Bart Ehrman, Questioning Religion on Why We Suffer (NPR)

February 20, 2008 at 8:55 am 121 comments

God’s Problem - Bart Ehrman It’s one of the oldest faith questions: If there’s an all-powerful and loving God, why do human beings suffer?

In his latest book, religious studies professor Bart D. Ehrman wrestles with that question — and with the implications of the often-contradictory answers he finds. In God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer, Ehrman meditates upon how the Bible explains human suffering, why he finds the explanations unconvincing, and why he gave up on being a Christian.

Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus and more than a dozen other books, chairs the religious studies department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill…

[Listen to Erhman's interview on 'Fresh Air' with Terry Gross and read Book Excerpt]

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What’s So Bad About Religion? Defending “Doubting Thomas”

121 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James  |  February 20, 2008 at 9:10 am

    I’ve pre-ordered my copy already. I’m curious to read about the subject. Because the problem of Evil is THE main problem for every religious belief system.

  • 2. mysteryofiniquity  |  February 20, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Yes, this problem, or should I say “God’s Problem” is the main reason why I no longer believe either. Ehrman hit the nail on the head when he said, “I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life.” Thanks for alerting us to this work.

  • 3. Mike  |  February 20, 2008 at 10:03 am

    James,

    That is actually a very true point. It is a problem for atheists as well. As a Christian I feel there is a pretty good answer for the problem in scripture (a sentiment I know some disagree with), but I am curious to hear what old Bart would have to say.

  • 4. James  |  February 20, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Mike:

    Atheism doesn’t have the problem in the sense that there is no entity to blame. Suffering and injustice simply exist. Full stop. It’s built-in, whether by Evolution or a Divine Being.

    And the Bible does not give a satisfactory explanation. There is no reason why a loving God would create something that would result in Evil and in innocent people suffering. And free will is just an excuse.

    Why would the free will of the rapist be more important than the well-being of its victim?

    Why does there have to be Existence of Humans in the first place if ‘Heaven’ is the goal?

    Seriously, this problem is the one killer argument against an anthropomorphic, loving God.

  • 5. kay  |  February 20, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I read ‘Misquoting Jesus’ and found it a real eye-opener. Ehrman’s ‘Teaching Company’ lectures (available on DVD or CD) on Christianity from Jesus through the Council of Nicea are quite good as well.

    I look forward to reading this new book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • 6. goerge  |  February 20, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    I heard only parts of the interview on npr. I did, however, hear the reasons he gave for why God allows suffering; and he left out the pivitol reason. That reason is also core to the theme to the Bible, that reason being the issue of sovereignty.
    Without understanding this issue, of course, the ‘free will’ and other reasons will fall short and be unsatisfying.
    To get this answer just wait for Jehovah’s witnesses come to your door and ask them to walk you through it form the scriptures. Or just call or go to a kingdom hall.

  • 7. Mike  |  February 20, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    James,

    “Atheism doesn’t have the problem in the sense that there is no entity to blame. Suffering and injustice simply exist. Full stop. It’s built-in, whether by Evolution or a Divine Being.”

    The problem for atheism is that if this is your view, then you cant actually call it “suffering and injustice.” Other than that, I will concede your point. And one minute detail to correct is that Christians dont “blame” God for evil/suffering/sin (the great part about that is that no one then is blaming God for suffering! Opah!).

    “And the Bible does not give a satisfactory explanation. There is no reason why a loving God would create something that would result in Evil and in innocent people suffering. And free will is just an excuse.”

    This paragraph I found interesting. You initially say that the Bible doesnt give a satisfactory explanation, but that is because free will (the explanation it does give) is, in your estimation, an excuse. So ultimately your point is not that the Bible lacks an explanation, but that you feel it doesnt meet your standards for an answer. in turn you would prefer no answer, as you pointed out atheism offers.

    Could you explain this further, as I am sure that I am not fully representing or understanding your point here.

  • 8. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    The “problem of evil” or “why bad things happen to good people” was a large part of what moved me from feeling I couldn’t perceive God to thinking that perhaps there was no god to perceive.

    Last fall, I went to a workshop led by a pastor with her Ph.D. about grief and suffering. After several hours of explanation as to why we shouldn’t consider God to be evil, despite the existence of suffering (especially suffering that is not the result of human action or inaction, and therefore not the result of free will), I slowly realized that I had heard the most unintentionally convincing arguments against the existence of God. Well, of a god who is both all-powerful and loves us, anyway. There might still be another type.

  • 9. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Mike,

    The problem for atheism is that if this is your view, then you cant actually call it “suffering and injustice.”

    Why not?

  • 10. Pat  |  February 20, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Mike – “The problem for atheism is that if this is your view, then you cant actually call it “suffering and injustice.” ”

    And why not? I think I understand where you are trying to go; that there is no standard by which to just something as injustice (am I right?). This doesn’t hold up though. We humans, atheist and theist alike, define things as just or injust.

  • 11. Pat  |  February 20, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Fix to my last post.

    …standard by which to judge something as injustice…

  • 12. Mike  |  February 20, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Pat and Quester,

    Fair question, and Pat is on to the answer (at least as I see it). The theist has a place outside his/herself from which they can call something bad. The atheist does not. So going back to James example (#4), the rapist really enjoyed his molestation, and therefore it was good for him/her. The theist can claim that is a violation of the way God intended things, but the atheist has nothing to fall back on to substantiate that claim. Many have attempted various forms of social contract theory or game theory to explain why the rapist’ actions were inappropriate (and therefore “evil”), but utlimately that has holes too.

    I guess I am honing in on an underlying assumption that has been present in the last several posts on this site, namely that the atheist has a superior position to the theist. In the specific instances where this is supposed to be the case, there are just as many problems on the atheist side as there are on the theist side. My hope is that by calling them out (which the contributors to this site were fair enough to do on the last post), we can evaluate them all on equal footing. My guess is that those who are most likely to comment are already decided on which way they will ultimately view things, but there are probably a number of people reading these discussions who benefit from the discourse.

  • 13. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Mike,

    Please explain why anyone would need an objective place outside of oneself from which they can realize that they are suffering. Pain hurts. All you need to know this is to not feel pain, for at least a brief moment, and then make the comparison. I still don’t understand why you think only a theist can comprehend or use the word “suffering”.

  • 14. Pat  |  February 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Mike

    “The theist can claim that is a violation of the way God intended things, but the atheist has nothing to fall back on to substantiate that claim.”

    How does God substantiate the claim? The existance of a God who says suffering is bad, is simply a God that says suffering is bad. It is still up to us to decide if we accept that therefore the atheist and theist are still on the same footing which is that we define something as suffering or injustice.

  • 15. Pat  |  February 20, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Just to add on to my last post a little.

    Mike, I would like to see a post on your blog as to why someone should follow God. (If you got it already then let me know)

    To me, if God exists that doesn’t automatically mean that I should follow God.

  • 16. Jeremiah  |  February 20, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    I believe the simple answer to all our suffering is, it just is. God didn’t “create” the good or bad, they just happen. I don’t believe god is omnipotent in the sense that he has a hand in all we do; instead, he’s omnipresent. God is just there.

    You could go the philosophical route and say that without suffering, the good isn’t as great. Or just as a parent tries to protect a child from all the bad, the bad still happens and usually valuable lessons are learned.

    Also, we forget that to god, sin is all the same. It may not be as painful for us to be lied to as it is to be physically hurt or raped (as some brought up); but to god it’s all a sin and they will be judged accordingly.

  • 17. Thinking Ape  |  February 20, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Quester, I don’t think Mike is saying that we need and “objective place outside of oneself from which they can realize that they are suffering.” What Mike is stating, I believe, is that evil needs some sort of entity or, dare I say, a cause outside of an individual’s own flawed capacity to empathize with another human being.

    My answer, of course, is found in my re-formulation of Mike’s statements. In the case of the rapist, it is not that person’s separation of God or influence of the devil (which actually owes more to medieval theology that was influenced by paganism rather than the Judaic roots of Christianity) that causes them to desecrate another being, it is their mental inability to empathize with others or formulate the consequences of their actions. Sociopathy has been able to be biologically explained since the mid-50s. If we want to then go ahead and blame a malevolent deity for such biological causes, that is an entirely different argument.

    Less pragmatically I would like to directly respond to this quote:

    The theist has a place outside his/herself from which they can call something bad. The atheist does not.

    Are you saying this is an argument in your favour? It logically follows that the theist can then blame something other than oneself for evil acts (i.e. the Possessed Benedictine Nuns), whereas the atheist must blame oneself. God nor Satan or his demons are responsible for the atrocities an individual commits – only that individual is responsible (and sometimes in rare cases, his/her biological makeup). Must pain and suffering in this world is not created by sociopaths (i.e. rapists who seek sadistic control), it is created by every day regular joes like you and me.

    Since I have the time right now, a quick example: you buy gas from Shell. Shell is clean and says it cares about the environment. The real reason you buy from Shell is because its price is $0.10 cheaper than Esso. What you don’t see is that gas came from Nigeria, where their oil leaks have killed thousands of people and continue to make many more suffer horribly (unlike you and I they can’t just get up and leave to Chicago). So who, legally, is to blame? Shell of course. But who, in all practicality is to blame? Yes, Shell, but who is Shell trying to make money from?
    There is no need to have an outside source of evil from this atrocity.

    As an agnostic, secular humanist and student of ethical philosophy, I personally am offended when people make claims of superiority over others, whether theist or atheist. I have seen multiple claims on this blog as well as theistic ones. I attempted my own refutation, but was largely ignored. Heels have been dug and the influence of the Pat Robertsons and Christopher Hitchens of the world is far greater than my own. I would, however, be willing to side with one idea over another so long as the name-calling can actually be backed up. While I do believe that religious fundamentalism has a deep-rooted psychological problem, since I was one and I am still surrounded by them, I would not consider Christians, or religious adherents inferior in any way, including intellectually.

