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How to Approach the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil in relation to God’s goodness is too vast a topic to treat fully in this short article. Therefore, I shall offer just a few relevant observations on this widely known objection to God’s goodness and existence.

In classical metaphysics, proving God’s goodness starts with defining what is meant by the good. The good is that which all things desire.1 But a thing is desirable because it is perfect, which implies that it is as actual as its nature permits. Since a thing has being as it has actuality, the good is equivalent to being.2 Since God is infinite being, he must also be infinite goodness.

Moreover, since the proofs for God’s existence argue from finite effects to God as the First Cause of all creatures, he must be the cause of the goodness found in all things. Since a cause cannot give what it does not have, God must possess goodness. But the divine simplicity entails that God is identical to any quality he possesses. Hence, God is pure goodness. Since moral goodness is a genuine form of goodness, God must possess and, in fact, be moral goodness itself.

Once it is demonstrated that God is morally good, the solution to the problem of evil requires only that one understand how evil can exist in spite of God’s goodness. In other words, since the problem of evil does not arise until we already know that God exists and is infinitely good, it is therefore a given that the problem of evil can be rationally resolved.

On the other hand, for atheists or agnostics who approach the problem of evil without knowing that God exists, it is the existence and goodness of God that are in jeopardy, since they are certain that evil exists and appears a vexing problem. So, they are in serious doubt that an all-good God can possibly exist.

Clearly, it makes enormous difference as to how one approaches the problem of evil. For the theist, it is merely a problem to be solved. For the atheist, it is a massive obstacle to belief in a good God. It all depends where one starts his enquiry.

Since classical metaphysics does demonstrate the existence of an all-good God – and since I have published defenses of such arguments, mine is the former task. It is merely a matter of seeing why the world’s evil is compatible with the all-good God already known to exist. From this perspective, atheists and agnostics simply approach the problem from the wrong end.

Since the good is equivalent to being and good and evil are diametrically opposed, it would appear that evil must be simply non-being. But, evil is not simply non-being. Rather, evil is the lack of being or perfection that should belong to a given nature.3

Physical evil is the privation of a natural physical good, as when a horse has a broken or missing leg. For many, evil is viewed as pain and suffering. These, too, represent a lack of well-being in sensation or feeling. Moral evil is the lack of rectitude in the acts of a free agent—a sin.

Why Does God Permit, Or Even Cause, Evil?

It is often argued that, if God is all good, all powerful, and all knowing, he has no excuse even for permitting evil to exist. It appears that either he is not all good, or he is powerless to prevent evil, or he does not know what is going on. None of this is compatible with the classical conception of God.

Nonetheless, it is morally licit to permit evil—when that permission allows a greater good to result. For instance, I might allow a youngster to smoke a cigar, knowing it will make him sick, but for the greater good of teaching him not to smoke at all. Now, this is not the immoral act of causing an evil means so as to attain a good end, since I am not making the youngster smoke the cigar. That is his act, not mine. So, too, since God gave us the perfection of a free will, he can allow us to misuse that will and sin, while knowing and willing that a greater good may be forthcoming.

Since God is infinitely good and powerful, it necessarily follows that any evil that God permits in this world must have a greater good that results from it. Being infinitely powerful and knowing all future events, God’s goodness could not permit that evil should occur unless greater good is foreseen to ensue from it.4 The fact that we cannot conceive of such a greater good in many cases does not demonstrate that God is evil, but rather that our finite minds cannot understand the inscrutable nature of God’s providential plans.5

Still, the question arises as to whether God, not only permits evil, but directly causes it in some instances. Clearly, when God exercises his divine prerogative over creatures, as in the matters of life and death and punishment, he acts in ways that entail physical evil for his creatures. How then does God remain free of moral evil when he directly causes such physical evils? Many argue that when God directly takes human life or administers other punishments, he is acting immorally—even manifesting brutality.

But God is the Creator and Sustainer of all life—life, which is given to us as a gratuitous gift. What is freely given may be freely withdrawn at any time—with no resulting injustice. Moreover, as the divine lawgiver and judge of natural law, God is perfectly right to punish directly its violators—so as to restore the balance of justice. No mere creature has that prerogative.

Now, no one would say that it is illicit to remove surgically a cancerous organ, even though the necessary first step is to cause the physical evil of making an incision, which can be painful and damages skin—for it is clear that the total act involved is that of removing a threat to human life. So, too, when God imposes licit sanctions on evil men that entail pain and suffering, the total act is that of imposing the sanction or punishment, while the good end or purpose of that act is the restoration of the balance of justice. Sanctions themselves are a social good needed for the upholding of laws. The pain and suffering (or even death) are simply an essential part of imposing the sanction, which cannot be separated from the act itself. The somewhat incidental nature of the form of the sanction is evinced by the fact that differing crimes receive differing penalties, whereas what is constant and common is the concept of the sanction itself.

In any case, it must be emphasized that God would never will physical evil (either directly or indirectly) for its own sake, that is, as an end in and of itself. He always wills it within the framework of the good of the whole of the created order. We must also remember that what is morally evil for man may not be morally evil for God, since he alone is the Creator of all things and the Legislator of natural law as well as the just Judge of those who violate its ordinances. For example, humans can never licitly take an innocent life, but God can do so—given his position as Creator and Sustainer of all finite living things.

It is self-evident that the infinitely-good God could never directly will moral evil for the sake of any end whatever—however good.

Because some, such as Luther, Ockham, and Descartes, embraced classical positivism with respect to God’s will, they thought he could make adultery licit—or even make two plus two equal five. Natural law never allows such absurdity, because God respects the nature of his own plan of creation. Thus, God could never make adultery or odium dei licit or, for that matter, make two plus two equal five.

This general explanation dealing with God both permitting and causing evil completely resolves the problem of evil in all its many forms, since whatever evil occurs in the world can only happen because God foresees and wills a greater good coming from it.

This solution follows necessarily from the facts that God’s existence can be demonstrated, as can his infinite goodness, power, and knowledge.

But what of the atheist’s or agnostic’s perspective, since he does not accept these metaphysical conclusions about God and his goodness? Coming from a given starting point of the existence of massive evil in the world, it would seem that the hypothesis of an all-good God is a priori excluded.

Quite to the contrary, it is the atheist’s or agnostic’s burden of proof to show that such evil is incompatible with an all-good God. For, if God does exist as classically depicted, then it follows that the problem of evil dissolves as explained above. For the atheist or agnostic to prevail, he must show that such a good God does not exist. He argues from the existence of evil to his conclusion that an all-good God cannot exist. But that is begging the question, for he is assuming what he purports to prove. As we have already shown above, if the God of classical tradition does exist, then evil is no problem.

Thus, the problem of evil is resolved no matter which end of the question is addressed first—be it the existence of evil or the existence of an all-good God.

This means that in principle this analysis and solution of the classical problem of evil could end at this point with no further discussion. Nonetheless, I shall consider some further aspects.

The Problem of Pain

If the problem of evil were a purely rational objection to God, it would seem that every kind of evil should be concerning. Yet, I have never heard anyone proclaim his atheism because of the carnage taking place against lettuce when a chef prepares a salad. Still, there is concern about the pain and suffering that animals endure. Human animals are well aware of the agony that pain can cause. Even so, concern is selective. I have never heard anyone proclaim his atheism because of the treatment of bugs in a Raid commercial.

Animals naturally experience sense pain and pleasure. The sense appetites move them to seek the pleasurable good. They also move them to avoid sensible evil: displeasure or pain. Animals seek goods that keep the individual alive and the species reproducing. Animals need to experience and to fear pain in order to survive against threats to their lives and those of their offspring.

One might ask why God didn’t make animals so that they did not experience pain. The answer is that, in this natural world, pain plays so central a role in animal life that the only way to avoid the problem of pain for animals would be to eliminate the animals themselves. But this is absurd, since (1) it would limit God’s power to create life and (2) it would solve a problem by eliminating the very beings it seeks to benefit. Better for animals is that they live with some pain at times, rather than not live at all.

On the other hand, pain in human experience must be considered in the broader context of man’s intellectual and spiritual life and its role in helping him attain his last end.

Evil as Part of God's Plan for Man

The problem of physical evil and pain in human existence must be subordinated to a proper understanding of his last end and the role of free will in his attaining that end.

When we look at this world, so filled with evil and suffering, the question naturally arises, “How could a good God make such a world?” But this presumes that God is totally responsible for the world as it now exists. Perhaps, God made a world without evil, but he also created free beings who made evil choices that might have corrupted all creation. If evil’s existence before man’s coming be objected, one must then consider the possibility that God created other free beings, such as angels, prior to human creation, and those free beings introduced evil into the world.

Other possibilities include: (1) that the reward of heaven might not be justly given without man earning it. (2) that an earned reward is more perfect than an unearned one. (3) that pain and suffering are key elements in progress toward moral perfection.

God could have made his own existence so evident that no free creature would dare misuse his freedom, and thereby, fail to attain his last end: heaven. Instead, God created an evolving natural world that permits the possibility of naturalistic explanations for everything. In a word, God made a world perfect for atheists and agnostics – since they can argue plausibly (but, not correctly!) that God is a useless myth.

We live on a wonderful planet that rotates so that human life is possible, but whose resulting weather patterns cause death-dealing hurricanes. Humans thrive, but physical evils abound. Could God provide countless miracles to save endangered lives? Could God have made the cosmos differently? Perhaps. But, would the world still be best suited to allow maximum human freedom in reaching our last end?

While right reason can lead the human intellect to affirm God’s existence, man’s spiritual destiny, and the force of natural law, no one is virtually coerced into this awareness as he would be if God’s existence were undeniably evident. Unfortunately, this scenario also entails the possibility of man readily misusing his free will so as not to attain his last end. Why would God permit such a self-destructive use of human freedom?

We might prefer “forced” salvation, but God respects his creature’s freedom so much that he allows us meaningfully to freely earn our eternal reward—even at the price of possible deserved failure. A free agent’s greatest qualitative perfection is most perfectly achieved when he freely chooses a life of moral virtue, even when aan evil alternative deceptively beckons—as in the modern secular world, which seems to offer paradise on earth with no difficult moral constraints, such as sexual self-control.

This world, in which evolutionary naturalism appears to be a real alternative to God’s presence and plan, turns out to be the perfect world for the building of the greatest of saints.6 This world necessarily entails the presence of great evils—the worst of them being of human making. Still, the fact remains that God has good reason to create this world exactly as he has, since its evils exist only because God foresees far greater good forthcoming as a result, that is, a heaven filled with creatures who freely merited their eternal reward.

Notes:

  1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, I, 1 (1094a 1).
  2. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5., a. 1, c.
  3. Summa Contra Gentiles, III, ch. 6, para. 1.
  4. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, ad. 1.
  5. Karlo Broussard, Preparing the Way (Catholic Answers Press, 2018, 79-82).
  6. My final argument showing that a naturalistic world is best designed for maximum freedom is taken from my book, Origin of the Human Species – Third Edition (Sapientia Press, 2014), 211-213.
Dr. Dennis Bonnette

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Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. He taught philosophy there for thirty-six years and served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He lives in Youngstown, New York, with his wife, Lois. They have seven adult children and twenty-five grandchildren. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. Dr. Bonnette taught philosophy at the college level for 40 years, and is now teaching free courses at the Aquinas School of Philosophy in Lewiston, New York. He is the author of two books, Aquinas' Proofs for God's Existence (The Hague: Martinus-Nijhoff, 1972) and Origin of the Human Species (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, third edition, 2014), and many scholarly articles.

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  • Apologies, but I suspect the following two points are exactly wrong:

    Could God have made the cosmos differently? Perhaps. But, would the world still be best suited to allow maximum human freedom in reaching our last end?

    We might prefer “forced” salvation, but God respects his creature’s freedom so much that he allows us meaningfully to freely earn our eternal reward—even at the price of possible deserved failure.

    To substitute, I will quote from the Apostle Paul and French sociologist Jacques Ellul:

    You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11)

    Yet one may accept the classical distinction[1] between freedom defined as freedom of choice, which rests on a static conception, on the existence of a clearly established nature, or good and evil, in which freedom is to choose (the good), and freedom viewed as the coming of something new into the world with a creative adherence to an inexhaustible good. (The Ethics of Freedom, 11–12)

    It is my claim that God wishes to channel limitless goodness, excellence, and beauty into the world, largely through those imago Dei beings he created. (YHWH rested on the seventh day.) But we imago Dei beings have this befuddling problem: after we've been sufficiently blessed by God, we turn away! An OT example of this is Ezekiel 16:14–15, but we can just as easily look at when Christians have concentrated wealth for the enjoyment of the few. Instead of heading towards being superconductors of God's grace and mercy into creation, we peter out and get downright perverted.

    If God wishes to channel limitless love and truth into the world, then what finite amount of 'work' can we do to earn salvation? That seems ridiculous and is contradicted by 1 Corinthians 3:10–15, which distinguishes between salvation and heavenly rewards. Freely giving gifts is entirely at odds with an earning attitude. The early Christian's 'charity' differed from the Greek's and Roman's version in that the Christian did not judiciously select the most promising candidates. For God so loved us losers that he sent his only begotten son.

    Only Ellul's last form of freedom—"the coming of something new into the world with a creative adherence to an inexhaustible good"—makes sense with an infinite god who wishes to be arbitrarily well-known (Isaiah 55:6–9, John 17:3). Maybe I have to add in a "creation is good" restriction to combat gnosticism. One neat aspect of a creation which is becoming ever-more-glorious is that those who declare that they have had enough of God get left behind on a [relatively] smaller and smaller portion of reality. Maybe after seeing others grow closer to God around them, they will decide that maybe they don't have enough of God.

    I think we need to take a good, hard, sustained look at just who is benefited by a less gracious, less merciful God. In my opinion, it is those who would create artificial scarcity and then set up laws of 'deserve' so to create hierarchies whereby those near the top get to be Hugh Hefner, Donald Trump, or the Pharisee in Luke 18:9–14. It is precisely those who would "shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces" who benefit by closing humanity to God's grace and mercy. This shutting can surely happen in infinitely many ways; I suggest that a tell-tale measure is whether the strong serve the weak or the weak serve the strong.

    The atheist will always have an argument when God's grace and mercy aren't pouring into creation through imago Dei beings. [S]he can make it about the problem of evil, but I would say it is simply easier for the person who's God-given hope has been dashed to focus on a fall from health than a more loving and glory-filled existence.

    • Martin Zeichner

      Excellent points, all. I especially like:

      "I think we need to take a good, hard, sustained look at just who is benefited by a less gracious, less merciful God."

      As it echoes the question that I got from "All the President's Men", the latin phrase, Qui Bono. Who Benefits? A question that is asked whenever there is a criminal investigation. I have also used it effectively in discussions with lawyers. I am not a lawyer but I have some acquaintances that are.

      "The atheist will always have an argument..."

      You could have stopped right there. In fact, "The Atheist" could have simply been "People"

      Given that morality, justice, ethics, good, evil, and so on seem to be a tangled web (Othello, I think), I'd like to throw one more quote into the mix. You might recognize it.

      My object all sublime,
      I shall achieve in time,
      To let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime.
      And make each prisoner pent
      Unwillingly represent
      A source of innocent merriment, of innocent merriment.

      It's a bit more recent than one of your quotes and less so than the other. And maybe a bit more flippant, but I don't think that those points should be held against it. I see it as yet another example of a fantasy of a system of justice that sounds good in theory, but stinks in practice. All framed as a satire on grand opera.

      • Thanks. I'm ashamed to say I've never encountered The Mikado. I am making a lot of hay by asking whether we are assuming an open or closed system all over the place; too often I see Christians as assuming a nigh-closed system! Unhappily, my own Protestant tradition is dangerously close to the Dispensationalists who thought that while Jesus was called to suffer for mankind's sins, Paul believed he was filling up what was lacking in Jesus' afflictions, and Jesus said to pick up one's cross and follow him—in the end times the Righteous will be Raptured before things get hellish on earth. In the meantime things will go downhill because the way God redeems is via flatten & reinstall. (!)

        • Martin Zeichner

          Thank you for that. If you are not familiar with the Mikado, it is never too late, or too early, to appreciate the joys of Gilbert and Sullivan. They are part of a tradition of British art and humor that stretches from Chaucer to Monty Python by way of William Shakespeare, Lewis Carrol, Dorothy L Sayers, George Orwell, Tom Stoppard, and Spike Milligan. The very genre in which G&S did their most famous work is called "Light Opera". To distinguish itself from and also to spoof the "Grand Opera" of Verdi and Wagner.

          I, in turn, am not as familiar with Christianity as you are, having been raised in an urban secular Jewish household. All I know is what I read on the internet. (a paraphrase of Will Rogers' catch phrase.)

          I have gone on record as saying "Insight, like love, is where you find it". If you can find good metaphors in science (open vs closed systems) then I understand and share that with you. I too want to share my metaphors, my joys and raptures unforeseen (HMS Pinafore) with others.

          One of my own 'epiphanies', that art represents generosity, came to me while watching, of all things, the Marx Brothers film," A Night at the Opera" (the ingenue was generous with sharing her singing and the villain was not). It also made me think about those Aha moments and why they are so important to religious people, although religious people call them 'divine revelations'. I am not religious, and I never have been, but I am almost addicted to those moments. I hope to have more of them in the future but they seem to be completely unpredictable. I came to the (provisional) conclusion that it is something that happens to many people; that I am not alone in this. Other people just have different names for it. What's in a name?

        • Martin Zeichner

          Thank you for that. If you are not familiar with the Mikado, it is never too late, or too early, to appreciate the joys of Gilbert and Sullivan. They are part of a tradition of British art and humor that stretches from Chaucer to Monty Python by way of William Shakespeare, Lewis Carrol, Dorothy L Sayers, George Orwell, Tom Stoppard, and Spike Milligan. The very genre in which G&S did their most famous work is called "Light Opera". To distinguish itself from and also to spoof the "Grand Opera" of Verdi and Wagner.

          I, in turn, am not as familiar with Christianity as you are, having been raised in an urban secular Jewish household. All I know is what I read on the internet. (a paraphrase of Will Rogers' catch phrase.)

          I have gone on record as saying "Insight, like love, is where you find it". If you can find good metaphors in science (open vs closed systems) then I understand and can share that with you. I too want to share my metaphors, my joys and raptures unforeseen( HMS Pinafore) with others.

          One of my own 'epiphanies', that art represents generosity, came to me while watching, of all things, the Marx Brothers film," A Night at the Opera" (the ingenue was generous with her singing and the villain was not). It also made me think about those Aha moments and why they are so important to religious people, although religious people call them 'divine revelations'. I am not religious, and I never was, but I am almost addicted to those moments. I hope to have more of them in the future but they seem to be completely unpredictable. I came to the (provisional) conclusion that it is something that happens to many people; that I am not alone in this.

          • If you like epiphanies, you might like Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture. He explores the difference between hard work and answers which come virtually unbidden. He worries that we are constructing a life which so crowds existence with hard work that we don't make space for epiphanies. I found Pieper's book via David Levy, who addresses this issue:

            In her biography of the Nobel Prize winning geneticist Barbara McClintock, Evelyn Fox Keller asks: “What enabled McClintock to see further and deeper into the mysteries of genetics than her colleagues?” (Keller 1983, p. 197) Keller answers that McClintock was able to take the time to look and to hear what the material had to say to her. The material, in this case, was corn, and McClintock studied each of her corn plants with great concentration, patience, care, and even love; she knew each of them intimately. Her method was to “see one kernel [of corn] that was different, and make that understandable.” After giving a lecture at Harvard, Keller tells us, McClintock “met informally with a group of graduate and post-doctoral students. They were responsive to her exhortation that they ‘take the time and look,’ but they were also troubled. Where does one get the time to look and to think? They argued that the new technology of molecular biology is self-propelling. It doesn’t leave time. There’s always the next experiment, the next sequencing to do. The pace of current research seems to preclude such a contemplative stance” (Keller 1983, p. 206). (No Time to Think)

            Levy also gave a Google tech talk on this topic:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHGcvj3JiGA

          • Martin Zeichner

            "If you like epiphanies..."

            And I do.

            "you might like Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture. He explores the difference between hard work and answers which come virtually unbidden."

            I might indeed. Onto my ever growing reading list it goes. And maybe even gets pushed ahead in the queue. I'll also check out the video.

            I have often thought that our culture is built around the idea of making things easier for people, (like making a video instead of writing text) and yet ironically, we wind up making things more complex.(requiring camera operators, lighting designers and make-up people) So that as civilization evolves, more and more technical expertise and specialization is required, both in religious and in secular thinking.

            I might find it interesting to see Josef Pieper's take on this. (Assuming that he talks about this facet of it.)

            "He worries that we are constructing a life which so crowds existence with hard work that we don't make space for epiphanies."

            I'm not sure that it is something to worry about, though. Unless Josef Piper has something against a work ethic, which many cultures have had. This situation has benefitted many people that might otherwise not have been able to make a living. For all I know epiphanies are a dime a dozen. and everyone has them.

            On the other hand, some people just like to worry. I'll have to read his book, and maybe a bit more, before I can make that call.

            But, yes, we are now practically overwhelmed with information. We would be swimming in books and papers if it were not for the invention of the trash heap or our ability to forget things. Sooner or later we will have to clean house of the accumulated clutter. I happen to like the 1960's quote from Marshall McLuhan (the hot and cold media guy) "Information overload yields pattern recognition".

            https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/understanding-media

          • I have often thought that our culture is built around the idea of making things easier for people, (like making a video instead of writing text) and yet ironically, we wind up making things more complex.(requiring camera operators, lighting designers and make-up people) So that as civilization evolves, more and more technical expertise and specialization is required, both in religious and in secular thinking.

            Given that statement, I would highly suggest David Levy's Google tech talk/​paper. I encountered his talk in ~2009 and at the time, I was set on merely making things more efficient. He completely blew that out of the water. See, without more changes, making people more efficient just means they'll be asked to accomplish more in their 8+ hrs/day on the job. That means they'll be more tired when they get home. Iterate on this and you construct a world comprised of "total work" (Pieper's term). Not only do I think that is inhumane, but I think it imprisons us under a philosophical canopy with bars which cannot be touched, seen, heard, tasted, or smelled. (That is, empiricism is powerless to detect the imprisonment.) The number of epiphanies would taper off toward a false asymptote.

            Unless Josef Piper has something against a work ethic, which many cultures have had.

            He was writing to Germans in 1948; he knew their work ethic. What concerned him was that they would make time for nothing other than work and cheap entertainment. Given all the reconstruction needed after WWII, there was a severe temptation to curtail anything that was not "practical". And yet, this attitude can get locked into a population so that they cannot escape it, well after they have finished reconstruction. Americans are often derided by Europeans as "too pragmatic" and I think there's some truth to this. I think it's also important to note that what works to produce increased productivity on the production line doesn't necessarily work to produce increased productivity in e.g. scientific research. There, ingenuity can be exceedingly important (see Richard Hamming's You and Your Research) and overwork can harm ingenuity.

            On the other hand, some people just like to worry.

            True enough. Making predictions decades-out is very risky business. I think we could do better in separating the wheat from the chaff on this matter, but it might require a rather massive excavation of history. You'd think that current technology and social interconnection could enable this, but we seem to be interested in … other things.

            But, yes, we are now practically overwhelmed with information. We would be swimming in books and papers if it were not for the invention of the trash heap or our ability to forget things. Sooner or later we will have to clean house of the accumulated clutter. I happen to like the 1960's quote from Marshall McLuhan (the hot and cold media guy) "Information overload yields pattern recognition".

            Hmm, you've added a book to my reading list. If you want to learn about an earlier information overload, you could check out Chad Wellmon's Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University. Or check out Vannevar Bush's 1945 Atlantic article As We May Think, where he recognizes the threat of information overload in scientific publishing and proposes a technological aid based on associative memory which still hasn't been made into reality. A new kind of pattern recognition based on cross-field similarity may help us out, but we'll have to resist the pejorative thrust of the aphorism, "Jack of all trades, master of none."

          • Martin Zeichner

            Thanks for this answer. I particularly like the idea of the "philosophical canopy..." "...with bars which cannot be touched, seen,heard, tasted, or smelled." even though it's a bit of a mixed metaphor. (A canopy with bars?) He must be using the word 'canopy' in a context that I'm not familiar with.

            It relates closely with the metaphor that I've started using lately; that of a prison of one's own making, which in turn relates to the biblical metaphor of 'mote and beam'; that a person can readily see the mote in another's eye while ignoring the beam in one's own eye.

            That last one goes to my contention that there is a great deal of wisdom in the bible but we won't be able to appreciate it until we stop worshipping it and we are able to pick out the good bits. Like Ancient Greek Legends; once a religion, now literature.

            "Hmm, you've added a book to my reading list."

            Which one? "The Uses of Enchantment" or "Understanding Media?"

            If it's the latter, I'd feel obligated to warn you that the style of writing is dated and somewhat egotistical. McLuhan was a strong influence on me but, in hindsight, I no longer agree with everything that he wrote. But I'm sure that you can make up your own mind (another interesting expression).

            Certainly "Information Overload" is not an original phrase with McLuhan.

            If it's the former, the book reads like it's a well done translation from the German, or written by a person that is skilled at using English as a second language.

          • I particularly like the idea of the "philosophical canopy..." "...with bars which cannot be touched, seen,heard, tasted, or smelled." even though it's a bit of a mixed metaphor. (A canopy with bars?) He must be using the word 'canopy' in a context that I'm not familiar with.

            Whoops, I mixed my 'philosophical prison' with Pieper's 'canopy'. My link went to a comment where I excerpt all but one of Pieper's use of the term; here's one more:

            The genuine philosophical question strikes disturbingly against the canopy that encloses the world of the citizen’s work–day. (Leisure: The Basis of Culture, 87)

            Something tells me that neither wonder nor epiphany is part of the average citizen's workday. Do what you're told, get paid, grab some beer on the way home, and watch the game. But this isn't quite the context of Pieper's book; again he wrote Muße und Kult in 1948 Germany, when there was a tremendous amount of real work to be done. What I suspect is that Pieper could see coming what David Graeber has recently documented: Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (Jacobin interview). We 21st century Westerners don't actually need to work 35+ hrs/week to satisfy the needs foreseen by Francis Bacon, but I don't think we know how else to expend our creative energy. Indeed, it can be downright painful to consider the status quo. Hand me another beer, please.

            That last one goes to my contention that there is a great deal of wisdom in the bible but we won't be able to appreciate it until we stop worshipping it and we are able to pick out the good bits. Like Ancient Greek Legends; once a religion, now literature.

            I'm not sure I know what it means to 'worship' the Bible, unless you mean a kind of respectful distance where you don't actually let it challenge you. As to being "like" Ancient Greek Legends, I would say that the differences make all the difference. Take, for example, the stoning of the beggar in 4.6-10 of Life of Apollonius of Tyana. There, we have social strife ("plague") which threatens to tear Ephesus apart. But instead of killing each other, a "miracle-worker" directs their rage against an innocent beggar. As the Ephesians lynch the guy, he transforms into a demon before their eyes. Or is it that they have to rationalize what they are doing? Anyhow, the beggar is no longer innocent; he is a scapegoat who was always guilty, was always the cause of the ills. Contrast this with the Bible, which calls out scapegoating for what it is in the OT (see the he-goat in the Day of Atonement) and makes scapegoating the center of the NT ("it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish").

            Furthermore, there is a problem with merely picking out the good bits, cafeteria-style. That seems too close, for my taste, to assuming that we actually have the right standard of goodness within ourselves. It's like Meno's paradox applied to goodness instead of knowledge (I'll accept the modern fact/​value dichotomy to emphasize my point). I sense that we moderns/​postmoderns think we pretty much have both the is and the ought of existence rather figured out. All the rest is just detail. I suspect we live in a philosophical prison. If the Bible is God's revelation to us to in part rescue from that prison—and yes, I know this is a big "if"—I don't think we'll see it as such if we treat it merely as "literature".

            Which one? "The Uses of Enchantment" or "Understanding Media?"

            The latter. I did recently come cross Jerome Bruner's observation that “Why can children understand stories so much earlier than logic?” (Basics of Semiotics, 4) and I need to make my way through Donald E. Polkinghorne's Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, but that's not at the top of my list these days. In contrast, I am very interested in how there seem to be no media with the purpose of collaboratively building and testing expectations. The available media are either entirely passive (radio, TV, film) or completely designed to turn the person into product (social media). The following struck me:

            the only sure disaster would be a society not perceiving a technology's effects on their world, especially the chasms and tensions between generations. (WP: Understanding Media)

            The Wikipedia article makes McLuhan seem very similar to Jacques Ellul—e.g. his The Technological Society (1962) and Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (1954). I can deal with some egotistical. :-)

  • Sample1

    This is going to be a popular post with oodles of comments and discussions or so it would seem.

    With so much to pick from the one claim that stands out, has always stood out, is the claim that the Catholic God (or god, deity for others) must be moral goodness itself.

    What does it mean if one says that honey made from bees who predominantly pollinate blackberries is goodness itself? Well, it typically means someone really likes blackberry honey, so much so that they are willing to place that flavor above all other honeys. It’s an opinion, perhaps even corroborated by a majority consensus. But does it mean anything else, really, than just the idea that a word is chosen to illustrate as powerfully as one can, the goodness of the flavor? Is that goodness of the flavor anyway similar, or exact as, the [insert deity descriptor here] goodness of the Catholic God (or Yahweh/Jesus/Third Person)?

    Probably not for the believer. The goodness of honey is different, somehow, from the goodness (moral or otherwise) of the Catholic God.

    So, the question: what is claimed/meant by the believer who uses the phrase moral goodness itself and how is it supported? If a link to something theological is needed to explain this then fine. If not, looking forward to a stab at that.

    Thanks,

    Mike

    • Are you trying to collapse 'goodness' into 'desire'? One response to this is that we understand that desires can be small by learning to desire that which is more satisfying. Children like candy; adults can enjoy not just that but also theater and the pleasure of helping those less fortunate at great personal cost. Suppose that no matter what the state of humanity is when it comes to having expansive desires with satisfaction which dwarfs previous desires, there are always even more expansive desires? It seems that the limit-value could be infinite.

      We can also ask whether our desires will only be satisfied if we can colonize others with them. One might contrast the Israelites, who had fixed boundaries with no evangelism imperative, with those Christians who see expanding as the only imperative and thus seem rather like cancer or even a virus. We could oppose any value-system which requires that it be universalized with force. The name of that resistance could be: "Might does not make Right". Any battle would then take place in a realm other than flesh-and-blood; some might call it 'spirit' while others might call it 'reason'. Whatever realm that is, the current apparently irresolvable contentions in moral philosophy and among all the religious indicate that we're missing something major. Or, they indicate that 'goodness' merely collapses into 'desire'.

      • Sample1

        Going to wait for the Catholic understanding on this one but thanks for the reply. I don’t want to get too bogged down right now. I suspect a link would be best to explain this Catholic author’s claims so I’ll wait for that, if it comes.

        Mike

        • Jim the Scott

          I recommend the writings of Brian Davies on this subject.

          Specifically his book the REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL.

    • Rob Abney

      Moral Goodness itself is the standard that all actions are measured against. Any action a human can do can be measured against that standard, usually our actions will fall short of that standard because even our good actions are deficient when measured against infinite goodness that possesses all good actions.

      Jesus Christ is goodness because He lacks no good human attribute. And, even more, God is goodness because there is no desire that can't be said to end with Him.

      Your honey example is accurate in that blackberry honey is good, but it cannot be goodness itself because it cannot be the end of all desires for honey, only a majority as you point out. (I'll have to try some though).

    • Martin Zeichner

      I only have one question for you.

      How many comments are there in an oodle?

      • Sample1

        Well, any atemporal comment(s) are necessarily uncountable and depending on the platonic, realist, or nominalist character (or other) of what numbers are, all I can say is it is probably less than a big heap but more than a small bunch. But don’t hold me to that.

        Mike

        • Martin Zeichner

          Fair enough. Ask a silly question...

        • OMG

          Personally, I think the oodle number is bigger than a big heap. Anyway, your use of it was a zinger. Now I'm off to the dictionary again.

          • Sample1

            Not so fast.

            Australians know exactly what a big heap looks like and in principle could quantify that.

            Aristotle’s believers however, have a radically different understanding of big heap. They have a big heap form that they say exists somewhere besides the conceptual and this is true because for starters they never see or point to the actual form. And most will not agree on the quantity which is another one of their strengths. And then they have the Australian heap too. But it’s not really two aspects of big heap, which might be sweet, more like 1 heap is Ozzie defined and the other is Stozzie defined. Or 1 for Oz and 1 x 0 for Stoz. Hmmmm....

            Like I said, it’s radical but don’t say radian.

            Mike
            Edit done.

          • Jim the Scott

            Aristotle’s believers however, have a radically different understanding of big heap. They have a big heap form that they say exists somewhere besides the conceptual and this is true because for starters they never see or point to the actual form.

            Are you sure that is not Plato? A realm of Forms was his thing. For Aristotle a form was merely actualize prime matter.
            Or are you talking about something else?

          • Sample1

            Ah, I did muck that up a bit but since there are no damages to point to I’m not too worried. Satellites will still orbit.

            Good catch.

            Mike

          • Jim the Scott

            Glad I could help.

          • VicqRuiz

            Platonically speaking, which would be bigger, an ideal heap or an ideal oodle?

          • Jim the Scott

            You didn't answer my question. Why should I answer yours? Also that was a week ago & you missed your window of opportunity with my 20 minute attention span. But as a consolation prize I will sent you a coupon for 40% off on a pack of oodles.
            *just post your full name. address. Phone number. bank account #, and Social Security and I will get right on that.
            Or you can email me at jimthefakenigerianprince _ at _ thisisnotarealemailaddressstupidsodontfallforit dot com.

            Cheers :D

            PS . On a serious note I wish you well.

          • OMG

            The oodle, I think, is related to something we eat, right? Like a pi? Or is that only a piece of the pie when we're under the equator? Over the rainbow, I think it is a whole, just like Aristotle said. I like rainbows. They're signs of God's covenant, you know?

  • Stephen Edwards

    While I agree with the article in general, I must say that it still seems that God could have conceivably made animals so that they don't suffer pain at all or need to live in an environment in which they need pain in order to survive. Humans are animals and humans will live with a resurrected body one day in heaven and will not need pain in order to survive.

    So in regards to natural evils (like animal suffering, diseases, storms etc.) I think the best explanation is appealing to the will of the fallen angels, mentioned in the article, and as I have argued elsewhere on this website.

    • Rob Abney

      one must then consider the possibility that God created other free beings, such as angels, prior to human creation, and those free beings introduced evil into the world.

      introducing evil into the world seems to be different than your position that fallen angels willed evil into the world. How could an angel will evil and make it actual? It seems as though an angel could only provide the opportunity for a human to be tempted to do evil.

      Also, it doesn't seem as though animal pain is an evil it seems to be more of a good, a part of a fully functional animal.

      • Stephen Edwards

        The article says: "this presumes that God is totally responsible for the world as it now exists. Perhaps, God made a world without evil, but he also created free beings who made evil choices that might have corrupted all creation."

        So, while Dr. B may agree with your statement, the way it was written in the article certainly sounds as if it is saying that the angels could be responsible for natural evil since it talks about "the world as it is" and how the angels could have "corrupted all creation".

        In an article that I wrote a while back, I attempted to explain how the fallen angels could be responsible for natural evil (https://strangenotions.com/why-does-god-allow-natural-disasters/)

        Animal pain can serve as a good given the world that we have in that it directs animals away from harmful things, but I don't think the world would have to be that way. In the resurrected state humans won't need animal pain in order to survive for example.

  • >Nonetheless, it is morally licit to permit evil—when that permission allows a greater good to result.

    A good description of utilitarianism.

    >The fact that we cannot conceive of such a greater good in many cases

    But we easily can, we know, on theism, it is possible that a state of affairs exist where conscious agents exist with the free will to commit evil but will never do so. God has chosen not to create this world but one in which people can and do commit atrocities and must be damned for it.

    >that our finite minds cannot understand the inscrutable nature of God’s providential plans.

    So skeptical theism. But this still leaves us with the evidential problem of evil in which is seems god is not all good or all powerful.

    >What is freely given may be freely withdrawn at any time—with no resulting injustice.

    How does this follow? If I give my sister a kidney is it really no injustice for me to arbitrarily take it back? You are saying here that life is not a right but a license that god may remove without cause and it is no injustice.

    Even our common law recognizes that something you can take back is no gift, but bailment. This makes no sense when applied to a human life.

    >We must also remember that what is morally evil for man may not be morally evil for God, since he alone is the Creator of all things and the Legislator of natural law as well as the just Judge of those who violate its ordinances.

    Why? We simply reject this as authoritarian and despotic in humans. It seems the only excuse here is because it's god it can't be immoral, everything from torture, summary execution infanticide to genocide is good if god God says so there is no standard it's whatever god does? But that's completely at odds with any sense if justice humans have, that laws and rules are valid only with the consent of the ruled, that they must be transparent, and reflect the values of society. This is a framework for absolute power of kings. Which is unsurprising.

    >This solution follows necessarily from the facts that God’s existence can be demonstrated, as can his infinite goodness, power, and knowledge.

    It would, but this is not a response to the POE. This is like responding to how can you say he is kind to his dog if he constantly tortured it, by saying "I've proven elsewhere he is, so he must have a good reason"

    >it is the atheist’s or agnostic’s burden of proof to show that such evil is incompatible with an all-good God.

    This is an unreasonable burden of proving a negative. If there is a good reason why god dies not heal the children of good Catholic parents who are begging him, tell us. Admit that this seems gratuitous.

    • Nonetheless, it is morally licit to permit evil—when that permission allows a greater good to result.

      A good description of utilitarianism.

      It's also a description of parents letting their children get skinned knees when they could always put knee pads on. Note carefully that this doesn't involve using one person as a means to another person's end.

      But we easily can, we know, on theism, it is possible that a state of affairs exist where conscious agents exist with the free will to commit evil but will never do so.

      We can know this, on theism? What of Alvin Plantinga's Alvin Plantinga's free will defense? If heaven is populated even in part by creatures who have sinned, repented, and been forgiven, then that past could be a crucial ingredient to there being no further sinning. (For the pedants, I think some mistakes are either not sins or what Aquinas called 'reparable' sins—where one never self-justifies the sin. I suspect these could exist in heaven.)

      that our finite minds cannot understand the inscrutable nature of God’s providential plans.

      So skeptical theism.

      On that reasoning, lack of perfect scientific knowledge means we have zero scientific knowledge. Contrast this silliness with the advance of scientific knowledge promising even more advance. Were such a pattern seen wrt fighting evil, the problem of evil might dissipate or change considerably in form.

      We must also remember that what is morally evil for man may not be morally evil for God, since he alone is the Creator of all things and the Legislator of natural law as well as the just Judge of those who violate its ordinances.

      Why? We simply reject this as authoritarian and despotic in humans.

      If there are no limits on what we can say can be good for God to do, what you say would undoubtedly apply. But there are things acceptable for parents to do which are not acceptable for children to do. So I think you'll have to drop into casuistry instead of arguing in generalities. For example, is it acceptable to give a temporary less-than-perfect law to humans who are so stubborn that if you gave them the perfect version up-front, they'd reject it out-of-hand?

      … laws and rules are valid only with the consent of the ruled …

      Who actually believes this? If abortion were somehow to be made illegal everywhere, would that rule be considered "valid" by you? What about the legal interpretation that children of refugees/​illegal immigrants must be separated from their parents after the maximum detainment time for children has been exceeded? The ruled—that is Americans—certainly didn't seem to think that was "valid".

      • Raymond

        "It's also a description of parents letting their children get skinned knees when they could always put knee pads on."

        What parent lets their child get skinned knees to teach them the value of knee pads? Would these parents also allow a child to put their hand on the stove to learn about Hot? Or drink cleaning solution to learn about Poison?

        "For example, is it acceptable to give a temporary less-than-perfect law to humans who are so stubborn that if you gave them the perfect version up-front, they'd reject it out-of-hand?"

        Based on the rest of the paragraph, I'm not sure of your position on this question. Moses certainly thought that a less-than-perfect law was acceptable when he allowed divorce. Is that your point? Not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good?

        • LB: It's also a description of parents letting their children get skinned knees when they could always put knee pads on.

          R: What parent lets their child get skinned knees to teach them the value of knee pads?

          That wasn't my point and I suspect you could have seen that. My point was that exposure to low-level pains can help a child learn how to avoid more intense pains. Pray tell me, are you a 'helicopter parent', or would you be one if you had children?

          [OP]: We must also remember that what is morally evil for man may not be morally evil for God, since he alone is the Creator of all things and the Legislator of natural law as well as the just Judge of those who violate its ordinances.

          BGA: Why? We simply reject this as authoritarian and despotic in humans.

          LB: … For example, is it acceptable to give a temporary less-than-perfect law to humans who are so stubborn that if you gave them the perfect version up-front, they'd reject it out-of-hand?

          R: Based on the rest of the paragraph, I'm not sure of your position on this question. Moses certainly thought that a less-than-perfect law was acceptable when he allowed divorce. Is that your point? Not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good?

          Yes, Moses' certificates of divorce were on my mind. I am not sure about the phrasing "not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good", as I'm not aware of all its many meanings. What seems to be the case is if you give humans a standard which is too high, at least with little to no help to make baby steps toward it, the response is to not even try. When it comes to non-moral issues we seem to know this: you start by teaching Newtonian mechanics, not general relativity. I could also point out that children not infrequently see their parents as "authoritarian and despotic". Now, I do think there is a more adult way of admitting limitation and dependence than standard childish behavior, but I rarely see that from humans—theist or atheist.

          • George

            > My point was that exposure to low-level pains can help a child learn how to avoid more intense pains.

            That's true. We want our kids to live long lives, and when our existence is unpredictable and, from our POV, chaotic, our desire for kids to develop a "thick skin" is understandable. We don't ultimately know what this universe will throw at them.

            Can we really expand that out to a Yahweh-created universe though?

            > Pray tell me, are you a 'helicopter parent', or would you be one if you had children?

            I would say Helicopter parenting has side effects on childhood development because we're limited, so it just can't work as well as we'd like. Would an omnipotent, perfect god mess up his children as badly as us if he tried to protect us the same way? That's been the point of a lot of these philosophical discussions, I realize, when we explore the hypotheticals of god intervening. How do we even know whether or not we live in a world where we've gotten the perfect amount of divine intervention, etc.

            But I have to ask what it means for god to be omnipresent and yet choosing not to be a helicopter parent. Is that even possible to use the human analogy, when supposedly whatever the universe throws at us cannot be something god did not approve of?

            This is a discussion I would look forward to having, using a real world example like climate change. I want to point out that we do see a bit of a "nanny-universe" philosophy coming from some conservative Christian camps, where they say God will not let the world come to ruin, if I have that correct. At least what they are saying is that there is a hard limit to what humans can do to their own species, because there's a plan for Jesus to return to the world and all that.

          • Can we really expand that out to a Yahweh-created universe though?

            What's wrong with that? Adam & Eve had the option to either live without meaningful pain and suffering in the Garden of Eden and not do one thing, or go out into the world and do whatever they want, but without protection. They could trust and learn the easy way or distrust and learn the hard way. That creation outside the Garden was dangerous doesn't seem problematic to me. According to one strain of Jewish thought, YHWH was actually training A&E to go out and exert dominion over creation that either hadn't been fully formed, or had been corrupted. What better way for A&E to learn how things are put together?

            I would say Helicopter parenting has side effects on childhood development because we're limited, so it just can't work as well as we'd like. Would an omnipotent, perfect god mess up his children as badly as us if he tried to protect us the same way? That's been the point of a lot of these philosophical discussions, I realize, when we explore the hypotheticals of god intervening. How do we even know whether or not we live in a world where we've gotten the perfect amount of divine intervention, etc.

            Well, I first think we have to decide whether "we ought only believe things based on the evidence"; if the answer is "yes", then any atheist uttering that cannot know what God could or could not do. If we're somehow going to relax that requirement, do we relax it completely or only partially, allowing for extrapolation? And if I am using my entire being to do the extrapolation, then any defects in my being will cause defects in the extrapolation. How do we think rigorously through these things?

            Second, I think we have to figure out how to even detect God "intervening". Some want him to go around doing signs and wonders, but I don't see how that is consonant with his goals and plans as revealed in scripture. If God wishes to help us to grow and mature, the kind of intervention he would offer would seem to be rather different from what is standardly discussed when atheists and theists go at this issue. One option I like to play with these days is: "How might God help the US get out of the mess it's in, of having Trump and Hillary as the candidates, Trump as the winner, and the insane loyalty he is able to produce?"

            Third, I think we 21st-century humans have an atrocious understanding of agency and character—whether their initial development, their maintenance, or their further growth. That's going to really muck with our ability to see how our actions might possibly intertwine with God's actions such that we can get an above-the-noise measurement of what God did (last week, not 2000+ years ago). One of the key criticisms of the OT prophets was a total failing of character—of political leaders, religious leaders, and the people at large. Can we somehow detect God being part of individuals' change of character?

            Anyhow, I think you make an excellent point; most often in these conversations I find the answers to your questions presupposed rather than opened for discussion. But should it really surprise us that those more naive about human nature and social nature might be driven to argue online? :-p

            But I have to ask what it means for god to be omnipresent and yet choosing not to be a helicopter parent. Is that even possible to use the human analogy, when supposedly whatever the universe throws at us cannot be something god did not approve of?

            I don't think YHWH approved of the Israelites burning their children alive as sacrifices. Instead, I would say he permits things to happen which could possibly teach us uncomfortable truths about ourselves which we've been trying our darnedest to suppress. Or maybe to provoke us to explore more of creation rather than settle in some nook. Modulo a bunch of toxic momentum bequeathed to us by our ancestors, I think we have a lot of choice as to how hard it will be to (i) repent of evil; (ii) learn new things and deepen relationships. BTW, my wife is a scientist and I could regale you with so much human-created nonsense which causes scientific research to advance slower than a crawl.

            … where they say God will not let the world come to ruin …

            Well, some might believe God will never cause another flood and that generalizes to global catastrophe; others believe that there's going to be a massive flatten & reinstall so we can rape and pillage the creation YHWH called "very good". I myself believe a remnant would survive through global climactic catastrophe, and those arguing that nothing bad will happen are like those corrupt religious leaders in the OT described thusly:

            They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
                saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
                when there is no peace.
            (Jeremiah 6:14)

          • Raymond

            "we have to decide whether "we ought only believe things based on the evidence"; if the answer is "yes", then any atheist uttering that cannot know what God could or could not do.":
            Atheists know pretty well what God can and cannot do - nothing. That's the point. I know some Christians say that atheists are just theists in denial, but we aren't.

