Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why Would We Invent Hell?

Many theists have brought up the question from time to time that if heaven can be explained because it bares the hallmarks of wishful thinking, then it seems at odds with human desire why we would've invented hell.

Dinesh D'Souza made the following argument in a debate with Christopher Hitchens:

I can totally see why in a wish fulfillment world we would invent heaven...I don't think I would have made up hell. Hell is more severe than diabetes. It's a little tougher than death. So why would [the] wish fulfillment inventors of religion come up with the rules of self denial and so on that make our life more difficult, more sacrificial?

Hitchens has at another time responded to this by saying that hell is the place we've conjured up where we'd desire people that we don't like to go to. I agree. When we're full of hateful emotion towards someone, we tell them to go to - hell. Right? Hell is where we wish those we don't like can spend an eternity being tortured. It comes from the sadistic side of the human personality to enjoy the torments of others, and religions like Christianity and especially Islam, capitalize on it very well.

But also, on the flip side to our sadism, we're also sometimes masochistic. We want to be abused and punished and humiliated for our shortcomings. Religion aptly capitalizes on this side to our personality as well. If you look at virtually every religion, it enjoins the believer into thinking that they're a subhuman, filthy, wretched, worm, who's not even worth of the life they didn't even ask for. You see this in every religion. You see this amongst Christians and Muslims flagellating themselves; you see this amongst Jews forcing themselves to live according to absurd rules and regulations. Religious belief is partly a manifestation of sadomasochism.

I can almost guarantee you that many of the writers of religious doctrines that bare masochistic tendencies would be the kind of people paying to be whipped and beaten if they were alive today.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

So You Think Evolution And Religion Are Compatible Huh? My Challenge To Theistic Evolutionists

When it comes to the theory of evolution there are four basic positions a theist can take:
  1. Evolution is a natural process that was started by god in the beginning; 
  2. Evolution is partly natural process that god occasionally interacts with and guides; 
  3. Evolution is a process that is completely guided by god at every step; or, 
  4. Evolution is false and doesn't happen. 

If you're a theist, your approach to evolution is going to fall under one of these four categories. The naturalist position of course is that evolution is a totally unguided process that never needs supernatural intervention. I praise all theists who have accepted evolution as fact despite the many obstacles that they face. That being said, for those theists who take a position between 1 and 3 above it opens up a new book of difficult questions, perhaps even harder than the traditional problems of evil. 

I have a list of 10 questions that popped into my head recently that I think highlight some of the problems of trying to incorporate theistic evolution with theistic beliefs. I wouldn't say the two are impossible to reconcile, but asking the following questions below to various theists has yielded a wide range of contradictory answers that I think theists should stop and try very hard to come up with definitive answers for.

  1. When did the soul appear? Did it literally appear all of a sudden? 
  2. Did god say *poof* one day and man suddenly received a soul? 
  3. Did the soul evolve and appear gradually? 
  4. Was there literally one generation of human beings that had souls whose parents didn't? 
  5. Did the soul come early in human evolution or late? 
  6. If it came late, why did god wait tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years to create the soul? 
  7. What about original sin? How do we get original sin if there never was a literal Adam & Eve? I know that only Christianity has original sin, but if we don't have it, how do you make sense of Christian theology without it? 
  8. If god gave man a soul suddenly and waited until late in human evolution to do it, that means that all the human beings who died before humans got their soul possessed the same cognitive functionality in order to consciously suffer as much as their descendants did who did have souls, and yet they were not compensated for the suffering they endured. How can this be reconciled with standard Christian or Islamic doctrine that basically says heaven compensates all the suffering that humans experience? 
  9. What about animal suffering? Biology and neuroscience shows us that animals consciously suffer as most mammals have a prefrontal and neocortex. If animals consciously suffer and have no souls, why do they suffer and why isn't there suffering compensated? How could a wholly good god create beings who could consciously suffer and then just plan for them to die with no compensation to them?
  10. Why create human beings through a long slow process that involved numerous mass extinctions that caused millions of species to suffer and die who had varying levels of consciousness to experience this suffering? It seems unnecessarily cruel.

I've never heard a theist give me a satisfactory answer to a single one of these answers let alone all 10. Many of these questions should be easy to answer since they cover the same area: the soul.

I'd like to propose these questions as a challenge to any theist willing to take them on who can give reasonable definitive answers that are compatible with the concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful and especially an all-good god.

Any one up for the challenge?

(Please also check out my Evolutionary Argument Against God here.)

Can You Name Any Smart Theists?