  • 18. Mike  |  February 20, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Quester,

    (#13) Because being raped is hurtful to the person being raped but is a preferable action for the person who is doing the raping. The rape victim has every right to say that was a horrible experience for them, but the rapist has every right to say that was a wonderful experience. My point is that without an external source of right and wrong, no one can claim that the position held by the rapist or the rape victim regarding the rape is correct. That means there is no basis by which to determine suffering as just (as in the rapist being punished for his/her crime) or unjust (as in the experience of the person raped).

    Pat,

    (#14) Your point here is only valid if God is impotent or unwilling to act. That is not the Christian position.

    (#15) This is a great suggestion. My next post is this Friday and it is already written, but if you can wait until next Friday I would love to write on this topic. In brief, you are right. If God exists that doesnt necessarily mean that you or anyone should follow Him. Stay tuned.

  • 19. Mike  |  February 20, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    TA,

    I dont know if the end of your comment (#17) is in response to mine (the end of #12) or in agreement, but it was you and Leo who I thought dealt well in the last post by calling out both viewpoints for equal analysis. Anyways, just clarifying myself (if it was needed).

  • 20. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Mike,

    Ah, so atheists can call something “suffering”, they just can’t call it “just” or “unjust”? That’s what you seem to be saying, and what TA seems to be assuming you were trying to say, but it isn’t what you said. Which is why I asked.

    You said, The problem for atheism is that if this is your view, then you cant actually call it “suffering and injustice.” You can call something suffering, if you are capable of feeling pain and differentiating it from not feeling pain. This pain may be physical, mental or emotional.

    You can call something just or unjust if you can go one step further and understand that others’ suffering is just as bad as your own, and therefore you should treat others as you wish to be treated. I believe this is what TA described as “empathy” in #17. As TA mentioned, there are problems with this, including sociopathy, but with advances in psychology and related fields, we should be able to continue identifying and addressing such problems.

    So, atheists do have something to substantiate their claims.

    The theist can claim that is a violation of the way God intended things, but the atheist has nothing to fall back on to substantiate that claim.

    What does the theist have to fall back on to substantiate their claim that anything is or is not a violation of how God intended things?

  • 21. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Jeremiah,

    What is the difference between a God who does not create or impact the good or bad in the world and a god who does not exist?

  • 22. Pat  |  February 20, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Mike

    (#14) Your point here is only valid if God is impotent or unwilling to act. That is not the Christian position.

    Maybe my point is not being well made. My point is that an external source of right and wrong is still lacking. The question becomes how does the external source have the ability to define something as right or wrong? Of course the Christian position defines God’s inherent goodness/rightness to be true basically as an axiom. Fine. So maybe the atheist defines something simply as wrong based on argument that depends on some other axiom.

    I look forward to your post next Friday.

    And yes, I’m bored and have nothing to do today.

  • 23. James  |  February 20, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    mike, since you seem to be the resident defender of your God:

    why would we need a God to know what’s wrong or what’s right? what feels good and what hurts?

    that’s nonsense. I don’t believe in your God and yet I’m not eating babies for breakfast.

    and regarding the first question: why is the free will of the rapist more important than the well-being of his victim?

  • 24. Thinking Ape  |  February 20, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Mike,

    I dont know if the end of your comment (#17) is in response to mine (the end of #12) or in agreement, but it was you and Leo who I thought dealt well in the last post by calling out both viewpoints for equal analysis. Anyways, just clarifying myself (if it was needed).

    It was a response of agreement. I believe it is completely possible to disagree with each other not only in a respectable way, but in a way that we are actually showing that we respect that person as a human being or even going beyond that and showing compassion (and not in a demeaning, “I’m going to pray for you and your kin” sort of way). I do, however, think it is very difficult to do this if you surround yourself with charismatic people who think it is okay to look down on others of differing opinions (i.e. Robertson, Falwell, Driscoll, Hitchens, Mill), whether intellectually or morally.

  • 25. Thinking Ape  |  February 20, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    *you in a plural sense, not you, Mike, specifically :D

  • 26. donna  |  February 20, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I think Budhism and esoterism explains suffering much better than Christianity. Cause and effect is a natural law. You have to consider the possibility that the cause may go back further then this present life and suffering may be an accumulation of not only an individual’s actions but a group of individuals, even a nation of individuals,etc. The hard part to accept is the human mind is very limited and understands little. The question for me is how do we live without being able to understand. Faith is difficult.

  • 27. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    I do consider that some suffering felt today is the consequence of actions of individuals who lived before now, or even groups. I simply don’t see how all suffering can be the consequence of human actions.

  • 28. OneSmallStep  |  February 20, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Mike,

    As a Christian I feel there is a pretty good answer for the problem in scripture (a sentiment I know some disagree with), but I am curious to hear what old Bart would have to say.

    I think this was already asked, but what about the free will of the victim? Why is the rapist’s free will respected more than the rape victim? Saying, “God provided us free will” isn’t a satisfactory answer for many, because of how many innocent victims there are. This iisn’t a matter of none of us are good/innocent — can you truly say that a rape victim is not innocent? Free will doesn’t work in terms of the magnitude of suffering.

  • 29. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    I have a hard time with free will. On the one hand, if my child is trying to put his hand on a stove element while it is red hot, I’m going to pull my kid away and teach him about burning. I will continue to pull the child away or otherwise prevent my child from burning himself, to the best of my ability. I may eventually accept that he needs to burn himself to learn not to touch the stove element, but I will not let that excuse stop me from preventing my child from burning himself, using every means at my disposal.

    On the other hand, I have no desire for my government to tap my phone, censor my mail, record what I check out from the library, or keep tabs of my whereabouts through the day. I also don’t want my parents taking my stove out of my house, in fear that I might touch the hot element while they’re not watching.

    I don’t know where the line should be drawn. Of course, I’m not convinced that we have free will in the first place, though I see the benefits of everyone acting as if we do.

    No, while rape and child abuse are inexcusably horrible things, I’d rather have at least the illusion of free will than artificial constraints imposed by an all-powerful being.

    It’s the suffering we don’t cause that bothers me. The suffering we cause is up to us to address.

    Of course, if there isn’t an all-powerful god who loves us, then so is the suffering we don’t cause. I just don’t see the suffering we cause as evidence against the existence of a god.

  • 30. Mike  |  February 20, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    It seems that my point here is receiving some confusion, so I am going to do my best to try and eliminate some of the underlying assumptions in the comments. Since most of the questions addressed to me stem from roughly the same argument, I will choose the most recent to respond to (#28):

    “Why is the rapist’s free will respected more than the rape victim? Saying, “God provided us free will” isn’t a satisfactory answer for many, because of how many innocent victims there are.”

    The problem is that we are focusing on two different aspects of the same argument. My question is “How do you determine who the victim is?” In a culture that prizes men who are able to take advantage of many women, the rapist would be a hero, and to restrict his ability to do so would be an injustice. So my question again is, “How are you able to determine who the victim is?”

    I would certainly say that it is a crime to rape someone. But then, I have no problem claiming that standard comes from God. We are not yet to the point of asking why my position has any efficacy in the way we do things, although I am certainly willing to go there. In the mean time, I am still wondering why you say it is bad for someone to be raped.

  • 31. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    I am still wondering why you say it is bad for someone to be raped.

    Both Thinking Ape and I have addressed that, Mike (#17 and 20). What exactly are you still wondering about?

  • 32. Mike  |  February 20, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Quester,

    I was hoping you werent calling every human being a sociopath. Sure, I have not raped anyone and neither have you, but I have done other things that have hurt others in some way. Many that I am probably completely unaware of. Am I a sociopath?

    Is it the scale to which an action affects someone else negatively that determines if it is bad or not? Is that what determines whether or not I am a sociopath? How would I know this scale if I saw it? Who determines it?

    So you see, I have many questions that have been left unanswered by the “Sociopath” explanation for suffering.

  • 33. OneSmallStep  |  February 20, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Mike,

    But I wasn’t addressing the aspect of determining standards. I was addressing your comment about how the Bible does provide an answer to suffering — free wil. (See comment three). And I was explaining why many don’t find it a satisfactory explanation. This, in turn, starts with the idea that raping someone is wrong. The standard is simply there.

  • 34. Neil  |  February 20, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    “why would we need a God to know what’s wrong or what’s right? what feels good and what hurts?”

    The Christian worldview isnt that we “need” God for those things, just that He knows what is wrong and right. Most people know it intuitively because He wrote it on our hearts (Romans 2-3).

    The “problem of evil” isn’t a problem for Christians in the sense that we can’t explain the source. We know the explanation, even though we wrestle with how it plays out.

    As some alluded to above, it is more of a problem for atheists. They may be “moral” in the traditional sense, but their worldview doesn’t have a grounding for why things are immoral. “Majority rules” or “whoever is in power rules” aren’t explanations for universal morals like, “It is bad to torture babies for fun.”

    God permits evil for a time, but He defeated it at the cross and will ultimately redeem it all. It is unfortunate that Ehrman doesn’t see that.

    Stand To Reason had a good article on evil: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5093

  • 35. Mike  |  February 20, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    OneSmallStep,

    Right, but my point was that we arent even there yet in the discourse. The point I made in comment three was that the problem of suffering is a problem for atheists as well, but it is difficult in a different way from theists. This is why I spent all that time articulating where the problem lies for atheists (#30 and 32), to which I have still not received an answer for, other than “Sociopaths.”

