Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Humanism, Morality, Religion, Truth

Collateral Damage

Yesterday, the discussion on this thread got into the subject of the problems of evil and suffering. One of the participants in the discussion suggested that the dilemma could be resolved if God had reasons for allowing evil and suffering to exist, even if we don’t know what those reasons are. On the surface, this is not necessarily a bad suggestion. For instance, we’re familiar with the idea of enduring suffering when there is a larger payoff at the end: surgery and chemotherapy to remove a life-threatening tumor, or even something as mundane as the pain we feel from exercise, knowing it makes us stronger in the long run. There are even cases where we inflict suffering on others for their own well-being, even though they may not be aware of the benefits, such as immunizations for young children.

So is it possible that God uses some of the bad moments in our lives to teach us important lessons and help us grow as individuals? Well, it’s possible that someone could learn how relatively unimportant possessions are if he lost his home in a natural disaster, or spent some time living in poverty. Those experiences could help him grow into a better person. Or perhaps someone could overcome a severe illness, and through that, learn that she wasn’t spending enough quality time with her loved ones. Now, none of those examples are miraculous in nature, so they don’t require God’s involvement to happen. Nevertheless, I can see why some religious people view things like this as an explanation for the evil and suffering that exist in the world.

Unfortunately, examples like the ones above are not the upper limit of the tragedies that can occur in life. If God is real, what is his role when a child dies? Before you say that God doesn’t cause things like that, but only allows them because he’s given man free will, I have two objections:

First of all, children don’t just die because some person kills them. Many children die each year from “acts of God,” like natural disasters, house fires, and illness. God could stop all of those deaths without infringing on anyone’s free will.

Secondly, if God intervened in the murder of a child, he would not be infringing on the free will of the murderer, only on the outcome. The murderer would still have the ability to decide to kill the child, and even to put the plan into action. But just as God supposedly stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac just before the knife made contact, God could similarly act whenever a child is in danger. No harm to free will.

So when children die, is God teaching us a lesson? Are we learning how to become better people for it? Studies have shown that parents have a shorter life expectancy when they suffer the loss of a child (not that we probably need a study to tell us that). They’re more susceptible to illness and depression as well.

But beyond that, let’s talk about the ethics of killing a child in order to “teach the parents a lesson.” We see this kind of rationale in movies, sometimes. How many gangster movies have you seen where someone threatens a character’s family in order to make them do something? Is it the protagonist or the villain that typically does the threatening in those movies? In Gladiator, when Maximus’s wife and child are killed, does he then rally support by trying to kill the wives and children of his enemies? It would be hard to like such a character. We instinctively know that targeting someone’s family, especially their children, is the lowest, vilest act a villain can perform.

So why would Christians be willing to attribute such actions to God? If you think about it, the Book of Job does just that. In the first chapter, Job has 7 sons and 3 daughters, who were apparently all quite close to one another. But when God and Satan make their wager about Job, all of Job’s children are killed. But hey, not to worry, Job gets 7 more sons and 3 more daughters at the end of the story! Happy ending!

Such a story should fill us with revulsion. Don’t harm my children to teach me a lesson — I’ll gladly remain ignorant of whatever education you’re passing out.

But maybe such a story made sense to the people living at that time. There have certainly been other cultures that didn’t seem to value human life (even that of their own children) in the way that we do today. But this is just another reason to see the story of Job as a man-made fable, and not a literal, God-sanctioned event.

Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistant that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.
— Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

When I see throughout this book, called the Bible, a history of the grossest vices and a collection of the most paltry and contemptible tales and stories, I could not so dishonor my Creator by calling it by His name.
— Thomas Paine, Toward the Mystery

If we think about the level of evil and suffering that exists in our world, it makes the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God seem extremely improbable, if not impossible. And if he allows evil to occur in our world just so a few of us can “learn something” from the experience, then we can certainly cross out the “all-loving” quality. It’s possible that a God exists, but if he/she/it does, it’s not the version we find described in the Bible, so why bother hanging onto it? Yahweh and Jehovah belong in the ranks of mythology, along with Zeus and Thor.