            "we have to figure out how to even detect God 'intervening'."
            You don't seem to define how to detect intervention, but if there aren't "signs and wonders", how would these "interventions" be different from atheists' view that things happen as a result of factors inherent in the world as it is?

            "That's going to really muck with our ability to see how our actions might possibly intertwine with God's actions such that we can get an above-the-noise measurement of what God did."
            This seems to be just another rationalization against "things just happen that way." "There's just so much NOISE that we can't measure God's intervention." Atheists can measure God's intervention just fine, noise or no noise.

            "I would say he permits things to happen which could possibly teach us uncomfortable truths"
            So child sacrifice by burning is an example of an evil from which some sort of good can result, such as bringing us closer to God? I still content that the lesson comes at too high a price.

          • Atheists know pretty well what God can and cannot do - nothing.

            Cute.

            You don't seem to define how to detect intervention,

            Correct; I have found it generally impossible to get atheists to commit to non-ridiculous standards of detection. God miraculously restoring limbs to amputees ain't gonna help with the various problems we humans face in the 21st century. The stars rearranging to say "Jesus love you" could be more parsimoniously explained by mischievous aliens. The idea that what humans need is more power over reality and each others seems pretty hilariously stupid at this juncture. The biggest area left appears to be personal and social character—precisely in that realm which is supposed to be "100% subjective". If we knew how to treat each other decently I could see God helping us with science. We don't.

            but if there aren't "signs and wonders", how would these "interventions" be different from atheists' view that things happen as a result of factors inherent in the world as it is?

            Perhaps: the same way one can recognize when the output of one's action or thinking had input from other agents. I realize that humans love to steal credit—for themselves or for heroes of history such as Galileo—so we'll have to overcome that defect. Strictly speaking, we should be able to detect the difference between a causally closed block universe and a causally open growing block universe. If God is continually creating more reality but in a lawful (intelligible) way, it would show up as a growing block universe.

            LB: Third, I think we 21st-century humans have an atrocious understanding of agency and character—whether their initial development, their maintenance, or their further growth. That's going to really muck with our ability to see how our actions might possibly intertwine with God's actions such that we can get an above-the-noise measurement of what God did

            R: This seems to be just another rationalization against "things just happen that way."

            It would be, if said "atrocious understanding" didn't affect anything else. But in fact we are so terrible at understanding ourselves that Daniel Kahneman could be awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for figuring out that humans are not 100% "rational"—according to a pet definition of the term which so conveniently happens to be easy to calculate with. We are so terrible at understanding society that Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences was needed in 1998; one of the core arguments is that thriving individuals require healthy relationships in society and yet so much foreign aid to the world has modeled poverty as merely the lack of things.

            If in fact we really suck at understanding agents and agent action, then should it be all that surprising that we have a hard time understanding the action of the agent God?

            So child sacrifice by burning is an example of an evil from which some sort of good can result, such as bringing us closer to God? I still content that the lesson comes at too high a price.

            Aren't you one of those people who demands empirical evidence? Well, God allowing child sacrifice (of any kind) to happen lets us see what is in our hearts. You see, we tell ourselves all sorts of pretty stories about how good we are. Sometimes the only way to be convinced that we're quite wrong about that is for the innocent to die. If that lesson comes at too high of a price, then surely the suffering of this world should be more psychologically motivating to you than most humans, causing you to have more energy to prevent evil and be more ingenious in doing so. Does it?

          • I have found it generally impossible to get atheists to commit to non-ridiculous standards of detection.

            On what grounds do you judge the standards to be ridiculous?

          • Chiefly, the only kind of detection offered is that of power—basically, breaking the laws of nature. At the same time, that atheist will eschew "Might makes right". Combine these two together and the offered means of detection tell you nothing about character. They can detect a force, but not a person.

            What makes this ridiculous is that we humans in the 21st century very clearly have a character problem, not a lack-of-power problem. Indeed, too much power might be able to suppress further movement toward human flourishing; Bertrand Russell wrote that "Magna Carta would have never been won if John had possessed artillery." (The Impact of Science on Society)

            The next step is to explore the apparently prevalent belief that as long as my group is in power, we will make things better (or ward off forces of chaos). That meshes perfectly with the means of detection offered by atheists and one reason I still engage in discussions about "evidence of God's existence" is that talking about God in these ways is actually incredibly revelatory about humans. But here I run into a problem, because virtually no humans seem to want to really face human nature and social nature. And so many project incoherent, wishful ideas onto God, find the result ridiculous, and thereby dismiss God. (They may have gotten the ideas mostly from Christians.) We are the instruments with which we measure reality; any defects or lack in us will result in artifacts and degradation in detection. But somehow, we don't really believe that, it seems to me.

          • Chiefly, the only kind of detection offered is that of power—basically, breaking the laws of nature. At the same time, that atheist will eschew "Might makes right". Combine these two together and the offered means of detection tell you nothing about character.

            Hmm. So, if I say “I will believe in God if I see X,” but X would tell me nothing about God’s character, then I’m being ridiculous?

            What makes this ridiculous is that we humans in the 21st century very clearly have a character problem, not a lack-of-power problem.

            I don’t see the connection. Whatever evidence there is for God’s existence either is or is not sufficient to convince me, assuming I am willing and able to reason correctly. If it is sufficient but I nevertheless don’t believe, then I’m not reasoning correctly. But whether I reason correctly has nothing necessarily to do with my moral character, and it certainly has nothing to do with how much power I think I have. And if it is not sufficient, then I am epistemologically faultless if I don’t believe, regardless of my character or feeling of powerlessness.

            The next step is to explore the apparently prevalent belief that as long as my group is in power, we will make things better (or ward off forces of chaos).

            The next step in what? That could be a subject worth discussing, but it has nothing to do with how I should respond when someone says, “See this? It is evidence that God is real.”

            And so many project incoherent, wishful ideas onto God, find the result ridiculous, and thereby dismiss God.

            Lots of atheists are intellectual midgets, sure. And, maybe most of the atheists you have encountered have been of that category. Now, would you like hear what I would say about Christians in general if I were to judge them according to most of the conversations I have had with them?

            We are the instruments with which we measure reality; any defects or lack in us will result in artifacts and degradation in detection.

            Yes, it will. I have no quarrel with that.

            But somehow, we don't really believe that, it seems to me.

            Actually, some of us do believe it. We remain few in number and we’re finding it next to impossible to find people who will pay any attention to us, but we do exist.

          • Hmm. So, if I say “I will believe in God if I see X,” but X would tell me nothing about God’s character, then I’m being ridiculous?

            Yes. Who commits himself/​herself to being shaped by someone of unknown character? After all, this is part of what "believe in" produces, according to the NT:

            See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1–3)

            It only becomes non-ridiculous if it's someone who believes that "Might makes right". But I generally take that to be denied and when I ask, either it is explicitly denied or my stated supposition that it is denied is not disagreed with. (I just love it when people play that game, requiring me to maintain a massive superposition of possible argument trajectories.) There would, of course, be no problem of evil if might made right.

            I don’t see the connection.

            The next step in what?

            The connection here is that belief in "might makes right" applies much more widely than "evidence for God's existence". If I can show that this belief produces results my interlocutor finds ridiculous and/or unacceptable in some domain other than "evidence for God's existence", then my interlocutor has a problem if [s]he is providing detection methods/​standards which are 100% consistent with "might makes right".

            LB: And so many project incoherent, wishful ideas onto God, find the result ridiculous, and thereby dismiss God.

            ds: Lots of atheists are intellectual midgets, sure.

            I'm not really talking about the 90% in Sturgeon's law. I do not ever recall seeing the critique of "evidence for God's existence" I am providing, here. Partly I am inspired by J.H.H. Weiler's 2010 First Things article The Trial of Jesus and his use of Deut 12:32–13:5. But I find virtually all Christians quite happy to use Jesus' miracles and resurrection as evidence that he was/is God, despiteMt 24:23–25 and Rev 13. The problem seems more to be that our culture (including political theory) conceives of humans as having arbitrary will. Character becomes an arbitrary construct and one cannot use arbitrary constructs to detect anything "objective". God can then only present himself as another arbitrary will—by breaking the laws of nature.

            LB: We are the instruments with which we measure reality; any defects or lack in us will result in artifacts and degradation in detection. But somehow, we don't really believe that, it seems to me.

            ds: Actually, some of us do believe it.

            You yourself said "whether I reason correctly has nothing necessarily to do with my moral character"; that has the effect of declaring Zweckrationalität (instrumental rationality) to be the only kind of reason which can probe objective reality. Wertrationalität (value rationality/​substantial rationality) becomes arbitrary. If one's character is purely arbitrary, it cannot be part of the instrument with which we measure reality. (I doubt saying that our character is shaped by evolutionary forces changes anything substantial in my argument.)

            We remain few in number and we’re finding it next to impossible to find people who will pay any attention to us, but we do exist.

            My number one critique of those who describe themselves this way (here's another with whom I've extensively interacted) is that they don't actually seem to use science or reason to connect with others. Or, to put it differently, what they mean by 'science' and 'reason' seem to be a very diminished part of the human faculty to find other humans intelligible. Perhaps the problem is that science really is predicated upon control, and yet humans generally don't like to be controlled. Some other form of intelligibility seems to be required … perhaps agápē? But no, this would be to suppose that each person has a telos and that's just anathema. And so we have arbitrary wills colliding like billiard balls.

          • Who commits himself/​herself to being shaped by someone of unknown character?

            That question is irrelevant to my point. If I become convinced that X exists, I am committing myself to nothing except affirming that “X exists” is a true statement.

            The connection here is that belief in "might makes right" applies much more widely than "evidence for God's existence".

            The wider application is irrelevant. It has no application at all to the question of whether there is any evidence for God’s existence or whether such evidence as does exist is sufficient to warrant believing in his existence.

          • LB: Who commits himself/​herself to being shaped by someone of unknown character?

            ds: That question is irrelevant to my point. If I become convinced that X exists, I am committing myself to nothing except affirming that “X exists” is a true statement.

            Haven't we been over this with "believe in God"? Salvation is not predicated upon assenting to a value-neutral fact of God's existence; "Even the demons believe—and tremble!" If you're going to fully believe in that fact/​value dichotomy, then belief in God's existence is 100% irrelevant to belief in God's goodness. In fact, God's goodness would be merely a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources. But then God does not even need to exist!

            LB: The connection here is that belief in "might makes right" applies much more widely than "evidence for God's existence".

            ds: The wider application is irrelevant. It has no application at all to the question of whether there is any evidence for God’s existence or whether such evidence as does exist is sufficient to warrant believing in his existence.

            It has application to evidence for the existence of a person with particular character. Are you really just viewing God as a force, as another arbitrary will?

          • Haven't we been over this with "believe in God"?

            When I talk with you, it’s hard for me to remember everything we have been over.

            Salvation is not predicated upon assenting to a value-neutral fact of God's existence;

            I wasn’t talking about salvation. I’ll worry about salvation when I become convinced that there is a god who requires me to do something to get it.

            In fact, God's goodness would be merely a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources.

            That seems to be the case anyhow. I have talked with theists who have a considerable range of beliefs about what goodness consists of, and without except exception the god they believe in exemplifies exactly that kind of goodness.

            Are you really just viewing God as a force, as another arbitrary will?

            The only view of God relevant to these discussions is whatever view is held by the person telling me I should think God exists.

          • I wasn’t talking about salvation. I’ll worry about salvation when I become convinced that there is a god who requires me to do something to get it.

            According to your strict hewing to the fact/​value dichotomy, God's existence would be 100% orthogonal to issues of salvation unless it's something like: "Bow to me or I will destroy you." But wait, that was Nebuchadnezzar.

            LB: In fact, God's goodness would be merely a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources.

            ds: That seems to be the case anyhow. I have talked with theists who have a considerable range of beliefs about what goodness consists of, and without except exception the god they believe in exemplifies exactly that kind of goodness.

            Ummm, that's a very different correlation than shown in e.g. Creating God in your own image (paper). Wouldn't there be a problem if a theist had an idea of goodness that is different from how they understand God?

            So, we're at a place where one's understanding of God's goodness is 100% self-generated. Can you see how that would perfectly isolate us from God's character, and thus perfectly isolate us from anything but God acting in raw power?

            The only view of God relevant to these discussions is whatever view is held by the person telling me I should think God exists.

            Yeah, I don't believe that you bring nothing to the table which enters into the discussion.

          • Yeah, I don't believe that you bring nothing to the table which enters into the discussion.

            I claim no special immunity to influences of the society I was raised in or of the types of Christianity I once practiced. Furthermore, it would be silly of me to ignore the context in which the subject of God arises. When someone tells me, “God is real, and you’d better believe that,” I’m going to tentatively assume certain things about the God they’re referring to, particularly in a forum administered by a Roman Catholic and advertised as a place for dialogue between atheists and Catholics. But as soon as my interlocutor says, “No, that is not what I believe about God,” then for the remainder of our conversation I will stipulate, as definitional of the subject of that conversation, whatever they tell me they do believe about God.

            According to your strict hewing to the fact/​value dichotomy, God's existence would be 100% orthogonal to issues of salvation unless it's something like: "Bow to me or I will destroy you." But wait, that was Nebuchadnezzar.

            It’s also the God of orthodox Christianity, as far as I can tell, notwithstanding all the semantic legerdemain used by apologists in their efforts to claim otherwise.

            But, at this point I will concede this much. For any X, the evidence necessary to prove the existence of X will depend on the characteristics attributed ex hypothesi to X. But that is why the argument from evil is attractive to so many atheists. If there is a creator god of any kind, the universe as we observe it is more consistent with a malevolent creator than a benevolent one, and even more consistent with a morally irrelevant creator.

            Wouldn't there be a problem if a theist had an idea of goodness that is different from how they understand God?

            It would be a problem for that theist. My point is that such theists don’t seem to exist, notwithstanding the facility with which human beings can accept contradictory ideas. We are not famous for the consistency of our ideologies.

            So, we're at a place where one's understanding of God's goodness is 100% self-generated. Can you see how that would perfectly isolate us from God's character, and thus perfectly isolate us from anything but God acting in raw power?

            What I see, if my observation is accurate, is that theists have no grounds for claiming that their morality is informed by their theology. It seems to work in the other direction.

          • BCE

            Hello
            You are one of my favorite contributors.

            I have atheist friends and relatives. We discuss the same arguments.
            At 14 one gave me 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead' and Carlos Castaneda (before he sort of fell out of favor). Then began my continued exploration.

            Many discussions centered on 'first cause'. They concede, they can't describe anything which doesn't have 'a cause' and 'first cause' is reasonable .
            I concede I can't say for certain it's divine.
            We also discuss truth. Some think it's subjective, or pure illusion.
            However they invest a lot of their arguments defending the truth that
            God/gods are not logical.

            I ultimately want to be honest with them. I value their friendship and
            affections.
            I believe in God, because I like believing.
            And I like a personal one over a disinterested one.
            They challenge me often, and I sometimes step in the ring. But in the end, my reason to believe is, I want to.

          • Ficino

            I wish more people online would enter into such discussions in the spirit that you describe. Why do so many seem to lead off combox comments with some sort of slur? Maybe a big factor is that you and the people with whom you are discussing are friends IRL. Rock on.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "I wish more people online would enter into such discussions in the spirit that you describe. Why do so many seem to lead off combox comments with some sort of slur? Maybe a big factor is that you and the people with whom you are discussing are friends IRL. Rock on."

            I happen to agree with your sentiment. But be careful what you wish for. You might just get your wish. (The lesson of many fairy tales and Twilight Zone episodes.

            I am enjoying both sides of the subthread. It's a kind of a Clash of the Titans.

          • Thank you for the kind words.

            But in the end, my reason to believe is, I want to.

            Your candor is refreshing.

          • ds: Are you really just viewing God as a force, as another arbitrary will?

            ds: The only view of God relevant to these discussions is whatever view is held by the person telling me I should think God exists.

            LB: Yeah, I don't believe that you bring nothing to the table which enters into the discussion.

            ds: I claim no special immunity to influences of the society I was raised in or of the types of Christianity I once practiced. … But as soon as my interlocutor says, “No, that is not what I believe about God,” then for the remainder of our conversation I will stipulate, as definitional of the subject of that conversation, whatever they tell me they do believe about God.

            If you also make the fact/​value dichotomy part of the metaphysical framework of the discussion, your stipulation won't go nearly far enough. As long as values are 100% projected by the subject, you hermetically seal yourself from any kind of … "value-contact" with other subjects. You're left in the fact domain, utterly denying that value could enter into the theory-ladenness of observation. It is here that a major critique of modernism shows up in philosophy: to say that you have the One True Epistemology† is an act not of rationality, but of power. If that's what you've done (or what your intellectual forebears have done, with you not challenging them), then it makes perfect sense that God could only show up to you as a force or arbitrary will. A theist positing some other understanding of God won't help, unless you let "understanding of God" uproot the fact/​value dichotomy. I've never seen that happen with you.

            † Or class of epistemologies, picked out by ontologizing the fact/​value dichotomy.

            LB: According to your strict hewing to the fact/​value dichotomy, God's existence would be 100% orthogonal to issues of salvation unless it's something like: "Bow to me or I will destroy you." But wait, that was Nebuchadnezzar.

            ds: It’s also the God of orthodox Christianity, as far as I can tell …

            Care to explain? As far as we know, Jesus didn't require anyone to bow to him. If YHWH were anywhere close to omnipotent, why did he send prophets to Israel and Judah to try to convince them instead of just pound them to sand? And why did he let those prophets get killed so often?

            If there is a creator god of any kind, the universe as we observe it is more consistent with a malevolent creator than a benevolent one, and even more consistent with a morally irrelevant creator.

            How different would things have to look for it to be more consistent with a benevolent creator than a malevolent one?

            LB: In fact, God's goodness would be merely a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources.

            ds: That seems to be the case anyhow. I have talked with theists who have a considerable range of beliefs about what goodness consists of, and without except exception the god they believe in exemplifies exactly that kind of goodness.

            LB: … Wouldn't there be a problem if a theist had an idea of goodness that is different from how they understand God? …

            ds: It would be a problem for that theist. My point is that such theists don’t seem to exist, notwithstanding the facility with which human beings can accept contradictory ideas. We are not famous for the consistency of our ideologies.

            I'm still not sure what you're getting at. What would it look like for a theist to have some understanding of goodness, but understand God's goodness to be different? What would be the reason for the theist to not adjust his/her understanding of goodness to his/her understanding of God's goodness?

            What I see, if my observation is accurate, is that theists have no grounds for claiming that their morality is informed by their theology. It seems to work in the other direction.

            What would it look like for their morality to be informed by their theology?

          • If YHWH were anywhere close to omnipotent, why did he send prophets to Israel and Judah to try to convince them instead of just pound them to sand? And why did he let those prophets get killed so often?

            The only people who have to answer those questions are the ones who think the stories are true. For us atheists, you might as well ask how Starfleet could have been so ignorant about Vulcan mating behavior as to leave Capt. Kirk clueless about pon farr.

            How different would things have to look for it to be more consistent with a benevolent creator than a malevolent one?

            At a minimum, the world would be a place where sentient creatures did not suffer for the misjudgments of other sentient creatures.

            I'm still not sure what you're getting at. What would it look like for a theist to have some understanding of goodness, but understand God's goodness to be different? What would be the reason for the theist to not adjust his/her understanding of goodness to his/her understanding of God's goodness?

            What I see, if my observation is accurate, is that theists have no grounds for claiming that their morality is informed by their theology. It seems to work in the other direction.

            What would it look like for their morality to be informed by their theology?

            Since making that post, I have remembered one possible exception to my observation. Being the only exception I can remember, I think it illustrates what I was getting at.

            Many years ago, I was briefly a member of a forum for (according to its advertising) political conservatives. There was a thread in which abortion was being discussed. Whether I contributed to that discussion, I no longer remember, but I was struck by one young woman’s comment. Having affirmed her conviction that abortion was contrary to God’s law, she said something to this effect: “Nevertheless, if I were pregnant and were informed by competent medical authority that my child would be born with a condition that would cause it to suffer for however long it lived, I would have an abortion.” When accused of inconsistency, she replied: “I will not buy my way into heaven at the cost of a child’s suffering.”

            Here was a Christian who would not adjust her understanding of the divine will to accommodate her moral instinct. I have never seen another like her.

          • LB: According to your strict hewing to the fact/​value dichotomy, God's existence would be 100% orthogonal to issues of salvation unless it's something like: "Bow to me or I will destroy you." But wait, that was Nebuchadnezzar.

            ds: It’s also the God of orthodox Christianity, as far as I can tell …

            LB: If YHWH were anywhere close to omnipotent, why did he send prophets to Israel and Judah to try to convince them instead of just pound them to sand? And why did he let those prophets get killed so often?

            ds: The only people who have to answer those questions are the ones who think the stories are true. For us atheists, you might as well ask how Starfleet could have been so ignorant about Vulcan mating behavior as to leave Capt. Kirk clueless about pon farr.

            In context, you are saying that from your experience, the God of orthodox Christianity says "Bow to me or I will destroy you." Are you suggesting that this is just flagrantly in contradiction with the apparent gross lack of omnipotence displayed in the majority of the Bible? Because an alternative explanation seems plausible: you have somehow gotten some really weird impressions of orthodox Christianity.

            LB: How different would things have to look for it to be more consistent with a benevolent creator than a malevolent one?

            ds: At a minimum, the world would be a place where sentient creatures did not suffer for the misjudgments of other sentient creatures.

            What do you envision relationships looking like in such a world? Would they even be important? I've thought a bit about the constraint you're suggesting here, and it seems like it would have to be extreme: If I were to mistakenly given cookies to all but one child, I would incur suffering on that child via my misjudgment. So either that child would have to be ignorant of missing out, or all would have to be treated somehow identically.

            Here was a Christian who would not adjust her understanding of the divine will to accommodate her moral instinct. I have never seen another like her.

            Bonhoeffer attempting to assassinate Hitler might be another—but of course not one you've encountered personally. Now, how would things be different if there were more Christians who were like this woman you describe? You seem to think it's important for your argument that she is the radical exception to the rule. And yet, I just don't see why. If I learn of a superior kind of goodness, why would I not align myself with it?

          • In context, you are saying that from your experience, the God of orthodox Christianity says "Bow to me or I will destroy you." Are you suggesting that this is just flagrantly in contradiction with the apparent gross lack of omnipotence displayed in the majority of the Bible?

            ”Flagrantly” and “gross” are not the words I would use. Like most unbelievers, I agree that the Bible’s authors, to put it charitably, do not consistently portray God as truly omnipotent. Among orthodox Christians, on the other hand, at least the inerrantists don’t seem to find it much of a problem. You are, I assume, familiar with their harmonizations. Of course I don’t find them convincing, but I’m not interested in proving that orthodox Christians are a bunch of idiots. All I wish to demonstrate is that I’m not an idiot for disagreeing with them.

            Because an alternative explanation seems plausible: you have somehow gotten some really weird impressions of orthodox Christianity.

            The orthodox response to my impression seems to be, if I correctly understand: If you don’t bow to God, you will be destroyed, but it won’t be his doing, because you will have destroyed yourself. I don’t think it’s all that weird to suggest that that is just so much wordplay.

            What do you envision relationships looking like in such a world?

            Hard to say, considering how many things would have to be different and how different they would have to be.

            Would they even be important?

            I don’t see why they couldn’t be. In the only world we know about, much of their importance is derived from their utility in dealing with suffering or the threat of suffering, but I don’t think it’s the only reason we get so much satisfaction from them.

            If I were to mistakenly given cookies to all but one child, I would incur suffering on that child via my misjudgment. So either that child would have to be ignorant of missing out, or all would have to be treated somehow identically.

            I was thinking more about situations like children starving to death because people with food to spare didn’t think it was in their best interest to feed them unless they could make a profit doing so. If God had created a world where that never happened, then you and I could be having a conversation about whether he should have enabled you to make the kind of misjudgment you’re talking about.

            how would things be different if there were more Christians who were like this woman you describe?

            I would be less inclined to accuse theists of creating God in their own image.

            You seem to think it's important for your argument that she is the radical exception to the rule. And yet, I just don't see why.

            It is a proper application of the adage about the exception proving the rule. Had the rule not been in my mind, her statement would not have gotten my attention the way it did.

            If I learn of a superior kind of goodness, why would I not align myself with it?

            I'm not saying that anybody would not or should not. And I'm not going to try to read that woman's mind, but just maybe she thought her kind of goodness was superior to God's. Or maybe she didn't care about superiority but simply could not justify, in her own mind, bringing a pregnancy to term in that situation. Or maybe she was not entirely sincere in affirming her belief that God disapproved of abortion regardless of regardless of consequences. I suspect that most of us have some opinions that we don't feel free, for any of many reasons, to state in public places.

          • Among orthodox Christians, on the other hand, at least the inerrantists don’t seem to find it much of a problem. You are, I assume, familiar with their harmonizations.

            I am not familiar with a single "harmonization" on this matter. I'm just at a loss as to how orthodox Christianity portrays God as "Bow to me or I will destroy you." Since you're holding the line on this, I request that you cite your evidence for, and state that you've seen little to no evidence against. If you're actually right, that might provide me grounds for going apostate. "Bow to me or I will destroy you" is purely human and I cannot read 1 Cor 1:18–2:10 as anything other than a full repudiation of such "purely human". I would rather cease to exist than be part of yet another human game of domination of other humans, regardless of the façade of the day.

            The orthodox response to my impression seems to be, if I correctly understand: If you don’t bow to God, you will be destroyed, but it won’t be his doing, because you will have destroyed yourself. I don’t think it’s all that weird to suggest that that is just so much wordplay.

            Naturalistically, organisms have to behave within fairly narrow constraints in order to survive—both in this life but also in leaving descendants. Evolutionary psychologists and others working on how morality might have evolved provide reason to think that part of those narrow constraints are normative, for social organisms. Surely this isn't wordplay? So, what's the next step(s) that makes it wordplay?

            What do you envision relationships looking like in such a world?

            Hard to say, considering how many things would have to be different and how different they would have to be.

            Would they even be important?

            I don’t see why they couldn’t be. In the only world we know about, much of their importance is derived from their utility in dealing with suffering or the threat of suffering, but I don’t think it’s the only reason we get so much satisfaction from them.

            There is a big difference between whether relationships could be important and whether they would be important. The former allows for hermits who don't harm anyone by being hermits; an alternative would be that a hermit deprives humanity of his/her particular gifts and talents while simultaneously being deprived of everyone else's gifts and talents. I'm thinking that surviving and avoiding/​dealing with suffering would actually be very little of the focus.

            LB: How different would things have to look for it to be more consistent with a benevolent creator than a malevolent one?

            ds: At a minimum, the world would be a place where sentient creatures did not suffer for the misjudgments of other sentient creatures.

            ds: I was thinking more about situations like children starving to death because people with food to spare didn’t think it was in their best interest to feed them unless they could make a profit doing so.

            I see; so as long as humans rebel against the responsibility given them to be their brother's keeper, God is not benevolent?

            LB: how would things be different if there were more Christians who were like this woman you describe?

            ds: I would be less inclined to accuse theists of creating God in their own image.

            Wouldn't it be better to do an actual study, such as Believers' estimates of God's beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people's beliefs? Furthermore, I still don't understand why the Christian would not attempt to quickly change his/her understanding of goodness to match his/her best guess at God's understanding of goodness, as soon as [s]he finds out about any discrepancy.

            There is another way you could look at this: compare people's estimates of their current attainment to goodness to what they think God actually desires. Would this work for you? Or do you really need the difference you say you rarely see?

            LB: Who commits himself/​herself to being shaped by someone of unknown character?

            ds: That question is irrelevant to my point. If I become convinced that X exists, I am committing myself to nothing except affirming that “X exists” is a true statement.

            LB: Haven't we been over this with "believe in God"? Salvation is not predicated upon assenting to a value-neutral fact of God's existence; "Even the demons believe—and tremble!" If you're going to fully believe in that fact/​value dichotomy, then belief in God's existence is 100% irrelevant to belief in God's goodness. In fact, God's goodness would be merely a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources. But then God does not even need to exist!

            ds: That seems to be the case anyhow. I have talked with theists who have a considerable range of beliefs about what goodness consists of, and without except exception the god they believe in exemplifies exactly that kind of goodness.

            ds: just maybe she thought her kind of goodness was superior to God's.

            So the only example you can offer to support your claim that "That seems to be the case anyhow." is an example where someone perhaps thinks her kind of goodness is superior to God's. Don't you see how you have immunized yourself from having your character be shaped by God? The only possible evidence you've offered that a person's idea of God isn't merely subjective projection is if that person thinks his/her understanding of good is superior to God's. You are hereby making man the measure of all things; if God disagrees it is God who is wrong. At least, what you've said is perfectly consistent with this; care to add something which excludes this as an option?

          • "I'm just at a loss as to how orthodox Christianity portrays God as "Bow to me or I will destroy you""

            John 3:36

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This is just another example of the danger of selecting a biblical text out of context. The actual text of John 3:36 reads:

            "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them."

            This is in the context of John the Baptist telling the Jews of the coming of the Christ and warning them of the need not to willfully reject him before their very eyes, or else, quite logically they will face the judgment of God.

            As reason always requires, the warning of God's judgment presupposes that they actually are morally responsible for rejecting the Son of God who is in their very presence. One must always consider the modifiers of moral responsibility in applying such warnings, for example, not being a Jew who actually encounters Jesus, someone living in another time or another place, being insane, or some other reason that would make a person not physically or mentally able to recognize the living revelation of Christ in their midst.

            It is always possible to twist anyone's words so as to make them look ridiculous out of context.

          • lol I got it from this billboard https://goo.gl/images/CHPWk5

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Then, would you call your comment, "billboard theology?"

          • Here's the verse:

            Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

            First, we have to establish whether everyone deserves eternal life, such that not getting it is tantamount to God destroying. Second, we have to establish what this 'wrath of God' is. Divine anger at injustice? I don't think many of us would have a problem with God destroying those who insist on harming other human beings. (We can include life imprisonment first.) Unless God ever punishing injustice is for him to demand that people bow to him?

          • I am not familiar with a single "harmonization" on this matter.

            Other than the Christians in this forum, I have no idea which ones you’ve been talking with or what they might have told you. I was just kind of under the impression that among believers, harmonizations were common knowledge, but my personal history could certainly have biased my thinking in that regard.

            I'm just at a loss as to how orthodox Christianity portrays God as "Bow to me or I will destroy you."

            Orthodox Christianity says that if you don’t bow, you will burn in hell -- metaphorically, at least. Unless you insist that destruction must mean annihilation, I would call eternity in hell a form of destruction.

            Naturalistically, organisms have to behave within fairly narrow constraints in order to survive—both in this life but also in leaving descendants.

            Yes, that is a contingent fact of the natural world.

            Evolutionary psychologists and others working on how morality might have evolved provide reason to think that part of those narrow constraints are normative, for social organisms. Surely this isn't wordplay?

            Not, it isn’t. It’s also nothing like what I hear from theists claiming that a divine lawgiver is the only possible basis for a moral code.

            There is a big difference between whether relationships could be important and whether they would be important.

            You gave me a hypothetical with countless possible parameters subject to unknown ranges of variability. Probabilities are incalculable. Possibilities are the only things anyone could offer.

            so as long as humans rebel against the responsibility given them to be their brother's keeper, God is not benevolent?

            You tell me. Did he create us with a rebellious nature?

            I would be less inclined to accuse theists of creating God in their own image.

            Wouldn't it be better to do an actual study

            I’ve been studying Christians since I became one myself, and it’s been a few days over 60 years since I did that.

            The abstract of the study you link to seems to confirm my suspicion, though. I’ll need more time to read the article itself.

            Furthermore, I still don't understand why the Christian would not attempt to quickly change his/her understanding of goodness to match his/her best guess at God's understanding of goodness, as soon as [s]he finds out about any discrepancy.

            If I had good reason to believe that God was actually revealing anything about himself to anyone, I’d probably agree. Absent such a reason, the correspondence between morality and theology looks an awful lot like confirmation bias to me.

            There is another way you could look at this: compare people's estimates of their current attainment to goodness to what they think God actually desires

            I get it that almost no Christian thinks they have actually lived up to God’s expectations. So what? Most of us atheists haven’t lived up to our own expectations, regardless of how or where we think those expectations originated. If you strip away the theology, “All have sinned” is a pretty universal insight.

            So the only example you can offer to support your claim that "That seems to be the case anyhow." is an example where someone perhaps thinks her kind of goodness is superior to God's.

            I offered her exceptionalism -- the fact that she is an exception -- as evidence for my claim.

            Don't you see how you have immunized yourself from having your character be shaped by God?

            I thought my atheism did that. He can’t shape my character if I don’t think he exists, can he? Oh, sure, he could, but I keep getting told that that is one thing he just will not do unless I let him. And from where I am, that would be letting Merlin make me king of England.

            care to add something which excludes this as an option?

            Only that you are misconstruing what I have said.

          • I was just kind of under the impression that among believers, harmonizations were common knowledge …

            Which harmonizations? That's like saying that scientists are known to discard data which they can't make sense of. That can sound rather ominous, but it can also be that they simply cannot explain everything at once and thus have to start somewhere.

            Orthodox Christianity says that if you don’t bow, you will burn in hell -- metaphorically, at least. Unless you insist that destruction must mean annihilation, I would call eternity in hell a form of destruction.

            Is hell created by God?

            It’s also nothing like what I hear from theists claiming that a divine lawgiver is the only possible basis for a moral code.

            Ummm, you're on a Roman Catholic discussion board. Divine command theory is not going to thrive here. Is your objection here ("so much wordplay") predicated upon DCT?

            LB: How different would things have to look for it to be more consistent with a benevolent creator than a malevolent one?

            ds: At a minimum, the world would be a place where sentient creatures did not suffer for the misjudgments of other sentient creatures.

            ds: There is a big difference between whether relationships could be important and whether they would be important.

            ds: You gave me a hypothetical with countless possible parameters subject to unknown ranges of variability. Probabilities are incalculable. Possibilities are the only things anyone could offer.

            I wasn't the one who provided the hypothetical. I'm not at all convinced you can construct a plausible world that maintains enough of what people generally find valuable about this world, while achieving your objective of people being unable to harm others. If your objection reduces to "I don't like this aspect of our reality but I don't know how to fix it", maybe that's because the fix isn't what you describe.

            Did he create us with a rebellious nature?

            No. He created us imago Dei, which seems to imply infinite potential. Part of us becoming more is us helping each other do so. If we do this, we can together weave a tapestry or play an orchestra that is a sight to behold—much more glorious than the symphony of effort required to put a man on the moon. We can screw this up—think we're autonomous, deny that we are our brother's/​sister's keeper, etc. We can learn from these mistakes—perhaps like brain lesions teach us things—but it'd be preferable to learn in a less painful way. We just don't seem to want to, not badly enough.

            I’ve been studying Christians since I became one myself, and it’s been a few days over 60 years since I did that.

            How wide a variety of Christians?

            If I had good reason to believe that God was actually revealing anything about himself to anyone, I’d probably agree.

            Now we've come full circle, to how this conversation began. One way you think God could reveal himself to us is to break the laws of nature—or at least our best scientific laws. Are there any other ways? The particular context of our discussion here is the 'value' side of the fact/​value dichotomy. So I don't see how any is is going to help with ought—except in the degenerate way of guiding us away from some hypothetical imperatives and towards others.

            LB: Don't you see how you have immunized yourself from having your character be shaped by God?

            ds: I thought my atheism did that. He can’t shape my character if I don’t think he exists, can he? Oh, sure, he could, but I keep getting told that that is one thing he just will not do unless I let him. And from where I am, that would be letting Merlin make me king of England.

            Your fact/​value dichotomy does it. When you ontologize it, no is can impact ought, except in a degenerate sense. But this doesn't just impact God, this impacts your ability to relate to other human beings on more than just a fact level. (Even there, you're implicitly denying the theory-ladenness of observation; the fact/​value dichotomy really starts disintegrating if you read something like Heather Douglas' Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal.)

            ds: just maybe she thought her kind of goodness was superior to God's.

            LB: So the only example you can offer to support your claim that "That seems to be the case anyhow." is an example where someone perhaps thinks her kind of goodness is superior to God's. Don't you see how you have immunized yourself from having your character be shaped by God? The only possible evidence you've offered that a person's idea of God isn't merely subjective projection is if that person thinks his/her understanding of good is superior to God's. You are hereby making man the measure of all things; if God disagrees it is God who is wrong. At least, what you've said is perfectly consistent with this; care to add something which excludes this as an option?

            ds: Only that you are misconstruing what I have said.

            What did I misconstrue? Let's recall the following:

            LB: In fact, God's goodness would be merely a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources.

            ds: That seems to be the case anyhow. …

            Any good scientist knows what it would take to falsify his/her hypothesis; you don't seem to have any idea of what would falsify the fact/​value dichotomy. So it's more like a presupposition than a hypothesis, it seems. You seem to have made man the measure of all things. How can God disagree with us and be right (and us know it), unless it's on a value-neutral scientific matter?

          • I was just kind of under the impression that among believers, harmonizations were common knowledge

            Which harmonizations?

            Should I have said “alleged harmonizations”? There are sites all over the Internet by inerrantists purporting to resolve what they call the Bible’s “apparent contradictions.” Of course I don’t think their efforts succeed. My point was just that plenty of believers find ways to convince themselves that the contradictions are not real.

            And I’m not saying all believers do it. But I thought that those who don’t were usually aware of the ones who do.

            Is hell created by God?

            Can anything exist that was not created by God?

            Divine command theory is not going to thrive here.

            It might as well, if we cannot know the difference between good and evil without knowing God. I see no distinction relevant to this discussion between “God says it is evil because it is evil” and “It is evil because God says so.”

            You gave me a hypothetical with countless possible parameters subject to unknown ranges of variability. Probabilities are incalculable. Possibilities are the only things anyone could offer.

            I wasn't the one who provided the hypothetical. I'm not at all convinced you can construct a plausible world that maintains enough of what people generally find valuable about this world, while achieving your objective of people being unable to harm others.

            Point taken about whose hypothetical it was. My bad.

            But now you’re saying that in order to make it plausible, I must specify all those countless possible parameters subject to unknown ranges of variability with sufficient precision to enable you to calculate probabilities. That is not reasonable. I say only that it is possible, which is to say that the probability is not zero. If you say it is not even possible, you need to prove that with the data given.

            If your objection reduces to "I don't like this aspect of our reality but I don't know how to fix it", maybe that's because the fix isn't what you describe.

            I have plenty of ideas for how to fix some aspects of our reality. Maybe they’re good ideas and maybe they’re not, but it doesn’t matter how good they are if I can’t get anyone who could implement them to pay me any attention.

            But we’re not talking about how any of us could improve the world as it is. We’re talking about whether it could have been created to begin with so that it would not have gotten as bad as it is.

            Did he create us with a rebellious nature?

            No. He created us imago Dei, which seems to imply infinite potential. Part of us becoming more is us helping each other do so. If we do this, we can together weave a tapestry or play an orchestra that is a sight to behold—much more glorious than the symphony of effort required to put a man on the moon. We can screw this up—think we're autonomous, deny that we are our brother's/​sister's keeper, etc. We can learn from these mistakes—perhaps like brain lesions teach us things—but it'd be preferable to learn in a less painful way. We just don't seem to want to, not badly enough.

            I’m not sure there’s an answer to my question in any of that.

            I’ve been studying Christians since I became one myself, and it’s been a few days over 60 years since I did that.

            How wide a variety of Christians?

            I cannot know whether it was a representative sample, but it was the only one I had.

            If it helps, here is a list of churches that I either was a member of or attended regularly for a period of at least several weeks: Nondenominational; Disciples of Christ; Pentecostal; Presbyterian; Congregational; Methodist; Unitarian-Universalist; Church of Religious Science.

            I was also an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous for about a decade. AA is not a specifically Christian organization, but it is religious and its members interpret its program from a predominantly Christian perspective.

            Furthermore, I still don't understand why the Christian would not attempt to quickly change his/her understanding of goodness to match his/her best guess at God's understanding of goodness, as soon as [s]he finds out about any discrepancy.

            If I had good reason to believe that God was actually revealing anything about himself to anyone, I’d probably agree.

            Now we've come full circle, to how this conversation began. One way you think God could reveal himself to us is to break the laws of nature—or at least our best scientific laws. Are there any other ways?

            It doesn't matter how I think he could. Some Christians say he did. I don't need to prove he didn't to justify not taking their word for it. They need to produce a good reason for me to believe what they tell me. I don't need them to explain how it happened. I’ll worry about that after I’m convinced that it did happen.

            you don't seem to have any idea of what would falsify the fact/​value dichotomy.

            Actually, I think I’ve already told you, but we can go over it again. Let's use Leibnitz’s law. If some fact actually is identical with some value, then there is no way to distinguish one from the other. Therefore, a demonstration that some fact is indistinguishable from some value would falsify the fact-value dichotomy.

            How can God disagree with us and be right (and us know it)

            He can't. If he is right and we know he is right, then to say he disagrees with us is to state a contradiction.

          • Doug, I'm at a loss. Here's what sparked this conversation:

            LB: I have found it generally impossible to get atheists to commit to non-ridiculous standards of detection.

            ds: On what grounds do you judge the standards to be ridiculous?

            LB: Chiefly, the only kind of detection offered is that of power—basically, breaking the laws of nature. At the same time, that atheist will eschew "Might makes right". Combine these two together and the offered means of detection tell you nothing about character. They can detect a force, but not a person.

            You, sadly, have slotted perfectly into my characterization: the only way you can apparently conceive of God's goodness being something other than "a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources" is where we think our goodness is superior:

            LB: I'm still not sure what you're getting at. What would it look like for a theist to have some understanding of goodness, but understand God's goodness to be different? …

            ds: ⋮
            Many years ago, I was briefly a member of a forum for (according to its advertising) political conservatives. There was a thread in which abortion was being discussed. Whether I contributed to that discussion, I no longer remember, but I was struck by one young woman’s comment. Having affirmed her conviction that abortion was contrary to God’s law, she said something to this effect: “Nevertheless, if I were pregnant and were informed by competent medical authority that my child would be born with a condition that would cause it to suffer for however long it lived, I would have an abortion.” When accused of inconsistency, she replied: “I will not buy my way into heaven at the cost of a child’s suffering.”

            Here was a Christian who would not adjust her understanding of the divine will to accommodate her moral instinct. I have never seen another like her.

            I first thought that we could become aware of a goodness better than our own:

            LB: If I learn of a superior kind of goodness, why would I not align myself with it?

            ds: I'm not saying that anybody would not or should not.

            And yet, you have just responded this way:

            LB: How can God disagree with us and be right (and us know it)

            ds: He can't. If he is right and we know he is right, then to say he disagrees with us is to state a contradiction.

            According to your logic, it seems that God can only ever show up to us as worse than us or the same as us—never better than us. I am not particularly disturbed by your use of "contradiction", because by some seemingly basic logic and axioms, "All [knowable/​tractable] truths are already known." You've declared moral/​ethical improvement to be impossible, from one's own perspective. Well, I can become more like my concept of goodness, but my concept of goodness is as good as it gets. It is my god and there is no other.

            You know how Aristotle is criticized for being so sure that men have more teeth than women that there was no need to empirical verify? He saw his categories as more fundamental than empirical observation; they defined what counted as knowledge. We now understand that remarkable as he was, he was closed to the vast majority of reality. He had screened it out a priori. Nowadays, we know there isn't even a single scientific method. As far as I can tell, you are closed to morality/​ethics/​goodness/​beauty being anything more than your "categories". If I'm right, then what you say here is rather problematic:

            LB: Furthermore, I still don't understand why the Christian would not attempt to quickly change his/her understanding of goodness to match his/her best guess at God's understanding of goodness, as soon as [s]he finds out about any discrepancy.

            ds: If I had good reason to believe that God was actually revealing anything about himself to anyone, I’d probably agree. Absent such a reason, the correspondence between morality and theology looks an awful lot like confirmation bias to me.

            LB: Now we've come full circle, to how this conversation began. One way you think God could reveal himself to us is to break the laws of nature—or at least our best scientific laws. Are there any other ways? The particular context of our discussion here is the 'value' side of the fact/​value dichotomy. So I don't see how any is is going to help with ought—except in the degenerate way of guiding us away from some hypothetical imperatives and towards others.

            ds: It doesn't matter how I think he could. Some Christians say he did. I don't need to prove he didn't to justify not taking their word for it. They need to produce a good reason for me to believe what they tell me. I don't need them to explain how it happened. I’ll worry about that after I’m convinced that it did happen.

            It would appear that you have ruled out, a priori, the possibility of a "good reason to believe that God was actually revealing anything about himself to anyone". You deny that you have any responsibility whatsoever to even sketch out possible good reasons which might convince you. Well, I cannot say with certainty that you've ruled out any such possibility. I can say that I don't ever recall you giving any reason to believe that you haven't. After enough trying and failing with the other person not lifting a finger to help, one begins to wonder whether the given task was impossible from the start.

          • Chiefly, the only kind of detection offered is that of power—basically, breaking the laws of nature.

            That is not what I have offered. I have not said it, and I have not said anything from which you can validly infer it.

            the only way you can apparently conceive of God's goodness being something other than "a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources" is where we think our goodness is superior

            I did not say that, and I don't care if it is the only way. It seems to be the most parsimonious way.

            because by some seemingly basic logic and axioms, "All [knowable/​tractable] truths are already known."

            You’re talking about Fitch’s paradox. What it purports to demonstrate, according to the Wikipedia article, is that “if all truths were knowable, it would follow that all truths are in fact known.” Let’s assume that that is actually true. I think it reasonable to doubt that all truths are in fact known. But in that case, it is reasonable to doubt that all truths are knowable. Well, I don't see why I must believe that all truths are knowable, or what the knowability of all truths has to do with whether it can make sense to affirm a contradiction.

            You've declared moral/​ethical improvement to be impossible, from one's own perspective.

            No, I have not. You are misrepresenting my position.

            You know how Aristotle is criticized for being so sure that men have more teeth than women that there was no need to empirical verify?

            I know that's how the story usually goes. It misrepresents what Aristotle actually said on that subject. More information: https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/rescuing-aristotle/

            It would appear that you have ruled out, a priori, the possibility of a "good reason to believe that God was actually revealing anything about himself to anyone".

            Try me. Show me a reason that you think is a good one and explain why you think it is a good one. Then I will tell you why I don't think it is a good reason, and you can in turn explain what is wrong with my criticism.

            You deny that you have any responsibility whatsoever to even sketch out possible good reasons which might convince you.

