April 25, 2007

"Since the slaughter raised no real issues, it was a blank slate on which anyone could doodle."

Christopher Hitchens on the reaction to the Virginia Tech massacre.
[The New York Times quoted] the Rev. Susan Verbrugge of Blacksburg Presbyterian Church, addressing her congregation in an attempt, in the silly argot of the day, "to make sense of the senseless":
Ms. Verbrugge recounted breaking through the previous week's numbness as she stopped on a morning walk and found herself yelling at the mountains and at God. Though her shouts were initially met with silence, she said, she soon was reassured by the simplest of things, the chirping of birds.

"God was doing something about the world," she said. "Starting with my own heart, I could see good."
Yes, it's always about you, isn't it? (By the way, I'd watch that habit of yelling at mountains and God in the greater Blacksburg area if I were you. Some idiot might take it for a "warning sign.") When piffle like this gets respectful treatment from the media, we can guess that it's not because of the profundity of the emotion but rather because of its extreme shallowness. Those birds were singing just as loudly and just as sweetly when the bullets were finding their targets.
Am I terrible for finding this hilarious and absolutely apt?

92 comments:

paul a'barge said...

Ever go goose hunting?

You can hear those geese chirp, all the way to the ground.

Ayo said...

This dovetails perfectly with the excerpt from Hitchens new book, "God is Not Great", that's on Slate today. I grew up in a pretty religious family but like Hitchens at an early age the rampant narcissism of those who purported to "know God", or get "personal signs from God" began to turn me off. So many spend so much time using God to flatter their own personal vanity that it just got sickening to me. I'm not an atheist like Hitchens but an agnostic driven away from religion by these patently manipulative anecdotes that Christians are so fond of.

And to your question, quotes like these rightly deserve mocking.

johnstodder said...

I hope your readers link to the whole piece. The concept of "vicarious identification" Hitchens explores is, to me, a major source of public and especially political confusion about the war in Iraq, and the overall war against the Islamist jihad.

Given the length of the Iraq war and the suicidal viciousness of the enemy, the US casualty rate is gratifyingly low compared with Vietnam, Korea, the two world wars or the Civil War. But you cannot make this argument in a culture of "vicarious identification," because you're supposed to act as if each one of our fallen soldiers was yourself, or your child. Even if only one soldier died -- well, harrumph, it wasn't one of Bush's daughters! It wasn't your son!

To too many people, "our children" are being killed because our president foolishly decided to "stick his nose in" the affairs of another country when "we have greater needs at home." Who controls Iraq, who controls the Middle East is deemed something not worth fighting for. But it's worse than that. In this "vicarious identification" culture, basically, nothing short of an invasion of U.S. territory is worth fighting for, and even then we should want to negotiate with the invader first.

As is well known, Hitchens is one of the few liberals who sees the danger in this mentality. The mawkish response to the VT massacre confirms what the Islamists already think of us -- that we will capitulate to almost anything if the alternative is our own people dying.

Even though Hitchens' piece doesn't mention Iraq, it's all about our nation's moral unpreparedness for the war we're in.

SteveR said...

Yes its funny and apt. Not only is it "piffle", I'd offer its lousy religion. As a active church going type, its embarrassing really.

ricpic said...

Hey, the Rev Susan has to justify her existence, yes?

bearbee said...

...its embarrassing really

Amen

Ron said...

An if a glee club breaks into "You'll Never Walk Alone" just before a full strapped nutbar turns his 5.56mm bullet hose on full auto in their direction, there will be good ol' Hitch watching the clip of it and saying, "Well, that's quite obviously not true, isn't it?"

That's we lurve him so!

mcg said...

Well, we all know that Mr. Hitchens has a real stick up his ass about religion. But while his point could be made more gently it is certainly apt. The problem of evil is a real struggle for even the most seasoned theologians, and probably for many atheists, too. There really are no easy answers; but in the face of such trauma the temptation to choose one is VERY strong.

Kirk said...

mcg, you're right Hitchens and his personal stick, and that's the main reason I view him with a certain degree of caution. However, you have to admit that at least in this case the focus of his tirade is perhaps a bit more deserving than, say, Mother Teresa was.

Annie said...

The media can turn any tragedy into a manufactured-emotion fest, an occasion to feel and to feel good about ourselves for how much and how bad we feel. It's the Oprahfication of the news. Somewhere I read that people appreciated the relative restraint and objectivity of Charles Gibson at ABC news. We really don't want our anchorpeople orchestrating vicarious grief and then being intrusive grief counselors.

Also note that any day now, for most of us, that particular orgy of emotion will be over, and we'll be trawling for the next dark thrill.

Revenant said...

However, you have to admit that at least in this case the focus of his tirade is perhaps a bit more deserving than, say, Mother Teresa was.

I guess that depends on whether you think empty feel-good sentiment is more or less deserving of condemnation than con artistry is.

hdhouse said...

I kinda do think that Ann. She actually gave a fairly clear message. it may not be chic or east coast liberal but i imagine that her congregation got the message. if Hitchens thinks it is swill that is up to him. I would like, however, for him to stand before a congregation, with people of good hearts living in the midst of something as evil as what took place, and trying to reconcile that event with a good and just God...and telling them in a straightforward way that God's good is still there.

I think it is time that people with high IQs cut some slack to those not so perfect.

Mindsteps said...

Reading Hitchens remarks bring to mind a cynical and self-absorbed adolescent....Sad to say however, I trust the genuineness of his reaction over much of the media's.

With respect to religion, I tend to cut people alot of slack as long as I am not being rounded up and herded into a camp somewhere.

gophermomhey said...

Yikes - so many cynics. Isn't it human nature to look for some hope and some greater good, especially in the shadow of such horrific events? Perhaps those same birds were singing during the shooting, perhaps not. It's not really what's important - what's important, especially to this particular pastor at this particular time was that the birds were singing now.

Grace is always there, but sometimes we forget. Birds are always a good reminder...

Revenant said...

I would like, however, for him to stand before a congregation [...] and telling them in a straightforward way that God's good is still there.

Why would Hitchens tell them something he believes to be untrue? If he wanted to make them feel better there are all sorts of platitudes and comforting thoughts he could offer up without having to lie.

Palladian said...

I loved Hitchens' essay but I'm also sympathetic to hdhouse's suggestion that not everyone is as intellectually developed as Hitchens or the high-percentile Althouse readers. If this woman's dross about chirping birds helps people to process and assuage their vicarious grief over the Virginia Tech massacre, then I don't have any serious problems with it. Of course she's selling her congregation short, and a good minister (like, oh, Christ) could have simply and eloquently conveyed a much more hefty and meaningful spiritual lesson from the events at Virginia Tech. But we are herded by the shepherd we're given.

At least, unlike the disgusting political and news business, she's not making gobs of money from the blood of the murdered at V.T.

Kirby Olson said...

Birds are the last remaining dinosaurs. They aren't doing anything special and aren't agents of God's word.

But then Hitchens always finds any kind of Christianity repulsive and tries to find mockery.

He even hated Mother Theresa.

I think that in the disaster many at VT tried to find something comforting and reassuring. Poet Nikki Giovanni offered a kind of cheerleading for the Hokies in the poem she offered at the gathering shortly after.