78 thoughts on “Collateral Damage”

  1. ah, good points UnkleE. yes, I’d like as unbiased and unconditioned as possible. In fact, it was by considering these things that i was able to part was with Christianity.

    i still struggle with thoughts f whether I’m fooling myself or not. In these moments of self doubt, i try to step away from the table so that i can get a satellite’s view of everything. And while the bible does have some uniqueness, it’s the similarities with other religions or traditions that make me realize I cant fully separate it without stronger evidences. This of course isnt the full extent of that self examination, for times sake, I’ll leave it at that.

    although i will add, while Christianity “answers” all the questions, it really doesnt. God came from nothing. God created somethings out of nothing. Those things, and much more, raise more questions that many believers seem uncomfortable in asking. I think about this a lot too.

    is it fear of pissing god off by questioning “him” (although it’s really questioning human claims about god)? fear of hell? fear of god not finding a weak in faith person worthy of acceptance? fea rof missing out on the grand reward? Or something else? I dont know, but i do think fear is a big motivator.

    whether or not we agree on origins or religion, we can find common ground on at least trying to be objective, fair and unbiased.

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  2. Good point William,

    I too am constantly re-negotiating with myself the entire thing. One moment I feel so content in “knowing” it’s all a farce, the next moment I have twitching eyes and a quivering heart feeling like I’m just tellin myself what I want to hear so I can continue to live a lifestyle of sin and debauchery.

    The funny thing is, the more away from believing in Christianity I go, the less I seem to “sin”. I am more happy, and I have way more patience and understanding of my fellow humans condition. When I was a Christian I constantly battled lust, drunkeness, jealousy, pride, maliciousness, and a host of other “spiritual diseases”. Now that I am in (what seems a never ending) deconversion process, I find myself being much more satisfied with the things I have (much less than I use to need), I am by far more patient, and am growing more confident in myself. Rather than always being afraid someone may question my beliefs, I am now always hoping someone will.

    All I feel I can really do, since I dont really trust my mind or soul if I have one to be able to see the “truth” in an unbiased manner, is continue to check my intentions. If my intentions are pure, then all I can hope for is that the truth I find is the truth I’m meant to have.

    If there is a god, I will follow it till I cannot take another step.

    So far, the only god I see dwells in all things that are in this physical world. I see god in my cat. I am starting to believe that “god” could have possibly infused itself into all things and that is what we call life, and perhaps its our conciousness. Knowing god beyond that, seems entirely impossible for me.

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  3. ”I see god in my cat”

    I thought the exact same thing last week when one of our 11 cats, Mr. Nibbles, brought in a bird, a pigeon almost as big as him, and dumped it in the kitchen.
    I called the Missus and said,
    “Jesus Christ, look what the cat just bought in!”

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  4. UnkleE, you brought a very interesting point. I am looking forward reading more posts about this subject. Our brains do tend to condition according to what we focus. If I concentrate a lot on abuse, neglect, starvation, etc, I will most likely begin to question and even deny the existence of a loving God. Otherwise, if I focus more on the positive (favorable) things of this world, such as forgiveness, mercy, service, etc. my belief in God is strengthen. So, who is closer to the “truth”? Nobody really knows. As a mental health counselor, I am convinced that cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective ways of modifying our feelings and actions (changing thoughts —> changing feelings). So if I choose to think not only about evil, but also about the good, then my belief in a good God can remain intact.

    Arkenaten, I wonder why your comments are usually full of sarcasm and insults. I often see a list of civil, respectful exchange of ideas until I see your comments. I bet your response to my comment will confirm my observation. Peace.

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  5. Then I am happy not to disappoint,Noel.

