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The Confused Atheism of NFL Star Arian Foster

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Filed under Atheism

SN-Foster

The latest, August 18 edition of ESPN Magazine, one of the most popular sports periodicals in the world, features a cover story titled "The Confession of Arian Foster" (which you can read in full online.) The article is a sort of "coming out" for NFL star Foster, running back for the Houston Texans, who admits he doesn't believe in God. According to some pundits, his confession makes him "the first active professional athlete, let alone star, to ever stand up in support of gaining respect for secular Americans."

The ESPN article claims that Openly Secular, an activist organization for which Foster campaigns, "initially approached ESPN about Foster's willingness to share his story, but ESPN subsequently dealt directly with Foster, and Openly Secular had no involvement." Yet, ironically, in the very next paragraph, the author quotes Todd Stiefel, chair of Openly Secular. It seems the organization had at least some influence in the article's creation and positioning. The article admits that Openly Secular "plans to use his story to increase awareness and acceptance of nonbelievers, especially in sports." In other words, the article is less about sports and more about promoting secularism.

Before addressing Foster's comments about why he disbelieves in God, I want to first say that both atheists and Christians should applaud him for being unafraid to voice his convictions. As he admits, coming out as a non-believer in heavily evangelical Houston, home of Joel Osteen and the city that "helped put the mega in megachurch," could be a costly move. He says, "You don't want to ruin endorsements. People might say, 'I don't want an atheist representing my team.'...[but] just being me is more important than being sexy to Pepsi or whoever. After a while, what's an extra dollar compared to the freedom of being you?" (A question similar to one proposed by a first-century Rabbi: "What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?")

It's not clear if Foster himself actually accepts the atheist label. Near the end of the article, he says, "I'm not a picket-sign-atheist. I just want to be a happy human being and continue to learn." But other quotes—such as the one above concerning endorsements above—show that he sometimes use the label.

Either way, whether he identifies as atheist or not, he doesn't believe in God. And most atheists today prefer to define atheism as referring "a lack of belief in God." So by that definition he fits the bill.

Foster's atheism doesn't make him a bad person, as the article goes to great lengths to affirm. It highlights Foster's "modest" rental house, his one car in the driveway ("but no fleet"), and his clear devotion to his children. By the end of the article, most readers will likely come away thinking, "Huh. I guess you can be atheist and be a pretty good guy." (An unsurprising fact to Catholics here at Strange Notions, but perhaps news to other Christians.) It seems the article's main purpose is simply to normalize secularism, which is the shared mission of Openly Secular.

What I'd like to focus on, though, are not the article's political or strategic motivations. At Strange Notions, we're much more interested in the actual reasons why Foster disbelieves in God.

Unlike most American non-believers today, who were raised in Christian homes, Foster grew up Muslim. His father taught him to "pray five times a day, facing east" but also to "ask questions and challenge convention." His mother, Bernadette, was raised Catholic and briefly converted to Islam, but she's now agnostic. Foster's parents divorced when he was a boy and he moved in with his father.

While in high school, the two moved to San Diego in order to enroll in a powerhouse football academy. They rented "a one-room shack," which was all they could afford. His father remembered, "I lived literally four feet from my son for two years. He slept on one side of the room and I slept on the other." It was in that shack that the seeds of Foster's atheism began to grow.

Lying elbow to elbow with his father, Foster would often pray to God, "If you can, just get me out of this jam." But God never did. Foster felt that nobody heard his desperate prayers. "Why is this relationship so one-sided?" he wondered, "Why would a loving God create evil? Why would he allow eternal damnation?"

All of these questions, which most people confront at some point in life, articulate the famous "problem of evil"—how could an all-loving, all-powerful God allow pain and suffering in this world?

But today, philosophers both atheist and theist generally agree that although the problem is serious and deeply felt, it doesn't provide strong support for atheism. There is no logical contradiction between an all-loving, all-powerful God and the existence of evil for the simple fact that God could have morally sufficient reasons for permitting certain pains and sufferings. In Foster's case, he would probably agree that his difficult adolescence helped forge his character, made him more resilient, and helped him better appreciate the gifts he has now. If he grew up in a posh, upper-class neighborhood, perhaps he never would have developed the grit and work ethic needed to reach his dreams of the NFL. So it's possible God allowed temporary suffering to produce greater good in his case, and I'm guessing if you asked Foster, he would say in retrospect that the difficulties were worth it; they made him into the man he is now.

The agnostic scholar Paul Draper admits “theists face no serious logical problem of evil.” And J.L. Mackie, long one of the most prominent atheist defenders of the problem of evil, said, "[W]e can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.” This doesn't prevent the "problem of evil" stops being an emotional issue for many people. But it means that it poses no logical argument against God and no rational support for atheism.

After seeing Foster struggle with the "problem of evil", we glimpse another angle of his atheism in the article when he interacts with his 6-year old daughter, Zeniah, who attends a Catholic elementary school. "Every once in a while she'll mention Jesus or God," Foster says. "One time she likened God and Jesus to Zeus and Hercules. She did it on her own. She said something along the lines of, 'They're the same. They're both stories.' I thought it was brilliant on her part to be able to distinguish it."

We can gather from this that another reason Foster disbelieves in God is because Jesus and God the Father are "the same" as Hercules and Zeus, respectively, or at the least the same in regards to being non-existent myths.

If you've read any of the "New Atheist' authors, this won't be a new idea. The comparison of Jesus to pagan deities is neither new or uncommon. In fact, a quick Google search for "atheist memes" returns several polemical images dedicated to the idea. But is the comparison apt? Foster thinks so, and calls his daughter's insight "brilliant." Yet it faces several problems.

First, Jesus is a well-attested historical figure, one who lived in a specific place at a specific time, whom even contemporary atheist historians agree existed (and have written whole books defending.) On the other hand, nobody thinks Hercules was a real, historical figure. He has always been acknowledged as a myth. Another difference is that Jesus is fully God and fully man, whereas Hercules is half-mortal, half-immortal.

Second, the Christian God is radically distinct from Zeus, or any other pantheistic deity. Zeus is just one, contingent creature among many—the son of Cronus and Rhea, also contingent beings. Unlike the Christian God, Zeus is not self-existent, nor the ultimate uncaused cause, which necessarily grounds the universe. Zeus is merely a creature, albeit divine, while God is the pure creator.

So even though all four figures (Jesus, God, Hercules, and Zeus) were worshipped as deities, and even though they share some traits in common like supernatural abilities, they are radically different on the level of ontology, or being. Equating them as "the same" may be defensible for a 6-year-old girl, but not for a mature, "free-thinking" man. The comparison is less "brilliant" and more confused.

(For more on why the Jesus/pagan deity comparison fails, read Jon Sorenon's articles here titled "Horus Manure" and "Exploding the Mithras Myth".)

The ESPN article next moves away from Foster's personal and family life and into the NFL locker room. Football, like most sports in America, has a long relationship with religion. Players openly discuss God, join each other for church, and pray before games. Typically, Foster doesn't participate. As his teammates kneel in the locker room, asking God to keep them safe during the game, Foster "sits at his locker...facing the wall, the music in his headphones internalizing his preparation."

Foster wonders, "If God is helping you win, isn't he by definition ensuring that the other guy loses?...If there is a God and he's watching football, there are so many other things he could be doing...There are hungry children and diseases and famine and so much important stuff going on in the world, and he's really blessed your team? It's just weird to me."

It's worth pointing out that the article never mentions any players begging God to help them win games, only to keep them safe. So it's not clear who Foster is complaining about.

But here we see another reason for Foster's disbelief. How could he believe in a God who is concerned with petty football games over more pressing needs in the world?

Foster is of course right that God probably doesn't care about wins and losses, at least for their own sake (in his providential governing of the universe, no detail is insignificant). So Foster's intuition is right that praying for wins is selfish and misguided. But the existence of misguided prayers don't support atheism. The fact that some people make selfish or inconsequential requests to God doesn't mean prayer itself is impotent or, worse, that God doesn't exist. The conclusion just doesn't follow. Foster may think it "weird" that football players ask for God's help, but that's no justification for atheism.

Foster's reaction also betrays another serious confusion about God, that God is somehow limited by time or space and so his attention must be constricted to one thing at a time: he must choose between watching a football game from heaven or helping hungry children. To Foster, it's a zero-sum game. But for Catholics, and followers of every major theistic tradition, God transcends both time and space. To God, the past, present, and future are, in the words of one theologian, "the eternal present." God can attend to every event, and every person, without having to divert attention from somewhere or someone else. So even if it were true that God cared about wins and losses, that wouldn't preclude him from both attending to football games and to hungry children.

Next in the ESPN article, Foster turns to the topic of Jesus, saying, "If you look at the teachings of Jesus and understand the man and character that he is, that's a good dude. I've got no problem with Jesus." This view is fairly common today, and not only among atheists. Even many Christians say they love Jesus, but hate religion.

One is reminded of C.S. Lewis' famous reply to this view in Mere Christianity. Lewis, who only a few years before was a staunch atheist, wrote:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Ironically, Foster's first name (Arian) originally referred to someone who adhered to the teachings of Arius, a fourth-century priest remembered as one of history's most notorious heretics. Like Foster, Arius held that Jesus was a good man but that he wasn't fully divine. Arius believed Christ was the noblest of all created beings, but still a creature. This view spread to almost the entire Church—the majority of bishops and Church leaders were swayed by Arius' claims. But through several early Church councils, most notably the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Church discerned it was a distorted view of Jesus. That council affirmed that Jesus is co-eternal and con-substantial with the Father, meaning he is just as much God as the Father is. Nicaea and Lewis both agree that the one thing Jesus cannot be is just "a good dude." If we assume the Biblical accounts of Jesus are reliable (as Foster seems to), then Jesus must be either a liar, a lunatic, or God.

Next we find what is probably the most directly atheistic quote in the article. As Foster comforts his troubled mother, he affirms her religious doubts, saying, "We've been to the moon, and there's no heaven up there. We've dug in the dirt, there's no devil down there. It's OK to think what you think."

This is the strongest support Foster offers for his atheism, at least in this article. But once again, as with the Zeus/Hercules comparison and his confusions about prayer and God, Foster badly misunderstands the Christian view. He sees God as some anthropomorphic superman, one being among many in the universe. He imagines that heaven has actual geographical coordinates in our universe, a physical place that has so far evaded our discovery (perhaps it's somewhere on the moon?), but if we could only fly far enough or fast enough, we'll one day find it. Foster also confuses metaphorical depictions of hell as "below" or "under the earth" for literal descriptions, with the devil as a physical creature living somewhere beneath the earth's crust.

I wouldn't have be surprised if 6-year old Zeniah believed these things, but it's a bit shocking that Foster holds them. Most people, both Christian and atheist, abandon these immature and underdeveloped ideas as they grow up and learn to distinguish between metaphor and literal descriptions of spiritual realities.

For Catholics, heaven is indeed a place but not a particular space within our own universe. It's a state of utter and absolute fulfillment in God, not a travel destination on the moon. Similarly, contra Foster, the devil is not a human living under the earth's crust but a fallen angel, without a body, meaning he could never be directly seen anywhere in the universe, much less "in the dirt" of earth.

Near the end of the article, Foster says, "I used to try to argue people down and show them the fallacies in their own religion. That used to be a big deal to me, but now that doesn't serve my ethos at all."

In a major article championing atheism, it would have been nice to know more about those fallacies and arguments, at least ones that didn't wither upon examination.

Openly Secular may have achieved its goal of normalizing secularism, at least for athletes. But it did little to show that atheism is warranted or reasonable.
 
 
(Image credit: ESPN)

Brandon Vogt

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Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • ClayJames

    I am not at all suprised by Foster´s infantile atheism since it is something that is seen among many young atheists (usually heavily influenced by new atheists) that get swept up by a new found feeling of intellectual superiority without any kind of intellectual vigor to back up their beliefs. It is a lot easier to label yourself as a ¨free thinker¨ than to actually be one.

    • David Nickol

      I am not at all suprised by Foster´s infantile atheism since it is something that is seen among many young atheists. . . .

      Infantile? How many Catholics (or Christians of other denominations, or adherents of other religions) do you think have a more sophisticated understanding of their own religion than Arian Foster has of his atheism?

      What would be interesting, I think, is to take the beliefs of "everyday Catholics" or "everyday Christians" and subject them to the same kind of scrutiny as the beliefs of Arian Foster (who is only, it seems to me, reacting to the "everyday religion" he grew up with).

      Forget about football players praying to win games. The American Bishops promote novenas to try to effect the outcome of presidential elections!

      • ClayJames

        ¨Infantile? How many Catholics (or Christians of other denominations, or adherents of other religions) do you think have a more sophisticated understanding of their own religion than Arian Foster has of his atheism?¨

        No idea, however I have no problem in saying that a very significant number of Chrisitans have as sophisticated an understanding of their own religion as Arian Foster has of his atheism and therefore, you would be right to say that their theism is infantile.

        However, for a movement that likes to link itself with ¨free-thinking¨, ¨reason rallys¨ and intellectuality, I see no evidence of the intellectual superiority that many atheists like to hold over theists.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          However, for a movement that likes to link itself with ¨free-thinking¨, ¨reason rallys¨ and intellectuality, I see no evidence of the intellectual superiority that many atheists like to hold over theists.

          Well, it appears that they are rightfully rejecting unsophisticated theism, while the vast majority of theists are practicing some sort of unsophisticated theism.

          • ClayJames

            Even if this were the case, two wrongs don´t make a right. You debunk unsophisticated arguments with sophisticated arguments and not by providing your own set of unsophisticated arguments and branding them as reasonable and intellectual. And I don´t agree that you that they are rejecting unsophisticated theism, they are rejecting theism which they deem to be unsophisiticated. By starting the conversation by establishing your intellectual superiority before even saying a word, it does not take much to take ownership of the aformentioned labels.

          • David Nickol

            You debunk unsophisticated arguments with sophisticated arguments and not by providing your own set of unsophisticated arguments and branding them as reasonable and intellectual.

            First, what if one is not "sophisticated"? Why does it make sense to have a world in which believers may even be praised for their unsophistication ("simply, childlike faith") but those who find unsophisticated arguments unconvincing are required to master the Summa Theologica? If simple faith is good enough for believers, why isn't "simple lack of belief" good enough for nonbelievers?

            Also, why do Churches and other Christian organizations put up with "unsophisticated Christianity"? I remember going to Catholic high school, and during basketball games, every Catholic player made the sign of the cross before every free throw. It would have been shocking not to see it. Such things may be rationalized by saying they are praying to do their best, not for God to guide the ball through the hoop, but it all amounts to the same thing.

          • ClayJames

            ¨First, what if one is not "sophisticated"? Why does it make sense to
            have a world in which believers may even be praised for their
            unsophistication ("simply, childlike faith") but those who find
            unsophisticated arguments unconvincing are required to master the Summa Theologica? If simple faith is good enough for believers, why isn't "simple lack of belief" good enough for nonbelievers?¨

            Believers are not praised for childlike faith. If anything, I have pointed out (I believe it was in a response to you) that it is a problem when believers are infantile about their religion. So yes, childlike atheism and theism are a problem and should not be praised (unless one is a child).