  • 36. Thinking Ape  |  February 20, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    First,

    I would certainly say that it is a crime to rape someone. But then, I have no problem claiming that standard comes from God.

    Is there a commandment for this? I mean, there are certainly instances in the Bible of rape and incest that hardly goes unpunished (especially in the case of Lot, a so-called “righteous man”).

    Second, and more importantly,

    n the mean time, I am still wondering why you say it is bad for someone to be raped.

    “Rape” is being used here, I suppose, as a more general question of where morality comes from, if taken from a naturalistic or humanist perspective. Ethical philosophers have been debating this well before Christianity came around. Perhaps then, you might say, it was the Christian movement, but more specifically St. Augustine, who solved the problem. But alas, history is not my area of expertise so I will focus on the ethical philosophy.

    You give, essentially, what is called an “appeal to authority” in your moral stance. Your moral standard, as you admit, comes from the authority of God. Setting aside the problems of cultural relativism, interpretations, and general esoteric ambiguities found in the Bible, there are still two problems: the Bible itself, and the appeal itself. The first is pragmatic, the second is philosophical.

    In order to declare that your standard comes from God, God must somehow communicate that standard to you. Deists and Christian naturalists might say this is dictated through our biology, most Christians say this is through the Bible, Muslims through the Koran, and Jews through the Tanakh and subsequent commentaries. Although there are certainly similarities among these theistic texts, there are definitely differences. I will assume you are of the Christian persuasion. In order to state that your moral standard comes from God, you must first give some sort of evidence that the Bible comes from God. Only once that has been accomplished can we then deal with who has the authoritative interpretation: liberal Christians? Conservatives? Catholics? Moderates? Orthodox?

    The second problem, that of the appeal to authority almost makes the first moot. Assuming that God exists, we must have evidence that this God is good. Even if we could use various scriptures to show this, we could easily find a malevolent deity in the text, as the Gnostics did. If God is the moral standard, who are we to say whether God’s morals are good or bad, especially since he created them. You may state that God says it is wrong to rape, but I can still ask, why is that the case? Just because God said so? This is the same God, is it not, that commands genocides (Joshua) or carries out entire slaughter’s of children (i.e. Egypt). But because he decides what is “good,” we never really have a true standard. If God tells us to murder our own innocent child for no reason whatsoever (i.e. Abraham), we weep, climb the mountain, and do it.

    But let us dispense with the theistic position, for as Nietzsche laments,

    God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?

    Are we lost in a sea of immorality without our Creator? While we may have lost some of the great Greek moral philosophers in the tide of Christianity and the Enlightenment, we have our Humes, Kants, and Rawls.

    Hume, of course, was a utilitarian and philosophic descendant of the Greek Epicureans and hero of Bentham and J.S. Mill. He pointed that our emotions illuminate our moral behaviours, attributing an inherent moral value to our acts which would lead to the idea of morality as “utility for doing the greatest good.” The rapist, in this case, is doing wrong because the pain it causes is greater than the pleasure.

    The problem with this view is twofold. We have no “pleasure” or “happiness” measuring stick nor does it account for the tyranny of the majority. If say we throw 5 Christians to the lions with an audience of 10,000 gleeful Romans, could we not say that there is more happiness than pain? We could, but certainly something inside us tells us this is wrong. Hopefully. Hume’s “moral sense” theory cannot hold up by itself because it has no real standard other than our own emotions. The Humean justification for their actions will always be “it feels right.”

    Kant rightly attributed Hume for awakening him from his famous “dogmatic slumber.” Kant blasted many aspects of Humean philosophy, including his moral one. But Kant did not argue from authority. It was, rather, are reason by which we make moral judgments. It is our reason that tells us what is right and wrong. Hence, Kant’s categorical imperative that we act only upon the maxim that our actions should become universal law – essentially a fancy rephrasing of the Golden Rule. But why should we do this? Kant anticipated that question, to which he attached the second part of his moral philosophy: Never use people merely as means as opposed to ends. Kant argued that people are inherent ends-in-themselves and thus should never be treated as a means to justify an ends.

    So in the Humean case, we have some perceived event, a rape, then a biological emotion, one of negativity, “that didn’t feel right,” then a conclusive judgment: that was wrong.
    In the Kantian case, we have the rape, which is processed through reason (that person was used as a means to an end) and then a judgment: that was wrong.
    Contemporary biologists and theorists, such as Marc Hauser, along with philosophers such as John Rawls, have argued that we actually form a judgment first and then have the emotion/reason later as part of our biological evolutionary makeup. That would be, the rape was wrong because it offended the essential makeup of our species, to which we then have emotions and give reasons.

  • 37. Paul S.  |  February 20, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    Mike said,

    I would certainly say that it is a crime to rape someone. But then, I have no problem claiming that standard comes from God.

    Really? You have no problem? Where do you get this standard? Here are a few verses from the Bible describing the conquering of tribes and the description of what to do with the “spoils”:

    Judges 21:10-24
    Numbers 31:7-18
    Deuteronomy 20:10-14
    Deuteronomy 22:28-29
    Deuteronomy 22:23-24
    2 Samuel 12:11-14
    Deuteronomy 21:10-14
    Judges 5:30
    Zechariah 14:1-2

    Funny, but there’s not one verse in the Bible that says rape is a crime. So why do you think that rape is a crime?

  • 38. Thinking Ape  |  February 20, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    Paul S.
    Well rape against a Christian definitely is out of the question based on various passages, notable 1 Cor. 6:19-20, but I would venture to say that whether it is explicitly prohibited or not, “do unto others as you would have them to do yourself” would probably take care of that. Let’s not build straw men here.

    Let us not forget that while Christianity may have gone overboard against sexuality in the early years, their anti-sexual reformation of the Roman empire ceased the acts of those who abused slaves and women for their own sexual gratification, which was a thoroughly pervasive among the civilization at the time. Christians brought forth much of the Stoic philosophies concerning sex which did better the lives of many.

  • 39. Pat  |  February 20, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Mike

    You seem to be wanting some kind of ‘proof’ that an atheist could give for something being morally wrong. While I think that there is reasoned argument that an atheist can give for showing something to be morally wrong, in the end there is not airtight case to give. Morality in my opinion is just not objective in that manner. Of course, the Christian is also unable to accomplish this either.

    from Neil -““Majority rules” or “whoever is in power rules” aren’t explanations for universal morals like, “It is bad to torture babies for fun.” ”

    Exactly Neil, therefore God should not simply be followed because God has the power.

  • 40. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Well, I can’t do as good a job as Thinking Ape- it’s been years since I read Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals and I’ve never read Hume at all- I’d hate to leave anyone with the impression that I believe the cause of suffering is sociopathy.

    Mike, one of the problems might be that I was answering the question, “What objective standard for morals exist?” while it looks like you were trying to find the answer for “Why is there suffering in the world?” I may be wrong, but it is clear that I did a horrible job of communicating my views if you think sociopathy was my response, rather than an exception I was acknowledging to the objective standards I was describing. Let me try again.

    i) Most humans are capable of suffering from physical or emotional pain. They are capable of discerning what pain is by comparing their experiences of pain with experiences of lesser amounts of pain, which may include experiencing no pain at all.

    ii) Most humans are capable of reasoning that things that cause them pain would cause beings like them pain, and things that cause them pleasure would cause other beings like them pleasure.

    iii) Most humans are capable of understanding that actions have consequences, and sometimes suffering pain is one of the possible consequences.

    iv) A basis for morality, including an understanding of justice, can be derived from i, ii and iii above. This basis can be phrased as Kant’s maxim, “Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature” or other forms of phrasing which are commonly referred to as ethics of reciprocity, or the ‘Golden Rule’.

    v) Exceptions for i, ii and iii include people with an understanding of pain, pleasure or personhood that deviates from the norm to a dangerous extent. Sociopaths are only one example of this grouping.

    vi) Beyond v, humans may still act unjustly or immorally because they are unaware of (or have not considered) all (or any) of the consequences of their actions, or because they have chosen to value themselves over other persons.

    Have I clarified my position any?

  • 41. Neil  |  February 20, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    Hi Pat,

    I think you misunderstood my point. God created the universe and everything in it, so following his plan always works for the best.

    Government has “the power” so you should follow their rules (provided they don’t violate God’s laws).

    If you create a universe out of nothing and all the life and complexity we see, it would be fair for you to determine the rules of engagement.

    Peace,
    Neil

  • 42. Mike  |  February 20, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    TA, Pat, and Quester,

    Okay, gotcha. I much appreciate the clarification. I am ultimately gonna lean toward Pat’s conclusion in #39, but TA/Quester raised some really good points I want to kinda poke at and roll around before I am done here. While your responses in the last half of #36 and 40 articulate your viewpoints quite well, it seems as if they operate in a vacuum. That is to say that, even outside the extremes that people love to point out through history, our every day experience tells us that absolutely no one follows the ethical system you have set up, at least not all the time. So does that mean that everyone suffers from some sort of inept biological response or a damaged sense of reason? How do Hume/Kant account for the complete lack of adherence to the moral system they have set up?

    Only Quester provides us with a possible answer in #40, most notably point (v), however point (vi) would seem to undo your previous argument. if it is the normative action/response of people that is necessary for building your argument, yet that response is so often to the contrary of what you have described, then where does that leave you?

  • 43. Quester  |  February 20, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    That is to say that, even outside the extremes that people love to point out through history, our every day experience tells us that absolutely no one follows the ethical system you have set up, at least not all the time.

    People aren’t perfect, nor do they always act in ways where the consequences are just and good. This has no effect on whether or not there is an objective standard for morality.

    if it is the normative action/response of people that is necessary for building your argument, yet that response is so often to the contrary of what you have described, then where does that leave you?