    Not focusing on the evil perpetrated by and in the name of your god can be called a variety of things.
    Delusional comes readily to mind, and as a mental health counselor well versed in cognitive behavioral therapy you SHOULD be well aware of this. Although I am baffled why you do not apply this rationale to your self, re biblical interpretation. It isn’t as if you can ignore the heinous things your god did, now can you?
    Oh…wait a moment, in fact you CAN, and Christians do this all the time. Its called…and I shall write slowly as I know you must struggle if you are unable to figure out the meaning of words such as biblical genocide, global flood, annihilation etc.
    Cherry Picking….

    Positive thought is a wonderful mechanism to help set the mental faculties on a path to free thinking, common sense, building up self worth and many other unfortunate disorders.
    Tell me, I don’t know if those in your specific profession are obliged to take the Hippocratic oath , but considering the vile deity the bible don’t you fell just a twinge of guilt being such an enormous hypocrite?

    How was that? 🙂

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  6. Hi Nate,

    There was so many point, but I just want to touch about a small portion of your articles.

    I don’t look dying as something evil. Death is natural process, I will die, you will die, everyone here will die. Similar to sickness or illness. Everyone must have once having an illness. It sound not so popular and sound cruel but live with it. It was natural. Even you are an atheist, you can not run away from dying.

    We can just reduce or delay the process, not to stop the process.

    Baby, adult or elder, all can die. It doesn’t mean that you are young, you will die later. Statistically, most people die at older age, but it not necessary in such way. Dying is something painful, sad, but live must go on…

    The problem is method of dying – Killing, illness, accident, war, natural death.

    But what the meaning of “natural death”, is it die by lying in bed an looking peaceful that being propagate by movie? From what I know there was no answer of “natural death” but.. in medical term, there are a word called “death by natural causes”.

    So death itself is natural, but the question is why?

    When the baby die, it not about teaching the parent a lesson, (we can assume, it was) but it may not necessary in such way. The idea is we do not know… but what we know is death is natural.

    So, why discussing something that you do not and will not know? It not fruitful and wasting your time?

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  7. I notice I can’t comment on unkleE’s web site. Why might that be?

    Noel, if you attach the reality of god’s existence to your dependent mood, then surely this is a pretty good indication that your method contains a variable that is at best highly unreliable to describe anything independent of it. It is not reasonable to assume that conclusions based only on personally dependent criteria describes an independent causal agency. Yet a resulting observation (who is closer to the “truth”? Nobody really knows) is rather bold to be referred to a state of external existence that is independent of your mood! After all, it’s not a question of someone to determine the independent existence of a thing, an entity, an agency that causes effect; it is evidence from reality that is necessary to demonstrably link this effect to that particular cause. It is evidence from reality that is necessary to link the effect of rainbows and butterflies and sunsets to the causal agent: supposedly a loving god. And if it’s creative loving god, then one has to explain how ebola and tsunamis and the Ichneumon wasp fit into that model. In other words, if you want to include knowledge and people into some explanation, then you must be prepared to show that the model generally is true for everyone everywhere all the time. Your mood is not sufficient to produce knowledge. The method of science is.

    If one looks at the world and investigates its systems, one can find no evidence for any interventionist creative causal agency that affects the world. One can not find any evidence for a loving interventionist creative causal agency that affects the world. In fact, evidence that should be present if the claim fro such an agency were true is conspicuous for its absence. This matters when we use a spectrum to determine the reliability of knowledge between the possible and the probable. All the evidence gathered from reality shift the probability ever downwards making the possibility ever less. To then assert such a bold statement that ‘Nobody really knows’ fails utterly to deal with reality honestly, and the word ‘really’ is a qualifier to fudge the results towards uncertainty… as if there were evidence from reality to empower uncertainty! Yet there isn’t.

    My reality, which is identical to yours in every way, is not determined by your mood. It’s not determined by what I choose to believe. It simply is, and we have available to the both of us a method to find out about it that will produce identical results regardless of your mood, regardless of my beliefs. How cool is that?

