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Free will is a common theodicy, or explanation, for why there is evil and unnecessary suffering in the world. But, as The Tale of the Twelve Officers should make manifestly obvious, there is more under the surface. Free will is not a complete explanation of why an all-powerful and perfectly loving god would stand by and watch pain go by unhelped.
After reading Vuletic’s essay, one must ask: If free will is such an important feature of being human, than what exactly do we find personally wrong with the police officers’ decisions to not uphold their duty to justice? My response to this question is that free will is a red herring. If one of the police officers would have stepped up and defended the woman from rape and murder, that officer would not have changed the will of the perpetrator. Free will was not interfered with, or directly influenced. Rather, the police officer took away the free exercise of the perpetrators’ will. The will of the perpetrator to rape and murder the woman could, in all probability, have remained the same or even intensified after the police officer stopped him from carrying out his plans.
I think most would agree with me that this would be just. If it is unjust to prevent such acts as killing and raping, then one must wonder why it is just to take any sort of moral action at all.
So then, why doesn’t God intervene to prevent evil and unnecessary suffering? Wouldn’t he have a moral duty to do so?
One of the potentially largest implications of religion is that of salvation and the afterlife. Such a belief gives light and hope to many people – as well as inhuman hate for others, given the idea of hell. The requisites for these categories of afterlives are a bit vague, to put it mildly, but we can assume for the sake of the argument against Christianity that they depend on the belief that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were necessary and sufficient in God’s plan to try and save humanity.
But, exactly what did Jesus accomplish by dying on a tree? Is death on a stick really the ultimate act that will save us all? If anybody else died on a tree, nothing like that would happen. If Christ died in a different way, say, of natural death after everyone had accepted him, what would have happened? How does his method of dying magically save us? Why did he have to die? To suffer? The whole idea seems absurd, especially when it is given next to no explanation whatsoever by religious authorities. So what I’ll do is, I’ll assume it’s true, then try and create my best explanations for it, and finally dismantle those.
Here’s God’s conundrum, pre-Christ time. Humans were in a bad way, and God doesn’t like that. So he wants to send humans a message. He wants to tell us about himself a little more, and what he has in store for us. So he sends a messenger. The messenger is in human form because he wants to connect with them better and show that even the flesh can be strong for God. It is our fault that we didn’t believe him, and eventually crucified him. So in a way, God was sacrificing his own son to us, for us. And he was sacrificing his son, not so that we’d directly be given salvation, but indirectly so that we would know of it and be able to make a freely chosen decision on the matter.
That’s my best made-up explanation. There are nevertheless huge problems in it.
One thing we find is that God is a distant god. Instead of directly telling us his message, writing his thoughts in our minds and in our hearts, he sends a messenger to one small region of the world, and only for the span of that man’s life is he here to talk. Why would God limit his method of communication to the ways of humans? This communication is too damn important for such unreliable means! Now the rest of humanity cannot tell if his message is legit, and the fault is entirely with him. God’s method of reaching out to the masses is indistinguishable from that of cults and other religions: people tell, or indoctrinate, other people. If you can find me a person who has converted to Christianity before ever hearing about the religion, then I’ll be surprised.
Can the so-called virtue of faith justifiably arrive at the truth? I think not. The whole justification part is absent from the exercise of faith. If science is a process of guess and check, then faith is just the guess part. And so I wonder: how can anyone call this mental blindness a virtue?
In the article “Unholy Alliance” from Discover magazine, I read this from George Coyne:
I did not tell Richard Dawkins that there was no reason to believe in God. I said reasons are not adequate. Faith is not irrational, it is arational; it goes beyond reason. It doesn’t contradict reason. So my take is precisely that faith, to me, is a gift from God. I didn’t reason into it, I didn’t merit it – it was given to me as a gift through my family and my teachers … Dawkins’s real question should be, ‘How come you have the gift of faith and I don’t?’ And that’s an embarassment for me. The only thing I can say is that either you have it and don’t know it, or God works with each of us differently, and God does not deny that gift to anybody. I firmly believe that.”
[Michael Mason:] “Are you saying that the Bible should not be held up to scientific scrutiny?”
“That is correct, absolutely.”
This is appalling thinking. If someone has to resort to calling faith a gift from God as the only way that we can righteously believe, it is the same as admitting that there are no actual reasons for believing.
(1) Faith can indeed be attached to a true belief that could not otherwise be justified by reason. (“it goes beyond reason.”) But faith only works as much as a guess does. For the most part (or the whole), faith gives you a wrong conclusion. There is no religion on Earth that holds the majority of the planet’s population, and so even if one is right the majority of the faithful are wrong. Thanks to faith. In super-general, the chances of faith being right is the number of true beliefs divided by the number of false beliefs. That’s practically zero.
