June 29, 2007

"Thank God" the Piccadilly bombing was averted.

Chris Matthews kept talking like that. Is it right? Mark Daniels, a Christian minister, asks. I've been listening to the audiobook of Christopher Hitchens reading his new book "God Is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything," and, seeing Mark's question, I could almost hear Hitchen's sneering about how fatuous Matthews' exclamation is. But it looks like Mark and Christopher are on the same page here.

Seriously, if you credit God for stopping one attack, you're implicitly blaming Him for not stopping another, aren't you?

CORRECTION: I had "how fatuous the question is." Didn't mean that. [And "Good" for "God." Sorry. It's been a hard day. Or is God toying with me?]

ADDED: In the comments, I'm told that Mark comes around to accepting Matthews' exclamation. I guess I fell asleep during the sermon. Speaking of falling asleep, last night I had a dream about Hitchens. Someone I know had published something saying his argument that God does not exist was based entirely on the evil that human beings have done in His name and Hitchens was giving him an earful about what actually was in the book.

68 comments:

Seven Machos said...

I have taken your sage advice to just stop reading annoying posts to heart. My advice to you: stop watching Chris Matthews.

Peter Palladas said...

One can thank the Almighty that these bombs did not explode without expressly attributing our safety to His intervention. (It's just a courtesy call.)

The people we do thank are the ambulance crew who alerted the police that there was a suspect first car and, it would seem though yet to be confirmed, the singular bravery of a police officer who disconnected the mobile phone timing device in the vehicle.

I can only imagine his/her superiors saying, as they do in such circumstances:

"For God's sake don't do anything brave. Think of all the paperwork."

I do thank God my daughter was not up in town as is her teenage wont these summer days. And I fully intend to take His providential warning not to let her anywhere near the place for the foreseeable future.

Mindsteps said...

But it looks like Mark and Christopher are on the same page here. Seriously, if you credit God for stopping one attack, you're implicitly blaming Him for not stopping another, aren't you?

Ann, I am not getting your point here.

Ann Althouse said...

Mindsteps: Both M and C think it's bad to say "Thank God." I then add a point of my own.

Gahrie said...

For most people, "thank God" no longer is a literally attempt to thank their Deity. Just as when people say "God damn it", they are not literally asking a Deity to punish.

"Thank God" is merely shorthand for "I'm really glad that didn't happen" for most people today.

In fact if I was a religious person, I'd be upset with people casually and thoughtlessly invoking God, and if I was an atheist like Hitchens, I'd look on it favorably.

Skeptical said...

Suppose that one believes that all good in our world is intended by God. Given God's effective providence, it would make perfect sense to thank God for good things, and especially good sense to thank God for especially good things.

Suppose that one believes that all bad in our world is not intended by God, but is merely accepted or tolerated by God, presumably for good reasons. If so, then it would not make sense to blame God for the bad things, including the bad things that God did not prevent.

Perfectly compatible, I think.

Joe said...

Unless I misread his gibberish, Mark Daniels concluded that God should be thanked after all.

Steven said...

Are we talking about the same God who allowed the torment of Job? The same God whose Word endorses infanticide as vengeance (as seen in Psalm 137)? Why not blame that guy for the bombs that go off? Seems perfectly appropriate to me.

mcg said...

Joe, you didn't misread. He did ultimately thank God.

mcg said...

Seriously, if you credit God for stopping one attack, you're implicitly blaming Him for not stopping another, aren't you?

Yes, actually, you are. Whether or not one is willing to swallow that determines quite a bit of one's personal theology.

Emy L. Nosti said...

I agree. But I'm one of those evil atheists, and it's one of the things that I could never accept about my Lutheran upbringing. It's the same old argument though; many people thank God for everything good in the world and believe He/It created everything. But then, He must also be responsible for evil in the world (at the very least, indirectly, but not unknowingly or unintentionally if you believe in omniscience/omnipotence). Of course, there are refutations involving free will and such, but I don't feel they hold water considering omnipotence. (E.g., couldn't He create a world where free will and evil were not mutually exclusive and in which this compromised nothing? And why create such imperfect beings that are so easily tempted and often must suffer to do good?)

If you see no value in the free will counterarguments however, then you should start questioning why God deserves praise--other than to avoid His wrath. Christianity, at least, seems to rely on believing God is responsible for all good things and that Satan/free will/temptation & weakness/character-building are responsible for everything else. So yes, I believe thanking God for stopping bad things from happening implicitly blames him for the times he doesn't, but no, I don't think most Christians can believe that and still maintain consistency. So, "Thank God" he helped people avert this bombing, but because "God works in mysterious ways," "higher purposes," etc., He's not and will never be at fault for the others. Seems He's got even less accountability than certain world leaders.

Synova said...

We used to blame God for the bad things... for accidents or freak acts of nature. Didn't we? This was before the "why do bad things happen to good people" garbage. All it meant was that it wasn't the fault of a person, whatever it was. Sort of an early version of "Sh*t happens." Some things, usually bad, were "acts of God."

Then when we got the idea that God wants us to be happy, as if this is the central tenet of Christianity, and we started seeing malevolence when "sh*t happens." And we started agonizing over why a loving God allows bad things to happen to us. Sort of like that skater wailing "why me?" when Tanya Harding's boyfriend broke her knee.

And then we started getting lectured about how negative a phrase "sh*t happens" is and how we shouldn't use that either.

As for praising God, we're supposed to praise God in all things. So we praise God and thank him for the people who noticed today what they might have missed, for giving people courage.

And even if the person speaking has no faith whatsoever, it still praises the name of God and points to God. Suppose Matthews had repeatedly said "Praise Allah" or invoked some other protector god or goddess from some obscure pantheon. He could have exactly the same level of fatuousness and it would be completely different.

Boaz said...

Seriously, if you credit God for stopping one attack, you're implicitly blaming Him for not stopping another, aren't you?.