            I am also setting the bar for sophistication fairly low. The most important aspect being that one can be reasonable about one´s arguments, which unfortunately, seems to be too high of a goal for many. And if you are not going to be reasonable about your thinking, do not wave a flag of intellectual superiority.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            And I don´t agree that you that they are rejecting unsophisticated theism, they are rejecting theism which they deem to be unsophisiticated.

            Theism as practiced by most of Christianity is most certainly unsophisticated.

          • ClayJames

            That may be true and it still doesn´t mean that theism is itself unsophisticated. This simple distinction makes a world of diference.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Is it better to have the right conclusion for the wrong reasons or to withhold judgment on the conclusion because the reasoning is false?

            Suppose most atheists are simply rejecting an unsophisticated theism and have only heard bad reasoning in support of theism. Are they not correct to lack belief in deities?

            This is more reasonable than the many Christians who are theists for silly reasons.

          • ClayJames

            You are missing the point. If unsophisticated theists give bad reasoning for theism, it is correct to lack the belief in theism based on those bad arguments. I am not talking about these kind of atheists. I am talking about the kind of "new" unsophisticated atheists who make unsophisticated arguments and at the same time love to be vocal about their intellectualism. Also, its almost as if you are saying that the reason there are unsophisiticated atheist arguments is because they are a response to unsophisticated theist arguments. This makes little sense. I can easily point out why a 6 day creation is false without making simple logic and reasoning mistakes.

        • Michael

          Nothing about atheism requires any special intelligence... And we don't tend to hold those of less intelligence in lower regard... Or infants for that matter. They're doing the best they can.

          The only implied trait is that the person is not theist.

          • Mike

            then it's a triviality no? i mean what's the point then if it's only about declaring i don't believe in God but the rest well who knows.

          • Michael

            No, it's not a triviality.

            It's to declare that the person is not theist. A lot of people on earth are theist, so it's helpful to have a term to identify as not-theist.

          • Mike

            what's the point of that if it doesn't mean much?

            is the point to be ANTI-"insert" whatever? i mean that seems like a weird way to label oneself, as anti something instead of "for" something else.

          • Michael

            I don't understand why you've decided "it doesn't mean much."

            It means exactly what it's meant to mean. Just like all the other words we use.

            No, the point isn't to be ANTI-"insert" whatever.

            It's to indicate that the person is not-theist. This is not an "Anti" stance unless you are desperate to be a victim.

            It's weird because it's a straw man you've made up, and doesn't reflect reality.

          • Mike

            bc you said it doesn't mean anything except "not theist" which to me doesn't tell me much and when i've asked other atheists what it means they say something like "nothing more than just not a believer in God" in which case i think it's trivial...if nothing follows from that.

            ok so if you are not theist what are you? pro-natural science? maybe a materialist?

            I think atheism is fine if it then means a bunch of positive things but if it's just "not theist" well yeah then it's a waste of time imho.

          • Michael

            Telling you that it means "not theist" is the exact same as saying "not a believer in a god or gods"

            Theist means "one that believes a god or gods exist"

            I'm not theist. I'm a-theist.

            I don't know what "pro-natural science" means. Every Christian I've ever met has been fairly reliant on the scientific method in some aspect of life.

            I don't identify as a materialist -- I don't know what it means well enough.

            There are lots of adjectives that describe me. "Not-theist", or atheist, is one of them.

            You can try to guess others just by knowing that I'm atheist, but I don't think it's worth the time or effort. You could just ask and get to know me instead of endlessly try to guess things.

            "I think atheism is fine if it then means a bunch of positive things but if it's just "not theist" well yeah then it's a waste of time imho."

            What you think is irrelevant. As long as there are many people identifying as theists, it will be useful to be able to identify as not-theist as well.

            As long as there are children being indoctrinated with dogma, it will be good for them to see that there's a more curious, honest and humble way to live life.

          • Mike

            errr ok so your reason for "identifying" as non-theist is to distinguish yourself from the generic "theist"? interesting.

          • Michael

            Yep. Just like you identify as Christian to distinguish yourself from the generic "non-Christian"

            When we're having a conversation about such topics, it's good to have words that mean things.

          • Mike

            ok cool...were you raised catholic or protestant?

          • Michael

            Southern Baptist, to be precise. The uber-protestant.

          • Mike

            interesting as i have zero experience with that group or culture but from what i've heard it can be very well insular to say the least...anyway thx for exchange.

          • Michael

            No problem. I do appreciate the discipline and rigor found in Catholicism vs the laziness of my upbringing, but as long as it requires a dogmatic belief that a God exists, it's just not for me.

            I could never be so proud to claim knowledge as such. I must remain curious.

          • Mike

            i think i know what you mean. all the best.

          • ClayJames

            When you say ¨we¨, who are you refering to? Because if you are refering to atheists in general, then that is not the case. There are many vocal atheists that believe those that do not agree with them are less intelligent and hold them in lower regard.

            I agree that what you are saying should be the case, but my point is that, for many people, it is not the case.

          • Michael

            When I say we, I'm referring to atheists in general.

            You can say that there are many vocal atheists that believe that those that do not agree with them are less intelligent, but I don't see any reason to believe you.

            I think it's more likely you're an outsider trying to cast us in a disparaging light.

            Especially when you started the conversation with "I am not at all suprised(sic) by Foster´s infantile atheism"

            So perhaps you think atheists think you're less intelligent because you have a guilty conscience? Or you just sort of expect that kind of judgement to come back at you?

            I'll be interested to see any examples you can share.

          • ClayJames

            You are attacking a complete strawman.

            I never said that I think atheists are less intelligent and I dont know what exactly you are insinuating by saying I have a guilty conscience or expect some kind of judgement. It is a very bizzare response.

            If you seriously see no reason to believe that there are many vocal atheists that believe that those that do not agree with them are less intelligent, then this is not a conversation I want to keep having because to deny this is to completely turn a blind eye to a significant subset of the new atheist movement. Primarily people like Richard Dawkins who is the best selling atheist writer of our time and who has made these types of comments many times.

            The comment refering to Foster´s infantile atheism has to do with the unfortunate fact that, in popular circles, people are much more likely to hear the ignorant views of Dawkins and Harris than the intelligent arguments of Nietzsche and Hume. So it is not at all surprising that a person who probably does not keep up with the more sophisticated side of the his view point (as most people dont) would reflect the infantile arguments of these new atheists over the more sophisticated works of classical thinkers.

          • Michael

            There was no attack, just questions.

            This is a conversation neither one of us wants to keep having. Thanks.

  • We need to distinguish between the logical and evidential problems of evil. While Draper and most counter apologists accept that the logical problem of evil is not evidence against god claims, the evidential problem of evil is. Certainly the evidential problem of suffering remains unanswered by theists, other than recourse to skeptical theism, which is a Hail Mary pass, so to speak.

    I would disagree that the historical Jesus is well-attested, he is attested and accepted as historical by most scholars. Certainly there are major differences between Zeus and Jesus. But I think what atheists are pointing out here is their experience of realizing their belief was at least partly based on the fact that so many great people believed and how could they all be wrong? In deconverting, the door opens when one realizes that in fact most people have believed in deities that, as noted, it is now objectively unreasonable to sustain belief in. I think this is part of applying skepticism to one's own beliefs. People do not disbelieve in Zeus because he lacked historicity, or he is a creature. They disbelieve because it never occurred to them to take these claims seriously. These are ancient myths from long ago, which we now recognize as unreasonable, though for centuries, smart critical people accepted them as true. Issues of historicity and so on have different replies, but I think what is being articulated, is that when you recognize you do not have a foundation for your theism, Christianity no longer looks very different than other religions.

    I think questioning others' beliefs that God is involved in the outcome of football games is fine. No it is not a defeated for philosophical theistic apologetics, but it does demonstrate the gulf in what people believe in. Time and time again theists will claim belief in god and belief that god is helping them win games, find their keys, beat disease, and so on. People have silly beliefs.

    But sure, many of the arguments advanced by Foster are weak or misplaced. But keep in mind the elephant in the room here which is the burden of proof. The main reason for disbelieving theist claims is that they rely on the suspension or violation of natural laws. Things which otherwise we consider impossible. It is up to the theist to demonstrate why these things are reasonable to believe in. Which is what we sometimes discuss in these pages.

    We should not look to football players for arguments about theism or atheism. I doubt we could have much trouble finding football players who believe all kinds of wrong and silly things about Jesus. That he spoke English, that if you pray hard enough you will win games.

    We never deal with the strongest arguments advanced by counter apologists and positive atheists in these pages. It is unfortunate, because it is not as though Mr Vogt is unaware of them. Paul Draper's arguments would be a great place to start.

    • ClayJames

      ¨We should not look to football players for arguments about theism or
      atheism. I doubt we could have much trouble finding football players who
      believe all kinds of wrong and silly things about Jesus. That he spoke
      English, that if you pray hard enough you will win games.¨

      I actually do not think Foster´s atheism is that much different from Dawkin´s atheism that many atheists swear by. If I recall correctly, the comparison between Jesus and Zeus and the infantile argument that we are all atheists about one religion or another is right out of Dawkin´s book. I agree with you, that Foster and Dawkins are nowhere close to the strongest atheism has to offer, but unfortunately, it is a representation of a very large subset, maybe even majority, of atheist thinking today.

      • "If I recall correctly, the comparison between Jesus and Zeus and the intantile argument that we are all atheists about one religion or another is right out of Dawkin´s book."

        You're right, Clay. As I noted in my reply to Brian, it's just a variation of the "one God further" objection, which Dawkins popularized. Dr. Edward Feser exposes it here: http://www.strangenotions.com/debunking-the-one-god-further-objection/

    • "While Draper and most counter apologists accept that the logical problem of evil is not evidence against god claims, the evidential problem of evil is. Certainly the evidential problem of suffering remains unanswered by theists, other than recourse to skeptical theism, which is a Hail Mary pass, so to speak."

      To say that the evidential problem of evil remains "unanswered by theists" is either to be intentionally misleading or woefully ignorant of the vast amount of literature on this question. Philosophers both Protestant and Catholic have devoted many books and scholarly papers to the evidential problem of evil.

      Evidential arguments from evil attempt to show that, once we put aside any evidence there might be in support of the existence of God, it becomes unlikely, if not highly unlikely, that the world was created and is governed by an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being.

      But as many philosophers have recognized, this is merely begging the question: it presumes, as part of the exercise, that there are no good reasons for God's existence. But that's precisely what we're trying to determine, whether there are good arguments for or against God.

      If you stack the deck at the beginning by assuming God doesn't exist, then perhaps you might find evidence that the evil in this world is unexplainable or unjustified, and that therefore we live in a meaningless, unguided world. But this gives away the game.

      None of the above response is a "recourse to skeptical theism" or a "Hail Mary pass."

      "I would disagree that the historical Jesus is well-attested, he is attested and accepted as historical by most scholars. Certainly there are major differences between Zeus and Jesus. But I think what atheists are pointing out here is their experience of realizing their belief was at least partly based on the fact that so many great people believed and how could they all be wrong?"

      While popular consensus is certainly a significant factor that supports the existence of God, and the divinity of Jesus, I don't know of any serious Christian who actually bases their faith on it.

      "In deconverting, the door opens when one realizes that in fact most people have believed in deities that, as noted, it is now objectively unreasonable to sustain belief in."

      But how does it logically follow from that fact to the belief that God doesn't exist? Most people throughout history have believed in non-democratic forms of government that we Americans reject today (monarchy, oligarchy, communism, dictatorships, etc.). But just because most people have believed in false governments, it doesn't follow that all forms of government should be questioned.

      This is a variation of the tired "one God further" objections that some atheists pose, most notably Richard Dawkins. Dr. Edward Feser showed the flaws in the here: "Debunking the “One God Further” Objection".

      "Time and time again theists will claim belief in god and belief that god is helping them win games, find their keys, beat disease, and so on. People have silly beliefs."

      From a cosmic perspective, are you saying that you see no significant difference between God, if he existed, caring about winning football games, finding keys, and beating disease? Also, do you agree that just because God isn't concerned with whether a football team wins a particular game, he may still be deeply concerned with other areas of human life? That just because one thing is cosmically petty, it doesn't mean all things are?

      "But sure, many of the arguments advanced by Foster are weak or misplaced."

      Glad you agree.

      "The main reason for disbelieving theist claims is that they rely on the suspension or violation of natural laws."

      Why can't the so-called "natural laws" be suspended or transcended? Is this impossible or just, in your mind, unlikely?

      "But keep in mind the elephant in the room here which is the burden of proof....It is up to the theist to demonstrate why these things are reasonable to believe in. Which is what we sometimes discuss in these pages."

      I agree that theists shoulder a burden of proof. But so does the atheist, especially if he's attacking arguments for Christianity. If he attempts to do that, he has the burden of showing 1) that he actually understands the arguments and 2) that they're actually flawed. I think Foster fails in both regards.

      "We should not look to football players for arguments about theism or atheism."

      I agree. I won't pretend Foster is serious representative of atheism, but he's certainly a popular one. This article will inevitably be one of the most-read articles of the year promoting atheism. Therefore, it's worth engaging.

      "I doubt we could have much trouble finding football players who believe all kinds of wrong and silly things about Jesus. That he spoke English, that if you pray hard enough you will win games."

      Of course. And if ESPN does a cover story on one of them, I'd welcome an article from any of our atheist commenters.

      It's true that juvenile, misguided Christians don't, by themselves, disprove Christianity, just as juvenile, misguided atheists shouldn't, by themselves, disprove atheism. We have to examine the reasons each person gives on a case by case basis to see whether they hold up to scrutiny, which is exactly what we've done here.

      I'm not suggesting that atheism is false simply because Arian Foster gave bad reasons for it. I'm simply noting that Arian Foster's atheism is, indeed, confused and unsupported.

      "We never deal with the strongest arguments advanced by counter apologists and positive atheists in these pages. It is unfortunate, because it is not as though Mr Vogt is unaware of them. Paul Draper's arguments would be a great place to start."

      Ironically, I quoted Paul Draper in this very article. Several other posts have engaged some of the most prominent atheist philosophers, scientists, and historians today.

      Perhaps instead of complaining, you might consider writing an article yourself defending what you see as the strongest arguments for atheism. I've extended this invitation several times and neither you nor any other atheist commenters have accepted it. It's one thing to sit and complain in the comment boxes. But if you think there are strong arguments for atheism, why not share them with us in an article?

      Please email any posts to contact@strangenotions.com and I promise we'll share them on this site.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Ironically, I quoted Paul Draper in this very article.

        You quoted him as disagreeing with the logical problem of evil while glossing over the fact that he is a huge proponent of the evidential problem of evil. That hardly counts as engaging his material.

        • "You quoted him as disagreeing with the logical problem of evil while glossing over the fact that he is a huge proponent of the evidential problem of evil. That hardly counts as engaging his material."