(2) To accuse all atheists of secretly having faith in God is supremely arrogant and condescending. He apparently has enough faith to believe we’re all lying to everyone and to ourselves, and he firmly believes it.
(3) If the Bible shouldn’t be held up to scientific scrutiny, then we are restraining our right to think for ourselves. Freethought is fundamentally against this. Why can’t we investigate it? Isn’t a sincere investigation the right way to believe in something?
Beyond the belief sphere, there is the real world. How does faith work in practice? Can faith really be a good thing?
A virtue is something that leads a person to behave ethically and avoid causing suffering. So I wonder, is faith truly a virtue?
Faith in something that commands you to behave ethically will lead to good behavior. Faith in something that runs on hatred, fear, intolerance, bigotry, ignorance, or self-denial will lead to pain and suffering. And for “intellectual” faith – holding an amoral belief for the sake of belief – there is only misunderstanding, and that’s no good. Faith is only a virtue if you have faith in something virtuous in the first place. Thus, faith is not individually a virtue. It is not faith that leads you to good ethics, but rather the objects of faith.
Timothy Keller, in The Reason For God, gives a different definition of faith. (The book didn’t actually give a reason for God, just “deep clues.”) Keller attacks Dawkins for an epistemology he calls “strong rationalism,” which is where you ask for absolute proof of any belief before believing it. Obviously, no one could survive in the real world with strong rationalism. Keller suggests a better epistemology he calls “critical rationalism,” where you hold on to the belief or explanation that has the best evidence over competing ones. In this way, we have a sort of “faith” that goes “beyond reason,” in the sense of outside perfect proof. We hold provisional beliefs because we are without conclusive evidence of most things.
But Dawkins isn’t actually a strong rationalist. Dawkins invokes the ideas of probability and evidence, which suggests if the probability or evidence were sufficient enough for belief (to his eyes) he would believe. And most atheists aren’t asking for 100% proof of God – we’re asking for sufficient reason to believe. There have been some interesting attempts at giving us such reasons, but they have failed.
And this provisional belief that we hold under critical rationality is different from faith. Faith is blind, it does not relate to evidence at all. If you mix a little reason and faith together it still doesn’t justify belief. There is a reason faith is called a leap, and that is because it is the only way to get across a gap in logic to get to a desired belief.
Some apologists have even picked up on this. Have you ever heard the phrase “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist”? There is a bit of victorious irony in the reversal done with that statement. Supposedly, it’s to say that atheists who criticize faith are actually hypocritical. But it implicitly concedes the fact that faith is not a reliable epistemological method, and is in fact intellectually detestable. I wonder, do people who tout this clever quip for atheists feel good about their religion being called a “faith”? And what does it mean when we start seeing apologists losing faith in faith?
Ask most people, and they’ll believe that everything is made of atoms. But if you ask them, what kind of evidence is there to convince scientists of that? You will not likely get an answer from a lay person. Hence, most people take it on faith. We trust scientists to be the reliable authority on the subject. If we were to feel a little baffled or curious about the matter, then, well, we could lean on our scientific inclinations and do a little research for ourselves. But most of us just accept that everything’s made of atoms because we’re told that science says so. Likewise, a large number of theists believe what they do because they’ve been told these beliefs by all the religious authorities in their lives. If any of us were a little confused or intrigued about the matter, then we’d do our own research and become a little learned in theology.
That’s all fine and dandy … to an extent. Most people don’t have the time, energy, patience or interest to research atomic theory or theology. Society functions on its own without everyone being experts on everything. But the thing is, if the answer to a question is really significant and meaningful to you, then you should look at it with rationality and not blind faith and wishful thinking. If you’re wondering what the purpose of your life is, or why the universe is here, or what-have-you, and you really want to figure out the truth, then you’ll have to do more than just listen to others’ opinions on the subject.
For personal assurance, you should take a serious, reasonable look at the important parts of your belief system. (It’s no use wondering solipsisms like if the universe was created last Thursday, if we’re all a part of the Matrix, or if a Cartesian demon is feeding you false perceptions. However, if you’ve lived your life assuming that a certain man has the answers to your salvation and the nature of the divine creator, then you probably want to spend some time with that idea.) Furthermore, if you want to have a reliable and authoritative public voice about a subject, it is your responsibility to sincerely and soberly study that subject.
Now – apply this to the current state of religion. I am certain that the majority of believers, in any faith around the world, do not have sufficient justification for their belief. This is understandable. We grow up, and learn to accept much of what we are told when we are young. But that doesn’t make it right. That’s why it’s our duty to speak our opinions when it’s warranted and when it raises consciousness about the significance of a certain opinion – like religion. (I’m applying this to atheists and believers.) Robert Ingersoll once said, “out upon the intellectual sea there is room for every sail, and in the intellectual air there is space for every wing.” But to stay where you were born and never meet any new places on this sea or in this air is intellectual negligence, and it needs consciousness-raising. Religion is important.