            I can admit the possible existence of a good reason without having any idea what it would look like. But what of it? “There is possibly a good reason to believe X” is no justification for believing X. Those who say there is a good reason need to produce it. And until they do, I have all the justification I need for not believing X.

            After enough trying and failing with the other person not lifting a finger to help, one begins to wonder whether the given task was impossible from the start.

            Is that your problem? That I won't help you find a justification for your belief?

            If you tell me I should believe something but can't come up with a reason that I find persuasive, I don't see why I have any obligation to help you find a better reason.

          • That is not what I have offered.

            Have you offered any "standards of detection" which do not reduce to what I described?

            LB: the only way you can apparently conceive of God's goodness being something other than "a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources" is where we think our goodness is superior:

            ds: I did not say that, and I don't care if it is the only way. It seems to be the most parsimonious way.

            I used "apparently" intentionally. You have a hypothesis you [apparently] don't know how to falsify. Except that something cannot really be a hypothesis in any scientific sense if you don't know how to falsify it. To therefore speak of 'parsimony' seems flatly wrong.

            LB: because by some seemingly basic logic and axioms, "All [knowable/​tractable] truths are already known."

            ds: You’re talking about Fitch’s paradox. What it purports to demonstrate, according to the Wikipedia article, is that “if all truths were knowable, it would follow that all truths are in fact known.”

            You can restrict that to any set of truths in the beginning and get the end, as I did. Or you can consult rule (C') in the article: "There is an unknown, but knowable truth, and it is knowable that there is an unknown, but knowable truth." When one combines (A), (B), (C'), and (D) with classical logic, it yields a contradiction. If you cinch your epistemology too tight, it becomes impermeable to anything new.

            … or what the knowability of all truths has to do with whether it can make sense to affirm a contradiction.

            Replace 'truth' with 'improvement in goodness' in rule (C'): "There is an unknown, but knowable improvement in goodness, and it is knowable that there is an unknown, but knowable improvement in goodness." Then consult what you wrote:

            LB: How can God disagree with us and be right (and us know it)

            ds: He can't. If he is right and we know he is right, then to say he disagrees with us is to state a contradiction.

            And yet, now you've contradicted the only way I know how to interpret that:

            LB: You've declared moral/​ethical improvement to be impossible, from one's own perspective. Well, I can become more like my concept of goodness, but my concept of goodness is as good as it gets. It is my god and there is no other.

            ds: No, I have not. You are misrepresenting my position.

            So, how is moral/​ethical improvement possible (from my own perspective), outside of merely becoming more like / better at my concept of goodness?

            LB: You know how Aristotle is criticized for being so sure that men have more teeth than women that there was no need to empirical verify? He saw his categories as more fundamental than empirical observation; they defined what counted as knowledge.

            ds: I know that's how the story usually goes. It misrepresents what Aristotle actually said on that subject. More information: https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/rescuing-aristotle/

            Ahh, thank you for the correction. What I don't see is a rebuttal of my following sentence, not having to do with teeth. I coined a term 'hardening the categories' which was partly formed by my understanding of how understanding of Aristotle came stymie progress of knowledge leading up to the Enlightenment, and much formed by Yuval Levin:

                Indeed, [Aristotle] spent enormous time and energy getting to know the world. He and his students gathered information and cataloged details about everything from the movement and behavior of animals to the structures of city governments throughout the Greek republics. His stated faith in observation is often noted by historians of science, as when in On the Generation of Animals he explains his lack of knowledge about the habits of bees by stating: “The facts have not yet been sufficiently established. If ever they are, then credit must be given to observation rather than to theories, and to theories only insofar as they are confirmed by the observed facts.”[11] But this oft quoted statement must not be misunderstood by modern ears, for it says something somewhat different than we may at first imagine. Aristotle understood empirical data within the context of general categories, definitions and classifications. These categories may, at first, be defined by observed knowledge, but once they are defined they come to be seen as universal definitions, and thus all intermediate knowledge (between the observed and the category) is understood based on the category. (Tyranny of Reason, 30)

            Levin's refrain throughout the book is "Ignorance brings learning, but knowledge breeds rigidity of mind." I'm inclined to wholeheartedly agree; Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization) is a great example of this. An example in the moral/​ethical/​goodness domain is Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. Thomas Kuhn formalized a kind of 'rigidity of mind' in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; Feyerabend another in Against Method. What allowed them to do so was philosophers developing a clear enough statement of what they thought science was. Now, you make a request of me:

            LB: It would appear that you have ruled out, a priori, the possibility of a "good reason to believe that God was actually revealing anything about himself to anyone".

            ds: Try me. Show me a reason that you think is a good one and explain why you think it is a good one. Then I will tell you why I don't think it is a good reason, and you can in turn explain what is wrong with my criticism.

            My knowledge of your position is too inchoate; I've played this game with plenty an atheist and whatever I have said or seen other theists said is either rejected or appropriated by biological/​social evolution. The power of these two kinds of evolution combined seems limitless—which is to say, utterly unfalsifiable.

            I've been playing with an understanding of Hebrews 11:1 I developed in conversation with Ignorant Amos over at CE; the bottom line seems to be that our confidence in God having a better future planned for us is built by us creating space for him to act and then him acting. I say God wants us to perceive his acting for what it is, but that requires that we dial back our belief in our own infinitude, that we acknowledge we aren't gods, that man isn't the measure of all things. We would have to admit that we are finite creatures capable of finite things, locked in finitude unless God or some less-finite creature gives us a hand. There's the slightest possibility you opened yourself up to divine action:

            ds: I have plenty of ideas for how to fix some aspects of our reality. Maybe they’re good ideas and maybe they’re not, but it doesn’t matter how good they are if I can’t get anyone who could implement them to pay me any attention.

            Were you to humble yourself (allow that you have some part of the solution but may have added a lot of junk to it) and ask God to show you what you need to know and do and connect you to other people to work with, I could foresee that being a way God could "show up" to you. But what would keep you from assigning credit for all of the results to your own inspiration and the action/​inspiration of other humans? Humans are very good at vacuuming up credit, I find. (The opposite extreme exists as always: humans giving God all the credit, as if Gal 6:1–6 didn't contain v4. Or see 1 Cor 3:10–15.)

            LB: You deny that you have any responsibility whatsoever to even sketch out possible good reasons which might convince you.

            ds: I can admit the possible existence of a good reason without having any idea what it would look like.

            Actually, you cannot guarantee the possibility of good reason via fiat. As far as I can tell, it is unknown whether such good reasons exist within your epistemology.

            Is that your problem? That I won't help you find a justification for your belief?

            No. You [apparently] keep forgetting how the conversation started:

            LB: I have found it generally impossible to get atheists to commit to non-ridiculous standards of detection.

            ds: On what grounds do you judge the standards to be ridiculous?

            IIRC, you've only reinforced that "generally impossible" with our conversation to-date. This conversation did not start out with me trying to convince you of God's existence (as a person, not a force). Instead, it started out with me saying that I have found nary an atheist who [knowingly] allows the bare possibility that God could show up (as a person, not a force) per his/her epistemology.

          • Have you offered any "standards of detection" which do not reduce to what I described?

            Your description sounds vaguely postmodernist. I deny doing what the postmodernists say everybody is doing.

            You have a hypothesis you [apparently] don't know how to falsify.

            My claim is that I don’t have sufficient reason to believe a hypothesis that someone else has proposed. That claim will be falsified when they produce a sufficient reason.

            something cannot really be a hypothesis in any scientific sense if you don't know how to falsify it.

            I have told you how to falsify it. My failure to be convinced that you have falsified it could mean that I am being pigheaded. Or it could mean that you are in error when you think your evidence should constitute falsification.

            When one combines (A), (B), (C'), and (D) with classical logic, it yields a contradiction.

            If we can deduce a contradiction from any valid argument, then we must infer that at least one premise of that argument is false. But classical logic defines validity, so we cannot deny that. It follows that we must deny at least one of (A), (B), (C’), or (D). If something in our intuition says “But we can’t deny any of them,” then that is just too bad for our intuition. One thing we learn from the proper study of paradoxes is the fallibility of our intuition.

            ds: He can't. If he is right and we know he is right, then to say he disagrees with us is to state a contradiction.
            And yet, now you've contradicted the only way I know how to interpret that:

            Then your interpretation is erroneous.

            So, how is moral/​ethical improvement possible (from my own perspective), outside of merely becoming more like / better at my concept of goodness?

            If I say “X is not possible unless A,” it is not valid to argue “I don’t believe A is possible, therefore you are affirming the impossibility of X.”

            What I don't see is a rebuttal of my following sentence, not having to do with teeth.

            Your following sentence was:

            He saw his categories as more fundamental than empirical observation; they defined what counted as knowledge.

            And for additional context, the sentences following that one:

            We now understand that remarkable as he was, he was closed to the vast majority of reality. He had screened it out a priori. Nowadays, we know there isn't even a single scientific method. As far as I can tell, you are closed to morality/​ethics/​goodness/​beauty being anything more than your "categories".

            Aristotle’s error with his categories was not an a prior error. He inferred his categories from his observations, or at least he said he did, and so it was an a posteriori error. He made a faulty inference from his observations. And the history of science is a history of such faulty inferences. But the reason we know that those previous inferences were faulty is that we didn’t stop making observations and revising our inferences to accommodate new observations. The greatest mistake would have been to suppose, at any time in our history, that we had made enough observations to justify thinking that our knowledge needed no further revision. Science is a quest for improved knowledge, not for infallible knowledge.

            How I categorize morality/​ethics/​goodness/​beauty is something I have inferred from what I have observed both of my own experiences with them and, out of everything I have ever read, the observations of every writer who has had anything to say about them, and the verbal reports of personal acquaintances with whom I have discussed these matters.

            Next you quote Yuval Levin:

            Aristotle understood empirical data within the context of general categories, definitions and classifications. These categories may, at first, be defined by observed knowledge, but once they are defined they come to be seen as universal definitions, and thus all intermediate knowledge (between the observed and the category) is understood based on the category. (Tyranny of Reason, 30)

            I’m not familiar enough with Aristotle’s own work to know whether or to what extent he himself made that mistake. It does seem that over the centuries, those who saw fit to refer to him simply as The Philosopher were inclined to make it. And I will readily admit that plenty of modern intellectuals continue to make it, even as they express their unbounded and often uninformed contempt for Aristotelian philosophy. But just because it’s a common mistake doesn’t mean everyone who disagrees with you is making it.

            Levin's refrain throughout the book is "Ignorance brings learning, but knowledge breeds rigidity of mind."

            That may be why, as Alexander Pope said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” He did not say, as often quoted, “A little knowledge,” but a little learning can produce only a little knowledge.

            Now, you make a request of me:

            LB: It would appear that you have ruled out, a priori, the possibility of a "good reason to believe that God was actually revealing anything about himself to anyone".

            ds: Try me. Show me a reason that you think is a good one and explain why you think it is a good one. Then I will tell you why I don't think it is a good reason, and you can in turn explain what is wrong with my criticism.

            My knowledge of your position is too inchoate;

            If you could state your position clearly, you could do so without needing to know mine.

            I've played this game with plenty an atheist and whatever I have said or seen other theists said is either rejected or appropriated by biological/​social evolution. The power of these two kinds of evolution combined seems limitless—which is to say, utterly unfalsifiable.

            There is a vital difference between “unfalsifiable” and “not falsified.” The failure of countless attempts to falsify evolution, biological or social, doesn’t mean it can’t be falsified. But if it is true, then it won’t be falsified, i.e. no one is going to discover an undisputed fact that contradicts it no matter how vehemently they insist, “Here is a fact that contradicts evolution!”

            And no, I don’t understand you to be arguing that evolution is false. What I understand you to be arguing is that even though it is true, there are nonetheless some facts about humanity for which it cannot be a sufficient explanation. Have I got that right?

            I have plenty of ideas for how to fix some aspects of our reality. Maybe they’re good ideas and maybe they’re not, but it doesn’t matter how good they are if I can’t get anyone who could implement them to pay me any attention.

            Were you to humble yourself (allow that you have some part of the solution but may have added a lot of junk to it) and ask God to show you what you need to know and do and connect you to other people to work with, I could foresee that being a way God could "show up" to you.

            What was “Maybe they’re good ideas and maybe they’re not” if not an allowance for the possibility that I “have some part of the solution but may have added a lot of junk to it”?

            I asked God lots of times, during the years in which I thought he was real, to show me things I needed to know about how I should think and how I should act. I got no answers from him. I did not immediately conclude that he wasn’t real. What I immediately concluded was that if I wanted those answers, I was going to have to find them on my own, using whatever resources I could get my own hands on, and using my own intelligence to the best of my own ability.

            And let me clarify that “no answers from him.” I did get plenty of answers from people telling me: “This is God’s answer to your question.” What I did not get was any good reason to believe that those people actually knew any more about God’s thinking than I did.

            But what would keep you from assigning credit for all of the results to your own inspiration and the action/​inspiration of other humans?

            My being convinced that God had shown me X would keep me from assigning credit for X to myself or any other human being.

            Actually, you cannot guarantee the possibility of good reason via fiat.

            I never said I could.

            As far as I can tell, it is unknown whether such good reasons exist within your epistemology.

            Right. And therefore, what? My epistemology prohibits the inference of “X does not exist” from “X is not known to exist.” But it also prohibits the inference, “For all we know, X could exist, therefore X exists.”

            This conversation did not start out with me trying to convince you of God's existence (as a person, not a force). Instead, it started out with me saying that I have found nary an atheist who [knowingly] allows the bare possibility that God could show up (as a person, not a force) per his/her epistemology.

            If you will give me the slightest benefit of doubt regarding my sincerity, I affirm that I knowingly allow the bare possibility that God could show up per my epistemology.

            But I will deny that in order to affirm that, I must also specify, to your satisfaction, the exact conditions under which that showing must occur. You have sometimes remarked on the limits of our own ability to know our own minds, and much of what I have learned in my lifetime has been about those limits. I know that I could be deceiving myself about how open-minded I am regarding divine revelation. But possibility does not imply actuality. The simple statement “I can’t just take your word for it” is not by itself proof of a closed mind.

          • LB: Have you offered any "standards of detection" which do not reduce to what I described?

            ds: Your description sounds vaguely postmodernist. I deny doing what the postmodernists say everybody is doing.

            It may sound postmodernist, but my description is predicated upon what science cannot see by its very constitution: character. You're not supposed to be a full person when you do science; you're supposed to prescind from being a full person and becoming something distinctly less. Well, we are the instruments with which we measure reality. Whatever we prescind from is something we cannot detect. Combine this prescinding with the claim that anything which is lost in the prescinding process is 100% subjective and you have perfect isolation from God's character, from God as a person. All you have left is God as a force.

            LB: the only way you can apparently conceive of God's goodness being something other than "a subjective concept projected onto him from our own internal resources" is where we think our goodness is superior:

            ds: I did not say that, and I don't care if it is the only way. It seems to be the most parsimonious way.

            LB: I used "apparently" intentionally. You have a hypothesis you [apparently] don't know how to falsify. Except that something cannot really be a hypothesis in any scientific sense if you don't know how to falsify it. To therefore speak of 'parsimony' seems flatly wrong.

            ds: My claim is that I don’t have sufficient reason to believe a hypothesis that someone else has proposed. That claim will be falsified when they produce a sufficient reason.

            You have your own hypothesis which you prefer; you even used the word "parsimonious" for it. I'm simply pointing out that unlike the scientist who knows a multitude of possible phenomena for what would falsify F = GmM/r^2, you have not produced—and perhaps cannot produce—any possible phenomena for what would falsify your "most parsimonious way". Your hypothesis is therefore indistinguishable from unfalsifiable. You can claim it is falsifiable until you're blue in the face, but it's an empty claim until you produce something more than a bare assertion. You've given the theist absolutely no idea what would constitute "sufficient reason".

            I have told you how to falsify it.

            Karl Popper would not have accepted "convince me" as a standard of falsification; neither do I. What scientists do is externalize their standards of falsification, for all to investigate. You are not doing this.

            If we can deduce a contradiction from any valid argument, then we must infer that at least one premise of that argument is false.

            Yep. So, do you reject classical logic, (A), (B), (C'), (D), or do you think there's an error in Fitch's paradox? Fitch's paradox is about having there be unknown truths you can know at some point; it is my claim that you set set up your epistemology to be utterly closed to any such unknown truths. Similarly, I suspect one can close oneself to any superior goodness/​beauty. You said it would be "a contradiction" for "God [to] disagree with us and be right (and us know it)". But if this were really true, then it would be a contradiction for one scientist to disagree with another scientist and for that other scientist to know it. Unless I'm missing something?

            Then your interpretation is erroneous.

            In that case, I will leave lurkers to wonder if there is a way for your two responses—

            LB: How can God disagree with us and be right (and us know it)

            ds: He can't. If he is right and we know he is right, then to say he disagrees with us is to state a contradiction.

            +

            LB: You've declared moral/​ethical improvement to be impossible, from one's own perspective. Well, I can become more like my concept of goodness, but my concept of goodness is as good as it gets. It is my god and there is no other.

            ds: No, I have not. You are misrepresenting my position.

            —to not be contradictory.

            LB: So, how is moral/​ethical improvement possible (from my own perspective), outside of merely becoming more like / better at my concept of goodness?

            ds: If I say “X is not possible unless A,” it is not valid to argue “I don’t believe A is possible, therefore you are affirming the impossibility of X.”

            (1) I don't see where I argued/​implied that. (2) You ignored my question.

            Aristotle’s error with his categories was not an a prior error. He inferred his categories from his observations, or at least he said he did, and so it was an a posteriori error. He made a faulty inference from his observations.

            I say that faulty inference contained a priori premises which were at fault. When the error became manifest is different from when the error was made. We [hopefully] know not to make that error and we do so by inserting an a priori belief into our scientific judgment.

            But the reason we know that those previous inferences were faulty is that we didn’t stop making observations and revising our inferences to accommodate new observations.

            That's actually not how Galileo figured out his incline plane ball-rolling experiments whereby he discovered / crystallized impetus. He analyzed the logical structure of Aristotle's theory which says that earth falls toward the center and fire flees from the center and realized that there was an unexcluded middle to be explored. The clarity of Aristotle's theories allowed Galileo to see this edge-case; for some reason I am generally unable to see edge-cases in how you present your own understanding, Doug.

            Furthermore, there is Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial), which suggests that mere observation isn't always enough. If our non-perceptual neurons don't have patterns which sufficiently well-match the patterns on our perceptual neurons, we may never become conscious of the new patterns. I wouldn't be surprised if this is why Galileo said "reason must do violence to the sense". It can be very easy to force-fit observations into existing methods of explanation; see for example Nancy Cartwright's essay "Fitting Facts to Equations" in How the Laws of Physics Lie. We humans can become locked-in to certain ways of perceiving the world.

            But just because it’s a common mistake doesn’t mean everyone who disagrees with you is making it.

            Yes. (Obviously.) But if what you are doing is (from what you've publicly stated) indistinguishable from that mistake, how ought I respond? Is it intellectually wrong to say that mistake matches the appearances? Is it morally wrong?

            If you could state your position clearly, you could do so without needing to know mine.

            Incorrect: what counts as "clearly [to Doug Shaver]" depends on what Doug Shaver knows/​believes.

            LB: I've played this game with plenty an atheist and whatever I have said or seen other theists said is either rejected or appropriated by biological/​social evolution. The power of these two kinds of evolution combined seems limitless—which is to say, utterly unfalsifiable.

            ds: There is a vital difference between “unfalsifiable” and “not falsified.”

            Hence why I wrote "seems … utterly unfalsifiable".

            And no, I don’t understand you to be arguing that evolution is false. What I understand you to be arguing is that even though it is true, there are nonetheless some facts about humanity for which it cannot be a sufficient explanation. Have I got that right?

            Back when Newton formulated F = GmM/r^2, he thought it was true everywhere. Note that the equation rules out virtually all possible observations. Contrast this with F = GmM/r^x, where x can be varied on demand. The orbit of Mercury doesn't contradict the latter equation. I see the combination of biological and social evolution presented as akin to the latter equation if not worse. It just doesn't seem to rule out any "nearby" possibilities, in the way that F = GmM/r^2 rules out F = GmM/r^2.001. Now, maybe there will be no general relativity correction to biological or social evolution; maybe as they are they'll manage to explain everything, analogous to Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood. But unlike Carroll's Big Equation, which is as precise as Newton's equation in ruling out virtually every possible observation, the combination of biological and social evolution don't seem to specify anything "nearby" which would falsify them.

            So no, you don't have it right; maybe the purposeless and purposeful evolutions together will ultimately sufficiently explain everything. Fuzzy/​malleable explanations have that property; it is really hard to falsify them. The problem is the inchoateness. It is a problem whenever the backing theory is used to make claims exceeding the demonstrated scientific competence of that theory. I want to believe you know all this Doug, so I don't know why I feel like I have to state it yet another time.

            What was “Maybe they’re good ideas and maybe they’re not” if not an allowance for the possibility that I “have some part of the solution but may have added a lot of junk to it”?

            I have observed that you allow the bare possibility for error without necessarily (as far as I can tell) trying to figure out how it might be error. Our conversation about "evidence of God's existence" is a perfect example of this. I don't consider someone who merely asserts that [s]he might be wrong to be humble.

            I asked God lots of times, during the years in which I thought he was real, to show me things I needed to know about how I should think and how I should act. I got no answers from him.

            May I ask for some details? I could share some of what I've done in this vein if you'd like. Key to this process, IMO, is keeping a void of explanation open for long enough that I know I did not fill it with my own ingenuity. The final step is for humanity to collectively hold the void of explanation open for long enough that it knows it could not fill it with its own ingenuity.

            LB: But what would keep you from assigning credit for all of the results to your own inspiration and the action/​inspiration of other humans?

            ds: My being convinced that God had shown me X would keep me from assigning credit for X to myself or any other human being.

            Can you give any details on what would thusly convince you? ("any details" ⇏ "the exact conditions")

            LB: You deny that you have any responsibility whatsoever to even sketch out possible good reasons which might convince you.

            ds: I can admit the possible existence of a good reason without having any idea what it would look like.

            LB: Actually, you cannot guarantee the possibility of good reason via fiat. As far as I can tell, it is unknown whether such good reasons exist within your epistemology.

            ds: Right. And therefore, what? My epistemology prohibits the inference of “X does not exist” from “X is not known to exist.” But it also prohibits the inference, “For all we know, X could exist, therefore X exists.”

            If you do not know what would convince you of X, it is possible that nothing could actually convince you of X. If you do not know what would convince you of X, asking theists to try convincing you of X could be tantamount to you asking them to dance while you fire bullets at their feet.

            If you will give me the slightest benefit of doubt regarding my sincerity, I affirm that I knowingly allow the bare possibility that God could show up per my epistemology.

            But I will deny that in order to affirm that, I must also specify, to your satisfaction, the exact conditions under which that showing must occur.

            I don't see how you can know that you allow the bare possibility without having some sense of how that possibility would show up. (I reject your extreme of "exact conditions" as illegitimate strengthening of what I've said to-date.) I don't see how you can have justified true belief in this matter.

            The simple statement “I can’t just take your word for it” is not by itself proof of a closed mind.

            Is there some phantom here to whom you're talking? I certainly don't recall ever saying or implying that you are supposed to "just take [my] word for" … anything.

          • I certainly don't recall ever saying or implying that you are supposed to "just take [my] word for" … anything.

            I should have added "or someone else's." As evidence for divine revelation, no believer has ever shown me anything that wasn't either their own testimony or someone else's testimony. If you think you have something different, let's see it.

          • I never intended to provide such a thing in a conversation which started off with:

            LB: I have found it generally impossible to get atheists to commit to non-ridiculous standards of detection.

            So far you haven't offered any non-ridiculous standards of detection; would you like to nevertheless change the topic of conversation?

          • I deny that there is anything ridiculous about the standard "better than someone's say-so."

          • All you've done is define 'detection':

            dictionary.com: detect

            1. to discover or catch (a person) in the performance of some act:
                to detect someone cheating.
            2. to discover the existence of:
                to detect the odor of gas.
            3. to find out the true character or activity of:
                to detect a spy.

            To trust someone else's testimony of X is precisely not to detect X oneself.

          • All you've done is define 'detection':

            You seem to have redefined persuasion in terms of detection.

            I don't need to know what I would have to experience to think I had gotten a revelation from God. If he is real, he knows what it would take and he can make it happen. Until it does happen, I have no epistemic obligation to explain any evidence with which I have not been confronted.

            A believer says, "Here is some evidence." I respond, "It is not sufficient." The believer replies, "You are wrong. It is sufficient." At that point in our discussion, the believer needs to prove his statement "It is sufficient," and his claim "You can't tell me what would be sufficient," even if true, does not prove it.

          • LB: I have found it generally impossible to get atheists to commit to non-ridiculous standards of detection.

            ds: On what grounds do you judge the standards to be ridiculous?

            LB: Chiefly, the only kind of detection offered is that of power—basically, breaking the laws of nature. At the same time, that atheist will eschew "Might makes right". Combine these two together and the offered means of detection tell you nothing about character. They can detect a force, but not a person.

            You seem to have redefined persuasion in terms of detection.

            I don't see how I've done that at all.

            I don't need to know what I would have to experience to think I had gotten a revelation from God. If he is real, he knows what it would take and he can make it happen.

            If there is anything which would convince you, then you are correct. But you do not in fact know that there is anything which would convince you. You have absolutely and utterly no idea what would qualify as detecting God, other than the exercise of raw law-of-nature-violating power. Or if you do know, you are being coy.

            Until it does happen, I have no epistemic obligation to explain any evidence with which I have not been confronted.

            That's a weird statement; when a scientist says his/her hypothesis predicts ¬X, I doubt [s]he would phrase that in terms of "¬X would be evidence with which I have not been confronted". But anyhow, you only have an epistemic obligation if you claim that you have arrived at your current position in a way sufficiently similar to what Karl Popper meant by 'science'—that is, a statement is scientific to the extent that you know what would falsify it. In lieu of this, you are open to this criticism:

            LB: If you do not know what would convince you of X, it is possible that nothing could actually convince you of X. If you do not know what would convince you of X, asking theists to try convincing you of X could be tantamount to you asking them to dance while you fire bullets at their feet.

            However, the analogy fails in that the gun is really just firing blanks and the theist has to want to participate. His/her embarrassment is continued at his/her own initiative.

            A believer says, "Here is some evidence." I respond, "It is not sufficient." The believer replies, "You are wrong. It is sufficient."

            Dance, baby, dance! I'm fully aware of this pattern. Curiously enough, I never claimed to offer you any such evidence in this thread. You keep trying to bend the conversation in directions other than how this started; another is here:

            ds: Is that your problem? That I won't help you find a justification for your belief?

            That question gets it exactly wrong: you won't provide me standards for justification of your own belief. Either you are playing your cards close to your chest, or you don't have any cards. A consequence of this is that you do not [publicly] trace the boundaries of your ability to know (which is determined by your tools for knowing). There is this neat thing that happens when humans rigorously trace these boundaries: they learn how to transgress them. I've long tried to get you to do this publicly; you seem to be resisting with all your might. Maybe the problem is that if you provided non-ridiculous, remotely articulate standards for God ("any details" ⇏ "the exact conditions") to show up [to you] as God, he might do so?

          • But you do not in fact know that there is anything which would convince you.

            If it doesn’t exist, I cannot know that it does exist. And the mere assumption that it exists does not prove I can know it. If it were otherwise, then all true statements would be provable, and we know they’re not.

            You have absolutely and utterly no idea what would qualify as detecting God, other than the exercise of raw law-of-nature-violating power.

            That is how you’re interpreting my epistemology. I don’t share your obsession with power.

            when a scientist says his/her hypothesis predicts ¬X, I doubt [s]he would phrase that in terms of "¬X would be evidence with which I have not been confronted".

            I am not predicting anything. I am asserting as fact that I have not seen sufficient evidence for God’s having revealed anything to anybody. I am not asserting the nonexistence of such evidence or asserting that nobody could ever show me such evidence.

            But anyhow, you only have an epistemic obligation if you claim that you have arrived at your current position in a way sufficiently similar to what Karl Popper meant by 'science'—that is, a statement is scientific to the extent that you know what would falsify it.

            OK, I’ll confess now. I have no idea what would falsify the statement “I have not seen sufficient evidence.”

            If you do not know what would convince you of X, asking theists to try convincing you of X could be tantamount to you asking them to dance while you fire bullets at their feet.

            Who is asking whom to dance? You theists are the ones running our society. You even got the government to change our national motto from “e pluribus unum” to “In God we trust.”

            It looks to me like you’re doing the shooting and keep missing, and now you’re asking us to tell you how you could improve your aim.

            Curiously enough, I never claimed to offer you any such evidence in this thread.

            Right, but you claim by innuendo that you’d be wasting your time to offer any because we atheists are so pigheaded that we won’t accept any evidence no matter what. And, having made that innuendo, you demand that we prove it false.

            you won't provide me standards for justification of your own belief.

            I’m an atheist. As such, I have no belief to justify.

            Now, when a theist offers evidence for God’s existence, or revelation, or performance of a miracle, or whatever, if I then say, “That evidence is not sufficient,” then I have do have to justify that assertion. But not until the evidence is presented. We skeptics are not obliged to deal with hypothetical evidence, i.e. evidence that not even theists themselves claim to have actually seen.

            you do not [publicly] trace the boundaries of your ability to know (which is determined by your tools for knowing).

            The boundaries on my ability to know are the same ones constraining the epistemic abilities of all human beings. They are determined by the cognitive abilities with which natural selection endowed us.

            Maybe the problem is that if you provided non-ridiculous, remotely articulate standards for God … to show up [to you] as God, he might do so?

            I cannot prove that that is not the case.

          • If it doesn’t exist, I cannot know that it does exist.

            I suspect you can know if you've foreclosed the possibility of detecting it. Scientists are able to characterize the limits of detection of their instruments all the time. They're less good when considering their conceptual tools, but I will always remember Yu-Chong Tai teaching my class that so many equations taught to EEs assume thermodynamic equilibrium, making it exceedingly hard to think outside of thermodynamic equilibrium. And yet, such excellent devices like CCDs exist in that realm. And, you know, all of life.

            Now, why would you want to know if you've foreclosed this possibility? I mean, that could take a lot of work; perhaps it doesn't align with any of your purposes. I say the answer has to do with a claim of 1 John: one cannot love God and not love one's brother and sister. According to that logic, to know God is to understand the Creator of this creation, and that has implications for acting in creation. For example, I would argue that the problem we face in the 21st century is not a lack of power over nature and humans, but a lack of character in humans. And yet, you seem to have no idea how character can be improved, except to become more like some extant human's current conception of good character. Given Charles Taylor's observation—

            Much contemporary moral philosophy, particularly but not only in the English-speaking world, has given such a narrow focus to morality that some of the crucial connections I want to draw here are incomprehensible in its terms. This moral philosophy has tended to focus on what it is right to do rather than on what it is good to be, on defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of the good life; and it has no conceptual place left for a notion of the good as the object of our love or allegiance or, as Iris Murdoch portrayed it in her work, as the privileged focus of attention or will.[1] This philosophy has accredited a cramped and truncated view of morality in a narrow sense as well as of the whole range of issues involved in the attempt to live the best possible life and this not only among professional philosophers, but with a wider public. (Sources of the Self, 3)

            —I am not at all surprised! We've refused to theorize about our core, perhaps for fear of what we will find there. (see e.g. my recent excerpts to @martinzeichner:disqus) Maybe our incompetence in character-formation is a severe problem not just for detecting God as a person and not a force, but in our day-to-day lives as well as politics at all levels. And really, transcending ourselves is logically impossible if there is nobody to give us a hand up. Or are we going to trust 'Nature, red in tooth and claw' for new wisdom?

            LB: You have absolutely and utterly no idea what would qualify as detecting God, other than the exercise of raw law-of-nature-violating power. Or if you do know, you are being coy.

            ds: That is how you’re interpreting my epistemology. I don’t share your obsession with power.

            I did allow that you could be merely coy. And I'm obviously challenging you to present a better [non-apophatic] interpretation. As to 'obsession', would you clarify on whether you meant the derogatory connotation so often intended by that term? Assuming that you did not, might you consider whether an over-focus on 'rationality' and an under-focus on power might form part of the root of your inability to get others to take your ideas on how to change society seriously?

            ds: I don't need to know what I would have to experience to think I had gotten a revelation from God. If he is real, he knows what it would take and he can make it happen. Until it does happen, I have no epistemic obligation to explain any evidence with which I have not been confronted.

            LB: … But anyhow, you only have an epistemic obligation if you claim that you have arrived at your current position in a way sufficiently similar to what Karl Popper meant by 'science'—that is, a statement is scientific to the extent that you know what would falsify it. …

            ds: OK, I’ll confess now. I have no idea what would falsify the statement “I have not seen sufficient evidence.”

            I'm sorry, I was talking about your current position being falsified, with your current position being a positive statement of what you think exists, not a negative statement of what you have not been convinced exists. Were you to state your position scientifically—e.g. F = GmM/r^2—then a great number of phenomena very nearby what you've actually observed could falsify that position. F = GmM/r^2.001 would suffice. The vaguer you are, the harder it is to falsify your position. You, Doug, define vagueness when it comes to stating your own [positive] positions.

            Who is asking whom to dance? You theists are the ones running our society.

            I object to being classed with them; I believe I've pointed you to Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20 enough times that you should know better. As to your overall point, it is not actually true in academia, which is the best model for the current discussion venue. But if you want to switch to the political realm, I suggest considering whether you might need a robust positive alternative to theism to appear relevant; your apophatic style is pretty thin gruel.

            It looks to me like you’re doing the shooting and keep missing, and now you’re asking us to tell you how you could improve your aim.

            Can you cite a single example of me, Luke Breuer, doing this?

            LB: If you do not know what would convince you of X, it is possible that nothing could actually convince you of X. If you do not know what would convince you of X, asking theists to try convincing you of X could be tantamount to you asking them to dance while you fire bullets at their feet.

            ds: Right, but you claim by innuendo that you’d be wasting your time to offer any because we atheists are so pigheaded that we won’t accept any evidence no matter what.

            What you infer about 'innuendo' says more about you than me, Doug. I have long been trained, by talking to atheists [primarily] on the internet for probably over 30,000 hours now, to assume first that I am the one who is wrong/​incapable. Sadly, I suspect I have learned a higher standard of humility and self-questioning than most my atheist interlocutors—probably mostly by being the one with no social power. (The one with less social power has to care more about what is true than the one with more.) If I ever want to criticize what dominates the US news as 'Christianity', that'll be excellent training.

            And, having made that innuendo, you demand that we prove it false.

            Demand? No, I have said that your publicly stated viewpoint is entirely consistent with you being logically closed to anything convincing you. Either this is true, or it is false. You have not shown it to be false via the use of logic applied to [textual] evidence. Maybe there is more to your viewpoint which you refuse to state; all I can go off of is what you have explicitly stated. I have utterly no idea what would convince you that God exists as a person and not a force. Maybe that is my inability; I will let others judge. What I can say is that scientists articulate the standards for them being convinced.

            I’m an atheist. As such, I have no belief to justify.

            You believe nothing about reality? Because if you do, then you have a belief to justify. We can then ask how your understanding of reality could be expanded and what you would conclude from such expansions. If in fact God wants to expand our understanding of reality and him, then understanding what [for you] qualifies as a valid expansion would be quite relevant. If for example you think that you are as good as you can be in concept-land (we could all be better in behavior), then there are no valid expansions in that realm. This whole issue of expansion I have claimed is a bit tricky, as the bit on Fitch's paradox reveals. (I'll note that you declined to answer my question, "So, do you reject classical logic, (A), (B), (C'), (D), or do you think there's an error in Fitch's paradox?")

            We skeptics are not obliged to deal with hypothetical evidence …

            Scientists are obliged to deal with hypothetical evidence. So just admit you aren't being scientific in some domains of your life. Then you can rest in being dogmatic, just like us religious folk. :-)

            The boundaries on my ability to know are the same ones constraining the epistemic abilities of all human beings. They are determined by the cognitive abilities with which natural selection endowed us.

            That's a non-answer and you know it. If you haven't traced the boundaries of your abilities, then you will not know if God helps expand them. If we humans haven't traced the boundaries of our abilities but instead kept them vague, might we be telling false stories about what we could collectively do? (The more I dialogue with atheists, the more I find that theological matters have important empirical correlates, empirical correlates that seem to be suspiciously under-examined by people otherwise enthusiastic about science.)

            LB: Maybe the problem is that if you provided non-ridiculous, remotely articulate standards for God … to show up [to you] as God, he might do so?

            ds: I cannot prove that that is not the case.

            Very little can be proved in discussions such as these, so that's not a very helpful statement. The most promising bit along these lines was the discussion ending in "May I ask for some details?", in response to your "I have plenty of ideas for how to fix some aspects of our reality." But your next response vastly truncated the discussion.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "Hmm. So, if I say “I will believe in God if I see X,” but X would tell me nothing about God’s character, then I’m being ridiculous?."

            Short answer: yes.

            Long answer: If X has the potential to to tell me something about God's character but does not, then it this an example of side-stepping the issue of:

            "power—basically, breaking the laws of nature."

            not to mention breaking the laws of nature that God himself has decreed.

            "Whatever evidence there is for God’s existence either is or is not sufficient to convince me ..."

            False dichotomy. What about a person that is willing to suspend judgement?

            "...assuming I am willing and able to reason correctly."

            I'll buy that. But that might be a large assumption. Or rather, two large assumptions.

            "Lots of atheists are intellectual midgets, sure. And, maybe most of the atheists you have encountered have been of that category. Now, would you like hear what I would say about Christians in general if I were to judge them according to most of the conversations I have had with them?"

            Nobody likes to think of themselves as an intellectual midget. for instance, I am atheist and I don't think that I am an intellectual midget. I can easily be mistaken in the details, But then I can simply say "I stand corrected." and move on.

            Personally, I'd like to hear what you would say about those theists that are not intellectual midgets; the ones that are not swayed by your reasoning.

            "Actually, some of us do believe it. We remain few in number and we’re finding it next to impossible to find people who will pay any attention to us, but we do exist."

            I can't argue with any of that unless I want to claim that you don't exist. But, as I said to Luke Breuer in a different sub thread "Some people just like to argue".

          • "Whatever evidence there is for God’s existence either is or is not sufficient to convince me ..."

            False dichotomy. What about a person that is willing to suspend judgement?

            True dichotomy. If I suspend judgment, then I am not convinced.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "On what grounds do you judge the standards to be ridiculous?"

            Simply: on the grounds of the (circular) definition of the word 'ridiculous': To be worthy of ridicule.

            And by the way, why shouldn't one be able to judge any proposition on any grounds that makes sense to oneself? Because Jesus said "Judge not...?"

            People judge. That's what they do. the word 'judge' is a noun as well as a verb.

          • Martin Zeichner

            "...Well, God allowing child sacrifice (of any kind) to happen..."

            Either before or after the advent of Jesus.

            "You see, we tell ourselves all sorts of pretty stories about how good we are."

            Sometimes at the same time that we tell ourselves about how bad we are. Both bad-bad and good-bad.

          • Raymond

            "exposure to low-level pains can help a child learn how to avoid more intense pains"
            Exposure to low-level pain only helps a child learn how to avoid that low-level pain. Skinning your knees on the sidewalk doesn't tell a child anything about fire or cleaning agents. I have two grown sons and my wife and I strove to help our children avoid low-level and high-level pain.

            "if you give humans a standard which is too high, at least with little to no help to make baby steps toward it, the response is to not even try."
            Some Bible scholars suggest that there were 1500 years between Moses and Jesus, and Jesus himself suggests that Moses' allowing divorce remained in effect until He changed it. The concept of incremental stages (baby steps) doesn't seem to apply. And let's not even talk about slavery.

            And I have no idea what your last sentence is saying.

          • Exposure to low-level pain only helps a child learn how to avoid that low-level pain. Skinning your knees on the sidewalk doesn't tell a child anything about fire or cleaning agents.

            Ah, so a child cannot learn from skinning a knee when walking that falling off of a bike could be much worse? A child cannot learn from getting lightly burned by a match that a fire would be much worse? A child cannot learn from touching a frying pan that has been cooling for a while than it must have been much hotter when it was on the stove?

            I have two grown sons and my wife and I strove to help our children avoid low-level and high-level pain.

            I see. My parents trained me to deal with the real world and many of the pains it has to offer people who would resist slotting into the status quo. At let me tell you, society has many means at its disposal for doing this. But hey, maybe I'm just weird in thinking about how to build up pain tolerance and expectation, or maybe we should not resist the status quo.

            The concept of incremental stages (baby steps) doesn't seem to apply.

            "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." + Isaiah 58

            And let's not even talk about slavery.

            You obviously intended some implicit understanding of slavery to count as evidence in this discussion, so I'm going to ask you to either fully retract that sentence or explain what you mean. IIRC, Christianity was pretty successful at making slavery go obsolete in the first millennium. New World Slavery was an entirely different beast and obviously in violation of the slavery laws in the OT. (We could also reckon with Sublimis Deus.) We can go through the details, if you'd like. What I will maintain is that if Paul had provoked a Fourth Servile War, the Romans would undoubtedly have put it down like the first three. Any attack on slavery would have to be much more subtle, and that is precisely what the NT does.

            [OP]: We must also remember that what is morally evil for man may not be morally evil for God, since he alone is the Creator of all things and the Legislator of natural law as well as the just Judge of those who violate its ordinances.

            BGA: Why? We simply reject this as authoritarian and despotic in humans.

            LB: … For example, is it acceptable to give a temporary less-than-perfect law to humans who are so stubborn that if you gave them the perfect version up-front, they'd reject it out-of-hand?

            R: Based on the rest of the paragraph, I'm not sure of your position on this question. Moses certainly thought that a less-than-perfect law was acceptable when he allowed divorce. Is that your point? Not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good?

            LB: … I could also point out that children not infrequently see their parents as "authoritarian and despotic". Now, I do think there is a more adult way of admitting limitation and dependence than standard childish behavior, but I rarely see that from humans—theist or atheist.

            R: And I have no idea what your last sentence is saying.

            My penultimate sentence links directly to @briangreenadams:disqus' point; I've underlined the shared phrase. My last sentence claims that there are mature ways to deal with someone imposing rules or whatever on you when you don't [yet] understand the "why".

      • >If heaven is populated even in part by creatures who have sinned, repented, and been forgiven, then that past could be a crucial ingredient to there being no further sinning.

        Ok and is God not powerful enough to create them that way in the first place? Is God not powerful enough to create individuals who do not need this process?

        >On that reasoning, lack of perfect scientific knowledge means we have zero scientific knowledge.

        I don't understand how you got that from my comment.

        >If there are no limits on what we can say can be good for God to do, what you say would undoubtedly apply

        How is that not the case? If what is good is just what gods laws are and gods laws don't apply to himself, what limits are there?

        >Who actually believes this?

        People who believe in democracy.

        >If abortion were somehow to be made illegal everywhere, would that rule be considered "valid" by you?

        What do you mean by "valid"? A law isn't valid or not. It can be constitutional or not, it can violate international principles of human rights both of which are established on consent.

        I would say most abortion prohibitions violate these principles. The child separation was a policy not a law and I would say it was immoral not invalid.

        But what we're talking about here are immunity from the law for those who enact them. This is a violation of the fundamen democratic principle of the rule of law. Its what kings and autocrats get.

        • BGA: But we easily can, we know, on theism, it is possible that a state of affairs exist where conscious agents exist with the free will to commit evil but will never do so.

          LB: If heaven is populated even in part by creatures who have sinned, repented, and been forgiven, then that past could be a crucial ingredient to there being no further sinning.

          BGA: Ok and is God not powerful enough to create them that way in the first place? Is God not powerful enough to create individuals who do not need this process?

          I know of no argument saying that your suggestions are logically possible—that is, that God could get nearly as many of the good things he is pursuing without heaven being populated by at least some creatures who have [irreparably] sinned, repented, and been forgiven. You're also suggesting a reality where empirical evidence is not needed, which I find very odd given what I know about your beliefs.

          [OP]: that our finite minds cannot understand the inscrutable nature of God’s providential plans.

          BGA: So skeptical theism.

          LB: On that reasoning, lack of perfect scientific knowledge means we have zero scientific knowledge. …

          BGA: I don't understand how you got that from my comment.

          The Bible obviously gives us some insight into God's plans. Precisely that is said in Ephesians 3:1–6. If you're thinking of "his thoughts are higher than our thoughts", you need to read those verses in context: Isaiah 55:6–9. Partial understanding does not yield no knowledge and yet skeptical theism entails no knowledge.

          [OP]: We must also remember that what is morally evil for man may not be morally evil for God, since he alone is the Creator of all things and the Legislator of natural law as well as the just Judge of those who violate its ordinances.

          BGA: Why? We simply reject this as authoritarian and despotic in humans.

          LB: If there are no limits on what we can say can be good for God to do, what you say would undoubtedly apply. …

          BGA: How is that not the case? If what is good is just what gods laws are and gods laws don't apply to himself, what limits are there?

          Putting aside the divine command theory in your comment which is rather anti-Catholic, the limits are God's promises. In Genesis 15, YHWH riffs on the then-well-known Hittite Suzerainty Treaty; the point of cutting animals in half and then walking through them is to communicate: "If I don't fulfill my vows, let this be done to me." Shockingly, YHWH does not require Abraham to walk through the pieces. When does the more-powerful ever not extract from the less-powerful? Welcome to Judaism and Christianity.

          BGA: … laws and rules are valid only with the consent of the ruled …

          LB: Who actually believes this?

          BGA: People who believe in democracy.

          In lieu of an extended conversation that is wildly off-topic for the OP: lol.

          But what we're talking about here are immunity from the law for those who enact them. This is a violation of the fundamen democratic principle of the rule of law. Its what kings and autocrats get.

          When scientists come up with laws, are those the true, final laws of nature or are they laws which are sufficient approximations for certain purposes in certain domains? If the latter, then nature is not "bound" by the ceteris paribus laws. And yet, to say that nature has "immunity" from them distorts. God binds himself by his promises to humankind; the laws and rules he gives guide them to being a major part of the fulfillment of those promises. The laws and rules are very much like the approximate laws scientists discover. Without this understanding, the 2x "All things are lawful" Paul affirms would make no sense.

          • >I don't know where or how you come up with such a standard of 'justice', but it is not one I hold, nor anyone I know (even if they believe they do, it is fairly easy to demonstrate otherwise).

            What good things can only be achieved in this way?

            >the limits are God's promises.

            I still don't see why this means it is good for god to commit genocide but not people etc.

            >When does the more-powerful ever not extract from the less-powerful?

            In a fair and just society.