          Good point. I'll aim to have a post engaging the "evidential" problem soon.

          • Just FYI as a follow up, I've arranged a post on the "evidential" problem of evil which will go live within the next couple weeks.

      • I think you misunderstand what I mean by the evidential problem of evil, it is an acknowledgment that there is nothing logically contradictory in a maximally good and powerful god, and the existence of evil in reality, but that there appears to be gratuitous evil, which would not exist if such a god did. The theist response is skeptical theism, that the appearance of gratuitous evil does necessarily mean the evil is gratuitous, there could be perfectly good reasons for allowing this evil, even though we cannot identify what they might be. It is this move that I consider a Hail Mary pass.

        The "laws" of physics and so on. From my perspectives these amount to laws that cannot be abridged or violated. But perhaps they can, which might require characterizing them differently. But if this were the case I would need extremely compelling evidence to accept they may be suspended. It is the enormous amount of evidence of their consistency that needs to be overcome, evidence such as the kind that demonstrates that time moves at different rates depending on your motion, for example.

        I certainly agree that Foster fails to properly understand and defeat theist claims. I don't know why anyone would expect him to be able to.

        I have emailed you a possible post and after a bit of back and forth there was no further response from you. Rather you debated some of my ideas and then stopped responding. So I haven't sent you any more.

        But sure, I recently outlined the evidential problem of evil on my blog and would be pleased to have it posted on this forum.

        • ClayJames

          Your evidential problem of evil is certainly different from Draper´s, but I think it has the similar shortcomings.

          I reject your premise that there appears to be gratuitous evil in this world. In order for that premise to hold, we must first assume that death is the end of someone´s existence and by doing so we are assuming what we are trying to prove. Saying that an evil event in someone´s life appears to be gratuitous from the time the event happens to the time that they die is NOT an appearance of gratuitous evil unless you assume that death is the end of their existence, which would be begging the question.

          • Not at all I think most of the suffering from disease and disaster is seems gratuitous even if all of those who suffer and die have an eternal afterlife of ultimate perfection. Such a fact would not justify God's failure to intervene and prevent that suffering.

            Take the case of a person developing early onset Alzheimer's. Can you think of a reason god could have for not preventing this? Or at least curing it?

          • ClayJames

            Its not hard at all:

            1. Constant remainder of the unpredictable and inevitable reality of death
            2. A motivation to help the weak and the sick
            3. A call to cherish our loved ones
            4. A remainder of the lack of importance in spending time collecting material possessions instead of building relationships with one another.

            And the list goes on. I am not going to say that I know the exact reason why God would allow this, however it is just not true that he could have no reason for doing so, especially considering the things I mentioned were an integral part of Jesus' ministry.

            If you think about it, It is kind of impossible to give of yourself to others that have no needs.

          • I don't think anything set out in that list is worth the long and devastating illness that is Alzheimer's watching for years as your loved one stops remembering who they are. Nor the millions that suffer and die in disasters. Nor do I think these goods are diminished if a god were to intervene.

            The reason we consider suffering and death a bad thing is because we are already quite aware of the fact of death and cherish our loved ones. We would already help the weak and ill, as we do in war and due to crime. I don't see the relevance of your fourth point. Many people who suffer and die are already valuing relationships over possessions.

            Do you really think that it is God's position that we need flesh eating disease childhood leukaemia and so on because otherwise we would value materialism too much, not care about loved ones enough, or not care about the sick and weak enough?

            Do you think we would be justified in holding back on discovering a cure for cancer because it would diminish the goods you note above? If it is not moral for us to use these justification, why is it moral for a god?

          • ClayJames

            I don't think anything set out in that list is worth the long and devastating illness that is Alzheimer's watching for years as your loved one stops remembering who they are. Nor the millions that suffer and die in disasters. Nor do I think these goods are diminished if a god were to intervene.

            For a Christian, the length of any disease and suffering here on earth would pale in comparison to spending an eternity in god´s presence. You obviously acknowledge that that the extent of suffering depends on the length and intensity of that suffering right. How is a temporary, relatively miniscule amount of suffering, not worth bringing someone freely into communion with god for eternity?

            This point is absolutely crucial, because it seems to me that you are not bringing an eternity after death into the equation which would make the insurmountable amounts of suffering here on earth, miniscule in the grand scheme of things.

            The reason we consider suffering and death a bad thing is because we are already quite aware of the fact of death and cherish our loved ones. We would already help the weak and ill, as we do in war and due to crime. I don't see the relevance of your fourth point. Many people who suffer and die are already valuing relationships over possessions.

            As much as that would be awesome, it is not entirely true. If we were really aware of the finality of death, cherished our loved ones and helped the weak, ill and poor the world would look much different than it does. I am also not saying that people who suffer do so because they are not valuing their relationships. I am saying that suffering, sickness and death could be natural parts of our world to remind us what is important.

            Do you really think that it is God's position that we need flesh eating disease childhood leukaemia and so on because otherwise we would value materialism too much, not care about loved ones enough, or not care about the sick and weak enough?

            Do you think we would be justified in holding back on discovering a cure for cancer because it would diminish the goods you note above? If it is not moral for us to use these justification, why is it moral for a god?

            I think we should not hold back on discovering a cure for cancer specifically because of the goods I noted above, primarily because it is our responsability to take care of the sick.

            At the heart of Christianity is the story of a moral man who was unfairly sentenced to be tortured and killed, after making a very emotional plea to god to spare him this suffering (which he deemed gratuitous during that moment), only to be resurected. Ironically, this problem of evil that is often treated as some sort of gotcha argument against theism, is very clearly addressed in the person of Jesus Christ. This argument can be more easily stated as ¨if god is moral, he would not let Jesus suffer and die¨ and yet, without the resurection and the good that comes from this suffering and death, we have no Christianity.

            I also think your last comment shows the problem with how you are approaching this. You believe that we have the same moral knowledge as good and therefore, object to someone with our moral knowledge allowing these things to happen and I would agree with this. If god has the same moral knowledge as we do, then the evil in this world would be unjustified. However, the conception of god that we are assuming does not have the same moral knowledge we do.

          • No, as I explicitly stated above, for the sake of argument let us say that all humans will live forever in eternal perfection. Even if the length of suffering is relatively miniscule, it must still be justified. At best you are saying here that although gratuitous, it is short, so it is okay. I disagree, if there is a perfectly good being with the power to end or prevent all suffering, the existence of any suffering must be justified, no matter how small.

            You may have different values, but I personally do not accept as a justification for the suffering and death of babies and children, that this is a good reminder that we will die. (And this in a context where no one actually forgets that they will die.) Furthermore, this point is in direct opposition to your first point. If our human life is so relatively small compared to eternal life as to make all suffering from disease and disaster inconsequential, what is the big deal about having to be reminded constantly that we will die? Either this life and what happens is vitally important, or it is a grain of sand on an infinite the beach, I don't think you can have it both ways.

            "I think we should not hold back on discovering a cure for cancer
            specifically because of the goods I noted above, primarily because it is
            our responsability to take care of the sick."

            I agree, the value of curing and healing the sick and suffering becomes a moral duty because these acts outweigh any value we might gain from the ability to care for the sick and dying or the reminder or our mortality we might gain. But these moral acts of healing and curing are in no way necessary for someone to be good and moral. Otherwise, this would need to exist in heaven and Eden, which, I take it you accept is a place where none of this could occur and yet human souls remain moral agents. Since then, healing is a moral duty, but there is no moral requirement for illness and disease, I don't see why a God cannot intervene.

            You last paragraph extolls skeptical theism, which is a reasonable position.

          • ClayJames

            No, as I explicitly stated above, for the sake of argument let us say that all humans will live forever in eternal perfection. Even if the length of suffering is relatively miniscule, it must still be justified. At best you are saying here that although gratuitous, it is short, so it is okay. I disagree, if there is a perfectly good being with the power to end or prevent all suffering, the existence of any suffering must be justified, no matter how small.

            No, I am not saying that it is grauitous but short. I am saying that it does not appear to be gratuitous (for the possible reasons I gave and many more) and that it is relatively miniscule in length and intensity, which is how most people compare suffering.

            You may have different values, but I personally do not accept as a justification for the suffering and death of babies and children, that this is a good reminder that we will die. (And this in a context where no one actually forgets that they will die.) Furthermore, this point is in direct opposition to your first point. If our human life is so relatively small compared to eternal life as to make all suffering from disease and disaster inconsequential, what is the big deal about having to be reminded constantly that we will die? Either this life and what happens is vitally important, or it is a grain of sand on an infinite the beach, I don't think you can have it both ways.

            I have no problem with you not accepting one of the possible reasons, like I said, I don´t claim to know the mind of god but I see no way how one can say that there appears to be no possible justification for allowing evil, which is what you are saying. All you need is one reason.

            I agree, the value of curing and healing the sick and suffering becomes a moral duty because these acts outweigh any value we might gain from the ability to care for the sick and dying or the reminder or our mortality we might gain. But these moral acts of healing and curing are in no way necessary for someone to be good and moral. Otherwise, this would need to exist in heaven and Eden, which, I take it you accept is a place where none of this could occur and yet human souls remain moral agents. Since then, healing is a moral duty, but there is no moral requirement for illness and disease, I don't see why a God cannot intervene.

            Taking care of those in need is a moral duty. One that does not do so or does the opposite is not a moral person. It is impossible to take care of those that have no needs and having needs entails suffering. From here it just becomes a question of degree. I also don´t think anyone would claim that our moral duties here on earth are the same as our moral duties in heaven.

            You last paragraph extolls skeptical theism, which is a reasonable position.

            This is key. Even though you call this an evidential problem of evil, it is not. The evidential problem of evil, most popularly defended by Draper (and I believe Brandon posted a nice refutation on these comments) is different from what you are defending. It seems to me that instead of claiming that there is a logical contradiction between god and evil, you are simply saying that there appears to be one, but this is still an argument from internal inconsistency. So what you call skeptical theism is no more than applying the attributes of god and the reality of evil and saying that there is no reason to believe that the existence of evil is inconsistent with the existance of god, which is a defense to logical problem of evil.

            We might have to put this on the shelf as I understand your argument will be up on the site soon. Maybe we can discuss it after reading your post.

          • Sounds good. Thanks for the discussion.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I gotta say, number 2 is the oddest reason that I hear. It's like the arsonist saying "Well, I wanted to give the firefighters some motivation!"

          • ClayJames

            I am not saying that god gave this person Alzheimer which appears to be what you are getting at with your arson example.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            True... but it seems close. Maybe "Good thing that house is on fire. Keeps those firefighters busy."

          • ClayJames

            Yes, because keeping someone busy is a lofty divine goal.

          • Raymond

            All four of your points boil down to disease, famine, murder, rape, and "acts of God" all occur for the spiritual benefit of the living. I can't imagine a more amoral sociopathic argument. Other people, including children, are chattel for our enlightenment.

            And as an added bonus, arguing that children die so that they can be closer to God is a specious argument. If God wants us to learn to love Him and be obedient and belief in His Son, why are all these children not getting the opportunity to do that?

        • "The theist response is skeptical theism, that the appearance of gratuitous evil does necessarily mean the evil is gratuitous, there could be perfectly good reasons for allowing this evil, even though we cannot identify what they might be. It is this move that I consider a Hail Mary pass."

          This seems like a perfectly valid response to me. Calling it a "Hail Mary" pass does nothing to weaken it's validity.

          Perhaps there are other reasons it fails besides you just disliking it?

          Also, I would not call this "skeptical theism". That's a misleading name. This is simply the classical theist response. The only thing it's skeptical about is skepticism, not theism.

          • I said Hail Mary because of the football theme. At best it is a tie. But I think that if our moral sensibility is to have any meaning, I the theist context, then we should have been endowed by our creator with at least the ability to offer some reasonable hypotheticals as to why He doesn't intervene. In the absence of an ability to do this, I think we are left with the reasonable conclusion that so much suffering seems gratuitous. If you accept it seems gratuitous, you should accept that it seems to be the case that no such god exists.

            I think it is at this stage that you can take the argument and consider this evidence against the existence of the Christian god along with other evidence against it, as well as the evidence for it, and reach a final conclusion. In other words, there could be other evidence that overcomes it seeming like there is no god.

          • Quick problems with skeptical theism- it can lead to moral paralysis- "should I stop/take this action? is it part of god's plan?" Also, a general distrust of anything revealed by such a god- it could have morally sufficient reasons for allowing or causing some people to believe Catholicism is true, when Islam is actually the only way to paradise, for example.

        • "But sure, I recently outlined the evidential problem of evil on my blog and would be pleased to have it posted on this forum."

          Great! Just got your email. We'll post it within the next couple weeks.

      • Raymond

        "If you stack the deck at the beginning by assuming God doesn't exist, then perhaps you might find evidence that the evil in this world is unexplainable or unjustified, and that therefore we live in a meaningless, unguided world. But this gives away the game."

        For starters, there is no real difference between "stacking the deck by assuming that God doesn't exist" or stacking the deck by assuming that God does exist". Most of the philosophical or logical arguments presented on this website have started with the basic premise that God exists, and sure enough, after all their gyrations, they get there.

        Secondly, no atheist believes that the world is "meaningless, unguided" because there is no God. Meaning and guidance are generated by us ourselves, for good or ill.

        • "For starters, there is no real difference between "stacking the deck by assuming that God doesn't exist" or stacking the deck by assuming that God does exist"."

          Well, of course there is a difference, but the question is whether it's meaningful in regards to a particular issue. I agree that if the goal is to prove whether God exists, then both assumptions are fallacious examples of begging the question.

          "Most of the philosophical or logical arguments presented on this website have started with the basic premise that God exists, and sure enough, after all their gyrations, they get there."

          It's clear you haven't read much on this site then. Simply clicking the "Existence of God" category at the top of any page would reveal that we have dozens of articles on this question and none of them presume God exists before attempting to prove that fact.

          "Secondly, no atheist believes that the world is "meaningless, unguided" because there is no God. Meaning and guidance are generated by us ourselves, for good or ill."

          Many atheists do believe the world is completely meaningless, and unguided. This is known as nihilism and I know several people who hold that belief.

          But to be more clear, I should have said "objectively meaningless and unguided." Obviously anyone can invent their own meaning, for good of for ill, but that meaning is ultimately illusory. It may help an atheist find something worthwhile to live for, but it's indistinguishable from the "wish-fulfillment" fantasies that some atheists accuse Christians of harboring.

          • Raymond

            I agree that my statement that "NO" atheists believe this is overstated. However, the statement "Obviously anyone can invent their own meaning, for good of for ill, but that meaning is ultimately illusory. It may help an atheist find something worthwhile to live for, but it's indistinguishable from the "wish-fulfillment" fantasies that some atheists accuse Christians of harboring." Is itself a wish-fulfillment fantasy. To think that a supernatural being provides objective truth or morality is the illusion. To look at the world and say "I think THIS is good and THAT is bad, and I value the good and reject the bad" is the only "objective" morality we have. By "objective" I mean that we use our senses and our reason to obtain our notions of reality, not the "subjective" illusion of supernatural agency.