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  8. Another question:

    As the post is about questioning God’s action and discussing about Bible (even not my expertise). A simple question:

    Why God can not take people life?

    Is there any reason behind it, did He promise that people will forever or something like that?

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  9. ah, good points UnkleE. yes, I’d like as unbiased and unconditioned as possible. …. whether or not we agree on origins or religion, we can find common ground on at least trying to be objective, fair and unbiased.”

    Yes, thanks, it is good to find things in common. The interesting thing for me is that these insights into neuroplasticity suggest it may be harder to remain objective than we think. If we focus on something enough, at the exclusion of alternative views, it seems that we may change how our brain is structured and thus how we think.

    Non-believers often criticise believers for ignoring evidence in favour of faith, and it may be that what is occurring is that the believers’ brains have become re-wired so that they are pretty much unable to deal with sceptical thoughts. But the interesting corollary of this is that of course unbelievers are just as prone to the same effect. If they focus on sceptical arguments and ignore contrary evidence, they may be re-wiring their brains also. And the same behaviour they criticise in believers will occur in them, and it is easily seen – they are unable to deal with contrary evidence and refuse to face up to it. You and I are therefore both subject to the same effects, and can only keep clear of them by refusing to close off lines of thought we don’t find congenial.

    There is one further corollary, I think. There is an interesting argument for God often called the argument from reason. It starts with the assumption that our brains have been shaped by evolution (i,e. natural selection) alone, and natural selection doesn’t select based on truth but based on survival to pass on genes. This means our brains have been formed by process that care less about truth than about survival, and therefore we cannot trust our cognitive faculties to be truthful and logical. Which means we cannot trust the reasoning that leads to the conclusion that our brains have been shaped by evolution alone, which is reductio ad absurdum.

    The naturalist response to this is to argue that truth in reasoning has survival value and therefore our brains indeed think truthfully. But neuroplasticity may undermine this, for while it may indeed be true that our brains have evolved to be capable of thinking truthfully or logically, we can clearly bias our brains by focusing on one side of a matter, and so we don’t think logically on that matter after all.

    I am still delving into this question, and I may end up with different conclusions, but I am finding it fascinating on several levels. Thanks for your comment.

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  10. tildeb — Excellent points! Thank you!

    Noel — thanks for the comment; it’s always great to see you here. I tend to agree with tildeb, though. Why can’t we examine both the good things in life and the bad, and then come to our consensus? When we do that, I find too many problems to believe in a deity like the one presented in the Bible. Is some other deity out there? Maybe. But I haven’t seen evidence of him/her/it yet.

    Hifzan — thanks for your comments! You make some really good points about the nature of death. Let me start with your last comment first (just to be confusing 🙂 ):

    Why God can not take people life?

    Is there any reason behind it, did He promise that people will forever or something like that?

    No, it’s true that God didn’t promise to let people live forever. But even if God created us, I don’t believe that gives him free reign to do whatever he likes with us. I have 3 children, but I should not have the power to end their lives whenever I want. Or to even abuse them or neglect them. They have certain rights that I can’t intrude upon, even though they wouldn’t be here without me.

    In the same way, if God created us, I believe it would be wrong for him to treat our lives frivolously. And if he loves us as much as most religions claim, then he shouldn’t want to see any harm come to us.

    And it’s true that we all die, but not all deaths are the same. Some people spend weeks, months, or years in agony before they finally die. Others are tragically cut down for no apparent reason. For instance, I know of a little girl that was killed in a farming accident not too long ago. It was just a stupid accident. It could have been prevented so easily. Of course, none of the people around her could have known it would happen. It’s only through hindsight that they see all the things they could have done differently. But if God’s real, then he would have known. When she woke up that morning, with her hair all askew from a good night’s sleep, he would have known what lay before her. When she laughed at some joke that her sibling made, or at something on TV, God still would have known what was coming. So many things could have prevented it, but it still happened anyway. If God is up there somewhere, and if he loved that child and her family, why did he allow such a horrible tragedy to happen?

