Changing Evil's Meaning
Shows
Flaw in Epicurean Riddle
Ben

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From: "Positive Atheism"
To: "Ben"
Subject: Positive Atheism Letters Section
Date: March 12, 2003 3:40 PM

So?

What's the big problem?

When you adhere to an ancient ideology, it's going to have flaws in it, be it the Epicurean riddle or the Christian religion. Take the Christian religion, for example: as an ancient ideology, small elements of it have been "set in stone" while other elements have been altered or shoved under the rug in an attempt to keep up with the times. Unfortunately, several of these "set-in-stone" elements have been shown to contrast root and branch against what we now accept as fact!

Hahahahaha! [Slaps forehead.] I should have had a V-8! Ho ho ho ho ho!

[Translation: (Taken from an old Campbells ad.) I should have trained myself, from early childhood, to do my own thinking rather than to rely upon the ideas of others, taking special care to avoid the ancient ideas of people long dead, the uneducated and illiterate members of strange, nomadic tribes, people who had but a fraction of the resources for distinguishing truth from falsehood that we enjoy today.]
 

According to Christian dogma, then, the Christian godhead is a perfect monster.

 

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  1. He was able to prevent, for example, the earthquakes in Lisbon and (according to Christian teaching) there was nothing to stop Him from doing so: preventing this horrible tragedy did not, by any stretch whatsoever, "entail forcing a person to commit or abstain from a particular act."

2. Also, to prevent the earthquake in Lisbon would not be to prevent all evil.

3. Finally, to prevent all humans from committing evil would not necessarily make them "programmed robots." (I always hear this phrase! In fact, I never hear any other! "programmed robots!" I wish the Evangelical Christians would create for their kids a new anti-atheism video!)

 
 

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This is shown handily when we give certain children anti-hyperactivity medication: the child I helped raise turned from terror on wheels to what he told us he really wanted to be, which was quite the upstanding, moral child. With the medication, he was (he told us) now able to act the way he wanted to, but without the medication, when his brain just would not sit still (I know what that's like), it was impossible for him to act how he wanted to act. He acted within the boundaries of how he was capable of acting, which always made him sad, both as he was acting that way and especially afterwards, when he was watching us clean up the messes he had made, both literally around the house and around the neighborhood, and metaphorically with our family's lives.

The Christian godhead, if He existed at all, would surely fit the Christians' descriptions of Him. As such, He could very easily have created humans without making it (for example) so that the raw, unbridled appetites for sex, power, pleasure, prestige, are so closely linked to the appetite for food and quest for safety that most who study these biological mechanisms place all as originating from the same basic systems of the brain. Why is the drive for sex so often a power-play in consensual sex-play and tragically a genuine attempt at a power-grab in real life, in situations ranging from college dorm tales of the "conquest" to violent rape? Why couldn't sexual desire have been more closely related to the nurturing instinctive in the mother (and father) of a helpless infant? Yes, many people manage to train themselves to feel (and even to feel, innately) the same nurturing during sex-play that we feel toward our infants.

These are just examples, and some examples have more to them than others. However, to think that you have shown an inevitable and unavoidable link between the idea of creating people with this or that disposition being incompatible with some notion of free will is sheer folly. Your claims, here, simply do not hold. This is shown even while presupposing the validity of (1) the Christian concept that something along the lines of a conscious, aware human could be designed or created (by even the most powerful of beings) and (2) the Christian notion [yea, the essentially theistic notion] of free will being much more than a hallucination of convenience, existing because it enables us to function more efficiently without being distracted by the very mechanism that allows us to assess various life-enhancing and life-preserving situations in the first place, and to act upon those assessments!

I will not address, here, my own objections to the very concepts of either creation or free will; neither is it appropriate, here, to show how the very existence of a conscious awareness is a necessary product of natural selection in the production of organisms in which locomotion is a primary trait (fauna). Lastly, I don't even need to bring up the problems inherent in the concept of an Being who is allegedly both all-powerful and all-knowing; not to mention the sticky situation this raises for the idea that such a Being has created other beings who are supposedly accountable for their actions, which an all-powerful Being would necessarily have designed beforehand and which, at minimum, an all-knowing Being would have known would take place prior to creating such beings!