First, most people aren't theologians, and don't say things that reflect proper thinking on such theological issues.

It doesn't really make sense to credit God for stopping the bomb; we don't know if he intervened or not. And second, to blame God would be ridiculous, unless one's conception of God is of one who is not all powerful and holy (and if so, then why would we worship him?). As illuminated in Job, we don't know God's plans, so the proper attitude in the face of suffering is humility, hope, and faith. God may be causing or allowing the suffernig for a greater, unknown good. In such cases, God does provide comfort and strength to those who seek it.

[consider how a dog's limited understanding might affect its view of its master: "why must I eat this garf when there is so much good food in the fridge/ why won't master play with me instead of working all day/ why must I go to that horrible vet who tortures me /why can't I eat those tasty kitties. Should the dog give up on master and bite him, or chalk it up to limited understanding and be thankful for the comfort the master gives?]

The Drill SGT said...

And then we started getting lectured about how negative a phrase "sh*t happens" is and how we shouldn't use that either.

sorry, I was about to make a post on that topic when I got to yours...

sh*t happens is the operative phrase in my Army. The personification of that is the concept of "Murphy".

Anyway, it is a warning that one needs to be careful in all things, cause you know: sh*t happens, and one wants to reduce ones odds in the areas one can, cause you know, sh*t happens :)

mcg said...

(E.g., couldn't He create a world where free will and evil were not mutually exclusive and in which this compromised nothing?)


Couldn't he create a world where 1+1=3? I mean, he's omnipotent, right? For the record I believe the answer to that question is no, and I don't believe that this represents a limitation in omnipotence. Perhaps your alternate scenario above is impossible in a similar sense.

Seems He's got even less accountability than certain world leaders.

Well, of course. He isn't accountable to anyone, at all, full stop. "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?"

Revenant said...

"Thank God" is merely shorthand for "I'm really glad that didn't happen" for most people today.

I second that interpretation. I say "God damn it" and "thank God" all the time, and I'm an atheist. The two phrases are basically devoid of religious meaning at this point, for English speakers at least.

Jeffrey said...

You want shorthand?

How about "Zounds" for "God's wounds." Okay, I could be absolutely in error on this interpretation. I can already feel the fingers flying to the keyboard, like those airborne monkeys descending upon our ruby-shoe-shod Dororthy and the eminently nimble Strawman, as I re-read this sentence.

Anyway, I usually use "Zounds" but for some reason I always get strange looks when I do.

Could it be that I'm a walking anachronism?

*

Revenant said...

Couldn't he create a world where 1+1=3? I mean, he's omnipotent, right?

That's not really a useful example. It is impossible for 1 + 1 to equal 3. It is NOT impossible for a person to be both good and free-willed.

Many Christians believe that people are inherently driven to do evil things and must consciously choose not to, and thus that there are no "good people" -- only people who choose to be good That's a load of silly horseshit. I've never had to choose not to commit rape -- I don't WANT to commit rape. Whatever it is that makes some people want to rape, I haven't got it. The question I want answered is: how come some people DO have it, and what genius thought it was a good idea to give it to them?

He isn't accountable to anyone, at all, full stop.

Anyone who wants my voluntary obedience is accountable to me. Anyone who feels otherwise is in for a long wait. :)

mcg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sean said...

I don't follow some of these comments, starting with Prof. Althouse. Even if you don't believe in God as you conceive him, you believe in goodness, no? Goodness wants your voluntary obedience, no? Is goodness therefore accountable to you? I think you would account to it. Is goodness implicitly to blame for evil? That doesn't make any sense to me.

I think the problem arises because people think of God as a person like us, when God is really certain qualities, such as goodness, in personal form. You would do better not to think of God as a person at all than to think of him as a person like yourself.

mcg said...

That's not really a useful example. It is impossible for 1 + 1 to equal 3. It is NOT impossible for a person to be both good and free-willed.

Revenant, I think you missed my point. I am asking whether or not it is POSSIBLE to have a world in which free will exists and evil does not. I believe that it is impossible in the same sense that 1+1=3 is impossible. So I think that a better question to wrestle with is this: is it better to have free will and its byproduct of evil or to have no free will? If the answer is "the latter" then any god that made the former choice cannot be good.

Anyone who wants my voluntary obedience is accountable to me. Anyone who feels otherwise is in for a long wait. :)

Understood. Obviously I was speaking from a believer's perspective and as a result couched my language that way. A more neutral expression of my point is that no creator is truly ever accountable to its created. It can claim to be, and it can choose to listen and respond to the concerns of its created (as the Jewish and Christian God does), but ultimately what it sayeth goeth :) I sense that you agree, which is one reason you do not believe.

I think that the Christian God comes the closest to being "accountable" to its created through its concept of substitutionary atonement. But hey that's just me.

Emy L. Nosti said...

mcg: Then you need to redefine omnipotence or admit it doesn't exist. And considering some of quantum physics' craziness, I find it hard to say He's not capable of reconciling something we myopic humans see as irreconcilable. Regardless, that's why it was relegated to an "e.g."; in addition to conceiving of worlds where He’s powerful enough to change mathematical constants, shape our reality, etc., you could also question the holiness of his desire for a quality (free will) that causes so much pain and suffering. And what then of natural disasters? Those weren't created by free will. FYI, I was using this definition of accountability: noun, responsibility to someone or for some activity -dictionary.com

Boaz: Blah blah ‘don’t know if God intervened’ blah blah but “all powerful and holy." [He created everything, and no evil would have happened/existed if he hadn’t. Thus, He created evil and/or was not powerful enough to avoid it. So why should we 'not blame God if he's all powerful?' Seems like the only reason we should!]

Blah blah ‘God works in mysterious ways/greater unknown good,’ blah blah, ‘so suffer’ blah blah ‘and believe in him and his goodness anyway’ blah blah ‘because then he’ll reduce your suffering.’ [Cop out, followed by more deity-created evil, followed by a statement which I’m sure millions would disagree with.]