            >When scientists come up with laws,

            They don't, they identify patterns and some that are very robust are called laws. This is a different use of the term.

          • BC: I don't know where or how you come up with such a standard of 'justice', but it is not one I hold, nor anyone I know (even if they believe they do, it is fairly easy to demonstrate otherwise).

            BGA: What good things can only be achieved in this way?

            I am not @benchampagne:disqus.

            LB: the limits are God's promises.

            BGA: I still don't see why this means it is good for god to commit genocide but not people etc.

            Well, let's consider the account in Exodus. Egypt is the greatest power known to exist and the YHWH decimates it, killing its leader and striking a blow against its elite troops. The Israelites miraculously cross the Red Sea. Every nation to attack the Israelites en route to the Promised Land get utterly defeated. So this invincible force arrives at the doorstep of the Promised Land. Rahab in Jericho had heard of Israel's accomplishments and fear of the Israelites had spread. The first thing they do after crossing the Jordan is to circumcise all the males. This provides a multi-day opportunity to strike them. The instructions to the Israelites include more verbs meaning "drive out" than "destroy". The inhabitants of the Promised Land did things like burn their children alive as sacrifices to the gods. It is at this point that those who refused to evacuate from clearly delineated boundaries, after plenty of warning that an invincible force was headed (very slowly) their way, get destroyed.

            The above sounds rather different from … any other event characterized as "genocide". The Israelites were not war-mongering—the opposite, in fact. When the spies returned from the PL, the just-freed Israelite slaves refused to conquer it and had to wander the desert for 40 years for cowardly generation to die off. The PL peoples could easily have had 400 years to rectify their ways.

            But hey, let's hack at this one. ISIS surely represents a religion. The West ostensibly wishes to destroy it. Does it wish to commit genocide against ISIS? And how many children are we allowed to kill in the process?

            LB: When does the more-powerful ever not extract from the less-powerful?

            BGA: In a fair and just society.

            Would you show me one of those, please?

            LB: When scientists come up with laws, are those the true, final laws of nature or are they laws which are sufficient approximations for certain purposes in certain domains?

            BGA: They don't, they identify patterns and some that are very robust are called laws. This is a different use of the term.

            You mean, the term could mean "final laws" or "sufficient approximations"? See IEP: Laws of Nature § Laws of Nature vs. Laws of Science. You apparently just don't like that the rules and laws God ostensibly gave might be of the "sufficient approximations" type.

          • >Well, let's consider the account in Exodus. Egypt is the greatest power known to exist and the YHWH decimates it, killing its leader and striking a blow against its elite troops.

            And don't forget, kills every firstborn child in the region including Jewish ones that don't smear blood on their doorways. After preventing Pharoah from allowing them to leave.

            >The instructions to the Israelites include more verbs meaning "drive out" than "destroy".

            And "Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

            >The above sounds rather different from … any other event characterized as "genocide".

            No, its textbook genocide. What God told Saul to do to the Amalakite is the same justification used by the people who were captured on video apologizing to a baby before killing it because they thought the parents were Boko Haram. The same justification genocidaires always use.

            >Does it wish to commit genocide against [ISIS]. Some might, I do not. I do not want to destroy in whole or in part ISIS I just want them to stop committing crimes against humanity.

            >Would you show me one of those, please?

            Can't completely, but it's the principle here that matters. Are you saying it is just for God to extract from the weak? By which you surely mean exploit?

            >You apparently just don't like that the rules and laws God ostensibly gave might be of the "sufficient approximations" type.

            What are you talking about?this god has no need of approximations. It could tell us personally in every case what the good conduct would be without depriving us of free will.he can do anything .

            This isn't about science, about me or what humans do. Its about the massive suffering humans experience constantly, and why an god with the power to stop it doesn't. Does it not want it to stop, is it incapable? Is there a reason he doesn't? Do you know the reason?

          • Stephen Edwards

            @briangreenadams:disqus you said that God can do anything. But, no, God cannot commit injustice. So if in the scheme of things for God to reveal everything to us amounted to injustice, then God could not do that.

          • I don't think I said god can do anything. As I understand the classical theist view of omnipotence, it means the god can do anything that is not a logical contradiction. I understand this to mean he could cure a disease and prevent all injury, if he wanted to.

            That he does not is not because he lacks power but because he has some greater reason some greater good would be ruined.

            Is this your view? If so do you have any idea of why he doesn't.

            I can think of an explanation .

          • Stephen Edwards

            Right, but I was responding to where you said that God could reveal 'why' He doesn't heal people. I think that God could heal people and explain why He did or did not heal someone, but I think there is a justifiable reason as to why He does or doesn't do those things.

            Personally, I think that God balances the amount of miracles that He performs in the world because He cannot perform all possible miracles as that would be too overriding in control. So He decides to work a certain (perhaps arbitrary) number of miracles. This is complimented by my view that God did not perhaps decide what the laws of physics are. I know not all theists will agree with me here, but I think it is worth considering.

          • Ok so you think that it's just for some children to be cured but let most die? Why would it be controlling to cure diseases. We've cured many devastating diseases and prevented so much harm through safety measures. Do you feel this has deprived us of the freedom to learn and grow through having millions of us die?

            If god were to appear and say, I have cured all disease and no one will die or be seriously injured anymore, do you really think you would feel overwhelmingly controlled?Would you feel this was unfair and want all those deaths and dismemberment back?

            It just seems like there would be plenty of room for a fulfilling life?

          • Stephen Edwards

            I think children dying is unjust, but it may be unjust for God to intervene in the world to prevent all injustice and God cannot commit injustice.

            Also, I don't think that curing all diseases in and of itself is unjust. The argument I am making is that for God to miraculously intervene at all times could amount to injustice on God's part.

            This claim has to be considered in regards to the wider context of God's plan and freedom of creatures.

            It is possible that God has created a world where He has granted angels to help decide the laws of physics and it would be unjust for God to over ride that gift by always intervening to undo those laws whenever there is suffering. So, God draws the line (perhaps arbitrarily) and only intervenes at certain points over the course of the universe's history.

            Now, I can't prove that it is the case, but it is a reasonably possible suggestion and therefore can't be overlooked.

          • >but it may be unjust for God to intervene in the world to prevent all injustice and God cannot commit injustice.

            Can you conceive of any reason why this could be the case?

            >it would be unjust for God to over ride that gift by always intervening to undo those laws whenever there is suffering.

            I would say this is worse than telling the angels that the death and suffering of so many calls upon him to intervene.

            And there are miraculous cures according to Catholics so who cares what laws the angels composed?

          • Stephen Edwards

            In response to your first question, I attempt to answer that in the following part of my earlier response.

            I agree that there are miraculous cures, but that is why I said that God only intervenes some of the time (miracles) but not all the time (miracles all the time).

            Now, your objection is that God granting the angels the authority to help decide the laws of physics is worse than God overriding their decision. I agree that it might seem like that is true.

            However, perhaps in God's original plan He was going to allow the angels to help decide the laws of physics and grant them that freedom. So this is a part of God's free gift of sharing.

            Now, if God were to then override what the angels want, then God was not really be offering them the gift. The gift would be controlled by God.

            Yet, because God is all loving He does not give gifts that are controlled.

          • >I agree that there are miraculous cures, but that is why I said that God only intervenes some of the time (miracles) but not all the time (miracles all the time).

            Why? If I'm a doctor it would be abhorrent for me to say I only cure people sometimes. Why is god different? Why allow people to get sick in the first place.

            >Yet, because God is all loving He does not give gifts that are controlled.

            But why is this gift happening in the first place. you think it is better to delegate the laws of physics to angels than to prevent hundreds of millions of children dying, the millions more that die in disasters?

            How awful for the angels to know their creation was so imperfect as to result in such terrible suffering. Do they hear the desperate cries of parents screaming why god why?

            And god stands by while hundreds of thousands suffer and die. Thinking, ok this is bad but not as bad as if these angels didn't get to build the universe.

            The angels are thinking, no good it's worth it .

            Please.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I don't mean to intervene here on the question as to why the order of nature entails pain and suffering, since I have explained my position on this in several other places.

            But I do think that the role of miracles is often misunderstood.

            They are rare because their purpose does not appear primarily aimed at "fixing what went wrong with the laws of nature."

            Two examples of what I mean comes to mind:

            First, I think of Christ healing the paralytic. He first forgives him his sins. Then, knowing the nearby skeptics doubt he can do this spiritual miracle, he heals the paralyzed man, saying: "So that you can know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, I say to thee, 'Arise and walk.'" And so the miracle was performed.

            At Fatima, the Blessed Virgin told the children that on October 13, 1917, a miracle would be performed "so that all would believe." While the miracle was "lessened" by subsequent events, it still turned out to be the most public miracle of all history, witnessed by tens of thousands of people.

            The point is not the validity of the miracles themselves, but that it appears that miracles are worked primarily either to reward faith or to beget faith -- not so much to produce the physical or sensible event itself.

            If that is the case, then we can see why they would be relatively rare -- and not intended as a worldwide "solution" to the pain and suffering found in the physical world.

            Demanding that God work universal miracles appears to totally misread their actual purpose. Why he allows or even causes some physical evils remains a licit topic for discussion, but the issue of miracles looks rather beside the point to me.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I agree that it is possible to argue that miracles are only to strengthen faith, but doesn't it seem that people pray to God for healings for the sake of the person being healed? Also, doesn't it seem like out of God's love He would want to heal people?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Of course, they do and he does. But at Lourdes it is said there are 10,000 "miracles" of acceptance for every physical cure. So, the primary reason might be related to faith?

          • Sample1

            And it’s also a fact that there is a spurious correlation between cheese consumption and the number of people who have died by getting strangulated in their bedsheets. This correlation means nothing.

            Mike

          • Stephen Edwards

            What do you mean by 'miracles of acceptance'?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Those are the people who do not receive a physical cure, but gain the grace from being there to accept the will of God regarding their condition.

          • David Nickol

            Does anyone actually document how many people visit Lourdes, are not healed, and leave with grace-induced acceptance? Are there follow-ups a year or two later? Yes, there are "official" miracles documented at Lourdes (the count being 70 as of 2018), but unless there is some kind of data to go on, it is difficult to take too seriously "miracles" of acceptance.

            I would suppose there are at least some who go to Lourdes hoping for a cure who are bitterly disappointed not to be healed, but of course that is as much conjecture as "miracles" of acceptance.

            I remember as a Catholic school-kid attending Mass every weekday in the run-up to a local mayoral election that one of the candidates was in attendance every day, but when the election was held and he lost, he stopped attending. Of course, I would acknowledge from the Catholic point of view, he was probably attending Mass for the wrong reasons.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Did you notice that the word "miracle" was placed in quotes by me?

            The whole point of my comment was merely to show that most of the "healings" were in the psychological order or spiritual order, if you will. Obviously, those sorts of experiences are anecdotal and would never be verifiable by any empirical means as is claimed for genuine, medically and Church approved miracles.

          • David Nickol

            Did you notice that the word "miracle" was placed in quotes by me?

            Yes, I noticed. That is why I also put it in quotes when talking about "miracles" of acceptance.

            The whole point of my comment was merely to show that most of the "healings" were in the psychological order or spiritual order, if you will.

            And the point of my comment was to raise the question of whether there was any evidence at all to talk about "most of the 'healings'." I spent some time before I wrote it trying to find if there were any studies of the effects of visiting Lourdes in hopes of a cure and not receiving one, or merely visiting Lourdes purely as a pilgrimage. I thought there might be something more than purely anecdotal accounts, but I found nothing.

            I realize you are sometimes expressing purely personal beliefs, but I don't think you can blame atheists, agnostics, and skeptics for reacting to them when they are purely expressions of a faith we do not share—especially because the whole phenomenon of Lourdes, including the 70 approved miracles lies (to the best of my knowledge), in the realm of private revelation, which even Catholics are not obliged to affirm. You take it for granted that thousands of "miracles" of acceptance have occurred at Lourdes. I don't take it for granted that any miracles have occurred at Lourdes, although I certainly don't rule out the possibility that everything you believe may be true.

            I think it's great that you participate in the discussions of your own OPs. I wish more contributors had done a lot more along these lines in the past. But I don't think I am entirely paranoid to note at least a hint of disdain in the responses of you and the two or three others here who align themselves with you.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your comments about Lourdes are all largely on the mark, even though, of course, we likely would differ on our reading of the 70 approved miracles.

            However gently you put it, I am more concerned about your suspicion that some of us exhibit "disdain" in our responses. "Disdain" means "the feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one's consideration or respect."

            If you are correct, then we are in great hot water as Christians, since, if there is anything Christ demands of us it is that we show consideration and respect for all other human beings. And yet, I am reminded of the directness with which he addressed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whom he likened to whitened tombs! But then, we believe that he was God, and we are not!

            Nonetheless, there is always in true Christians a passion for the truth and for sharing truth when it is found. Unlike many people today whose only God is their belly, some of you atheists, agnostics, and skeptics on this thread argue strongly for your respective positions in a manner that deserves respect, since we are -- on both sides -- struggling to defend what we see as the truth.

            Moreover, I see that several of you are former Catholics, which makes me wonder exactly what event or discovery in each case moved you personally to cross that Rubicon from still thinking it all was true to thinking it all to be false -- just as unbelievers and even former believers cross that same Rubicon in the opposite direction from unbelief to belief in many cases. And while the evidence that motivates such a dramatic change of personal commitment is intellectual, the final decision to assent to that evidence is an act of the will.

            In your own comments, I am particularly impressed with the fact that you really appear to know in great detail many of the genuine theological and philosophical doctrines and insights of the Catholic faith -- which in a way makes me all the more intrigued as to exactly what may have motivated you to leave it. I have no right to know that nor do I ask it of you, but your extensive and seemingly correct knowledge of the details of the Faith is very evident.

            In any case, we should agree that there is a single truth to be served. (I don't mean, of course, a single truth in the sense of just one of them, but that reality is one and the same objectively for all of us and it is a matter of conforming our belief systems to that reality.)

            If, in presenting that conviction, I appear to disdain those of you who do not share it, that is my fault -- not the fault of the truths I would hope to share with you. Catholic apologists constantly remind themselves of the grave moral responsibility not to win an argument and, in the process, to lose a soul.

          • OMG

            From one malaligned to another misaligned: Romans 5:3-5

          • Rob Abney

            Of course that’s the wrong reason, grade school kids can’t even vote.

          • OMG

            There are myriad reasons why the mayoral candidate was not seen at Mass, none of them Catholic per se. Maybe the candidate died or became physically incapable of attending Mass. Perhaps he needed to care for an ailing family member. His car stopped working?, he started a new job which began at an earlier hour?, he moved away, conceivably attending Mass at a different hour or in a different church. Again, he could have been at Mass but the schoolchildren didn't see him. Perhaps he joined the choir. Situated in the loft, he may not have been noticed by minds or eyes not raised in his direction. Let's pick some cherries and spit out the pits.

          • David Nickol

            Ha!

            Remember, though, that I am old enough so that, in Catholic schools at least, the idea of social promotion at the time was either unheard of or anathema. To the best of my knowledge, the voting age being 21, there were no voters in my grade school classes. There was, however, at least one fellow eight-grader rumored to be old enough to have a driver's license.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I can top that. When I was in first grade, some poor kid was actually sixteen years old! I remember he was so huge that he could not fit in the tiny desks and drank two half pints of milk at lunch instead of the one we had. It was so long ago that not only was there no social promotion, there was no promotion at all if you did not pass the grade! I fear they kept him in the first grade until he reached the legal age not to have to attend school any more. If you ask why he was not stuck in kindergarten instead, the answer is that when I started school, it was so long ago that there was no kindergarten, much less pre-school!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I wish some of you would take another look at the OP and notice that the word, "miracles," appears only once and as a taunting question against God, if anything.

            In no way is it mentioned as having anything whatever to do with a solution to the problem of evil.

            Talk about a red herring!

          • David Nickol

            I wish some of you would take another look at the OP and notice that the word, "miracles," appears only once . . . . Talk about a red herring!

            I was not responding to the OP. I was responding to what you said to Stephen Edwards. By my count, miracles are discussed in the seven comments immediately preceding mine.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are right. It sneaked in some comments back.

            I shall not repeat the word, so as not to perpetuate its intrusion! ;-)

          • This isn't about miracles it's about why god let's children and others die of disease and natural disaster when he can avoid it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Where on earth did you get the impression that I ever even hinted that the solution to the problem of pain and suffering had anything whatever to do with miracles?

            Did you actually read the last paragraph of my comment to which you are replying?

          • Like I said, it isn't about miracles, it's about why god allows all this death and suffering if he'd rather we not experience all this pain .

          • Dennis Bonnette

            And the explanation for your concerns is in the OP.

          • Stephen Edwards

            Some of the angels turned evil and so they purposely desired bad laws. It is like the book of Job, where it is the adversarial angel who causes Job to suffer through physical calamities. God did not take away the angels' gift of having authority to decide the laws though because He was already giving it to them as a gift. He also isn't going to control the outcome of their decision either because then it wouldn't be a gift. So, then this leads to God only working so many miracles of healing etc., because otherwise He would be overriding the laws that the angels put in place.

          • >Some of the angels turned evil and so they purposely desired bad laws.

            Knowing this would happen, it makes no sense that this God would delegate such an important task to angels.

            You still haven't explained how it could ever make sense that a loving God would knowingly give up control of the laws of nature to these agents, knowing they'd create a world with flesh eating disease and black death.

          • Stephen Edwards

            Perhaps God being all-loving, cannot deny gifts that He was already going to give, just because creatures will misuse those gifts.

          • That makes no sense. You've presented a counter I'm not unfamiliar with, that God cannot break his word in gifting, rir delegating aspects of crration to other beings and to interfere now is not open to god as he'd be breaking his word.

            I'm this view god decided to allow all pain and suffering from natural forces because this gift of creation to angels was worth itin his view.

            I've pointed out that not making this gift but instead designing nature himself as to not plaguing his creation with such devastating suffering, would much more be the conduct of a deity that was all loving.

            I guess you just don't agree?

          • Stephen Edwards

            Perhaps it is intrinsic to the angelic nature to have an influence over the laws of physics because this is the closest creatures could come to partaking of creating like God Himself and God cannot justifiably deny creatures from partaking of His nature and as much as possible, since He is all love.

            *Note this was edited

          • OMG

            The little book, "Why Does God Permit Evil" by Dom Bruno Webb, Sophia Institute Press, contains a chapter on the work of angels in carrying out or hindering God's design. Deriving his ideas from Aquinas, Dom Bruno's interest is more on how evil functions rather its metaphysics, nature, or origin. He focuses on the Mystical Body's confrontation with evil more than he focuses on an individual person's encounter. His chapter on angels is decent. He attempts an explanation of their innumerable plentitude--more than the grains of sand on earth or drops of water in the ocean. He discusses angelic roles in the dis/order of physical nature. He talks of man as the summit of creation. He discusses how suffering of sentient beasts differs from that of reflecting and reasoning creatures with intellect. Good reading.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I was actually reading about that book recently. Does he explain how/why angels disorder creation?

          • OMG

            Yes, the book explains how some angels have disordered our physical universe. He (being a Dom) defines sin: the willful rejection of God, the …"an attempt to annihilate God,...an outrage against the infinite sanctity and goodness of God." He ascribes all other evils flowing eventually from sin, beginning with its first instance (from Revelation) by Lucifer. Following Aquinas, he describes a hierarchical order of angels, each one specifically being gifted with a proportionate share of God's knowledge and ability to carry out His plan of a perfectly ordered universe. Angels are defined as being the instrumental causes of the activity of primordial matter.

            As free intelligent spiritual creatures, angels cannot of course be seen, but the effects of the willful decision of each to carry out--to obey God's will or plan for the universe--continue. Disorder in the material world manifests how well God's plan has been honored or rejected. Scripture speaks of our war against principalities and powers since the ability of God's intelligent creatures to wreak havoc on God's material creation continues until God stops it in time.

            I hope I've reported this fairly and accurately. Any mistakes or lack of logic are probably mine. I hope your reading of the book is useful. There is a fairly good review on Amazon, along with one which I consider hideous and another which faults Dom for mentioning evolution as some sort of change over time!

          • David Nickol

            Yes, the book explains how some angels have disordered our physical universe.

            Would you classify this as "Catholic teaching"? That is, would you say something like, "The Catholic Church teaches that some angels have disordered our physical universe"?

          • OMG

            As I have written, "Any mistakes or lack of logic are probably mine." I am a lay student of theology, so some may consider my language to suffer a lack of precision. My words may not earn a Catholic imprimatur or "nil obstat." A copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is available online and contains many entries under the subject "angels." I recommend you start there for the official teaching. And please accept my apology if my words have confused or mislead you. If such confusion is a source of suffering, may you find some good as a result!

            The book so referenced does contain a "nil obstat" and "imprimatur" by persons certified to state so.

            Wishing you sincerely the best in your quests and endeavors.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I suspect we all know that this speculation about the impact of angels on the created order is not part of either the ordinary or extraordinary Magisterium.

          • David Nickol

            A copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is available online and contains many entries under the subject "angels." I recommend you start there for the official teaching.

            Before I raised my question above, I read the Catechism section on angels and skimmed the entry on angels in the old (1912) Catholic Encyclopedia. I didn't find there, nor have I ever previously encountered, any hint that angels aided in the creation of the physical world or even that the rebellion of some angels had an effect on the physical world.

            As I was typing this, Dr. Bonnette's response ( "not part of either the ordinary or extraordinary Magisterium") appeared. What I find troubling about the idea here is, first, that it is pure speculation and therefore seems out of place in a forum where apologists try to convince skeptics. Second, it seems to be an attempt to let God partially off the hook for flaws in creation.

          • OMG

            I don't see anything anywhere in the rules for discussion that one speculation is prohibited. Indeed, one could classify much of Aquinas' teaching as disputation; not everything he said is "Gospel" or Magisterial truth. Further, the church does allow for permissible belief...another example-- Veronica's wiping the face of Jesus. No scriptural or actual evidence supports any such event, yet the idea of helping Jesus in his passion is permissible in devotion. I was not trying to convince any skeptic; rather, this book review was addressed to a fellow Catholic, I believe. It was not addressed to you. So my apology if you took it as directed to you.

          • David Nickol

            So my apology if you took it as directed to you.

            This is an open forum, so all of us who participate are free to express our ideas about anything in the OP or anything another commenter says. If I respond more often to your comments or those of a few others, it is because I find them worth reading and discussing (even though I may disagree quite often).

            There is a story I ran across once (and have never been able to relocate—so this is from memory) about a village where a rabbi and the village atheist got together every day (except the Sabbath, presumably) to argue about the existence of God. After years and years, the rabbi's wife finally lost her patience and cried, "Why do you go on and on? It's pointless! You're never going to convince one another! Enough! Put an end to all of this!" Both the rabbi and the atheist turned on the woman and began to argue with her, because although they did not agree with each other, they agreed that what they were arguing about was important.

            So it seems to me that the people who argue here, although they may be on different "sides," have something very important in common. They (we) believe that questions about God (or no God), morality, and the meaning of existence are all worth thinking about and even arguing about. I think there are a great many who self-identify as Christian who take many of these issues for granted and are more or less indifferent (or maybe "lukewarm").

            So in one important sense, it seems to me that almost everyone I can think of who writes here now or has written here in the past (and I have been around for many, many years) is or has been, in one sense, on the same "side," even though many of us have those we routinely disagree with. We think discussing the ultimate questions—we think truth—is very important. So don't be distressed if I challenge you, and I won't be distressed if you challenge me, even if Dr. Bonnette continues to upvote all of your messages. :p

          • Dennis Bonnette

            In the OP, this is, I think, my only reference to the possible role of angels in the introduction of evil to creation:

            "If evil’s existence before man’s coming be objected, one must then consider the possibility that God created other free beings, such as angels, prior to human creation, and those free beings introduced evil into the world."

            When the claim of the skeptic is that the existence of evil proves that an all-good God is impossible, it is logically licit to raise any speculative possibility that avoids that inference.

            Thus, in this instance speculation has a proper role to play.

            Besides, for exactly the same reason, it is also the proper role of philosophy to raise any possibility that lets God "off the hook for the flaws in creation."

            I am not personally that fond of the angelic explanation, but that does not demonstrate that it cannot work somehow.

            All that apologists need do in this case of the "problem of evil" is to convince skeptics that God might not be incompatible with the real evil we find in creation. In this case, it is the task of the skeptics to demonstrate that the existence of evil in the world necessarily implies the non-existence of an all-good God.

          • David Nickol

            When the claim of the skeptic is that the existence of evil proves that an all-good God is impossible, it is logically licit to raise any speculative possibility that avoids that inference.

            Just for the record, it is not my position that the existence of evil proves that an all-good God is impossible. I am not an atheist.

            I am not personally that fond of the angelic explanation, but that does not demonstrate that it cannot work somehow.

            I am not an atheist, but the "angelic explanation" certainly cannot work where atheists are concerned. No atheist is going to accept the argument that something is not the fault of God, but of his angels!

            To the extent that I understand the OP, the "angelic explanation" adds nothing to it, anyway, does it? It seems to me it actually weakens the theists' position, at least where atheists and other nonbelievers or doubters are concerned. As I have said previously, it seems to be a case of pure speculation aimed at finding ways to relieve God of responsibility. What other motivation is there to propose such a theory?

            There is not a hint of angelic participation in creation in Scripture, and indeed, "God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day" (Genesis 1:31). It doesn't say God found that what he had made was very good, but the part he delegated to the angels was flawed.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            First, don't ask me what Genesis precisely means on most things, since i read much of it as figurative. And the part I am most interested in and don't read as figurative doesn't deal with any angels except one fallen one who didn't exactly look the part.

            And I said I was not totally enamored with the idea of God, as it were, assigning the fallen angels to design the world somehow -- since then it would be pretty hard not to say God was responsible for their bad architecture.

            Yet, we must remember that, just like humans, angels have their own direct powers to do things. Based on private reports of demonic activities in this world, it appears that they can actually move things physically.

            This raises the possibility that they might have caused some mayhem in the early physical organization of this world without God's approval. And, just like having a small section of a symphony orchestra playing off key can eventually get the entire ensemble playing badly, perhaps some nasty angels tilted the entire organizational process of the cosmos in a direction not in keeping with God's original intention -- thereby introducing forms of evil we see today.

            Is that really all that different a concept than that of original sin and its impact of all of Adam's descendants?

            I am not arguing that this scenario must have taken place. And, certainly, my OP does NOT depend on any such story being true.

            But, as I said in the previous comment, it is not the burden of proof for the theist to show exactly how God's goodness is compatible with evil in the world. All the theist need do is raise some coherent possible scenarios for compatibility in order to defend the goodness of God in the face of evil in the world.

            Edit addendum: I guess we should always remember that the moment God makes creatures with free wills -- be they purely spiritual form or human beings -- its hell to pay.

          • OMG

            Good morning, DN,
            Good morning, DN,

            Regarding open minds and open forums: I agree that "...angels [have not] aided in the creation of the physical world." My post reviewed DBW defining angels functioning as "instrumental causes of the activity of primordial matter." Instrumental activity connotes movement or influence on something already in existence. Devising, planning, arranging or creating is a formal, different 'matter' (pun intended).

            OTOH, as I assume you surmise, I accept the idea of angels as perfectly reasonable exegetical beings. I find it intellectually appealing and satisfying that a first cause (call him “G”) would create an innumerable plenitude of spiritual beings endowed with will and proportionate shares of intellect—hence, ability to instrumentally operate in the physical creation. Why? Man analogically corresponds to an angel. How? We are free with will, to choose. We are gifted with reason. We are spiritual. We differ from angels only in that we are material. It is that very physical material ‘stuff’ that opens us (mankind) to influence by creatures given instrumental power to activate or to influence, the material physical stuff in the universe. So revelation teaches. In Scripture, angels communicate and influence man who is part of the physical material world. Man has will to choose to listen and/or to be moved or influenced for good or for ill. Do you deny that there is disorder in the physical world? It seems that everyone acknowledges suffering (or evil). How do you explain it?

            I don’t give a hoot whether you know or quote Magister. But I would be curious to find someone, anyone, work their way free of DB’s conundrum. Care to try? Perhaps DB will gift you with an entirely whole oodle of upvotes. Maybe even an invite to write your very own OP.

            Best,

          • David Nickol

            Best

            Really? Maybe I am paranoid, but this sounds kinda hostile, or snarky, or something.

            I don’t give a hoot whether you know or quote Magister.

            Sandro Magister? Or did you mean "the Magisterium"? It seems to me the Magisterium is tremendously important for Catholics.

          • OMG

            "Best" reflects my lazy, interrupted, hurried writing; the redundant greeting is also weird, right? Best = abbreviated "Best regards." From Urban Dictionary, Meaning No. 2: An email signature indicative of a laziness too pervasive to finish what one started (by simply adding the word 'regards' followed by a comma)." I literally first learned of its it use by a professor who taught me to write. Duh!

            Magister is short for any teacher or educator and could include the Catholic Magisterium which is important to me, but I would not expect you to see the same value as I. Is it important to you?

          • David Nickol

            I apologize for not being clearer. I am familiar with the use of best as a complimentary close. What I was questioning was whether best, or best regards, or best wishes was appropriate given what I perceived (imagined?) to be the negative tone of what came before.

            We seem to have got off on the wrong foot. I propose a cooling-off period of a week or so in which I do not attempt to engage you, and you perhaps will wish not to engage me.

          • Rob Abney

            angels communicate and influence man who is part of the physical material world. Man has will to choose to listen and/or to be moved or influenced for good or for ill.

            I agree that angels can influence man, but it must be through his intellect and will, not materially. Which is why I question the premise that the angels caused the laws of nature to change, the laws of nature do not have a spiritual dimension to influence.

          • OMG

            Derived from Dom Bruno Webb: No, I don't think the laws of nature that we observe and measure are changed. Rather, we aren't given to know God's ideal perfect universe. Not yet here on earth. For example, God's original plan was for Adam and Eve to be with him in Eden forever. Perhaps it was the original plan that all Eden's trees were to grow only good fruit. The knowledge and power to carry that out was granted to certain angel/s. Yet there grew in Eden a different type of tree. Its fruit looked good to eat and a certain angel advertised its ability to "make you like god" despite God's words to the contrary.

            Regarding man, it is as you say. Through intellect and will, man may be corrupted. However, it was the fact of man's material substance which incited some angels. How on earth could dirty pieces of dust and water warrant eternal life with God?

            It didn't stop there either. After the fall, those gritty dirty creatures could share and become the body of the Son who sits at the right hand of the Father. So what really set some angels off and against all nature? Dust. Becoming. One with God.

          • David Nickol

            The pastor of our church (when I was in elementary school and high school) was fond of telling stories about a priest he called the Curé of Ars, perhaps better known as St. John Vianney, who allegedly had numerous encounters with demons, some of them physical. Padre Pio (Saint Pio of Pietrelcina) told of being physically assaulted by the devil. The Exorcist (book and movie) was based on an actual alleged case of possession.

            Added Later: I hope you are correct, though.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            No, you are correct. Angels and devils can directly affect physical entities, which is precisely how they move our intellects, and indirectly our wills, by effecting the formation of sense images which move us to act. They can produce preternatural effects which people sometimes mistakenly confuse with supernatural effects from God.

          • Rob Abney

            I might have overstated my objection to material influence although I can't really understand how it would work.

            I once heard that St. John Vianney was not "too intellectual", so his fellow seminarians passed around a petition stating all the reasons that he shouldn't be ordained, the last one to sign it was John Vianney himself!

          • OMG

            Aquinas' "On Evil" can be found online for free (for a 1-month trial) at https://www.scribd.com/document/345072343/malo-pdf. Once the reader grips the metaphysics, the discussion of how angels influence man and other material is interesting. (The bulk of the book is on capital sins--my motive for ploughing through.) Basically, angels use both external and internal means to persuade man. It is posited that angels may cause movement of 'vapors and fluids' which then lead to certain sense perceptions which then persuade.

            The dumb ox (-ymoron) also discusses how angels, through their superior intellect, may act upon man's understanding: "But the devil, although he could by the ordination of his nature persuade human beings of things by enlightening their intellect as good angels do, does not do this....because the more an intellect is enlightened, the more it can guard itself against the deceptions that the devil intends." (Question III, Fourth Article, Answer).

          • LB: The above sounds rather different from … any other event characterized as "genocide".

            BGA: No, its textbook genocide.

            Can you point me to a single other time in history when an invincible force was bent on conquering a strictly defined set of land, and upon initial entrance to that land, performs a medical procedure on all its males which incapacitates them for multiple days?

            What God told Saul to do to the Amalakite is the same justification used by the people who were captured on video apologizing to a baby before killing it because they thought the parents were Boko Haram.

            Actually, the OT was almost certainly focused on culture destruction, where the culture targeted was hell-bent on raping, murdering, and pillaging the stragglers of a migrating people as well as the outlying villages of the then-settled people. It's the same thing you want to do to ISIS—destroy the culture which is intent on harming people. And yes, preventing the culture from carrying out what it considers its essence is to destroy it.

            [OP]: We must also remember that what is morally evil for man may not be morally evil for God, since he alone is the Creator of all things and the Legislator of natural law as well as the just Judge of those who violate its ordinances.

            BGA: Why? We simply reject this as authoritarian and despotic in humans.

            LB: If there are no limits on what we can say can be good for God to do, what you say would undoubtedly apply. …

            BGA: How is that not the case? If what is good is just what gods laws are and gods laws don't apply to himself, what limits are there?

            LB: Putting aside the divine command theory in your comment which is rather anti-Catholic, the limits are God's promises. In Genesis 15, YHWH riffs on the then-well-known Hittite Suzerainty Treaty; the point of cutting animals in half and then walking through them is to communicate: "If I don't fulfill my vows, let this be done to me." Shockingly, YHWH does not require Abraham to walk through the pieces. When does the more-powerful ever not extract from the less-powerful? Welcome to Judaism and Christianity.

            BGA: In a fair and just society.

            LB: Would you show me one of those, please?

            BGA: Can't completely, but it's the principle here that matters. Are you saying it is just for God to extract from the weak? By which you surely mean exploit?

            By what empirical evidence and logic did you arrive at that principle as something which is possible for humans to attain? (If impossible, then the principle will become like Hammurabi's Code probably was: an advertisement of how righteous we are when in fact we aren't. Too bad for the losers.) As to your two questions, you seem to have utterly lost the context and so I have included it; see in particular the underlined and surrounding.

            What are you talking about?this god has no need of approximations. It could tell us personally in every case what the good conduct would be without depriving us of free will.he can do anything .

            My own experience with humans is if you give them too high a standard without providing a way to approach it via successive approximations, they don't try. Is your own experience different? As to God being able to do anything, I think he either cannot create square circles, or would not because contradiction/​incoherence is bad for intelligibility. You clearly care about lack of contradiction; your very argument is predicated upon contradiction being a bad thing.

            This isn't about science, about me or what humans do. Its about the massive suffering humans experience constantly, and why an god with the power to stop it doesn't. Does it not want it to stop, is it incapable? Is there a reason he doesn't? Do you know the reason?

            What I am most confident in is that there is a fantastic amount that humans could do, if only they were: (i) willing to admit their own faults and limitations more fully; (ii) more motivated by suffering of those not like them. I am also under the impression that those who have more of a theodicy-like problem with evil are those in better situations. It is almost like a collective guilt that we have for not doing more when we clearly could, which we project upon God in order to absolve ourselves.

            The above is only a partial answer; it doesn't immediately address all the pain and suffering the dinosaurs experienced when they got wiped out. But science doesn't begin by accounting for everything at once. You start where you have the most understanding and ability, act there, and then iterate. It is here where I've seen atheists fail most catastrophically: they just won't seem to admit the true character of human nature and social nature. The common result is that the atheist is not asked to step it up—it's always the Other who is at fault and the Other who must repent and/or work harder. This is not the way of the Judaism or Christianity I see in the Bible and the best interpretations thereof. More is asked of those who are or think they are better. I have never seen an atheist advocate anything like what Jesus did in Mt 20:20–28. Why is that?

          • OMG

            Kudos for: "What I am most confident in is that there is a fantastic amount that humans could do, if only they were: (i) willing to admit their own faults and limitations more fully; (ii) more motivated by suffering of those not like them. I am also under the impression that those who have more of a theodicy-like problem with evil are those in better situations. It is almost like a collective guilt that we have for not doing more when we clearly could, which we project upon God in order to absolve ourselves."

            There is a disowning of one's membership in and obligations to the Body of Christ (presuming first the grace of Baptism).

            Your "Other" recalled a chapter of the book, "What We Can't Not Know." Expressions of unacknowledged guilt the author terms "The Furies."

            My tongue's been kept in cheeky check, or so I hope. God bless our mess.

          • Thanks, although I meant that bit I quoted to apply to non-Christians as well! I think it's worth asking, in a completely secular setting, why we don't help those in need more effectively and why we don't seem to care enough to improve. That discussion could turn religious if it turns out one must desire something sufficiently excellent that maybe only God could provide it (maybe God is it), and must trust God to persist good actions which would otherwise seem to be swallowed up by noise or evil. Maybe our attempting to "complete" creation without any further input from God was designed to fail.

            Thanks for the book suggestion; an AZ review says that Budziszewski speaks highly of C.S. Lewis' Abolition of Man, which really piqued my attention. The title What We Can't Not Know also reminds me of that suppression of the truth Paul talks about in Romans 1. I have requested the book from my interlibrary loan system!

          • OMG

            Of course. We ALL fall short. The original sin doctrine applies to ALL nature, so we all fall short of what we could be. We all carry guilt, fault, and wounds inflicted by others and those we inflict upon ourselves. It's so easy to blame the Other. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed Eve. Cain blamed Abel. The serpent, too, faulted God for not making him greater. Ad infinitum, ad aeternum. Until the end of the world, of course.

          • OMG

            Luke - I tried to keep my tongue in check! Of course there is a lot of blame placed upon the Catholic faith and upon individual people who profess that it. I find it very interesting that the (non) God rarely seems to carry any blame...

    • Jim the Scott

      A good description of utilitarianism.

      Forgive me Brian but I don't see how it is utilitarianism? I am skeptical we have the same definitions in common. As I noticed a few months ago you seemed to confuse Monophysite heresy with the doctrine of the incarnation.

      But we easily can, we know, on theism, it is possible that a state of affairs exist where conscious agents exist with the free will to commit evil but will never do so. God has chosen not to create this world but one in which people can and do commit atrocities and must be damned for it.

      Well putting your seemingly monophysite views of the incarnation aside this statement if your is in fact 100% correct based on what I have learned on this subject(have you been secretly reading Brian Davies?). God could have created such a world. Indeed any world God creates He could have always made a better one(there is no such thing as the "best of all possible worlds") but of course He is not obligated to make any particular world in the first place since even thought God can be said to be the moral law itself God is not a moral agent unequivocally comparable to a human moral agent. The " evidential problem of evil" presupposes a God who is a moral agent. Also for purposes of brevity I am going to use the phrase "God is not a moral agent" as shorthand for "God is not a moral agent unequivocally comparable to a human moral agent".

      Why? We simply reject this as authoritarian and despotic in humans. It seems the only excuse here is because it's god it can't be immoral, everything from torture, summary execution infanticide to genocide is good if god God says so there is no standard it's whatever god does?

      That is the positivism Dr. B brought up. The nominalist view God could command people to hate him and or send the just to Hell and the wicked to heaven. The divine command theory. It is not comparable to an essentialist view.

      This is an unreasonable burden of proving a negative. If there is a good reason why god dies not heal the children of good Catholic parents who are begging him, tell us. Admit that this seems gratuitous.

      No it is perfectly reasonable given the Apophatic theology on which classic theism is based. The Catholic God is a classic theistic God and Dr. B is a classic Theist. It would help you understand him better if you read him threw that lens.

      • >The " evidential problem of evil" presupposes a God who is a moral agent.

        It presupposes a God who would not want gratuitous suffering to occur to humans. A god who is loving and would prevent or save humans from pain and suffering unless there was a good reason not to. If that isn't the God you believe exists this argument is inapplicable.

        I don't think it is ever fair to say prove a negative or accept my claim. P

        • Jim the Scott

          No what I said was correct. It presupposes a theistic personalist "god" who has an obligation to a Higher Law then Himself that compels him to behave a certain way(i.e. being a moral agent) such as to stop other material agents from expanding their own perfection at the expense of others and or immediately stop created moral agents from abusing their free will at the expense of others. God has no such compulsion nor by nature such an obligation. All of God's good actions toward His creatures are by definition gratuitous not obligatory. Because of His ultimate metaphysical and ontological goodness God will not let evil become the worst and will in time impose justice (in this life or the next) but God has no obligation to stop any evil happening to his creatures right now.
          By definition all your objections presuppose a "god" who is a moral agent and God by nature cannot coherently be one anymore then He can make 2+2=5. It is perfectly fair to demand the atheist prove a negative in this case since the burden of proof is always on the accuser. That you have sour grapes because you all but admit you can't meet the burden of proof is hardly our problem now is it?;-)

          If that isn't the God you believe exists this argument is inapplicable.

          Well it is a Catholic board and the Catholic God is what we are talking about. Who cares about some false theistic personalist "god"? Not I.
          Cheers man.

          • Whatever, let's deal with the premise I proposed then. Do you have a view about whether the God you believe in is for, against, or neutral to gratuitous human suffering?

            >By definition all your objections presuppose a "god" who is a moral agent

            It actually doesn't presuppose this it states it as a premise that the god is maximally good, that he is loving and he would prevent humans suffering unless there was a good reason to abstain.

            I find it pretty wild that you can't answer this. I think there could be an argument that this God desires human suffering. This certainly was the view of some Catholics in the medieval period.

          • Jim the Scott

            Whatever, let's deal with the premise I proposed then. Do you have a view about whether the God you believe in is for, against, or neutral to gratuitous human suffering?

            This assumes without argument or proof all human suffering is gratuitous and I have no reason to believe this or disbelieve it. God is for our salvation and ultimate happiness since He gives sufficient grace (which by definition is somehow truly sufficient so that salvation is a real possibility for anyone who receives it) to all rational creatures to be saved. Ultimately it does not matter if you obtain this happiness because you are a baby who died five minutes after being baptized or St. Francis after a lifetime of self mortification and embracing the Cross. On one level it is the same on another St. Francis was more fortunate. That is the paradox.

            It actually doesn't presuppose this it states it as a premise that the god is maximally good, that he is loving and he would prevent humans suffering unless there was a good reason to abstain.

            Only a "god" who is a moral agent can be that way who by nature is nothing more then an anthropomorphic "deity" that is just a human being with unequivocal human motivations only more Uber. Also this presupposes God has emotions and God by definition has no emotions. God's love for us is to will our Good and God has already willed our ultimate Good by winning grace for us and giving sufficient grace to us to be saved.

            I find it pretty wild that you can't answer this. I think there could be an argument that this God desires human suffering. This certainly was the view of some Catholics in the medieval period.

            I find it interesting to this day you still have this strong anthropomorphic view of deity that really has nothing to do with the God of the Catholics in the first place. I can't answer this because it is a non-starter and it can't coherently be applied to God. Also I am curious as to what medieval Catholics you are misreading to come up with this odd view? God is not obligated to keep us from short term suffering but God has in His gratuitous benevolence made a way for believers to use suffering for spiritual benefit by carrying their cross.
            OTOH one "problem of evil" that cannot in principle ever be answered is the "mystery of evil". That is why does God allow any particular evil to come to pass? Why this evil is allowed to happen to this person and not that one? That I don't think can be answered in principle anymore then "Why did God make the sky blue and not purple?" could be answered. It is an epistemological brute fact. There is likely a reason but we will never figure it out. So we cannot know why God allows any particular evils in any circumstances.

          • OMG

            By nature, men (and angels) differ in the order and magnitude of talents and gifts. Could we explain the mystery of evil along these same lines? Some theology attempts to explain that each person's cross (evil experienced, suffering allowed to visit) is fitted perfectly and individually. I couldn't cope with your cross; you wouldn't cope with mine. Could we look at the evil of mystery as a type of justice? As you say, we cannot know why, but I can tell you that my crosses have been perfectly fitted to me and are truly my just dessert. Brute knowledge is very, very good.

          • wow, terribly short step from this thinking to everything from the prosperity gospel to excusing the very worst human horrors and suffering.

          • OMG

            I really do not understand exactly what you're saying here. If you could please rephrase or tell me more detail, perhaps that would help.

          • OMG

            I'm guessing. Is it "brute knowledge" of the existence of "the very worst human horror and suffering" which appears to be problematic? I don't think it is excusable except by God. People simply suffer it.

          • Jim the Scott

            Well God can foresee an evil that will come to pass and passively will to allow it to happen to you(since He is not obligated to stop it) but He will give you sufficient grace to deal with it as we are informed by divine revelation. God doesn't really will evil for us directly except in terms of applying His justice. But if Job teaches us anything it is when evil happens to people it isn't always divine retribution for sin.

          • OMG

            It may be for other people's sin--those we love, for example. Or those we don't love but perhaps should...

          • >This assumes without argument or proof all human suffering is gratuitous and I have no reason to believe this or disbelieve it.

            If you say so. So everything from a slight headache, all accidents, disease, natural disaster... does this seem justified to you? Are you just indifferent?

            I don't see how you can say it doesn't appear gratuitous to you if you have no idea why God doesn't prevent it.

            >Also I am curious as to what medieval Catholics you are misreading to come up with this odd view?

            You need look no further than your saints. Santa Rosa of Peru who would tie barbed wire to her naked chest, wore a crown of thorns to glorify God.

            It seems then you think God is indifferent to human suffering on earth?

            >Only a "god" who is a moral agent can be that way

            So you do not believe in a God that "
            is maximally good, that he is loving and he would prevent humans suffering unless there was a good reason to abstain."?

            >I find it interesting to this day you still have this strong anthropomorphic

            This counter apologetic is derived from what Christian theologians claim god to be and is not generally controversial. But of course if you do not believe God would stop gratuitous suffering of humans this doesn't apply to you.

            >So we cannot know why God allows any particular evils in any circumstances.

            Which would support the evidential argument from evil, if you accepted that god does not want us to suffer gratuitously.

          • Jim the Scott

            If you say so. So everything from a slight headache, all accidents, disease, natural disaster... does this seem justified to you? Are you just indifferent?