It's the ritual that matters and the feeling of comfort in it.

Bird songs are comforting even if we read too much into them.

I hate Hitchens even when I completely agree with him. I can't stand the snide quality of so much of his writing. Why does he need to sneer so much?

It's ooky.

Pogo said...

I like Hitch alot, but this is really just kicking someone when they are down.

I agree that we should reject vicarious identification, and I was a bit put off by the half-mast flags in New York, but "The person being quoted is the Rev. Susan Verbrugge of Blacksburg Presbyterian Church"
...who actually lives there, and might just actually be speaking to friends and family of the victims. Not vicarious at all.

"Since the slaughter raised no real issues... ...a calamity with no implications beyond itself"
None? Really?
I can think of 5 right off the top.

I'll give Hitch a pass on this one.

Palladian said...

"Grace is always there, but sometimes we forget. Birds are always a good reminder..."

I suppose so, but then again they can also be a reminder of other things besides grace...

Peter Palladas said...

Birdsong cures such slaughter? Right, yeah sure it does.

Parsons should be strangled at birth...and I speak as one.

Stupid bloody woman.

boston70 said...

I thought Hitchens was totally appropriate in his comments. I also thought his article was amusing.

After the second day I stopped watching all of the awful coverage regarding Virigina Tech.

It was a sad and tragic event but our week of mourning was just over the top.

How many different angles, therapists, students can they trot out so to explan to us why it happened and what happened. I think it was CNN that actually traced the murders footsteps-thanks we needed that.

After watching all of this coverage I was wondering if this was an American trait or if all countries go through 24/7 coverage of events like this.

I don't blame the school for not wanting any media there so they can try and return to some sort of normalcy

Beth said...

In the days immediately following the flooding of New Orleans, I lost any ability to pray. Comments from well-meaning people on the lines of "God has a plan" would send me into a deep funk and rage. I'm only now tentatively experiencing a little bit of faith again. It was a very personal crisis of faith, because people I know, people in my community, died. People I know lost everything. There haven't been any silver linings.

But birds singing did cause me a bit of happiness one day in December, when I was finally allowed back on campus. The area around our campus, for miles and miles, was flooded, but our campus was not. To get to work, I drive through vast areas of empty, battered homes and businesses. From September 2005 through the following spring, there was no green there, no grass growing, the trees were devoid of life and color.

When I came back to my office in mid-December, school was not in session, and the campus was quiet, except for the trees. They were filled with the birds that had fled the flood and found refuge, food and water on our green, unflooded campus. The big stand of bamboo outside my building's door was rattling with the motion of birds, and every tree I passed rocked with their songs and beating wings. It didn't make me any less angry with God, but it was a comfort nonetheless.

Palladian said...

Beth, I would say that it's not the birds that are the comfort per se, but they fact that they are an audible and visual reminder that life, in all its forms, continues all around us. It's the reminder of life that makes me feel better, not necessarily the birds themselves.

GeorgeH said...

Yes, it's always about you. The central truth of my generation.

We've worked up a full case of angst about the nature of good and evil, privacy concerns vs. safety, gun control or not, and endured hundreds of hours of thumbsuckers by talking heads from every conceivable point of view.

Mad killers lurching through schools and offices kill less people yearly than lightning. It's really not a big deal as national concerns go.

Man is an imperfect being, whether you're religious or not.
Get used to it.
Get over it.

rcocean said...

I've thought the "why does God permit evil" rather silly. The answer is free will.

That said, I've always been cheered up by birds, who unlike Hitchens provide pleasurable sounds. Hitchens OTOH is simply sound and fury -signifying nothing.

Kirk said...

Revenant, you think Rev. Verbrugge is a con artist???

Richard Dolan said...

I doubt that Rev. Verbrugge was trying to deliver any sort of deep theological or psychological meditation. The overanalysis of her little homily, composed as it was of trite observations and worn-out platitudes, ignores the obvious fact that her comments were intended only to comfort the bereaved. Perhaps she even knew her audience, and thus may have been in some position to judge what might accomplish that end.

Whether the Rev. Verbrugge achieved her objective, I can't say. But there's more than a little wanton and pointless cruelty here in attacking her homily for its trite and platitudinous qualities, while ignoring its humble yet appropriate purpose of providing some element of comfort. It's also just a bit hypocritical to begin by complaining that the the VTech slaugher provided a "blank slate on which anyone could doodle," when the Rev. Verbrugge's talk raised even fewer "real issues" but is nevertheless being used by Hitch (and others) as the same kind of "blank slate" to do his own mean-spirited doodling.

Frankly, I don't understand the need Hitch and others have to ridicule this minister in a situation like this. Don't any notions of basic civility survive in our poisoned, partisan culture?

StephenB said...

Those birds were singing just as loudly and just as sweetly when the bullets were finding their targets.

Yeah, God doesn't care, you know. So it's not his fault. And don't blame it on the kid either. Blame the bullets: they were finding their targets.

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the reference to God out of hand. The shooter even likened himself to Christ. So, like it or not, there's something about this "God thing" that moves people--some in helpful ways (charity, good samaritanism...), some in bad ways (the shooter), and some in absurd and shallow ways (the Reverend Verbrugge).

So apt? Yes. Hilarious? Maybe in a mean-spirited I know something you don't know way.

Peter Palladas said...

it's not the birds that are the comfort per se...

Of course it isn't. As any true follower of St. Francis would explain the world of birds is wondrous because they are neither good nor evil, they simply are.

It is mankind alone that can commit evil - planned, known, intended evil. That is the curse of the fruit of the forbidden tree.

Francis was NOT a naturalist. Birdsong was/is never a substitute for the Cross and Redemption.

Jamila Akil said...

This article reminds me of a piece by the author Theodore Dalrymple about the death of princess Diana. The week before Diana's death one major newspaper was preparing to print a story about how shallow and obnoxious she was; after Diana's death they instead published a glowing piece attacking the paparazzi instead.

The moral of the story is that the media is fickle and panders to this thread of overly sentimental behavior that seems to be runnning through much of society: first we hate you and but you cry, we cry together.

John Kindley said...

I've long considered "The Darkling Thrush" by Thomas Hardy one of my favorite poems. Last time I checked, Hardy's stuff is generally not considered swill or dross, yet what he expressed (of course more eloquently) in that poem is pretty much what this humble pastor expressed to her grieving and stunned congregation. I also remember coming across a Christmas card in a department store many years ago which I thought elegantly, if simply, illuminated the essence of Christmas (and Christianity): "I heard a bird sing in the dark of December / A magical thing, and sweet to remember." Such "schlock" may not be to the sophisticated tastes of the ungodly Christopher Hitchens, but screw that snob. I too rolled my eyes at the manufactured vicarious "grief" of the media and believe lowering the flags to half-mast was not called for, but to nitpick and mock someone from that community "trying to reconcile that event with a good and just God," as hdhouse put it, is truly disgusting. I personally would never throw a teddy bear on the site where a stranger was killed, and think it's pretty tacky, but I also would never presume to mock someone else who was trying to honor the dead. (On the other hand, I could see those who personally lost loved ones feeling intruded upon by the vicarious and superficial expressions of "grief" by the media and others, but that's a different issue.)