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  11. “I notice I can’t comment on unkleE’s web site. Why might that be?”
    I’m sorry about this tildeb. There is no reason I know of why you cannot comment there. Can you tell me what happened when you tried?

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  12. UnkleE, you brought a very interesting point. I am looking forward reading more posts about this subject. Our brains do tend to condition according to what we focus. If I concentrate a lot on abuse, neglect, starvation, etc, ….. As a mental health counselor, I am convinced that cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective ways of modifying our feelings and actions (changing thoughts —> changing feelings).”

    Thanks for this comment Noel, I am interested to hear how a professional working in the field thinks. So far my main reading has been from or about researchers (Mario Beauregard’s book Brain Wars and Norman Doidge’s book The brain that changes itself – Doidge is a practitioner, but he writes mostly about research).

    I expect to post on this stuff in the next couple of weeks on both my blogs – the Way? and Is there a God?, so I hope to see you there and see your comments.

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  13. So, in a weird sort of way, I actually agree with much of your comment. Maybe that’s a miracle! “

    Hi Nate, I’m pleased with this response and not entirely surprised, because I tried to keep my comment as open as possible, and I know you well enough by now. 🙂

    We’ve even got the Code of Hammurabi and the Code of Ur-Nammu as examples that predate Judaism.

    Of course, kc knows all this — I think he was just being polite in his phrasing. And thanks to both of you for pointing out those problems, because I completely overlooked them in my comment.”

    But I disagree with your revision. The historical questions about ethics are quite irrelevant to the matter I raised, as can be seen by setting out the argument from evil, which looks something like this ….

    1. There is suffering and pain in the world.
    2. Much of this serves no useful purpose (i.e. it is gratuitous).
    3. Gratuitous suffering and pain are evil (= not good).
    4. If a good God exists, he would allow such evil.
    5. There no good God exists.

    Now I have already said that I find this argument very strong, but that is because I can well accept premise 3 – that gratuitous is indeed objectively evil. The history of moral codes has no relevance here, it is simply a matter of whether we can support #3.

    But how does an atheist support it? Of course atheists feel, or “know” it is true in themselves, but how do they demonstrate that gratuitous suffering is objectively evil (i.e. we should all agree)? I have never seen it done, and most atheists I have seen agree that ethics are subjective. But if so, premise 3 fails, and so the argument fails.

    So I conclude that the argument from evil can only have force for a believer, and is self contradictory for a non-believer. Thus I think your initial response (“I think we atheists can have good reasons for thinking that causing suffering is wrong, but I do concede that it’s hard to prove those reasons”) was exactly correct. More agreement!! 🙂

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  14. It really comes down to why we know certain things are wrong. Honestly, that’s anybody’s guess. Theists will say it’s because we can appeal to a higher authority who tells us it’s wrong. Or perhaps God created us to instinctively know it’s wrong.

    But in a way, I find this to be a “god of the gaps” type argument, because it really just boils down to “where did we come from?” Perhaps, instead of having our instincts wired by God, we evolved to have them. There’s some decent evidence for this, since more primitive species seem to have certain moral codes as well. Or maybe we’re just conditioned by living in our respective societies to know what would constitute a “sin” against the group.

    Why do we find murder to be evil? I can give some good, practical reasons, but in some ways, this is also like asking “why do I prefer chocolate ice cream over vanilla?” There may not be a great way to explain why I do, but that doesn’t invalidate the fact that I feel that way.

    I feel like your objection to the problem of evil is kind of like playing word games. It’s like objecting to the theory of evolution because we don’t know exactly how life first began. It’s true that we may not know that part of it, but that doesn’t invalidate what we do know.

    In the same way, I can’t definitively say exactly why we know some things are evil, but that doesn’t mean I should pretend that there’s no such thing.