In short, the Christian godhead is one who, if He existed, would think nothing of creating thousands of humans, knowing they would each endure an eternity roasting in the Christian Hell, but Who created these Humans solely for the purpose of being the "pawns" in the arrangement and working out of the "Christian Salvation" of a single predestined Saint (Romans 8:28- 32). Lee Strobel even admits as much in the chapter on the Christian Hell in his second book, the one about Faith. Although I had been aware of this problem for decades, to read a man's proud defense of this idea, and his justification of its being moral and worthy of honor (that is, the godhead who would do that being worthy of worship) was so utterly appalling to me that I became depressed for several weeks after reading this section of Strobel's book. Surely, the founder of the United States of America, Thomas Paine, once mentioned (and this as a parenthetic aside, no less), "Nature has not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings." In light of this, it pains to think that people believe this way, and that they do this solely to justify upholding the ideas of another -- of a stranger who lived millennia ago! Such pain would be only somewhat subsided were these people defending their own ideas, or at least the ideas of a close associate! But a total stranger!? I just can't see it! Not at the price of holding and disseminating such pathetically horrible teachings such as this (the dogma of the Christian Hell being itself a more-than-ample source of nightmarish horror!!).

But worse, much worse than that: it pains me to the brink of ceasing to function in my day-to-day capacity to think that people would teach such ideas to children! Even though I was the child of atheists, who themselves were the children of atheists, who themselves (all of us) were the children of atheists (as far back as anybody has been able to determine: one "Spinoza's-god Unitarian" in the whole bunch!), I was plagued with nightmares and disruptive daydreams regarding the notion of the Christian Hell!

My parents did not teach it to me. In fact, it is one of the few things that I asked about as far as religion goes that they put their foot down and flat out told me, "Even if there were a God, He wouldn't do that! You know that! Now don't let your friends snooker you into thinking that way any more, okay?" In just about every other question, my parents left the question open for me to discover for myself what I thought was true and what I thought was falsehood. They refused to influence my religious beliefs whatsoever. But on this one question they did put their foot down and got very stern: "No!" they said, "This is something that cannot be true!"

Nevertheless, I was plagued -- often -- with nightmares and disruptive daydreams about the tales of the Christian Hell that my little friends had related to me. Later, during my experiments as a Christian as a young adult, the dogma of Christian Hell returned to plague me, and eventually contribute to my reversion to atheism, to "the faith of my fathers," as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., so poetically said in his "self-interview." I even went so far as to do something which, at the time, I considered to be the ultimate cop-out, as far as faith goes: I purchased and read several books designed to help one come to a belief in the validity and justice of the Dogma of Christian Hell and the Doctrine of Endless Punishment. At times I became unable to pray for days and days, simply because I could not face, in a friendly (as opposed to hostile) frame, a deity, a "Father," who would do that -- to anybody!
 

(My reply will ignore the fact that the Bible "explains" to various readers precisely what those particular readers want the Bible to say. I will likewise leave it to Thomas Paine and others to explain how the Bible can be used authoritatively only insofar as it has been found to be an authoritative guide to knowledge, reliable in its ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. With that, I shall proceed.)

As I pointed out above, even if this were true, it would not necessarily force the Christian godhead to allow the kinds and degrees of evil we experience on this planet.

Instead of simply asserting this claim, you are obligated to back it up. By this I mean that you must show that the necessity of what you call "Free Will" is so great that the kinds and degrees of evil, of suffering and premature death, that we humans endure (not to mention the animals) pales in significance.

You must also show that what you call "Free Will" cannot be had by any means other than in an environment where humans (and animals) suffer pain and endure premature death to the extent that we do in this world. (In other words, you must show that even an all-powerful deity could not have done things any other way!)

It would help if you could show that what you call "Free Will" even exists at all, as I am not convinced that such a thing exists other than as a hallucination which assists us in making decisions conducive to one's own personal survival (and that of the species and the ecosystem, choices which would become powerful urges in a world where the choice-makers have been designed (if you will) by Natural Selection. If you can show me that "Free Will" exists, this would be of great benefit to your making your case.
 

As I have shown, the Christian godhead, as you describe Him (as well as the way the traditional descriptions portray Him), would not (if He existed) be required to create humans in such a way that they must inflict pain and suffering and premature death upon one another in order for some of them to have what you call "Free Will." In addition, I implied (but did not overtly state) that this notion of "Free Will" says nothing at all about the catastrophes which are entirely uncaused by human activity, such as meteors, pole-shifts, earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, plagues, stampedes, tiger attacks, and any number of evils which, in light of your explanation regarding "Free Will," appear to be entirely gratuitous on the part of an all-powerful and all-knowing Creator (if such a Creator even existed, which, of course, you have likewise failed to establish).