Sure, there's a sense in which "the slaughter raised no real issues," since lots of Americans die every day, but why would someone, like Hitchens, go out of their way to say that? Honesty may lead us to believe that expressions of grief over the deaths of strangers are insincere, but a deeper honesty may lead us to believe that our general coldness over the death and loss around us is one symptom of our fall from grace.

Revenant said...

I've thought the "why does God permit evil" rather silly. The answer is free will.

And that's a rather silly answer. If I stood by and do nothing while a sex offender raped your six-year-old daughter, would you accept "I didn't want to interfere with his free will" as an excuse?

Of course not. You'd think I was a horrible, evil person. For some odd reason, however, gods get held to a lower moral standard than we hold each other to.

Revenant said...

Revenant, you think Rev. Verbrugge is a con artist???

No, Mother Theresa was -- her organization fraudulently redirected millions of dollars given for the purpose of helping to sick and spent them on proselytization. How is that anything other than evil?

Kirk said...

Richard Dolan, maybe I was too quick to give Hitchens a pass here. But it was the "Prebyterian" label that put me in that frame of mind: Oh, crap, wouldn't you know it--my own $%@@!*& denomination, the one where every 2 years at General Assembly some out-of-touch delegate introduces a resolution in favor of removing guns from the population by force ... But you're right, it's completely wrong to just assume Verbrugge agrees with that nonsense.

AJ Lynch said...

Yes you are.

Mike said...

house said: I think it is time that people with high IQs cut some slack to those not so perfect.

You first.

rcocean said...

For his own reasons, God has given us free will.

People have been discussing this for thousands of years. It seems pretty obvious to me, I accept it and move on.

If others, wish to rend their garments over the existance of evil and lose faith, so be it.

Narrow is the path.

BTW, I've never met an outspoken atheist who wasn't an a*sH*le or a crank. They're like Mormon
Evangalists. Only they don't want to save you, they want to show how superior they are.

They know the unknowable, and you're stupid if you don't agree.

Kurt said...

This reminds me a bit of the way Robert Frost always mocks romantic sentimentality in his poetry, for instance: "But though they rejoiced in the nest they kept,/
One had to be versed in country things/ Not to believe the phoebes wept." And as a prime example of that kind of mentality, this "piffle" certainly has earned Mr. Hitchens' scorn.

Galvanized said...

I agree with his being sickened by all of the sentimentality and vigils by strangers with tears and tokens..and especially by the "singing birds" and "oneness" stories. It does get ridiculous. Still, there was palpable sadness that day after like Columbine. It was in the mental pictures of people fighting for their lives in an everyday situation like ours, a little different than, say, a soldier, who expects to encounter violence. It's the people in pictures staring back, who had no inkling of what awaited them that day. A stranger can feel that pull to a situation of which he isn't a part. As for analysis of it all, it's silly and pointless, and ad nauseum; and it's what I find intolerable.

Annie said...

It's not free will (or not only), it's that (gasp) God is not omnipotent. "God" is the creative, antientropic force that results in there being something rather than nothing, and that inspires some creatures to rise above survival selfishness and spite. This "God" works through the world, and can't prevent bad things from happening except by offering a Seung-hui Cho another option. That's where free will comes in . . . Cho didn't take that option, but remarkably, most people do.

Grace is always there, but sometimes we forget. Birds are always a good reminder...

Except when you admire their ability to hover and they drop dead.

Synova said...

Well, we can have "imagine" or we can have a God that lets bad things happen. It's why there are so many short stories about someone who dies, gets everything they ever wanted with no struggle and no effort, tells God that they'd rather go to hell after all with the punchline, "That's where you are."

I could never see how God necessarily had to care about the things that we care about. And I could never see where scripture promised that we wouldn't die in horrible and painful ways or suffer... in fact it seems to me that we've been warned.

So where did the "bad things happening to good people" stuff come from?

In some ways it makes me angry. It makes me angry when I hear about someone forced from church because her husband's cancer was seen as proof of a lack of faith. It makes me angry when people have been lied to so that rather than faith being a source of strength during tragedy, it's a knife cutting out the heart of people who wonder why the bad stuff was allowed to happen.

But then I grew up fundamentalist free Lutheran. We've got pious misery down to an art form.

I was attending the (more liberal than I grew up with) Missouri Synod Lutheran church during 9-11. The only sermon about that which I remember had nothing to do with comfort, it was all about tearing Falwell a new one for presuming to think he could speak for God about the reason *why* 9-11 happened. Our pastor did *not* attempt to find reasons. He deliberately did not attempt to find meaning or reasons or give some spiritual lesson for what happened. God knows, he said, *I* don't.

Revenant said...

For his own reasons, God has given us free will. People have been discussing this for thousands of years. It seems pretty obvious to me, I accept it and move on.

Well, not thinking about God is *one* way to maintain faith in his goodness, I suppose...

The problem isn't simply that God supposedly gave humans free will, but that God did this AND is all powerful AND loves us AND etc etc. Taken in isolation, "God gave us free will" does, indeed, explain why evil could exist. Taken alongside "God loves us" and "God is all-knowing and all-powerful", however, it ceases to make sense. You are reduced to special pleading that our having the capacity to torture and murder each other is, in fact, good for us.

BTW, I've never met an outspoken atheist who wasn't an a*sH*le or a crank.

So which category do Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke, Joss Whedon, and Linus Pauling fall into -- "asshole", or "crank"?

They know the unknowable, and you're stupid if you don't agree.

This differs from your "I know this is true and I don't care who thinks otherwise" attitude how, exactly?

Revenant said...

Well, we can have "imagine" or we can have a God that lets bad things happen. It's why there are so many short stories about someone who dies, gets everything they ever wanted with no struggle and no effort, tells God that they'd rather go to hell after all with the punchline, "That's where you are."

The words "evil" and "effort" are not synonymous. Neither are the terms "human suffering" and "delayed gratification". It does not follow that a world without evil must also be a world of instant gratification.

I could never see how God necessarily had to care about the things that we care about.

Because "good" is a human word with human meaning. It either describes God or it doesn't. If God doesn't care about human suffering then that's fine for him, but it DOES mean that he isn't good.

And I could never see where scripture promised that we wouldn't die in horrible and painful ways or suffer... in fact it seems to me that we've been warned.

"Warned" implies that we have choice in the matter.

Synova said...

Revenant: "The words "evil" and "effort" are not synonymous. Neither are the terms "human suffering" and "delayed gratification". It does not follow that a world without evil must also be a world of instant gratification."

No, but "effort" might mean eating or not eating. "Suffering" might mean sickness. "Delayed gratification" might mean "never."

Most of the "evil" in the world is biology or the weather. And what gives me the ability to chose, gives the next guy the ability to chose. Worse, the impulses that serve our survival are the impulses that drive a lot of crime. Without the part of human nature responsible for horrors, would the species survive?

I said: "I could never see how God necessarily had to care about the things that we care about."

Revenant said: "Because "good" is a human word with human meaning. It either describes God or it doesn't. If God doesn't care about human suffering then that's fine for him, but it DOES mean that he isn't good."