            And I realize that I am using "objective" and "subjective" differently that they are typically used in this context. But I believe my usage is more accurate.

      • Mike

        "you might consider writing an article yourself defending what you see as the strongest arguments for atheism"

        YES!

        Like i keep pointing out: it's easier to edit a book than to write one yourself.

      • Doug Shaver

        I've extended this invitation several times and neither you nor any other atheist commenters have accepted it. It's one thing to sit and complain in the comment boxes. But if you think there are strong arguments for atheism, why not share them with us in an article?

        Please email any posts to contact@strangenotions.com and I promise we'll share them on this site.

        Somehow, I've managed not to notice any of those several invitations. (My wife and many other people will assure you that such inattentiveness should surprise no one who knows me well.)

        Anyhow, now that I'm aware of your solicitation, I will send you an article in due course.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Brandon,

    Thanks for your words of support for Arian Foster, for being honest and open about what he believes, especially when what he believes might end up costing him.

    I'm not as interested in the theological issues as the political and personal issues, in this case. I don't look for rigorous atheist philosophical arguments from Arian Foster, just as I wouldn't look for rigorous Christian philosophy from Tim Tebow. (Who knows, though? Maybe I'd be pleasantly surprised.)

    I found a personal connection to Arian Foster over the problem of suffering. I think that the amount of observed suffering provides devastating evidence against the existence of an all loving all powerful God. Arian and I are not alone. For example, Paul Draper says "Because of [the problem of suffering], we have a prima facie good epistemic reason to reject theism -- that is, reason that is sufficient for rejecting theism unless overridden by other reasons for not rejecting theism." (Draper, 1989, Noûs, 23, 331) Or in other words, that the problem of suffering actually does provide strong support for atheism. Just not conclusive support, not logically binding support.

    Arian Foster and Paul Draper, not terrible company. I'll take it. :)

    • ferlalf

      Isn't that an exceptionally anthropocentric argument to use against theism?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Christianity is rather anthropocentric. God creates a massive universe with all sorts of waste and suffering so some evolved apes can be happy with him in heaven.

        • ferlalf

          What if something's existence is just intrinsically good? A rock , a fly all just good by existing.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So God created the universe for rocks and flys to exist and be good?

          • ferlalf

            Laugh if you will but I think the universe is utterly extraordinary and beautiful. from the smallest to the largest. And this concept does not rule the importance of human beings in the creation of the cosmos.

          • George

            What is your standard of comparison?

          • ferlalf

            It is very hard to measure beauty and I don't think beauty
            is relative. So I offer no comparison.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I'm a pretty anthropocentric kind of guy.

        If I were a serious animal lover, I don't think the case for God would be much improved. Animals suffer pretty bad too. They've been suffering for many millions of years.

        I suppose this is biocentric. It's true that carrots and stars and rocks don't suffer. That's nice of God, to make sure that the carrots and stars and rocks don't also feel pain.

    • Mike

      What's weird to me is that it's actually EVIL itself that makes me think God EXISTS in the first place...it's what brought me to God and what to me provides one of the strongest arguments in favor of theism and christianity.

      very quickly: "evil" can't exist w/o god or God or "another level of reality" bc you need God for suffering to have real meaning bc otherwise it's just the illusion of pain or suffering but is nothing more than molecules bouncing around.

      so if suffering is real/meaningful God must exist and if God exists and is all good and doesn't stop the worst evils then there must be a very very good reason for it and that reason must form the core of the faith and look at what christianity says is the core: the god man tortured and killed unjustly and hung on a tree humiliated...and rising from the dead.

      anyway w/o God "evil" doesn't exist to my mind.

      • Doljonijiarnimorinar

        In what way could suffering "be" "realer" than molecules bouncing around? This doesn't make any sense at all, son. Nevermind the rest of the non-reasoning skills you constantly display.

        Pull yourself together, Mike.

        • Mike

          Thanks for the advice Doljonijiarnimorinar...btw is that an acronym for something or an anagram?

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        very quickly: "evil" can't exist w/o god or God or "another level of reality" bc you need God for suffering to have real meaning bc otherwise it's just the illusion of pain or suffering but is nothing more than molecules bouncing around.

        Could you explain how this follows? How, if God doesn't exist, then everything is matter and nothing has any properties?

        Or suppose it is this other level of reality that doesn't love humanity. That seems more consistent with the existence of suffering than an all-powerful creator who does love humanity.

        • Mike

          If there is no "other level" or God or any agent "behind the scenes" of this universe then how can there be any "meaning" to anything other than what meaning we imagine or project onto reality?

          If there is no "other level" or any sort of agent then there can't be purpose in which case all the suffering must be incidental in which case it - even though it may seem extremely "wrong" - must nevertheless be nothing more than an "unfortunate" molecular co-incidence or whatever but can't have any real ontological status i guess is the correct technical term even if we think it does. Things can have properties but they would have to be meaningless sort of arbitrary properties if there is really at bottom no purpose what so ever. (i guess by analogy what i am thinking of is without that agent we're all just engaged in circular reasoning like the characters in the book Flatland.)

          Well yeah maybe the "other level" is corrupt or whatever but at least if it exists "evil" can be Evil and not just something we call evil if that makes sense. Now i don't think that evil takes "priority" over good just from my experience or can in principle so i don't think the "agent" is actually evil but at least to my mind positing an "evil god" makes more sense than saying nothing. I've said in the past that if there is no God then this world is like many atheists say it is: a crap shoot, unfair, and often cruel and depressing...but that begs the question of course.

          BTW ed feser has some great posts on the "evil god" challenge.

          http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            If there is no "other level" or God or any agent "behind the scenes" of this universe then how can there be any "meaning" to anything other than what meaning we imagine or project onto reality?

            My question was about pain and suffering, and mostly concentrating on your statement otherwise it's just the illusion of pain or suffering but is nothing more than molecules bouncing around. Maybe pain can be a property of some things, like charge, or mass. Alternatively, maybe the substance of the universe isn't mental or physical but something else. Or maybe everything is fundamentally only minds and there are no physical things. In each of these cases, there's no other level (there's only one kind of thing), no God, and there's pain. Pain's not an illusion. It exists. I'm not asking whether it has 'meaning', whatever that means. Just pointing out that:

            Dogs have lots of pain, and that's evidence against the claim that God's a dog lover. People have lots of pain, and that's evidence against the claim that God's a people lover.

            Well yeah maybe the "other level" is corrupt...

            Maybe, but that's not what I was positing for the other level. I was positing that maybe the other level is amoral, like gravity. Gravity kills innocent people. Innocent people can fall from great heights just as the guilty can. Gravity is amoral. It's not a moral agent at all. Not corrupt or incorrupt. Just doesn't come into the picture. Maybe this "other level", if one exists, is more like that.

          • Mike

            yes physical pain can be "translated" into physical properties or units but that doesn't make it meaningful in any sense i can gather.

            yes but maybe what dogs experience as pain really is totally devoid of meaning - sure they suffer but that's just their nerve cells sending signals to their brains.

            if the other level is amoral then it is either evil or not an agent/not responsible which doesn't get us any further...if the other level is evil then our pain and suffering have meaning if the other level is not an agent but just some pre-set say calibration of laws then our suffering is just an unpleasant consequence of something totally devoid of any meaning in which case our 'pain' is also devoid of meaning.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            yes but maybe what dogs experience as pain really is totally devoid of meaning - sure they suffer but that's just their nerve cells sending signals to their brains.

            Maybe that's the same for humans, too. It wouldn't affect the argument from suffering one bit. It doesn't matter whether suffering has "meaning" (whatever that means). What does matter is that letting someone or something suffer when that suffering can be prevented seems contrary to loving that someone or something.

            A guy says he loves dogs. He runs a dogfighting ring in his basement. The dogfighting ring is considered evidence against his being a dog lover. God is said to love people. The amount of people suffering in this world God's supposed to have made is evidence against God's being people lover. If the suffering has no 'meaning' (and if 'meaning' means 'purpose') then that's even stronger evidence against God. The suffering's avoidable and serves no end whatsoever.

            In any case, it's quite possible to be an atheist and to think suffering's more than an illusion. It seems from your responses that you agree. That's the only thing I was trying to tease out (whether you had any sort of argument for why suffering required God to exist).

          • Mike

            ok but now you're asking about something else namely whether if God exists there are any reasons for allowing the worst most heinous suffering whereas my point is that "suffering" can have no meaning without God.

            no i don't think i do; i think that if there is no God then what we consider "suffering" is really just our perception our projection but it is in reality just "matter breaking down" or some impersonal thing that happens and it is totally devoid of meaning EVEN IF we seem to project meaning onto it.

            I think that suffering requires God to exist IF it is to MEAN anything at all besides what natural science would tell us about what effect torture may have on skin cells or whatever.

            Anyway thx for the exchange.

    • Peter

      "the problem of suffering actually does provide strong support for atheism"

      Not at all. Suffering has no bearing whatsoever on the likelihood of a Creator. All it suggests is that, if a Creator exists, such a Creator is less likely to be good.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        It increases the likelihood of atheism, then. There's X chance that a good God exists, Y chance that an evil God exist, and Z chance no God exists. Reduce the X chance without changing Y or Z and renormalize. Z increases in probability as well as Y.

        Suffering increases the epistemic probability of there being no God.

        • Peter

          I beg to differ. The chance that no God exists (Z) always remains the same, as does the chance that God exists (X+Y).

          Reduce X, and Y increases in order to keep the chance that God exists (X+Y) the same. The chance that God exists is independent of the individual values of X and Y, and therefore so too is the chance that God does not exist..

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Start with X = 1/3, Y = 1/3, Z = 1/3. Say the evidence, E, against X is absolute, so X -> 0. Now Y = 1/2 and Z = 1/2, so the proability of Z went from 1/3 to 1/2. E is evidence against X and evidence for Z.

          • Peter

            I do not agree with your original premise that each are a third.

            The probability that a Creator of reality exists compared with the probability of no Creator existing is independent of the moral nature of that Creator. Such probability is determined by other factors.

            The original premise ought to be X+Y = 1/2, Z = 1/2, so that if X = 0, Y = 1/2 and Z remains at 1/2.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Alright. So X (good God) + Y (bad God) = 1/2. If X > 0, and E is evidence against X, then X after E goes down, Y and Z go up in proportion. Sorry.

          • Peter

            1/2 = X + Y. If X = 0, then Y = 1/2.

            1/2 = X(0) + Y(1/2)

            Z remains 1/2.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            No. Not close. You need to get X before and X after evidence. What do you set X before evidence? If you ALSO set X before at zero (a good God is impossible, and so isn't less likely given suffering), then you'd be right.

          • Peter

            The probability of a Creator existing is not based on the subjective notion of how good human beings perceive that Creator to be. It depends on objective factors which are philosophical (where good has a different meaning) and scientific.

            If these factors objectively give the Creator a 50% likelihood of existing, no amount of subjective perception by humans will alter that figure. Whether the Creator is perceived as good or not good does not alter the likelihood of the Creator's existence.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            You are misunderstanding how probability works. If a card can be clubs, spades, diamonds or hearts, and you rule out the card being hearts without finding out whether it's more likely between spades, clubs or diamonds, then you've increased the epistemic chances of its being spades, and clubs, and diamonds.

            Suffering's evidence against God being good. It's evidence for God being bad. it's also evidence for there being no God. If you want to argue for something that's obviously false, knock yourself out. I'm not going to waste any more time on this.

          • Peter

            "Suffering's evidence against God being good. It's evidence for God being bad"

            You said it yourself. Suffering reduces the likelihood of there being a good Creator and correspondingly increases the likelihood of there being a bad Creator. So the likelihood of a Creator, good or bad, remains unchanged.

            If a reduction in the likelihood there being a good Creator did not increase the likelihood of there being a bad Creator, only then could you argue that it increases the likelihood of there being no Creator at all.

            But how can you do that? The presence of suffering in the world is a double-edged sword.

            While suffering is evidence against a good Creator, it is also evidence in favour of a bad Creator. It reduces the likelihood of one and increases the likelihood of the other. There is no room for the likelihood to increase of there being no Creator at all.

        • joey_in_NC

          Reduce the X chance without changing Y or Z and renormalize.

          This is not necessarily true. The probability of Z can be unrelated to the relative probability of X in relation to Y.

          Here's an example. You see an apple pie on the table. What is the probability the pie was baked by an intelligent being, such as a baker? Or, what is the probability the pie formed "naturally" without an intelligent maker (like how a rock forms in nature)? Let's assign the latter with probability Z.

          You now speculate about the possibility that the pie was actually baked by someone. Given the pie came from someone, what is the probability the baker is good at baking (X)? What is the probability the baker is bad (Y)?

          You now taste the pie and you think it is way too sweet. In your mind, X (the probability the baker is good) goes down. Does that necessarily mean that Z (the probability the pie did not come from an intelligent being) rises?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Presumably that's because it's not just ruling out a good baker, but it's specifically evidence for a bad baker. Bakers tend to add sweet things to pies, and pies that form naturally don't tend to include sweetener at all (given all the things they could contain). Sweetener's evidence both for a baker and against a good baker.

            Alternatively, if over sweet pies regularly formed themselves out of the vacuum, and I was testing the pie with a 'sweetness tester' that just tells me 'is the pie properly sweetened?' and the tester says 'no', then that's evidence both for the pie being made by a bad baker and a pie not being made at all. Both increase.

            Looking at suffering:

            If angels were enslaving humanity right now and having us work in the salt mines, this wouldn't merely be evidence against God being good. It's evidence for God being bad.

            As far as I can figure: If you have three options, X, Y, Z, and you find evidence against X (that doesn't specially favour Y above Z or Z above Y), that evidence increases the probability that Y and Z; it's evidence for both. Can you think of an exception?

          • joey_in_NC

            As far as I can figure: If you have three options, X, Y, Z, and you find evidence against X (that doesn't specially favour Y above Z or Z above Y), that evidence increases the probability that Y and Z; it's evidence for both.

            I completely understand what you're saying. Even in my pie example I'll concede that it's reasonable to argue the probability of Z does actually increase, albeit very minutely. The relative increase in Z with respect to the increase in Y (as X decreases) depends on the example. In my pie example, the increase in Z is completely dwarfed by the increase in Y.

            Concerning suffering, the increase in Z (no God) is not as large as some would think it should be, given many of the classical arguments/proofs of the existence of God that do not involve the subject of morality. For example, if one acknowledges the Aquinas' First Cause argument as sound, then the issue of suffering should be irrelevant to the conclusion.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Alright, I completely agree with you on that. It's evidence against God in the Bayesian sense, but it may not be convincing evidence. If you think, based on the classical arguments or whatever else, that God's existence is 99% probable, and that it's 50% likely God's good and 50% likely God's bad, and that there's a 10% chance that suffering would exist given a good God, 90% chance given a bad God, and a 90% chance given no God. Then the probability of suffering given any of our theories is about 50%, and the probability of a good God given suffering is about 10%, the probability of an evil God is now 88%, and the probability of no God is now about 1.5%. No God's more likely than it was, but not by much, and, rationally speaking, you should now accept an evil God (I don't know what you would do based on these beliefs; what do you think you would do, how would you live, if you thought there was an evil God?).

