judeo-Christian values. In the Thousand-Year Reich, God and his moral
code would be wiped out. Man, unencumbered by conscience, would reign
in his place. It is the oldest of temptations, and Auschwitz is what
it leads to.

``Where was God in those days?" asked the pope. How could a just and
loving Creator have allowed trainload after trainload of human beings
to be murdered at Auschwitz? But why ask such a question only in
Auschwitz? Where, after all, was God in the Gulag? Where was God when
the Khmer Rouge slaughtered 1.7 million Cambodians? Where was God
during the Armenian holocaust? Where was God in Rwanda? Where is God
in Darfur?

For that matter, where is God when even one innocent victim is being
murdered or raped or abused?

The answer, though the pope didn't say so clearly, is that a world in
which God always intervened to prevent cruelty and violence would be a
world without freedom -- and life without freedom would be
meaningless. God endows human beings with the power to choose between
good and evil. Some choose to help their neighbor; others choose to
hurt him. There were those in Nazi Europe who herded Jews into gas
chambers. And there were those who risked their lives to hide Jews
from the Gestapo.

The God ``who spoke on Sinai" was not addressing himself to angels or
robots who could do no wrong even if they wanted to. He was speaking
to real people with real choices to make, and real consequences that
flow from those choices. Auschwitz wasn't God's fault. He didn't build
the place. And only by changing those who did build it from free moral
agents into puppets could he have stopped them from committing their
horrific crimes.


It was not God who failed during the Holocaust or in the Gulag, or on
9/11, or in Bosnia. It is not God who fails when human beings do
barbaric things to other human beings. Auschwitz is not what happens
when the God who says ``Thou shalt not murder" and ``Thou shalt love
thy neighbor as thyself" is silent. It is what happens when men and
women refuse to listen.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is jac...@globe.com.

Jospeh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jospeh said...

Yawn! This is the same tired argument we've heard over and over again, i.e. evil must be completely and fully allowed because God wouldn't want to violate this oh so sacred thing called human freedom.

So let the butchers continue hacking their victims! On with human freedom of the dictators, sadists, and murderers! But f*** the human freedom of the victims who would have gladly CHOSEN to get the hell out of Auschwitz, the Gulag, the World Trade Center, the Sudan, and the rapist's clutches. When will my fellow Christians wake up to see that the free will argument is weak, weak, weak!

If you believe the Bible, explain to me why God intervened AT ALL in human history? He is said to have drowned an evil generation, hardened hearts, and sent plagues upon the disobedient. Hell, he even stopped the knife that Abraham was about to plunge into Isaac. Was that not a violation of Abraham's free will?

So, if the Bible is to be believed:

1. God hates evil.
2. God had no problem intervening to stop evil in the past, even when a person's free will was at stake. 3. Therefore, God should have no problem intervening to stop evil today, even though it means that someone's free will (to do evil) will be usurped.

That's an argument based upon what we clearly read in the Bible. So here's my question: If God exists and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why isn't God intervening to stop evil today--right now, in the world we live? Why was it only in "the Bible times"? What's so different about today? Shouldn't a good God be concerned about the greater good?

One more thought for you. Jesus promised, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father" (John 14:12). So, at the very least, God should be endowing Christians with the supernatural power to combat evil (both moral and physical). But he's not...

David B. Ellis said...

In addition to the fact which Jospeh points out above, another of the many problems with the free will defense is the simple fact that free will and freedom of action are not the same thing---to interfere with someones freedom of action is not the same as altering their will (a police officer who prevents a man from carrying out a rape has not in any way altered his will to rape).

richdurrant said...

"That's an argument based upon what we clearly read in the Bible. So here's my question: If God exists and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why isn't God intervening to stop evil today--right now, in the world we live? Why was it only in "the Bible times"? What's so different about today? Shouldn't a good God be concerned about the greater good?"

So in the bible there was never an evil act committed because God always intervened? I know your really not trying to say this of coarse but that is where a statement such as that leads me. In the end, to me, you are saying that if the Christian God exists then all evil should be abolished because he should control all of us to the point that our very will to do bad things vanishes. Are you completely sure God doesn't intervene today?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

MichaelE:
The article you quote, at least the first part, involving Pope Benedict's statement -- I'll get to the second in a bit -- simply displays the author's ignorance of history, or the Pope's willful blindness.