Because God doesn't conform to our childish and limited understanding, it's *His* fault? Because we don't have adequate vocabulary or some preacher told us that "God wants us to be happy" it's God's fault?

Or does being "good" mean that He never allows anyone to say anything wrong about Him?

I said: "And I could never see where scripture promised that we wouldn't die in horrible and painful ways or suffer... in fact it seems to me that we've been warned."

Revenant: "Warned" implies that we have choice in the matter.

I say: How so?

In any case, I didn't mean it technically as a "warning" but as a response to those who, when bad things happen, seem surprised by it. I haven't seen anything in scripture, if you look at all of it together, that promises anything other than suffering and persecution for believers. A whole heck of a lot of preachers *preach* something different than that. Doesn't mean that it's actually in there.

Patrick said...

Am I terrible for finding this hilarious and absolutely apt?

Not terrible. Maybe a little bitter and sad still about your lovely turquoise bird that until recently was flying so good.

Pogo said...

Revenant,
C.S. Lewis offers this insight:
"The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are, the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt. . . . And pain is not only immediately recognizable evil, but evil impossible to ignore. We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone who has watched gluttons shovelling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. A bad man, happy, is a man without the least inkling that his actions do not 'answer', that they are not in accord with the laws of the universe.

No doubt Pain as God's megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul. ...Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We "have all we want" is a terrible saying when "all" does not include God. We find God an interruption.

It is just here, where God's providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the highest , most deserves praise. We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people--on capable, hard-working mothers of families or diligent, thrifty little trades-people on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their modest stock of happiness and now seem to be entering on the enjoyment of it with the fullest right....

Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them."


C.S.Lewis, "The Problem of Pain"

mtrobertsattorney said...

I've always found atheists to be a rather humorous lot. They're pretty good at picking apart religious concepts, at least on a superficial level, but the fun really begins when they are asked how they think things really are. For example, if you ask them what they believe existed before the Big Bang, they either 1)reply "nothing", 2)mumble something about "string theory" or else 3)babble on about "infinite universes". When it is pointed out to them that their "nothing" theory is simply magical thinking, that their "string theory" borders on unintelligible nonsense and that their "infinite universes" theory" is not all that different from the philosophical concept of an infinite mind, they suddenly remember they have an appointment and excuse themselves from the discussion.

Maxine Weiss said...

Go ahead and call me a misogynist, but what do you expect when the Rev. of a Presbytarian church is a woman...

Women should not be preaching in the Christian church. They don't have the moral authority, and nobody listens.

When a man speaks, there's power. Women make good consultants, and they can issue opinions, and advice, but most people who show up to Church on Sunday don't want to hear some woman spew forth this kind of trite nonsense. Men are still the leaders, physiologically, spiritually, and clearly, theologically.

Go Men!

Women in the clergy have destroyed Christianity and that's why people everywhere are leaving the Church in droves.

Love, Maxine

John Kindley said...

"Most of the "evil" in the world is biology or the weather."

"For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despis’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?"

I agree with Shakespeare that most evil in the world is not biology or the weather but of human making, what we ourselves do primarily and secondarily what others do to us.

The "problem of evil," specifically, as expressed by the character of Ivan Karamazov in Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov, was the proximate cause of my conversion to Christianity. That someone as perceptive and intelligent as Dostoevsky could so clearly see the problem and yet believe led me to recognize that I too could believe, and my personal will to believe in the possibility of deliverance from evil was, and is, certainly there.

My senior philosophy thesis was on "The Metaphysical Nature and Cause of Moral Evil," but after all my philosophizing, I have nothing to add to the above discussion about free will, God's goodness and omnipotence, and how it can be reconciled with the existence of evil in the world.

I see in the Cross an "answer" to the problem of evil. Athiesm certainly offers no answer. Why it exists is beyond human understanding. It's very nature, as willfully and knowingly choosing a lesser "good" over a greater good, defies rationality. But Christ revealed to us that, whyever it exists, God, having created us, is not aloof from the world and its misery, but as C.S. Lewis put it, is "on the hook," and suffers evil with us.

hdhouse said...

Maxine bayed: "Women in the clergy have destroyed Christianity and that's why people everywhere are leaving the Church in droves."

Maxine, you'd be better served if you didn't project your life experiences as you noted 1. moral authority (no moral authority) 2. nobody listens.

In your case this may well be true. Perhaps beyond a doubt. However I know a number of women who can hold forth theologically with great force, conviction, education and training.

I suspect that you need to get out more and stop projecting your life into those of others.

Revenant said...

Most of the "evil" in the world is biology or the weather.

Well, yeah -- and those two sources of "evil" are unnecessary for free will. What do hurricanes have to do with free will? I've never been within a thousand miles of an active hurricane in my life and my will's doing just fine.

And what gives me the ability to chose, gives the next guy the ability to chose. Worse, the impulses that serve our survival are the impulses that drive a lot of crime. Without the part of human nature responsible for horrors, would the species survive?

There are millions of species that have survived for longer than us without inflicting horrors on one another. Furthermore the instincts that drive us to hurt each other are ones we evolved during the hundreds of millennia where life was a constant struggle to survive against nature -- something which shouldn't have been necessary in the first place, and which is no longer necessary today. Today those instincts are the exact opposite of a survival trait -- they put our entire species at risk. The whole scenario only makes sense if there's no benevolent controlling force behind it.

Because God doesn't conform to our childish and limited understanding, it's *His* fault?

So very many things are wrong with that sentence. Where to start?

(1): The word "good" is an English-language word with a known meaning that we are quite capable of understanding. We can know that someone doesn't qualify for it without having to comprehend them -- for example, I have NO idea what the hell that Cho character's problem was, but I know he certainly wasn't good.

(2): It is logically impossible for a being to (a) be incomprehensible, (b) be all-powerful, and (c) want to be comprehended. So if God is incomprehensible then he either isn't as powerful has the faithful think or he doesn't want to be understood.

(3): If, as you claim, God is so incomprehensible that our feeble human minds are unable to comprehend his goodness then it logically follows that the claim "God is good" is baseless -- you can't possibly know that, because he's too incomprehensible. The most you can say is that he claims to be good. Well, who doesn't? Which brings us to...

(4): ... looking at how he actually acts. If we accept the Old Testament (or the Christian concept of Hell) then obviously we are not dealing with a being that is "good" in any sense acceptable to humans. If we focus only on the touchy-feely Jesus parts then we are dealing with the divine equivalent of a limousine liberal -- a being which talks a lot about doing the right thing but is content to do nothing about it themselves. Finallly,

(5): It could be argued that Goodness is a greater concept that is itself incomprehensible to humans, and that it is THIS Goodness which applies to God. Ok... but that begs the question of how why exactly we should consider Goodness to be desirable. The usual answer I get to this is "because God said so", which is nicely circular.

In summary, if God can be described in human terms then he isn't good. If he can't then the claim that he IS good is baseless, as we by definition cannot know that. In either case his behavior is inconsistent with what we would consider good. Ultimately we are left with no reason to think that obeying God is a good idea.

Revenant said...