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  15. Hi Nate, I don’t want to drag this out. But is God of the gaps any worse than the atheist gap of the gods?? 🙂 God didn’t create the world but we don’t know how it happened. God didn’t design the universal laws but we don’t know what did. We know the world is too evil for a God even though we can’t say what evil is or how we can know it.

    My point is simply that there are arguments both ways, and neuroplasticity seems to indicate that the more you focus on one side, the less you’ll see the other. Meaning we have to carefully guard our objectivity or we lose it. It’s happened to so many people already, so I’d hate to see you join them! Best wishes.

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  16. Hey Uncle E,

    Welcome back – haven’t seen you in a while. I’m actually traveling for a few days so won’t be able to respond too much here. Wanted to give a quick response to some of your stuff here though (I hope that’s ok).

    First I think your points about neuroplasticity and the fact that we need to carefully guard our objectivity are excellent reminders for everyone. We all fall so easily into biased thinking. You may find this a strange statement for me to make given what I believe, but I don’t think that my struggle with my biases was stronger or weaker when I was previously a Christian compared to what I am now. I think I’ve always had to battle them to the same degree no matter what worldview I have held. Maybe I’m just biased by wanting to be fair to all sides though (how’s that for confusing?).

    Your points about the argument from evil not working for someone who doesn’t believe in objective morality sound correct at first, but on digging deeper I think there may be something else there. Think about it this way: Let’s say someone does not believe in objective morality, but they want to consider whether or not the Christian viewpoint is correct. So they go through in investigating what it would take to believe as a Christian. As they do this they see that Christianity believes in objective morality. Then they see the moral argument and find that the Christian viewpoint seems internally inconsistent, so because of that they decide to abandon belief in Christianity. They might then search for other worldviews that are more consistent with all the evidence even though they may not be sure which worldview is correct, but they at least feel they are being fair in abandoning belief in Christianity due to the internal inconsistency they see (or at least the versions of Christianity that fall into the problem of evil).

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  17. Hi Howie, it’s always a pleasure talking with you. I haven’t been commenting so much lately because after a while, I am just repeating myself.

    We all fall so easily into biased thinking. You may find this a strange statement for me to make given what I believe, but I don’t think that my struggle with my biases was stronger or weaker when I was previously a Christian compared to what I am now.”

    Yes, I think our susceptibility may be more based on personality type and experience than it is on viewpoint.

    on digging deeper I think there may be something else there.”

    Yes, I don’t disagree with you.

    (1) I said from the start that the argument from evil is a powerful argument against God (the only really powerful one in my mind). I contested Nate’s view of it not to disagree so much as to add another side to it.

    (2) I think the process often happens as you describe it. But when a person gets to the view of atheism (if that’s where they end up) they should be equally critical. But often they are not. Often they accept uncertainty (say about the beginning of the universe) where they wouldn’t previously accept uncertainty about why God would behave in a certain way. In my experience, many sceptics are only half sceptics.

    I suppose here I should come up with some witty (???) phrase like: “We’re both sceptics, I’m just sceptical about more things than they are!” But I won’t! 🙂

    Enjoy your travel!

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  18. There is never going to be a method that a believer can justify what they believe without it all resting on a god of the gaps premise.

    Unklee is probably the most disingenuous religious blogger I have encountered.
    He’ll present you with a jam sandwich but on it hide very tiny bits of broken glass.
    At least you know(or should know) that someone like Silenceofmind is simply a dickhead and you only discuss with his ilk if you want a laugh

    Almost every argument unklee has every presented in this regard is a god of the gaps story.

    If he had an ounce of integrity he would, once and for all, admit that he will never be able to demonstrate why he believes his god, Jesus, is the creator of the universe and that ultimately everything he believes is based on faith, pure and simple.

    That would be honest and any believer who stated this up front is at least deserving of a modicum of respect.