The single most compelling argument against the notion that the Christian godhead exists (in my opinion) is not the Argument from Evil (what we have been discussing, here), but rather the Argument from Nonbelief. Simply (and cockily) stated, the Argument from Nonbelief says that the existence of atheists proves the nonexistence of the Christian godhead (but not necessarily the Hindu godhead, the Islamic deity, or even the Hebrew deity).

In short, the Christian godhead is said to want humans to believe that He exists; in fact, Christians claim He wants us to actually love and obey Him! (No comment except to mention that that's the claim being made, here!) His entire motive for creating the Universe, they tell us (which is turning out to be much larger than we previously suspected, and could still conceivably be but a short-lived bubble in a much larger system), is so that we humans on this one backwoods, chance-forsaken boondocks of a planet might willingly come to an awareness of His existence (never mind His deliberate hiddenness, according to all the descriptions, as well as the Bible's portrayal of a deity who reveals Himself only to whom He will). Regardless, the only ones to claim to have detected Him in a tangible way; that is, in a way that can be shared with others at will, are those who by all other assessments have either rightly been locked away for safe keeping or ought to have been thusly committed!

Additionally, since about 23 percent of the adult humans on this planet have no god-belief whatsoever, and since about three-quarters of the adult humans on this planet do not have a god-faith is in any way compatible with the Christian description of acceptable faith (that is, faith of the type which would purchase for the faithful one the equivalent of a "Get Out of Hell Free" card)!

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Seven-and-one-half years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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From: "Positive Atheism"
To: "Ben"
Subject: Positive Atheism Letters Section
Date: March 14, 2003 3:41 PM

Ah,

 

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  "Such logic! Such law!"
       -- comic George Carlin,
            to my friend Bob Wilson
 
 

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What I simply love about the bulk of Evangelical Christian thinking as a grand source of comic relief is their ubiquitous love affair with absolutistic, black-and-white, either-or thinking! Lost on most of them are the exquisite subtleties of negative reasoning or even the Pharisaic qal va homer (usually being too embittered by the New Testament's slander of this fine, dignified body of men to have spent much time at all studying how they refused to carry an argument further than is warranted by its premises, not to mention what all sources other than the patently anti-Semitic New Testament have said about them)!

But to twist the logic behind the simple concept of law and punishment by portraying the government as giving its citizens "an opportunity to stay out of jail" really takes the cake! In the case of the United States, the citizens are the very owners of the government! That is about as twisto as I've seen on this Forum!

Hahahahaha!

Nevertheless, I do showcase some strong, healthy points made by Evangelicals (they do exist, you know!) and I would no more eliminate them from consideration for being flawed than I would eliminate everything for being flawed (because everything is flawed, according to the commonly accepted meaning of the word, which is why I have altogether removed the very concept of "perfection" from my vocabulary).

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I'm not going to bother with a Round Two on this one.

I responded to your complaint and let you have your go at me a second time. If anybody wants me to go over anything that you said the second time, they'll write a separate letter asking that I justify my opinions. I will summarize objections that I have to two recurring and apparently essential threads in your response.

First, any discussion of the Epicurean "Riddle" needs to take for granted that the meaning of the word evil goes far beyond the simple behavior of humans, that it includes such "evils" as the Lisbon earthquake: destruction like we've probably never seen in our day, with city block-sized riverfront earth masses casually dropping below the waterline (ker-plunk!) as if Nature cared less for the thousands who stood at the water's edge than most humans generally care about a river rock.

Secondly, I will say that had your deity actually existed and had He wanted us to have "free will" to love ("accept") Him or not, then I would certainly hope that He'd make at least a token effort toward giving us a few clues by which we might honestly discern whether or not the claims made about Him are truthful! As it stands, I, for one, would kinda like to live forever and all that. I wish the disciples of Christ actually did behave the way Jesus supposedly said they would (or should). I wish there was something resembling cosmic justice.

Unfortunately for me, however, that's just not what I see when I open my eyes and take a good, hard look at my environment: the world around me. I see evil (calamity) all over the place that would occur with our without humankind's presence (though it may not be calamity in that only we would find an earthquake to be a great evil).

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This is not a debate forum, but, rather, a project designed to find ways to end the widespread and vicious bigotry leveled against atheists from all sides (most recently, the very lips of Tom Brokow).

Sorry!

Have a nice life, nonetheless, okay?

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Seven-and-one-half years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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