Pogo,

I have read, I think, all of Lewis' apologetic works, although not recently. I can't say I found them very interesting or well-reasoned. Arguably Lewis himself no longer believed "The Problem of Pain" to be well-reasoned by the time he died.

Take, for example, the following passage from the section you quoted:

Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.

Oh, has "everyone" noticed that? The most common reason for religious people discarding the God hypothesis isn't that life is good, but that life becomes horrible -- the few people I know who truly had faith and then lost it all did so in response to horrific events in their lives, such as the Holocaust, the death of a child, etc.

The notion that suffering makes people realize the importance of God made sense to people living in Lewis' time and place -- people who lived in a strongly Christian community which had known many decades of hardship (war, depression, and more war). It was easy for those people to see life as inherently involving suffering because that's what THEIR lives were like.

That's just one flaw. Then there's the fact that the whole argument boils down to "pain is God's way of getting you to worship him" -- which may well explain why pain exists, but does so by way of conceding that God is a malicious being, not a good and loving one.

Synova said...

"There are millions of species that have survived for longer than us without inflicting horrors on one another."

Name one.

We can ask God to remake us down to whatever level of intelligence and tool using it takes to stop the horror. I'm sure zooplankton don't have wars.

Revenant said...

For example, if you ask [atheists] what they believe existed before the Big Bang, they either 1)reply "nothing", 2)mumble something about "string theory" or else 3)babble on about "infinite universes".

Hm, your wording leads me to suspect you've no interest in hearing scientific explanations, but what the heck:

Asking "what happened before the big bang" is like asking "what is north of the north pole". The answer is "nothing" -- just as the north pole is by definition the northernmost possible point, the "big bang" is just the name we give to the earliest point in time in our universe. You are basically asking (without realizing it) the question "what exists outside of our universe?". I have no earthly idea what, if anything, exists outside of our universe.

When it is pointed out to them that their "nothing" theory is simply magical thinking [...] they suddenly remember they have an appointment and excuse themselves from the discussion.

I kind of have a feeling these confrontations have only happened in your head. But in any case let's take a look at the two "competing" theories:

A: Nothing created the universe; it just exists. Or maybe it created itself.

B: God created the universe.

Ah! But let's dig a little deeper -- what created God? Well it turns out that...

C: Nothing created God. He just exists. Or maybe he created himself.

As we can see, both theories involve a causeless cause. The religious theory just adds an additional spurious step between the causeless cause and the creation of the universe. In other words, even if we accept that the "atheist" (also known as "scientific") explanation is "magical thinking", Occam's Razor tells us that we should still favor it over the God explanation.

Synova said...

"I agree with Shakespeare that most evil in the world is not biology or the weather but of human making, what we ourselves do primarily and secondarily what others do to us."

Only by defining biology and weather as "not evil." If we go by the simple metric of human suffering, biology and weather (and geology) match what human beings can do. But we define "evil" by intent, usually.

But in the case of asking God "why did you allow this to happen" we include biology and weather.

Revenant said...
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Synova said...

Oh, and Maxine may be rude, but she's got a point about women preachers... or rather, a lack of men preachers, which isn't the same thing.

Revenant said...

Name one.

Deer. Unless I missed it, deer have never engaged in genocide against one another, deliberately killed one another for believing the wrong thing, etc.

They hurt each other occasionally, sure. But it's all wimpy stuff compared to human evil.

We can ask God to remake us down to whatever level of intelligence and tool using it takes to stop the horror.

Eh, we're getting pretty good at this genetic engineering stuff. I'm sure it won't be too much longer before we're able to eliminate those traits from the human race without invoking mythology. As I noted earlier, they are currently a survival hazard, not a survival trait.

Finn Kristiansen said...

I should think the idea of freewill is more than sufficient to explain evil in the world, without one then assuming the existence of that evil makes God bad.

Take our whole action in Iraq, which is a nice stand in for this sort of thing. Some people have suggested that it should have been left up to the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam in an act of national freewill, and without our help or assistance. Others have said that our actions in Iraq are quite justified, because the people needed help.

Now we have to ask ourselves, would we be evil if we did nothing? If, in theory, we can invade any nation on earth, (and we can), and win (if our heart is in it), does it therefore mean we should, in order to save people from the injustice in their nations?

I should think not. Just because you can, does not mean you should or are evil if you don't, and reducing it down to watching someone getting raped in front of you (in terms of the right or wrongness of taking action)does not quite frame the question correctly. I should imagine some of us (including Revenant) see bad things happening quite a bit, but that does not mean we take on the task to stop every evil or are responsible for the actions of others.

That said, an all powerful God could stop every evil, much in the same way a Tito could hold a Yugoslavia together, or a Saddam could hold Iraq together. Yea it prevents a lot of crap from happening, but it also makes it so people have no responsibility for themselves. They are forced to be behave with their true nature buried.

And if we are not talking about brutal dictators, but a loving God, part of his desire is to have us be like him because we choose to, and not due to his ability to muster brute force or dazzling magic (science above our knowledge) to keep us on the path.

And the thing is, if we really want God to be "good" as we imagine it, then stopping brutality means a lot of heavyhandedness. It might mean killing Cho's parents back in Korea to prevent Cho's actions in the US, or at least, telling them, "Uhm, no travel permit for you."

For example, it would mean stepping into a host of marriage ceremonies and saying, "Uh yea, I think these two should not be married, and I am inforcing it because, well, you don't know this, but she is gonna cheat, and he is gonna drink and then beat the living daylights out of her, because he will also be under stress from that job he wants to take at the casino,..so, uhm, yea I am not letting the groom take that job either, and trust me, you two will be better for it and thank me. Now, let's all get some cake."

I mean, stopping evil actually means nipping a lot of stuff (and a lot of seemingly inconsequential actions and unrelated events and choices), in the bud.

That's called parenting, and probably not exactly what God is looking for. Even Jesus was not quite frantically trying to right every wrong in society. And in the Christian theory, he was God, and probably could have. One recalls Satan tempting him at various times, essentially posing that question of "Why don't you use your power for your own will."

In any case we tend not to look at this from the God perspective, as we always can never quite imagine an afterlife being actually better than anything on earth. So we always come back to the earthly horror and say, "Wow, they were cut short and are missing out on life." Indeed that is sad, but it presupposes that the afterlife is infinitely unrewarding when the exact opposite should be the impression.

Which is just a sign that people cannot really visualize anything beyond what they see and know. There is no real faith, and you find that greatest among many ministers and pastors, who resort to talking about birds to explain evil.

Pogo said...

I agree with Finn here, Revenant. True free will requires there be consequences for the decisions we make. Without a real physical world where bad things happen, there is no free will.

If God stepped in to keep me from crashing a car, or ever going hungry, or suffering in any way, I have no free will. I'd be in some kind of Disneyland, where everywhere people are in love and no one ever dies. I agree, a great place to imagine, but it is not freedom to choose.

I disagree that the argument boils down to "pain is God's way of getting you to worship him". God's not poking you with a stick. He's letting you live your life in a real world and choose your actions. Pain means we have free will, in a real world. And it can serve as a clarion call.

And as far as Hitchens, if empathy for someone you'll never meet or never know is "vicarious identification", I should never have donated money to the Katrina victims. Because who are they to me?