I'm tempted at times to put all religious people and religions under one category: dumb. But the rational side to me says that this is not so. Religions make many diverse claims amongst each other, and some of those claims are more practical than others. While it is self evident to me without a doubt that the fundamental claims all religions make are equally false, you do find nuggets of truth and insight here and there.

You absolutely can be smart and religious at the same time, but you cannot be properly educated and smart while being a fundamentalist. Two examples I use of very smart religious people are Dr. Francis Collins and Prof. Kenneth Miller. Both of these guys are very distinguished in their fields of genetics and biology respectively. Kenneth Miller in particular has been a very prominent voice in the war against creationism being taught in the classroom. He testified at the Dover Pennsylvania trial on why "intelligent design" is not a valid scientific theory. He speaks and lectures on the evidence for evolutionary theory, including addressing the arguments made against it by the creationist proponents. And, he's a Catholic who's found a way to successfully reconcile evolutionary theory with his faith without any major conflict.

Prof. Miller and Dr. Collins are textbook examples of how science can be reconciled with faith in the modern world. From their impacts on society along with others that hold to their views, the number of Americans who accept evolution as fact continues to increase, although the increase has not been as precipitous as many hoped. So whenever anyone asks me if I can name some smart theists, I use these two as examples.

Why Biblical Inerrancy Makes No Sense

This is basically how biblical inerrancy sounds to me: the bible is what we have, and since it's impossible god would have wanted us to have a inaccurate book about him, the bible must be perfect and free of any errors!

This line of "reasoning" is what millions of Christians throughout history have used to justify their belief that the bible is a perfect and inerrant piece of work. It's about as dubious as the "ass backwards" logic of the fine tuning argument. Some Christians seem to think that if they can show one part of the bible to be more probably true than not, then it means that the whole entire bible can be taken as truth. Usually this is done with the resurrection. But calculating the resurrection as more probably true than not (which is problematic on its own) does not logically follow that the entire bible is therefore completely true.

There may be a few bits of truth here and there in the bible, but none of them on their own should lead to a conclusion that the entire bible is true. Every truth claim in the bible needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis, and the probability of any one part being true should not necessarily bare any weight on any other part. That being said, biblical inerrancy is intellectually bankrupt, especially in light of the fact that many stories in the bible are full on contradictions, and are scientifically and historically inaccurate.

See a list here of the numerous biblical contradictions from evilbible,com

Friday, April 26, 2013

Does Evil & Suffering Disprove God? A Debate Review Between Walter Sincott-Armstrong v. William Lane Craig

Professor of philosophy Walter Sincott-Armstrong debated William Lane Craig once upon a time long ago on the topic of whether the existence of evil and suffering disprove that god exists. In the debate, Armstrong makes some pretty compelling arguments that there cannot be a god who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving to the maximal degree. He says god could be mostly powerful or mostly loving for example, but not all of all of those three attributes. He opens his argument with a personal anecdote of a friend who had lost their child and whose death split the family apart. What justification does god have, Armstrong asks, for allowing such evil?

Part 1: Summarizing the debate

In the debate Armstrong makes a deductive argument using the existence of gratuitous evil as the source of evidence against the compatibility of god’s most commonly agreed upon attributes mentioned above. Armstrong’s argument is as follows:

1. If there were an all-powerful and all-good god, there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.

2. There is some evil in the world and some of that evil is not logically necessary for any adequately compensating good.

3. Therefore, there can’t be a god that is all powerful and all good.

Armstrong defines evil as “anything that all rational people avoid for themselves unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil.” This would include things like pain, ignorance, disability, death. He says “evil is justified when there are no other ways or better ways to avoid it.” For example, going to the dentist might cause immense pain and suffering, but it’s for the long term benefit of your teeth and health. The only evil god is justified in allowing he says, are those that are logically necessary in order to promote some compensating good.

After making his opening argument against god’s existence using evil, Armstrong then preempts some of the most common objections.

Possible responses:

1. Evil is imposed by god as a punishment for sin. But evil is not distributed evenly according to sin. Original sin is unfair. We view group punishment as barbaric and unjust.

2. The child who suffers in this life is repaid in heaven. Isn't it better to have a fulfilling life while also going to heaven? God could send the child straight to heaven instead of having it suffer.

3. Free will is so valuable that god let us have even though he knew we’d misuse it. But this doesn’t address natural evil, disease, earthquakes, etc. Free will cannot provide god with a reason for allowing natural evil.