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  19. Nate,

    You mention about :I don’t believe that gives him free reign to do whatever he likes with us.

    That is your assumption of God should do or don’t but He never promise you anything like that. Your assuming based on father-daughter or family relationship. Any possibility that in Bible, God is something as daddy, father or husband to someone? I not sure of that, but I assume, the answer is No. Even in Greek, the word “Father” are not related to “family” relationship.

    You mention if God created us, I believe it would be wrong for him to treat our lives frivolously.

    Again, you believe it was wrong. So, it was another assumption.
    I would to raise 1 question, if death is created by God. Then who taking you life away? Apparently, it was God who taking your life. So, it just a process that have designed before hand.

    If God is up there somewhere, and if he loved that child and her family, why did he allow such a horrible tragedy to happen?
    If God create a life and sent to the world (in this meaning -earth). When He take back life from you, He just doing His job. From your point of view, it was a tragedy but for Him. He ust doing His job. Are you think, in His point of view, He doing wrong?

    Because, I write a comment in Atheist blog. some may think “Ohh, this is cruel” or “God is cruel” and so on. I want to write another version in “scientific fact” of poem as below just for sarcasm.

    Nature is about life and death, everything that lives a life will perish.
    Everything new will be decay and die. That is our nature.

    Everything that decay will give life to another life.
    A dying deer will give a hope to a pack of wolf to live.
    A lefty carcass will decay as soil.
    The soil again fertilized.
    Another grass grows to continue the survival.

    To called a wolf the evil, they just doing his job,
    To called a deer a saint, sometime they destroy the land,
    Which one is evil, which one is saint?
    We don’t know.

    A deer have a right to defend their life,
    A pack a wolf need to feed their family,
    Seem wolf also have a right,
    Which one is evil, which one is saint?
    We don’t know.

    Without wolf, grass will not grow,
    Without grass, deer can not survive,
    Without deer, wolf can not survive,
    Which one is evil, which one is saint?
    We don’t know.

    In Yellowstone, wolf once being called as evil,
    Hunters killed wolf, it almost extinct,
    The deer empowered, they eat almost everything,
    Yellowstones are dying,
    Now hunter know the duty of wolf,
    Which one is evil, which one is saint?

    Life or dying,
    That is the process of life,
    To sustain the stability of ecosystem,
    In the end, it not about who is evil, who is saint,
    It always about balancing the life.
    That is law of nature.

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  20. unkleE,
    Just a question out of curiosity: Many of us who are atheists view atheism as a “default” position, because most of us are not flatly saying that “no god could exist,” but rather that we’re unconvinced by all the god-claims that are currently out there. Do you agree that it seems to be a default position, or is there another position that you think qualifies better?

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  21. Hifzan, I like your poem! Thanks for posting it.

    I see the point you’re making, and I think it’s a good one. However, I don’t think it relates to God very well. For one thing, the wolf must kill in order to survive. But what does God need that would require a little girl dying in a farming accident?

    You also suggest that we shouldn’t question God — if he does a particular thing, then as his creations, we have no right to question him. But I’m not really questioning God so much as I’m questioning the Christian God. The Bible does say he’s our “heavenly father” and that he loved us so much he sent “his only son” to “die for our sins.” The Bible further describes God as all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good. So when I look around, I don’t see reality matching up to such a God. To me, that’s not questioning God, but questioning man’s claims about a god.

    Finally, if we want to say that all death is ultimately God’s doing, that’s fine. But no one can deny that some deaths are better or “easier” than others. As humans, when we have a sick pet and there’s nothing else we can do for it, we often put them to sleep. We do it humanely. If someone beat their dog to death with a lead pipe, they would be arrested — at least, here in the US they would. If God is more merciful and compassionate than we, why does he “kill” us in so many horrible ways?

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  22. UncleE, I do not think you understand neural plasticity when you say stuff like So if you focus on things like children starving, you will be training your brain to think atheistically.