Dog example: wow, I never realized we were so powerful! A dog may consider us godlike [doubtful, at least in the same sense], but if we were omnipotent we could certainly meet his every want and need. If we could do this but didn’t love him enough to prevent his suffering, yeah, maybe he should bite us. Or at least stop believing in our omnipotence/encompassing love. Why worship Him other than to avoid wrath, indeed.

Only way out of it: admit we know nothing of what good and evil are, so painful disfiguration/hurricanes can truly be “mysterious ways” (so needless, undeserved suffering can=good) Is it POSSIBLE God can't avoid doing bad things to innocent people if he's all-loving? Really, reeeeally hard to believe in omnipotence, omniscience, and pure goodness all in one being without saying we have no frickin’ sense of what's good or evil behavior or why what we generally consider evil exists. Oops! But then institutionalized religion and commonly-accepted morality lack legitimacy. Oy, I wish God had created me with a better tolerance for cognitive dissonance.

I give up (but will clarify my position if needed). You simply can't argue when any evidence you present is just one of those "mysterious ways." That's what they mean by faith—you don't require proof or logic to believe it. This is why I get along with most religious people; religion is only proved by other religious beliefs, and some people have that kind of capacity for faith. I don't. More power to ‘em if they feel it improves their life and they don’t impose it on anyone else.

Mark Daniels said...

Gibberish or no, I do thank God tonight. I'd like to respond to a few things that have been written here. Their scattershot nature may come across as gibberish, but here goes...

I also thanked God on 9/11 for rescue workers, firefighters, police officers, priests, Good Samaritans, and compassionate strangers. The Bible advises to thank God in all circumstances. Notice it doesn't say to thank God for all circumstances. There's a difference. I believe that faith can often discern God at work even in the most horrific of circunstances.

We live in an imperfect world in which rotten things happen. As a Christian, I believe that God has experienced that rottenness personally through Jesus Christ. I also believe that ultimately, He can transform our suffering redemptively.

But what I was trying to warn people away from in my post was the sort of simplicity we hear both from religious fundamentalists and from agnostics and atheists. (I was once a member of the latter camp.) Life is a lot more complicated than the intellectually-stunted arguments of either grouping allows.

Some will say, "God is punishing us" Or more likely, "them."

Others will say, "This proves that God doesn't exist."

Either explanation strikes me as simplistic and too unwilling to accept that life is more complicated than that. Both explanations are, to my mind, exceedingly immature.

There are things I can't explain in Scripture. I don't understand for example, why God had any interest in seeing the death of Egypt's firstborn, although he clearly repudiated infanticide in the provision of a ram for sacrifice in place of Abraham's son, Isaac.

I believe that God allows people to be tested, as was the case with Job. But no story I know more maturely deals with the reality of pain in our world than that honest book of the Bible. And one thing I really cherish from that book is its clear indication that (1) Our tragedies aren't directly attributable to our sin; (2) God has no preferred people. Even the faithful--sometimes especially the faithful--are subject to the pain of the world; (3) The tragedies which befall us don't mean that God loves us less.

I agree that in common usage today, God's Name is used less significantly than it's used in the Bible. Some people are talking about a generalized good luck charm. Matthews may have used it in this way. Be that as it may, his usage of the phrase, "Thank God" so frequently was interesting to me, worthy of consideration.

As to the criticisms of Matthews here, in spite of the fact that he sometimes talks when he would do better listening and that his performance as moderator of the recent Republican presidential debate was less than distinguished, I love the guy. He's a straight shooter. He's knowledgeable when it comes to both politics and history, both from study and participation in it. And he's not afraid to conform to any proscribed political ideology. He's an independent thinker who doesn't swim with all the other fishes and I admire that.

I don't think it's necessary to blame God for bad things that happen in this world. We may thank God for intervening in situations for which we've prayed. I agree with South Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho, who says that God is a gentleman who only goes where invited. This is the limitation God has imposed on Himself for now. We may also say that God gives human beings the freedom to be evil.

It was good to see so many interesting comments here. I like Ann's site precisely because her posts lend themselves so well to the kind of dialog we have here. I actually thank God for it.

Mark Daniels

Seven Machos said...

It's a really good point made above: acts of God are always bad things in law and God does bad things to good and bad people in Biblical stories.

I would go so far as to say that the central tenet of the Old Testament is a contract, completely on God's terms, that goes thus: The people must follow God's Rules or God will do and does do terrible things to the people.

mcg said...

mcg: Then you need to redefine omnipotence or admit it doesn't exist.

I really don't believe I do, Emily. I believe that reasonable definitions of omnipotence do not require that the alleged God be able to do things that are in some sense "fundamentally" possible, like forcing 1+1=3. I am far from the only person to have ever made such a distinction; this is simply a restatement of the old "unstoppable force meets an immovable object" argument.

So the question is this: is "free will with no evil" in the same category as "1+1=3"---a fundamental impossibility---or is it impossible in a lesser sense, so that it is indeed the fundamental bounds of an omnipotent being's power?

Even if you can't get past this question of possibility, there is still a more subjective issue. Let us suppose that a world in which free will existed but evil did not is truly possible. Then just how does such a world measure up? After all, some of the most profound expressions of selfless love occur in the face of unspeakable evil. Would such levels of love ever be attained in a world where there is no evil to challenge it upwards?

So in a way, when we question whether God could let free will and evil coexist, we are in a way purporting not only to know what is "possible" but also what is "good". Both considerations are probably beyond any individual's grasp. I mean, my goodness, society certainly cannot come to any serious consensus about either one.

And considering some of quantum physics' craziness, I find it hard to say He's not capable of reconciling something we myopic humans see as irreconcilable.

I think most quantum physicists are likely dismayed by the degree of metaphysics introduced into their science by laypersons. It's probably Einstein's fault when he said "God does not play dice." He was right and wrong: God most certainly doesn't play dice, but quantum mechanics doesn't require that he does. That is a philosophical interpretation of the science.