4. Evil builds character. Observers and sufferers of evil might become more compassionate. But god can make people compassionate in many other ways than to force someone around them to suffer and die. It’s unfair to make someone suffer so that somebody else can learn something.

5. Evil is used by god to maximize the number of people to know god and glorify god. If god allows babies to suffer for other people to glorify god, it seems very narcissistic. God can bring people to him voluntarily in other ways that don’t involve evil.

6. God has a reason for permitting evil, we just can’t see it. Imagine your neighbor lets his kids starve. He has plenty of food but doesn’t feed his children. We’d think he’s a bad parent. But imagine if someone says “maybe he has sufficient reason to starve the kids, maybe he has some better purpose later on.” Because we cannot know this reason we are justified in concluding that the parent is bad based on what we know.

7. Evil gives us some reason not to believe in god but theists insist that this evidence is overridden by other evidence for god. Even if the other arguments for god are good, it’s hard to show how that kind of creator is all-good and not just very good or mostly good.

In conclusion Armstrong says, it seems that theists have a choice: they can say that god is all powerful, but not all loving. What they can’t do is face the evidence of evil in this world and still believe in the traditional god.

Before I weigh in, let me summarize from the debate the main points that Craig argues in favor of god’s existence.

Craig's Arguments:

Craig opens his arguments by saying that the problem of evil does not count as a disproof of the existence of god intellectually. He offers the following summary of Armstrong’s syllogism as he sees it:

1. If god exists, gratuitous evil does not exist. (Evil that is morally unjustified)

2. Gratuitous evil exists

3. Therefore, god does not exist.

Craig argues that gratuitous evil does not exist because we cannot know that it does. He then says that the atheist assumes that if god allows these evils to exist, then it must be evident to us, which he says is ungrounded.  We shouldn’t expect to see the reasons why god permits evil, he argues. Evil that exists today “could” according to Craig, might not be understood why god allowed it until centuries later. Our limitations in time prevent us from knowing this, but that is not the case for god who’s timeless.

Craig then argues that certain Christian doctrines mention that we’d expect to see evil in the world that appears gratuitous, making it harder for Armstrong’s case. He says Armstrong cannot infer the appearance of evil to the fact of evil. Craig then offers three arguments to make this case:

1.  The purpose of life is not human happiness, it is to know god. We naturally assume that if god exists, the purpose of this life is to be happy, and that god should make all of our lives happy. It may well be the case that only in a world involving natural and moral evils that the maximum number of persons would freely come to know god and his salvation. Armstrong has to show that it is feasible to create a world which has the same amount of the knowledge of god and of his salvation, but that has less evil.

2. Mankind is in a state of rebellion against god and his purpose. He’s spiritual alienated. Christians should expect to see terrible evils in the world. God has given mankind over to the evil that he’s chosen. God lets it run its course.

3. God’s purpose spills over into eternal life. In the afterlife god will reward those who’ve suffered and who’ve trusted in god. We shouldn't expect to see the reasons in this life for why permits evil. The glory of eternal heaven outweighs any suffering in the world. Given the prospects of eternal life, some suffering may be justified only in light of eternity.

Craig then goes on to say that Armstrong would then have to refute these three doctrines which he hasn’t done in order to show that natural evils are indeed gratuitous. Then in another tactic Craig is so fond of, he tries to turn the tables and argue that if god exists, then the evil in the world is not gratuitous. So he then puts forth a modified version of his summary above of Armstrong’s argument above:
1. If god exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.

2*. God exists

3*. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Then Craig goes onto argue for god using the cosmological, the fine tuning, and the moral arguments which I've written about before so I won’t summarize here.

Interestingly, there is no back and forth rebuttal in this debate and they just go right into a dialogue after their opening speeches.

Part 2: My Analysis of the Debate

I want to summarize for myself the arguments made in the debate and of course I will be especially critical of Craig.

I've just recently written of the inadequacy of speculating whether god has morally sufficient reasons for doing what he does so this will allow me to critique someone who thinks he actually knows.

Let me now argue against Craig’s 3 points that he justified human suffering with.

1. The purpose of life is not human happiness, it is to know god.

Is that so? Well, of course that’s Craig’s opinion, and is not verifiable. One must have faith in Christian doctrine in order to accept such a proposition. But if we take it at face value, why is it true that millions of people who have been born and who are alive today have suffered from such levels of mental retardation that they are incapable of the cognitive functioning necessary to know anything truthful of the outside world, let alone that god exists? You cannot know god unless you’ve got a reasonably functioning brain. If the purpose of life is to know god, it would seem at odds with his plan that he’d build into the design the very impediments that prevent one from actualizing the whole purpose of the plan. In light of this fact, the purpose of all our lives we’re being told by Craig is fundamentally flawed.