Hitler's anti-Semitism did not spring from nowhere. It was part of a series of anti-Semitic actions and writings that poisoned the first part of the century -- and had been preceded by other historical events that we need not go into now, such as the Spanish expulsion of the Jews and the Russian pogroms.

But before we look at these actions, one important distinction has to be made because it totally vitiates this point. Hitlerian anti-semitism was racial not religious. The beliefs of a "Jew" -- by Hitler's definition -- did not matter. He could have converted to Christianity, or have been totally secular, or have been an atheist, but if one grandparent was Jewish, off to the ovens.
(I would agree that Hitler was attacking a set of values and a morality -- however, I would argue that these were the products of the Enlightenment, not of religion. Hitler attacked rationalism, arguing that 'will' was more important than 'reason.' Hitler argued that he was a 'representative of the collective mind of the German people,' an argument depending on 'faith' as much as any religious position.)

And the argument of the Pope is weakened by the history of the Dreyfus Affair, in which it was Catholics and Catholic Priests that were leading the anti-Semitism that was so strong in France, that continued up until WWII and made French Society less anti-Hitler than it should have been.

As for the rest of the article, I would argue -- without diminishing the horror of the other evils the author mentions, that someone who looks closely at the Holocaust would see that it was, in fact, unique. It was not 'mere killing' but dehumanization as well -- which was not true in the Gulag or in Armenia. It brought out the worst in the guards, in the Mengeles, in the Himmlers, because Jews were 'objects' that anything could be done to -- and this was not an exception, but a policy.

The argument the writer makes is precisely the attitude of 'if its good, credit God, if it's bad, blame humanity' that we have ben questioning over many articles.

This argument puts god in the position of a very bad parent or teacher who argues they have no responsibility for their charges' action, 'because I told them what they shouldn't do, and that's all I needed to do.' It also makes inexcusable the deliberate avoidance of clarity in God's message, the dependence on 'faith.' At the least, if that was all God was going to do, he should have done a better job of conveying his message, given more demonstration that he really was who he claimed to be, and avoided the contradictions and absurdities that fill the Testaments.

But finally, if a Christian argues this way, he can not at the same time argue for 'Biblical inerrancy,' or he makes God monstrous. If God had not intervened -- except by teaching and sending messages and messengers -- in human affairs, then a small case can be made for this position. But if God smote Onan, killed Ananias, destroyed Sodom, interfered in the course of the Sun to help the Israelites win battles, etc, then how DARE he not intervene in evils this great?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

No, rich, what Jospeh (and I) argue is that, if God intervened in human affairs at all, then he should have intervened in this case -- and the other great evils mentioned. Not in every case, no. But in the greatest, yes.

You put God in the position of a policeman who sees a pickpocket and a murderer, arrests the pickpocket, and ignores the murderer. You put him in the position of the parent who severely punishes a child for stealing candy, and looks the other way when he burns his baby sister with cigarettes.

If you chose to abandon the myths of Sodom, of Jericho, of the flood, of Ananias, of Onan, fine. Then you might argue as you do. But if God intervened anywhere, there is no excuse for him not -- publicly -- intervening in these horrors.

richdurrant said...

While I do understand what is being argued, Jim, thank you for making your comments.
i have to disagree though that because God intervenes in one case, makes it imperative that he intervene in similar and worse cases in the future. In your eyes he should, and I understand that. I am looking now at the track that hurricane Dean is on and I have friends in both the Cayman Islands and Louisiana and I would hope that God would steer this hurricane into a place where it will hurt no one, even the thousands of people I don't know, and fizzle it out. That presumes though that because God is good he should never allow bad things to happen to anyone. And because he should love everyone, he should shelter us from bad, death, destruction, and the like.
I think, Jim, that it also becomes a point where we can't draw a line. If we say its allowable to murder one but not many, or no mass life loss with natural disasters, but a mine cave with 3 or 4 lives lost is acceptable. Doesn't that now become the worst we can see? We now want those changed, and it continues until we live in a blissful state where nothing bad is ever allowed to happen. I realize and understand that you are not asking for bliss, I really do, but ultimately we end up at that point don't we? When can we say we have an acceptable level of suffering. Wouldn't those that experienced these things wonder why that is acceptable?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

rich: Two preliminary points. First, I have tried to be careful in distinguishing between 'evil' (implying direct human action) and 'suffering' (which I'm using here to imply such things as natural disasters and disease which are not directly caused by human action -- though of course they can be exacerbated by human actions, inactions and other factors). I'm talking here about 'evil' as I defined it.