Regardless, that's why it was relegated to an "e.g."; in addition to conceiving of worlds where He’s powerful enough to change mathematical constants, shape our reality, etc., you could also question the holiness of his desire for a quality (free will) that causes so much pain and suffering.

Yes, indeed. As I said to Revenant, my argument of "impossibility" does leave that rather large question open: is free will plus evil truly better than no free will?

And what then of natural disasters? Those weren't created by free will.

Well, in a sense, they were. The universe is free to act according to its physical laws, for the most part without divine intervention. (Some would argue "totally" without, of course!) The story of the Garden of Eden is one of an artificial paradise sustained through the continual intervention of God. A universe without that continual intervention... might be like ours.

There are not new arguments. The often pooh-poohed apologist C.S. Lewis discussed them for example.

FYI, I was using this definition of accountability: noun, responsibility to someone or for some activity -dictionary.com

Yes, that's the definition I was assuming. But again, God is not responsible to anyone, which suggests he must answer us in some way (whether he chooses to or not). And as for being responsible for some activity---yes, he is responsible for the state and evolution of the universe and of mankind. But whose ciriteria does he get to use when judging whether his creation is "good"? Certainly not ours.

zzRon said...

mch said...."So in a way, when we question whether God could let free will and evil coexist, we are in a way purporting not only to know what is "possible" but also what is "good". Both considerations are probably beyond any individual's grasp. I mean, my goodness, society certainly cannot come to any serious consensus about either one."


Ok, let me get his straight. Are you saying that we, as human individuals, will never be able figure out the true meaning of the moral concept "good"? If so, then why in hell should we even bother trying to figure it out? Anything goes?...since we are too stupid to know what is good and what is evil?

For what its worth, I believe evil can ONLY exist when free will is present, and choosing to believe in a God who, if I am reading you correctly, did not give us the ability to understand what good actually is, can only lead mankind down the road of confusion, insecurities and human suffering. Kind of like what we have in the world right now. No?

Cedarford said...

There may not be divine provinence involved, but for much of our existence America has been lucky. If we were located on the Eurasian landmass, it is doubtful we would have been able to sustain a democratic Republic with the weak gov't we had for 2/3rds of our history, and wars would have had us suffering as bad as the Euros did without two oceans protecting us, as they did up until Sputnik..

We have been lucky in international affairs until quite recently, as other nations that could have badly damaged us were out damaging others in fights for Continental dominance in Europe, Asia was somnolent, Islam in civilizational decay, Latin America benefiting from Spain & Portugal's economic collapse, and Africa a pit of barbarism and resources..

Lucky in resources, timing, having reasonably friendly neighbors no threat to us until the mid-80s Mexican invasion.

Lucky too in terrorist strikes..We benefited from Islamic ineptness in the 1993 strike that shot for 80,000 dead, that would have succeeded if the Islamoids had only known to place their truck bomb in one of two other structure locations. Lucky in 1994 that Saddam's sons in law revealed his huge remaining WMD programs. Lucky in 1995 that an explosive mixing mishap and good Filipino hardass cop whipping revealed the plan Islamoids had to kill Pope John Paul in Manila and knock down 12 747s with explosives (The Bojinko Plot). From - amidst all the Lefty blubbering - before the Iraq morass - hitting the radical pigs hard, globally. and getting the pigs to squeal and reveal 7-8 major plots underway, getting Libya to unveil the AQ Khan nuclear bomb network.

But we can't be lucky all the time. Chris Matthews is also fond of repeating that insipid Hero Cop/Counterterrorist Expert slogan about how "we lose" if our hero cops and experts are wrong and anyone dies. "We have to be perfect one thousand times, the terrorist only has to be lucky once".

First, cops and FBI and CIA and other security experts are not perfect. Far from it.

Second, the enemy doesn't have to be "lucky", just good - and they have a huge pool of 60-130 million radical Islamists and alienated Muslim intellectuals in the Ummah and the West to start with being good, if not a brilliant enemy.

Third, that insipid slogan is meaningless. We are in a global ideological struggle that will involve lots of killing, and we have to expect lots of infidel deaths despite our best efforts. Pretending as we did right after 9/11 that the radical Muslim enemy is a tiny group and that we can all "be perfectly safe if our government heroes protect us" and it all ends when the CEO of terror and his ACLU defense team enter a US Court is ridiculous.

Expect more American civilian deaths here and abroad, expect less and less sympathy for "the freedom to be a Jihadi", Leftist "international humanitarian law aimed at stopping Zionist and Imperialist oppression", and for "terrorist's precious civil rights under the US Constitution". As more of us get killed, less people will like Ruth Ginsburg and her pals approach.

God has nothing to do with it or Beslan wouldn't have happened.
Luck has something to do with it, but America has realized in the last 6 years our luck is not limitless, our safety nets against incompetence not even remotely failproof.
The US military takes casualties regularly in war zones. 18,800 worth in just Iraq against the Islamoids and national liberation types. They are not perfect, but very good at what they do. They don't fight on the premise of being great in 1,000 situations but consider they "lost" if the enemy is successful in only one engagement. And killing Islamoids "over there", taking the fight to them no matter how badly Bush bungled it, is better than trying to protect 250,000 possible targets here with pure defense...

The only consolation is that the people that most care about tiptoing around ever condemning radical Islam without the BUT - it's all our fault they hate us!! qualifiers..

And the people most concerned with poor captured terrorists welfare you tell you to stop being snide when you suggest prisoner swaps....

Those people are the more likely to die in Blue cities when radical Muslims attack..

Revenant said...

Goodness wants your voluntary obedience, no?

Well... no.

"Goodness" doesn't want anything. "Goodness" is a property of entities (people, mostly), not an entity in its own right. You might as well say that "blueness", "warmth", and "fluffiness" want my obedience.