            The term "justified" applies to moral agency and as far as I am concerned no such God exists. I am not indifferent to suffering. I just don't see a rational reason to apply moral standards to that which in principle cannot coherently be a moral agent. If I was an Atheist evolutionist (as opposed to a Classic Theist and Evolutionist) should I be complaining that evolution & natural processes where not "justified" in producing all those things? Evolution is not a moral agent. These evils are the consequence of God creating a material world. God could have made another world where none of these things happen but it would not be our world & God could have made a better world and if he did he could have made a still better world or a worst world. But He is not obligated to make any world whatsoever and any world He creates is an act of benevolent charity on His part. Why He made any particular world with any particular set of evil vs others is a mystery. But of course God cannot make the "best of all Possible worlds" and before you bring up "Heaven" note that what makes Heaven a heavenly place is the Beatific Vision which is uncreated.

            I don't see how you can say it doesn't appear gratuitous to you if you have no idea why God doesn't prevent it.

            Well gratuitous acts and mysterious reasons will by definition appear the same.

            You need look no further than your saints. Santa Rosa of Peru who would tie barbed wire to her naked chest, wore a crown of thorns to glorify God.

            Well just because a saint did it doesn't make it Ok. Even Saints can be unreasonable or act imprudently. Saints are not impeccable (Mary may be the exception that proves that rule). OTOH if St Rosa wanted to do that and was OK with it then who are we to judge as one South American Bishop who got a big promotion once said?

            It seems then you think God is indifferent to human suffering on earth?

            Well Holy Writ does say God is not a respecter of persons OTOH if God was completely indifferent to human suffering the Word would not have become Incarnate and God the Holy Spirit would not generously give us sufficient grace for salvation. At this point Mr. Adams my friend I suspect your real question is "Why this or that evil?" not wither or not God is "justified" in giving us any particular evil by his permissive will.

            So you do not believe in a God that "
            is maximally good, that he is loving and he would prevent humans suffering unless there was a good reason to abstain."?

            Well does God being maximally good mean God tastes good? That if you bit off a piece of God (specifically the divine essence) and ate him that he would taste better then a Wonka everlasting gobstoper? No that is absurd in that God given his nature cannot be something you taste. Well God's goodness and care for humans is not unequivocally the same as a powerful human hero who can stop evil and is obligated to in a specific instance. If God stops evil He can be praised for doing a good He did not have to do but He is not given praise for doing his duty like a human hero would.

            This counter apologetic is derived from what Christian theologians claim god to be and is not generally controversial. But of course if you do not believe God would stop gratuitous suffering of humans this doesn't apply to you.

            Nope, it's just a return to the classic view where they didn't ask these questions because they knew God wasn't a moral agent and knew they where absurd in the first place. Classic Theism is the old view that fell away with the Enlightenment. It's not a new or clever apologetic anymore then my playing the Catholic Card against an Atheist's particular melignent interpretation of the Bible is "new". It's just pointing out the fact we don't hold to private interpretation and Atheist private interpretations of Holy Writ have no meaning to us. So he is better off using it to vex the Protestants.

            Which would support the evidential argument from evil, if you accepted that god does not want us to suffer gratuitously.

            No because the skeptical theist card alway works here IMHO. You really can't know there isn't a reason. There could even be a reason beyond your comprehension and thus in principle you can never know. OTOH I suspect this might be a subitle attempt to implicitly smuggle moral agency in here?
            You must polemic the God I believe in not the one you wished I believed in.
            But Rowe, Thrakais & Davies taught me that all Theodicy fails but I am a Classic Theist so I have no use for one. God is not a moral agent and cannot coherently be conceived as one under classic theism.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I disagree that all theodicies necessarily fail. However, it seems that you still think God is obligated to justice (as Brian Davies does) but then doesn't that make God a moral agent?

          • Jim the Scott

            Correct I agree with Davies. We can disagree on theodicies. But I don't need them so I am indifferent if any are successful and they still make God a moral agent. God has to follow His own nature and it would be contrary to His nature to directly will that which is intrinsically evil(He can will to permit it for a time). God is Justice Itself so by definition He will eventually right wrong in His own time. Or to put it another way God is not obligated to stop any evil in their world but when an evil doer dies and goes to the next he will be subject to God's Justice be where He is and given God's nature and the dead sinner's nature at death.

          • Stephen Edwards

            Ok, but why does justice not compel God to stop all suffering, unless there is morally necessary reason for not stopping it? I understand that you don't think God is a moral being per se, but why does God have to obey justice in regards to the after life, but not obey ordinary standards of justice in regards to the earthly life?

          • Jim the Scott

            Ok, but why does justice not compel God to stop all suffering, unless there is morally necessary reason for not stopping it?

            Well it's more of an essential reason. It is my nature to breath Air and I will drown if I stick my head in a bucket of water and don't take it out(it would look as funny as all heck but that is a tangent I won't get into). Since God is goodness itself a rational being who dies in a state of mortal sin dies in a state of rejecting goodness itself and that results in the consequence of being in a state of privation of goodness itself. Otherwise known as damnation. Being Justice Itself is not the same as being an agent of justice. Like a policemen or someone with public authority. God is not obligated to dole out imediate justice to created rational beings in the material world nor interfear in stoping material privations suffered by them.

            I understand that you don't think God is a moral being per se, but why does God have to obey justice in regards to the after life, but not obey ordinary standards of justice in regards to the earthly life?

            Nature and essence make it so. God is obligated to act according to his nature and things are ordered by His will to act according theirs. God cannot coherently be said to be able to act contrary to his nature. So God cannot not damn one who has died in mortal sin or fail to grant the Beatific Vision to one whom he has granted efficacous grace at the moment of or just before death since to do so is contrary to the nature of God, the nature of a saved soul and a damned one.

          • >The term "justified" applies to moral agency and as far as I am concerned no such God exists

            So is god amoral? Or not an agent? If the latter what do you mean by agent?

            And if God is amoral like this, why save us? Why Jesus? Why ANY of the events in the Bible. God created let the cards fall where they may?

            >Well just because a saint did it doesn't make it Ok.

            But you accept that Catholics held this view of suffering? That was the issue.

            >if God was completely indifferent to human suffering the Word would not have become Incarnate and God the Holy Spirit would not generously give us sufficient grace for salvation.

            Ok so God doesn't want us to suffer now?

            >Well does God being maximally good mean God tastes good? That if you bit off a piece of God (specifically the divine essence) and ate him that he would taste

            The question is straightforward, do you believe that or not?

            >Well does God being maximally good mean God tastes good? That if you bit off a piece of God (specifically the divine essence) and ate him that he would taste

            Of course. This argument only works for those who believe god does not want humans to suffer gratuitously. I'm pretty sure I said that in my OP on the POE on Strange Notions.

          • Jim the Scott

            So is god amoral? Or not an agent? If the latter what do you mean by agent?

            Well actually Fr.Brian Davies said God is in a sense amoral. An agent is a person or thing that takes an active role or produces a specified effect.
            That is not what God does here. In fact this is not how God acts in general.

            And if God is amoral like this, why save us? Why Jesus? Why ANY of the events in the Bible. God created let the cards fall where they may?

            Why a blue sky and not a purple one? Why one Moon and not two? God created us to know and love him. To serve Him in this life and be happy with him in the next. That is what divine revelation tells us and we cannot know apart from that His motivations.

            But you accept that Catholics held this view of suffering? That was the issue.

            You originally said "God desires human suffering" but the examples you gave me are Saints who consent to suffer for God and others. So does God want us to except suffering that we cannot change with faith & forbearance? Obviously but that not the same as God wanting to hurt us for it's own sake for the Luz.

            Ok so God doesn't want us to suffer now?

            I just answered this.

            The question is straightforward, do you believe that or not?

            It's straightforward like "Do you still beat your wife?" is straightforward but such a question has a bunch of assumptions and presuppositions behind it that the person you ask may not share with you. I don't see how maximal goodness (at least how the concept would be understood by Thomists and essentialists) equates with God being a moral agent since in essence He cannot be such a thing anymore then maximal goodness means he must contain maximally good flavor if you eat him. I thought that was rather straight forward.

            Of course. This argument only works for those who believe god does not want humans to suffer gratuitously. I'm pretty sure I said that in my OP on the POE on Strange Notions.

            No it means you wish to equivocate between incompatible god concepts and I am afraid that is not a valid response regardless of what gods if any exist.. There is no theistic personalist god who is a moral agent. I am a strong atheist in my disbelief in this "god". Go Classic Theism etc....
            Cheers.

          • >That is not what God does here. In fact this is not how God acts in general.

            So God is not the kind of thing that sees an issue and intervenes for moral reasons? Like taking human form and sacrificing himself to save humanity? This was an unthinking effect of, frankly, natural law? Not the loving act of a moral god?

            I'm afraid I still don't understand your belief. A relative of mine was just murdered. This has caused enormous suffering to his family. Is you view that god is indifferent or has good reasons to not prevent such things?

            >Do you still beat your wife?"

            No, never did. Even with these presumptions it's easy to answer.

          • Jim the Scott

            So God is not the kind of thing that sees an issue and intervenes for moral reasons?

            God is not "a being" who exists in time acting from moment to moment. In essence all of God's acts as God are all at once. Being Itself is not "a thing" nor a "person" like we are persons.

            Like taking human form and sacrificing himself to save humanity? This was an unthinking effect of, frankly, natural law? Not the loving act of a moral god?

            Rather it was an act of supreme charity which by definition He was not obligated to do. If God was obligated by something above Himself then how is it Grace? Also natural law is apart from revealed theology.

            I'm afraid I still don't understand your belief.

            I witnessed your discussion on the Incarnation with Dr. B. I couldn't understand how is it that you didn't understand? It seemed rather straight forward?

            A relative of mine was just murdered. This has caused enormous suffering to his family. Is you view that god is indifferent or has good reasons to not prevent such things?

            Everyday I watch my wife grow older from the strain of taking care of three autistic teenagers. Our Children. I know God cares for us since He has given us salvation and grace but I also know He doesn't owe us anything. He doesn't owe me normal children like He gave my brothers. I know that I am not owed it since I need not have existed. I can't love a God who owes me and doesn't pay up. But I get along real well with one who does not owe me ditty & in principle cannot. God only formally causes my suffering in that He made a material world where things compete with other things for their perfection and as such something is completing for it's own perfection at the cost of my children's normal cognitive function. God is not the efficient cause of my children's suffering so that is the distinction in God causing suffering.

            No, never did(i.e. beat wife). Even with these presumptions it's easy to answer.

            Sorry no you have merely denied the presumption that you are an on going wife beater as I deny the presumption that maximal goodness equals being a maximally good moral agent.

          • BCE

            Please indulge me.

            Five million years ago, was there evil? Or 500,000 or 30,000?
            The sun, a storm, a tiger, bacteria....are they evil?

            I presume atheists don't believe in "evil", correct? I would imagine
            if you flew over an island(with no humans) you would not find "evil"
            there?
            You can't actually have a "problem with evil" (or god) which does not exist.
            Your problem is with those that believe in evil and god, right?
            So shouldn't you, more correctly just argue against people who
            believe there is evil?

          • Depends what you mean by "evil". Most counter apologists would, I think, include gratuitous suffering of sentient animals I'm this so arguably yes. But I don't need that for the premise, I just need any gratuitous evil.

            I use the word "evil" very rarely, to refer egregious malicious behavior. For the purpose of this argument what we are referring to is harm or suffering of sentient animals, particularly humans. I usually use the word suffering when I make the argument.

            >You can't actually have a "problem with evil" (or god) which does not exist.

            Exactly. On atheism there is no problem. It is a problem on certain forms of theism. If the god exists we wouldn't expect to see such volumes of desperate suffering with no apparent purpose.

            >So shouldn't you, more correctly just argue against people who
            believe there is evil?

            I mean we could, but that isn't the argument to which Dr Bonette responds in this OP.

          • BCE

            Actually I think the OP is about peoples relationship to God and each other.
            I reassert: I would guess if you watch rolling waves you don't perceive anything evil (once you see someone drowning, you feel differently).

            How much pain a hare feels being crushed in the jaw of a wolf I would guess might be considerable(hopefully short).
            Gratuitous or not? seems your problem.
            The reason God let's it happen, and the universe evolved so that it does, might be the same reason.

            I've never watched a 'Nature' that when one male lion attacks another
            the narrator says ...there's evil. not even if the one anguishes for days
            with an infected hind quarter. The program has no comment on
            God, it has no comment on evil. Substitute a man murdering it's neighbor
            and the episode looks the same....no god no evil.

            It's your relationship with God that makes suffering more then pain.
            Your relationship with God allows you to elevate suffering into a philosophical objection to its modus operandi.
            It's God you have objection to. It still hurts as much without God.

            If I go from atheism, where there is no evil ( and creatures, just because they are alive are no more evil then fire and fire isn't evil regardless of what or whom it consumes) to theism ( where there
            is evil ) because God allows it: then clearly evil is a problem within our relationship to God.
            If you want to get rid of evil, deny God.
            If you convince me... there is no God, one will still agonize in a fire, or by being raped, but I can stop struggling with myself about any imaginary evil I think I perceive.

          • >Actually I think the OP is about peoples relationship to God and each other.

            The OP is expressly about some version of the problem of evil argument he doesn't say which or lay out the argument he is responding to but all POE arguments assert there is an inconsistency between the nature of a proposed god and the world we observe.

            >I reassert: I would guess if you watch rolling waves you don't perceive anything evil (once you see someone drowning, you feel differently).

            Irrelevant .

            >Gratuitous or not? seems your problem

            Its a premise of the argument. You can say you don't consider it evil, you can say the god you believe in doesnt, care, can't stop it or you can assert an explanation for the gods inaction, or you can assert there must be an explanation you can't think of.

            >The reason God let's it happen, and the universe evolved so that it does, might be the same reason.

            That's not a reason. It might be there's no such deity.

            >I've never watched a 'Nature' that when one male lion attacks another
            the narrator says ...there's evil.

            The issue is does god want this suffering to occur? If he does he's a sadist. That characteristic is indicative of psychopathy. If he doesn't why did he let it happen?

            You can't make the move of "it's just nature" because God is responsible for nature. That's an option open to naturalist not classical theists.

            >It's your relationship with God that makes suffering more then pain.

            What are you talking about?

            >It's God you have objection to.

            What gave it away? Still doesn't explain why he let a statue of a pipe crush a man. Or allowed smallpox to devastate indigenous Americans

            >If I go from atheism, where there is no evil ( and creatures, just because they are alive are no more evil then fire and fire isn't evil regardless of what or whom it consumes) to theism ( where there
            is evil ) because God allows it: then clearly evil is a problem within our relationship to God.

            ?

            >If you convince me... there is no God, one will still agonize in a fire, or by being raped, but I can stop struggling with myself about any imaginary evil I think I perceive.

            You understand that for atheists there is no issue here right? We have explainations for all the pain, suffering, and death that occurs. These are functions of nature. Call it evil, whatever. They are not gratuitous because we don't think there is an all powerful entity that loved us and doesn't want us to suffer.

          • BCE

            Dr B said "the problem of evil does not arise until we already know that God exists" ... "how could a good God make such a world" ...
            "what is morally evil for man may not be morally evil for God"
            I chose to just phrase it as "about peoples relationship to God"
            Without your permission!

            I said
            "you don't perceive anything evil....[but if]someones drowning you feel differently" you respond "Irrelevant "
            but later you say....allowed smallpox....does god want this suffering. If he does he's a saddest.
            So much for "Irrelevant"

            And I acknowledge for atheists the problem of evil doesn't exist(nor God)
            which makes the first part of your final comments ""What gave it away.... "You understand that for atheists there is no issue....right" was
            smart ass!
            And given I said the universe evolved that [pain] exists, made the rest
            of your reminder to me that it's a " functions of nature " unnecessary.

    • Ben Champagne

      "But that's completely at odds with any sense if justice humans have, that laws and rules are valid only with the consent of the ruled, that they must be transparent, and reflect the values of society. This is a framework for absolute power of kings. Which is unsurprising."

      I don't know where or how you come up with such a standard of 'justice', but it is not one I hold, nor anyone I know (even if they believe they do, it is fairly easy to demonstrate otherwise).

      "This is an unreasonable burden of proving a negative. If there is a good reason why god dies (sic) not heal the children of good Catholic parents who are begging him, tell us. Admit that this seems gratuitous."

      I don't see how this seems gratuitous. Do I fault you with not spending every possible moment of your time doing the same for the children of good Catholic parents? This is a logical non-sequitur. The point is that you have to prove a burden upon God to provide such aid. You have yet to do that, which again, seems to be the point he is making.

      • Really? You accept as just a system that has no rule of law? Or where the laws are secret from those they apply to? Or where the rules are contrary to the wishes of the ruled?

        Look if you do not think god is all good meaning he would not allow gratuitous suffering that is fine. This argument doesn't apply to you .

      • michael

        Prove there are no fairies. if you can't, you must acknowledge that fairies are real!!!

        • Ben Champagne

          I'm sorry, was this supposed to pass as wit?

          • michael

            I don't answer trolls.

          • Ben Champagne

            By both comments, you appear to be lost.

  • Raymond

    "We might prefer “forced” salvation, but God respects his creature’s freedom so much that he allows us meaningfully to freely earn our eternal reward—even at the price of possible deserved failure."

    I'm under the (mistaken?) impression that eternal salvation cannot be earned - it is a free unearned gift from God. Grace is the free gift, which is necessary for faith, which is necessary for salvation.

    "We must also remember that what is morally evil for man may not be morally evil for God, since he alone is the Creator of all things and the Legislator of natural law as well as the just Judge of those who violate its ordinances. For example, humans can never licitly take an innocent life, but God can do so—given his position as Creator and Sustainer of all finite living things."

    This seems to me to be an horrible statement that invalidates the concept of objective good. If good is what God says it is, but God can do something that is good for God that would be evil for a human, how can any action that humans can do be objectively good? Brian says this below, better than I have.

    And finally, I can see no instance in which the painful death of an infant can have a greater good. If the reasoning is that the parents, friends and other family members can somehow grow closer to God, I'd just as soon not grow closer to God and have the child live.

    • Rob Abney

      If good is what God says it is

      This is where you introduce a concept that is not in the OP. The more accurate statement is "if good is what God is". We may not always understand God's plan but if we know that He is goodness then we can trust that it is an action that will result in the good.

      I can see no instance in which the painful death of an infant can have a greater good.

      Good, an anti-abortionist. Men do not have the right to end an innocent life, but if they do God can still use such an evil action for good. Since we would never want to say that to someone who has lost an infant then the shorter version is, again, trust God.

      • Raymond

        The concept that we don't understand God's plan and must have trust (faith?) is a way of giving up on the discussion. Trust in God is not a point that will convince unbelievers and gives up on the use of reason in discussing God.

        • Rob Abney

          You're correct, that would not be convincing to unbelievers, its rarely convincing to believers.
          But you could consider the argument from the OP that "goodness is God", by considering that goodness is what all men and things desire, goodness is perfection of being, infinite goodness can only exist in one entity, and this is what all men call God.

          • Raymond

            I'm struggling with "goodness is perfection of being". I'm sure Dr. Bonnette has addressed this somewhere, but perfection of being and infinite goodness are not things that truly matter to our everyday lives (other than Christians' hope to participate in eternal goodness after death). I desire reduction of my pain and improved function in my legs, and I am working on both of those things through medication and exercise, but that is far far away from perfection of being and infinite goodness, and I don't anticipate any movement toward those desires bringing me a reflection of perfection of being or infinite goodness.

          • Rob Abney

            Why do you want your legs to have no pain and function as they should, I’d say it’s because you want the goodness that your legs could have. The goodness that your legs should have is the wholeness that is possible.
            Why do you engage here with your reasoning, I’d say it’s because you desire as much knowledge as your intellect has the possibility of knowing.
            You are striving toward goodness.
            If we consider that each of those desires have an object, and that all of everyone’s desires have an object then ultimately we will find that all the desires converge. That point of convergence is what we call God.

            EDIT TO ADD: BTW, here is one of the best exercises for knee pain, it’s called the Tailgater. Sit on the tailgate of a pickup truck and swing your legs up and down about 100 times, less if it’s too difficult. Try to do it every day for several weeks.

          • Raymond

            I think the word "possible" is the key here. There are things I desire that are possible for me. The next guy has his own desires, but they are very different from mine.To say that all our individual desires somehow converge and that's God, that doesn't have any meaning either individually or collectively.

            And thank you for the exercise tip..

          • Rob Abney

            Do you ever seriously desire something that is not possible?

          • Raymond

            I would like to be taller.

          • Rob Abney

            Its possible, stand up straighter and don't flex your knees.

          • Raymond

            I'll give it a go. ;-)

    • OMG

      " I can see no instance in which the painful death of an infant can have a greater good. If the reasoning is that the parents, friends and other family members can somehow grow closer to God, I'd just as soon not grow closer to God and have the child live."

      Replacing "infant" with "the son of God" gives the greater good of the death of Jesus. The death was necessary to prove to man that God can overcome death through resurrection. Is there any other way God could have proven this to us?
      Divine justice could only be satisfied or achieved through a divine redemption or atonement.

      The death of Jesus allows all men to hope for eternal life. So the child will live only if s/he grows closer to God. This child is all of us.

      • Raymond

        You're moving the goalposts. How does the painful death of a CHILD serve a greater good?

        • OMG

          "You're moving the goalposts."

          What are the goalposts? I cannot find any among my screen-burn collection. Perhaps I need to watch more soccer!?!

          Seriously, childbirth is painful. The greater good of that process is the child who arrives out of the birth canal. The greater good of death (of any person), faith teaches, is the soul's encounter with his Creator...and the hope for beatific life. Is it reasonable to assume that some 'souls', without knowledge of what follows a treacherous journey down the birth process, would not choose it? Just so the person without faith may not choose to accept that death may lead to beatitude.

          Certainly those of us who 'lose' a loved one to death suffer the loss of the loved one in this life. Those with faith understand that life does not end with death.

          • Raymond

            I'll assume you're sincere in not knowing what "moving the goalposts" means. It's a euphemism for changing the parameters of the discussion after the other side makes a point. It's an American football reference.

            And you're doing it again.

            1. I wasn't talking about the pain of childbirth, but rather such things as cancer, traumatic accidents, or murder.

            2. If your argument is that the family can find the good in such things through faith, you are moving away from establishing the good through reason.

            3. If you told me that my child would experience such things in life but that you have faith that the child will experience "a beatific life" after death, I'd say it isn't worth it.

          • OMG

            First, regarding goalposts. I did not see any in either your or my post. The OP clearly states the 'problem' of evil more or less depends upon one's acceptance of metaphysical proofs for the existence of an all-good God. Clearly you and I approach the 'problem' from different perspectives and acceptance.

            As a person of faith, I accept it. My all-good God did. He willingly suffered it. It is what it is. I cannot control it, and neither can I choose its shape, extent, or timing. I may try to mitigate, deny, escape, rebel, or argue against it. Nothings rids me of it. What does bring peace? Acceptance. Great good has and does and will come about as a result, especially when it ends! When does it end? I place my chips at death.

          • Raymond

            Fair enough.

    • Jim the Scott

      If good is what God says it is, but God can do something that is good for God that would be evil for a human, how can any action that humans can do be objectively good?

      Well first you need to learn the philosophical and metaphysical meaning of goodness.
      http://www.aquinasonline.com/Questions/goodevil.html

      Second you have to realize that you cannot make unequivocal comparisons between God and Creatures.

      Thirdly forget all Theistic Personalist views of God. They are all false and don't apply to Thomism.

    • Ben Champagne

      "This seems to me to be an horrible statement that invalidates the concept of objective good. If good is what God says it is, but God can do something that is good for God that would be evil for a human, how can any action that humans can do be objectively good? Brian says this below, better than I have."

      How does the statement invalidate the point? You are arguing in a circle here. If God is moral goodness itself, it would logically follow that anything that God 'does' would also be good for a human.

      "how can any action that humans can do be objectively good?" They can't. I think we see this play out in such metaphysical arguments themselves (what is objective good? Does objective good exist? How do you prove objective goodness? etc.), as well as it being a foundational belief of Christian doctrine (The need for salvation as a gift because of our lack at achieving any form of objective moral goodness).

      • Raymond

        Explain to me how a child's death from cancer can be a good for humans. Explain how hundreds of deaths from a catastrophe such as a tsunami can be a good for humans.

        The lack of objective good is not a foundational belief of Christian doctrine. (unless I am misunderstanding that rather convoluted sentence.) The Christian argument is that objective good is found in the Bible. One of the arguments against atheism is that atheists don't have an objective moral framework because of their unbelief. Are you suggesting that reason invalidates concepts attributed to Scripture?

        • Ben Champagne

          Yes, you are misunderstanding a fundamental tenet of Christian faith and my explanation of it. But don't worry, you are not alone, most Christians I know misinterpret it as well. It isn't that a lack of objective good exists, it is that achieving such goodness by finite beings is impossible. That is why grace is required. And as a point of clarification, objective good isn't found in the Bible (Also a point often misunderstood among Christian denominations, especially the Sola Scriptura crowd). Objective good is God's will. The imitation of such goodness being represented to humanity through the Bible (In the case of Christian doctrine). But such imitation itself is never objective, and always wanting. You err in that you assume we can achieve or fully understand such goodness, we can not.

          My lack of an explanation of such goodness about a child's death does not invalidate the point. Is exercising evil? Inflicting short term pain on your body for long term gain would hardly be considered such. The same could be said of the child's soul. Our perspective is rather limited and childish itself in such matters.

          And neither example provided is an example of evil any more than the inventor of football is responsible for every injury inflicted while playing the game.

          "One of the arguments against atheism is that atheists don't have an objective moral framework because of their unbelief." Almost. The argument against atheism is that they can't believe in objective good, and as such, cannot condone any act as evil or good outside of their feelings, because they have no method from which to imitate goodness. Which is a distinction that the more intelligible atheists make, they attack the objectivity itself, which is a much stronger position than the weak arguments such as children dying and natural disasters being evil, because of the inherently subjective position in which the majority of our perspective resides metaphysically.

    • OMG

      Ray, you say: "I'm under the (mistaken?) impression that eternal salvation cannot be earned - it is a free unearned gift from God. Grace is the free gift, which is necessary for faith, which is necessary for salvation."

      Just as a gift is freely given, recipients are free to accept and enjoy, to re-gift or discard those same gifts. We may not even perceive gifts or grace. At Paul's conversion, things like 'scales' fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight.

  • Jim the Scott

    Here is your homework people before anybody discusses God and evil.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=464&v=h1AZvn4tESs&ab_channel=LumenChristiInstitute

  • David Nickol

    In my earliest formal Catholic schooling, I was obliged to memorize this question and answer from the Baltimore Catechism:

    2. Who is God?
    God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence.

    But I take it God is not a being, not even "the Supreme Being," but rather "being itself."

    • Jim the Scott

      Why can't we interpret "the Supreme Being" to mean "Being Itself"? Since Subsistent Being Itself is the Supreme Being. Granted that can be misinterpreted to mean God is "a being". But all shorthand explanations and definitions do that. For example "Men evolved from Apes" is in my experience popularly misinterpreted to mean man came from modern Apes rather then the correct view that Modern Apes and Man have a common ancestor.
      The Baltimore Catechism is true as far as it goes like my 6th grade biology text book. But my college biology text book and books on theology and philosophy by Garrigou-Lagrange are a little more sophisticated.
      This should be unremarkable.

      • David Nickol

        Why can't we interpret "the Supreme Being" to mean "Being Itself"?

        Well, I did my homework (that is, I watched the video you recommended), and the message I got from it was that—somewhat surprisingly, given the prominence of Aquinas in theology—many theologians discussing God today are unaware of (or are ignoring) Aquinas's conception of God as "being itself." Instead, they are speaking of God as a being to which attributes could be ascribed. I thought of my old catechism classes, and it occurred to me, as you acknowledge, that saying God is "the Supreme Being" could easily be interpreted to mean God is a "being."

        The Baltimore Catechism is true as far as it goes like my 6th grade biology text book. But my college biology text book . . . .

        Unlike with a biology text, often the point of memorizing from a source like the Baltimore Catechism was to repeat the exact formulation, word for word, rather than have a deep understanding of the concepts. Presumably that was to come later. That being the case, it seems to me it would have been preferable to use the phrase "Being Itself" rather than "the Supreme Being" (if, indeed, that was the understanding of the authors of the Baltimore Catechism). The commonsense understanding is that a Supreme Being is a being. The point of age-appropriate learning should certainly be to present young minds with concepts to remember and build on, not with material they will have to unlearn.

        • Jim the Scott

          First, I am happy you are doing your homework. It saves a lot of time for me having to explain everything. I like that. It appeals to my inner couch potato.

          . many theologians discussing God today are unaware of (or are ignoring) Aquinas's conception of God as "being itself."

          Well that is true broadly if you include all theologians and philosophers (& denominations) but as Theistic Personalism gets eaten alive by Atheist and skeptical philosophy as well as modern philosophy it will just clear the field for a come back for classic philosophy and classic theology IMHO.

          Instead, they are speaking of God as a being to which attributes could be ascribed. I thought of my old catechism classes, and it occurred to me, as you acknowledge, that saying God is "the Supreme Being" could easily be interpreted to mean God is a "being."

          Well Theistic Personalism is very wide spread and naturally I am a strong Atheist toward ascribing any sort of belief too it. As Feser says most problems in Theism can be traced to these faulty concepts of God.

          Unlike with a biology text, often the point of memorizing from a source like the Baltimore Catechism was to repeat the exact formulation, word for word, rather than have a deep understanding of the concepts.

          My late Mother-in-Law of happy memory used to complain about that. It was a model for people who presumably already believed and it was useful for them to get the bare bones of the doctrines of the Faith.

          Presumably that was to come later.

          In theory, but in practice it was like what one learned in school over time most of it was forgotten. Except by persons who tried to take their faith seriously. Of course not all very spiritual people were theology nerds or had to be.

          That being the case, it seems to me it would have been preferable to use the phrase "Being Itself" rather than "the Supreme Being" (if, indeed, that was the understanding of the authors of the Baltimore Catechism).

          You could do that but as my wife pointed out to me when she used this phrase talking to a Mormon the Mormon fellow thought she was a Pantheist. Terms are always going to be misunderstood if you don't explain their meaning. You try your best to explain and hope people are open to learning.

          The commonsense understanding is that a Supreme Being is a being. The point of age-appropriate learning should certainly be to present young minds with concepts to remember and build on, not with material they will have to unlearn.

          It not really the commonsense view. Just the popular view among Theistic Personalist view of God in popular culture(I enjoyed George Burns and Morgan Freeman portraying the Deity but they don't make me think of the Ground of All Being). If a Catholic who never picked up Aquinas read Frank Sheed he would have gotten a popular understanding of Classic Theism that would have disabused him of that notion. Don't even get me started on the terrible religious education American laypeople get both past and present. I need to bring down my blood pressure. ;-) . Cheers.

          • Rob Abney

            Good point, the first book that really explained this concept for me was Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity, copyright 1946.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. I hope to resist the temptation to chop down every “tree” that is pointed out on this thread.

    The skeptic’s primary claim is that he can prove that the physical and moral evil found in the world is contradictory to the existence and goodness of the classical conception of God.

    But, my article proves that, if we posit the existence of the all-good classical God, it necessarily follows that any evil found in the world – whether merely permitted by God, as in the case of physical and moral evil, or even if it is directly caused by God, as in the case of solely physical evil – must be justified by the fact that God knows and wills that a greater good will come from his permitting or causing such evil, since, by definition, an all-good God cannot be evil or commit moral evil.

    Anyone saying that he cannot understand, or will not tolerate, that some grave evils should exist, no matter what good may come from them, is himself ignoring the evident fact that precisely just such evils must be understandable and justifiable – given the nature of God as all good.

    All claims to the contrary -- even including the present arrangement of animal pain -- amount either to rejecting the assumed-for-the-sake-of-argument goodness of God, or else, to exhibiting the intellectual hubris of thinking that one knows more than the omniscient God. (Atheists may also be making assumptions, such as, that there is no afterlife or that something like the “Beatific Vision” does not exist.)

    The logic is simply this. If the classical God exists and is all good, then all evil must be justified -- because a greater good somehow ensues than would be possible otherwise. The fact that someone cannot figure out how such justification is possible only means he is not himself omniscient, like God. But, God’s goodness assures that such a greater good must ensue.

    The skeptic does not get the illogical luxury of dismissing this precise classical God whose hypothesis is compatible with evil as found in the world – in order to deny that exact same God’s existence.

    For, I have shown that, if such an all-good God does exist, evil in the world must be compatible with him. See the article.

    The skeptic is still free to argue that the classical God does not exist – but, he will have to do it on grounds other than the existence of evil.

    He may argue that my logic is based on a contrary-to-fact assumption that the classical God exists. Still, the only way to prove that the all-good God does not exist is not by assuming that evil’s reality contradicts the possibility of the true God, but rather by directly showing that some inconsistency between divine attributes exists other than those entailed in the alleged “problem of evil,” namely, omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience.

    I refer the reader, who is still concerned about what are actually irrelevant, secondary objections, back to my article for the principles with which to answer them.

    • The skeptic’s primary claim is that he can prove that the physical and moral evil found in the world is contradictory to the existence and goodness of the classical conception of God.

      But, my article proves that, if we posit the existence of the all-good classical God, it necessarily follows that any evil found in the world – whether merely permitted by God, as in the case of physical and moral evil, or even if it is directly caused by God, as in the case of solely physical evil – must be justified by the fact that God knows and wills that a greater good will come from his permitting or causing such evil, since, by definition, an all-good God cannot be evil or commit moral evil.

      Anyone saying that he cannot understand, or will not tolerate, that some grave evils should exist, no matter what good may come from them, is himself ignoring the evident fact that precisely just such evils must be understandable and justifiable – given the nature of God as all good.

      I think this dynamic happens all the time between human followers with human leaders. They will allow their leaders to get away with some amount of apparent immorality, because hey, the leader knows best. However, history shows us that those who never question their human leaders can go on to do absolutely horrible things. So, it seems wise to let the trust in the leader snap, if too much evil seems to be happening for too little good, or if certain apparent moral absolutes are violated, or «insert more complex practical reasoning here».

      Definitions and concepts themselves can serve as leaders. For example, take the Enlightenment notion of 'Reason'. Many people gave it allegiance for a long time. But as it failed to deliver on its promises and repeatedly failed to deliver, more people stopped trusting it. Dr Bonnette, my suspicion is that very few people trust the kind of reasoning you use to get to "God exists and is perfectly good" as strongly as you do. It has snapped—for some, generations ago.

      • Rob Abney

        No need to stop trusting reason, but lots of reasons not to trust men with faulty reasoning. The Enlightenment is a good example that you can't do evil to get good, "by killing the last king by strangling him with the last priest".

        • Well, just like the definition of 'God' can vary quite a bit, so can the definition of 'Reason', as well as 'reason'. I would argue, for example, that the Enlightenment's understanding of 'Reason' did not permit what Aquinas understood as 'irreparable sin' (per Josef Pieper's gloss). That is an error which cannot be recovered from by using more of the same 'Reason'. From a contradiction in classical logic, anything can be proven true or false. Rescue must come from the outside.

          At bottom, both scripture and 'Reason' set up expectations of what the future will look like. There are multiple interpretations of each which produce their own expectations. When the expectations are sufficiently disappointed or seem pitifully low, I have observed people go apostate and others refuse to pick up the faith. Is this not rational behavior? Perhaps it is worth meditating on just why Paul wrote in Romans 2, "For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”"

          • Rob Abney

            No, that is not rational behavior, it is an error in reasoning.
            Because in reality, Reason, as the intellectual process whereby the mind moves from immediately known true premises through valid inference to an objectively true conclusion -- does not "vary" in it proper function.
            The primary object of reasoning is the natural law that is written on our hearts.

          • Is that a kind of foundationalism you are defending?

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, the foundation being revelation and dogmas of the faith.

          • Hmmm, can the foundation change over time? That is, one option is to represent the foundation as unsplittable atoms, completely ruling out the option that they could have a deeper structure. Another option is to have the beliefs you're calling "foundational" be vague in some ways, so that they really could have deeper structure. If you believe you always know what the unsplittable atoms are, I have a logical paradox for you which results in "all knowable truths are already known".

          • Rob Abney

            I should amend my foundation to include the Natural Law which is written on the hearts of all men and can be known without Sacred Scripture or Revelation.

            So, yes, all knowable truths are already known, but some will be made more explicit and others will follow an erroneous path especially if it contradicts what is already known.

          • Yikes, I wasn't expecting you to say that "all truths are already known". Do you derive that more from the Bible or more from Catholic tradition?

          • Rob Abney

            Since the Bible is part of Catholic Tradition, my answer is yes. The Natural Law and reasoning precede Catholicism but are an essential part of knowing all truths as well.

          • David Nickol

            Since the Bible is part of Catholic Tradition, my answer is yes.

            The Bible is not part of Catholic Tradition in the sense that Tradition (with a capital T) is understood by the Catholic Church. See paragraphs 74 and following in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, particularly the following:

            78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes." "The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer." [emphasis added]

          • Rob Abney

            If you don’t accept that the Bible is part of Tradition will you accept that the proper interpretation of it is?

            100 The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.

          • David Nickol

            If you don’t accept that the Bible is part of Tradition will you accept that the proper interpretation of it is?

            Regarding the Catholic understanding of the terms Scripture and Tradition, what I personally accept and do not accept is irrelevant. According to the Catholic Church, revelation (that is, public revelation) ended with the death of the last Apostle. It has been handed down in two ways—Scripture and Tradition. Scripture (that is, the Scripture in the canon, the Bible) is revelation written down. Tradition is revelation handed down by some by some means other than Scripture. When Luke asked, "Do you derive that more from the Bible or more from Catholic tradition?" he was clearly mindful of the Catholic concepts of Scripture and Tradition.

            As for paragraph 100 from the Catechism, I acknowledge that as authentic Catholic teaching, along with everything else in the Catechism. That is why I so often refer to and quote the Catechism. However, it is certainly not the last word on the interpretation of Scripture in general, or even in the Catholic Church. Priests who give homilies at Mass, biblical scholars, and ordinary lay persons reading the Bible all are engaged in interpretation. The Magisterium reserves to itself the "final word" when there are important questions about a biblical matter, but it seems to me, from my experience researching the Bible, that it is rare indeed for the Magisterium to put forth a "definitive" interpretation of a biblical passage.

          • Rob Abney

            I don't imagine that the oral teachings and the written teachings are completely separated, but I'm not a biblical scholar or a patriarchal scholar, it seems as though there is likely to be a tremendous amount of overlap.
            I'm not sure if Luke was referring to Tradition or tradition, he didn't use a capital t but I did.
            I hope that he was referring to the Catholic intellectual tradition because that is the answer to how all truths are known, through reasoning from the natural law, revelation, and Christ.

          • Huh, what do you do about those bits where it says God is unfathomable (fathoming = lowering a weight on a line to see how deep the water is)? Or the following:

            Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, (1 Thess 4:9)

            ? If God is teaching a group of people something, doesn't that mean they didn't know it beforehand?

          • OMG

            Again I think of the book on natural law which you've put on library order. Impressed somewhere in our heart, brain, soul is imago Dei. Yet we need to be reminded of what we overlook, forget, ignore, reject, etc. "Honor the Sabbath" suggests that God saw some good in our periodically dedicating time to him. Of similar ilk: "Do this in remembrance of me." That said, God is unknowable only to the extent that our minds cannot fully plumb his omniscient depth (or so my I think).

          • Can Sabbath-time show us that "all knowable truths are already known" is false? Essentially, I'm challenging the Meno's paradox model of knowledge/​wisdom—that it is merely remembered rather than learned. And I'm challenging the idea that everything to be learned has already been taught. It's like we Christians—perhaps excluding Pentecostals and maybe mystics—have created our own Not in Heaven doctrine. It's like we don't want any more of God than we've already gotten.

          • OMG

            No, contemplating God proves neither the truth nor falsity of the proposition. I misunderstood the reason for the discussion. As you say, it is a paradox. Please carry on!

          • Rob Abney

            Paul is referring to the Natural Law, God taught it to us by writing it on our hearts, the first person that didn't recognize it was Cain.

          • But if the Natural Law is written on our hearts, how would God directly teach the Thessalonians how to love each other better? Would this be a maieutic form of teaching?

          • Rob Abney

            How were the Thessalonians taught by God? They were gentiles, not jewish, not Christian, they had not had revelations or scripture. They were taught by God through the natural law. If you are focused on the word "better" then I would say that is a matter of degree not the essence of the truth.

          • They were taught by God through the natural law.

            To what extent do you see that in the text and to what extent does your theoretical framework merely impose that on the text? (Unless your theoretical framework cannot possibly be wrong in any interesting way?)

          • Rob Abney

            First, tell me how you understand the text, how did God teach them?

      • OMG

        "Love hurts."

        You wrote, "So, it seems wise to let the trust in the leader snap, if too much evil seems to be happening for too little good, or if certain apparent moral absolutes are violated, or «insert more complex practical reasoning here»."

        This recalled Peter and Jesus in Matthew 16:15ff, here paraphrased: Jesus asks Peter's thinking on who Jesus is. Peter replies: Jesus is the son of God. So Jesus says the son of God must suffer and die. Peter: "God forbid!"

        So, what you say is true. Reasoning snapped, generations ago. Only John stood at the cross while the other disciples fled, hid, denied or otherwise refused to see. But that was not the end of the story, was it?

    • Stephen Edwards

      Do you think that God is a moral being? Some theists (like on this site) think that God is above morality, while atheists seem to think that God would have to be moral. Personally, I think that it makes more sense that God is a moral being. I think is an important distinction to clarify though.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        I am doing my best not to plunge into the comments here, but to let others work through some of these questions.

        Still, you address a question that is currently much discussed.

        I think we need to be careful not to get so focused on our words that we lose sight of the fundamental metaphysics underlying the science of ethics, wherein the meaning of “morality” arises.

        God is infinite being, which means he is the infinite good. This is not a purely abstract notion, but an ontological reality that means that – given that the good is simply being as desirable (one of the transcendentals) – God is the ontological expression of the fullness of existence and goodness.

        All that God is affirms both being and its identical goodness. (There are different words here only because the mind approaches the reality in different ways: the intellect conforming to being is the true; the will loving being does so under its aspect as the good.)

        Everything God is and does affirms his being, that is, his goodness. His act of creation is to diffuse his own goodness into the being of creatures. He can do nothing but give being and goodness to reality. God can never commit moral evil of any sort. But he can cause physical evil when it is part of a total act that affirms goodness (maximizes being), perhaps, in the form of justice.

        Is God a moral agent? Not in the sense that we are – since we are bound by the laws of our nature that he creates. God is not bound by the laws; he is the law giver. Yet, it would be self-contradictory for God to act against his own plan of creation – what we call natural law. God could never act against the moral law for the very reason that he is its Author.

        Because God is the Author of Nature, his acts are not constrained by the same limits that ours are. Thus, as giver of life, he can recall it at will. He can subordinate human life to a grander plan of Providence – one which fulfills his plan either for our freely-deserved happiness in eternity, or our freely-deserved unhappiness of missing our ultimate perfection forever (an end demanded by justice).

        In a word, God always affirms the maximum perfection of all things, just as we are ethically bound always to affirm as much as possible the perfection of our own being and that of others (by respecting the rules of our own and others’ natures). But God’s role is to make creatures who are moral agents, bearing moral responsibility for their own actions and destiny. He is simply infinitely above this order of humanly (or angelic) conformity to law, since he is the Lawmaker itself. Yet, God never acts against the natural law, since it would be self-contradictory for him to act against his own plan of creation.

        • Stephen Edwards

          Ok I agree. I don't think that God has an indifferent moral attitude to human suffering though. It seems the Brian Davies-type position amounts to describing God as being indifferent to human suffering.

          • Jim the Scott

            With all due respect that is not Brian Davies's view at all IMHO. God is not indifferent to human suffering. Davies nowhere makes that claim or am I missing something?

          • Stephen Edwards

            It isn't his position specifically, but it seems to amount to that. Since it seems that under his view, God does not prevent suffering because God is not obligated to prevent it and makes decisions for reasons beyond our understanding.

            But, to me simply indicating that God is not obligated to end suffering and therefore doesn't end suffering, seems to present God as indifferent to suffering.

          • David Nickol

            I have a similar, but not identical, perception of the issue of the place of human suffering in the explanations offered by Dr. Bonnette and Brian Davies. While I am quite sure they do not personally regard human suffering as insignificant, in dealing with the issue they give the impression that it is unnecessary to acknowledge the fact that many people suffer, and many people not only suffer, but suffer terribly and inexplicably.

            Human suffering is simply dismissed as a basically irrelevant fact, because God is (allegedly) not responsible for it. And in fact, one seems to have to regard even the most horrible suffering as something a kind of blessing in disguise, since God would not allow it were it not for the fact that he will be able to bring greater good out of it. So in a perverse sense, the more suffering there is—the worse things seem—the more cause for rejoicing, because the worse the horror, the better the ultimate outcome God will guarantee.

            There was a recent news report of an automobile accident in which a truck crossed the dividing line of a highway, and four daughters and their father were killed, with the mother surviving. I said to a friend that I don't know how the mother, or anyone to whom such a tragedy befalls, can ever recover from such a thing. Of course, the information we have been given here so far on the problem of evil (or rather, the absence of any such problem) blandly acknowledges that, while we may not be able to figure out the great good that God will make out of such a tragedy, it follows logically that such things are all for the best! We know that God would not have permitted such a terrible thing to happen were he not ready, willing, and able to bring a greater good from it. We are just not smart enough to figure out what that greater good will be. Some day, the mother will be able to look back on the loss of her husband and four daughters and say, "Oh, thank God it happened! It was all for the best!"

            I am sure it need not be so, but the presentation so far of the alleged solution to the problem of evil (or rather, the argument that there is no such problem) has come across as a heartless, cold-blood intellectual exercise.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I think Dr. Bonnette has offered different considerations that don't need to lead to the view that God is indifferent, but I do agree that while the Brian Davies type solution (which has been offered down the ages by different thinkers) does have a simplicity to it, it doesn't satisfy me. I think a theodicy can be given that doesn't go along those lines.

            I do think though that a problem with the 'great good' response is that it does seem to entail that suffering is needed for goodness, which is a consideration that I don't like either.

          • Jim the Scott

            If God was indifferent He would not have created us in the first place. Such an act by itself apart from anything else is an act of infinite love. But it is a folly to believe in a Moral Agent God. Such a "god" by definition has obligations and thus by definition is not a source of grace. Grace by definition is unearned.

          • Stephen Edwards

            Well I agree that God is not indifferent, I just struggle to accept the 'no obligation' defense as not entailing indifference towards the earthly suffering of humans. You say that God is not indifferent because He will deal with suffering in the afterlife, but why does He not deal with suffering as much during the earthly life? I think God has a moral reason (or reason concerning justice) but you think His justice does not demand that. We see it differently in that regards.