Furthermore, my argument is meant for those who take a 'biblical literalist' position, which I believe you do not. I am unaware if you hold that God ever does directly intervene in human affairs other than by sending 'messengers' to teach humanity. If you do, then I'd have to ask why he does not -- not in all cases but in some exemplary cases -- continue to do so.

Let's take the case of serial killers -- because I can even imagine an argument against intervening in the Holocaust, but I can not in this case. Imagine if someone had killed, say, 20 people and so far gotten away with it, and at that point God decided to 'smite' him, in a way that was clearly supernatural, at the same time providing the evidence -- or 'inspiring' a policeman to find it -- proving the person was guilty. Imagine if, in some way at the same time there was a message saying "I said 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' and I MEANT IT!"

This would not only be a powerful proof of his existence, but it would also go far to affect other similar killers.

But that sort of thing does not happen. Not in every case, not in any case. (And why do those who argue that God sends hurricanes to punish immorality never mean this sort of immorality?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

As for the literalists out there, I continue to ask the same question. If God smote Onan, Ananias, and the people of Sodom, why does he not act against serial killers?

But I also want to point out that in each of these cases, God's action was directed against a violation of a law later abandoned.

Onan was punished, not for masturbation or even coitus interruptus but for violating the custom of Levirate marriage. Yet Deuteronomy later allows such violation, and today, Levirate marriage is forbidden in both Judaism and Chjristianity.

Ananias was punished not for lying, but for refusing to accede to the (non-Marxist, of course) communism of the early Church, and retaining part of his property as private property. But Christians, today, are strong defenders of private property and do not practice -- except for certain minor sects -- any form of communism or communalism.

And Sodom was punished not for homosexuality, or for gang rape, but for violating the custom -- common in any desert community -- that a guest is inviolate. (Of course, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah already had a pretty bad reputation, as shown by their previous appearance in the Bible.) But this custom is no longer considered unbreakable, is now considered 'manners, not morals.'

Michael Ejercito said...


Ananias was punished not for lying, but for refusing to accede to the (non-Marxist, of course) communism of the early Church, and retaining part of his property as private property.

Have you read the particular passage.

The apostles accused Ananias of lying to God.

Michael Ejercito said...

But if God intervened anywhere, there is no excuse for him not -- publicly -- intervening in these horrors.
He is God.

He need not excuse His actions to anyone, for there is none above Him.

richdurrant said...

OK, Jim, then I have to say that we agree here on quite a bit. I too wonder how those who are literalists, of which I'm not, account for such behavior.

SteveJ said...

Michael E., is there any such thing as "good" -- I mean, as an abstract concept? Or is "good" simply "that which the most powerful being around forces on everyone."

Your ideas of ethics, morality and goodness are scarcely one step removed from the Bronze Age. Frankly, I think they disgust just about everyone here, believers and unbelievers alike.

Michael Ejercito said...



Michael E., is there any such thing as "good" -- I mean, as an abstract concept? Or is "good" simply "that which the most powerful being around forces on everyone."

Whoever decides how electromagnetism and gravity works also decides how morality works.

Jason said...

just to reflect on something mentioned earlier:
Just because a belief is reinforced as a result of cognitive dissonance, does not mean that belief is wrong. Someone's atheism could be reinforced just as well as their theism. The cognitive dissonance theorists might also argue that Cindy Sheehan's behaviors are describable in terms of cognitive dissonance. The same would be true of a belief concerning some objective truth, rather than an unprovable truth or an opinion. Someone might "believe more" in something like gravity or the absence of life on mars (objective truths whether we know them or not) thanks to cognitive dissonance.

Also, the presence of cognitive dissonance in any belief would not preclude the presence of God or of God's influence in those beliefs.