Denys Turner, the Cambridge theologian whose inaugural lecture for taking up the chair of theology was How to Be an Atheist, said that in order to be a “proper, card-carrying atheist,” one has to be good at avoiding a certain kind of question. That question is, Why is there something rather than nothing at all?
To dwelve deeper into this mystery, I’d like to refer to a post of the same name by Sean Caroll at Cosmic Variance.
The first assignment on the agenda is to look into the possibilities of “nothing” and “something,” and what makes them special. (Some have argued that true nothingness is an impossibility – to which I ask, how do you know? Perfect nothingness is self-evident and easy to conceive of; there is nothing incoherent about it.) Nothingness appears more plain and simple than something. It has the absence of any character and detail, therefore making it the sort of “default” that contrasts against something with attributes. Even though this metaphysical “zero” universe about which all others are conceived is simpler than all else, the question is, why is simpler better? Occam’s razor applies to competing explanations, not possible worlds. On the one hand, this seems a fair question to ask. The question is being begged for. Yet, our intuition wonders how we could just settle for accepting that our universe is an arbitrary one instead of a more “natural,” “spontaneous” option. Quoting Caroll:
But our experience with the world in which we actually live tells us nothing whatsoever about whether certain possible universes are “natural” or not. In particular, nothing in science, logic, or philosophy provides any evidence for the claim that simple universes are “preferred” (whatever that could possibly mean). We only have experience with one universe; there is no ensemble from which it is chosen, on which we could define a measure to quantify degrees of probability. Who is to say whether a universe described by the non-perturbative completion of superstring theory is likelier or less likely than, for example, a universe described by a Rule 110 cellular automaton?
As much as we hate to admit it, our intuitions on this matter are unfounded, unreliable, and unauthoritative. And since this is so, we have nothing more to look towards in search of an answer. We cannot hope to find one. We don’t have to be good at avoiding the question: there is no way to confront it.
Now, I’ll back myself up on that. I’ll prove it. Reductio ad absurdum style.
Suppose this question had an answer. That means there is a deciding factor that chose between nothingness and something. This deciding factor is itself something, which means it chose itself into existence. This is illogical. There is no answer to the question. There is nothing outside of the possibilities of nothingness and something. We just exist. That is all.
* This isn’t to say that no god(s) exist. If god(s) exist, then they are counted as something too.
Firstly, how do you know? How can you support the claim that there are other avenues to truth than rationality? Life-changing events always have subjective tinges to them. The “beauty of a sunset, the cooing of a baby,” and “the love of a man and a woman” are not objective in any way. Science does not operate within subjectivity, and it is only within objectivity that beliefs are externally true or false. Feelings are real perceptions, but the beliefs and worldview that are formed from emotions are, with no other support, baseless. What we feel is not justification to believe. If it were, then reality would have no objective truth, what with everybody feeling diametrically different things around the world and all. I believe in rationalism. Without reasoning, there is no epistemological foundation for any objective ideas.
Secondly, the Bible is not regarded as evidence to an atheist the same as it is to a believer. The claim of the Bible’s God is an extraordinary claim, and the Bible itself is not remotely close to being good enough evidence to constitute justification for belief. The Koran and Bhagavad Gita are in a similar situation. CARM even has a nice article on presuppositionalism. When a believer reads a verse from the Bible, the believer is to automatically believe what is written (ignoring interpretation) because the believer already supposes (on faith) that the entire Bible was the word of God beforehand. An atheist does not presuppose the authority or reliability of the Bible, and so a verse will not carry any special gravity with it for the atheist.
Suppose this were true. Then we can regard the creation of the universe as an event. So what event caused the creation event? There is no way to justifiably switch off the valve on the law of causality to stop an infinite regress from emerging. If we had to do it anyway, though, it would be more prudent to do it as soon as possible. Why should we put an extra being into the metaphysics equation? Occam’s Razor states that “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity,” and so it would be prudent to leave the universe alone when dealing with causality. As an explanation, gods are unneeded.