He has a point (described better by Dalrymple about the Diana cult), but he picked on a mediocre cleric who actually lives in the town where 32 students were killed. Wrong target for his point. CNN is another matter entirely.

Bissage said...

Hey, anybody who hears God's goodness in bird songs, . . ., well, . . ., I say more power to them.

Personally, I happen to like bird songs quite a bit, myself. And birds are fun to watch so we provide for them and we have lots of birds in our garden, all the time.

But house sparrows have to be trapped and killed. Why? Because a house sparrow will invade a bluebird house, kill the mother and her babies (by pecking them to death), and then build its own nest right on top of the carnage to raise its own young.

I've often wondered: Do bluebirds ever pray to God?

What about the house sparrows?

Jimmy said...

"However, you have to admit that at least in this case the focus of his tirade is perhaps a bit more deserving than, say, Mother Teresa was."

Mother Teresa's reputation defnitely needs to be deflated. She had absolutely NO interest in alleviating poverty. She believed in celebrating poverty. She would fund buildings into which she would herd poor people - not to feed them or give them medicine - but to watch them suffer and celebrate their suffering.

She herself has even said that poverty and suffering brings people close to Jesus and alleviating those conditions only distances people from God.

Mother Teresa never helped the poor and she was quite honest about her intentions. People only see in her what they want to see.

John Kindley said...

"If we go by the simple metric of human suffering, biology and weather (and geology) match what human beings can do."

I'd counter with another quote from Shakespeare (though not sure if I have it exact) -- "Nothing neither good nor evil is, but thinking makes it so." Animal suffering seems to pale in comparison with human suffering, because of humans' foreknowledge, dread and fear of, and bitterness and anger at, physical suffering, which compounds and magnifies what would otherwise be a comparable level of physical affliction in an animal soul. Moroever, humans are subject to additional forms of mental or spiritual non-physical suffering that animals are not subject to, and which have nothing to do with weather or biology. Many of these forms of spiritual suffering are self-inflicted, and many originate in part from things like the "proud man's contumely" or the "oppressor's wrong" or the "insolence of office," inflicted by other human beings.

We can imagine a human being who has the courage and the care to always act in accord with what is right to the best of his perception of ability, and who corresponding has no excessive or irrational fear of pain or death or of what others may do to him. But human beings (with perhaps, depending on your beliefs, the exceptions of Jesus, the Buddha, and/or the Virgin Mary) are not like that. In that deficiency and defection lies the essence of evil -- the absence of something that should be there.

Synova said...

"Eh, we're getting pretty good at this genetic engineering stuff. I'm sure it won't be too much longer before we're able to eliminate those traits from the human race without invoking mythology. As I noted earlier, they are currently a survival hazard, not a survival trait."

Read more science fiction. Or even more science. Read *only* avowed godless sorts, if you like.

Heck... watch "Serenity." Didn't someone list Joss Whedon as an atheist?

Should we eliminate aggression? Should we eliminate our sex drives? Should we eliminate the drive we have to acquire "stuff"? Should we eliminate our sometimes obsessive need for competition?

We're not even sure if we should eliminate genetic diseases because we're not sure what *else* they do.

Revenant said...

I agree with Finn here, Revenant. True free will requires there be consequences for the decisions we make. Without a real physical world where bad things happen, there is no free will.

I hear that claim a lot, but I've yet to see a logical proof of it.

Take, for example, cancer -- in what way is the existence of cancer a requirement for free will. I've never had cancer. Both my grandparents lived their entire lives without once getting cancer -- did they lack free will?

Then there is human evil such as, for example, child rape. First of all there is no evidence that I am, in fact, capable of choosing to commit that evil act. But even if we assume for the sake of argument that I am in fact capable of so choosing, giving me the ability to choose to do it IS NOT A GOOD THING.

And before you say "ah, but making it impossible for you to do that would limit your free will", allow me to observe that humans already have limited free will. For example, try holding your breath until you die. You can't do it -- your nervous system overrides your brain and forces you to breathe. Humans are coerced by our bodies into remaining alive. If you still consider us to have free will in spite of that, why would we be considered to not have free will if our bodies, say, coerced us into not committing rape?

Revenant said...
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Revenant said...

Heck... watch "Serenity." Didn't someone list Joss Whedon as an atheist?

That would be me. Science fiction is, you know... fictional?

Should we eliminate aggression? Should we eliminate our sex drives? Should we eliminate the drive we have to acquire "stuff"? Should we eliminate our sometimes obsessive need for competition?

You have a simplistic view of human nature.

I've never wanted to rape anyone, and I most certainly have a sex drive, so obviously it is possible for a human brain to be wired in a way that allows a healthy sex drive without a built-in desire to rape. The notion that engineering human beings to eliminate "evil sex" would necessarily eliminate the sex drive too is without rational basis.

Similarly, our desires for acquisition, competition, etc, are wired for a world where scarcity was an omnipresent reality and every day was a struggle to survive. That is why, for example, humans are inherently xenophobic. A world in which scarcity is essentially nonexistent -- i.e., the world we're rapidly approaching -- needs a different level of desire for acquisition, competition, etc, and no need at all for xenophobia.

We're not even sure if we should eliminate genetic diseases because we're not sure what *else* they do.

We're not sure *yet*. Like I said, re-engineering humans is something we'll be able to do in the (relatively near) future -- not something we can do now.

Pogo said...

Well, yes, I can choose to hold my breath until I die. It's a not-unheard-of method of suicide to self-asphyxiate by drowning or plastic bag or noose. Your nervous system may try to override your brain and force you to breathe, but your free will overrides that impulse by sheer intellect.

Re: "giving me the ability to choose to do it IS NOT A GOOD THING."
I disagree. The ability to decide and then live with the consequences in a real physical world is a very good thing. But it entails the capacity for people to abuse this freedom, and commit evil acts. Absent choice, we are mere animals anyway, so it would make no difference if I respect or violate the liberty of others. Absent God, there is only individual and collective opinion, of no lasting importance to me, for I will die and turn to dust. What care I then if I kill my brother?

Without a heaven, there is no reason other than social opprobrium limiting my actions. And what is that force in the face of oblivion? Nothing. Evil? Just a word, an opinion, a cipher. Among animals, violent death is not evil at all. It's just competition for resources.

I think human life is more than that, more than we can account for with our pathetic little brains. I don't fancy I'll convince you otherwise.

Synova said...

"That would be me. Science fiction is, you know... fictional?"

Science fiction is the ultimate mind experiment, the perfect "what if?"

Ahead of the curve, most of the time, science fiction has explored the practical and ethical issues people get upset about today and they did it starting a century ago. The utopias or dystopias or monsters created to examine the potentially fuzzy line between what counts as human and what does not are "fiction" but the ideas are not.

Revenant said...
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Revenant said...

It's a not-unheard-of method of suicide to self-asphyxiate by drowning or plastic bag or noose. Your nervous system may try to override your brain and force you to breathe, but your free will overrides that impulse by sheer intellect.

Um, Pogo... neither of those is an example of holding your breath until you die. Those are examples of suffocation -- the first two by denying yourself access to an oxygen supply, the last by making it physically impossible for air to enter your lungs.