            In my cases, the prior probability of a bad God was pretty low or inscrutable (it's hard to figure out how an evil God would choose to create a universe, but I'd think it would look quite a bit worse than this one). The probability of a good God also goes down substantially given suffering (I tend to consider it much stronger evidence than in the example above). Well, maybe there's a 100% good but 80% effective God. That's another consideration entirely.

            This is all rather artificial but I've been applying it in my day-to-day life. I've been trying to work out a Pascal's wager application for how likely I think God is, and it keeps me going to Church pretty regularly, because even if the chances of God existing given what I've seen in the universe are less than 50%, they are still greater than about 1% (as far as I loosely estimate these things) and the benefits of belief, both in this life and the next, are great enough to keep me going to Church and praying, with the hopes that new evidence will affect the probabilities, and I'll believe.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I must have read the wrong article on ESPN. The one that I read was primarily concerned with Arian Foster's personal story and how his lack of faith affects his career. Sure, there were a few brief side remarks hinting at his reasons for his lack of belief, but certainly no philosophical discourse.

    Mr. Vogt must have read Arian Foster's 5 Theses of Atheism which clearly detailed all his reasons for disbelief. Otherwise it would seem strange to try discern a clear position from just a few snippets from the article that I read.

    • Or perhaps you just skipped over the several times in my own post where I noted the ESPN article's main motivation was to normalize secularism, but even though Foster wasn't aiming to comprehensively defend atheism, it's still worth reflecting on the reasons he *did* give....

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Right. I guess my point is that there was so little in the article on that topic that you have to mostly make assumptions on his reasons. In order to reflect on his reasons we need a bit more that just the slight whiff we got in the article.

        • I didn't make assumption on his reasons. I quoted his reasons directly.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            The article only shows brief snippets. Do you really think you can get a handle on his thought process to understand and address his reasons. If I asked you to justify Catholicism in one or 2 sentences would you be able to provide much of anything substantial? (especially if the main topic of conversation is not even your justification of faith?) Would it be fair for me to then "debunk" your brief descriptions and declare your belief "confused"?

            I already showed you in another thread where you possibly got his reasoning wrong (regarding heaven being on the moon.) I'll add another: Mr. Foster says that praying for football victories is "weird." He never, in the short snippet we get, says that this a reason for disbelief - he just says its weird. Yet you assumed that he meant this as one of his reasons. Maybe it is, but we really can't tell from such a brief piece. You have to assume that.

            You also assumed that he was speaking literally when he talks about being to the moon and not finding heaven. You also assumed that he meant that Jesus and Zeus were the same with respect to being myths, and not the same in some other respect. You also assumed that he was referring to the logical problem of evil and not the evidential problem of evil.

            Maybe all your assumptions are correct. But we can't tell from the brief pieces the ESPN article quoted. Even if you quote him directly.

          • "The article only shows brief snippets. Do you really think you can get a handle on his thought process to understand and address his reasons. "

            I'm aware of that and expressly noted it in my article. I made clear that the article wasn't meant to be Foster's apologia for atheism, but that it was still worth considering the reasons he did give for being an atheist. And they were poor.

            "If I asked you to justify Catholicism in one or 2 sentences would you be able to provide much of anything substantial?"

            I believe I could at least avoid juvenile misunderstandings, contra Foster. For instance, I might say, "I believe Catholicism is true because there is strong philosophical evidence to believe God exists, strong historical evidence to believe Jesus rose from the dead and established the Church, and strong personal evidence that Jesus is alive and active in the world today."

            Those reasons would obviously need to be unpacked, but in just one sentence I provided a solid, logically valid explanation for my convictions as a Catholic. I don't think Foster accomplished that in this article.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I'm aware of that and expressly noted it in my article.

            So you understood that the article did not contain enough info to understand his reasoning, but then went ahead as if you did. Thank you for clarifying.

            ... but in just one sentence I provided a solid, logically valid explanation for my convictions as a Catholic. I don't think Foster accomplished that in this article.

            Perhaps because that was not the point of the article. Sure, if I specifically ask you to do so, you can carefully write a good sentence, but you probably wouldn't have said that if we were discussing a tangential topic.

            Those reasons would obviously need to be unpacked...

            Exactly! And if I were to try to debunk your statement without allowing you the opportunity to unpack them, and instead make assumptions on what you mean by historical and personal evidence, then that would be a bit unfair.

          • "So you understood that the article did not contain enough info to understand his reasoning, but then went ahead as if you did. Thank you for clarifying."

            No, that is not what I said. You are putting words into my mouth. I said I'm aware that Foster didn't give a comprehensive defense of his atheism in this article, but that he did offer some reasons for his atheism. It's those reasons I considered. I don't understand why this is so hard to grasp...

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            And I also wonder why its so hard to grasp that you can hardly get at his reasons when all we hear are brief statements. Statements that required assumptions on your part in order to pad out into what you think might be his reasons.

          • Mike

            Patience of Job Brandon PATIENCE OF JOB!!

    • Michael

      Labeling it as "confused" was an opportunity to get a cheap cheer from the Choir.

  • GCBill

    "This doesn't prevent the "problem of evil" stops being an emotional issue for many people. But it means that it poses no logical argument against God and no rational support for atheism."

    It also doesn't prevent it from being an evidential problem, as many contemporary philosophers of religion argue. This includes Paul Draper, who is quoted here in regards to the logical version of the argument. And if it can be an evidential problem, then it can provide rational support for atheism.

    "Zeus is just one, contingent creature among many—the son of Cronus and Rhea, also contingent beings. Unlike the Christian God, Zeus is not self-existent, nor the ultimate uncaused cause, which necessarily grounds the universe. Zeus is merely a creature, albeit divine, while God is the pure creator."

    This contrast holds for the classical-theistic view of God. However, not all followers of Jesus are classical theists, and not all classical theists believe in Jesus's divinity. Merely locating him within history does not prevent the comparison from going through WRT Christianity in particular. I'd argue that it does, for whatever you say of Jesus's alleged divine nature, his human nature is necessarily contingent.

    "Like Foster, Arius held that Jesus was a good man but that he wasn't fully divine. Arius believed Christ was the noblest of all created beings, but still a creature."

    If Nature A is one thing and Nature B is another, it seems eminently reasonable to suggest that Person AB (who exists as a union of A & B) cannot possess the mutually-exclusive properties of either. I am surprised to see so few contemporary defenders of this rather straightforward approach to Christology.

    • Raymond

      I think your definition of "straightforward" is different from mine.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    This is the strongest support Foster offers for his atheism, at least in
    this article... He imagines that heaven has actual
    geographical coordinates in our universe... Foster also confuses metaphorical depictions of hell as "below" or
    "under the earth" for literal descriptions...

    Or, perhaps Mr. Vogt has confused Mr. Fosters brief statement to his agnostic mother as literal instead of metaphorical. The way I read it, when he says that we've been to the moon and not found heaven he is saying that with all the knowledge of the universe we have gained we have yet to uncover evidence for God, so there's no sense worrying about heaven and hell.

    Now, I don't know for sure if Mr. Foster meant it that way. I do not think that I can discern his position from the small snippet that we get in the article. If he truly does believe that heaven is supposed to be on the moon, then I'd agree that it is infantile.

    But I certainly am not going to assume that it is literal and claim it to be "the strongest support" that he offers just so that I can easily rebuke it.

    • "The way I read it, when he says that we've been to the moon and not found heaven he is saying that with all the knowledge of the universe we have gained we have yet to uncover evidence for God"

      This makes the same exact mistake as the one I debunked. It supposes that God is a physical being in the world, with GPS coordinates somewhere in the universe, who we can physically detect. But this is a silly, juvenile view of God that no serious Christian holds.

      "But I certainly am not going to assume that it is literal and claim it to be "the strongest support" that he offers just so that I can easily rebuke it?"

      Which of his other points would you consider "Foster's strongest support in the article"?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        This makes the same exact mistake as the one I debunked. It supposes that God is a physical being in the world, with GPS coordinates somewhere in the universe, who we can physically detect. But this is a silly, juvenile view of God that no serious Christian holds.

        But he interacts with the universe, indeed, some say he is the ground of all being. Arguably, the creator would leave some imprint on the universe whose existence he grounds.

        • "But he interacts with the universe, indeed, some say he is the ground of all being. Arguably, the creator would leave some imprint on the universe whose existence he grounds."

          Of course. But God himself cannot be "found" in the universe, and all of our "knowledge of the universe" cannot, by itself, confirm or deny God. Those findings must be interpreted through philosophical reflection.

          What some people consider imprints of God, others see as accidental effects of the natural world. Therefore, the universe by itself, outside of philosophical arguments, is neutral on the question of God.

          • ClayJames

            ¨What some people consider imprints of God, others see has accidental
            effects of a natural world. Therefore, the universe by itself, outside
            of philosophical arguments, is neutral on the question of God.¨

            Bingo. This is an important point that many atheists do not understand and ironically, the misunderstanding has very little to do with religion and almost everything to do with science. When Dawkin´s says the God is a scientific hypothesis, the biggest mistake he is comitting is a scientific one because even if we assume that God is the cause of event X, science can never conclude that God is the cause of event X. At the most, science can say that we have not yet found the naturalistic cause for event X and we must keep testing natural hypothesis. The conclusion, ¨God did it¨, which ironically is nothing more than a god of the gaps, must be required as a possible outcome if it is indeed a scientific hypothesis.

            Science can never prove that god exists and therefore, god is not a scientific hypothesis.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Science can never prove that god exists and therefore, god is not a scientific hypothesis.

            That is not why god would not be a scientific hypothesis.

          • ClayJames

            It is certainly one reason. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable and provable. It it is both of those things, it is not scientific.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It is certainly one reason. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable and provable. It it is both of those things, it is not scientific.

            Scientific theories are never provable.

          • ClayJames

            I think you are being somewhat facetious about the terminology I am using.

          • Michael Murray

            What do you mean by provable then ?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Not at all. I think we need to be precise. If we want to talk about whether or not God is a scientific hypothesis, we first need to decide what scientific hypothesis look like.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Of course. But God himself cannot be "found" in the universe, and all of our "knowledge of the universe" cannot, by itself, confirm or deny God. Those findings must be interpreted through philosophical reflection.

            I do not think that many theists consider God to be an object in the universe, but rather an object that interacts with the universe. I do think we can look for evidence of this interaction. It is non-obvious to me that we can prima facie exclude the possibility that observations about the universe can tells us what types of gods are possible and what types are unlikely. I tend not to make a neat demarcation between science and philosophy and other intellectual endeavors as others are wont to do. There are to my mind, empirical philosophical matters that my not be investigable via the scientific method, but are still of great import to philosophy.

            It is fair to ask what a designed universe would look like compared to the universe we see.

            It is fair to ask how any given god interacts with the universe and are their restrictions to this interaction. It may also be possible to look for evidence for this interaction. For instance, I might believe that the sun revolves around the earth, because it is pulled by Apollo. Apollo interacts with the universe (although to be fair he also is part of the universe) and we could see if he actually pulls the sun around in a chariot.

            Or, perhaps God interacts with the universe by causing it to rain on the third Tuesday of every month. Not only that, it is in his nature to make it rain on the third Tuesday of every month. If we found that it did not rain on the third Tuesday of ever month we would be right to conclude that a God, whose nature was to make it rain on the third Tuesday of every month does not exist.

            So, it seems in principle, that we may be able to elucidate properties that a given God has and then see if those properties are consistent with the observant universe.

            What some people consider imprints of God, others see has accidental effects of a natural world. Therefore, the universe by itself, outside of philosophical arguments, is neutral on the question of God.

            The universe with philosophical arguments is not neutral on the question of God. For instance, I think a very strong case can be made that classical theism necessitates an eternal universe. We could look to see if the universe is eternal to see if classical theism is correct in that regard.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Which of his other points would you consider "Foster's strongest support in the article"?

        None. This article was not "Foster's reasons for disbelieving in God." Perhaps he has many reasons for not believing in God, but we only get a hint of them in the article. I would not take any of the brief statements in the article and make assumptions about what his thought process behind it is, let alone rank which one he thinks is the strongest.

        And ditto for what Ignatius Reilly said. I understand that God has no GPS coordinates, but he presumably has effects on
        the universe and interacts with it. Yet evidence for those interactions
        seem to be lacking.

      • George

        "Physically detect".

        How about detect at all Brandon?

        • "How about detect at all Brandon?"

          I'd have to know what you mean by "detect" before answering. There are many senses in which you can detect something. Detect, in general, refers to the act of determining something's existence. That can be done using your senses, but it can also be done through philosophical reflection.

  • I find it intriguing when a strict atheist or materialist speaks of a good dude or bad dude as if “good” and “bad” were real. A “lack of belief in God” would necessitate “a lack of belief in good or evil”. No person or action or situation can be good or evil, they can only "be", or only be different. It would not matter if we speak of Mother Teresa or Adolf Hitler. It’s the electrochemical signals that bounce around in your brain that give you the delusion of good or evil. There is no other “outside system” to refer to. Agreed?

    • Mike

      Why don't they see this? or obfuscate the point? or smuggle in "good" and "bad" as if there's some arrangement of molecules that =s "good/bad".

    • George

      Why should I agree with all that? Are you just defining God as good?

      • Yes, one way to define God is "goodness itself". My point is that if there is no "outside system" which makes something good or bad, we are only left with our brains which give us the delusion of good and bad. Think of a compass. Which way is North? The earth's magnetic field is the "outside system" we refer to.

        • George

          wait, do you not care about our brains? what's wrong with our brains, that what we desire doesn't matter? that doesn't make sense.

          "Think of a compass. Which way is North? The earth's magnetic field is the "outside system" we refer to."

          And does earth's north matter at all to the rest of the universe? If not, does that mean earth's north should't matter to us?

          • neil_pogi

            what's wrong if your brain thinks that Hitler is evil? how did your brain thinks of him as evil? there must be reasons!

            if Hitler was responsible for murdering millions of people, then who cares? why atheists care when they don't believe in objective morality, only relative one!

      • Mike

        Check out this post:

        http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2010/10/laws-evil-god-challenge.html

        it refers to the doctrine of the convertibility of the transcendentals which is established independently of any church theology but i think goes back to pagan greeks.

  • ferlalf

    In many circles nowadays the issue of being trapped in the closet is something religious not secular face. People will dismiss and discriminant against you if they know you to be religious.

    • Michael

      As an atheist in the American South, I must keep my lack of belief private. It sucks.

  • David Nickol

    Although it is perfectly obvious why it should be the case, nevertheless I find it ironic that Catholics with a "simple faith" would be found admirable (by other Catholics), but atheists with "simple lack of faith" are scorned for not knowing the things that Catholics with "simple faith" don't know!