            In response to the consideration concerning grace. The way I understand that is, salvation is not merited because we cannot do anything on our own to earn it, but due to God's love and justice He must grant the help needed, otherwise God would not be granting salvation to people who are open to it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            While God has absolutely no obligation to us, merit is condign (deserved) for the man who obeys the natural law, since (1) man has a natural urge for happiness, (2) God imposes an obligation to act toward that last end which is achieved not in this life but in eternity, and (3) man can fulfill that obligation freely.

            Therefore, an implicit promise of reward by God exists based, not on justice (since God owes us nothing), but on God's own fidelity to the conditions of existence and eternal reward he plans for man.

            It is in light of this broader purpose, fulfilled only in the afterlife, that human pain and suffering must be understood. It is human foolishness to think we can fully understand the real purposes of all events in this life that take place through divine providence.

            Even the pain and suffering of the animal kingdom must be understood as part of a plan for human salvation that entails God not making his presence so evident as to lessen the maximum of human freedom -- as I outlined in the last few paragraphs of the article itself.

          • Stephen Edwards

            The struggle I have with the first part of that explanation is that it seems to suggest that God will only end suffering because it is part of our nature for it to eventually end (assuming we freely cooperate with God's grace). Yet, I think God truly wants us to not suffer at all. This is why theodicies are then proposed. This doesn't mean I think we can figure everything out, but I think we can use our reason to try and figure it out the best we can, which is what I think you are trying to do as well.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As a philosopher, I always hate to drag in Christian doctrine as an explanation -- yet, it suffices as an hypothesis anyway.

            Christian belief affirms that God's original plan entailed no suffering at all. Had Adam and Eve not sinned, neither they nor their children would have ever suffered any pain or death.

            The misuse of man's free will introduced the suffering that God otherwise did not plan for human existence. Suffering was never intended to be part of human nature either in its original creation or in its last end.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I agree, but it seems under the 'no obligation' view that God does not have to do anything to alleviate the suffering that Adam and Eve brought, God only needs to allow people to live out their nature and offer them salvation. But, I think God is interested in there not being suffering at all.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think one can defend the "no obligation" view and still say that God wants to prevent suffering. The reason is simple. There are many things we are not obliged to do that we do, nonetheless, out of the goodness of our hearts.

            God was not obliged to create, but he did. He was not obliged to create man in paradise, but he did. He was not obliged to send a Redeemer after the Fall, but he did.

            We have to also recall that God is pure love -- so that he acts out of love even when obligation is absent. God does not will that we suffer, even now, but he permits the forces of nature to take their toll on us because our first parents refused to accept the simple condition of his love that would have spared them all suffering. That fall changed everything. It changed the conditions of human existence and the complexity of justice and relation of suffering to salvation forever.

            I don't want even to try to think through all the subtleties that arose after the Fall, but we now live in a world in which the effects of original and not so original sin are felt in every dimension of present creation.

            But God still "feels" for us and wishes that all men be saved, while knowing full well that not all will be (despite von Balthasar). I suspect that some think God, as a purely spiritual being, cannot really care for man, since when we care emotions are involved. But, stripped of our emotional dimensions, we still love others in a purely spiritual way and care that they not suffer. God does the same, but with infinite love and caring. Yet, he knows the conditions of this world are not entirely of his making -- but are continually conditioned by man's misuse of his free will.

            God wills the end of human suffering, but even he cannot change the fact that we have sinned and that sin has its natural effects.

          • Stephen Edwards

            Whether or not God is obligated to end suffering, doesn't it seem like out of His love that He would want to? I agree that the Fall changed things, but it still presses the question as to why God does not remedy things after the Fall.

            The way I reconcile why God does not prevent more of suffering is because He gave the angels the authority to help decide the laws of nature and Adam and Eve the freedom to follow the devil and introduce concupiscence into the human condition. God then only works so many miracles in the world because He does not override the authority and freedom that He has given His rational creatures.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I won't argue with you about that possibility. My point is that God allows evil or even causes physical evil solely because there is a necessary connection between doing that and allowing or assuring the fruition of some justifying greater good.

            In any case, I think it important to make clear that God really does care about those who are suffering. One might think that caring is an emotional response that only sentient beings, such as ourselves, can experience. But we care deeply about others at the volitional level, that is, by an act of the will -- which is accompanied by the movements of the sense appetites that we call the emotions.

            In us, our caring and loving entail movements both in the spiritual and physical components of our being. Even without the physical component of the passions, God and the angels can just as much exhibit those spiritual acts that are the nature of love and caring -- and God does it with all his infinite act as an eternal choice to love and care for each individual creature. In spiritual beings, these acts of loving and caring are purified of all physical limitations.

            Nor does the restoration of justice through punishment of evildoers violate the aim of the greater good, since in God, who is the greatest of all possible goods, justice and goodness are one. So, no greater affirmation of goodness is attainable than the perfect reification of justice.

            Thus, when we suffer, God does care deeply -- but subordinates that concern to the needs of some greater good, such as the salvation of souls or the restoration of the balance of justice in creation.

            Our finite minds are little equipped to fathom his inscrutable ways, but we know they are based solely on love of the good, not some vicious exhibition of omnipotence. For the measure of all goodness is ultimately goodness itself, which is God.

          • Stephen Edwards

            I agree that God cares, I don't think there is any tension between God being a spiritual being and being a loving being. God has the fullness of being and thereby has emotions within Him, He just doesn't change in emotional states.

            I do find difficulty in ascribing all acts of suffering to a greater good calculation, whereby all events of suffering solely occur in order to lead directly to some greater good though, if that is your view. But I do think that God works within our lives for our greatest good, which is our salvation.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As Dr. Feser points out, the use of the term, "emotion," with reference to God poses some technical difficulties: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2018/04/does-god-have-emotions_15.html

            Nonetheless, the doctrine of analogy permits the extension of its predication from our animal experience to God, provided we realize that in him all such acts must be identified with the divine intellect and substance itself.

            I think you may be reading the notion of "greater good" too particularly in my usage, since you speak of me as possibly claiming that "all events of suffering solely occur in order to lead directly to some greater good."

            I do not say that this connection is always "direct," as if this particular suffering leads directly to that particular good.

            Rather, it is the overall scheme of things that entails suffering which may be designed to bring about an overall greater good, as in the example in the last paragraphs of my article in which I talk about the world possibly being designed to meet naturalistic expectations in order to maximize the freedom of human response to God. Such a possibility could entail a naturalistic appearing evolutionary schema that itself entails natural forces and laws whose interactions necessarily entail both animal and human suffering and death.

            I do not deny that divine providence will provide both justice and reward to those who unjustly suffer in this life. Still, in any given instance, suffering may occur that would otherwise not occur in a different world with different overall purposes to be achieved. God is free to create whatever world he wishes. Certainly, had he created solely an angelic world -- which appears possible -- the physical suffering and death we see in this physical world of ours would not exist.

            But, then, neither would the particular qualities found only in a physical world have existed either. For existence, animals themselves would never have had the opportunity to exist ... and neither would a beautiful sunset or sonata. This physical world manifests in created reality certain aspects of the divine perfections which are not possible in a purely spiritual creation -- even if they be deemed "less perfect" in themselves.

          • Jim the Scott

            Well I agree that God is not indifferent, I just struggle to accept the 'no obligation' defense as not entailing indifference towards the earthly suffering of humans.

            How do you deal with verses in Holy Writ that say "God's ways are not our ways" or "God is not a respecter of persons" or the whole book of Job. A God that has obligations to you cannot be St. Paul's God since such a God cannot give grace.

            You say that God is not indifferent because He will deal with suffering in the afterlife, but why does He not deal with suffering as much during the earthly life?

            A piece paper can't be burned outside a oven but in the oven it succumbs to nature. Same with a soul in a state of mortal sin vs being in a state of grace. How can a will locked in rejecting Goodness Itself not be deprived of it and that is justice.

            I think God has a moral reason (or reason concerning justice) but you think His justice does not demand that. We see it differently in that regards.

            Moral reasons come from duty and law from a thing under such things. How can he who is "not under the law" be so? I think you are confusing God's Holiness which is why He can't for example command the Israelites to Rape the Canaanite Women & Children to death even if He could command they be killed with morality. God is the Moral Law but God is not a moral agent. All of God's good works toward you are entirely gratuitous. Starting with creation and going on from there.

            In response to the consideration concerning grace. The way I understand that is, salvation is not merited because we cannot do anything on our own to earn it, but due to God's love and justice He must grant the help needed, otherwise God would not be granting salvation to people who are open to it.

            I don't see how this can be reconciled with St Paul? God is moved by supreme charity to save us but this charity is gratuitous and not motivated by duty ergo God is not morally compelled to save us.
            I think you need to go back and re-read Davies. I could use a refresher as well.

          • Stephen Edwards

            "God's ways are not our ways." I understand this to mean that God acts in ways that we can't fully grasp, I agree with that.

            'God is not a respecter of persons'. I understand the context of this passage to mean that God is not partial to specific races of people. It is used in the NT to argue that God is willing to grant salvation to anyone. I agree with that.

            The lesson of the book of Job to me is that God has mysterious and justified reasons for allowing our suffering. I agree with that.

            As I explained about grace, we cannot do anything to 'earn' grace, but God is willing to give us grace because He loves us. I don't think that supports the view that God doesn't owe us anything out of His justice and love. I agree that we don't 'earn' God's grace, but God could still be obligated by His love and justice to give us grace if we are open to receiving it.

            Then you brought up the paper analogy. I agree that a person opposed to God cannot be justifiably saved, but I think this too is due to God's justice.

            You seem to then argue that God is 'above the law'. But this is not how I understand moral law to be. It isn't a set of rules that a being is above or under. More it is what is intrinsically just or unjust. God is not 'under' a law, but justice is derived from God's being and He always acts in accordance with justice because it is intrinsic to Him.

            I think God's love compels Him to save us and so it is out of love that He does so. If you want to argue that He could have justifiably not done so, I am not going to so you are necessarily incorrect because it is an open question, but to me it makes more sense that God would not have created us in a world of suffering unless He was also going to save us from that suffering. That furthermore, He would never allow us to suffer unless there is a moral reason for allowing it.

            Scripture says that 'God did not create death' for example. I think Scripture testifies to the consideration that God does not want there to be suffering. So I think that goes for all times, including our earthly life.

          • Jim the Scott

            David you should simply own the fact you believe if any "good" (by your definition) "god"(by your definition) exists then there should be absolutely no evil.

          • David Nickol

            I don't see how you conclude that from what I wrote.

            I identify as an agnostic, but I lean toward suspecting that some kind of all-good God does exist, and that although there is something I would say can reasonably be described as the "problem of evil," having faith in an all-good God requires a humble admission that human reason cannot figure out God. I believe I have said in the past that the problem for me with Catholicism is not that it doesn't explain enough; it explains too much. For example, it is not so hard to believe in some kind of "real presence" in the Eucharist, but the "explanation" (transubstantiation) is very hard to believe. Better to leave mysteries unexplained.

            My objection to the discussion here is that it seeks to dismiss human suffering as basically irrelevant, or it tries somehow to turn evil into some kind of a positive—O felix culpa! It does not take human suffering seriously enough. Human suffering takes place in time. Even if some greater good will eventually come of every instance of human suffering, how much consolation can that be during the time of suffering? We exist in time and presumably (even if there is a general resurrection) will always exist in time. Suffering that is allegedly "balanced out" by some future good is still suffering when it is happening, and conceivably for decades to come in many cases.

            What is dealt out here is all theology/philosophy without even a hint of pastoral concerns. Memorizing and repeating everything Aquinas said about God is not going to help anybody actually dealing with human suffering.

          • Jim the Scott

            So basically it's personal asthetics not reason that governs your disbelief here? The "real presence" is easy to believe once you realize things have essence and accidents and I don't see how it is impossible to change something's essence while keeping it's accidents? The "holodeck" on Star Trek is a divice that generates things wiht accidents with no real substance so it's not hard to comprehend if you know the right analogy.
            It does not logically follow that just because God is not obligated to intervin to imediately stop all instances of human suffering (unless He has a good unknown reason too) that human suffering is basically irrelevant. It merely means what it says. God is not a moral agent and given His divine nature as concieved of in classic theism it is absurd if not contradictory to imagine Him as one just as it is to concieve of him as maximally tasting good if you "bit off a piece of him and ate it" just because he is maximally good or more acurately goodness itself.
            Also evil is not a "positive". That seems to be your line of thought. Evil is privation otherwise it isn't evil.

            Even if some greater good will eventually come of every instance of human suffering, how much consolation can that be during the time of suffering?

            Knowing God doesn't owe it to me to stop me from suffering right now(& cannot be concieved of in such a manner) is a great weight taken off my soul. I would hate to imagine He is somehow obligated to stop my suffering right now and He is just being a d....jerk about it. ;-)
            More later I got work to do. Cheers man. good discussion so far.

          • Rob Abney

            Rather, it seems Catholics have it right. All evil is bad, a deficit of goodness, no one wants to accept it, we want a savior to do something about it. He has done something about it! He wants you to do something about it also. I wouldn’t be surprised if you and your friend have an opportunity to do something for the mother that you were discussing.

          • Jim the Scott

            God does not prevent suffering because God is not obligated to prevent it and makes decisions for reasons beyond our understanding.

            He is not obliated to stop it immediately however because of His nature He must eventually. I am sorry but Divine Volenterism is not what is being discussed here (that would apply to theistic personalism anyway).

            But, to me simply indicating that God is not obligated to end suffering and therefore doesn't end suffering, seems to present God as indifferent to suffering.

            I see you problem. You are extrapolating that to mean God is not obligated to stop suffering for all time and may let evil endure forever. That is not what Davies says or any Thomist for that matter but God is not obligated to stop short term suffering. He could and it would be gracious of Him but not obligatory.

          • WCB

            Aristotle's prime mover God. The God that sets the world into motion, withdraws to only contemplate it's own thoughts and does not act or even know the particulars of this world.

      • WCB

        Many theologians deny God has any moral obligation to us. Examples include Ed Feser and William Craig Lane for example, on their websites. Google "does god have moral obligations to us" and you will find many Christian websites deny God does. because if God does have moral obligations to us, he obviously is doing a poor job of it. It makes for some interesting googling. Theists speak a lot about absolute morality, but that seems not to apply to God himself.

    • WCB

      Here is something I call the Nature of Man Problem.

      If God creates man, God must design man, including Man's moral nature. God has three choices.

      A. Create man with a bad moral nature.
      B. Create Man with an indifferent moral nature.
      C. Create man with a good moral nature.

      If God creates man, God must make on of these limited choices. We are not brainless, mindless creatures like Jellyfish who can have no moral nature, lacking a brain.

      Man has no free will, man's will is tied to what nature he is given by God. If God is good, perfectly good, necessarily good because God is simple, his substance and essences are one, God must choose C., make man with a good nature and will free enough to follow that nature. Obviously, we do not live in a Universe where God created all mankind with a good moral nature.

      Again, if God creates man and his moral nature, God has to make the choice, an executive decision. The concept of an omnipotent creator God
      is incoherent and self contradictory and the Universe is not what we would expect if such God actually existed.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        Your entire argument fails because it assumes that God makes man with a "moral nature" (which you do not define) that has no free will. Since man does have free will, all your "alternatives" are illusory.

        Every intellectual being has a will that is ordered toward the good. If confronted with the Infinite Good, as in the Beatific Vision, the will is necessitated toward that unique object, which is God.

        If confronted with lesser goods, the will is not necessitated to this or that finite good nor need one choose at all. That is what is meant by free will.

        God created man with a free will with which to choose between finite goods in this life. Thus, he did not determine any "moral nature." What God determined was that man had the ability to choose between goods, which is what enables us to act as moral agents.

        The choice is ours. God is not responsible if we misuse our freedom to choose evil.

        • WCB

          My argument is that God has to give us what moral nature we have, if God creates us as theism claims. And yes I defined what moral natures God could choose. Good, bad or indifferent. If God created man with no moral nature, where would that moral nature come from? The ether, primornial chaos, fairy land?

          "Every intellectual being has a will that is ordered toward the good. If
          confronted with the Infinite Good, as in the Beatific Vision, the will
          is necessitated toward that unique object, which is God."

          So, we agree. Man's good nature comes from God. We receive it from the "Beatific Vision". Now the question is, why does not God grant all mankind with this "Beatific Vision"? Without that, many people are denied a good moral nature. Yes, our free will is caused by our nature. We agree. We lack a good nature and that restricts our free will, without the "Beatific Vision" a gift from God.

          If we lack a good nature because denied the "Beatific Visions", our free will is damaged by God's choice. If God wanted to banish all moral evil, he could give all mankind the necessary "Beatific Vision", which was what my argument called choice C. Give all mankind a good moral nature.

          Free will cannot precede having a given moral nature. Are we all born with an indifferent moral nature, which for a lucky few will become a good moral nature by God's gift of the "Beatific Vision" as you call it?

          Why would a perfectly good God withhold that from all mankind? Obviously morally evil people freely choose to do evil, none of which is necessary if God would only act. God is very much responsible for the state of affairs of great moral evil existing and acting in the world at large, by God's failure to act.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You still have not defined what you mean by "moral nature."

            Morality presupposes free choice. Otherwise all actions would be determined and of no moral value.

            But you want God to create us with the Beatific Vision, which would mean that we would be given the reward of a morally good life without having lived one.

            Why doesn't God simply create us in a state of eternal bliss from the outset? That seems to be where you are going. My answer is that his infinite justice does not allow that we receive the reward for a freely chosen good life without somehow earning it. At least the normal condition for such reward is passing our "entrance exam" to Heaven.

            What you are missing is that a Heaven earned by freely chosen virtuous actions is intrinsically more valuable than a totally unearned reward. There is an intrinsic justice at issue here.

            I know you want to rewrite the rules of creation in a fashion that looks more perfect from your perspective. But, it is just remotely possible that God has this figured out somewhat better.

          • michael

            I firmly believe morality and determinism are compatible and am determinist. Determinism is needed to believe in The Principle fo Sufficient, reason, which is fundamental to logic.

        • michael

          That' would make him an accomplice to sin.

    • michael

      Evil being "justified' is contrary to the very definition of evil. Nad nothing in this article forcibly demonstrates the existence of a origin thing that created everything else, so your arguments for the existence for god are begging the question, which you accuse critics of doing.

  • I can accept the good being "what all things desire". However, that it's desirable by being "perfect" or the rest? What does this even mean? All things desire food, drink, rest, sex (at least, all sentient life). None of that is "perfect" so far as I can tell.

    I ask again how an incorporeal, infinite being is the cause of corporeal, finite beings. Not that I expect an answer better than the last time. There is a fundamental conflict here which cannot be resolved I think.

    No, the problem of evil is how to reconcile it to God's supposed goodness. Simply assuming this is begging the question. However it seems you go on to do that by saying God is proven. Maybe to you. Obviously though not to the atheists.

    The definition of evil here also seems... odd. All these things you mention are not just a lack of being, but things themselves. Pain isn't just the absence of pleasure. Rather it's also a sensation.

    It is odd that most theists condemn consequentialism and specifically utilitarianism, if you defend God on exactly that basis. Of course, I suppose that you feel this only applies to God, not us.

    Moreover it is hard to imagine why an all-powerful, all-wise being even needs such a means. A human might, because we are limited in power and wisdom, but this is God we're talking about here.

    You say, as usual, that God has a right to do take life etc. but no argument here is actually given. Is something really a gift if the gift-giver can just retrieve it at any time? That seems to butcher the definition.

    All your analogies work if applied to limited beings such as us. That is the problem when talking of God though, who is supposed to have no limitation. What need does God have to inflict damage in removing a tumor, to use your example?

    Moreover, while this may apply to humans, how does any of it touch animals? They are unmoved by punishment, and cannot understand this. If it was for our benefit, what lesson do you see here?

    You imply that this is irrational given that no one objects to eating plants. Is that evil? Why would they object to this? Assuming it is evil, why does life require that living beings eat other to survive? That is, "privation" is a necessity.

    Isn't the point that another world is imaginable, and could have been created by God? Some pain may be necessary. That does not mean the specific level we find, or quality, is.

    How is it beneficial to creation when a few beings' are allowed to corrupt it by their sins, whether human or angels? Moreover, how does that even make sense? The Garden of Eden story relies on this, but it entails collective guilt.

    Yet in the Bible itself, many people are shown as well aware of God's existence, and even speaking with him personally, yet nonetheless able to doubt or sin. This claim is a bit akin to saying knowing that the sun exists impinges on free will.

    You may tell me all that is shown is it's logical possibility for this to be case. Fine, but possible isn't probable. I find this highly improbable when one considers what God is supposed to be. It does not fly.

  • Typical "skeptical theism" response to the logical problem of evil, which of course ignores how severely such a response undercuts the trustworthiness of scripture and revelation: God could easily have you believing false propositions for a greater purpose!

    The evidential problem of evil, however, only requires that one single, solitary act of suffering in the entire history of the universe be actually gratuitous to go thru. I believe Plantinga coined the "noseeum inference", as an appeal to common sense. If an act of suffering, let alone trillions of acts, seem without purpose, we are justified in believing they are without purpose.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      "Clearly, it makes enormous difference as to how one approaches the problem of evil. For the theist, it is merely a problem to be solved. For the atheist, it is a massive obstacle to belief in a good God. It all depends where one starts his enquiry."

      "Since classical metaphysics does demonstrate the existence of an all-good God – and since I have published defenses of such arguments, mine is the former task. It is merely a matter of seeing why the world’s evil is compatible with the all-good God already known to exist. From this perspective, atheists and agnostics simply approach the problem from the wrong end."

      .....from the OP

      Edit: See https://strangenotions.com/how-cosmic-existence-reveals-gods-reality/

      See also https://strangenotions.com/how-new-existence-implies-god/

    • Jim the Scott

      The evidential problem of evil assumes a Theistic Personalist "god" who is a moral agent.

      The Classic Theist is already an atheist toward any such belief in such a "god".

      Of course how can you know with absolute certainty any particular evil is "gratuitous"?

      • Of course how can you know with absolute certainty any particular evil is "gratuitous"?

        I don't claim to. I leave claims of absolute certainty to people who think either that they are infallible or that they have access to infallible sources of knowledge.

        • Jim the Scott

          Good answer. Well done.

        • WCB

          All moral evil is gratuitous if a perfectly good, all powerful God could have eliminated moral evil. If Descartes is right, that God creates the rules and laws of the Universe, then God could have eliminated moral evil. Give mankind a good moral nature and a freewill to follow his good nature as god is said to enjoy. There could be no obstacle to God achieving this, No excuse to accept perfect moral goodness if God is as Descartes claims god is, super omnipotent. If we take those two claims seriously, then we can demonstrate absolute certainty this model of God is not viable.

          • Jim the Scott
          • WCB

            Descartes was not full of crap, when he stated his opinion God created the laws and logic and metaphysical necessities of the Universe. This follow directly from the claim that God creates all of this material Universe. Do the metaphysical necessities of the Universe exist beyond and out side God and his creation and limiting God powers? If so we have established naturalism outranks God and is separate from God.

            Descartes statements are one of those things, once we see it clearly, we cannot unsee it. And it has consequences. His statement raises issues that must be reckoned with. If God creates the laws, rules, metaphysics and very logic of the Universe, and is the very personification of moral good, we would expect then a very different Universe where we try to explain why there is moral evil. This is indeed a powerful argument against the idea of the super omnipotent God concept.

            Do remember, Descartes was the consummate orthodox Catholic.

            You have not touched the central issue here. Despite name dropping and wild goose chase internet linking.

            Where do the laws,rules, logic and metaphysical necessities of the Universe come from? And how do we reconcile Descarte's ideas with these issues?

            This is not an argument about ontological proofs et al.

          • Jim the Scott

            Descartes was so full of it.

            Descartes was as Atheist Philosopher David Stove would call an irrationalist. He believe God could create contradictions. He believe God could make 2+2=5 or make a Rock so heavy etc and if God need to lift the Rock that He couldn't then he suddenly could....what a mess.
            Aquinas is far more rational & coherent. Descartes opinions are meaningless to Scholastics who BTW dominate Catholic thought.

            >Do remember, Descartes was the consummate orthodox Catholic.

            This coming from a guy who still hasn't figured out arguments against Scripture based on Sola Scriptura, Private interpretation and perspecuity are non-starter objections. I mean trying to make me Protestant before you make me an Atheist is just nuts.
            In 1663 the Church put Descartes' work on its Index of Prohibited Books. This is too you "orthodoxy"? You are so uninformed it is impossible to take you seriously.

            >Where do the laws,rules, logic and metaphysical necessities of the Universe come from? And how do we reconcile Descarte's ideas with these issues?

            Descartes is wrong from the bottom up so such questions are non-starters.

            >You have not touched the central issue here. Despite name dropping and wild goose chase internet linking.

            You are dodging the issues because you have a one-size-fits-all aproch to anti-religous polemics which by definition cannot be adiquate.

      • you can tell me that a non personalist god is compatible with christianity or Catholicism but I don't see it.
        Of course how can you know with absolute certainty any particular evil is "gratuitous"?

        sorry if it wasn't clear, that was my bit about the noseeum inference. if an act seems gratuitous, and I can find no reason, even after extensive searching, I can reasonably infer gratuitivnous.

        • Jim the Scott

          you can tell me that a non personalist god is compatible with christianity or Catholicism but I don't see it.

          Which is about as meaningful an objection as "you can tell me humans have a common ancestor with Apes but I don't see it? After all Apes are hairy." that one might get from a Young Earth Creationist with a fifth grader's knowledge in biology.

          blosorry if it wasn't clear, that was my bit about the noseeum inference. if an act seems gratuitous, and I can find no reason, even after extensive searching, I can reasonably infer gratuitivnous.

          Ah somebody whose grammar and spelling is as abysmal as mine.
          We will get along splendidly. I guess for Evil to be gratuitous it must be uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted . Except Rowe wither he admits it or not applies it to a Theistic Personalist deity who is a moral agent. In this context "gratuitous" means evil without any apparent moral justification or practical value for the one afflicted. But if God is not a moral agent in the first place as in Classic Theism (which is the Theism of ancient Christianity, Judaism and even Islam) then this objection becomes a non-starter. Indeed no "evil" appears to be gratuitous when we take the moral factor out of it. God is not morally good. Or more correctly God is not a moral agent. Still more correctly God is not a moral agent unequivocally comparable to a good human moral agent. God is ontologically good and or metaphysically good. But God is not morally good like a human is morally good.

          If you want this fleshed out I recommend the works of Brian Davies.

  • they are in serious doubt that an all-good God can possibly exist.

    Quite a few of us have given up trying to prove the impossibility of God's existence. I for one think a not-so-good god is as improbable as an all-good god.

    Since classical metaphysics does demonstrate the existence of an all-good God – and since I have published defenses of such arguments, mine is the former task. It is merely a matter of seeing why the world’s evil is compatible with the all-good God already known to exist. From this perspective, atheists and agnostics simply approach the problem from the wrong end.

    But “this perspective” presupposes the truth of classical metaphysics. All you are saying here is that those who don't accept your presuppositions are wrong.

    good is equivalent to being

    I see no reason to believe that.

    The good is that which all things desire.

    I see no reason to believe that, either.

    it would appear that evil must be simply non-being.

    It has never appeared that way to me.

    God could never… make two plus two equal five.

    Agreed, but I need neither theology nor metaphysics to know that.

    no one is virtually coerced into this awareness as he would be if God’s existence were undeniably evident.

    Did Jesus virtually coerce his disciples into believing he had risen from the dead? Was Paul, on the road to Damascus, virtually coerced into becoming a Christian?

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Most all of your observations about metaphysical claims merely suggest to me that you either have never had a solid course in metaphysics, or, if you did take a course by that title, it did not impress you. The reason I merely gave supporting references to these claims in the OP is that there hardly was room to give such a course within the confines of a 2500 word OP.

      As to whether Jesus coerced his disciples into seeing him actually risen from the dead, clearly the historical fact of his death and resurrection must be expected to have been directly observed by some witnesses -- or else it would never be known to mankind.

      Nonetheless when "doubting Thomas" finally was confronted with the risen Christ standing before his very eyes, Our Lord explained the difference between those witnesses and those believers who would later come to the faith.

      "Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed." John 21: 29, Douay-Rheims.

      Thus, Scripture affirms the greater merit on the part of those whose belief in revelation is not so clearly "coerced."

      • clearly the historical fact of his death and resurrection must be expected to have been directly observed by some witnesses -- or else it would never be known to mankind.

        That says nothing about whether their observations constituted a coercion of them into believing.

        Nonetheless when "doubting Thomas" finally was confronted with the risen Christ standing before his very eyes, Our Lord explained the difference between those witnesses and those believers who would later come to the faith.
        "Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed." John 21: 29, Douay-Rheims.
        Thus, Scripture affirms the greater merit on the part of those whose belief in revelation is not so clearly "coerced."

        That looks like an admission that even if the other disciples were not coerced, Thomas was, at least in some sense. Would you like to clarify?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          We may be having a bit of trouble with the connotations of "coercion" and "belief." Normally, I would say that we believe in things unseen, that is, not directly understood to be true by the intellect not verified by direct sense experience. But if I see with my own eyes something to be true, or if I clearly see the truth of some philosophical argument, then I no longer believe, but I know.

          In that sense, we are "coerced" by our own witnessing of some fact, such as that Jesus is alive before us. The only relevance of this to my article is that, were the existence of God as evident as the noonday sun, then far fewer people would dare to exercise their free will to defy God's will and laws.

          So, in that sense, both Thomas and the other Apostles who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes had far greater reason to "believe" and follow -- than would later Christians who did not directly see this evidence, but who would still believe. If we want to call it "coercion," that would be the meaning in this context. For that reason, Christ appears to be calling the later Christians to come as "blest" in that their faith in Him would be even more meritorious than that of the Apostles, who had seen the proof with their own eyes.

          • We may be having a bit of trouble with the connotations of "coercion" and "belief.”

            It is beginning to seem that we’re not talking about the same things when we use those words.

            But if I see with my own eyes something to be true, or if I clearly see the truth of some philosophical argument, then I no longer believe, but I know.

            The notion that if one knows something then one does not believe it might have worked for Aristotle. It does not work for me or, so far as I can discern, most modern philosophers. There is a reason why the prevailing definition of knowledge is justified true belief. It can make sense to say, “I don’t only believe it; I know it,” but without the “only,” it’s incoherent.

            The only relevance of this to my article is that, were the existence of God as evident as the noonday sun, then far fewer people would dare to exercise their free will to defy God's will and laws.

            That is a weird kind of respect for free will.

            Let's imagine that I am young again, unmarried, and richer than Bill Gates. I have decided that it's time for me to settle into a committed relationship. A friend who fancies herself a matchmaker thinks she has found the perfect wife for me. By my friend’s description, I am persuaded that this is the woman of my dreams, except just possibly for one thing. I want to be very sure that she will not love me for my money, and on that one issue I'm not prepared to trust my friend’s judgment.

            I cannot coerce her into marrying me, and even if I could, I don't want to do that. I want her to want to marry me, but only if she wants to for the right reasons.

            Given my human limitations, my options are limited. I could set up some subterfuge in which we could become acquainted without her discovering my real identity until I was convinced of the genuineness of her love for me. Such a deceit, though, would have some obvious ethical problems.

            If I were like God, though, I would not have those human cognitive limitations. When she told me that she would love me no less even if I were a pauper, I would know whether she was being sincere. For that matter, she would not even have to say it.

            For that reason, Christ appears to grant them as "blest" in that their faith in Him would be even more meritorious than that of the Apostles.

            I readily understand why many people think it meritorious to believe some things without the kind of evidence that it takes to convince those not antecedently inclined to believe those things.

            Of course some level of some kind of credulity is both necessary and inevitable in the light of our evolutionary history. Necessity, however, does not entail virtue, either moral or epistemic. We cannot all question everything we are told, but we can all question some things, and no one is justified in declaring, “Here are some things that no one may question.”
            If you deny that the church has declared any of its teachings off limits to critical inquiry, I’ll take your word for it. I’m not trying to argue that it has. My objection is to the implied declaration, “You can question our teachings all you like, but you’d better eventually come to the conclusion that they are true.”

            Implied by what? By the teaching that there is something blessed, something meritorious, something that is in some way virtuous, about believing certain things -- not all things, but just some things -- without regard, indeed with deliberate disregard, to any question about their rational justification.

            And may I note at this point that I am not intending to single out Christianity or religion in general. I see the exact same thing among the secular advocates of certain political doctrines on both the left and the right.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >“I readily understand why many people think it meritorious to believe some things without the kind of evidence that it takes to convince those not antecedently inclined to believe those things.”

            If you grant this point, I don’t really see why you object to my suggesting that God has created a world in which men can evade the call to moral goodness if they really want an excuse to do so. It isn’t that God cannot read the genuineness of our love for him, but rather that the act of the will itself is more open to its own spontaneous choice when motivated more by love than by fear.

            Your depiction of what the Church implicitly declares is that “You can question our teachings all you like, but you’d better eventually come to the conclusion that they are true.”

            This is simply false. The Catholic Church teaches that faith is a gift from God that one cannot merit. For that reason, no one can insist that all must become Catholic or lose their souls. She does teach that once one knows the Faith is true, it then is impossible to lose that knowledge without committing sin.

            Now, it is true that St. Paul says in Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

            Since Paul is writing to the Greeks and barbarians as well here, this appears to imply that most men should be able to come to a natural knowledge of God’s existence. Yet, notice that even there he says “being understood from what has been made,” thereby implying some act of reasoning – which looks to me a lot like your own reference to there being a “rational justification.”

            Since I accept God’s existence, I also accept that God can read the sincerity of any human being’s heart. Therefore, no judgment by God would be made adversely to someone who has searched his conscience and knowledge in all honestly and still does not see the likelihood of his existence.

            Scripture does not explicitly condemn every person who doubts God’s existence -- although it does say that “the fool says in his heart that there is no God.” It is one thing not to know whether God exists, and yet quite another to insist that God does not exist.

            Genuine agnosticism does not conclude that it knows that God is not, but only that it does not know that God is.

            The agnostic who does not know that God exists, but then chooses to live his life as if God does not exist, is actually a practical atheist – and for this choice God may render judgment, and this especially, should they choose thereby to live flagrantly evil lives.

            Yet, since God is Justice as well as Mercy Itself, it is foolhardy to us humans personally to prejudge his judgment of any individual soul.

          • “I readily understand why many people think it meritorious to believe some things without the kind of evidence that it takes to convince those not antecedently inclined to believe those things.”

            If you grant this point, I don’t really see why you object to my suggesting that God has created a world in which men can evade the call to moral goodness if they really want an excuse not to do so.

            First, you seem to assume that the “why” to which I referred was a good reason. I don’t think there is a good reason to “think it meritorious to believe some things without the kind of evidence that it takes to convince those not antecedently inclined to believe those things.”

            Second, what I most object to is the equation of disbelief in God with an aversion to moral goodness. I know you’re not claiming that there are no morally good atheists, but there actually would not be any if that equation were true.

            no one can insist that all must become Catholic or lose their souls.

            I made no claim to the contrary. I was not talking about what the church says is necessary for salvation. I was talking about what the church says one must do if one wishes to evaluate the truth of its teachings. What the church says about one’s fate in the afterlife if one reaches the wrong conclusions would be a different subject.

            She does teach that once one knows the Faith is true, it then is impossible to lose that knowledge without committing sin.

            I believe that would be the sin of apostasy, am I correct?

            Yet, since God is Justice as well as Mercy Itself, it is foolhardy to us humans personally to prejudge his judgment of any individual soul.

            I realize that the church is not claiming that all atheists will burn in hell. I’m not trying to criticize the church’s soteriology. I’m trying to criticize its epistemology.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I will focus on what seems to bother you most:

            >"Second, what I most object to is the equation of disbelief in God with an aversion to moral goodness. I know you’re not claiming that there are no morally good atheists, but there actually would not be any if that equation were true."

            I don't think your inference follows, since the antecedent appears to be false.

            I am quite familiar with the French existentialist, Gabriel Marcel's, explanation that failure to see the proofs for God's existence need not evince the existence of "bad faith" on the part of the unbeliever.

            He explains that trying to prove something true to another requires getting that other person to see reality from nearly the same perspective as oneself. In some cases, this is impossible for all practical purposes.

            Consider trying to explain the inner workings of the New York Stock Exchange to some farming peasant from Outer Mongolia -- and to have to do it in a short time. Not likely a doable task.

            Given the vast differences that exist in different individuals epistemological and metaphysical perspectives, all proofs for God's existence may ( i say "may," not "must.") encounter this same noetic barrier.

            That is why Vatican Council I, when dogmatically defining that the existence of God can be known by natural reason, was careful not to say "can be demonstrated" by natural reason, since that latter wording would imply the precise opposite of Marcel's point -- namely, that one could virtually coerce theism through a properly constructed argument.

            This is why the Catholic Church was, at the same time, careful precisely NOT to embrace the premise of your argument, namely, the error of identifying "the equation of disbelief in God with an aversion to moral goodness...."

          • This is why the Catholic Church was, at the same time, careful precisely NOT to embrace the premise of your argument

            I was not addressing what the church has said. I was addressing what you said, which was: "God has created a world in which men can evade the call to moral goodness if they really want an excuse not to do so." Since I have said nothing about wanting any excuse to evade any call to moral goodness, what was the point of that statement?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Note please, I said "can evade," not "will evade."

            Still, I think it would be naive to believe that all atheism is the product of purely indifferent speculative problems with the existence of God. I had a friend in college who gave me arguments for two years defending his atheism. Then, one day, he said to me, "Maybe someday I will tell you the real reason why I am an atheist. That was a revealing statement. By the way, he never did.

            Now I know that not all atheists can be put into the same category, just as all theists cannot. But I still think that for many people the absence of the binding force of inconvenient theistic pronouncements like the Ten Commandments is welcomed.

            I do not judge your personal reasons for your philosophical position. But I still think my general observation about the kind of world God has happened to create is true and applicable to a good number of people.

            How else should one read the implications of Dostoevsky when he said famously "If God does not exist, everything is permitted."?

            And yes, Dostoevsky did say it: https://infidels.org/library/modern/andrei_volkov/dostoevsky.html

          • Still, I think it would be naive to believe that all atheism is the product of purely indifferent speculative problems with the existence of God.

            Of course it would, but the observation is no more relevant than saying it would be naive to believe that all Christianity is the product of careful philosophical inquiry into the metaphysical issues examined by Aristotle and Aquinas.

            How else should one read the implications of Dostoevsky when he said famously "If God does not exist, everything is permitted."?

            And yes, Dostoevsky did say it: https://infidels.org/librar…

            Thank you for the link. I was not aware that the attribution was such a hot topic.

            For the moment, I’m not interested in the accuracy of the quotation as an utterance by any of the characters in The Brothers Karamazov. I’ll just stipulate that, in the novel, Mitya did say it. But are we therefore justified in saying that Dostoevsky said it? Maybe, but so what if he did? There are no implications except this: One of the greatest novelists of the 19th century believed it. And of that, there are no further implications. Nothing follows from it.

            The implications of "If God does not exist, everything is permitted" do not depend on who said it. Like any statement of the form “If A then B,” we are confronted with two questions. First: Is it actually the case that if we affirm A, we cannot deny B without contradiction? I don’t think an affirmative answer has been proved, and I can’t help suspecting that the difficulty, if not impossibility, of finding a proof is revealed by the popularity of this “Dostoevsky said so” argument.

            If we could prove an affirmative answer to the first question, then we could consider the second: Must we affirm A? Theists presuppose that must deny A, and if that were all they did, they could rightly conclude that B was without justification. But instead they argue: B must be denied, therefore A must be denied. And that is valid reasoning, but it depends on the truth of “If A then B.” If that has yet to be proved, then it is circular as an argument for theism. It presupposes that there can be no defense of morality except a theistic defense. And I submit once more: The existence of moral atheists falsifies that presupposition.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The real problem here has to do with your statement about the "existence of moral atheists."

            It all depends on what you call "morality" or "morals."

            If by morals or ethics, you mean a self-imposed code of conduct, then atheists can have morality.

            But if morality or ethics entails a code of conduct that entails obligations which must be met regardless of the beliefs or wants of the person having them, then we have a problem.

            For the atheist, there is no basis for obligation beyond that which he himself is willing to accept -- even if it is some sort of virtue ethics, since even that entails his voluntary acceptance of the values contained therein.

            For the natural law ethician, the content of natural law comes from a transcendental law giver, namely, God. Obligation comes from above and is not of my making. I have no choice about it.

            In fact, the very meaning of "obligation" comes from the Latin verb "obligo," meaning to "tie together." The stem, "ligare," means "to tie." Thus, obligation connotes being "tied" to something beyond oneself, or else it has no objective meaning at all. If I am the one doing the "tying," I can "untie" myself at will. But, if the "tying" comes from something outside myself, I am not so free to abandon my "obligation."

            It is not enough to say that I am tied to my practice of even virtue, since I am free to deny virtue and even my own nature, if I am the highest being in the situation. But if God has created my nature, as in natural law, then I am "tied" to his ordinance and law from above, and I am obliged to obey his laws by a moral power above my own.

            In the latter meaning of "morals" then, there is no such thing as a "moral atheist."

          • If by morals or ethics, you mean a self-imposed code of conduct, then atheists can have morality.

            I mean any code of conduct that presupposes a distinction between what English speakers generally call “right” and “wrong.”

            But if morality or ethics entails a code of conduct that entails obligations which must be met regardless of the beliefs or wants of the person having them, then we have a problem.

            The problem involves the answer to the question “Why must those obligations be met?” More specifically, it is about choosing an authority whose answer we must accept and figuring out why we are obliged to obey that authority.

            For the atheist, there is no basis for obligation beyond that which he himself is willing to accept

            That is not so. Most atheists, myself included, agree that any society is justified in imposing obligations on its members even if some of those members don’t accept those obligations. Morality is a social thing, not an individual thing.

            For the natural law ethician, the content of natural law comes from a transcendental law giver, namely, God. Obligation comes from above and is not of my making. I have no choice about it.

            I am not accusing you of inconsistency. You, if I’m understanding you correctly, are accusing me of inconsistency. I am attempting to rebut that accusation.

            In fact, the very meaning of "obligation" comes from the Latin verb "obligo," meaning to "tie together."

            Etymology informs us about the original meanings of words. It tells us nothing about current meanings. Current meanings are established by current usage, not ancient usage. Nobody today thinks that someone cannot be a hypocrite if they’re not performing in a theater.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"Most atheists, myself included, agree that any society is justified in imposing obligations on its members even if some of those members don’t accept those obligations. Morality is a social thing, not an individual thing."

            This theory of "most atheists" is neither new nor coherent. It is simply the form of moral positivism known as social contract theory -- a theory originally proposed long ago in various forms by Thomas Hobbes and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

            According to this theory, the state is not a natural society, but simply a social convention. Men give up their individual liberty to form a civil society for the common good that can then establish the beginnings of right and wrong. From this is formed a state that can confer and abrogate rights and which can enforce legal obligations on all its citizens.

            How a purely conventional and arbitrary society can have such powers is not clear from the initial state of man, but Hobbes and Rousseau and other social contract theorists make that claim.

            Either this whole construction is a mere product of the will of men, in which case it is difficult to see how it confers objective obligations in conscience, or else, some magical powers are conferred upon the state as a whole that reside in no individual men, in which case this sounds a lot like natural law theory in which society as a whole is a natural institution whose powers are delegated from God.

            While the state can create a kind of extrinsic morality by passing laws for the common good in indifferent matters and make them binding in conscience, when it comes to some matters of intrinsic morality, it has no power to command or forbid. For example, no state could survive that commanded murder, theft, perjury, or treason or that forbade kindness, honesty, truthfulness, and loyalty.

            Such acts are good or bad in themselves and clearly proceed, not from the state, but the nature of man himself -- and whose binding force of obligation are intelligible only in terms of some higher authority that transcends society itself.

            Thus, the American Founding Fathers recognized that men have "inalienable rights" which are given to them by God, their Creator. Clearly, atheism offers no such foundation for objective natural rights through its logically incoherent social contract theory.

            Again, that is why I said that, if morals proceeds from an objective rule and measure not of mere human invention, then there is no basis for speaking about a "moral atheist," since, ultimately, the atheist is merely making up his own code of conduct which he can arbitrarily cast aside as he wills. That is the meaning of "moral positivism." It is "morality" that comes from someone's will. And, in the case of atheism, ultimately it proceeds from the atheist's own will -- which is why he is free to reject it as he wills.

          • Either this whole construction is a mere product of the will of men, in which case it is difficult to see how it confers objective obligations in conscience, or else . . . .

            I'm not the one insisting on the existence of objective obligations in conscience. You are. Until I see a good argument for their existence, I don't need much of an argument against it.

            no state could survive that commanded murder, theft, perjury, or treason or that forbade kindness, honesty, truthfulness, and loyalty.

            And that is all the reason any state needs to not command murder etc. or to not forbid kindness etc. Without the state, people don’t survive, and if people don’t survive, nothing they believe about good or evil makes a speck of difference.

            Such acts are good or bad in themselves and clearly proceed, not from the state, but the nature of man himself

            That’s what Aristotle said. What logical mistake and I making if I say he was wrong?

            Thus, the American Founding Fathers recognized that men have "inalienable rights" which are given to them by God, their Creator.

            I attribute no more infallibility to the nation’s founders than I do to any other group of men.

            Clearly, atheism offers no such foundation for objective natural rights through its logically incoherent social contract theory.

            I’m not claiming atheism as a foundation for anything that we have been discussing.

            If you ask me whether I believe Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God, I could say, “Since I don’t believe in God, I must answer in the negative.” But when you ask me about the basis of my moral philosophy, I would be committing a logical fallacy if I began my response with, “Since I don’t believe in God . . . .”

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Why do you even bother using the words, "morals," or "ethics," if the only binding force of conscience is laws that are based on survival of the fittest for society? How does that make us any different than mere animals?

            I know. The implicit position of your atheism is precisely that we are merely highly developed animals.

            But then, why pretend that we have any real "morals" that bind in conscience any more than a stop sign tells us to stop or we may get hit by a car or given a ticket?

            Even chimps can be taught to respond to conditioning in a similar manner.

            That does not make it what people mean by "ethics" as a sense of right and wrong that binds in conscience, not merely in terms of reward or punishment.

            I guess, in your perspective, if a society does define human life as beginning at birth and ending when we are no longer able to care for ourselves, then there would be no inherent right to life that that society or its individual members must respect -- since all rights come from the state. Every right becomes a privilege, just like our drivers licence.

            It also follows that nothing no act at all is intrinsically evil, no matter how heinous.

            I suspect you have redefined the term, "morals," out of any meaningful content.