    In a situation where only beings with reason can be said to act morally. This is why we do not assign adjectives such as “just” to animals or earthquakes.

    I’m not sure I understand what difficulties you’re having, Mike. The concerns you raise don’t seem to have anything to do with the issues at hand.

  • 44. Thinking Ape  |  February 21, 2008 at 12:54 am

    Mike, your initial question asked for upon which standards an individual can base their morality or ethical perspective. To then turn around and say, “our every day experience tells us that absolutely no one follows the ethical system you have set up” as if that was the stream of the discussion is disingenuous. I admit to deviating, but I concluded my post with advocating a direct answer to your problem. As anyone who has read a Bible can ask, upon what claim can you make for the two thousand years of not yet being perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect, as you were commanded to be. No where does Jesus ever claim that he came down to heaven to excuse you from your imperfection – that is an invention of Paul and you must be well aware of that.
    The fact is, we have ethical systems given to us by our emotions and reasoning power. Both are prone to failure. And since they are prone to failure, we live in a suffering world. This is why everyone responded so quickly to your initial statement bout atheists not being able to account for suffering in the world – it is not a problem for atheists, it is simply there. We blame ourselves and nobody else. Likewise, so do Christians, since they rest on the idea of “free will” – but it is the Christians who magically expect that all to disappear in the next lifetime; logically speaking, there must be no free will in heaven if this is the case.

  • 45. Mike  |  February 21, 2008 at 2:31 am

    Quester and TA,

    If there has been a miscommunication at this point, I am gonna assume the blame. I do feel like you have articulated your points well, but ultimately I figured we would end at the place Pat described in #39. My final thought on the issue is in response to the end of TA’s response (#44):

    “Likewise, so do Christians, since they rest on the idea of “free will” – but it is the Christians who magically expect that all to disappear in the next lifetime; logically speaking, there must be no free will in heaven if this is the case.”

    Technically the atheist believes it all disappears after death too, albeit for different reasons. Just a thought.

  • 46. Quester  |  February 21, 2008 at 2:54 am

    Mike,

    Yes, you did figure that’s where we’d end up. You said so in #42. I disagreed. I still do. I’ve given reasons why I do. You’ve given no reasons for why you disagree with me, except for the expressed assumption and self-fulfilling prophecy that you would. I still wouldn’t mind hearing why you still believe that an atheist automatically has no objective basis for morality, or some responses to what I actually said. Or to what TA said. He’s more eloquent.

    But if #45 are your final thoughts on the subject, I can’t force you to respond.

    That wouldn’t be just.

  • 47. Thinking Ape  |  February 21, 2008 at 3:04 am

    Mike,
    No soul is better than a soul with no free will, no choices, and complete and utter subservience to a malevolent deity. The point is, unless I can even capture a glimpse of the reality of heaven, I must remain a skeptic to the concept.

  • 48. Paul S.  |  February 21, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    TA said:

    Well rape against a Christian definitely is out of the question based on various passages, notable 1 Cor. 6:19-20, but I would venture to say that whether it is explicitly prohibited or not, “do unto others as you would have them to do yourself” would probably take care of that. Let’s not build straw men here.

    Well, it’s good to know that raping other Christians is a no-no, at least. I’m certainly not intentionally building straw men. I am taking direct quotes from the Bible to show that rape was (at the very least) an accepted practice against a conquered people. The 1 Corinthians verses you cited merely state for Christians to “flee from sexual immorality.” But like you asked in #36, is there any commandment that prohibits rape? I haven’t found one.

  • 49. Thinking Ape  |  February 21, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Paul S.,
    I agree that rape was common among tribes and that the Jewish Tanakh gives instances of accepted rape (along with accepted genocide, murder, lootings, etc.). But let us rail against Judaism then! Where, may I ask, would you say the Christian scriptures accept rape as a normative practice?
    And by ignoring my comments on the golden rule you continue to build straw men. How could a Christian justify rape while attending to the command to treat one how you yourself would be treated?

  • 50. Paul S.  |  February 21, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Where, may I ask, would you say the Christian scriptures accept rape as a normative practice?

    If parts of the Tanakh gives instances of accepted rape and the Tanakh is part of Christian canon, then it follows that these Christian scriptures (i.e. laws) show rape as a normative practice. The arrival of Jesus on the scene doesn’t change the OT Laws. I’m sure you’re familiar with Matthew 5:17-20 where Jesus says He has not come to overturn the Law or Prophets, but to fulfill them.

    And by ignoring my comments on the golden rule you continue to build straw men.

    I’m not ignoring your comments on the golden rule, but the golden rule only goes to show the ambiguity of acceptable behavior within the scriptures.

    How could a Christian justify rape while attending to the command to treat one how you yourself would be treated?

    I’m not a Christian, so I can’t answer that. I’m just commenting on what’s in written in the Bible. But historically, Christians have justified many horrific activities with seemingly no regard to the golden rule.

  • 51. Mike  |  February 21, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Quester,

    Okay, I will try to make my point more clear. You said (in #40) your reasoning for an ethical code is:

    “i) Most humans are capable of suffering from physical or emotional pain.

    ii) Most humans are capable of reasoning that things that cause them pain would cause beings like them pain, and things that cause them pleasure would cause other beings like them pleasure.

    iii) Most humans are capable of understanding that actions have consequences, and sometimes suffering pain is one of the possible consequences.

    iv) A basis for morality, including an understanding of justice, can be derived from i, ii and iii above. This basis can be phrased as Kant’s maxim, “Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature” or other forms of phrasing which are commonly referred to as ethics of reciprocity, or the ‘Golden Rule’.

    v) Exceptions for i, ii and iii include people with an understanding of pain, pleasure or personhood that deviates from the norm to a dangerous extent. Sociopaths are only one example of this grouping.

    vi) Beyond v, humans may still act unjustly or immorally because they are unaware of (or have not considered) all (or any) of the consequences of their actions, or because they have chosen to value themselves over other persons.”

    Your entire argument is based on the normative assumptions about people in i,ii, and iii. My issue with this is that you then disqualify that normative condition with vi. This is the case because the history of human life on this planet is built more around vi than i,ii, and iii. That would indicate that the normative condition from which Kant should be basing his maxim is entirely different from i,ii, and iii. So there you have it.

  • 52. Mike  |  February 21, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Quester,

    Sorry for the editing of your first point. I was gonna try and edit down each point to its most basic version for space, but that was the only one I could do it with. The full version is:

    “i) Most humans are capable of suffering from physical or emotional pain. They are capable of discerning what pain is by comparing their experiences of pain with experiences of lesser amounts of pain, which may include experiencing no pain at all.”

    The full version doesnt impact my objections to the argument. Just wanted to clear up any discrepancies.

  • 53. mysteryofiniquity  |  February 21, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    I just want someone to answer Quester’s question to Jeremiah:

    “What is the difference between a God who does not create or impact the good or bad in the world and a god who does not exist?”

  • 54. karen  |  February 21, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    I’m coming to this discussion late, but I’d like to add something I found interesting.

    I was at the Skeptics Society meeting on Sunday and the lecturer was Paul Zak, a founder of neuroeconomics who’s done research on the biological underpinnings of altruism (“do unto others”) in the last 5-10 years.

    What he’s found is that evolution has given us built-in incentives to cooperate and behave altruistically. He shows this in a series of economic experiments that measure hormone levels of people who are doing something good (giving money to a stranger) and then those who reciprocate (give the money back). By the way, the studies consistently showed a 2% sociopath figure, the “bastards” as Zak termed them, who won’t give anything to anybody and actually are pleased with themselves about it!

    Turns out that oxytocin, the hormone that kicks in during labor and breastfeeding, and promotes infant-mother bonding, is highly stimulated during altruistic acts. Oxytocin promotes the release of dopamine in the brain, a feel good chemical that gives us that warm fuzzy feeling when we’ve done a good deed. The bastards in Zak’s study had no oxytocin response – and thus apparently no hormonal reinforcement for doing good.

    When theologians tell us that god has written some kind of moral law “on our hearts,” they may be relying on a primitive, supernatural explanation to describe this very real natural phenomenon. Zak’s new book is called “Moral Markets” and it looks very interesting.

  • 55. James  |  February 21, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    As for rape: One could even suggest that the biblical God raped a 14 year old girl in order to get her pregnant of his ‘son’ …

  • 56. Quester  |  February 21, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Mike, you say:

    Your entire argument is based on the normative assumptions about people in i,ii, and iii. My issue with this is that you then disqualify that normative condition with vi. This is the case because the history of human life on this planet is built more around vi than i,ii, and iii. That would indicate that the normative condition from which Kant should be basing his maxim is entirely different from i,ii, and iii. So there you have it.

    My argument was that there is an objective basis for morality. Your counter-argument seems to be that people act immorally. The problem is that your counter is not actually a counter to my argument. If I had argued, “people act morally” or even, “people naturally act morally”, your counter-argument would be appropriate. In other words, you are countering an argument I am not making instead of the one I am.

    I addressed this in #43. Let me repeat, for the sake of clarity:

    People aren’t perfect, nor do they always act in ways where the consequences are just and good. This has no effect on whether or not there is an objective standard for morality.

  • 57. Quester  |  February 21, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    As for rape: One could even suggest that the biblical God raped a 14 year old girl in order to get her pregnant of his ’son’ …

    Come now, if you are going to believe the Bible as an authoritative source in who fathered the child, there is no reason not to assume the bible is also correct in portraying how God gained consent first. There’s no need to stoop to this level.