The reason why humans invented these things as suicide techniques is specifically that we are *incapable* of simply refusing to continue breathing. Furthermore those suicide techniques, in order to be successful, must be done in a way that makes them impossible to back out of -- e.g., standing on a chair before hanging yourself so that your feet cannot touch the ground. If our "intellect" was, as you claim, capable of overriding the body's desire to live then no such measures would be necessary -- you could hang yourself simply by sticking your head into a bucket of water and holding it there, for example.

So my point remains -- human free will is not unlimited. It falls to you to explain why it would be crippling to limit it more than it already is.

The ability to decide and then live with the consequences in a real physical world is a very good thing.

That is so narcissistic. What about OTHER people who have to live with the consequences of your actions? Don't they count? When a child molester rapes and murders a five-year-old boy, in what way did that boy benefit from the fact that he too was gifted with the oh-so-wonderful ability to one day grow up to be a child rapist? Put in the selfish framework you apparently find convincing -- how does the fact that you have the free will to engage in mass murder come out as a net benefit for you when you are outnumbered by other potential mass murderers six billion to one?

What care I then if I kill my brother?

To paraphrase a common atheist expression -- if belief in God is the only thing preventing you from killing your brother, please go to church. But don't mistake your impulses as an argument for God's existence.

Since quoting science fiction and fantasy authors seems to be the hip thing to do in this thread, I close with the following quote from Roald Dahl:

Willy Wonka: But Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he he always wanted.

Charlie Bucket: What happened?

Willy Wonka: He lived happily ever after.

Revenant said...

Science fiction is the ultimate mind experiment, the perfect "what if?"

That science fiction can have a "what if" value does not imply that every work of science fiction gives us a good idea of the potential consequences of actions. "Serenity" was a great movie, and I am second to none in my appreciation of Joss Whedon, but the only "what if" it answers is "what might happen if people dosed an entire planet with an experimental drug". Well it might kill practically everyone and make the rest go nuts -- duh.

It does not tell us anything about the "what ifs" of modifying human nature in general. Firefly was a space opera, not a post-humanist story. Books like "Accelerando", "Schismatrix", et al, have covered the territory we're discussing here in a much more detailed and intellectually interesting manner than a two-hour mass-audience movie can.

Ahead of the curve, most of the time, science fiction has explored the practical and ethical issues people get upset about today and they did it starting a century ago.

Sure -- and, as is typical of human nature, people remember the hits and forget the misses, despite the fact that the latter outnumber the former by many orders of magnitude. This is what I referred to when I urged you to remember that science fiction is fiction.

Simply put -- the plots of sci-fi films and Twilight Zone episodes do not serve as legitimate arguments about human nature. :)

Pogo said...

Re: "human free will is not unlimited"
Your example of not being able to suppress a reflex is pretty weak evidence of that. It's like saying I have restricted free will because flapping my arms won't make me fly.

Well, I'll give you that. Certain physical realities do get in the way of free will. By 'intellect' I mean we can easily supercede biological imperatives and stop breathing. And this capacity says more about free will than any limits imposed by biology.

In any event, I do not argue that it is or should be unlimited, rather that to limit it more would require the absence of physical reality.

Re: "What about OTHER people who have to live with the consequences of your actions?"
The capacity for humans to do good or evil does not taint free will as a good thing. It also does not mean all outcomes of choices are good. That's just silly.

Re: "if belief in God is the only thing preventing you from killing your brother"
I was instead asking on what basis you rely to define killing as wrong, if not a religious one. Absent God, by what reason are rape and murder wrong? By what measure? By whose judgement? Where did it come from? Why can't I just go by whatever I think at the moment I think it right? More specifically, why is murder actually wrong?

Synova said...

Revenant, I understand if you don't care for religion but every fiber of my libertarian prone body is in rebellion over the notion that you *want* someone else to fix your life for you. Should we "fix" us? Shoot you up with something that makes you content?

You don't like it that God lets us hurt each other, but you also think it would be just grand if other people wouldn't let us hurt each other? You think that people are smart enough to figure out how to fix us, to make us think the right way, to genetically engineer peace? Engineer harmony? And you want this done to you for your own good.

At least it sounds like that's what you're saying.

Revenant said...

I understand if you don't care for religion but every fiber of my libertarian prone body is in rebellion over the notion that you *want* someone else to fix your life for you.

Libertarianism, in my opinion, is about liberty, not free will. There's a subtle difference there, as the latter is the ability to chose to do anything while the former is the ability to do everything you may rightfully do.

Libertarians, for example, do not hold that anyone has the right to commit rape, theft, or murder. These things are violations of other peoples' liberty. Tweaking the human race to eliminate the "rape urge" or the "killing urge" doesn't violate liberty because it doesn't prevent anyone from doing anything they had any right to do in the first place. Indeed, it probably *increases* liberty, since it allows us to reduce the size of government and the power of the police force (less urge to violate rights = less violation of rights = less need to *sacrifice* rights in order to have a police force).

Should we "fix" us?

We've been "fixing us" through the use of coercive force for millennia. Genetic engineering is just another tool in the box.

Revenant said...

Your example of not being able to suppress a reflex is pretty weak evidence of that.

It is a mental reflex as well as a physical one -- as I noted, that is why you can't voluntarily drown yourself in a bucket of water.

If humans have MENTAL reflexes that are not subject to our control -- which we inarguably do -- then we do not have unrestricted free will.

It's like saying I have restricted free will because flapping my arms won't make me fly.

It is nothing like that. You are physically incapable of flight. You aren't physically incapable of holding your head underwater -- just mentally. But even if you stubbornly insist on classifying that reflex as a non-mental one, that would still mean that we possess reflexes that prevent us from carrying out tasks that our "free will" is choosing to perform. So why don't we have reflexes that prevent us from raping women, say by deflating our erections and flooding our bodies with testosterone antagonists? Why don't we have physical reflexes that make us weak when we're overcome by the urge to beat another man bloody? You've been offering up the "free will" argument here, but you can't have it both ways -- we already have *some* reflexes that thwart our free will, so why not the others?

The capacity for humans to do good or evil does not taint free will as a good thing. It also does not mean all outcomes of choices are good. That's just silly.

You did not answer my question. How is your "free will" to commit murder a good thing for anyone other than you? How is it anything other than a bad thing for the other six billion humans in the world?

I was instead asking on what basis you rely to define killing as wrong, if not a religious one.

You were saying that you couldn't think of a nonreligious reason for not killing your brother. This logically implies that you don't have one, which is why I suggested you keep going to church.

If, on the other hand, you DO have nonreligious reasons for viewing the murder of your brother as wrong, then what are you asking me for? You already know the answer.

I would like to refer to a remark you made earlier:

Evil? Just a word, an opinion, a cipher.

I would point out that in your world-view what constitutes "evil" is merely *God's* opinion. Since, as Synova noted, the motives and reasoning of God are incomprehensible to mere mortals it logically follows that you don't have any real idea why things are or aren't evil -- you're basically just doing as you're told and hoping that that's the right thing to do.