Lee Randolph said...

Jason,
Just because a belief is reinforced as a result of cognitive dissonance, does not mean that belief is wrong. Someone's atheism could be reinforced just as well as their theism..... Also, the presence of cognitive dissonance in any belief would not preclude the presence of God or of God's influence in those beliefs.
I agree with you. however, when you consider that a belief in god requires a relatively unsubstantiated presumption that the supernatural exists or at a minimum god exists, then it is problematic (from my perspective).
Consider this, would you support the president sending in our troops to wipe out civilians as well as enemy troops in a conflict? Would you support God doing it? What makes one right and the other wrong? The presumption of God? Now lets apply that to slavery, civil rights of homosexuals, stem cell research, or work our way back through invitro-fertilization, black civil rights (the curse of shem), birth control, divorce, treating daughters/women like property, yada, yada, yada...

The cognitive dissonance theorists might also argue that Cindy Sheehan's behaviors are describable in terms of cognitive dissonance.
I don't get it, I don't see why they would.

The same would be true of a belief concerning some objective truth, rather than an unprovable truth or an opinion. Someone might "believe more" in something like gravity or the absence of life on mars (objective truths whether we know them or not) thanks to cognitive dissonance.

okay, i can see that a little bit, but the deciding factor would ultimately have to be the evidence. Meaning the type of evidence considered acceptable and the relative importance of each.
quick and dirty analogy: addicts and alcoholics are a good example, because it is so able to be seen clearly. They hurt themselves and disregard the evidence that what they are doing is really that bad. In some cased deny there is even a problem.

I realize there is a danger of circular reasoning in the outsiders assessment of self-justification (cognitive dissonance), but (as i see it) the way to break out of it is the inclusion of data as evidence.

Shygetz said...

stevej said: "Michael E., is there any such thing as "good" -- I mean, as an abstract concept? Or is "good" simply "that which the most powerful being around forces on everyone.""

michael ejercito has a consistent history of indicating that he worships power. He is at least consistent in his toadying, although like you, I am disgusted.

God's Biblical history of intervening in man's affairs shoots the "free will" defense for the PoE out of the water.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Stevej and Shygetz,
personally, I don't believe that Michael Ejercito is sincere so I ignore him. I spent a day or two deleting him justified partially by the characteristics you are discussing. I don't feel he adds any value to either side.

Michael Ejercito said...

God's Biblical history of intervening in man's affairs shoots the "free will" defense for the PoE out of the water.
God intervenes sometimes.

He does not intervene all the time; after all, He did not stop Adam from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Nor did He stop Cain from killing Abel.

Nor did He stop Amnon from raping his half-sister Tamar.

God's intervention is a gift, not a duty.

Shygetz said...

Michael,

Then, in that case, God cannot be stated to be wholly good (omnibenevolent) by any recognizable definition of the term, which is a premise in the PoE.

You argue for a God who is powerful, and claim that power (and ONLY power) determines what is good and evil. In that case, you are not truly claiming an omnibenevolent God, as you have reduced the idea of "good" to a synonym for "powerful".

jbrunt said...

Hi Lee,

I'm the "Jason" that posted the reply above. I've grabbed a different name to avoid confusion with a different Jason here.

"... sending in our troops to wipe out civilians as well as enemy troops in a conflict? Would you support God doing it? What makes one right and the other wrong? The presumption of God? "
yes, I'd support God and yes, because he is God. God, definitionally, is what is right. If I can't understand why something is or is not right according to God, that's on me. That state of affairs would be cognitive dissonance. To adjust my definition of him in order to relieve my own cognitive dissonance would be by the same mechanism whether I adjusted such that I could believe him more or believe me more.

[after rereading your reply, it occurs to me that you might not have meant "civilians" necessarily, but rather, "innocent people" or "people who it would be wrong to kill." Since God does not do wrong, but only what is right, you can see how the premise in that case would be problematic]


"okay, i can see that a little bit, but the deciding factor would ultimately have to be the evidence. Meaning the type of evidence considered acceptable and the relative importance of each.
quick and dirty analogy: addicts and alcoholics are a good example, because it is so able to be seen clearly. They hurt themselves and disregard the evidence that what they are doing is really that bad. In some cased deny there is even a problem.