  • 58. Quester  |  February 21, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Karen, that’s really interesting! I’d never even heard of neuroeconomics before.

  • 59. Mike  |  February 21, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Quester,

    “My argument was that there is an objective basis for morality. Your counter-argument seems to be that people act immorally. ”

    My point is that your argument for an objective basis for morality stems from a normative experience that never happens (#51).

  • 60. Quester  |  February 21, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    All right, Mike, let’s try this again.

    My first premise, labelled i, was, in short, that humans are capable of suffering. Suffering need not be a normative state for this, just the capability.

    My second premise, labelled ii, was, in short, that humans are capable of empathy. Showing empathy need not be a normative state for this, just the capability.

    My third premise, labelled iii, was, in short, that humans are capable of understanding the concept of cause and effect. The ability of discerning all causes for every effect need not be a normative state for this, just the capability of understanding the basic principles of the concept of cause and effect.

    My sixth premise, in full, was:

    vi)Beyond v, humans may still act unjustly or immorally because they are unaware of (or have not considered) all (or any) of the consequences of their actions, or because they have chosen to value themselves over other persons

    This does not negate i) humans are capable of suffering.
    This does not negate ii) humans are capable of empathy.
    This does not negate iii) humans are capable of understanding the concept of cause and effect.

    An objective basis for morality does not have to be an existing example of perfect good for everything to be measured against. It can be a series of existing conditions and capabilities from which a theoretical ideal for people to strive for can be derived.

  • 61. Mike  |  February 22, 2008 at 1:57 am

    Quester,

    So I am apparently not articulating my difficulties with this view very well, so allow me to try a slightly different tack.

    i) All humans are capable of causing suffering of physical or emotional pain. They are capable of causing different levels of pain and suffering, and can compare the degree of suffering they cause with lesser amounts of suffering, which may include no suffering caused at all.

    ii) Most humans are capable of reasoning that things that cause them pain are not beneficial, and things that cause them pleasure are beneficial.

    iii) Most humans are capable of understanding that actions have consequences, and sometimes causing pain is one of the possible consequences.

    iv) A basis for morality, including an understanding of justice, can be derived from i, ii and iii above. This basis can be phrased as Smith’s (a made-up dude) maxim, “Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a personal law of nature” or other forms of phrasing which are commonly referred to as ethics of primacy. In other words, it is more beneficial to the individual to cause someone else pain than to feel pain themselves. Any definition of justice must be based on what causes the individual the least amount of pain.

    v) Exceptions for i, ii and iii include people with an understanding of pain, pleasure or personhood that deviates from the norm to a dangerous extent. For instance, those who would rather cause more pain to themselves in order to spare someone else pain.

    vi) Beyond v, humans may still act unjustly or immorally because they are unaware of (or have not considered) all (or any) of the consequences of their actions, or because they have chosen to value others over themselves.

    This may illustrate what is so difficult with the hypothesis you have drawn up. All I did was slightly modify it and I came up with an entirely different ethical system. Not to mention that this ethical system fits our experience much better than the one you came up with. So ultimately my question is, what is the basis for even choosing the criteria of your system? Why would your system be preferable to the one I have created? The only reason I can think of is that you are trying to reach roughly the same moral standard of Judeo-Christian teaching without God being behind the system.

  • 62. Quester  |  February 22, 2008 at 2:29 am

    Mike, once you provide evidence that pain can be beneficial and pleasure can be harmful, you’ve disproved premise ii in your list. The maxim you list in iv can not be described as moral or just. It can be described as an avenue to personal success, but that’s not the subject under discussion. Your point v also has a different definition of norm than I think could be sustained by current understandings of psychology.

    Why would your system be preferable to the one I have created?

    Unless you can show me otherwise, I would argue that the difference is that mine will stand up to a few minutes of critical thought.

    The only reason I can think of is that you are trying to reach roughly the same moral standard of Judeo-Christian teaching without God being behind the system.

    Actually, I’m proposing a moral standard that predates the Judeo-Christian one, was also developed at other times independently of the Judeo-Christian one, avoids the contradictions of the Judeo-Christian one, and- while the standard I propose allows for imperfect humans- unlike the Judeo-Christian moral standard, the one I described doesn’t assume we are all condemned by our very nature.

  • 63. James  |  February 22, 2008 at 3:10 am

    quester:

    Come now, if you are going to believe the Bible as an authoritative source in who fathered the child, there is no reason not to assume the bible is also correct in portraying how God gained consent first. There’s no need to stoop to this level.

    I don’t believe in the Bible. But the text clearly says that Mary considered herself to be the slave and God her master. So who is she to refuse her master? And at the time the girls were between 12 and 14 years when they usually got married and soon after pregnant. Mary, allegedly needing to be a virgin, had therefore to be as young too.

  • 64. Quester  |  February 22, 2008 at 4:32 am

    James,

    I don’t believe in the Bible.

    That’s fine, but if you’re going to make arguments based on the Bible as an authoritative source, try to at least use the whole story you’re citing.

    But the text clearly says that Mary considered herself to be the slave and God her master. So who is she to refuse her master?

    A human being. Many humans refuse masters. Many of God’s chosen refused to obey Him, at least at first. Mary didn’t. She asked for God’s will to be done through her, after being told what God’s will was. She gave consent.

    And at the time the girls were between 12 and 14 years when they usually got married and soon after pregnant. Mary, allegedly needing to be a virgin, had therefore to be as young too.

    And while that would be a problem in some cultures today, as you say, it wasn’t then.

    There are a great many atrocities in the Bible, many described as being commanded by God. There is no benefit in trying to make the Bible look worse than it actually is, and there can be a fair amount of detriment.

  • 65. Jim B.  |  February 22, 2008 at 9:19 am

    @TA,

    It’s interesting that you referred to a woman’s rape as “desecrat[ing] another being”.

    des·e·crate

    1. to divest of sacred or hallowed character or office.
    2. to divert from a sacred to a profane use or purpose.
    3. to treat with sacrilege; profane.

    I appreciate your commitment to civil discourse from both sides on these issues. Theists need to be more careful about distinguishing between atheism’s inability to ground morality in any ultimate/objective sense, and the atheist’s inability to act morally. Many atheists are morally superior to many theists. Bin Laden is (was?) a theist, no?

    I think some Christians (and other theists) attack atheism with such vitriol, not because they hate particular atheists, but because they believe – as I do – that a culture/society which embraces atheism embraces death. I know you’ll passionately disagree with that, but it might help explain some of the heat coming from our side.

    @Christians who have commented here,

    I think this conversation demonstrates our need to back off the unbiblical argument against the “Problem of Evil” from Free Will. The argument that God purchased freedom with misery is unconvincing and unsupported by scripture. Please cite one biblical text that teaches this.

    God Bless

  • 66. mysteryofiniquity  |  February 22, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Jim B.

    It’s fascinating to me that Christians believe “that a culture/society which embraces atheism embraces death.” Christians are notoriously pro-death penalty. Now that’s really embracing life!

  • 67. Jim B.  |  February 22, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Ahh… sweet caricature!

    While you are certainly free to disagree, mystery, surely you recognize that the pro-capital punishment position is a little more complex than that. Many (myself included) believe capital punishment embraces life by expressing in the strongest possible way a society’s intolerance of those who destroy it.

    http://blatzkrieg.wordpress.com/case-for-death/

  • 68. mysteryofiniquity  |  February 22, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Ahh… great rationalization, Jim B!

  • 69. Mike  |  February 22, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Quester,

    “Mike, once you provide evidence that pain can be beneficial and pleasure can be harmful, you’ve disproved premise ii in your list.”

    I know. I dont actually believe this, but my purpose in stating things this way is to show that your rationalization for a universal moral/ethical guideline is just as wholly (pun intended).

    “The maxim you list in iv can not be described as moral or just.”

    Sure it can. And that is my point. Simply because you disagree with the end result of the logic, doesnt make it invalid. It is the same logic you used to arrive at your own ethical system. According to the criteria you have listed, Kant has no basis to disagree with imaginary Mr. Smith (#61).

    “Your point v also has a different definition of norm than I think could be sustained by current understandings of psychology.”

    Of course it does, that is because I spent five minutes thinking it up. I am sure that if I tried I could come up with a much more iron clad logical setup using the same rhetoric you have demonstrated to justify horrific deeds.

    P.S. I hope that you have enjoyed this discourse as much as I have. I feel it has remained relatively focused and civil. I read some of the above comments and didnt know if they were directed at me. Erhman’s position has a hundred advocates on this blog, and I seem to be the only one commenting from my position. So if I seem defensive, I apologize, but like I said, I have enjoyed our conversation.

  • 70. Mike  |  February 22, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    MOI,

    Just for reference, I dont support the death penalty one iota.

  • 71. mysteryofiniquity  |  February 22, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Mike,

    Good. I could never understand how Christians could be pro-life in the abortion debate and pro-death in the death penalty debate. I’m glad to hear about a consistent life stance.

  • 72. Thinking Ape  |  February 22, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Hey Jim,

    Many (myself included) believe capital punishment embraces life by expressing in the strongest possible way a society’s intolerance of those who destroy it.

    You know we could just have aborted those soon-to-be criminals before they murdered, that way we wouldn’t have to wait for them to murder before we kill them!

    -Thinking Ape, Pro-Life whether innocent or guilty.

  • 73. Jim B.  |  February 22, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    MOI,

    My comments on capital punishment were intentionally brief and cursory out of respect for the post’s author – it’s not anywhere near on-topic. My aim was merely to point out your silly caricature of those who oppose abortion and approve of capital punishment.