    A Catholic who could not tell you anything at all about Aquinas's arguments for the existence of God, or explain transubstantiation or the trinity, or explain why the Church condemns contraception, but who nevertheless accepts everything the Church teaches without even caring for intellectual justifications, might very well be considered a saint. But if someone has a "simple lack of faith," he or she is expected to understand (and be able to refute) all of Catholic doctrine.

    Apparently God does not call most religious people to immerse themselves into 2000 years of theology, but if you are a nonbeliever, you are expected to study theology until you can win debates with people who have devoted their whole lives (or academic careers) to argument that "prove" the existence of God.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      Adam Lee calls this idea the Apologist's Turnstile

    • "Although it is perfectly obvious why it should be the case, nevertheless I find it ironic that Catholics with a "simple faith" would be found admirable (by other Catholics)"

      I'm assuming by "simple" you mean misguided, or misinformed. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

      But if that's the case, I don't know anyone who would agree with you. It hasn't been my experience, at least. Nobody I know would praise a person's faith because it is based on misunderstandings. We may praise it in spite of its deficiencies, but not because of them.

      "Apparently God does not call most religious people to immerse themselves into 2000 years of theology, but if you are a nonbeliever, you are expected to study theology until you can win debates with people who have devoted their whole lives (or academic careers) to argument that "prove" the existence of God."

      Again, I don't know who you're referring to, David. This is an unfair representation. Who here at Strange Notions has ever said something like this? All the contributors and commenters I know would hold to just the opposite: that God can be known by even the simplest person through intuition, experience, and philosophical reflection. That doesn't mean he will be known by everyone, because there are several potential barriers to that knowledge, some pertaining to the mind and others the will, but nobody is required to "immerse themselves into 2000 years of theology" or study theology and win debates. That's simply a straw man.

      • David Nickol

        I'm assuming by "simple" you mean misguided, or misinformed. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

        You're wrong!

        By "simple" faith I mean faith on the level of what is taught in elementary school and perhaps even early elementary school. It is the kind of faith that I think would be basically un-intellectual (but not necessarily anti-intellectual), in that a person with simple faith would be uninterested in logical proofs for the existence of God because they know that God exists. They would be untroubled by the problem of evil because they know God is all-good, and so there must be an explanation, but they would find no need to read philosophical arguments because, as I said, they already know it's not a problem. They may (or may not) believe that everything is God's doing. If a love one dies, their belief would be because God wanted the loved one with him in heaven.

        To take a stereotype, a little old lady who goes to mass every day, says the rosary every day, receives communion every day (and can't make head or tales of the philosophical explanation of transubstantiation, but simply believes Jesus is there), would be an example of simple faith (in my book).

        All the contributors and commenters I know would hold to just the opposite: that God can be known by even the simplest person through intuition, experience, and philosophical reflection.

        Yes, exactly. But if a simple person (say a professional athlete) through intuition, experience, and philosophical reflection reaches the conclusion that there is not a God, he will then be judged for not having studied theology and refuted Thomas Aquinas's proofs!

        but nobody is required to "immerse themselves into 2000 years of theology" or study theology and win debates. That's simply a straw man.

        It is not a straw man at all. You are answering Arian Foster with the intellectual arguments of Catholic theology, which you seem to hold him responsible for not knowing. I think probably the "orthodox" Catholic attitude toward Arian Foster is that he has "vincible ignorance," that the Catholic Church has answers to all his questions and doubts, and that it is his responsibility to keep digging until he accepts the truth of Catholicism. Otherwise he will burn in hell. Now, of course you will say you don't judge Foster and you would never say he will go to hell. But you will say only God can know what's in a person's heart and make such a judgment. But I think you would also say that objectively, people like Foster are responsible for their own ignorance, that they ought to keep learning until they see the truth (as you see it), and that objectively they seem to be willfully turning away from God (whom they probably believe in, in their heart of hearts), and they will be punished for it.

        • "To take a stereotype, a little old lady who goes to mass every day, says the rosary every day, receives communion every day (and can't make head or tales of the philosophical explanation of transubstantiation, but simply believes Jesus is there), would be an example of simple faith (in my book)."

          OK. If that's all you mean, then my answer still holds. Most Catholics I know would praise that lady for her faith, not because it's simply but because it flourishes despite a limited intellectual foundation. But nobody would praise it *because* it's intellectually deficient. We would say, "How much deeper her faith would be with a clearer, more developed understanding of God and his Church!"

          Also, it's worth noting that the "simple" faith you describe here is not based on error or distortion. It lacks nuance, but it's not confused. Contrast that with Arian Foster's atheism, which at least according to this article, is based on some confusing misunderstandings. So that's another reason why Catholic may praise your hypothetical lady for her "simple" faith while not praising Foster's simplistic atheism.

          The twentieth-century theologian Frank Sheed has a beautiful reaction to all this in his book Theology for Beginners:

          "I cannot say how often I have been told that some old Irishman saying his rosary is holier than I am, with all my study. I daresay he is. For his own sake, I hope he is. But if the only evidence is that he knows less theology than I, then it is evidence that would convince neither him nor me. It would not convince him, because all those rosary-loving, tabernacle-loving Irishmen I have ever known (and my own ancestry is rich with them) were avid for more knowledge of the faith. It does not convince me, because while it is obvious that an ignorant man can be virtuous, it is equally obvious that ignorance is not a virtue; men have been martyred who could not have stated a doctrine of the Church correctly, and martyrdom is the supreme proof of love. Yet with more knowledge of God they would have loved him more still."

          • David Nickol

            Most Catholics I know would praise that lady for her faith, not because it's simply but because it flourishes despite a limited intellectual foundation.

            I think many would think highly of such a person because she doesn't need, and isn't interested in, an intellectual foundation. I think anybody who suggested she should sign up for some courses in theology would be mistaken. It seems to me that faith in Catholicism is basically trust in God.

            Contrast that with Arian Foster's atheism, which at least according to this article, is based on some confusing misunderstandings.

            Our little old lady was indoctrinated very effectively, and she internalized her faith. Foster was not indoctrinated effectively, and whatever faith he had dissipated. It seems to me that why one person believes and another doesn't is all but unknowable. Foster and our little old lady might be able to give a plausible narrative, but it seems to me their reasons for belief or unbelief are no doubt psychologically complex. If psychoanalysis really worked (and I believe that it is unfortunately maybe 5% effective), it would perhaps be able to uncover deep reasons for belief or unbelief.

            The thing to remember is that from the point of view of atheists and skeptics, it must always be kept in mind that the faith of the little old lady may be false, and the atheism of Arian Foster may be true. In which case, it makes little difference how they arrived at their conclusions. Plus we don't have a story about the hypothetical little old lady. She may have been deeply impressed by children's stories told by grade-school nuns.

  • David Nickol

    But the existence of misguided prayers don't support atheism. The fact that some people make selfish or inconsequential requests to God doesn't mean prayer itself is impotent or, worse, that God doesn't exist.

    I think that one of the principal influences on a person's belief or lack of belief is the way he or she perceives religious people. Consequently, if one's experiences of how religion is practiced by believers is negative, that will be one factor negatively influencing his or her belief.

    If praying to win a basketball game is foolish or selfish, then it seems to me it's up to good Christians to speak out against it and to "rehabilitate" prayer. While it is not necessarily logical, I think there is significant emotional power to saying, "If these people think that God determines the outcomes of football games but allows millions of children to starve each year, I don't want to have anything to do with their religion."

    If you watch the news, you will often see "ordinary folk" caught up in the news speak as if God determines and directs every detail of what goes on. "The tornado was headed straight for us, and the Lord made it veer south and spare us!" "Well, the Lord decided he wanted our murdered daughter in heaven with him!"

    • Paul F

      You have a very good point here. I think the problem is that, well, imagine going to that grieving parent and correcting them about why their daughter was murdered. They are just going to think you are crazy and mean; and wrong.

      Still, it is a teachable moment. As a Christian, I want them to know that God did not murder their daughter; nor did He want her to be murdered; and it went against His plan. But even this great evil will not change His plan or His love for any of us.

      • David Nickol

        There are various incompatible religious approaches to tragedies such as murders.

        One common one is that "everything happens for a reason." Terrible as the loss of your daughter may seem, it is all part of God's plan, and some day you will understand the plan. So accept it.

        Another, as I mentioned in my earlier message, is "God wanted your daughter in heaven with him." Your murdered daughter is now in "a better place" and she can never suffer again.

        It has been argued here that God never allows an evil unless a greater good can be brought from it. So in the case of a murder, although the murderer is the only one responsible for the daughter's death, nevertheless, God permitted it (1) so as not to negate the murderer's free will and (2) with the consoling knowledge that God will (somehow) bring a greater good from it.

        Then there is your approach: "God did not murder their daughter; nor did He want her to be murdered; and it went against His plan. But even this great evil will not change His plan or His love for any of us."

        The problem, it seems to me, is that many people would be comforted by the idea that God wanted the daughter with him in heaven. And if people feel that way who, as you say, is going to tell them they are wrong? Who is going to say to the people who had the narrow escape, "No, it was't the Good Lord who made the tornado destroy your neighbor's house instead of yours."

        • Paul F

          Believing in God is fraught with holding positions that, at first sight, seem contradictory. For example: justice and mercy coexisting. Will we exact justice or will we show mercy? Apparently we cannot do both; but God does.

          Regarding the murdered daughter, the parents are right that God wants her in heaven (tenent of Christianity). It may seem like a contradiction to us that God wants her in heaven and at the same time He does not want her to die. It seems this way because, to us, the way to heaven is to live well and then die.

          Well... maybe that was not the path God intended to heaven. Maybe the path through death only exists because of sin. That would mean God wants us to not die and live forever in heaven.

        • neil_pogi

          your life here is just 'borrowed life'

          your son, daughter, brother, sister, loved ones, are actually not yours - they are from God..

          so why complain or protest if God will take away your loved ones?

          i love my father, he suffered a lot before his life is taken..

          i didn't 'yell' at God..

          because I know my father's life is just borrowed from God..

  • David Nickol

    "Why is this relationship so one-sided?" he wondered, "Why would a loving God create evil? Why would he allow eternal damnation?"

    All of these questions, which most people confront at some point in life, articulate the famous "problem of evil"—how could an all-loving, all-powerful God allow pain and suffering in this world?

    I think the "problem of evil" and the "problem of hell" are two different issues. Brandon here only responds to the problem of evil, since he summarizes by saying, "[H]ow could an all-loving, all-powerful God allow pain and suffering in this world? [Emphasis added.]

    Some people may be able to satisfy themselves that the problem of evil can be answered. But it seems to me the problem of hell is much more difficult to deal with. The idea of "eternal torment" is perfectly horrifying, and I say that not merely because I don't want to suffer eternally, but because I think the thought of anybody suffering "eternal torment" is simply incompatible with human decency, let alone "omnibenevolence."

    Of course, I suppose it is not mandatory for all theists to believe in hell.

    • "Of course, I suppose it is not mandatory for all theists to believe in hell."

      If you're just saying "theist," then you can believe pretty much whatever, so long as you have the underpinnings of theism. There are a number who believe that while there is a hell, it is empty or will be empty eventually.

      Ronald Rolheiser noted the following on his blog concerning spiritual warfare:
      "There have always been theologians and mystics who believed that the full triumph of Christ will occur when the Satan himself converts and goes back to heaven along with everyone else in hell. The love of God, they believe, is so powerful that, in the end, nobody, not even Satan himself, will hold out against it. Eventually love will win everyone over and Christ will be fully triumphant when hell is empty."

      I'm not sure if that would be Christian Universalism or apocatastasis... those are some alternative views though...

  • Raymond

    "There is no logical contradiction between an all-loving, all-powerful God and the existence of evil for the simple fact that God could have morally sufficient reasons for permitting certain pains and sufferings."

    This statement, which is often presented in apologetic writings. is one of the ugliest arguments involving the problem of evil. God causes you pain and suffering in order to teach you something or to give you the opportunity to meet those challenges and make something of yourself. I reject the idea that there are morally sufficient reasons for childhood cancer, rape, economic exploitation or any other cause of pain and suffering. Yes, all these things happen, and all of them result in pain and suffering, but to say that these things happen so that all loving and all powerful God can see what you do with it is insulting and a mockery and trivialization of their suffering.

    • Paul F

      Nobody says God causes suffering... Well, nobody should. We say God allows suffering. He doesn't want us to suffer but it is the result of evil. The point is that, even if we act evil, God continues to try to make us good. He just doesn't force it.

      If you think about it, that doesn't trivialize suffering; it gives it meaning where before it had none.

      • Raymond

        Please explain how cancer, famine, floods, accidents and suicide are the result of evil. If God created everything, how could he not cause things that lead to suffering?

        • Paul F

          Philosophers have written about 'natural evil' vs 'moral evil' as a theodicy to this point. In this way of thinking, you are saying 'ok, free will accounts for moral evil, but what about natural evil?' There are theodicies for natural evil as well. The one I subscribe to is that we have no idea what the world would be like without sin. Some have argued that, without sin, no human would ever have suffered or died. I can't say that I know this subjunctivism to be factual, but it is possible.

          What I do know to be factual is my ignorance. So if someone can think of a way God could allow evil without himself having any culpability in it, how much more could God think of a better one? I don't have to know it or understand it in order for it to exist. I know it can exist, and I have faith in a God who would employ it.

          • Raymond

            I sincerely hope that that argument brings you peace, but I hope you realize that that position is meaningless to non believers

          • Paul F

            I'm am operating under the premise of this blog that it is for dialogue between Christians and atheists. To wit I am giving my beliefs as a Christian as well as reasons for it and attempting to get atheists to do the same as atheists. I don't pretend that I think atheistic arguments are as good as Christian ones. If I did then I would be an atheist. So I admit that my hope is that others will see my statements on here and at least rethink their own positions and at most change their own positions. I admit this because I know my intentions are obvious to the very intelligent people who post one here. No attempt at deception here.

            I also know that for true dialogue I have to be open to my own thoughts and beliefs being challenged; so I am. I can explain evil in the world if God exists. If God does not exist I can't explain anything in the world.

          • Raymond

            I am not saying that there is anything wrong with your views, or with the point you were trying to make. There are a great many things that Catholics consider mysteries, to be understood at the end times if then. All I am saying is that that statement has no meaning to non-believers and doesn't advance the conversation with them.

      • George

        "Nobody says God causes suffering... Well, nobody should. We say God allows suffering."

        How is that better? How is that better at all? How does the distinction even exist if one is supposedly omnipotent, who literally created everything, including the minds and wills of rapists and murderers?

        Should we follow this example? Should we be more like god and abolish the police force, which is just thwarting the free will of psychopaths, gangs, rapists, robbers, etc?

        Why should we stop people from being hurt by others, if suffering builds character / brings you closer to god / is just the cross we have to carry?

        You witness someone being raped and beaten. They plead for help, and you're the only third party there. What do you do?