          • Why do you even bother using the words, "morals," or "ethics,"

            Because I belong to a linguistic community that uses those words to label certain concepts concerning which I believe some serious discussion is necessary.

            How does that make us any different than mere animals?

            We can make choices that nature has denied them. Chimpanzees cannot discuss among themselves the possible benefits of making a collective decision not to murder their neighbors.

            I know. The implicit position of your atheism is precisely that we are merely highly developed animals.

            That is not implicit in my atheism. It is implicit in my understanding of the relevant science, which gives me no reason to suspect we are anything else. The church’s position is that it knows something important about us beyond what science can discover. I have yet to see the church defend that position with any argument that does not ultimately reduce to either “Aristotle said so” or “The Bible says so.”

            But then, why pretend that we have any real "morals" that bind in conscience any more than a stop sign tells us to stop or we may get hit by a car or given a ticket?

            I fail to see what is so unreal about a moral code that is based on the foreseeable consequences of whatever actions the code seeks to regulate. If you think we should judge some behaviors right or wrong without any consideration of their consequences, you need to give me a better reason than “The church says so” or “Aristotle said so” or “Aquinas said so.” And if you say, “But they do have consequences,” then what exactly is the basis of your objection to my consequentialism?

            That does not make it what people mean by "ethics" as a sense of right and wrong that binds in conscience, not merely in terms of reward or punishment.

            You may perceive the human conscience as some kind of sensory function that perceives moral truths existing independently of our minds. I believe we humans have a few moral instincts because we are descended from creatures that would not have survived without them. But the same natural selection that gave us those instincts also endowed us with mind that could re-evaluate those instincts to accommodate differences between the world we live in and the world in which our ancestors evolved. As a result of that re-evaluation, we can resist some of those instincts because they no longer have any survival value, and we can do our best to add some instincts that would have been no use to our ancestors. But those instincts certainly exist, they are subject to modification, and they are relevant to any discussion of moral philosophy, and no scientifically literate moral philosopher is trying to argue otherwise.

            Oh, and when we violate those instincts? We sooner or later wish we had not. Absent divine punishment in the afterlife, that is as binding as it gets, and it seems to work about as effectively as threats of hellfire.

            I guess, in your perspective, if a society does define human life as beginning at birth and ending when we are no longer able to care for ourselves, then there would be no inherent right to life that that society or its individual members must respect -- since all rights come from the state.

            All legal rights come from the state. There are others. I can hurt people in ways that the state won’t prohibit, but sane secularists don’t argue that whatever is not against civil law is therefore morally acceptable.

            It also follows that nothing no act at all is intrinsically evil, no matter how heinous.

            I don’t think intrinsic-extrinsic is a useful distinction in this context. Good and evil are judgments we make. We can make those judgments by exercising our reason to the best of our ability, or we can ask some authority to make them for us, thereby disclaiming any further responsibility on our own part. As in, “I’m just following orders.”

            I suspect you have redefined the term, "morals," out of any meaningful content.

            We define it differently. We both agree that it has some connection with concepts we call “right” and “wrong.” If you say that those concepts are meaningless in my worldview, I vehemently deny that.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am sorry that all you can see in Thomists' arguments is that they appear supported only by citations from St. Thomas (or Aristotle), but the reason is that we Thomists find that the Angelic Doctor gives such solid reasons for his positions that his authority resides, not in habit, but the realization that his arguments are usually sound. Our philosophical reasoning stands on its own, but is often expressed within a total system framework of reasoning which you do not accept. That does not make it wrong. In fact, I gave readers an argument for the simplicity of perception in a previous article which no purely materialistic worldview can explain. https://strangenotions.com/divine-simplicity/

            The problem with your ethical consequentialism is that it is nothing new, but simply a variation on the old utilitarianism. The unanswerable difficulty with any utilitarian ethical system is that it allows that the end can justify the means, no matter how evil in itself the means may be. That entails a total lack of universal negative principles -- meaning that there are just some things you can never do, like murder, rape, or simply being deliberately unkind.

            If I mention something like murder, you will claim that your ethics would never sanction it anyway because it would violate worthy human ends. I agree it violates worthy human ends, but that is because in itself it is evil.

            The sad history of mankind is that, in the name of seeking some "higher good," we have allowed the extermination of innocent human life, from the massive genocide of abortion to the new-found "right" to various forms of euthanasia that are now being legally adopted even in the United States. (Perhaps, it has now been decided that suicide is not the "taking of innocent human life?)

            Finally, we have the matter of the sense of obligation that belongs to morality. That is, at its root, the dictate to do good and avoid evil is not a mere sentiment we feel, but the deepest sense of strict obligation, whose violation begets rightly the sense of guilt.

            Is that sense of obligation merely some evolved instinct we have? Or is it rationally dictated? If it is merely evolved instinct, then reason can easily do away with it if need be. If it is merely my personal choice or something that comes from the community, then it has no real binding force -- since I could change my mind and do away with it. If it comes only from the community, then why do you recognize that not all legal requirements are morally binding?

            Surely, I am not obligated merely to myself. The whole sense of obligation means that it somehow comes from outside myself, does it not? But if man is the highest animal, where does it come from?

            We might argue about the specific details of what is moral, but I am sure we agree that we are bound to do good and avoid evil. Well, what binds us? Ourselves? If so, we can unbind ourselves. Then, why are we bound by this most basic moral principle?

            It may sound like mere "tradition," but the only way an absolute sense of obligation can underlie moral precepts is if we are not total masters of our own destiny, but are subject to the God who made us and made our natures and from whose basic moral precepts there is no appeal.

            Even if you say we are merely following the prudence of our natures, why the sense of obligation to do so? Again, is it mere primitive evolved instinct? Survival of the fittest? If so, then it has no inherent binding force.

            Or, doesn't your morals entail absolute obligation to do good and avoid evil? If not, how is it morals at all? If it does, what is the real basis for that obligation? Again, saying that it somehow evolved into reality is no real justification, since we can rationally choose to ignore even something essential to survival. That is suicide. But why is it that sense of absolute obligation essential to any valid ethical system there at all?

            No God. No ethical obligation. No ethics.

          • I am sorry that all you can see in Thomists' arguments is that they appear supported only by citations from St. Thomas (or Aristotle), but the reason is that we Thomists find that the Angelic Doctor gives such solid reasons for his positions that his authority resides, not in habit, but the realization that his arguments are usually sound.

            If you say his arguments are sound, then you say (according to the standard definition of soundness) that every premise of his arguments is true. Until I see a defense of all those premises that makes no reference to Aquinas’s status in the church, I don't think I'm being unreasonable if I treat “according to Aquinas” as a simple argument from authority.

            Our philosophical reasoning stands on its own, but is often expressed within a total system framework of reasoning which you do not accept. That does not make it wrong.

            Of course my unacceptance does not make it wrong, but I am not trying to prove it wrong. I am claiming that my disagreement with your framework of reasoning is not unreasonable.

            The unanswerable difficulty with any utilitarian ethical system is that it allows that the end can justify the means

            Unanswerable? Sure, on the assumption of the church’s infallibility.

            The sad history of mankind is that, in the name of seeking some "higher good," we have allowed the extermination of innocent human life,

            Yeah, we secularists have made some ghastly mistakes. And the church never has? How is it that our atrocities discredit us but your atrocities don't discredit you?

            Is that sense of obligation merely some evolved instinct we have?

            I don't see why it can't be.

            If it is merely evolved instinct, then reason can easily do away with it if need be.

            Reason can easily overcome instinct, you say? You really believe that?

            If it is merely my personal choice or something that comes from the community, then it has no real binding force -- since I could change my mind and do away with it. If it comes only from the community, then why do you recognize that not all legal requirements are morally binding?

            You’re the one, not me, looking for that ethereal, impalpable, indistinguishable-from-nothing “binding force.” Even if it is real, it seems to be of no consequence. The church throughout its history, when attempting to influence human behavior, has had recourse to nothing except persuasion or physical coercion. That is all that any human society will ever have, quite regardless of where that society thinks its morals come from.

            Surely, I am not obligated merely to myself.

            And I never said you were. You have some obligations to the society of which you are a member and on which you depend for your survival.

            But if man is the highest animal, where does it come from?

            I don't regard man as highest in any sense pertinent to this conversation. We have some cognitive abilities that no other animal has. Some of those abilities create the necessity of asking, and trying to the best of our ability to answer, questions about right and wrong.

            but I am sure we agree that we are bound to do good and avoid evil. Well, what binds us? Ourselves? If so, we can unbind ourselves. Then, why are we bound by this most basic moral principle?

            If we are indifferent to the distinction between good and evil, we will not survive. If we do not survive, then all of these questions will have no relevance. Our survival is thus contingent on our giving these questions serious attention. The needs of survival, it seems to me, are as binding as anything can be.

            It may sound like mere "tradition," but the only way an absolute sense of obligation can underlie moral precepts is if we are not total masters of our own destiny, but are subject to the God who made us and made our natures and from which basic moral precepts there is no appeal.

            You’re arguing in a circle. “We are not total masters of our own destiny, but are subject to the God who made us and made our natures” is just what your tradition says.

            how is it morals at all?

            According to your definition of morals, I suppose it isn't. I just don't see an obligation on my part to think morals can't be anything besides what you or your philosophical-ecclesiastical forebears say they are.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think you are admitting that morals and the recognition of good and evil and measured by you in terms of their survival value, but not in the sense that we have any obligation beyond that to follow them.

            The traditional meaning of morals does include a sense of obligation beyond mere self-interest and a recognition that violation of morals entails an objective "wrongness" that is more than merely a "mistake" that gets us into trouble with our own existence.

            It boils down to whether one sees morals as an obligation to some "higher value" than one's own evolved self-interest. I can see from your perspective that there is nothing more to right and wrong than what serves the self-interest of the individual or species -- a purely naturalistic viewpoint.

            What you are implicitly admitting is that ethics without God involves no sense of obligation beyond oneself. But the unanswerable question is how can one be obligated to oneself in any meaningful sense. Mankind's universal sense of obligation in morality really means nothing then except self-interest -- and, at that, in utilitarianism with no guiding principles beyond whatever seems to work.

            That may how you reinterpret the traditional meaning of morals according to naturalism, but it certainly isn't what man's universal sense of objective right and wrong and justified experience of guilt reflects.

            The truth is that ethics makes sense only in a framework of metaphysics with God as supreme lawgiver who establishes values beyond our selfish selves. I realize that your atheism will never allow you to concede this. Still, to maintain your atheism it is necessary to establish a meaning of "morals" which is stripped of all its objective and genuinely obligatory content.

            By the way, natural law ethics is not the same thing as Catholic Church teaching, even though that teaching reflects and supports it. By saying it is merely Church teaching, it makes it sound like natural law ethics is a matter of pure faith, rather than based on rational principles.

            I think the real reason we have no common understanding of the meaning of morals comes from the fact that objective ethics is based on a metaphysical framework that includes the God whom your atheism rejects.

            This again comes down to saying that there is no such thing as a "moral atheist," granting for purposes of clarity that "morality" means "objective morality." (Utilitarianism provides no objective content to morality beyond an end that can justify any means, regardless of how evil -- as I have explained in detail in prior comments.)

          • I think you are admitting that morals and the recognition of good and evil and measured by you in terms of their survival value, but not in the sense that we have any obligation beyond that to follow them.

            I understand that from the Christian perspective, some things are more important than our physical survival. Now, I will stipulate the possibility that I could be mistaken in rejecting the Christian perspective. However, given that I do reject it, I am not being irrational if I say that, if X is demonstrably necessary for survival, then I have all the justification I need for accepting X.

            The traditional meaning of morals does include a sense of obligation beyond mere self-interest

            The traditional meaning is not the only meaning. What matters is not our commitment to tradition but our commitment to striving for an understanding of the difference between right and wrong. A particular meaning of that difference is not entitled to default status just because it is traditional.

            It boils down to whether one sees morals as an obligation to some "higher value" than one's own evolved self-interest.

            That is what our disagreement boils down to. You believe that those higher values exist. I do not.

            I can see from your perspective that there is nothing more to right and wrong than what serves the self-interest of the individual or species -- a purely naturalistic viewpoint.

            I accept naturalism, and you don't, and that does explain just about all of our disagreement. But to argue “Naturalism is unjustified, therefore any naturalistic morality is unjustified” is a bit question-begging, wouldn't you agree?

            What you are implicitly admitting is that ethics without God involves no sense of obligation beyond oneself.

            That is how you have interpreted me. It is not a correct interpretation. In my ethical system, I have obligations to other people that may often require the subordination of my personal desires to their needs.

            but it certainly isn't what man's universal sense of objective right and wrong and justified experience of guilt reflects.

            Just calling it a sense begs some metaphysical questions. Most people do have an intuitive feeling that the answers to at least some ethical questions are matters of objective fact. Our intuitions, though, are no more infallible than any of our other cognitive faculties.

            to maintain your atheism it is necessary to establish a meaning of "morals" which is stripped of all its objective and genuinely obligatory content.

            The objectivity of moral principles is your presupposition. So is your claim that there can be no genuine obligations without it.

            By saying it is merely Church teaching, it makes it sound like natural law ethics is a matter of pure faith, rather than based on rational principles. atheism rejects.

            Did I say “merely”?

            I am never quite sure what a Christian means when they use the word “faith” unless they explicitly define it. It often appears to be just a synonym for “assumption.” I get it that the doctrine of natural law was derived by a process of reasoning, not declared independently of any other propositions. But the reasoning had to proceed from some set of assumptions. Some of the assumptions on which natural-law arguments depend are metaphysical principles that I believe can be denied without contradiction. And if I can deny them without contradiction, then I commit no offense against reason if I deny them.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"The objectivity of moral principles is your presupposition. So is your claim that there can be no genuine obligations without it."

            If "objectivity of moral principles" is my presupposition, that appears to imply that it is not yours. So, I take it on your own words that you have no "objective moral principles?"

            You have finally managed to "convince" me of that which I already knew and have taught for decades, namely, that you can have no objective morals without the corresponding metaphysical and general philosophical foundations on which it is based.

            Since you also affirm, "I accept naturalism, and you don't, and that does explain just about all of our disagreement,"
            I must agree with you that there is no basis for us agreeing about the nature of ethics. What is needed before we can even rationally discuss the topic would be agreement in matters of basic philosophy, such as the nature of man having a spiritual and immortal soul, the existence and goodness of God, and so forth.

            Absent that agreement, we are wasting each other's time here. I suggest we lock horns elsewhere on other more basic issues rather than merely agreeing to disagree on a topic where our presupposed worldviews are totally at odds.

            As for the meaning of the word, "morals," I have always equated it with "objective morality."

            Since you clearly deny that morality is objective (see above), I guess I have no choice but to give you the word, "morals," and go off in search of another one

            >“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
            “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
            “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all
            .” (From Through the Looking Glass, chapter six)

          • What is needed before we can even rationally discuss the topic would be agreement in matters of basic philosophy, such as the nature of man having a spiritual and immortal soul, the existence and goodness of God, and so forth.

            I don’t think rational discussion requires shared presuppositions. Rational discussion can just expose which presuppositions are held by one side and not the other. At that point, the discussion can proceed, if both sides are willing, to an analysis of how or whether those presuppositions can be justified.

            Absent that agreement, we are wasting each other's time here.

            I don’t invest my time here in hopes of convincing retired professors of philosophy that they spent their whole careers promulgating erroneous ideas. I do it in hopes of showing some people who follow the discussion why a reasonable person might think those ideas are erroneous, notwithstanding their promulgation by professional philosophers.

            “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
            “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
            “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”
            (From Through the Looking Glass, chapter six)

            I’ve seen that quotation a few times in various contexts. It’s been probably 40 years or so since the first time, and on that occasion, I thought Humpty was talking nonsense. In those days, though, I will still holding on to a kind of Aristotelian essentialism about language.

            I still disagree with Humpty about one thing. It is not about anybody being master of anything. It is, among other things, about whether we should believe those who tell us that they speak on the master’s behalf.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Perhaps you thought Humpty is talking nonsense for the same kinds of reasons you think Aristotelian philosophers are talking nonsense. After all, Charles L. Dodgson was a professional mathematician and logician.

            As I noted previously, the force of natural law ethics logically presupposes a true understanding of the philosophical psychology, metaphysics, and natural theology that it presupposes.

            Therefore, I cannot demonstrate the deepest errors of your moral stance without showing the rational inadequacies of your presupposed naturalism.

            I don't propose to do all that in this thread. But I have shown in a previous OP that the simplicity of perception cannot be explained by the sort of materialist metaphysics which is more closely associated with naturalism than most naturalists are willing to admit: https://strangenotions.com/divine-simplicity/
            And no, I don't wish to re-argue that point, since its proof is in the linked OP.

            One other truth which I find naturalists necessarily accept, but really have no explanation for, is the principle of non-contradiction. No one outside an asylum can reject it, and yet there is simply no rational explanation as to how we know it is true. Certainly not from empirical verification of any sort, nor from the assumed rules of formal logic, which necessarily presuppose it. It is always entertaining to watch people try to explain its basis without admitting that the intellect has access to certitudes, which natural science simply cannot explain.

            There are a lot of other realities that naturalism fails to explain, but none are as easily defended as the two I just mentioned. That does not mean that you will either accept my points or cease to debate about them. I am sure you will first claim that they do not actually affect your own worldview.

            My reason for pointing to two such obvious truths that do not comport with your perspective is the same as yours. As you say, "I do it in hopes of showing some people who follow the discussion why a reasonable person might think [your] ideas are erroneous...."

          • My reason for pointing to two such obvious truths that do not comport with your perspective is the same as yours. As you say, "I do it in hopes of showing some people who follow the discussion why a reasonable person might think [your] ideas are erroneous...."

            Good. Then neither of us is wasting their time.

            I cannot demonstrate the deepest errors of your moral stance without showing the rational inadequacies of your presupposed naturalism.

            I don't propose to do all that in this thread. But I have shown in a previous OP that the simplicity of perception cannot be explained by the sort of materialist metaphysics which is more closely associated with naturalism than most naturalists are willing to admit: https://strangenotions.com/...

            And no, I don't wish to re-argue that point, since its proof is in the linked OP.

            That proof seems circular. It seems to presuppose the Aristotelian metaphysics that it purports to defend.

            I considered posting something to that effect in that thread, but I got the impression that you were more concerned there with reassuring those who already believed than with showing nonbelievers the error of their ways of thinking.

            One other truth which I find naturalists necessarily accept, but really have no explanation for, is the principle of non-contradiction.

            The principle of non-contradiction accepted by most naturalists affirms that no statement can be at the same time both true and false. This requires no explanation beyond the observation that no statement can mean anything if we don’t assume that principle. If you have some other principle of non-contradiction in mind, then any objection you might raise alleging its indefensibility absent Aristotelian metaphysics is irrelevant.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am pleased to see that you agree with the principle of non-contradiction.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            So, the meaningfulness of all naturalists' statements is based on a mere assumption?

          • So, the meaningfulness of all naturalists' statements is based on a mere assumption?

            As Euclid understood, though I doubt he was the first, there can be no assumption-free belief system. We can debate whether a given proposition may, should, or must be assumed, but we cannot even begin the discussion without assuming something.

            I can't speak for all naturalists on this point. I would say that I assume both the axioms of logic and that statements have meaning, without giving priority to either. Without logic, statements have no meaning, but without meaningful statements, logic is itself meaningless.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This brings you to the point at which your entire knowledge sinks to mere assumptions. That is my point.

            Logic itself cannot even be expressed without presupposing the principle of non-contradiction. The most fundamental logical principle that the same predicate cannot both be affirmed and denied of the same subject is merely the logical form of the principle of non-contradiction. You cannot even make a statement without first presupposing this metaphysical principle in its logical form.

            If all ultimately reduces to mere assumptions, you might as well take the position of the ultimate skeptic, Cratylus, who simply wagged his finger in response to all questions.

            I have shown before elsewhere how the universal certitude of the principle of non-contradiction is attained through forming the concept of being from sensio-intellective experience of reality. But then, that is Aristotelian stuff, which you eschew.

            And, if you respond to this in meaningful sentences, whatever you say will be presuming the principle of non-contradiction in its logical form.

            I can then licitly declare that everything you say is a mere assumption. If your naturalism leads to such an absurd position, why should anyone take it seriously?

          • This brings you to the point at which your entire knowledge sinks to mere assumptions.

            My knowledge is based on assumptions. And so is everyone else's. As I said, there is no reasoning without them.

            To say that a building has a foundation of a certain kind is not to say that the building sinks to that foundation.

            Logic itself cannot even be expressed without presupposing the principle of non-contradiction.

            So says your metaphysics.

            The most fundamental logical principle that the same predicate cannot both be affirmed and denied of the same subject is merely the logical form of the principle of non-contradiction.

            Non-contradiction is a logical principle, period. Calling it a form of anything assumes your Aristotelian conclusion.

            you might as well take the position of the ultimate skeptic, Cratylus, who simply wagged his finger in response to all questions.

            If I get an argument for the claim that we don't need assumptions, I will address it. Finger-wagging is not an argument.

            I have shown before elsewhere how the universal certitude of the principle of non-contradiction is attained through forming the concept of being from sensio-intellective experience of reality. But then, that is Aristotelian stuff, which you eschew.

            I'm not arguing that it cannot be attained the way Aristotle attained it. I am disputing your claim that it cannot be attained any other way.

            whatever you say will be presuming the principle of non-contradiction in its logical form.

            The principle is all I need. Forms are for Aristotelians.

            If your naturalism leads to such an absurd position, why should anyone take it seriously?

            Philosophers who talk about absurdities are usually referring to contradictions. You have yet to demonstrate either (1) how anything I have said contradicts anything else I've said or (2) how anything I have said implies a contradiction.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not claiming that anything you say entails a contradiction.

            I am simply saying that all you are saying is ultimately based on mere assumptions and that you have admitted that all you say is based on mere assumptions.

            You do not deny that the principle of non-contradiction can be attained the way metaphysicians, such as Aristotle and Aquinas, attain it. But you don't say that you agree with them either.

            You merely say it might be done some other way. Since you do not provide another way, it follows that all of your knowledge and claims rest only on assumptions on your part.

            That is why I asked why anyone should take your naturalism and its assumptions seriously?

          • you have admitted that all you say is based on mere assumptions.

            Yes. And all you say, and all that Aristotle said, and all that any other human being has ever said. And you, so far, have not denied it, although your pejorative dismissal (mere assumptions) makes your disagreement clear enough.

            I won't ask you to prove that there are no assumptions in your epistemology, but I will guess that you think that whatever is assumed or based on assumptions cannot be known. Am I correct?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Even your assertions that Aristotle and others statements are "based on mere assumptions" are themselves "mere assumptions." You do not actually know them to be true.

            And yes, I have denied that my knowledge of the principle of non-contradiction is a mere assumption. I said above: "I have shown before elsewhere how the universal certitude of the principle of non-contradiction is attained through forming the concept of being from sensio-intellective experience of reality."

            The fact that you do not understand or accept the grounds of my claim does not prove it is false. If you understood it, you would realize that it is the only explanation of why we are universally certain that nothing can both be and not be.

            The most you can assert is that all positions are mere assumptions and that, therefore, no one really knows what he is talking about and all discussion is actually pointless.

            But you are correct in thinking that I hold "that whatever is assumed or based on assumptions cannot be known."

            For one must ask what it means "to know." In a certain sense, mere assertions or assumptions can be known. That is, one can know the formal content of what is assumed, but that does not mean that one knows why it is true.

            An "assumption" is something "taken up," that is, accepted, but without evidence, that is, without an adequate epistemic foundation for knowing that the judgment is true.

            Aristotle points out that "to really know" anything means "to know that it is true, to know why it is true, and to know why it cannot be otherwise."

            Anytime someone makes an assertion, we naturally demand to know why it is true. That is to ask the causes of that knowledge in the form of prior premises on which it is based. But, as Aristotle proves, you cannot go to infinity in the taking of prior premises, or else, there would ultimately be no foundation for what is thought to be known.

            At some point, you must come to some basic premises that are immediately known to be true, either because they are immediately evident in sense experience or because they are self-evident first principles, such as the principle of non-contradiction.

            Yet, as said earlier, even the principle of non-contradiction is itself grounded in sensio-intellective experience, meaning that within sense experience the intellect grasps that the intelligible content of the concept of being is such that it is immediately evident that something either is or is not and that there are absolutely no exceptions to the rule, since, while there may be instances of "not this" or "not that," there are no instances of "not anything at all."

            This is not a whole course in epistemology, but it should give you some indication as to why I say that I know the truth of the principle of non-contradiction and that my knowledge of it is not a mere assumption -- such as you admit that all of your knowledge is.

          • I said above: "I have shown before elsewhere how the universal certitude of the principle of non-contradiction is attained through forming the concept of being from sensio-intellective experience of reality."

            And I said above that I’m not denying that you can do that.

            The fact that you do not understand or accept the grounds of my claim does not prove it is false.

            I have not claimed that I can prove it false.

            If you understood it, you would realize that it is the only explanation of why we are universally certain that nothing can both be and not be.

            That is what I deny. I told you how I justify accepting the principle of non-contradiction, and you have offered no rebuttal to my argument.

            The most you can assert is that all positions are mere assumptions

            I can assert plenty more than that. You will disagree with those assertions, of course.

            and that, therefore, no one really knows what he is talking about and all discussion is actually pointless.

            That, I would not assert. If I did, it would be a non sequitur.

            Aristotle points out that "to really know" anything means "to know that it is true, to know why it is true, and to know why it cannot be otherwise."

            Yes, that is what he said. But “Aristotle said so” doesn’t prove anything.

            Aristotle seems to have shared a presupposition that was common among intellectuals of the time that we cannot know something unless we know it infallibly. That presupposition, I believe, is unwarranted. The philosophical community has had a couple of millennia in which to reconsider it, and I have found no reason not to accept a fallibilist epistemology. There are plenty of things we can know without supposing that we cannot possibly be mistaken about them.

            But, as Aristotle proves, you cannot go to infinity in the taking of prior premises, or else, there would ultimately be no foundation for what is thought to be known.

            That is exactly why we have to assume some of our premises: We cannot prove everything.

            At some point, you must come to some basic premises that are immediately known to be true

            Knowledge implies truth. Saying that those premises must be true because you know them is begging the question. So is saying that you know them because they are true. You are assuming them. There is no logical alternative.

            either because they are immediately evident in sense experience or because they are self-evident first principles, such as the principle of non-contradiction.

            We have no reason to think any sense experience is infallible, and calling something self-evident is more question-begging.

            Yet, as said earlier, even the principle of non-contradiction is itself grounded in sensio-intellective experience

            And as also said earlier, that is not the only way to ground it.

            This is not a whole course in epistemology

            I don't need another. Everything I have read in epistemology is many times more than what I was required to read to pass the course I had to take to get my philosophy degree. I don’t doubt that you know some stuff I don’t, but I do know that Aristotle didn’t have the last word on that subject.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I can also see that you will never get beyond thinking that all knowledge is ultimately based on mere assumptions.

            I do not share your epistemological pessimism.

            Edit: It is precisely because, as you affirm above, you cannot prove everything, that all knowledge must be grounded in mere assumptions or some kind of immediately evident knowledge.

            You are clearly trapped in the first alternative -- mere assumptions. That can never give you any truths that demand assent of the intellect.

            I have given you a beginning explanation of how to achieve the second alternative. Clearly, you have studied so much that you may never be able to see the real force of the second alternative.

            That leaves you with an epistemological pessimism that I know is unnecessary, but also realize that I cannot ever explain to you sufficiently to convince you.

            So, I suggest we terminate this discussion here.

          • I can also see that you will never get beyond thinking that all knowledge is ultimately based on mere assumptions.

            You are probably right. I have spent a lifetime looking for a rationally defensible alternative, thinking there surely had to be one. Since I haven't found one yet, it seems highly unlikely that I ever will.

            I suggest we terminate this discussion here.

            I agree with that suggestion. I think we've both said all we can say on the topic, given the constraints of an online forum.

          • BCE

            So can you accept some behaviors are objectively "good" ?

            For instance, some ethologists apply a similar standard to behaviors as
            one would to anatomy and physiology.
            Contrary to what some might think, just because a behavior exists
            doesn't mean it's part of a normal range.
            Like hereditary deafness, just because it exists doesn't mean it now or ever had some value; a healthy population only requires that most
            individuals are healthy, not that all lack defects.
            Now you might ask "who decides what behaviors" are objectively defects" however I'm asking, isn't it possible that there are objective
            defects in behavior?

          • So can you accept some behaviors are objectively "good" ?

            I believe that some behaviors have consequences that no rational person would want to avoid. If you want to call those behaviors objectively good, I have no problem with that. Otherwise, my answer is no.

    • Jim the Scott

      Did Jesus virtually coerce his disciples into believing he had risen from the dead? Was Paul, on the road to Damascus, virtually coerced into becoming a Christian?

      It is possible he could have still chosen to disbelieve it. Atheist philosopher A. J. Ayer had a near death experience where He experienced the presence of God as a bright red light that he felt maintained the universe. When he woke up he said his "faith" in the finality of death was weakened but he still hoped it would be true when he finally died.
      Doug I mean this with all sincerity. I hope God saves your soul (as well as mine). However you being you I suspect will give us eons of amusement in the world to come with your radical kneejerk skepticism as you will still find ways however implausible to convince yourself that the Heaven before you is not likely real and you are still lying in your death bed hallucinating.;-)

      Just saying.....

      Cheers man and stay cool this summer. :D

      • Dennis Bonnette

        There were, in fact, some philosophers sometime back who claimed that, should they die and wind up in Hell, they could still convince themselves of the extramental unreality of Hell.

        My response to that claim has always been that, at the moment of the immediate judgment, God also gives those bound for Hell an incredibly effective course in realist epistemology.

        • Jim the Scott

          One of Screwtape's more chilling lines was about "the clarity that Hell affords". I suspect it is my worst nightmare. A place that shows me I am absolutely wrong and can blame nobody but myself. YIKES! I suspect the hot pokers and torture devices are a curtsy to distract you from that horror!

        • There were, in fact, some philosophers sometime back who claimed that, should they die and wind up in Hell, they could still convince themselves of the extramental unreality of Hell.

          From the fact that some philosophers would say such a thing, I would not infer anything about how reasonable the average atheist is in saying that there is insufficient evidence for God's existence.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This had nothing to do with being able to prove God's existence or not.

            It was purely an epistemological question as to whether epistemological idealism could still be maintained by the citizens of Hell once they arrived at their final destination.

          • It was purely an epistemological question as to whether epistemological idealism could still be maintained by the citizens of Hell once they arrived at their final destination.

            OK.

      • It is possible he could have still chosen to disbelieve it.

        So, undeniable evidence does not actually violate anyone's free will?

        • Jim the Scott

          You mean are you free to disbelieve your own eyes? Obviously! Experience tells us this happens all the time. Of course we have to chose to believe our own eyes to accept this conclustion. ;-)

          • You mean are you free to disbelieve your own eyes? Obviously!

            That's what I thought. But in that case, the presentation of undeniable evidence cannot constitute any kind of coercion, can it?

          • Jim the Scott

            Maybe? Maybe not. I don't know. See my post to Dr. B citing Screwtape.

      • However you being you I suspect will give us eons of amusement in the world to come with your radical kneejerk skepticism as you will still find ways however implausible to convince yourself that the Heaven before you is not likely real and you are still lying in your death bed hallucinating.;-)

        I'd like to think that my skepticism is not that radical, but I'm not the best one to make that judgment, am I?

        If I find myself in heaven after I die, and if I persist in thinking that I'm having an extended hallucination of some kind, then I won't begrudge whatever satisfaction you believers get out of telling each other, "I told you nothing would ever change his mind."

        Cheers man and stay cool this summer. :D

        Thanks. You, too.

        • OMG

          "nothing would never" = Something would?

  • it is morally licit to permit evil—when that permission allows a greater good to result. ...

    Since God is infinitely good and powerful, it necessarily follows that any evil that God permits in this world must have a greater good that results from it. Being infinitely powerful and knowing all future events, God’s goodness could not permit that evil should occur unless greater good is foreseen to ensue from it.

    True or False?: In your view, god had the power to create a world with only that greater good and not that evil.

    If true, then your argument about your god's ends justifying his means doesn't address the concern about a world with avoidable suffering.

    If false, then to be consistent you ought to believe your god does not have the power to create a heaven.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Good try at dilemma creation! The logical response to a pseudo-dilemma, like yours, is to "leap between the horns," that is, to show that the proposed alternatives are not exhaustive.

      First, recall that you are asking me to out think God as to what his real alternatives are. You and I are not God.

      Second, given that the Christian notion of heaven entails a place where people go as a just reward for freely choosing to lead a virtuous life, it appears that there would be no way to create such a heaven directly without first creating the "entrance exam," which is this world that God appears to conceive as best suited to his purposes.

      Thus, your dilemma is broken because the heaven that God has chosen to create is one which necessarily entails the complexity of this world -- together with its attendant evils. The solution for those evils is given in my article.

      • The logical response to a pseudo-dilemma, like yours, is to "leap between the horns," that is, to show that the proposed alternatives are not exhaustive.

        For clarity, the proposed alternatives are "true" and "false". As they are in regard to a proposition, they are indeed exhaustive; there is nothing in the middle to be leapt to, at least not in binary logic.

        First, recall that you are asking me to out think God as to what his real alternatives are.

        That's false. What I asked was whether it is true or false that, in your view, god had the power to create a world with only that greater good and not that evil. If it is your view, then the correct answer is True. If it isn't your view, then the correct answer is False.

        However, I'm happy to outthink your paltry god. If I were a god and had infinite power to create, I would have created a universe in which:

        * all space is filled with multiple continuous interacting fields,
        * but unlike our universe, the fields combine to spontaneously generate life at all locations, at all scales, overlapping, in infinite diversity,
        * with all points in space generating a constant supply of negentropy, enabling all living things to satisfy all their needs and never die or have reason to struggle against other living things,
        * with sufficiently high dimensionality and complex connectivity that no one is ever limited by spans of space or time unless they choose to be,
        * with singularities in fields providing oracles so that hypercomputation is possible, enabling finite beings to engage in infinite thought in finite time,
        * with plainly observable miraculous locations where anyone can go to be gifted unambiguous experience of the divine and of my purpose for them,
        * which would be for them to enjoy their lives together however they choose forever, plus individualized divine "special missions", for anyone who wants one, to create special works of beauty.
        * And so on. I could go on like this for a long time. The point is that it's very easy, even on human intelligence, to imagine a vastly superior reality than the one Christians claim is so great.

        your dilemma is broken because the heaven that God has chosen to create is one which necessarily entails the complexity of this world -- together with its attendant evils.

        The dilemma is not broken. You've unambiguously selected the "False" option: that in your view, your god did *not* have the power to create a world with only the greater good and not the evil. You tried to justify it by the view that your god's power is limited by whatever is necessarily entailed, plus a claim that the heaven that God has chosen to create is one which necessarily entails the evils of this world.

        You haven't, of course, shown that heaven "necessarily entails" the avoidable sufferings of this world. You've merely assumed it. A priori, there is very little reason to believe in such a necessary entailment. And in light of the world, there is very much reason to believe it's false, because it demands belief in absurdities. For example, it implies that the very *existence of heaven* necessarily entails:

        * that Dawn died at birth, but not that her identical twin died;
        * that Ginnie Wade was killed by the stray bullet that hit her during the Battleof Gettysburg, but not that she was killed by a different stray bullet even a second earlier or a second later
        * that this head of lettuce was cut in half, but not this head of lettuce;
        * that Pompeii was destroyed in the blast of Vesuvius, but not that Neapolis was destroyed.
        * and infinite other such equivalences. In general, every evil (as you've defined it) that exists is necessary for heaven to exist, whereas no evil that doesn't happen was necessary.

        Such infinite absurdity makes it clear that it is never believed for rational reasons; it's a confabulation only reached by working backwards from false premises.

        Even disregarding all that, though, your solution doesn't even work on its own terms. You wrote about "the heaven that God has chosen to create" -- but your god was not obligated to create such a lousy heaven. Why not instead create a better heaven, where there is no necessary entailment of avoidable suffering? I certainly had no trouble inventing the schema for one.

        • If I were a god and had infinite power to create, I would have created a universe in which: …

          I've seen this kind of response before; it presupposes that "If only I/​we had infinite resources, things would be awesome." Can this possibly be false? Could it be that inability/​unwillingness to act wisely with the finite means one would be even worse with the infinite? I'll advance two bits of evidence to support my contention:

          • 2012 HuffPo We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger
          • 2013 NYT The Charitable–Industrial Complex

          If lack of enough resources were really the problem, you would think that industrialization and the information age would finally have released us to bless others. But instead, we see growing wealth inequality and a weakening of relational ties. It is as if having more is actually worse for us! I don't think this is necessarily the case, but I think a dogmatic insistence that it could not possibly be the case is very dangerous.

          By the way, Star Trek plays with something akin to your imagined heaven in the form of the Q Continuum. It isn't identical, but it does draw out a dimension of existence which your heaven downplays: relationship. All of the power and all of the knowledge is shown to be profoundly dissatisfying without relationship. Curiously enough, much of the failure to provide successful aid to countries can probably be traced to a terrible understanding of the importance of relationship (see Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences and The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy).

          It could easily be the case that if we humans were to shed our ideals of perfect autonomy from relationship which costs anything and asks anything, we might find ourselves in a reality like the one you describe. God could be waiting to give us tremendously more, if only we would use it well. But this is to place the limiting factor inside of the human being instead of outside. This is similar to the Jews wanting a political messiah, believing that the primary limitation was not their own hearts and minds.

          • I'm confidence that if there were no cost to ending hunger, someone would have done it. The point of omnipotence is that you don't face economic costs or tradeoffs. God's supposed to be able to make any possibility real simply by willing it to be real, at no cost to himself.

            I don't see why you think my imaginary improved reality downplays relationships. It's filled with "life at all locations, at all scales, overlapping" and never dying. I dare say that might lead to them interacting and forming relationships.

          • I'm confidence that if there were no cost to ending hunger, someone would have done it.

            Why should I trust your confidence? I don't see how it is evidence-based.

            The point of omnipotence is that you don't face economic costs or tradeoffs.

            I suggest spending more time considering how much scarcity in our world is artificially generated.

            God's supposed to be able to make any possibility real simply by willing it to be real, at no cost to himself.

            Jesus' incarnation and death at the hands of humans seems to be a cost. I suspect that your zero-cost idealization is one which metaphysically presupposes true relationship to be odious—e.g. "Hell is other people."

            I don't see why you think my imaginary improved reality downplays relationships.

            Relationships seem rather ancillary to your idealized reality. Yes they are permitted, but one can be as individual and autonomous as one wants and still maximize happiness/​pleasure/​whatever.

          • I'm confidence that if there were no cost to ending hunger, someone would have done it.

            Why should I trust your confidence? I don't see how it is evidence-based.

            You should trust it because it comports with a great deal of obvious evidence: the existence of many charities that redistribute as much food as they can, the oft-expressed desire of many to end hunger, the existence of radical politics proposing complete overhauls of our economic system in hopes of alleviating hunger. The strongest evidence for you should be your own willingness to end hunger at no cost, if you could, assuming you're not a sociopath.

          • Ok, I will grant you that in the completely artificial world you've described, someone would have pressed the "end hunger" frictionless button. Actually, maybe it'll just be activated by the thought, "It'd be nice to end hunger." Except this is completely artificial because how would such a world have hunger in the first place? But I guess we can suppose that such effortless ability was introduced magically somehow, or via advanced alien technology.

            Now, is everything solved with eliminating hunger? No. So we move up Maslow's hierarchy. At some point, we're going to hit social competition. People endeavoring to show that they are better than other people. People endeavoring to dominate other people. This endeavoring is both responsible for our ability to feed 10 billion people but also our inability to actually distribute the food. One way to control people is to titrate their food. But you can actually titrate anything, the ultimate thing being the scarce quantity of social recognition. That's a zero-sum game.

            Suppose we somehow solve the social recognition issue. We could, for example, divvy up reality so that each person can be uniquely best at dealing with some aspect of it. Everyone being their best ends up being obviously best for everyone else. ("I always try to be my best.") And yet, our reality could be this reality. Our limitations could be because we want to dominate each other rather than serve each other. Well, some want to be dominate while others prefer to stay weak and lazy—the two attitudes reinforce each other quite well.

            Sorry, I cannot entertain extremely artificial ideas without somehow connecting them to reality as I see it. My idea of what is good was shaped in this reality; I cannot expect it will function at all in a completely different reality.

        • OMG

          Love the mouth-watering juiciness of the picture! "Let us" reconsider its worth. Much better than candy.

        • BCE

          I can only hope you realize, you're just seconds from being no more
          intelligent then dirt.
          Now mind you, there are few things that distinguish me and you from a rock.
          And you're asking I trust you, that should the universe need a creator, I vote for you?

    • Jim the Scott

      God is not a moral agent. God is not morally good in the unequivocal sense a good human moral agent is morally good. God is ontologically good and metaphysically good and as a result is the good in all existing things and causes their goodness but God is not a moral agent.

      Your argument presuposes this (God is a perfect moral agent unequivocally comparable to a good human with power to do imediate good) and we do not hold this presuposition so your question is a non-starter objection. Like trying to disprove Pantheism by disproving a creator god. A Pantheistic divinity is not a creator in the first place and a Classic Theistic God is not a moral agent.

      • WCB

        The Bible, allegedly a trustworthy revelation for God, claims God is Just, Fair, Compassionate and Merciful. I call this the sub-goodness argument. If God is none of these, then God is not good. Redefining good as some sort of vague quality cannot be accepted as an argument. Because the claimed sub-goodnesses of God are explicitly laid out. Romans 9, God the great Potter makes some vessels of honor, and some vessels of wrath. Arbitrarily. That is not fair, just, compassionate or merciful. The whole theology of Paul has God as an arbitrary God who predestines who will be elect and who will not. Again, not fair, just,merciful, or compassionate. God and evil is a problem. God either cannot eliminate evil, or will not are the two choices ancient theology had to explain why we had moral evil. Christianity, based greatly on Pail's theology chose the latter. God not only does not eliminate moral evil but even creates it.

        Redefining moral evil is the third option, but that doesn't work if ine takes the Bible, Quran et al to be revelations.

        • Jim the Scott

          >The Bible, allegedly a trustworthy revelation for God, claims God is Just, Fair, Compassionate and Merciful.

          Catholics don't believe in private interpretation of Holy Writ and we don't believe the Bible alone is the sole source of doctrine so your personal interpretation of Holy Writ & polemics against a "god" the Catholic Church does not believe exists renders your objections here as non-starters.

          >I call this the sub-goodness argument. If God is none of these, then God is not good.

          Based on your definition of "good" which I have no reason to except.

          >Redefining good as some sort of vague quality cannot be accepted as an argument.

          You have to polemic the God I believe in not the one you wish I believed in.
          Whatever Theistic Personalist fundamentalist "deity" who is a moral agent you reject means little to me. I am an "Atheist" toward that "god" as well.

          >Because the claimed sub-goodnesses of God are explicitly laid out. Romans 9, God the great Potter makes some vessels of honor, and some vessels of wrath. Arbitrarily. That is not fair, just, compassionate or merciful.

          It is quite fair when you actually study the Catholic theories of predestination and free will. If you are objecting to some straw man Calvinist view I could not care less. Non-starter objection.

          >The whole theology of Paul has God as an arbitrary God who predestines who will be elect and who will not. Again, not fair, just,merciful, or compassionate.

          You mean the theology as interpreted by WCB? Catholics don't believe in private interpretation pal. Deal with it.

          > God and evil is a problem. God either cannot eliminate evil, or will not are the two choices ancient theology had to explain why we had moral evil.

          God is not a moral agent and as Brian Davies showed in his works the idea of God being a moral agent is a post enlightenment concept not an ancient one.

          > Christianity, based greatly on Pail's theology chose the latter. God not only does not eliminate moral evil but even creates it.

          So you are obtuse to the fact there are different versions of Christianity? Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Church of the East and hundreds if not thousands of versions of Protestantism. We are Catholics here. Your contra-Calvinism polemics are non-starters objections even if no God exists.

          >Redefining moral evil is the third option, but that doesn't work if ine takes the Bible, Quran et al to be revelations.

          Rather if we take your private interpretation of these proported revelations. I have no reason to do that.

          • WCB

            So if the Bible makes a serious claim not in vague words but quite simple and easy to understand, all a Catholic has to to say the magic words "personal interpretation" and thus they don't have to deal with the issue at hand? Well, no. Yes many Christian theologies exist, all trying to get around the problems of a supposedly perfectly good God who doesn't seem all that good.

            If the Bible tells us plain and simple that God IS merciful, IS Compassionate, IS Fair and IS Just, this has meaning. If you want to jettison these claims, supposedly trustworthy revelations from or inspired by God on some pretext, why should others not call this sophistry or special pleading?

          • Jim the Scott

            I am sorry but your arguments are really bad.

            >So if the Bible makes a serious claim not in vague words but quite simple and easy to understand,

            The view Scripture is clear and easy to understand is the Protestant Heresy of Perspicuity invented by Luther. The Bible doesn't clearly teach this concept and suggests otherwise (2 Peter 3:16). So that is a non-starter for a Catholic to be asked by an Atheist to assume a doctrine he already rejects as heresy.

            >all a Catholic has to to say the magic words "personal interpretation" and thus they don't have to deal with the issue at hand?

            Yep! That is correct and perfectly rational and just. You have to convince me your interpretation is infallibly protected by the Holy Spirit before I believe it. Otherwise it is your fallible interpretation vs mine or the Church's (allegedly). There is no good reason to accept it. If the Atheist/Skeptic/Agnostic/contra-Christian polemicist insists on this tactic what you really wind up doing is you are trying to convince me Protestantism is true before you can convince me Christianity is false. It's just a silly waste of your time. When this was first done to me two decades ago a wise Atheist rebuked the clown doing it to me by pointing out he was in fact putting on the Hat of a Protestant apologist to convert a Catholic to Atheist and it was foolish.

            Atheists in fact waste their time arguing scripture with Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Better to learn philosophy and try to take down the arguments for the existence of God. You will have better traction.

            >Well, no. Yes many Christian theologies exist, all trying to get around the problems of a supposedly perfectly good God who doesn't seem all that good.

            A "good god" as defined by whom? If you are not giving me Thomism or classic Scholastic theology then I don't care what faults you find in the other -then-Catholic-Christian-theologies. I already don't believe in any of them so trying to convince me let's say Theodicies don't work or God isn't perfectly moral is a non-starter objection. I reject modern theodicies and I reject the idea of a God who is a moral agent. No such God exists for me and learned traditional Catholics. So refuting a "god" neither of us believe in is a complete waste of time.