    But since the post’s author (TA) has joined in, game on…

    Why must a consistent pro-lifer be opposed to the execution of those who wrongfully take life (i.e. murderers)? Statements like “If you’re pro-life, you must be anti-death penalty” evidence a rather shallow (intentionally shallow, it seems) understanding of the positions. Surely, you’re aware folks brighter than any of us here are both anti-abortion and pro-capital punishment. Why are these positions necessarily inconsistent? (Please formulate argument that rises above the mere contradistinction of the words “life” and “death”.)

  • 74. Quester  |  February 22, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Mike,

    I hope that you have enjoyed this discourse as much as I have. I feel it has remained relatively focused and civil.

    Thanks for adding this. I’ve been trying to make sure that I remain civil and focused, but have feared I have not managed it.

    Back to the discussion at hand:

    Of course it does, that is because I spent five minutes thinking it up. I am sure that if I tried I could come up with a much more iron clad logical setup using the same rhetoric you have demonstrated to justify horrific deeds.

    Feel free. The problem I’m having is that posting an argument that logic and reason can take apart does not provide any evidence that my argument can be taken apart the same way. In other words, you’re still arguing against arguments I’m not making. Successfully, I admit, but it makes no difference until you can actually argue against what I’m saying or provide other arguments which can be derived from the same evidence that holds as well as mine does. Right now, you seem to be working on the assumption that you can do the latter, but I see no evidence to support your assumption.

    And do let me know when we’ve reached the part of the conversation where you, in turn, will present your objective basis for morality that you hold to.

  • 75. Quester  |  February 22, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Hello, Jim B.

    des·e·crate

    1. to divest of sacred or hallowed character or office.
    2. to divert from a sacred to a profane use or purpose.
    3. to treat with sacrilege; profane.

    Just to mention, while most of the definitions for “sacred” have a theistic slant, Webster’s dictionary includes “devoted exclusively to one service or use” and “highly valued and important ” as possible definitions for sacred. So it is possible for an atheist to hold something, or someone, sacred.

    Of course, I’m not TA and can’t say for certain what meaning he had for the words he chose.

    I think some Christians (and other theists) attack atheism with such vitriol, not because they hate particular atheists, but because they believe – as I do – that a culture/society which embraces atheism embraces death.

    Really? Why do you believe that?

  • 76. Matt  |  February 22, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    I don’t understand why exactly christians are so opposed to birth control and condoms. You would think its a good way to cut down abortions. Or is contraception also considered abortion?

  • 77. Jim B.  |  February 22, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    @Matt

    Most Protestants don’t oppose birth control unless it destroys a fertilized egg. Methods that prevent conception (e.g. condoms) are almost universally accepted by Protestants. (I speak to Protestants, because I don’t fully understand the Catholic take on birth control.)

    @Quester

    This will all go back to the topic at hand – as a Christian theist, I don’t believe atheism, in the long run, can sustain a coherent and consistent moral system. A godless morality, over time (I say “in the long run” and “over time”, because it is hard to imagine a truly godless society, given the near universality of religion in the human experience up to today), must necessarily found itself upon some fluid subjective standard. In this kind of world, the masses live at the whims of those controlling this standard.

  • 78. Quester  |  February 22, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    Jim B,

    A godless morality, over time… must necessarily found itself upon some fluid subjective standard.

    Well, I’ve posted my argument against that stance, in these comments, and have yet to see any evidence against my argument, or in support of yours.

    I also don’t see what this has to do with “embracing death” nor any reason to assume a theistic stance is grounded in anything objective.

    In this kind of world, the masses live at the whims of those controlling this standard.

    I’ve heard this argument before, but I have yet to meet any masses or controlling elite. Just people. And people seem to come up with their own basis of morality, with some guidance taken from their culture, but then reasoned for themselves. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be as many disagreements about morality as there are.

    Got anything to back up any of your statements? As yet, I disagree with all of them. Looking above in this list of comments, you can see much of the reasoning behind my disagreements.

  • 79. Mike  |  February 25, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Quester,

    Sorry, I was out of town this weekend. Back to the discussion!

    “it makes no difference until you can actually argue against what I’m saying or provide other arguments which can be derived from the same evidence that holds as well as mine does.”

    My whole point which I have tried to describe from several different angles is that the evidence you use to prove your ethical/moral system defines Justice, but you have chosen that evidence because they are Just things (#51). That is like using the word in the definition. What is Justice—Things that are Just. That doesn’t really prove anything. In other words, you have no basis for rejecting a premise like “All people cause suffering” in favor of “All people experience suffering” except that the one helps you identify a preconceived notion of justice and the other doesn’t (#61).

    “And do let me know when we’ve reached the part of the conversation where you, in turn, will present your objective basis for morality that you hold to.”

    It might be beneficial for me to share my motivation in posting on this thread if it wasn’t caught at the beginning (#3). I only wanted to recognize that evil/suffering/pain is a problem for both Theists and Atheists, but for different reasons. It is a problem for the Christian because we must ask “How can a good God allow such horrible things to happen?” and it is a problem for the Athiest because we must ask “What basis does anyone have for describing anything as unjust, and why is that basis binding for all people everywhere?”

    I believe that Christianity provides an answer to this problem, and I was pretty sure you felt that there was an Atheist answer to this problem, I merely wanted us to acknowledge that it was a problem (something that has been denied through this thread, starting at #4).

  • 80. Quester  |  February 26, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Mike,

    My whole point which I have tried to describe from several different angles is that the evidence you use to prove your ethical/moral system defines Justice, but you have chosen that evidence because they are Just things (#51).

    That would be a good argument, but again it is not an argument against what I am arguing. I am not attempting to define justice in my argument. I am arguing that there is an objective basis that justice can be derived from without requiring the existence of a deity. You have made many good arguments in these comments, but none of them actually addressed my argument, let alone countered it. You keep arguing against things I’m not saying, countering things I’m not saying, and refuting things I’m not saying.

    It is a problem for the Christian because we must ask “How can a good God allow such horrible things to happen?” and it is a problem for the Athiest because we must ask “What basis does anyone have for describing anything as unjust, and why is that basis binding for all people everywhere?”

    I believe that Christianity provides an answer to this problem, and I was pretty sure you felt that there was an Atheist answer to this problem, I merely wanted us to acknowledge that it was a problem (something that has been denied through this thread, starting at #4).

    I still deny it.

    What I have been arguing all this time is that there is an objective basis for describing things as unjust, and that basis does not require the existence of a God. That is what I am arguing. Not what justice is, but where it can come from. Not “how do people choose to act?” but “there is an objective basis for describing things as unjust, and that basis does not require the existence of a God.” Not “why is there suffering?” but “there is an objective basis for describing things as unjust, and that basis does not require the existence of a God.”

    You have successfully argued that my argument does not explain why there is suffering, explain why people act unjustly, or even conclude in a definition for justice. I concede those three points happily, because I was not trying to do any of the three.

    If you would like to, please provide an argument against, “there is an objective basis for describing things as just or unjust, and that basis does not require the existence of a God.” If you choose to do so, please refer to my argument in support of this statement (#40).

  • 81. Mike  |  February 27, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Quester,

    “I am arguing that there is an objective basis that justice can be derived from without requiring the existence of a deity.”

    But you have yet to offer any reason why this objective basis is binding on anyone other than yourself, and therefore is not an objective basis at all. Why can I not come up with three distinct premises on my own that lead to my very own definition that justice can be derived from?

  • 82. Godamn  |  February 27, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    The reason is survival. Humans are social animals. We need the company of other humans. Our physical abilities leave us quite vulnerable on our own, so we protect ourselves by forming communities, cooperating and sharing tasks. In any society, some individuals will be stronger than others. There strength would enable them to deprive the weak and they would become parasites. This would compromise the survival of the weaker sections. However, the weak are just as important to our survival as the strong. Also, not everyone can live off others. Somebody needs to do the work. Conflict would also be generated. All these factors would endanger the ability of the group to survive. The simplest solution is a system of justice which enables individuals to enjoy the fruits of their own labour, not anyone elses. This protects the weak and they can feel secure in their community. These rules or morals are binding on anyone who is a part of the community, since it is the community’s survival that is at stake. Anyone who chooses to be in a community must not threaten the unity and survivability of the community. This is somewhat similar to how the body functions – the immune system determines and eliminates what it it considers detrimental to the survival of the person.

  • 83. Quester  |  February 27, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Mike, under what definition of the word “objective” do you find the term “binding”? Fire is hot. That is an objective truth. It doesn’t stop people from burning their food or setting their houses afire. We can’t force people (even ourselves) to see and employ reason. But by promoting and teaching critical thinking, maybe we can cut down the amount of irrational actions we make.

    I still think you’re seeing problems that don’t exist, but unless you’re actually going to counter my argument, let’s change the pace a little and have you tell me what your objective basis for defining justice is.

  • 84. Mike  |  February 27, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Godamn,

    This is a well articulated position that is slightly different from the one Quester has been taking. However, it still presents problems regarding suffering because members of the same community have differing opinions of what justice is, and therefore, what legitimate suffering is (consider the US and issues like Social Security, Welfare, Health care, abortion). If your argument is then that those members who disagree split off to form their own community where their definition of justice prevails, then you are back to a subjective definition that extends past the individual to the community, but gives no one community the right to declare their values are correct over against another’s.

    Quester,

    The part of the definition of objectivity where it must be binding is that whether or not I like it, it is still true (in other words there is a reality outside myself). In the case of fire, fire is hot not matter what I do to it or what I believe about it. That is what is binding about the objective truth of fire. If fire being hot was a subjective truth, then fire would burn you and it would cool me down. We are both bound to the truth that fire is hot.

    “let’s change the pace a little and have you tell me what your objective basis for defining justice is.”