        • Paul F

          Apply that thinking to every evil that God witnesses and what do you get? When I witness a single act of evil I want to intervene and stop it. But if I witness every act of evil everywhere... What would it take to stop them all? I can't really empathize with God here, but I think the world and everyone in it would be radically different if He took your advice. Maybe he likes you the way you are.

          • Doljonijiarnimorinar

            "For God so loved the world, he drowned everyone in it sans a favorite family..."

    • neil_pogi

      so evil exists, then, can you prove that atheism is true?

      actually, the mere presence of evil in this world proved that He does exists.

      God would easily destroy the planet Earth because of man's disobedience to Him.. but He can't.. because He respects the decision of man to choose 'evil'..

      • Raymond

        At this point we are not arguing the existence or non-existence of God. We are discussing arguments about the problem of evil and establishing that a God who allows death, disease, famine, rape and other evils cannot be all good and all loving. Saying that God allows these things so that the living can learn something is horrific. Saying than people "choose" evil is insulting. Sure some people do some evil things, but to say that children who have cancer or children and women deserve it because they chose evil is horrible.

        • neil_pogi

          there are only 2 choices to make. good and evil.

          atheists say that there is no good and evil, no objective morality, they don't exist. now, how can you tell if killing is evil?

          as i've said before, the presence of evil is for 'consumation purposes' only. God allows it to control and protect the world from overpopulation. it is designed (ex: prey and predator co-exists with each other, balance of nature)

          in the end, according to christians, evil will not be allowed in a new universe (ex: existing universe is just temporary, stars are dying, the energy of the universe is gaining entropy).

          • Raymond

            WHAT??? "To decrease the surplus population"??? You mean that to God disease, famine, tsunamis, earthquakes and the like are just ways to eliminate the unnecessary? And you think atheists have no morals??? How is that not the very definition of evil?

          • neil_pogi

            i didn't say 'to eliminate the unnecessary'...

            all i have said is: control population

            tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, storms, etc are all designed to create the world perfect balance.

            atheists have morals, too because they are humans. even without the Bible, humans are endowed with objective morality

          • Raymond

            1. You'll have to explain the difference between "eliminate the unnecessary" and "control population".
            2. This statement sounds like you are saying that God designed natural disasters to kill people so the world isn't so crowded. I really hope you're joking. And, if God means these things to control population then he's really crappy at it. The population of the earth continues to grow.
            3. To be fair, I appreciate that comment.

          • neil_pogi

            but you have to explain why 'eliminate the unnecessary' and 'control population' are both the same!

            volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, diseases, pains and sufferings, etc - these affect US all (christians, atheists, pantheists, deists, pagans, etc)

            if you will read the first book of the Bible, the Genesis, it narrates that God cursed mankind, so He allows 'thorns and thisles', increase childbirth pains, shortened life span of man from 900+ to up to 120 years, diseases, etc. when God informs Eve that when she eats the forbidden fruit, 'you will surely die'

          • Raymond

            Your last paragraph doesn't have anything to do with anything.
            And the whole concept of disasters as God's way of controlling the population and restoring the "world's perfect balance" is exceedingly ugly. That God would cause these events to happen to kill off large groups of people for the benefit of others intrinsically places more value on the survivors than on the victims. If God is doing that on purpose, he must also be deciding who lives and who dies - making the victims unnecessary by definition.
            It amazes me when people state that God is capable of incredible evil but say it is for some misguided concept of good.

          • neil_pogi

            the Bible has some explanations on why evil exists. if you don't want that explanation, then, fine!

            as you will know, according to atheists: 'there's no such things as good and evil'.. then why are you complaining?

            now you are saying that catastrophes are evil, then how did you know?

            youg might answer: it's because they kill..

            so what? God will say to you, 'you said you are just chemicals, then it's just ok for me to wipe you out of my entire universe'?

          • Raymond

            Nice.
            So you are reduced to the tired old trope that atheists don't believe in good and evil so why do we care. If the idea of God using natural disasters to control the size of the population is a moral good for you, then it's not ME that doesn't know the difference between good and evil.
            And wrap it up with a threat. Nice.

          • neil_pogi

            i think you really don't know how to distinguish between good and evil.
            how did you know that 'raping' your own mother is wrong?

            if i owned the most expensive and historical painting, i have the prerogative to, either destroy it or keep it.. why because i owned it, even if there are protest against me around the world.

            since God owned US, who are we to complain/protest?

          • Raymond

            1. Ok. Wow. We are so far past reasonable discussion we can't see it any more. I hope your mom is ok.
            2. If you think an argument like God owns us so shut up convinces anyone tou have another think coming.

          • neil_pogi

            i'm just asking if you think it is wrong to rape your mother, then what's make you think it is wrong? the question is very easy!

            when the movie Noah (directed by an atheist director), many christians reacted negatively to that movie. but what did the director do? 'well, it's my movie, and i have the rights to 'twists' some characters and events in the movie'..

          • Michael Murray

            There is a flag button in the top corner. They usually don't do anything to theists that are flagged because they seem to be able to do no wrong. But maybe we'll get lucky. I've flagged both of them.

          • Raymond

            Thank you. I think the comments are inappropriate too, but it would be improper for me to flag them, since I am involved in the discussion, and it would be winning by a technicality on my part.

  • George

    "There is no logical contradiction between an all-loving, all-powerful God and the existence of evil for the simple fact that God could have morally sufficient reasons for permitting certain pains and sufferings."

    Give us those reasons.

    • ferlalf

      Love can't exist if some don't love.

    • Peter

      Atheism is a lack of belief in a God. It is not a lack of belief in a good God who allows suffering.

      If atheists withhold belief in a God who is supposed to be good purely on the grounds that such a God allows suffering, then, by that same token, they must be open to belief in a God who is not supposed to be good and therefore allows suffering.

      If the presence of suffering all around us, past and present, is employed by atheists as testament to the non-existence of a good God, then the very same presence of suffering ought to be testament to the existence of a God who is not good.

      If an atheist says that a good God cannot exist because of suffering, this suffering implies that a God who is not so good can exist. The argument the atheist employs, and the evidence he or she presents, for the non-existence of one type of God opens the door to the existence of another type.

      This is not atheism, since atheism is lack of belief in all types of God, good and not so good.

      • Galorgan

        The whole point is that the problem of evil is a problem for a specific type of god, not the idea of a god in general. The Christian/Catholic puts forth the argument of an omnibenevolent and omnipotent god and is therefore open to such criticism.

        Your second paragraph is right on. The idea of an indifferent (or at least not fully benevolent) god is more consistent with the world as observed than an omnibenevolent one. However, the presence of suffering all around us is not testament to that god in itself. If the other arguments for a creator god are convincing, then it is testament to that type of god over ones posited to be omnibenevolent. However, in itself, it is not testament for a god existing one way or another.

        "If an atheist says that a good God cannot exist because of suffering, this suffering implies that a God who is not so good can exist. The argument the atheist employs, and the evidence he or she presents, for the non-existence of one type of God opens the door to the existence of another type."

        It doesn't open the door. The possibility door is already open. It's just closing the first door that's opened by the theist positing omnibenevolence.

        • Peter

          My point is that the evidence an atheist uses to demonstrate the non-existence of a good God does not advance the atheist cause one bit. From a strictly atheist point of view, it is not only a waste of time but actually counter-productive..

          Instead of precluding all types of God, which is what atheism should be about, all it does is present strong evidence of why one type of God is more likely than another.

          • Michael Murray

            No it doesn't. We have just ruled out black unicorns because unicorns have to be white. That does't make white unicorns any more likely to exist. "Not impossible" does not equal "probable". This has always been your mistake.

          • Peter

            The argument from suffering does not reduce the probability of a God one iota, so why do atheists promote an argument which does not further their cause?

            Is it because they are not real atheists at all but simply anti-Catholic?

          • Peter

            Unicorns cannot explain reality; a Creator can. Conflating the two is erroneous. Since reality exists, a Creator is a likely explanation; unicorns are not. Unicorns are irrelevant, as is your post.

          • Galorgan

            Your first sentence is just wrong. If the non-existence of one type of god can be demonstrated, the "atheist cause" has advanced "one bit."

            This is just a such a weird line of thinking on your part. I have to preclude all types of gods or nothing?

            So if somehow I was able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus wasn't divine, I should just keep my trap shut as an atheist? Disproving Christianity wouldn't "advance the atheist cause one bit" because other religions could still be true. Not only could they still be true, they'd actually be made more likely to be true (THAN ATHEISM) now that Christianity was shown to be false.

            Fantastic reasoning.

            From just a local practical standpoint... In your line of thinking, every Strange Notions thread would just have atheists arguing against the creator god to start. Problem of evil thread? Nope, just arguments against the existence of any and all gods. Transubstantiation? Nope, just arguments against the existence of any and all gods. How 'bout we talk about the historical evidence for Jesus? Nope!

          • Peter

            No, the atheist cause has not advanced one bit by demonstrating the non-existence of one type of God. If suffering reduces the probability of a good God, it correspondingly increases the probability of a God who not so good, so nothing has changed as far as genuine atheism is concerned.

            The probability of a God remains the same, which makes observes wonder why some atheists waste their time on such unproductive exercises. Not only are they unproductive but counter-productive in the sense that those atheists who pursue them open themselves up to ridicule.

          • Galorgan

            I see why you're saying that to a point, but it doesn't mesh with how the world actually works. If somehow somebody came up with a phrasing of the problem of evil that fully worked and everybody was convinced by it, do you really think everybody who believed in a good god would just change their view of god to a not-so-good god? I think we can see that that's not true, and at least some, if not most, people would become atheists.

            In your dealings with people, how many people who believe the problem of evil is a serious problem have become atheists and how many have started believing in a different sort of god? Once you give up one type of god, it's much harder to just move to another type of god.

            -

            I'm going to respond to your other post in this one to simplify things. "Many so-called atheists on this site are not atheists at all but anti-Catholics." The idea that being an atheist and an anti-Catholic (as in anti-Catholicism not anti-Catholics) is mutually exclusive is absurd. If somebody is calling them self an atheist on this site, then they probably are one. Are you accusing us of lying? Do you think we secretly believe in partially malevolent god and are trying to get you guys to believe in that through subterfuge?

            Most of "us" are atheist and anti-Catholicism, anti-Christianity, anti-Islam, anti-Judaism, anti-Hinduism, etc (when I say anti here it's to continue the word use by Peter, I only mean it as saying "we" don't believe these things are true and their tenets should be argued). The specific claims of religions are both easier to argue against and more likely to cause harm. Furthermore, while I don't believe in any form of god, the more specific the claim gets the even less I believe it (or actively start to believe its converse). I think Mormonism is less believable than Christianity. I think Catholicism is less believable than a general theism. I think theism is less believable than deism. We are also on a specifically Catholic website. There are many places where the existence of god is argued for and against (including here). This is a place where we get to do that and talk about the specific points of Catholicism. It makes sense to do both if you disbelieve in both.

          • Peter

            "I think theism is less believable than deism"

            An atheist lacks belief in all Gods. There are no degrees of disbelief. If deism is more believable to you than theism, you cannot lack belief in a deistic God. Therefore you cannot be an atheist. To an atheist they ought to be equally unbelievable.

          • Galorgan

            I don't see that that's true at all. Why can't there be degrees of disbelief? I don't find the idea of a deistic god convincing, but I don't find it outright absurd. I find the idea of the tri-omni god absurd given how the world operates.

            The idea that all gods "must" be equally unbelievable to an atheist is false. The more claims you add on to a god, the less believable it becomes, in general. Claim A: "There exists a god who created the world [and other things about that god could be true]. Claim B: "There exists a god who created and interacts with the world, who is maximally powerful, good, and knowing. He created humans in his image.. etc." By the mere fact that Claim A would include Claim B and not the inverse makes it a more believable claim. Claim A is not meant to represent a "harder" deism where god is supposed not to interact with the world, but just to illustrate that I can find one claim more believable than another without believing either.

          • Peter

            Sorry, but I still cannot see how you can have varying degrees of atheism. Atheism is the complete lack of belief in all Gods, by which I understand to be an equal absence of belief in any type of God. To an atheist no kind of God is more believable than another.

            Perhaps what you are describing above is agnosticism which does indeed come in varying degrees from the hard agnostic to the soft agnostic. If you say you are an agnostic, albeit a hard one, then what you are describing makes perfect sense, but not if you claim to be an atheist.

          • Galorgan

            If you say so. I don't believe in any gods at all (therefore I completely lack belief). I find some ideas of god more believable than others while still not believing them. I've never had somebody other than you describe that as not being atheism.

            Maybe the word "believable" is causing confusion. I find some concepts of god more likely to be true than others, while still finding them less likely to be true than the null hypothesis.

          • Peter

            OK, I understand that if there were a God, which you don't believe, then, given the presence of suffering, you consider it more likely that such a God would be indifferent rather than good.

            This makes sense to me, but it goes no way towards furthering your cause as an atheist. In fact I would consider the problem of suffering to be a red herring where atheists are concerned.

            Atheists ought to be concerned with justifying their lack of belief in all Gods instead of evaluating the relative merits of hypothetical ones.

          • Galorgan

            Well I think there are two things you are not taking into account. First, I'm not just an atheist. Whatever makes me disbelieve and want to argue against the existence of a god in general is also present in this hypothetical arena. As I said earlier, the more specific the claim the easier it is to argue against. Well the more "wrong" I see something, the more I want to argue against it, even if that's within a framework, that only for the sake of argument, assumes my "opponent's" premises. Thus arguments regarding the problem of evil are more interesting to me than arguments just for the creator (potentially deistic only) god. So even if it didn't "advance the atheist cause one bit," it would still "advance my cause."

            However, I do think it still does "advance the atheist cause" in reality even if it shouldn't. I would love to live in a world where theists started with the null hypothesis and then were convinced of god's existence through a chain of arguments starting with the general (creator/deist) and going to the specific (Catholicism). If this were the case, then you would be correct. Even if the problem of evil was successful, it would just cause the theist to believe in a different type of god. Maybe this is what you did, but you must know that you are in a very small minority. And to be further fair to you, it might be true in other cases. For instance, if somebody was raised with a fire and brimstone version of Christianity and then later chose a "nicer" one, then if my arguments were successful, it might just cause them to revert. However, I find the likelihood of either option to be quite low. Obviously the most likely option is that people won't be swayed by anything I say, but for those who are the two most likely options I see are: they do change their idea to deism (so completely uninvolved god), they use it a jumping off point to start to question theism and eventually adopt atheism, or they directly adopt atheism. Anecdotally, we know these things happen.

          • Peter

            Your last paragraph is quite true. Genuine atheists do not advance their cause by arguing against Catholic doctrine if by doing so they fail to demonstrate the non-existence of a Creator. All such atheists are doing by arguing against Catholic doctrine is demonstrating their anti-Catholicism.

            Many so-called atheists on this site are not atheists at all but anti-Catholics. They present no end of arguments about why Catholic doctrine is not true, and yet present none at all of why the existence of a Creator is not true. They openly display their credentials as anti-Catholics, but display no credentials at all of being genuine atheists.

          • Doljonijiarnimorinar

            Do you ever read over what you write? Can't stop shaking my head in despair for you guys.