Now, do good *entities* want my obedience? Again, no, not usually. Good people want other people to be good, but that's not "obedience". Being good doesn't mean obeying good people, it means choosing to do good things whether other people want you to or not.

God's supposed desire for obedience really must be considered as something entirely unrelated to his "goodness" (or lack thereof). You can be good without being bossy or bossy without being good, after all.

amba said...

Mark doesn't think it's bad to say "Thank God." He starts out asking whether that doesn't implicitly blame God for not stopping the Holocaust, or 9/11, but by the end he comes around to saying "Thank God."

"Good" for "God" is a good mistake.

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

I am asking whether or not it is POSSIBLE to have a world in which free will exists and evil does not. I believe that it is impossible in the same sense that 1+1=3 is impossible.

1+1=2.
2 does not equal 3
Ergo 1+1 does not equal 3.

That, above, is the proof that 1+1 does not equal three. You have not, and can not, provide any similar proof that free will requires evil.

Because the truth is that it doesn't. If no evil people were ever born the world would be filled with free-willed people, yet devoid of evil. One does not require the other.

A more neutral expression of my point is that no creator is truly ever accountable to its created.

The founding fathers were accountable to the government they created. Congress is (in theory, anyway) accountable to the laws it passes.

amba said...

I don't think God tolerates bad things for good reasons. I just think "God" is not omnipotent. Jeez, isn't it enough to bring something out of nothing -- and not just something, but really something! -- and to inspire lust- and rage-driven brutes sometimes to transcend their blind self-interest? Does the power that did that have to micromanage everything too?

Maybe when they say he watches over the sparrow's fall, they mean the way Ann took a picture of that dying chipmunk. (Not comparing Ann to God! Just sayin' this is one of the ways we imitate "God" or act as God's eyes.) Death isn't the wages of sin, it's the price of existence. God can't stop it, but can equip creatures to dodge it, witness their fall, and maybe put a thumb on the scales now and then. Some escapes do seem virtually miraculous. This London reprieve is one of them.

Seven Machos said...

You know, in ancient Greece, the gods sort of watched humans, like it was a grand game, and occasionally intervened, for good, evil, and often plain mischief.

But, ultimately, the gods were not that interesting. And the reason they were not interesting is precisely because they could not die. Very possibly, a life with no pain and no suffering and no death is no life at all.

amba said...

I always thought it was interesting that they call the defense of God "apologetics," when being God means never having to say you're sorry.

TMink said...

Gahrie wrote: "In fact if I was a religious person, I'd be upset with people casually and thoughtlessly invoking God"

As a religious person, it does not upset me as much as sound jarring. Must be like a patriotic person hearing someone say "God bless America" when they are angry instead of meaning it.

My mother on law, God rest her soul (literally,)used to say "Oh my God" regularly. My wife and I do not speak that way, and my wife asked her to try to speak differently. She was shocked to learn that she said it regularly, and was quite mortified! It was better than saying shit in some ways. Our 2 year old daughter became quite enamored of that word after hearing Jean (my m.i.l.) cuss when she stubbed her toe.

But I do not expect others to follow my religious ideals, why should I? It seems naive to do so. (Not taking a shot here, just stating an opinion Gharie!) It is difficult enough for me to live out my spirituality, policing myself is a full time job. I trust other's to try to take care of themselves.

Trey

Emy L. Nosti said...

Okay, I’m enjoying myself too much to drop this.

I generally agree with Revenent 9:34, but regarding later comments I still wonder why God didn't then predispose all people to good, such as by increasing frontal lobe size/influence. Oh right, even though he shaped us (or intentionally set evolution/the Universe in motion to eventually create us) he lacks the power or will for that too. How convenient.

Anyway, regarding 1+1=2. You could even say that's a philosophical construct of our subjective reality since there’s no (obvious) way to provide counterexamples to 1+1=2 in this Universe, but of course, what we’re really talking about what’s possible in other "creations." Indeed, this equation itself has been challenged as an abstraction and I agree with that (see Bertrand Russell, Liebnitz, John Dewey, John Stuart Mill).

But it’s interesting how:
*God would rethink his punitive, vengeful behavior if he’s omniscient or perfect. (Hey, is He constant-like, maybe, in contrast to certain equations being godlike? Heh.)
*In religion, death=eternal life
*Wave=particle
*Emy=Emily apparently (sorry, couldn’t resist)
*Light exists at the same time and place as darkness, biblically speaking (Genesis 1:4) (though dark is mere lack of light)
*While obviously 1g ≠ 1kg and 1 dog+1 cat=nothing mathematically meaningful (again, 1+1 is an abstraction), more critically: gravity can warp space such that 1m in one area is longer than 1m in another, thus sometimes even 1+1≠2 with equivalent units!
*Heck, even circumference/diameter≠pi when you move from Euclidean geometry to curved surfaces...similarly, occasionally 90 degrees≠90 degrees. If 1 doesn't even always equal 1, how can 1+1 always equal 2?
*S=1 and S=0 at the same time sometimes, where S is the spin vector (look up quantum computing/qubits/spin or something for more info). But again, math is an abstraction. If my understanding of superposition is accurate, still, 1≠0. (But what does ≠ and = fundamentally mean anyway, if S=0, S=1, but 1≠0 and violates the transitive property???) All the same, by classical understanding, these two states are mutually exclusive and should not exist at the same time. Something and nothing, light and darkness. The impossible is possible depending on your perspective. If God can change nothing else...

So, if you think truths exist beyond God’s creative power, I would ask on what basis you make this assertion—other than faith and an attempt to remain logically consistent. You seem to imply that it’s somehow wrong to draw larger conclusions from quantum weirdness—not only do I reject that implication, but I say it’s vastly more substantive than just going on faith. But if you’re only saying I might annoy a few physicists, I’ll take my chances (personally, I think most scientists would be overjoyed if the public started basing philosophy on science and can think of many reasons why). After all “the unexamined life…” and all that—our faith/non-belief is something we each need to decide for ourselves, based on the best information available. Inexplicably, some people think that’s the Bible.