    The answer to this question I will save for a post this friday on my blog that is in response to Pat’s very early, very wise question (#15). I would like to maintain this place as an arena to discuss my initial assertion which you have already reiterated you continue to deny (namely that evil/pain/suffering is a problem for everyone). You have rightly said that “(I) have successfully argued that (your) argument does not explain why there is suffering, explain why people act unjustly, or even conclude in a definition for justice (#80).” For most people, the proof is in the pudding. A toaster that never toasted is just a big paperweight. But once again, I guess we will have agree to disagree.

  • 85. Quester  |  February 27, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    Mike said, A toaster that never toasted is just a big paperweight.

    True enough, but no one expects the toaster to pay your phone bill. I claimed to do one thing: point to an objective basis for describing things as just or unjust that does not require the existence of a God. You can state I have not done it, but you have not provided any arguments against it.

    We can go on to discuss why suffering exists, why people act unjustly, and even what justice is. Those are separate, though related, issues.

    I would like to maintain this place as an arena to discuss my initial assertion which you have already reiterated you continue to deny (namely that evil/pain/suffering is a problem for everyone).

    I’m sorry. I thought you wanted to address the theistic and atheistic arguments on an equal footing (#12).

    I would like to add that I do believe that evil, pain and suffering are problems for everyone- theist or non-theist. It’s just that pain, suffering and evil are also a problem for theism in a way that it can not be for atheism (atheism not being a set of beliefs, but simply a lacking of a specific belief or set of beliefs).

  • 86. Thinking Ape  |  February 27, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Quester: “Fire is hot. That is an objective truth”
    Mike: “In the case of fire, fire is hot not matter what I do to it or what I believe about it. ”

    Sorry to intercede, but “fire is hot” is not objective nor subjective, it is relative. “Hot” is a relative term, as in, it is hotter than something else. We perceive the fire to be hot because it is relatively hotter than our bodies.

    Not that anyone cares, since it isn’t relevant to the discussion (…or is it…) – just saying that, for accuracies sake, a better example is probably in order.

  • 87. Quester  |  February 27, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    TA, you’re right. I’ll admit to being lazy on that point. “An example of an objective truth is that combustion is a chemical process that burns up the fuel which is undergoing said process” would have been more accurate, if not necessarily being helpful in clarifying what I was saying.

  • 88. Pat  |  February 28, 2008 at 1:33 am

    Just for kicks and for absurdity.

    “An example of an objective truth is that combustion is a chemical process that burns up the fuel which is undergoing said process”

    On what basis do we describe something as a chemical process? What if some other group of people say that combustion doesn’t fit the bill of a chemical process? I guess we need God to come down and slap us in the face with what is or isn’t a chemical process otherwise we are screwed!

  • 89. Godamn  |  February 28, 2008 at 3:41 am

    Mike,
    What you are referring to is the interpretation of laws. That is not the same as justice being a survival necessity in a social group and thus evolved, not god given. Laws change, based on the needs of the group. However, they remain geared towards the same goal- preventing exploitation of one by another. Anyone living in a group can try to change the laws, but he still has to obey them.

  • 90. Thinking Ape  |  February 28, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    In layperson’s terms, objectivism is the idea that humans, using their various tools of perception, are capable of translating the objective facts of reality (it is erroneous to conflate objectivism with philosophical realism). Relativism, on the other hand, states that their are no absolute truths, moral or otherwise, and all forms of judgment must be based on historical or cultural contexts. Nietzsche’s perspectivism, however, understands that humans make judgments (i.e. form ideas, concepts, etc.) based on our individual circumstances. Whether there is an objective reality or not is of little concern, as we are constantly competing to persuade other individuals and society as a whole of our own perspective. This whole discussion is evidence.

    It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm. – Nietzsche (Will to Power)

    The ideas of absolutism, objectivism, relativism, and the like are hence subject to the perceiver. Truth is relative, not in truth itself, but relative in the sense of degrees of validity based on circumstantial grounds that cannot be simplified to “truth” and “not truth.” Rather, the perceiver(s) is/are able to say whether something is [more] truthful or [probably] truthful without complete certainty of the truthfulness.

  • 91. Brad  |  February 28, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    TA,

    This is an area I have very little experience in…

    So basically, Nietzsche would say that, whether or not there is an objective truth, humanity (collectively or individually) cannot apply or interpret it for one of two reasons:

    1.) They are unavoidably bias and use it to gain power, or
    2.) Our subjective lens will never be able to accurately interpret it.

    Is that right? I’m just trying to put it in my own words to understand it. The second option, if I am understanding it correctly, sounds very much to be influenced by a scientific/enlightenment standard of certainty.

    So my questions in response are:

    Is absolute certainty (and thus accuracy) necessary to be able to interpret objective truth? Or can we be “certain enough”?

    Can the standard of certainty in law be comparable to a standard of certainty in philosophy/theolgoy? i.e. In law, “absolute certainty” is not necessary, only evidence “beyond reasonable doubt.”

    If I am totally missing the point, please correct me! This is very interesting…

  • 92. Brad  |  February 28, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    On a (possibly) related note, one of our contributors (Josh) wrote an awesome article on Certainty and Knowledge a couple months ago:

    http://seminarianblog.com/2007/11/08/certainty-and-knowledge/

    Heh, it’s probably where I’m getting most of my understanding of this topic.

  • 93. Thinking Ape  |  February 29, 2008 at 12:05 am

    Brad,
    You are correct, more or less, in your interpretation of my response. I disagree, however, that the second option you give is a result of enlightenment thinking. Enlightenment-Modern thinkers, as your friend points out in his post, were concerned with something akin to what I defined as objectivism. What you see in that second statement is the birth of existentialism which would lead us into the current tug of war between modernism and postmodernism (although I am wary of such terms).

    But to answer your questions directly,

    Is absolute certainty (and thus accuracy) necessary to be able to interpret objective truth? Or can we be “certain enough”?

    I chose the latter. I do not believe that man, as a limited creature by definition, can have absolution certainty – if he were, he would be god. Part of the scientific method takes this into account, which is why there is so much conflict between “religion” and “science.” Of course, someone can say they have absolute certainty without actually having it, i.e. David Icke (who ironically enough claimed to be god, or the son of god). Science is about gaining a relatively certain amount of unbiased truth, but this has not always been the case – the earliest scientists did seek an underlying objective reality to everything.

    Can the standard of certainty in law be comparable to a standard of certainty in philosophy/theolgoy? i.e. In law, “absolute certainty” is not necessary, only evidence “beyond reasonable doubt.”

    I have very little experience in law. As you know, by background is in theology and philosophy, so I have my own prejudices. From what I know of law, I would say that law is philosophy in practice, and hence often fails. Philosophy gives many ideals, but rarely practical measures. Likewise with theology. Theology succeeds until it is met with the reality of life.This is why there is such a tension between theologians and much of the Old Testament – the OT was not written by theologians or priests, they were written by storytellers, court historians, and poets. That god of the Hebrews can not be theologized because… wait, this is a long tangent to something you didn’t ask.
    To answer your question I must ask it of you… is it enough for you? I know that I can never know, with “absolute certainty” that there is, or is not, a God. This is not why I consider myself an agnostic. I consider myself an agnostic because doubt is not my enemy – if doubt is my enemy than why am I not a Scientologist? Why are you not a Scientologist? Or a Muslim? We are not because we doubt those truth claims. I am an agnostic because I must be fair to myself and allow myself to look into the arguments in a reasonable way. In my doubt I have been led away from Christianity because I do my doubt has not allowed me to fight tooth and nail to reconcile contradictions of evidence, whether internal or external. I could definitely see myself accepting a truth claim of Christianity if I found there to by enough evidence for even parts of it, although because of my evangelical upbringing it is hard for me to take a moderate stance on anything.

    I apologize if my answers did not answer your questions. I am fairly scatterbrained today and I am having difficulty keeping my focus. Hopefully I can clear up some things at a later date.

    (P.S. my previous response about Nietzsche’s perspectivism was copy and pasted from an older post I wrote on my own personal blog – email me at rational.ape@gmail.com if you want a link).

  • 94. Why Do I Care? « Confessions of a Seminarian  |  February 29, 2008 at 9:15 am

    [...] a conversation on De-Conversion, Pat (comment #15) [...]

  • 95. Mike  |  July 25, 2008 at 12:55 am

    Two years ago, my wife gave me a DVD copy of Bart’s lectures on the early Christian church. I was most impressed with Bart’s lectures. However, throughout the DVD lecture series, I kept asking myself, “I wonder what he believes?”
    I was surprised when I began listening to his audio book, “God’s Problem,” that Bart had lost his faith.
    I don’t say that in a judgemental sense in as much as I’ve always wavered in my beliefs. I’m 62 years old. I was raised as a Christian. Growing up in the inner city, I attended a store front church that was run by two wonderful women (Mary & Martha, believe it or not). Like Bart, Mary was educated at the Moody Bible Institute. She was a saint. She helped me so much in my early life, mainly in material ways–e.g. bringing food to my family during the holidays, counseling my mother when my father died, and just being a joy in my life. Last year Mary died, and I was asked to be a pall bearer and deliver a eulogy at her funeral. It was a moving experience for me, as I thought Mary to be one of the finest human beings I’d ever met. She truly was a saint to poor people.
    That said, like Bart, I’ve attended various Christian churches during my life. As a child, I was baptized in a Russian Orthodox Church in Cleveland, Ohio. The Christian church has provided me personally with a sense of dignity and belonging that I have never experienced anywhere else. Through Christ’s words, “What you do to the least among us, you also do to me,” I’ve found the compassion and courage to address the profound problems of mental illness in a loved one.
    Still, from time to time, I question my faith. I wonder about the very same things that concern Bart. Why is there suffering? Why do the righteous suffer? Is it because, as the Dali Lama says, we are exposed to and experience suffering because it teaches us to be more compassionate? That is the only reason I can see in human suffering. Or is suffering due to a God who takes some sort of satisfaction in human troubles?
    Dostoevsky put it a bit more dramatically when he said in The Brothers’ K something to the effect that hell is living but being unable to love.
    I dunno, but after 60 years of church, it still hasn’t taken with me. But I’m happy for those who have found meaning in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
    Mike

  • 96. Grant Dexter  |  July 25, 2008 at 1:48 am

    The problem of pain is simple. For God to create beings who might love Him He had to create them with a will. With a will those beings might choose to not love God. And what could be deterimental to a being if not rejecting the purpose for his creation?