But, the law of causality is not perfect. It is a nice and simplistic concept that can be applied with almost totally negligible inaccuracy to the world around us on a daily basis. However, when dealing with the very nature of the universe, this “law” has no foundation. What causes the four fundamental fources such as gravity and electromagnetism? What causes virtual particles, vacuum fluctuations, and specific wavefunction collapses? In Processes and Causality, John Sowa writes, “Relativity and quantum mechanics have forced physicists to abandon these assumptions [Causality, Antecedence, Contiguity] as exact statements of what happens at the most fundamental levels, but they remain valid at the level of human experience.” Similarly, in Creation ex nihilo – Without God, Mark Vuletic writes, “Few people are aware of the fact that many modern physicists claim that things – perhaps even the entire universe – can indeed arise from nothing via natural processes.” (See his essay for expansion on the claim.)
I’ve never heard why there cannot be an infinite number of regressions of causes. It seems like an acceptable scenario but of which we have no way of knowing. And even if there couldn’t be such a chain, why must the number of causes be reduced to one? Where is the reasoning behind this swift move? Why not five causes? Or zero?
Lastly, to state that the God of the Bible, with all his personality and history about him, fits the bill of this “uncaused cause,” requires an argument. The reasoning here is nonexistent, and so this is a textbook case non sequitor.
Although our coming into existence (and indeed, the everyday naturalistic operations that keep us in the state of being alive) are governed and ruled by the laws of physics, it does not mean that there is no such thing as the self. Even if we are programmed, we are. We exist. And so our inventions of thought exist too; meaning and purpose are real. They are not given to us, they are self-made.
Also, look at lines 13 and 14. The atheist is supposed to have no “freely chosen, self-intended purpose,” and the theist is supposed to have a purpose handed down from God himself. So then, the theist also doesn’t have a freely chosen, self-intended purpose! Argh! Messed up on that one, CARM.
Here is the article summed up in two sentences: “Otherwise, we are merely bags of chemicals reacting to stimuli. I believe man is more than that.” In other words, the great argument from wishful thinking. I’m sure that argument’s becoming popular with the scholars these days. Must be becasue of so much real-world data to support it.
How can an atheist account for logic? My intuition tells me that it is a necessary feature of all possible universes. Logic cannot fail to be true, or to “exist.” But, predictably, there’s no way to prove that. Proving logic is a task beyond logic. By failing to do the impossible I am not being intellectually lazy or averting any duties to account for logic. Not everything can be accounted for.
This is self-righteous and ideologically arrogant. Logic is not the sole property of Christianity. It’s public property. Other religions can have myths which also account for the existence of logic just like the one given here. And I just gave an atheistic explanation of it as well. To think that logic must come from Christianity is to misunderstand the possibilities here.
The key error here is the axiom “logic is conceptual by nature.” The full-blown fallacy:
“Logic is a process of the mind. Logical absolutes provide the framework for logical thought processes. Therefore, Logical Absolutes are conceptual by nature.”
Logic dictates the structure of thought process. This does not mean logic is ontologically begotten from thoughts. Logic also provides the framework for computer circuitry. And yet logic is not the product of computer curcuitry, and computers are impersonal and manifestly non-conceptual. Indeed, by the act of defining the boundaries and manifold functioning of thought processes, logic can be said to precede or supervene thought and thus cannot be its child. This house of cards falls with the removal of one faulty premise. It’s unfortunate so much time was spent on building the house.
The article Impact & Effect of Sins on IslamOnline is a profoundly alarming explanation of Sharia law. It amounts to divine fear-mongering and manipulation. The mere fact that “sin” is equated with “disobedience” is very revealing of the role that this theology is supposed to play in people’s lives. It is controlling and pervasive.
According to the article, disobedience of Allah causes ignorance, poverty, physical and emotional weakness, reduced life span, humiliation, deficient intellect, cold hearts, environmental problems, harm to animals, immodesty, loss of benevolence, and abandonment from Allah. Furthermore, it claims that punishment is justified against a sinner, that a sinner is only lashing out against Allah out of spite, and that all types of sins are legacies of past sinful nations and therefore categorize modern sinners. (Sodomizers continue the legacy of Lot, for example.)
The claims of physical side effects from sinning are flat out wrong. The world operates under natural law, and supernatural beings are unobservable. Poverty is not caused by sinning. Physical weakness may emerge due to the Placebo effect, but there is no real connection between sinning and the nutrients inside our bodies. And how animals are supposedly harmed and the environment becomes polluted are beyond me. These are ludicrous statements, and give us full reason to be extremely skeptical of the reliability of the author of these statements.
“Sin” does not cause us to lose brain cells or reduce our capacity for thinking, nor does it make us immodest. And modesty is definitely not the “basis of every good.” I have to wonder here, what the term modesty is taken to mean, because in the same line that calls immodesty the “disappearance of all that is good,” the good old prophet Mo is given “peace and blessings.” This is a part of the bewildering tradition to make sure the prophet has a good public image and that no one makes the mistake of disreputing him. But why should we pamper the man’s ego when he says modesty is the basis of all that is good?