I'm not sure what argument you are making concerning evidence and the problem of evil. Evil exists in the world. Does that support or undermine a belief in God? Since God said that there is evil in the world, and that his people would be treated badly by other people, I'd say that things like the Holocaust, if they are to be weighed as evidence in this, are evidence that he exists. Since the bible describes life on earth as very faulty, and full of turmoil, and doesn't guarantee a life without trouble, I'd have to say it is very correct on the issue of evil.

I like the drug addict analogy, but who is the addict? Is it someone who sees a murder, and believes in God more, or someone who watches a flower bloom and believes in God less?


and, importantly, this notion that an increase in suffering would lead to increased faith is not out of step with Christian thought. The bible (Romans) says that suffering leads to perseverance, which ultimately leads to hope and increased relationship with God. The point is also emphasized in James that trials lead to endurance, and ultimately being complete (presumably as a work of God). So that not only would the relief of cognitive dissonance by way of increased faith when confronted with unexplainable suffering not debunk Christianity, it would serve as a fair description of a mechanism discussed in the bible as a method of God's works.

Michael Ejercito said...

Then, in that case, God cannot be stated to be wholly good (omnibenevolent) by any recognizable definition of the term, which is a premise in the PoE.
You seem to imply that omnibenevolence implies prevention of evil at all times and places.

Lee Randolph said...

jbrunt,
yes, I'd support God and yes, because he is God. God, definitionally, is what is right. If I can't understand why something is or is not right according to God, that's on me....
Okay, so now, historically what is the precedent god has set for communicating to us? through people right? So now when your president orders his generals to "kill everything and let god sort it out" because his preacher told him that God told him that is what God wants, what are you going to think about that?
bear with the analogy please, it has a purpose related to cognitive dissonance, but I'd rather call it 'self-justification' theory because it is a more descriptive term so we don't lose track of what we are talking about.

I'm not sure what argument you are making concerning evidence and the problem of evil. Evil exists in the world. Does that support or undermine a belief in God? Since God said that there is evil in the world, and that his people would be treated badly by other people, I'd say that things like the Holocaust, if they are to be weighed as evidence in this, are evidence that he exists. Since the bible describes life on earth as very faulty, and full of turmoil, and doesn't guarantee a life without trouble, I'd have to say it is very correct on the issue of evil.
The problem of evil, as I understand it, properly phrased is 'why is there so much needless suffering in the world'. Presumably all suffering leads to the greater good, but in many cases there doesn't seem to be any unless you want to say that the suffering of others is a test for the faithful, and it strengthens your belief then you are in SJT (self-justification theory) territory and now the observer is justified in asking, what sets the christian apart from the alcoholic? The alcoholic can be shown to be self-justifiying because of empirical evidence, the christian cannot because there is only the bible saying that the bible is gods word, and describing god. This is self-referential and not considered evidence. Add to that, a strong inference can be made against the existence of the supernatural since no reliable empirical evidence exists to support it.


...this notion that an increase in suffering would lead to increased faith is not out of step with Christian thought. ....So that not only would the relief of cognitive dissonance by way of increased faith when confronted with unexplainable suffering not debunk Christianity, it would serve as a fair description of a mechanism discussed in the bible as a method of God's works.
You bring up a good point. In my article the bible as natrual history, I comment to someone that polythiesm among the tribes doesn't make sense if there was a living god among them. What sets a living god apart from the myths? Evidently not much. Since god is that same always, we can reasonably expect him to act back then as he does now. Not a lot of obvious interaction, which leads me to ask, 'where did the miracles come from in the old testament'. Folklore comes to mind, since it is an established human behavior. Why exaggerate? Maybe to rally the troops around an idea of solidarity to motivate them to resist the constant invasions. This has historical precedent as well.

So I claim that to justify the past deeds of the culture and tribes the bible is a result of self-justification to give some coherence to a group of people that wanted a collective cultural identity.

so now back to the presidents preacher. Thats a handy way (just as in old testament), to self-justify killing them all and letting god sort them out isn't it?

And its a handy way to prevent stem cell research, the civil rights of homosexuals, etc.