This point was also addressed by Armstrong in his point number 5. God certainly could bring people to him using other means besides natural evils like suffering and disease. In his infinite wisdom, he surely could bring about the same number of people, perhaps even more, to know him than if he allowed natural evils and could still achieve the same overall goal. For one thing, god could simply give us more evidence that he exists. That would convince billions to freely worship him and jettison their pagan gods. And why couldn't god have chosen to bring about the maximal number of people freely to him in a world without natural evil, but that still contains human evil? To say god could create any possible world he wants, and chose to create one with human and natural evils is to say god willingly chose to create the world with more suffering in it. The debate never addressed the origin of natural evil, whether it was through original sin or not, but such investigations lead to numerous other problems for theism in light of modern science.

And what about current and future advances in medical technology? If we can cure the diseases and remove the pain and suffering that god inflicts on us or allows us to experience, are we thwarting god’s plan? What if we alleviate suffering on a massive scale? Would the alleviation of suffering then not produce the kinds of positive outcomes god is hoping for down the road?

What does naturalism have to say about natural evils like disease and earthquakes? Well, we live in a volatile and imperfect world; you’d expect to see natural disasters harm people and animals.  Diseases are just other forms of life trying to survive in the same way we are – they just have to harm other beings in order for them to flourish, much like how we kill millions of animals for food in order for us to flourish. Under naturalism there’s no mystery why there exists natural evils and suffering in light of the knowledge we have of what causes them.

2. Mankind is in a state of rebellion against god and his purpose.

From god’s perspective, was there ever any expectation that mankind wouldn’t rebel? Assuming the Christian story to be true, god creates mankind and gives him and all his descendants thereof freewill and the desire to be free and to want to live autonomously. Then god imposes a set of very strict and impossible to follow set of rules and morals, and commands that his creation love him and submit to him and essentially be his slaves. Then god gets angry when he sees his creation rebelling against him. Really? What did god expect to happen? If you enslaved a nation of people and ordered them to worship you, of course you’d expect them to rebel against you.

I think that the Christian doctrine of man’s rebellion and the wrath he suffers from is better explained by the masochistic aspects of the human personality. It is just far too easy to believe that we rebelled against god, and that that’s why we live in a world with diseases and earthquakes. This also ignores the fact that suffering and disease predated the evolution of mankind by millions of years and therefore cannot be due to man’s rebellion against god. I think this debate occurred before Craig came to accept evolution as fact, which happened rather recently. In light of evolution and the fact that there was no literal Adam and Eve, this argument based on the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden falls flat under its erroneous assumptions.

3. God’s purpose spills over into eternal life.

The promise of eternal life is really all the Christian has to justify natural suffering in this world. The problem is that this does not address the existence of animal suffering at all. Why should an animal suffer a horrendous ordeal only to die and be forfeited the same possible rewards human suffering is worthy of under the Christian worldview? A YouTube user going by the name of “skydivephil” recently made a video critiquing the many fallacious attempts by theists like William Lane Craig in order to try to argue that animals are not consciously aware of the pain they suffer and that animal suffering could not be used as an argument against god.

Craig invites to his own website’s weekly Q&A Prof. Michael Murray whose book Nature Red in Tooth and Claw is what Craig bases his justification on that animals are not consciously aware of pain. “Those parts of the brain most closely associated with consciousness of pain,” Murray writes, “are also the parts that were the last to arrive among mammals: the pre-frontal cortex.” As such, he concludes that there exists 3 levels of pain awareness:

Level 3: a second order awareness that one is oneself experiencing (2).
Level 2: a first order, subjective experience of pain.
Level 1: information-bearing neural states produced by noxious stimuli resulting in aversive behavior.

But it is simply not true that only advanced mammals have a prefrontal cortex. In fact, animals as wide ranging as opossums, guinea pigs, and rats all contain a prefrontal cortex or a neo-cortex. And this is attested by the majority of the scientific community. So it is simply not the case that non-primate lower mammals are not aware of their pain and suffering as apologists like Craig make it out to be.

Furthermore, from PZ Myers’ website on this outright lie of Craig, he mentions the implications of arguing that the prefrontal cortex is necessary for level 3 conscious awareness. “Craig has actually just rejected Cartesian dualism (and neo-Cartesian views of the ‘soul’) in that claim. If you assert that the neurological processes that are involved in self-representation are necessary for the existence of self-representation, then you are rejecting the possibility that something can self-represent without those processes. That’s the basic mode.