    Cortical remapping (brain plasticity), is a term that refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. There are two main categories: functional (in response to damage) and structural (learning). You seem to be referring to structural, which is not tied to the solidity of specific or particular opinions or beliefs but to neural pathways used by the brain. New pathways can be created by learning, and the best description I’ve come across uses the analogy of water (experiences) following furrows in soil (neural pathways). The more water that flows through a particular furrow, the deeper it becomes while alternate routes dry out and fill in. This is the explanation why behavioural therapy (and talk therapy) works more efficaciously over time than chemical interventions (drug suppression), by getting the subject to practice through learned behaviour using a different furrow as an applied response, which will then strengthen ‘healthier’ neural pathways that direct such responsive behaviours. In a nutshell, then, the first important point is to remember that brain plasticity is about use through behaviour and not necessarily any kind of different brain functioning.

    Okay. So far, so good. Plasticity is partly about an effect on the brain’s wiring in response to its interactions with the environment in which it finds itself. Now let’s move on to the second point: efficiency.

    I may believe that a particular dance I do, for example, will produce rain. The more I practice this dance, the more easily (and with greater brain efficiency) I can perform it. This activity may have once utilized 40% of my brain processing when I began, and after years of practice I may utilize only 2% to accomplish the same behaviour. This efficiency is the result of brain plasticity called neural paring (and an important neural activity that occurs when we sleep). Note: this paring has nothing whatsoever to do with the claim that my dancing causes rain, and in no way connects the causal effect I claim between them. I do not ‘strengthen’ or ‘weaken’ my beliefs about the causal connection between my dancing and the arrival of rain and so it makes no sense to claim as you do that a negative or positive ‘focus’ strengthens theistic or atheistic thinking. That’s not what brain plasticity means in regards to structural changes over time through learning; it means changes to efficiency through behaviour.

    Why does this matter?

    Well, acting on beliefs matters because these behaviours cause real affect in the real world. Dancing, for example, causes real affect both in the brain and real affect in socializing depending on circumstances can be both positive and negative). But it is a mistake to link these effects to be evidence for the beliefs attached to them. Dancing, for example, can be done for many reasons, better reasons, evidence-based reasons that link directly to real physical benefits and aesthetic pleasure, than as ‘proof’ for causal effect in the amount of precipitation! In the same way, pro-social behaviours (morality) that improve the welfare of others is not evidence for god. Good works (ethics) can be attributed to belief in a god, but this is not evidence for god; the effects such behaviours produce are not evidence for the attribution. To assume otherwise is a thinking mistake. To assume thinking about starving children trains your brain to be atheist is a thinking mistake.

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  23. The issue of evil is problematic for the term ‘evil’. What does this term actually mean?

    The problem can be avoided by using the term (as Nate does) ‘suffering’ to reveal the disconnect between belief in a creationist loving god and the amount of unnecessary suffering produced in the world all around us every minute of every day… not just concerning humans (thousands of children will die of starvation while you read this comment thread) but amplified by the biosphere. It is obvious that the biological systems here on earth work constantly by predation. This is systemic. Any possible ‘design’ of the predator/prey system means it must have been designed this way to maximize suffering and cannot conceivably be presumed to be benevolent! Just ask the water buffalo trapped in a mud pit being eaten alive by hyenas. Look at the amount of pain generated by a nervous system designed to remain active until death. This is not benevolent. This is brutality. Look at the world of parasites; this is not benevolent but brutality. Look at the world of disease and lingering death throughout the biosphere: this isn’t designed benevolence but active and ongoing brutality. Why not a designed biological shut off valve or switch wfor nervous systems creating unbearable pain? Anyone who presumes some agency of overseeing benevolence simply isn’t looking at reality and refuses to address how reality actually functions. They are looking at metaphysical musings in correct logical form and assuming this is reflective of a reality better suited to their beliefs about it. May I suggest those people look instead to reality to inform their beliefs about it.

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