      • neil_pogi

        that's why atheists just want no suffering and evil..

        i don't think they really believe in such 'evil and suffering' because one atheist scientist says that 'there is no good or evil...' therefore, good and evil are just illusions..

        then 'everything is permissible..'

        why so much complaint?

        if God doesn't exists in your worldviews, then what's your problem? what are you trying to prove?

        i have free choices to make in my life.. if i believe and worship God, then why atheists react? is it 'evil' to believe in a Deity? is it 'good' to believe in a deity?

  • Paul F

    By what standard is he judged to be a good guy? Most often when I hear this there is an atheist compared to Christian values and judged positively. I guess the point is that Christian values can be rationally discovered without reference to Christianity? I don't know what the point of this is. For the most part, our society still holds Christian values that have persisted in the face of much abuse. I wonder what values a society would have if formed entirely by modern atheists, void completely of Christian values. Would it judge Foster to be a good guy?

    • David Nickol

      Do you think "Christian values" are significantly different from Jewish values or Hindu values or Muslim values? Does Christianity have a monopoly on living modestly even though affluent, or taking care of one's children?

      And what would we assume to be "Christian values" if we tried to compile a list of them from observing the way American Christians live? Would "Eat too much food and waste the rest" be a Christian value? And which version of the Gospel counts as Christian—there are an awful lot of preachers out there preaching the prosperity Gospel.

      • Paul F

        I'm not making judgements about values here, nor am I saying that all American values are unique to Christianity, nor that they are exemplified by Americans. I'm just saying that Americans by and large got their values from Christianity. Also that many of these values have been retained by converts to atheism.

        My reason for asking is that Christian morals and values are based on a belief in a divine creator. If the creator is removed the values evanesce. Yet these values are being used in this article to justify atheism. Maybe I'm off base here, but my irony detectors are going off.

        • David Nickol

          Yet these values are being used in this article to justify atheism.

          I don't quite see how Christian values or any other particular set of values are used in this article to justify atheism. Saying that some particular atheist (or even atheists as a group) live by values that are very similar to Christian values doesn't "justify atheism."

          If you mean to imply that theories of moral and ethical behavior are meaningless without a creator or some other kind of God, I do not agree with that.

          • Paul F

            I wasn't trying to imply that morals are meaningless to an atheist, but I was asking where they come from and what are they. If God exists then things have eternal value because they are valuable to God. Morals extend from this notion of respecting what God values. How do you get morality from atheism? There is nobody watching and therefore nobody really cares what you do. Typically on here I see atheists equating what is moral with what is good for society, but this puts value on society and not on individuals, and it still makes me wonder where society has gotten this value.

          • Michael Murray

            You really can't find an explanation on the internet of a non-theistic morality system ? What about

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanism

          • Paul F

            "that decisions about right and wrong must be based on the individual and common good, with no consideration given to metaphysical or supernatural beings"
            -from the link

            It says that humanist morality is focused on leaving the world better for future generations. This leaves us vulnerable to the likes and tastes of people we will never meet. How do we know what kind of world they will consider better? Looking to the past, some societies have had some horrible notions of what a better world would be. And this doesn't rule out drastic and aweful measures for achieving this better world.

            I just don't think it's possible to formulate a morality without reference to metaphysics or supernatural beings. In fact the common good cannot otherwise be considered because it implies a judgement from beyond.

        • Michael Murray

          Most of our values can be derived from some variant of "the Golden Rule" which predates Christianity. Christianity I think tries to add to that by maximising the size of the "in group". Something we primates struggle with.

          Maybe I'm off base here, but my irony detectors are going off.

          Yes that can happen here. You need to keep the damping setting turned to maximum.

          • Paul F

            If all Christian values could be derived from the golden rule then there would be no story of the crucifixion in the bible. The golden rule is basically self-serving. Christian values are based on serving God and serving others, but even the serving other comes from serving God by serving His creatures. All of morality is centered on God the creator. Human nature is one of humility and servitude.

          • Michael Murray

            If all Christian values

            Most of our values

            Spot the difference.

            Human nature is one of humility and servitude

            Servitude or Stockholm Syndrome ?

          • Paul F

            It's not all nor most. Christian values are other-serving. The Golden rule is self-serving. There are pragmatic teachings in Christianity but they are subservient to teachings of humility.

            Stockholm Syndrome? Who is the captor? I don't get the metaphor

          • Michael Murray

            God is the captor. Your use of the word "servitude" sounds like you are bowing down before The Great Cosmic Tyrant.

          • Paul F

            I can see why you would see it that way. If God is a superhuman like the ancient pagan gods then he would be tyrannical. What is different is that I believe in God the creator of all. He just is what He is: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. He has no reason any hidden motives and no place for evil. Human freedom is exercised properly by recognizing that we are servants of the good because we do not have all of God's qualities.

          • Michael

            How is "There is only one true God, all other Gods are false" serving others...?

            How is "You'll be punished forever for working on the Sabbath" serving others?

            How is there a death penalty in Christian America when God said not to kill, and we know we have killed many innocent people using the method?

            These are literally "self-serving" on a cosmic scale. I don't understand your standards.

          • Paul F

            Christianity is a monotheistic religion that claims to be teaching the truth. Of course it teaches there is one true God. Telling the truth is serving others; especially truth about God.

            Edit: I didn't get to finish this earlier due to bad connection.

            The law about working on the Sabbath is an antiquated Mosaic law that has changed over time for Christians. We still keep the spirit of the law - give time to God - but we do not keep the exact observance from Leviticus.

            God said not to murder, he didn't say not to kill. The difference between these definitions is the answer to your question. Granted, killing to save lives is not to be taken lightly. But this is the reason for capital punishment: it saves lives. I am not arguing that always in every situation it was used this way. I am certain that there have been uses where it would be considered murder. This doesn't undermine the philosophy behind capital punishment, though I am not making an argument to employ it now in this country. But there are instances where a person has to kill or be killed; and instances where a person has to kill or others will be killed. There is a difference between the murderer who causes this situation and the person who prevents it or its reoccurrence.

            Telling others the truth is in service of others; Giving time to God is in service of God; capital punishment is done in service of others and society. These are all examples of serving others. Part of the truth we know as Christians is that there is evil in the world. Christian morality gives us a way to live in the face of this evil. To the extent that we fail, we allow more evil into the world. When we fail, we are rightly corrected with reference to our morality. But this is different from disputing the morality itself.

            Christian morality is completely other-focused. I give the crucifixion as the best example of this because it is not possible to find a self-serving reason for it. Jesus told the truth, and because of it he was scorned, rejected by his friends, and murdered by the authorities. This is the role model for Christians. But criticizing the Christian is different from criticizing the role-model.

          • Michael

            Take a moment to consider the perspective of all the people that don't share your particular religion. How does hearing it serve them? How does hearing about Allah's just rule serve you? Aren't you interested in Truth as declared by believers?

            You may have picked up on a pattern in life; that just because someone says something is true doesn't make it true.

            It doesn't serve anyone to hear one religion say that all other religions are false. It's just self-aggrandizing noise to the open-minded.

            "I'm going to say out loud how correct I am, and how incorrect others are, and I declare it's the truth!" - The self-indulgent and proud believer

          • Paul F

            I very much understand what you are saying here. I would answer that any religion has precepts that must be believed before the teachings of the religion make any sense. Fellow believers in a religion are able to weave intricate webs of "truth" based on the precepts they have in common. If these truths are consistent with the precepts, then the way to attack them is by attacking the precepts; if they are inconsistent with the precepts, then attack them by demonstrating as much.

            With that in mind, hearing about Allah's rule doesn't serve me in the sense that I don't think it is true. I don't think God rules the way that Allah rules because of the precepts I believe about God. Therefore I take issue with the precepts of Islam. There are many teachings in Islam that I would say are true if and only if the precepts are true. So it wouldn't serve me to argue with a Muslim about what he believes unless we were talking on a very fundamental level.

            I think it is the same when a Christian speaks to an Atheist. There are precepts that the two do not have in common. This has become clear to me in my discussions with Michael Murray on this blog. Where I believe in a divine creator, he believes in nothing. And we can not seem to agree on what nothing is.

            One way to discuss beyond precepts is to look at the consequences in the world of what we believe. But this only takes us as far as common values. I don't like to think of a world dominated by a caliphate where I am a slave, whereas that might delight a Muslim. I also don't like to think of a world where morality has no basis in a loving creator who became man and died to save us. This might sound ridiculous to an Atheist, but it is a rare Atheist who is aware of his own precepts or can link his morality to those precepts. I am told that Nietze was very consistent in his philosophy of Atheism, though I have not read him myself.

            To the extent that a Christian is self-indulgent or proud, we are rightly criticized by our own morality. But it might be that what you hear sounds that way simply because your precepts do not align with those of the Christians. If you want to attack Christian morality or values, you have to first understand the precepts.

      • Michael

        Don't forget "Get divorced half the time" and "own slaves" as good Christian American values.

  • David Nickol

    It seems fairly obvious to me that some very large percentage of theists or "believers" are believers because they were, from the moment of their birth, raised by their families to be believers. Even some of the believers who write here who claim to have been atheists were raised to be believers, lapsed for a time, and returned to the fold. I would assume the number of people who were raised "atheist" or simply raised without any religion at all who as adults become believers in one of the major world religions are rare indeed.

    Of course, that may tell us nothing about who is right and who is wrong. But I do think it suggests that if people were not indoctrinated into a particular religion, were raised in a totally unbiased atmosphere (completely impossible, of course), and got to pick their religion at age 21, there would probably be a lot fewer religious people. Childhood indoctrination is very important.

    When I look back on my Catholic education, one of the things that surprises me is that the indoctrination to be a patriotic American was almost as heavy-handed as the indoctrination to be Catholic. For example, the readers we used from first to eighth grade were the "Faith and Freedom" series.

    • "It seems fairly obvious to me that some very large percentage of theists or "believers" are believers because they were, from the moment of their birth, raised by their families to be believers."

      It's unclear whether you're saying the *only* reason most believers are believers is because they were raised by believing parents, or that that's the first or primary reason. If the former, I'm not sure I would agree. People raised in a believing home are statistically more likely to imbibe the faith of their parents. But that typically doesn't hold throughout their lives. In my experience, the anecdotal evidence is mixed, and I think you'd have difficult proving your intuition statistically.

      "I would assume the number of people who were raised "atheist" or simply raised without any religion at all who as adults become believers in one of the major world religions are rare indeed."

      There's actually hard data on this. Every seven years the Pew Research Forum releases their massive "Religious Landscape Study", which surveyed over 35,000 Americans. The latest edition was released just a few months ago and found just the opposite of what you suppose.

      Per the graphic found on pg. 39 of the PDF report, just 53% of American adults raised as religiously "unaffiliated" still identify as "unaffiliated" today. Roughly 36% of them have converted to Christianity and another 10% to other faiths. In other words, roughly half have rejected their childhood unbelief.

      It's worth noting the surge in the other direction, too. Most people who identify as "unaffiliated" today were raised in a religious home. In fact, former-Catholics represent the largest share (28%) of "unaffiliateds" today.

      While roughly half of all people raised "unaffiliated" end up in some faith tradition as adults, a significant number of those raised in religious homes head in the opposite direction. (20% of people raised Catholic are now "unaffiliated".)

      "Of course, that may tell us nothing about who is right and who is wrong."

      That's right.

      "But I do think it suggests that if people were not indoctrinated into a particular religion, were raised in a totally unbiased atmosphere (completely impossible, of course), and got to pick their religion at age 21, there would probably be a lot fewer religious people. Childhood indoctrination is very important."

      I think that's very likely. I'm not sure I'd use the word "indoctrination", which is a loaded and often polemical term, but I'd say your intuition jives with the experiences of every parent: what you exemplify and teach your child matters.

      • Doug Shaver

        People raised in a believing home are statistically more likely to imbibe the faith of their parents. But that typically doesn't hold throughout their lives.

        Do you mean to say that it is typical for adults to embrace a religion different from that of their parents?

  • Michael

    He's brave because everyone knew there would be gossipy articles like this one, delving head-first into assumptions about the way the man thinks.

    You're all trying to figure out -what- has done this to him.

    I think it's only fair to assume that he hasn't been convinced by any of the god stories.

    Anything beyond that reflects a self-indulgent desire to construct straw men.

    • "You're all trying to figure out -what- has done this to him. I think it's only fair to assume that he hasn't been convinced by any of the god stories."

      And I'm not convinced by any of those "god stories", either, if by that you mean the stories I exposed in my article as dubious.

      • Michael

        No, I'm using a broader standard, free of special pleading.

        Your story is not a unique snowflake.

  • M J

    I CAN understand the metaphors and the notion of time and space .... But how does this work with the doctrine of the Assumption and Ascension??? These seem to promote direction and not truly illustrating some kind of metaphorical approach.

  • David Hardy

    An interesting article, and I appreciate the nod to how morality and atheism are separate factors in people. I will focus my post on the two points regarding theism and atheism that I believe require a response.

    But today, philosophers both atheist and theist generally
    agree that although the problem is serious and deeply felt, it doesn't provide
    strong support for atheism. There is no logical contradiction between an
    all-loving, all-powerful God and the existence of evil for the simple fact that
    God could have morally sufficient reasons for permitting certain pains and
    sufferings.

    Permitting certain pain and suffering, yes. That could be understandable. Likewise, the problem of evil does nothing to disprove God or gods, it is only a challenge to the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing God that is also unfailingly ethical. In this regard, however, it can be a powerful challenge, especially if your sense of ethics includes positive ethical duties as essential to being moral. In other words, if you believe there is an ethical duty to intervene and stop evil acts if you become aware of them and have the power to stop them, and that even if there is a foreseeable later good to allowing others to suffer this does not mitigate this duty, then the problem of evil is a very serious one to this conception of God. This, of course, is in addition to people who suffer and die through evil acts with no later benefit to them.

    So even though all four figures (Jesus, God, Hercules, and
    Zeus) were worshipped as deities, and even though they share some traits in
    common like supernatural abilities, they are radically different on the level
    of ontology, or being.

    Yes, there are radically different theological positions on these figures. That does not make them different in terms of whether there is evidence for these positions being true, which appeared to be part of the point. Jesus is certainly not the only historical figure to be deified by others. It happened to emperors, kings and war heroes in various cultures, and happens quite often with small religious groups that form around a charismatic leader.

  • steve abril

    Poor Foster. It's obvious he's been corrupted mentally by intellectual pride and a very large Ego. Hey Arian, self-delusion is often a reflection of a large Ego. I believe, so I'll pray for you. Peace.

    • Doljonijiarnimorinar

      The only thing obvious is that you're a judgmental mind-reader, apparently. Sure you're not projecting? I don't know why you're capitalizing ego. Maybe your self-delusion has taken over your senses, so you write the things you do and believe what you do.

      Can I claim this as an obvious truth like you did for him? Not if I'm an honest person. Peace.

      • steve abril

        assessment of his thinking not judgemental