And about this "philosophy" of science (more like emotionally-based conjecture [in Einstein's case, at least] that's not well supported by science or even Christian theology--free will, anyone?)...please defend “God does not play dice.” Exactly how do you/Einstein know the mind of God or what he would refuse to do, never mind what Hawking says: All the evidence points to him being an inveterate gambler, who throws the dice on every possible occasion. Not only does God definitely play dice, but He sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can't be seen.

Okay, I'll catch up with you guys tomorrow.

Emy L. Nosti said...

Addendum: on warped space (or even relativistic length contraction) & "1+1≠2 with equivalent units"...it's a bit more complicated than this of course, but the fact that 1 meter can be two different lengths when you mess around with frames of reference...this still demonstrates my point.

Revenant said...

But, ultimately, the [Greek] gods were not that interesting.

Um... what? We're *still* reading about the Greek Gods and telling stories about them, almost two THOUSAND years after the Greek pantheon ceased to exist as a serious religion. Not interesting? Compared to what, exactly? If success and longevity can be considered measures of interest the Greek pantheon is arguably one of the MOST interesting things human storytellers have cooked up.

Very possibly, a life with no pain and no suffering and no death is no life at all.

The notion that life requires death in order to be interesting is silly. But the amusing thing about the notion that eternal life without suffering and death would be horrible and boring is that that's exactly what the "heaven" Christians are promised consists of. So I have to ask: if life without suffering and death is *bad*, why am I being offered it as a reward?

blake said...

I didn't find Mark Daniel's post to be gibberish nor the follow-up here.

FWIW.

Observe ye faithless: The trolls have not polluted this thread.

And for that, I thank God.

hdhouse said...

I guess then you can also thank God for putting would-be terrorists on the loose (not really very good bombmakers but people who can't follow bomb making directions at all)without an ounce of brains.

Iraq is full of subtle and well functioning car bombs. Do you really think that the selfsame "terrorists" who are functioning in Iraq showed the lack of skill and bombmaking expertise found in London? Hello?

As one analyist described it last night on the news, these would have been car fires not car bombs.
Significantly more to this than meets the eye.

God didn't save the Queen here folks. stupidity won out.

Chris said...

"[I]f you credit God for stopping one attack, you're implicitly blaming Him for not stopping another, aren't you?"

I think you're implicitly attributing to God the ability to stop other attacks, and saying that his failure to stop them was part of the reason the other attacks happened. But that's not quite the same as blaming God for them, because blaming suggests that we're below a baseline of what we deserve. Say I get a $10,000 bonus from an employer who easily could give me more. If I thank the employer for the money, I'm not implicitly blaming the employer for not giving me more.

Gahrie said...

Blake:

You spoke just too soon.

Paul Snively said...

With respect to God and evil, one word: theodicy.

With respect to God and physics, I recommend "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle," "The Physics of Immortality," and "The Physics of Christianity." The debate between Dr. Tipler and Dr. Krauss ("The Physics of Star Trek," "Quintessence," "Hiding in the Mirror") at Caltech was a lot of fun.

With respect to Christianity and philosophy, I recommend anything by Alvin Plantinga, but of course especially his trilogy on warrant: "Warrant: The Current Debate," "Warrant and Proper Function," and "Warranted Christian Belief."

Dave F said...

Let me admit my biases up front: I think Hitchens is a great, witty writer, with whom I share many ideas about religion.

That said, here's a serious question: if the Christian God alluded to in many of the comments here is so beneficent as to bring us, say, the attention of the ambulance drivers, in order to prevent mass casualties, how do we reconcile that with the apparent bastardization of such beneficence, as practiced by Muslim terrorists.

Either Islam is inherently evil, Islam is being abused by people who are inherently evil, or God is not the beneficent being/conception people believe it to be.

I have never heard a convincing answer from a believer--of any faith--to this question. But then, as I admit above, my biases are rather stacked against giving religious explanation credence.

vet66 said...

GOD is not the great PUPPETMASTER! His gift to us, in this outhouse part of the cosmos, in a third rate galaxie in a universe of untold millions of other galaxies, he is has seen fit to give us the greatest gift of all: the gift of choice.

How we use that gift is entirely up to each of us. Choice has, as it's constant companion, that nightmare alter-ego named responsibility.

Use the gift wisely. By the by, it was a particularly beautiful moon this morning.

In GOD's universe, sometimes 1 + 1 really does equal 3. Only our arrogance assumes as much wisdom as GOD!

mcg said...

1+1=2.
2 does not equal 3
Ergo 1+1 does not equal 3.

That, above, is the proof that 1+1 does not equal three.


Yes, it is. It is a proof that 1+1 does not equal three in this universe. The question is whether or not it would be possible for a universe to exist in which it is. Do you know the answer? Can you prove it?

You have not, and can not, provide any similar proof that free will requires evil.

Indeed I haven't. And you have not, and can not, provide a proof that it doesn't. But honestly I don't think it's an unreasonable supposition. I for one have difficulty supposing how evil could be eliminated without constraining free will in some way.

All I'm saying is that when one asks a question like "If God exists why didn't he do XXX", we ask with appropriate understanding of our lack of perspective. My answer "because perhaps it is fundamentally impossible" is something I'm throwing out as a possibility.

mcg said...

The founding fathers were accountable to the government they created. Congress is (in theory, anyway) accountable to the laws it passes.

Fair point, but they created something bigger than themselves. I think that's a crucial difference.

Reminds me of a joke. One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had
come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost."

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this, let's say we have a man making contest." To which the scientist replied, "OK, great!"

But God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam."

The scientist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!"

mcg said...

So, if you think truths exist beyond God’s creative power, I would ask on what basis you make this assertion—other than faith and an attempt to remain logically consistent.

It is the same basis on which you think that no truths are beyond his creative power. We both lack the necessary perspective to know for sure either way.