With this evidence in place, Craig fails ultimately to rebut Armstrong's second premise of his argument which is what he intended to do. The problem with Craig is that he knows how to deliver his arguments such that you sometimes need to play back the tape in order to break his false claims apart minute by minute, and point by point in order see determine their untruth. 


In Craig’s closing arguments he reads an emotional letter from a person who wrote him who was grieving over the recent loss of a child. No doubt this was a last ditch appeal to the audience’s emotions to try to win them over. In the letter he reads of a man who finds hope that he’ll one day be reunited with his deceased daughter in heaven. Now there’s no doubt that religion offers hope and consolation to those going through difficult times, but it’s also true that a false religion that wasn't true would have the same exact effect on people who believed in it. A false religion that offered hope would be just as effective as one that was real, so long as it was believed to be true. So the fact that religion provides some people a way to cope and face death with a bit more courage, says absolutely nothing about whether that religion is true. In fact, I’d argue that the consoling powers of faith are in part the reason why religions were created by our fearful ancestors in the first place – as a wishful thinking measure to sooth the inevitable pain of death.

Could God Have Created The Laws Of Logic?

Where do the laws of logic come from? If god cannot violate logic, if god cannot create a square circle, or a married bachelor, then he cannot be the author of logic. For if he was, he would be able to violate logic at will. So if logic is not created by god, then it could be said that logic exists necessarily in some sense. Was logic created at the beginning of space and time and did not exist prior? If there was no “prior” to an absolute beginning of time, then is logic timeless? Is it possible for logic to have not existed and then exist at some point? Before space and time existed and all matter and energy, did logic exist? If so, then we can never say that absolute nothing ever existed; there were always the laws of logic, even if there was no time for them to exist before time. And if it’s possible that the laws of logic exist necessarily, and in some sense, timelessly, then it is not a stretch to say that the fundamental laws of physics exist necessarily and timelessly.

Of course, it is possible to believe that the laws of logic begin to exist at the moment of the origin of space and time, and that they govern all activity in every universe created thereafter. But why these laws and not other laws of logic? Was it impossible for there to have been other laws? Is there a necessity to why there must be these laws of logic? Perhaps these laws of logic are indeed necessary because there must exist rules preventing contradiction and other paradoxes. But when it comes to the hotly debated existence of “nothing”, and by nothing I mean absolute nothing - not anything or the complete absence of anything – the necessary existence of logic puzzles me because in some sense, logic exists prior to anything. So it does not seem likely that absolute nothing ever really existed. 

More Thoughts On God's Timeless Paradox

We’re often told that god is a disembodied mind - he’s a mind with no physical body. Well what is it that minds do? Well, minds think! That’s what minds do. A disembodied mind that doesn't think, in some sense, doesn't exist. But thinking is a temporal process, it is a temporal event. How is it logically possible that a thinking immaterial mind can truly exist outside of time? What many theists often do in their description of god is that they simply just assert that god is timeless but they offer no evidence how such a being could actually exist. They simply just declare that “god exists outside of space and time”, but the burden of proof is on the one who makes such a claim to explain how it is logically verifiable.

Christian apologist William Lane Craig says on his own website on the nature of god and time, “A sequence of mental events alone is sufficient to generate relations of earlier and later, wholly in the absence of any physical events.” This means that if god were to count from one to five, “1,2,3,4,5” there would always be a moment prior to him counting and a moment after him counting. This means that in order to think, you cannot logically escape the dimension of time, even in the absence of physical matter. This puts a heavy burden of proof on the theist who asserts that god is a thinking mind and a timeless mind. It would also seem that the absence of time and of possessing temporal qualities prevents any ability to think along with the ability to execute one’s will, and it certainly prevents god from being able to impregnating an underage Palestinian virgin, so that god could have her give birth to himself.

All of these events are temporal events, requiring temporal qualities.

We have no evidence whatsoever that a mind can exist outside of a brain let alone one that exists outside of space and time.

Craig's alternative is that god becomes temporal with the creation of the time. This is kind of like believing god is a caveman frozen in a block of ice from eternity who not only cannot move and cause things to happen, he cannot even think. Then when the ice thaws, he's suddenly free from the constraints of timelessness. I think this is perhaps the only way that I'm aware of that can explain god's nature after time begins. But, in my assessment of the ontological argument, this path leads to its own logical paradoxes. 


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