I think murder is wrong because I don't want to be killed, recognize that other people *also* don't want to be killed, and recognize that (a) a ban on killing is in my own enlightened self-interest and (b) it makes me unhappy to inflict harm on people who don't deserve it. That is good enough for me -- and certainly a better basis than "killing is wrong because I was told it was wrong", since for all you know you'll be told something different tomorrow. It isn't like God's never signed on to mass murder before, at least if you believe the Old Testament.

mtrobertsattorney said...

The assumption in this thread has been that Revenant actually believes in free will. But I don't think that he does.

Based on his comments, he appears to be a devotee of scientism: the quasi-religious doctrine that only matter and the physical laws that control matter exist,i.e., the laws of physics and chemistry. A corollary of this belief is that any given human action is caused by whatever physical laws happen to be acting on the atoms of the actor's brain at the time. And so it is impossible for any person to have acted in a way other than he did. All his actions are pre-determined and "free will" is an illusion.

As for "good" and "evil", they are nothing but words that name different brain states.

And so the Rev's apparent concern over "evil" actions is somewhat disingenuous. But he cannot really be criticized for this because he cannot act otherwise.

Theo Boehm said...
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Pogo said...
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Pogo said...

Re: "Are people here unaware that these arguments about God, free-will, good, evil, etc., etc., have been rehearsed for thousands of years?"

Of course we are aware of that, Theo. Heavens. I found it intriguing though to come across someone who actually appears to deny free will, and deny that it is good. Moreover, I don't recall this issue ever being talked about between adults in my lifetime. Not in class or at church. Fascinating, really.

I think many of the conversations held here date well back in history. They remain important discussions nonetheless, for civilization must be rebuilt anew with every single generation. Don't you think?

rsb said...

I wonder what her take would have been if she had stepped on a nail at that moment?

Revenant said...

mt,

he appears to be a devotee of scientism: the quasi-religious doctrine that only matter and the physical laws that control matter exist

First of all, let me note that it is pretty rude of you to pull the "he appears" crap instead of just, you know -- asking me. I am reading this thread, you know.

Secondly, "scientism" is a term seldom used by anyone other than religious people looking to insult scientists. The proper term for the belief you are describing is "physicalism", which is a philosophical position, not a "quasi-religious" one.

And so it is impossible for any person to have acted in a way other than he did. All his actions are pre-determined and "free will" is an illusion.

That does not necessarily follow from physicalism -- see emergentism, for example. Furthermore it is not the case that a universe which obeys physical laws must be a deterministic one -- indeed we have no idea at present if the universe is deterministic or not, since the uncertainty principle makes it impossible to measure the current state of the universe accurately enough to precisely predict what its next state will be.

Regardless, however, the fact that we cannot (and, so far as we can tell, will NEVER be able to) measure the exact state of every atom in the brain, let alone everything than *affects* the brain, means that our thoughts can never be fully predictable. That amounts to de facto free will, although (as I've noted earlier) not unlimited free will.

Theo,

Are people here unaware that these arguments about God, free-will, good, evil, etc., etc., have been rehearsed for thousands of years?

First of all, that an idea has been discussed for thousands of years does not imply that everyone must necessarily be familiar with it. Secondly, you are using a bit of hyperbole here -- some of the ideas are only centuries old. :)

But thirdly, and most importantly, ideas do not exist in a vacuum -- they are tested against what we know about the universe, which is ever-changing and generally improving in quality and quantity. So it isn't necessarily a matter of "oh, that was discussed back in the 1600s and no conclusive answer was reached". It can be a matter of "no conclusive answer could be reached *then*, because we lacked the empirical data we needed to determine which answer was correct, but today we can do better".

So I have to say that I find it curious that you recommend starting the discussion with a guy who lived nearly a thousand years ago. That's a bit like insisting that an argument over special relativity start by considering the opinions of Ibn al-Haytham. :)

Synova said...

I know this is getting old, so I don't know if you'll see this, Revenant.

I had said: "I understand if you don't care for religion but every fiber of my libertarian prone body is in rebellion over the notion that you *want* someone else to fix your life for you."

You said: "Libertarianism, in my opinion, is about liberty, not free will. There's a subtle difference there, as the latter is the ability to chose to do anything while the former is the ability to do everything you may rightfully do."

This bothers me and for just a moment I saw it clearly. In the time it took to set up this comment I'm all muddles again. Dangit.

Perhaps it's that I value the ability to consider doing what is not rightful and the responsibility to refuse to do it.

I feel uneasy, almost queasy, at the thought that the responsibility is taken away from me, the choice, is taken away so that I can't consider evil and chose good. The only things that I can consider are good things, or rightful things.

I suppose then I'd have "liberty" to do whatever I happened to think to do, but only because my ability to consider or examine what is bad evil was removed. True, I'd be unaware of the chains. I'd probably be happy.

Revenant said...

Perhaps it's that I value the ability to consider doing what is not rightful and the responsibility to refuse to do it.

Well, I can see why the idea would bother you, then.

My view is more pragmatic -- I intellectually know that I should not do certain things, and that whatever time I spend considering doing them is therefore time poorly spent. Worse yet, if in a moment of weakness I *do* consider one of those options (e.g. swiping the bag of cash that has fallen from an armored car) then I have to deal with all manner of unpleasant consequences. Knowing that I am human and therefore always at risk of moments of poor judgment, I see no downside to re-engineering myself to be incapable of making choices I would never, in my right mind, choose to make.

A lot of the rhetoric has taken the view that humans can do Good, or they can do Evil, and if you remove the ability to do Evil then they have no choice in the matter and hence no free will. But of course Good and Evil are not one choice each -- they are compilations of many possible choices. Lets say you are attracted to a woman -- taking "rape her" off the table doesn't prevent you from considering countless other ways of pursuing your interest. I guess it all comes down to whether you value human will for its quality, or its quantity. :)

Revenant said...

I would also add that I think most people *already* lack the capacity to commit certain acts. For example, the notion that I possess "free will" that would enable me to, for example, kill my parents and eat them... well, the idea's ridiculous to me. There's no supporting evidence for it and it directly contradicts my own self-awareness. If I do possess free will (and as I noted earlier I think I effectively do regardless of the underlying reality) then it seems to me that it is still free will with certain rules I cannot choose to break.

Theo Boehm said...
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mtrobertsattorney said...

Theo, now you've really pissed off Reverant. The uncertainity principle is wrecking havoc with his neurons.

Revenant said...

Metus improbos compescit, non clementia.

Tsk tsk -- that's not how Jesus taught. :)

Licet narro res per plures lacuna. Licet narro lemma per pauci.

As a lawyer friend of mine once noted, anything too banal to be written in English is usually written in Latin. :)

Theo Boehm said...
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Student said...

Theo: That aphorism sums up your moral philosophy.

Why is it, I wonder, that when Revenant posts a reasoned argument it gets answered with an ad hominem?

Theo Boehm said...
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Revenant said...

That is not an ad hominem attack. That is a critique of his turgid style

Theo, a guy who takes 250 words to ask "you realize all these issues have been discussed before, right?" and follows that up with a post written entirely in Latin isn't really in a position to accuse other people of pomposity.

Just an observation.