Jim said...

NY Times calls the attempt "amateurish." I wonder what they would have said if it had been successful?

For me, it's a little unsettling as I am now travelling through Europe.

The Drill SGT said...

Jim said...
NY Times calls the attempt "amateurish." I wonder what they would have said if it had been successful?


The NYT's only has two modes when it comes to terrorism attempts.

1. The attackers are caught before their attack. "Obviously this was an amateurish group that was incited into the plot by government provocateurs. The Government is publicizing this non-threat to gain political advantage"


2. The attackers succeed. Obviously this attack demonstrates that the government is both amateurish and incompetent. Its failed Iraq policy abroad and squashing of civil liberties at home are the real provocation here.

amba said...

Emy: Revenant 9:34 ~ !

Centuries from now some archaeologist will unearth this from some hard drive and think it was an apocryphal Scripture citation.

blake said...

Gahrie,

Well, you know what they say: "Speak of the devil...."

Luckyoldson said...

Speaking of GOD (whichever one you happen to worship)...I think some here should take the advice of
Senator Sam Brownback:

WASHINGTON — Sam Brownback says he harbored a "hatred" of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton until he experienced a religious awakening in the mid-1990s.

Brownback details in a new book how the change in outlook led him to make a stunning apology to Hillary Clinton a few years later during a Senate prayer breakfast.

So, c'mon, Clinton-haters...look to your GOD...and send Bill & Hillary an apology for harboring such a deep and lasting hatred. (And maybe you could also send along a few bucks for her campaign, too.)

God Bless...

TMink said...

Lucky, while your post appears to be made in jest, I think it is good advice. Far too many people who identify themselves as Christians bear a deep hatred for Bill, and especially fo Senator Clinton.

It is not consistent with their stated faith and they would do well to search their hearts, confess their sin, ask for peace to replace the fear and hatred.

That won't help anyone voter for her, but it will help the lives of the people who let the hate go.

Trey

mtrobertsattorney said...

Emy, do you really believe matter can exist independent of mind?

Could it be that you have fallen into a dogmatic slumber?

I suggest you consult with George Berkeley. He may be just the person to help you out.

Luckyoldson said...

trey,
i agree.

Joe said...

Mark, you comments are gibberish and pseudo-intellectual clap trap. The god you describe is so capricious as to be evil.

(Do you even understand the play of Job? God conspired with Satan to kill all of Job's kinfolk, including innocent children? What sort of sick individual does this? Fortunately, it was just a play and a work of fiction like most the scriptures.)

mcg said...

Well hey, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. How shall we go about stamping out Bush hatred? A religious revival?

TMink said...

MCG, darn, that is a really good question. I have no answer. Do Christains who espouse more liberal social positions such as hating the President worry about sin? OK, I said that in a snarky way, but I still wonder.

Trey

Revenant said...

The question is whether or not it would be possible for a universe to exist in which it is. Do you know the answer? Can you prove it?

I don't have to prove it, since the ability of God to make 1+1 equal three in a parallel universe has no bearing on my argument. I was just pointing out that while "1+1=2" has a formal proof associated with it, the "proof" of "free will requires evil" consists of nothing more than religious people repeatedly insisting that it is true. As I showed, that claim is nonsensical. A world in which nobody desires to do evil can still be a world with free will, because *everybody* has things that they do not WANT to ever do.

The notion that, if you don't have the entirely hypothetical option to go home, anally rape your daughter, kill her, BBQ her and serve her to your neighbors for the 4th of July, well, you've been Horribly Deprived of Your Free Will and are doomed to Living in some sort of Inferior Robotic Universe, cursing God for limiting your options... is silly.

And you have not, and can not, provide a proof that [free will doesn't require evil]

Setting aside the fact that I already put forth a good example of why evil has nothing to do with free will, I'm not the one invoking "free will" to explain the universe -- you are. So it falls to YOU to prove that your claim about free will is true, otherwise you're just talking out of your ass.

Here, essentially, is your argument: "Why is the world the way it is? Because X is true. But I can't prove X is true and don't even care to try". It would make more sense if you just said "Because if there wasn't evil in the world we would all instantly explode and go to hell". That statement is also unproven and unprovable, but at least has the advantage of not directly contradicting much of what we know of human nature.

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

Fair point, but they created something bigger than themselves. I think that's a crucial difference.

Might makes right, in other words. The reason God is unaccountable is simply that he's been careful never to create anything that could threaten his iron grip on power.

That's certainly a good argument for us not being able to actually DO anything in response to divine wrongdoing, but I don't see how it changes the actual fact of wrongdoing. A being which commits an evil act is guilty of committing an evil act, even if there is no possible way that justice will be done against it. God may be the biggest playground bully in the universe, but stealing our lunch money is still wrong. :)

mcg said...

I don't have to prove it, since the ability of God to make 1+1 equal three in a parallel universe has no bearing on my argument.

Well, it should, because if not then you're not actually addressing my point in the least. God doesn't have to be the agent, by the way. This argument could apply in an atheistic cosmology too.

I was just pointing out that while "1+1=2" has a formal proof associated with it,

Yes, but your proof is confined to this universe. In order to produce a proof that is on the same level as "free will requires evil" or not, you would have to prove that 1+1=2 in all possible universes. You haven't done that, so you haven't gotten any farther than I have in the argument.

the "proof" of "free will requires evil" consists of nothing more than religious people repeatedly insisting that it is true. As I showed, that claim is nonsensical

What is nonsensical is your twisting of my argument. I never suggested there was a proof, and I am not insisting that it is true. I am offering it as a possible answer. You haven't proven that free will does not require evil, either. All we do know is that both exist.

mcg said...

Setting aside the fact that I already put forth a good example of why evil has nothing to do with free will,

What, your rape example? That isn't even close to doing what you claim. All you proved was that you don't want to do it, and other people do. Sounds like something well tied to free will to me.

mcg said...