  • 97. Grant Dexter  |  July 25, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Paul S. Not one verse condemning rape?

    Try Deuteronomy 20
    25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.
    26 Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor,
    27 for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

    Sounds like you owe someone an apology…

  • 98. Grant Dexter  |  July 25, 2008 at 2:17 am

    @Jim B.
    RE: Christians who have commented here,

    I think this conversation demonstrates our need to back off the unbiblical argument against the “Problem of Evil” from Free Will. The argument that God purchased freedom with misery is unconvincing and unsupported by scripture. Please cite one biblical text that teaches this.

    Just one?

    Isaiah 53:12
    Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

  • 99. John Morales  |  July 25, 2008 at 5:17 am

    Oh, sheesh, bloody Grant is infesting this thread too.

    Sigh, let’s take a look at what he has to say:

    1. The problem of pain is simple.
    2. For God to create beings who might love Him He had to create them with a will.
    3. With a will those beings might choose to not love God.
    4. And what could be deterimental to a being if not rejecting the purpose for his creation?

    Hm, a bit better than I expected. Will wonders never cease.

    I should respond, to be fair to him.

    1. Only to a simpleton.
    2. God “had to”. Great argument, simpleton. You’ve just thrown omnipotency by the wayside.
    3. And, in fact, God (so far omniscient [until you argue it away]) knew before he bothered to decide to create what the ultimate choices those beings would make and their consequences. Shit, there goes omnibenevolence.
    4. Having a brain and not using it?

  • 100. John Morales  |  July 25, 2008 at 5:23 am

    PS Grant, surely your mighty erudition can explain how 3 does not in fact invalidate the very concept of free will.

    ‘cuz you so cluey.

  • 101. John Morales  |  July 25, 2008 at 5:30 am

    PPS excuse the mild vulgarities; the more babble I’m exposed to (and Grant just loves to expose, both his ignorance and his babble spam) the more I need to cleanse my sensibilities.

  • 102. John Morales  |  July 25, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Bah. I go to bed soon, and here I sit with baited breath.

    Yeah, I meant it.

  • 103. Obi  |  July 25, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Grant Dexter, #97 —

    Why didn’t you give the entire set of rules regarding rape in Deuteronomy? They definitely aren’t as “peachy” as you make them seem.

    Deuteronomy 22:23-29, ” 23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, 24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.

    25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the girl; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders his neighbor, 27 for the man found the girl out in the country, and though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

    28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. [b] He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

    So here we see starting at verse 23 that if a virgin is raped in a town where she apparently has the duty to scream, she must be killed because apparently she was “enjoying” her rape. No taking into account of perhaps her screams being muffled or stifled by a hand, some type of clothing, or simply due to shock. Just kill her, because she enjoyed being raped.

    Then we move on to 28 and see that if a virgin is raped, the man who raped her is allowed to buy her. Wow. I can’t imagine a much worse set-up than that for future physical abuse. Marrying a girl to her rapist, who obviously had no respect for her in the first place. Disgusting, to be honest. I wouldn’t call the Bible the “best” with regards to how it handles the issue of rape.

  • 104. John Morales  |  July 25, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Well, thanks a lot Obi!

    Still, I suppose I can bear the stench if such bullshit is put to good use as fertilizer.

    There. Feel better now.

  • 105. Grant Dexter  |  July 25, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Nice, Richard!

    1. Only to a simpleton.
    Are you saying you do not understand?

    2. God “had to”. Great argument, simpleton. You’ve just thrown omnipotency by the wayside.
    So?

    3. And, in fact, God (so far omniscient [until you argue it away]) knew before he bothered to decide to create what the ultimate choices those beings would make and their consequences. Shit, there goes omnibenevolence.
    So?

    4. Having a brain and not using it?
    Same thing in my book.

    By the way, the All Blacks are going to clean the floor with your sorry mob tomorrow ;)

  • 106. Grant Dexter  |  July 25, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    PS Grant, surely your mighty erudition can explain how 3 does not in fact invalidate the very concept of free will.

    Sure thing, Richard.

    3. And, in fact, God knew before he bothered to decide to create what the ultimate choices those beings would make and their consequences.

    God didn’t know how we would choose. He was most definitely aware of the possible outcomes, but God has not pre determined all choices. That would make us without a will. So your conclusions are correct. Belief in a God who has set the future in stone would destroy the notion of human will as anything real.

  • 107. Grant Dexter  |  July 25, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Ubi – I didn’t have to defend God’s standards. All I had to do was show that Paul S was lying.

  • 108. Grant Dexter  |  July 25, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Obi .. Ubi .. Obi .. gah.

    I’ll get it one day. ;)

  • 109. SnugglyBuffalo  |  July 25, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    So, wait, you don’t believe that God is omnipotent or benevolent?

    Such fundamental, minority views of God need to be spelled out before you start engaging in discussions where they will come up.

  • 110. Cthulhu  |  July 25, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Ugh…stop feeding the troll.

  • 111. Ubi Dubium  |  July 25, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Cthulhu –
    Hey, at least he’s not spamming us with papal encyclicals. He’s trying to carry on a conversation instead of just preaching. Maybe some of the discussions he has here will linger somewhere in the back of his mind, and be helpful to him later in life. Not that I actually know how old he is.

    Hey Grant – how old are you? What part of the world do you hail from?

  • 112. Cthulhu  |  July 25, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Ubi Dubium,

    It just gets old seeing the same things over and over – and it is starting to descend into a name calling contest.

  • 113. Cthulhu  |  July 25, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Ubi Dubium,

    That got a little ugly at Pharyngula yesterday – for a while I could smell the servers burning :-)

  • 114. Ubi Dubium  |  July 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Cthulhu,

    Yes, once that thread at pharyngula got over 1000 entries I just gave up on it, and left it to the spammers. It’s at over 2,300 as I write this. I just hope they don’t find us here. Safe so far.

  • 115. Cthulhu  |  July 25, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Ubi Dubium,

    The sysdamins there finally got rid of the pope dope comments and found a way to stop them.

  • 116. John Morales  |  July 25, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Grant is even a pathetic Troll . What a dick.

  • 117. Johnnie Cochran's Ghost  |  July 25, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Mr. Morales—

    I am representing Grant Dexter and would refer you to Guideline #1 on the list of “how to identify a troll” on the “Reiterating the purposeof the d-C Site”. At the present time you are guilty of infringing that guideline, and would ask that you “cease and desist” before the appropriate legal action is taken.

    Thank you. J. Cochran

  • 118. John Morales  |  July 25, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    Yeah. Good point Grant.

    I had not seen that list before posting this.

    Invective is the least lethal part of my armamentorium. It is of no consequence to henceforth entirely avoid epithets.

    Not that I resile from anything I’ve posted.

  • 119. Johnnie Cochran's Ghost's Mom  |  July 25, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    John—

    Thank you for listening to my son. I’m not sure what “resile” means but if you say it sincerely I believe you. Johnnie is busy representing atheists in the hereafter–most of them go with an insanity plea.

  • 120. J. Faulkner  |  February 26, 2012 at 7:03 am

    It is childish to assume that there is a reason behind suffering. First of all, suffering is a subjective experience. One man’s suffering may be another man’s delight. It is open to interpretation. Secondly, to assume that there is a “reason” for our suffering is to assume “agency”, or the existence of a conscious entity whose intention it is to inflict suffering on us. This “agency” assumption is actually a function of the brains of children up to the age of seven. It is difficult to explain to a four-year-old, for example, that he felt a shock because he inserted a fork into an electric outlet, and not because the invisible and malevolent wall pixies intended to do him harm.
    Stone age peoples lived at this early childhood level of intellectual development, thus they assumed “agency” was behind every natural phenomenon. You could not explain to such individuals that the volcano erupted due to shifts in the earth’s gravitational field, or that a child fell ill because he was exposed to microscopic virii looking for a healthy host. No, such individuals would look for a “reason” behind the unhappy event that would fit into their subjective, mystical paradigm: The gods are angry, the child’s parents are being “punished” for bad behavior. Always with the assumption that a conscious agent is responsible. It absurd to look for “reason” behind suffering if you are an enlightened, reasonably educated person. Happenstance can cause accidents. Neglect, weather, lack of preparation, external and impartial laws of physics. Just because the end result of any event is human suffering does not mean that an entity of any kind is behind that event. There is no “why” behind it. There is no benevolent or malevolent agent behind the millions of insults, small and large to which our mortal flesh is heir (to paraphrase Shakespeare). All we can do is to try our best to rise above our suffering and to live meaningfully (according to our own values) and heroically for our own sakes, and the sakes of those we love, and with the intention of pursuing happiness—-here on earth.

  • 121. mysteries of the world  |  June 4, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    mysteries of the world…

    [...]Bart Ehrman, Questioning Religion on Why We Suffer (NPR) « de-conversion[...]…

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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