            >If the Bible tells us plain and simple that God IS merciful, IS Compassionate, IS Fair and IS Just, this has meaning.

            But what you think it means happens to mean nothing to me. If you think it means God is a moral agent then I reject your interpretation. Just as I reject the Baptist's literal interpretation of Matt 23:9 but the Baptist rejects my literal interpretation of John 6. If I won't hear the Baptist's contra Catholic interpretation what chance do you have being a heathen infidel?

            >If you want to jettison these claims, supposedly trustworthy revelations from or inspired by God on some pretext, why should others not call this sophistry or special pleading?

            Rather I sense you are one of those Atheists who mistakenly thinks he can create a one-size-fits all omni-polemic that can be used with any Christian?
            Short answer NO you can't. Taylor your polemics to my suppositions and theological assumptions or you waste my time and produce really bad arguments even if there is no God.

            This is just common sense. I learned it as a youth. Time you learn it.

          • WCB

            St Thomas Aquinas tells us God is just, merciful and more.

            Question 21. The justice and mercy of God. So it is not a case I am committing personal interpretation or some other theological crime.

            The problem here is that if we take the Bible seriously, we have to take it's basic claims seriously. You cannot just jettison inconvenient verses willy nilly, no matter how 'sophisticated" your mechanism for doing so. If one does that, it soon becomes a convoluted game of logic chopping and special pleading.

            Aquinas again Q 21 article 3
            I answer that, Mercy is especially to be attributed to God.

            For Aquinas, de fide, articles of faith are to be derived from the Bible, divine revelation. You cannot divorce the basic and simple claims of the bible in the way you are trying to do.

            No atheist worth his or her salt will let theists get away with such intellectually inadequate manuveurs. We recognize special pleading when we see it.

          • Jim the Scott

            >St Thomas Aquinas tells us God is just, merciful and more.

            So you are proof texting Aquinas and reading your own ideas into him? That is just idiotic.

            >Question 21. The justice and mercy of God. So it is not a case I am committing personal interpretation or some other theological crime.

            You are doing that blatantly. Have you read Garrigou-Lagrange? Or Feser? Or Davies? Why do you think straw manning is persuasive? Have you even read what Aquinas taught on mercy before today? He wrote a lot. So you are just going to take your definition and read it into his thoughts? Brian Davies showed conclusively Aquinas did not see God as a moral agent. God has no obligations to his creatures but only to himself.

            >The problem here is that if we take the Bible seriously, we have to take it's basic claims seriously.

            You are not taking the Bible seriously. You are just reading your own ideas into it based on Protestant pre-suppositions I reject. Your arguments are non-starters.

            >You cannot just jettison inconvenient verses willy nilly, no matter how 'sophisticated" your mechanism for doing so. If one does that, it soon becomes a convoluted game of logic chopping and special pleading.

            Yet I cited a verse from Peter saying Paul's writings and the rest of scripture can be twisted to one's destruction? How do you know you are using scripture correctly and not twisting it? How can you assure me you are qualified? I've studied Catholic doctrine for 25 years. You don't even qualify as a mere amateur.

            >Aquinas again Q 21 article 3
            I answer that, Mercy is especially to be attributed to God.

            I notice you don't give a full quote as to the meaning of God's mercy for Aquinas? So you take this quote and read your own meaning into it? Pathetic!

            >For Aquinas, de fide, articles of faith are to be derived from the Bible, divine revelation. You cannot divorce the basic and simple claims of the bible in the way you are trying to do.

            So basically you are irrational even if there are no gods. Wow!

            >No atheist worth his or her salt will let theists get away with such intellectually inadequate manuveurs.

            At this point you have proven yourself more foolish, incompotent & lowbrow than even Michael. That is no mean feat.

            >We recognize special pleading when we see it.

            My eyes hurt from the rolling...

          • WCB

            So the Bible means nothing, supporting claims God has attributes of mercy and justice from Aquinas don't mean anything. Your theology just hangs there in mid air, unsupported by anything but .... sarcasm and denial? Is this Catholic theology at it's best?

            > How do you know you are using scripture correctly and not twisting it? Because the claims made by the Bible are simple, straight forward and without ambiguity?

            Paul's epistles are clear also. St Augustine in his debates with Pelagius were pretty clear that Paul was to be taken as authoritative, and still is by the RCC.

            Am I to throw out the teachings of centuries of teachings of theologians because Jim the Scott on the internet says they are all wrong about everything?

            > You are doing that blatantly. Have you read Garrigou-Lagrange? Or
            Feser? Or Davies? Why do you think straw manning is persuasive?

            I have read Feser and over several decades, many others. From Augustine on. Name dropping doesn't help.

            Deuteronomy 32:4
            "The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.

            So, simple declarative claims about the nature of God in the Bible are not to be quoted for evidence of anything?

            Psalm 145
            8 The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.
            9 The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.

            So this means nothing according to you? It is just words that can be twisted to avoid noting that God often is not merciful. Again, Romans 9.

            And God creates some elect and other snot, and not?

            I can see why you do not like simple claims of the Bible.

          • Jim the Scott

            >So the Bible means nothing, supporting claims God has attributes of mercy and justice from Aquinas don't mean anything.

            Rather you should get off your lazy anti-intellectual butt and take the time to LEARN what Catholicism teaches about the Bible, how the Catholic Faith interprets the Bible and how it understands the nature of God' s mercy instead of making up your own straw man crap because you are too willfully dim to do your homework. This method of anti-religious polemics you are employing is obviously stupid.

            >Your theology just hangs there in mid air, unsupported by anything but .... sarcasm and denial? Is this Catholic theology at it's best?

            No it doesn't rather you just think I am a Protestant Fundamentalist Christian who is also a Theistic personalist. I saw your other posts you cited BONDAGE OF THE WILL by the arch-heretic Luther. Why do you think a Catholic would care what he thinks? You suffer from an affliction that dogs many a young and stupid Atheist. You suffer from a case of "NO FAIR! You are not a fundamentalist!" Well I am not. I am by the Grace & MERCY of the Classic Theistic God a traditional minded Catholic.
            Stop pretending I am something else.
            You are like the Atheist who wasted my time attacking Young Earth Creationism and refused to deal with the fact I am a Theistic Evolutionist. So I don't take Genesis One literally. Geez here is a quarter buy a clue.

            >Paul's epistles are clear also.

            Peter says they are not and Paul did tell us to listen to the Church or be "cut off". Are you the Church? No! So jog on.

            > St Augustine in his debates with Pelagius were pretty clear that Paul was to be taken as authoritative, and still is by the RCC.

            I don't reject Paul as an authority. I just insist on his correct interpretation according to Tradition as Paul himself said (2 Thes 2:15, 3:6)

            >Am I to throw out the teachings of centuries of teachings of theologians because Jim the Scott on the internet says they are all wrong about everything?

            You display no familiarity with any of them. You think God was seen by theologians as a moral agent prior to the enlightenment. You are very ignorant. Me listening to you makes about as much sense as Richard Dawkins listening to Ken Ham.

            >I have read Feser and over several decades, many others. From Augustine on. Name dropping doesn't help.

            I simply don't believe you (I believe Ben Champagne but not you). You are blowing too much smoke.

            Lovely you can quote Bible texts but a text without a context is a pretext. None of the verses you cite prove God is a moral agent. None of them say God has obligations or duties to His creatures.

            >So, simple declarative claims about the nature of God in the Bible are not to be quoted for evidence of anything?

            Are you really this obtuse? I can say "God is all powerful" & cite Bible verses to that effect like from Revelations but that is ambiguous. Is God omnipotent in the manner Descartes erroneously claimed? Can he make 2+2=5? No, that is absurd? Is he all powerful in the Aquinas sense? That is he has "all powers" and there is no power to make 2+2=5? I say the later.

            No verse in the Bible you cited proves God is a moral agent. Get over it.

            >So, simple declarative claims about the nature of God in the Bible are not to be quoted for evidence of anything?

            Correct since I will simply reject your interpretation. You can insist Genesis One be take literally to mean God created in less than week. But I can interpret Genesis 2:4 to mean God created instantaneously . Whatever interpretation you give the text I will reject it if it is not in harmony with the Catholic interpretation. That is perfectly fair and reasonable.
            You don't get to make up your own Catholicism I already don't believe in and tell me it's wrong. Now stop being a nutter and get some common sense.

            >I can see why you do not like simple claims of the Bible.

            In other words boo hoo! No Fair! You are not a fundamentalist. cry me a river.

          • WCB

            The Council of Trent
            Fourth Session, First Decree

            ...following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament--seeing that one God is the author of both -- as also the said traditions, as well...

            Sighhhhhh.. I am very well aware of the teachings of the RCC.

            If YOU are going to tell me that when the Bible claims God is merciful, and I point that out, I am wrong to do so? That these verses, allegedly authored by God himself, as is Catholic dogma can be ignored because they present logical problems for you?

            ...
            And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one's mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below:
            ...
            ... fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews;....

            ----

            The problematic verses of Paul are dogmatically authoritative. You cannot just abandon them and just get angry when people point out that these verses are not just something Protestants only have to deal with.

          • Jim the Scott

            Not one intelligent argument. It is beyond pathetic.

            >Fourth Session, First Decree...

            Says nothing about private interpretation or interpreting Scripture contrary the understanding of the Church. It's says the Bible is an authority but not the sole authority interpreted by individuals apart from Church or Tradition. It says the opposite.

            >Sighhhhhh.. I am very well aware of the teachings of the RCC.

            You know how to proof-text like the ex-fundie you likely are and you are not even good at that. You are making Michael and David Cromie look brilliant by comparison(& they are both without). No mean feat. Your knowledge of Catholicism is obviously lacking.

            >If YOU are going to tell me that when the Bible claims God is merciful, and I point that out, I am wrong to do so?

            Well both Darwin and Lemarke taught evolution except they didn't understand it the same way and science for the most part sides with Darwin. So you cannot conflate the two. If you don't have the same understanding of divine mercy as I do then you are committing a fallacy of equivocation as well as the straw man fallacy. I don't understand why you think that is a good idea?

            >That these verses, allegedly authored by God himself, as is Catholic dogma can be ignored because they present logical problems for you?

            That God the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible doesn't prove your interpretation of the Bible is the correct one. Nor does it prove the Bible is clear and easy to understand by itself without Tradition(2 Thes 3:6) and Church(1 Tim 3:15).

            >The problematic verses of Paul are dogmatically authoritative.

            But your personal interpretation of them are not. Read Trent more closely to find that out. It's rather clear otherwise the Protestants would not have a problem with Trent.

            > You cannot just abandon them and just get angry when people point out that these verses are not just something Protestants only have to deal with.

            You cannot interpret the Bible contrary to how my Church interprets it. A person from another country can come here and give his opinion of what the Constitution means but only SCOTUS or Congress Amending it have the last word. Not a non-citizen alien. I won't listen to Protestant heretic (& they are brother Christians) so what chance do you have infidel?

            You are arguing that by rejecting your (mis)interpretation of Holy Writ that I am somehow rejecting the authority of Holy Writ? Well I expect that argument from a Baptist (& have gotten it Btw) but it is just bonkers coming from an Atheist.

            You really think this is a good idea? Plead with me to except Protestant presuppositions about the Bible and then refute them so you can turn me into an Atheist? This is just stupid. Like that smart Atheist I dealt with decades ago told the young stupid Atheist(who had a meltdown after that).
            Pathetic.

          • Sample1

            Can you please stop incorrectly capitalizing atheist? Atheists have enough to fend off, like we allegedly eat babies, perform black Masses, and are on par with rapists as far as trustworthiness. The last one is true per a 2012 study by universities in Oregon and British Columbia.

            We don’t need a further false impression that your null word somehow deserves honorific spelling. It doesn’t.

            Swings and roundabouts.

            Mike

          • Jim the Scott

            >Can you please stop incorrectly capitalizing atheist?

            Not likely since my grammar is quite bad as is my spelling. But capitalize Theist all you want. I don't do it for any rime nor reason and write to please myself not really others. It is not personal.

            >Atheists have enough to fend off, like we allegedly eat babies, perform black Masses, and are on par with rapists as far as trustworthiness. The last one is true per a 2012 study by universities in Oregon and British Columbia.

            Cry me a river dude. Do you know how many Priest Pedo jokes I have been forced to endure during my lifetime? If your only complaint is my bad spelling and non-conventional capitalizations of the word "Atheist" or "Theist" or "Deist" or "theistic personalist"count yourself lucky. PS "theistic personalism" does not merit capitals as it is a stupid form of theism.

            >We don’t need a further false impression that your null word somehow deserves honorific spelling. It doesn’t.

            I Spell in whatever manner amuses Me. I can't Be made to do otherwise. Sorry guy. It is not personal though I should warn you. I now want to capitalize "Atheist" that much more. You put the idea in my head. If that troubles you well the internet is filled with Priestly Pedo jokes. Read some and knock yourself out.

            >Swings and roundabouts.

            Cut down with a lightsaber welded by a Sith. That is more fun.

          • WCB

            We have here two problems. Logic and the alleged perfect goodness of God And the fact that The Bible makes simple, easy to understand claims about God's attributes, mercy, compassion, justice et al. So logically we do not live in a world with such a God. We are told emphatically the God is perfectly good, but God is not a moral agent and has no moral obligations towards us. No, that is not logically coherent.

            I do remember reading Calvin's rancid little essay on God's Eternal Providence. He states, if a Christian is set upon by robbers, badly beaten and robbed of all he owns, God, through his providence made that to happen. Yet God is blameless. Well no. That is monstrous. The Catholic God, supposedly the very epitome of moral goodness is by your account, is no more moral than Calvin's amoral God.

            The problem is that such a perfectly good God would be evident in the Universe. But that is not so. So we have the struggle, not to demonstrate why we should not hold that God does really exist, but some rather foolish rationalizations mean to save appearances at best, and simply deny the obvious at worst.

            And then we have the idea that when the Bible tells us God is just, which is not what we see in verses like Romans 9, you abandon to concept of simple and easy to understand words have force. No. That is obviously special pleading. If the Bible says God is just, well, the Bible does not really mean that, despite how many apologists tell us that and the mounds of convoluted logic chopping don't cut the mustard.

            All of this is a fandango of bad reasoning, and intellectual nihilism. Logic is meaningless, words mean nothing,

            If this is what the RCC has to offer atheists, you aren't going to convince reasoning, intellectually honest, and truth seeking atheists.

            Your God, divorced from all goodness, sub-goodnesses, moral agency or moral obligations to us, his creation, is exactly like no God at all. If you answer, "I don't care, I am not here to convert atheists", than why shouldn't we consider your church a irrational cult no different from all the other cults who abandon reason, logic and rationality? And no, the various orthodox varieties of Christianity are no better on this issue.

            We see in the US a rise of atheism, now 10% of Americans polled are atheist, and loss of belief in religion is a big part of that according to surveys. So such issues are a rising problem. In Europe, Catholicism is in a steep decline. Will a theological heads in the sand approach become a problem with such issues?

          • Jim the Scott

            You are just repeating the same brain dead crap I already answered and David Nickols takes issue with me questioning the intelligence of people like you? Go figure?

            >We have here two problems. Logic and the alleged perfect goodness of God.

            Goodness as defined how? God is metaphysically and ontologically good but God does not have the unequivocal goodness of a human moral agent as that would be absurd and incoherent.

            > And the fact that The Bible makes simple, easy to understand claims about God's attributes, mercy, compassion, justice et al.

            Aka assume the Protestant doctrine of Purspecuity (which is not clearly taught in the bible). Also leave the above concepts vague and undefined and hope nobody notices it.

            >So logically we do not live in a world with such a God. We are told emphatically the God is perfectly good, but God is not a moral agent and has no moral obligations towards us. No, that is not logically coherent.

            It is perfectly coherent when you study the issue. When you fire at it ignorantly in the dark you just look stupid.

            >I do remember reading Calvin's rancid little essay on God's Eternal Providence....etc

            Still doesn't relize I am Catholic. Why should I care what that heretic thinks?

            >The problem is that such a perfectly good God would be evident in the Universe. But that is not so. So we have the struggle, not to demonstrate why we should not hold that God does really exist, but some rather foolish rationalizations mean to save appearances at best, and simply deny the obvious at worst.

            It is philosophically evident a metaphysically good and ontologically good God exists. No God who is a moral agent exists and the Bible doesn't teach God is a moral agent unequivocally comparible to a human moral agent.

            You can't keep citing to me what you think the Bible says. I don't think it says that.

            >All of this is a fandango of bad reasoning, and intellectual nihilism. Logic is meaningless, words mean nothing,

            This has been your problem from the beginning.

            >If this is what the RCC has to offer atheists, you aren't going to convince reasoning, intellectually honest, and truth seeking atheists.

            Rather New Atheists are intellecually inferior to most people with an IQ over 3.

            >Your God, divorced from all goodness, sub-goodnesses, moral agency or moral obligations to us, his creation, is exactly like no God at all. If you answer, "I don't care, I am not here to convert atheists", than why shouldn't we consider your church a irrational cult no different from all the other cults who abandon reason, logic and rationality? And no, the various orthodox varieties of Christianity are no better on this issue.

            Let me know when you get near a point.

            >We see in the US a rise of atheism, now 10% of Americans polled are atheist, and loss of belief in religion is a big part of that according to surveys. So such issues are a rising problem. In Europe, Catholicism is in a steep decline. Will a theological heads in the sand approach become a problem with such issues?

            They say Public Schools are failing to educate our young people. I totally believe that! I have the evidence right here in front of me.

          • WCB

            "Goodness as defined how? God is metaphysically and ontologically
            good but God does not have the unequivocal goodness of a human moral agent as that would be absurd and incoherent."

            > And the fact
            that The Bible makes simple, easy to understand claims about God's
            attributes, mercy, compassion, justice et al.

            And here is here we stand. When you and theists like claim God is good, absolutely perfectly good, you do not mean good as we think of it, but redefine the term good to avoid the issue of why God does not act good in the world at large. The Problem of Evil.

            Problematic verse of the Bible that claim God is just, fair, merciful, and compassionate are wished away to the cornfield with a rhetorical flourish. "Personal interpretation".

            Plato's Euthyphro issue. Does God desire good because it is good, or is good whatever God does? According to almost all theologians, there is no moral good standard above and beyond God, that God must obey. So what we have here in divine command.

            But God is not as described, Just, Fair Compassionate or Merciful.

            Again, what we have here is two problems. One, abandonment of clear and obvious supposed revelations, claims about God's nature.

            Two, abandoning logic and rationality.

            You may not like my example of Calvin and his blameless God, but as far as I can see, your version of God is no different.

            "Not only does God protect and govern all things by His Providence, but He also by an internal power impels to motion and action whatever moves and acts, and this in such a manner that, although He excludes not, He yet precedes the agency of secondary causes. For His invisible influence extends to all things, and, as the Wise Man says, “reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly.
            - CATECHISM OF THE COUNCIL OF TRENT

            A God who is no moral agent, and is not moral as we humans are, seems rather to not be the God of official Catholic dogma as we find in the official catechism of the RCC.

          • Jim the Scott

            >And here is here we stand.

            Now with the Luther quotes? Do ye not realize I am Catholic son?

            > When you and theists like claim God is good, absolutely perfectly good, you do not mean good as we think of it, but redefine the term good to avoid the issue of why God does not act good in the world at large. The Problem of Evil.

            Translation: I am too lazy to start reading Brian Davies arguments and too stupid to realize how foolish it is to attack a position I know nothing about so I will build a straw man and knock it down and claim victory and hope nobody notices.

            >Problematic verse of the Bible that claim God is just, fair, merciful, and compassionate are wished away to the cornfield with a rhetorical flourish. "Personal interpretation".

            Translation: I am too stupid to ask questions like "What does God's Justice, fairness, mercy and compassion mean under Classic Theism" so I am going to make up my own vague definitions and hope nobody notices. A Straw man has gotta straw!

            >Plato's Euthyphro issue. Does God desire good because it is good, or is good whatever God does?

            Here is your answer:(Not that you are intelligent enough to read it)
            https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-obligation-and-euthyphro-dilemma.html

            >According to almost all theologians, there is no moral good standard above and beyond God, that God must obey. So what we have here in divine command.

            If you read my links you would know I reject the Divine Command theory. So here we have a non-starter objection in addition to your fallacies of equivocation and straw men. God is the Moral Law given in Him there is no real distinction between Essence and Being but that doesn't make God a moral agent. The Constitution is the Law of the Land but the Constitution doesn't arrest you when you break the Law. Police and or agends of the Law do that. Given God's metaphysical goodness in His own time He will subdue evil but He is not obligated to do it right away.

            >But God is not as described, Just, Fair Compassionate or Merciful.

            God is compaired to a Corupt Judge in one of the parables of Jesus? Did ye miss that? You are too illiterate in theology to address Catholicism.

            >Again, what we have here is two problems. One, abandonment of clear and obvious supposed revelations, claims about God's nature.

            No our problem is you have what is likely a great anti-religious polemic which would work splendedly on a Protestant Theistic Personalist but you insist on pretending I am not a Classic Theist and a Catholic and it is killing you. You remind me of the poor New Atheist I taked too decades ago who had a meltdown because all his anti-Scientific Creationist polemics where non-starters faced with my Theistic Evolutionary beliefs.
            A wise Atheist told him the futility of his efforts that he was puting on the hat of a Creationist Apologist to try to make your foe a Creationist before you can argue he should be an Atheist and this is just self-defeating and foolish. I am not a Theistic Personalist nor Protestant pal. Accept it and stop making a fool of yourself.

            >Two, abandoning logic and rationality.

            You certainly have.

            >You may not like my example of Calvin and his blameless God, but as far as I can see, your version of God is no different.

            Yes you read Brian Davies and saw that what he advocated was identical to Calvin. Oh Wait! You didn't and of course their concepts of God are not alike.

            >"Not only does God protect and govern all things by His Providence, but He also by an internal power impels to motion and action whatever moves and acts, and this in such a manner that, although He excludes not, He yet precedes the agency of secondary causes. For His invisible influence extends to all things, and, as the Wise Man says, “reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly.
            - CATECHISM OF THE COUNCIL OF TRENT

            Amen! Here is what that means and it doesn't mean Calvinism. Catholics hold too Concerentism. Explained in the links bellow. Trent condemns Calvinism. That is as plain as day. See the two links then go cry about it.

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/01/metaphysical-middle-man.html

            https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2018/03/divine-causality-and-human-freedom.html

            >A God who is no moral agent, and is not moral as we humans are, seems rather to not be the God of official Catholic dogma as we find in the official catechism of the RCC.

            Your case is about as convicing as the Creationist who misquotes Hawkings "Know the Mind of God" to "prove" he was a closet Theist and not an Atheist.

            It is pathetic.

    • Can you describe a realistic world where greater goods are achieved without redeemed evils with reconciled relationships? It seems to me that confidence one has arrived at a plausible answer ought to correlate with one's ability to approach such an existence in this life with one's words and deeds. Perhaps you disagree?

      My own sense is that evil has to be greater when:

           (1) willingness to trust others erodes
           (2) pain is ignored instead of analyzed and dealt with
           (3) pain of others is discounted
           (4) shortcuts are pursued

      This list isn't exhaustive; it's merely meant to stoke some imagination. Children seem to start out with much trust in their parents and an insistence that their own pain is dealt with. Irenaeus's view of the fall (over against Augustine's) would be that Adam & Eve attempted to take a shortcut to maturity. I suspect a lot of evil can be accounted for via the seeking of shortcuts. The refusal to properly empathize is another big one; Jesus set the standard here and it seems to be one that most do-gooders wouldn't care approach (e.g. giving from one's all instead of giving from a place of relative comfort).

      Somehow, you think that ultimate power means the ability to create and maintain a world in which all of the above is done right, from birth. It doesn't presuppose that all beings who exist are already perfect; instead it allows for infancy, childhood, and maturity. Somehow, all mistakes are on the order of stubbing one's toe where as soon as the pain is noticed and cause is properly analyzed, one can mentally shut off the pain except when needed to promote proper healing. I think it's worth pursuing such an existence, but I have no idea how one would do that. Maybe the pursuit of such an existence would demonstrate some hard limits.

      Finally, let me point out that the one who claims to "only believe things based on the evidence" cannot raise the objection you have. I myself have a sneaking suspicion that our working out how [we think] God should have created and managed the world might enable us to properly exert dominion over it as intended in Genesis 1:28. Supposing we finally figure that out, it is always logically possible that each of us was living in a simulation with no other real minds/​souls. Then, we can say that if simulated evil is still bad, then every time we work out what evils have to be gratuitous, we are committing evil. (The insistence that we "only believe things based on the evidence" has some rather radical implications.)

      • it is always logically possible that each of us was living in a simulation with no other real minds/​souls.

        Granted. Another sci-fi inspired theodicy is this one. When I encounter a believer who endorses either theodicy, I'll be interested.

        • The Christian doesn't have to endorse those theodicies; [s]he simply needs to point out that your objections seem to be rooted in a metaphysic which cannot rule out a simulation hypothesis which absolutely guts the objection that metaphysic generates about the problem of evil.

          • Absolutely guts it? I don't even see how it's related. Why do I need to be able to rule out the Simulation Hypothesis in order to object to evil?

          • If this reality is just a training ground where you are the only mind and you in fact create all the suffering you experience, with your own mind, the problem of evil vanishes. A question you could be asked on the other side is why you weren't more highly motivated to act to mitigate pain and suffering than you did. You might also be asked whether you blamed God so you didn't have to act as much.

          • If this reality is just a training ground where you are the only mind and you in fact create all the suffering you experience, with your own mind, the problem of evil vanishes.

            Right, it eliminates the problem if and only if the Simulation Hypothesis is actually true. But whether or not it is true is independent of whether my philosophical opinions rule it out. So your argument logically fails to show that one needs to be able to rule out the Simulation Hypothesis in order to object to evil.

          • Your argument requires you to presuppose that our reality is not simulated. But that presupposition has to be justified. How is it justified? As far as I can tell, it cannot be justified by "only believe things based on the evidence". But as soon as you allow other kinds of beliefs (e.g. trusting a deity), you can't then go back to the principle of "only believe things based on the evidence" when you want to attack premises/​presuppositions you don't like in what the theist says.

  • Since God is infinitely good and powerful, it necessarily follows that any evil that God permits in this world must have a greater good that results from it. ... If the problem of evil were a purely rational objection to God, it would seem that every kind of evil should be concerning. Yet, I have never heard anyone proclaim his atheism because of the carnage taking place against lettuce when a chef prepares a salad.

    Today I learned that all an anti-theist would have to do is shred a head of lettuce in secret, maybe putting the remains in a plastic bag in their garage to ensure that no greater good comes from it, and then Bonnette's god disappears in a poof of logic.

    More seriously, the notions of "good" and "evil" being used in this article are ridiculous, as is shown in relief in Bonnette's lettuce example. Mere being or existence is not automatically good. Ebola has being and is very bad for us. It would be better for us if ebola were wiped out of existence. And for any person, to suffer torture until death would clearly be worse than ceasing to exist before the torture.

    I'd endorse using one of the philosophical accounts of good and evil that has stood the test of time. For example, take Peter Singer's view, which developed out of Aristotle's view as the flaws of the older view were discovered and fixed over the years: The good is all happiness, satisfaction, joy, and other states with positive valence, as experienced by any living thing. And evil is all unhappiness, dissatisfaction, misery, and other states with negative valence, as experienced by any living thing.

    There are also other views, such as those in the Kantian tradition, those in the virtue ethics tradition, and less popular varieties. Any tradition that has kept up with philosophical progress -- changing in response to criticisms, incorporating new discoveries -- is better than the ossified mumbo jumbo used here.

    • Jim the Scott

      Today I learned that all an anti-theist would have to do is shred a head of lettuce in secret, maybe putting the remains in a plastic bag in their garage to ensure that no greater good comes from it, and then Bonnette's god disappears in a poof of logic.

      Interesting? I just learned my belief most anti-theists are philosophically illiterate and simplistic is a justified one.

      More seriously, the notions of "good" and "evil" being used in this article are ridiculous, as is shown in relief in Bonnette's lettuce example.

      Rather your lettuce example reminds me of the Young Earth Creationist who
      challenges the Evolutionist to give him an example of an ape who gave birth to a human & then cites his inability to do so as having shown evolution to be "ridiculous". In both cases I am merely shown Young Creationists are scientifically illiterate and anti-Theist are similarly philosophy illiterate. I don't mean to be harsh but that is what I am seening here. Correct that please.

      Mere being or existence is not automatically good.

      In and of itself it clearly is and it is the necessary prerequisite for having additional goods.

      Ebola has being and is very bad for us. It would be better for us if ebola were wiped out of existence.

      But it would be bad for Ebola for that to happen. Poor ebola.

      And for any person, to suffer torture until death would clearly be worse than ceasing to exist before the torture.

      Ceasing to exist would be worst because that is an absolute loss of all good.
      If Hell is the supreme love of self over all others then this would be adding insult to injury by taking away the last thing you love.

      I'd endorse using one of the philosophical accounts of good and evil that has stood the test of time. For example, take Peter Singer's view, which developed out of Aristotle's view as the flaws of the older view were discovered and fixed over the years:

      Well if it based on Aristotle then it is close to the Thomist view but we would need a good philosophical argument to except it and good polemics to reject our view and slicing lettuce isn't going to cut it no pun intended. Otherwise it's just begging the question.

      The good is all happiness, satisfaction, joy, and other states with positive valence, as experienced by any living thing. And evil is all unhappiness, dissatisfaction, misery, and other states with negative valence, as experienced by any living thing.

      That is true as far as it goes but it is obviously incomplete and not fully fleshed out. Also what if my joy and happiness comes from inflicting pain on others? I cannot be happy without it and if you destroy me or prevent me
      from doing it then you break your own rule and inflict unhappyness on me. Also it doesn't give us any metaphysical analysis of what is good vs what is evil. It makes the subjective preferences of human beings the norm without philosophically explaining it. (Also it cannot be applied to animals since their experiences are a mystery. If we treat them like us we are guilty of the anthopomorphic fallacy. Nagel is rather solid on this).

      There are also other views, such as those in the Kantian tradition, those in the virtue ethics tradition, and less popular varieties. Any tradition that has kept up with philosophical progress -- changing in response to criticisms, incorporating new discoveries -- is better than the ossified mumbo jumbo used here.

      Of course Feser and other have a mountain of polemics against Kant's errors and incoherencies and defenses of the classic view. Which the former is rightly labelled by him a "superstition".
      But you are trying to take this on philosophically which is better then most anti-theists who waste my time claiming science is somehow involved. So I give credit where credit is due.

      • your lettuce example

        Bonnette's lettuce example.

        • Jim the Scott

          But I was criticizing your version since you claimed it caused "Bonnette's god disappears in a poof of logic." and then you went downhill from there. But you did appeal to philosophy to counter philosophy so that part was good.

      • I don't mean to be harsh but that is what I am seening here. Correct that please.

        Please consider yourself corrected. I'm well-read on a variety of philosophical matters, as is plain from my comments to those who are also well-read on the same matters.

        • Jim the Scott

          Then I would prefer you address the rest of my post instead of gripping over salad. That would be better. "Good" even by any definition.

    • Today I learned that all an anti-theist would have to do is shred a head of lettuce in secret, maybe putting the remains in a plastic bag in their garage to ensure that no greater good comes from it, and then Bonnette's god disappears in a poof of logic.

      That's called "fabricating evidence". Most find it to be incredibly dishonest. Perhaps the anti-theist, having done this, would realize what kind of person [s]he had become and choose to repent afterward. A head of lettuce would be a rather small price for such a thing!

      I'd endorse using one of the philosophical accounts of good and evil that has stood the test of time. For example, take Peter Singer's view, which developed out of Aristotle's view as the flaws of the older view were discovered and fixed over the years: The good is all happiness, satisfaction, joy, and other states with positive valence, as experienced by any living thing. And evil is all unhappiness, dissatisfaction, misery, and other states with negative valence, as experienced by any living thing.

      When a child is unhappy that [s]he cannot have a candy bar at the store checkout, that qualifies as 'unhappiness' and 'dissatisfaction'. And yet, to call that 'evil' seems obviously ridiculous. Some of what you describe as 'good' seems to involve the filling of lack, which certainly sounds like an increase in being. Your Ebola case constitutes beings maintaining their existence via causing privation in other beings. To cause privation without some plan to make the end result better (e.g. setting a bone) would be to commit evil.

      A particular problem I see with your endorsement here is that self-deception can increase happiness and decrease dissatisfaction. Without distinguishing between description/​perception and ontology/​actuality allows for severe errors to accumulate. I'm sure that discussion of 'being' has plenty of problems, but at least it prevents the analysis from remaining at the surface-level.

      • That's called "fabricating evidence". Most find it to be incredibly dishonest.

        And yet it is the logical conclusion of Bonnette's own example in the above article. If you don't like the example, take it up with him.

        When a child is unhappy that [s]he cannot have a candy bar at the store checkout, that qualifies as 'unhappiness' and 'dissatisfaction'. And yet, to call that 'evil' seems obviously ridiculous.

        Far from ridiculous, it seems obviously true to me. The child's brief pang of suffering when they don't get the candy bar is, in the child's experience, a small evil.

        People differ in their intuitions. It leads to them coming up with different philosophies. That's why I endorsed "one of the philosophical accounts", and mentioned several.

        A particular problem I see with your endorsement here is that self-deception can increase happiness and decrease dissatisfaction.

        It can, but this problem is trivially resolved by the observation that self-deception can only do this if it's limited in scope, leaving the person with enough true beliefs to continue functioning. The most widespread example is that we invent fiction, and we thoroughly enjoy deceiving our senses for a time while we read or watch rollicking good stories. Then we go back to our ordinary lives.

        • And yet it is the logical conclusion of Bonnette's own example in the above article.

          No, his lettuce was used in a salad to nourish people.

          The child's brief pang of suffering when they don't get the candy bar is, in the child's experience, a small evil.

          In that case, the fact that the child isn't omnipotent (absence of thwarted desires) is an evil. After all, ever not getting what you want is dissatisfaction, no? I'll note that your own "universe" appears designed to permit non-relational omnipotence.

          It can, but this problem is trivially resolved by the observation that self-deception can only do this if it's limited in scope, leaving the person with enough true beliefs to continue functioning.

          I suggest a read of Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson's The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life. That "limited in scope" seems to not be very limited. This should not be surprising, given how benighted Enlightenment Advocates say pre-Enlightenment humans were. But anyhow, to allow self-deception to escape being 'evil' seems to be a pretty severe problem with your endorsed understanding of 'good'.

          • How exasperating. You pretend I invented the lettuce example, then when I point out it comes straight from the article, you bizarrely object that the example was used for a different purpose in the article than in my comment. I already quoted the sentences from the article that prove the point, so to review:

            Bonnette argued that "the carnage taking place against lettuce" is an evil. Bonnette argued that on his idea of god, "any evil that God permits in this world must have a greater good that results from it." Therefore if a head of lettuce is shredded (an "evil" occurs) and is put in a plastic bag in the garage (no greater good results from it), the logical conclusion is that the god as he's defined it cannot exist.

            But anyhow, to allow self-deception to escape being 'evil' seems to be a pretty severe problem with your endorsed understanding of 'good'.

            On the contrary, it doesn't seem to be any problem at all to me. If it's "leaving the person with enough true beliefs to continue functioning", as stated, where do you see a problem?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >“Bonnette argued that "the carnage taking place against lettuce" is an evil. Bonnette argued that on his idea of god, "any evil that God permits in this world must have a greater good that results from it." Therefore if a head of lettuce is shredded (an "evil" occurs) and is put in a plastic bag in the garage (no greater good results from it), the logical conclusion is that the god as he's defined it cannot exist.”

            If you will forgive the horribly mixed metaphor here, you are badly confusing apples and oranges about the lettuce example. You thereby totally miss the point of the example.

            Back in its actual context, I mentioned the “lettuce carnage” merely to show that it was an example of evil that no one becomes an atheist about. It IS evil, since the lettuce loses the being of its total integrity and metaphysical evil is defined as the lack of a perfection due to a given nature -- in this case, the physical wholeness of the lettuce head.

            But then you absurdly mix the actual purpose of my example with the general principle that God allows evil only for a greater good! And so you argue that the lettuce head may come to no good end in the garage in a plastic bag -- and this is supposed to somehow betray my general principle about the greater good.

            Your twist on my example is a complete misreading of the general principle. It does not mean that every single evil event must itself directly lead to its own greater good or to some immediate greater good involving it, but rather that God may permit general evils in the world in order to have a world that, on balance, constitutes a greater good than it would be without those evils.

            For example, God may permit a number of souls to freely cast themselves into Hell in the process of allowing the greatest of saints in Heaven more completely perfected in their sanctity because of the freedom they had in choosing virtue. It does not matter whether you like my example or not.

            What matters is that God’s providence may produce the greater overall good, even though a lot of lettuce gets wasted in the process.

          • How exasperating. You pretend I invented the lettuce example …

            You're equivocating on "the lettuce example"; here are the two versions:

                 (I) @drdennisbonnette:disqus: "the carnage taking place against lettuce when a chef prepares a salad"
                (II) @zifyduha:disqus: "shred a head of lettuce in secret, maybe putting the remains in a plastic bag in their garage to ensure that no greater good comes from it"

            You don't need lettuce to concoct some situation where you try to create gratuitous violence. The problem is that you are intentionally trying to create gratuitous violence. That is perhaps the essence of evil! And so your argument reduces to: "I disprove your claim of God's goodness because I can be gratuitously evil."

            LB: But anyhow, to allow self-deception to escape being 'evil' seems to be a pretty severe problem with your endorsed understanding of 'good'.

            RB: On the contrary, it doesn't seem to be any problem at all to me. If it's "leaving the person with enough true beliefs to continue functioning", as stated, where do you see a problem?

            Pre-Enlightenment humans "continued functioning" with beliefs that Enlightenment Advocates call benighted.

  • VicqRuiz

    The idea that God permits lesser evils in the purpose of a greater good would be easier to understand if many Christians did not at the same time see individual cases of surviving evil as special indications of divine love and providence.

    The passenger in seat 27C who walks out alone from a crashed, burning airliner;
    the ten year old whose terminal cancer unexpectedly goes into remission;
    the rescue helicopter crew who spot the raft full of survivors thirty seconds before turning back to base -

    - all these, per Dr. Bonnette's analysis are part of the divine flowchart, no more and no less than those patients and passengers who died, mercifully quick or agonizingly slow. To imply special blessing on behalf of the survivors without implying a special curse upon the lost would be a classic case of wanting to have one's cake and eating it too.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      If you restrict your perspective solely to what can be observed of God's actions in this life, your viewpoint makes some sense. But God's providence includes how he applies justice and mercy to all persons, not only in this life, but in the afterlife as well. Those who die suddenly or even agonizingly do not end their story at that point. God will allot justice and mercy as needed in the afterlife so as to do what is right for each person. It is not a "special curse" upon those souls.

      For those we see he spares in some unexpected fashion, we rightly thank God in this life, since, for them, it is an event outside of what would normally be expected in such dire circumstances and a blessing in earthly terms. God understands our earthly concerns.

      We should realize that, even though we view these special cases of being spared, God shows infinite love and providence for all human beings, no matter how their earthly lives may end.

      His ways are inscrutable, but not irrational or capricious. It is just that we humans are often tempted to have the hubris of thinking we can do better than he is accomplishing the manifestation of his glory and in administering justice and mercy.

      • VicqRuiz

        Dr. Bonnette:

        You interpret the universe in accordance with your understanding that there is a God who is perfectly good, and you appear to use the word "good" in much the same sense you would use it when describing actions of humans. You are able to reconcile everything you see in the universe with that understanding.

        I start with the universe and humanity as observed by me and as documented by history, and try to determine from those findings whether there is a creator God (my conclusion: plausible) and whether or not that God loves humanity (my conclusion: possible in the aggregate, impossible at the individual level).

        We obviously reach different conclusions. I certainly don't think you are stupid, or ignorant, or naive (as many atheists, sad to say, would conclude). But I do think that our brains are wired differently. I don't think either of us is any more capable of really standing in the other's shoes than a 19th century Amazon River tribesman would be able to comprehend the differences between the twenty different Inuit words for "snow".

        Thanks for responding in the comments. Few authors on this website do so.

  • VicqRuiz

    What natural evil is really inconsistent with is the notion of a God who loves each and every human with an infinite and personal love.

    Because love, to be true, must see the well-being of the individual beloved as the most important thing of all. True love can never treat the beloved as a means to a greater end.

    Does this mean I never allow my beloved to suffer pain? Of course not. I send my daughter to the dentist, although it will cause her discomfort and pain, because her personal well-being will benefit in the end. But what I can never do is to allow my beloved child to suffer pain because it will benefit some other purpose, now or in the future.

    As an agnostic, I can accept the concept of a God who is working out his own plans to his own completely inexplicable ends, plans in which we are like chess pawns some of which are promoted on the eighth rank and some of which are sacrificed on the third move. This is a model which certainly fits the universe as observed. But the concept of universal divine love then has to be set aside.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      >"But what I can never do is to allow my beloved child to suffer pain because it will benefit some other purpose, now or in the future."

      The problem with this analysis is that it shortchanges divine providence, justice, and mercy.

      God can simultaneously allow the existence of natural evils, and even his directly causing physical evils, in this world -- both as serving what is part of the greater overall end of his plan for creation and as what is right for the individual directly affected, since his justice and mercy are meted out, not only in this life, but in the life to come for each of us.

      There is no logical conflict between an event serving both an a means to an end for this individual person at the same time that it is a means to accomplishing some greater purpose. Thus, God has created a world in which both ends are met at once, and without treating any person merely as a means to an end.

      When Kant says correctly that we should never treat a person as merely a means, this does not preclude that God can view the person both as an end in himself and also his life as a means to a greater good for the whole of his creation. He would be treating the person merely as a means if he failed to provide for proper justice and mercy for that person in totality, that is, taking into account what he does with that person in that person's afterlife. Because God is all-good and infinitely loving of each person, what is right for that person must occur in the afterlife.

      The fact that the good often suffer in this life, while evil triumphs, is actually an argument that proves that man must have an afterlife in which all things are made right by God.

      For those who wonder how hell can manifest an infinitely loving God, consider the more detailed analysis that suggests that a person who turns his will against God finally would suffer even more were he forced to be with God for all eternity. Thus the sinner actually wills his distance from God, which is the essence of hell. Because God loves that persons infinitely, he accommodates that sinner's will by allowing him to remain at that self-imposed distance.

    • OMG

      My object of torture is piano. I never seem able to summon the necessary mix of diligence, hours, fine finger dexterity, sense of timing, and quick-read of notation which a first-rate performance requires. First-rate doesn't approximate or begin to approach finite perfection. What is infinite perfection? What is infinite love? How do we define those?

      Yet, do we not sense that perfection--infinite love--is possible if we sometimes seem to approach it? We usually struggle with frustration, yet for some brief moments, on a very rare day, my piano and I together put forth something fairly fair. Is there anything like this in your experience?

      I don't see evil as inconsistent with my finite notion of infinite love.

    • Rob Abney

      I don't think chess is the proper analogy. When you play chess the goal is to win, so when you do win is it just the pieces left on the board that win or do all the pieces win, even the ones that were sacrificed, or is it the chess player who wins? I think it is only the chess player. It might be better to replace the chess analogy with an army. Win the Colonists defeated the English was it just the surviving army that was the winner or were those that gave their life for the cause also winners, or was it just Washington and his generals who were the winners? The answer is that it is a team effort, and all are rewarded not just the general.
      Your chess analogy says that God is the only winner, but that is not what we know having been told so by Jesus Christ.
      The winners need a general or a chessmaster but all will be rewarded, unless you switch to the losing team.

      • OMG

        When the Colonists defeated the English, future generations of Americans also gained. When America saved England's butt in WWII, England too eventually gained from its Colonial loss.

  • Jay Has

    This fails on so many fronts......I wish I had the time to explain them all.

  • The_Bustle_in_Your_Hedgerow

    Some might like this page about "the problem of evil" and trusting in God: https://www.fisheaters.com/trustingingod.html

  • Jim the Scott

    Fr. Brian Davies, Priest and Thomist Philosopher said “God is not morally good”. Of course that statement can be misunderstood by the unwashed ignorant masses as meaning God is immoral or amoral like a wicked human being might be either of those things. So the term needs to be qualified as “God is not a moral agent” or “God is not a moral agent in the unequivocal sense a morally good human being is a moral agent”. God by nature has no obligations to His Creatures. We as moral agents are morally obligated, if we have the power, to stop or oppose any evil we are confronted with. God given His nature will not allowed Evil to reign forever however He has no obligation to stop any particular evil. It is part of the goodness of God to allow evil so as to bring good out of it.

    Here is a book I recommend to outline these ideas.
    https://thomistica.net/news/2011/10/14/is-god-a-moral-agent.html

  • Ulla

    Yes, God Is Good. Always.

    But it is wrong to think that God is a ”he”. God is Pure Spirit. Spirit of Truth, Spirit of Goodness. Eternally.

    Now let's use some logic and reason. Goodness exists. However, anti-goodness or un-goodness exist too. Anti-goodness isn't proof that goodness doesn't exist. Goodness exists. We can put any of God's attributes here, and the same logic applies.

    As God is Good, God is never anything less than absolutely good.

    Ah, but why is there evil? Because we are not God, we are not one with God, we are ungodly or anti-God.

    We sin. There is no other sin but the sin of Not-God or Anti-God.

    God is Good.

    But we are not. Yet we create. God gave us souls who are good, but then the souls turned away from God, separated from God, creating sin and evil. Souls are creative spirits.

    Actually we are the souls. We are spirits.

    But we often forget it. And when we think with our animal selves, we are separated from the higher consciousness required for Divinity. God is Wisdom. There is no foolishness in Wisdom. God is Truth. There are no lies in Truth. God is Good. There is nothing evil in Good.

    God doesn't do evil, God never wills evil. God never tortured and murdered Jesus, or any of the saints, but torture and murder are always indication of Evil Spirit, Anti-God. When we know what is God, we know what is not. When we know the truth, we automatically know what are lies about it. As we know 2 + 3 = 5, we automatically know that anything else but 5 is a wrong answer.

    God doesn't have the problem of evil. Only Evil has the problem of evil.

    Good creates good, Evil creates evil. And so we can know, what is God and what is not God.

  • Phil Tanny

    Deleted comment because this comment box is hopelessly broken. Unless some new technology is found for this excellent site, my time here will have to be limited, very limited. Said with respect, and great regret.

    Respect your own site enough to obtain working technology for it. Forum software is widely available and often free.