That's certainly a good argument for us not being able to actually DO anything in response to divine wrongdoing, but I don't see how it changes the actual fact of wrongdoing.

It doesn't. So there are three choices here:
#1 There is no God
#2 There is one, and he isn't good
#3 There is one, and he is good
You've settled on #1, and I've settled on #3. I'm sure some people have settled on #2, but it would seem for most Western folks to just be a stepping stone to concluding #1. I mean, why bother worshipping a God if he isn't good? he's just gonna screw you anyway. #3 does leave a lot of questions unanswered, I admit, but there are plenty of unanswered questions in #1 too, just not necessarily as many metaphysical ones.

hdhouse said...

God didn't do it. God didn't prevent it. Stop imploring Him even if it is just a figure of speech.
\

and Cedarford, you rascal, next time you cut and paste, pleae give the attribution....one small mind can't possible come up with that much jibberish.

Emy L. Nosti said...

Dang, I missed out on all the fun with my weekend festivities.

mtroberts: I am receptive to (I don't "believe") the possibility. However, as I won't quite get around to elaborating on fully in my response to mcg below, as far as I have been able to determine (through my own reasoning and not anyone else's philosophical dogma), the only thing I can be absolutely sure of is an awareness...an awareness of perceptions and thoughts. I think "perception," while very similar to my definition of this awareness (which I'm not going to explain fully, but no, I don't deny that apparently willful thought can fall under "perception"), has connotations that are too broad in some ways and too narrow in others.

Still, I find most theories that imply that matter's existence relies on our perception are useless other than as a thought exercises...though it could be useful in determining one's god-belief, which is nothing to scoff at.

Emy L. Nosti said...

It is the same basis on which you think that no truths are beyond his creative power. We both lack the necessary perspective to know for sure either way.

Ummmm...yes, but no. (And again I'm backing Revenent 2:50 :) Perhaps I was too subtle about it, but this is almost exactly what that post addressed…and your response seems akin to claiming evolution and Creationism are two equal “theories.” Obviously we can never know anything for certain (except as previously noted), but not every hypothesis is on equal footing. I have seen (and tried to provide in that post) evidence that there are not many (any?) fundamental truths we have discovered that we can unquestioningly count on, even in our own Universe. If our Universe is not limited by such things, God, necessarily, is powerful enough to create universes that are not limited by such things. Sure, maybe we just don't know enough, but if 1+1 can equal 3 and something can have simultaneous contradictory qualities, [free will U no evil] seems like a walk in the park. (PS: according to a mathematician friend, there’s an even stronger counterexample to 1+1=2 using set theory infinities).

Regardless, I find “Occam’s Razor” (his original…“entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”…not the paraphrase, as the paraphrase implies we know all simple solutions and can infallibly weigh simplicity) to be a good method of evaluating merit. But even if we say that the evidence for inter-universal truth is equal to the evidence against it, Christianity will never seem a better argument than agnosticism…(for the record, I’m both a “strong agnostic” and a “strong atheist”).

Why? Agnostics don’t have to: limit God’s power by claiming non-omnipotent “omnipotence,” explain away evil, God’s selective intervention, why prayer just isn’t good enough most of the time, why God hasn’t “stopped” the Sun in the heavens recently, why there is inconsistency in the Bible, why God would intentionally confuse people by telling lies about Creation and the heavens (if you agree that evolution is more likely and are not a geocentricist), why God—if He loves skeptics too—didn’t literally write the 10 Commandments on the face of the Moon/in DNA/something cleverer so that there would be little question about their origin (you could claim aliens…but Occam again…), why God has no problem “sinning” by breaking several of His own commandments and committing 3+ of the “7 deadly sins,” why an all-good God would prefer the allegedly evil-causing trait of free will, why God is so intent on “character-building” and “testing” us through suffering, why a perfect God would seem to admit imperfection by rethinking his behavior, why his “perfectly crafted” organisms are far from perfect and sometimes even suicidal (e.g., cancer), why men have nipples, why an omniscient being seems to be so darn clueless about what humans are going to do (uh oh, let’s not get into determinism)—or if not that at least what they are prone to do, why Catholics can arbitrarily do away with a part of the afterlife (limbo for unbaptized children), why I’m accountable for Adam and Eve’s sins, why believing in Jesus makes just about any evil we’ve ever done cosmically A-OK but doesn’t actually help us or our victims in perceivable reality, why taking God’s name in vain is worse than unjustified torture, why there is no one, clear “true religion” considering that many religions contradict each other, and I’m certain there are dozens (or more) of other problems I’m forgetting.

It seems the simplest way to defend one's deism (or Intelligent Design, for that matter) is with a God who doesn’t love us & is entertained by suffering (and thus is not all-good) or a laissez-faire, indifferent God. Or perhaps one who is lacks omnipotence, omniscience, or infallibility. You simply can’t have it all four ways without having a hell of a lot of rationalizing to do.

Full disclosure: my most faith-like view is my acceptance of the Big Bang. I could never quite comprehend the physics well enough myself to intellectually adopt it, though many smart physicists have. I choose to trust that this is their best effort at the simplest/most plausible explanation given their knowledge and skill, but this “faith” in scientists is still based on my experience that they usually try to follow rational, evidence-based methods.

--------------------

And to build on Revenent's perspective: God already has restricted our free will if he had anything to do with creating the human brain. Again, God could have created our frontal lobe to be so influential that while we won't cease to exist if we commit evil, it just never happens.

And who cares about free will anyway? What's it good for, and how "free" is free will if your only options are "do as I say" or "burn in Hell," especially considering that evolution selects for self-preservation...

----------------------

Finally, regarding the original topic, this is an interesting take I ran across, but also consider that “God” is not His “real” name or even a translation of it. If you think intent matters and saying “God” is just as bad though, I think one’s intent not to disrespect God must also be considered.

---------------------------

G-d, I'm long-winded sometimes...