A believer explains where God was during the Aurora shootings

The recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado that killed, among 11 others, a six-year-old girl, and injured 58, should make any person question their faith.  After extensive reading of theodicy (religious justification for evil), I haven’t found one remotely convincing reason why a god who was wholly good, knowing, and powerful would allow such things to occur.  Even the theologians worry about this one, which is why the existence of undeserved evil (particularly that caused by diseases or natural forces like tsunamis) is religion’s Achilles heel.

But the faithful still try.  A particularly odious take is that of Rob Brendle, a former pastor and current author. In a post on Saturday’s CNN Belief site, Brendle justifies the Aurora massacre as perfectly consistent with a loving God. His piece, “My take: This is where God was in Aurora,” is a sad example of how no evidence, however powerful, can dissuade the faithful from their idea of a loving Father In the Sky.

Brendle, who had held the hand of a dying shooting victim in a previous incident, poses the eternal conundrum:

And back to the aching questions that accompanied those previous incidents: Why did this happen? Where was God in all of it? How could a loving God allow this?

Of course the answer for the faithful is never “God doesn’t exist” or “God isn’t loving at all; he’s indifferent” (some theologians do believe that). There are many other ways to rationalize this by making stuff up. Brendle admits that the answer isn’t easy (duh!) but offers his own anyway. It turns out to be the old “free will” defense:

The capacity to choose God and goodness came with the commensurate ability to choose evil. Is it loving to force his creation to follow his order, or to teach it and leave the creature to choose? It would seem that God came to the same conclusion that America’s founders did many millennia later: compulsory virtue is no virtue at all.

Let’s put aside the scientific evidence that we can’t really choose between good and evil; what we do is totally determined by physical events in our brain and environment.  Since most of us seem to be determinists of that stripe (or accept a soupçon of quantum indeterminacy), we reject that notion outright as incompatible with the scientific facts.  But even if one could choose freely—and some theologians counter that God could have given us a kind of free will that doesn’t permit our choices to produce evil—this doesn’t explain any of the evils that don’t result from human choice. Those include every disease that is painful, debilitating, or fatal (e.g., childhood leukemia), and all the natural evils that kill millions (tsunamis, earthquakes, etc.). Theologian Alvin Plantinga argues that the latter are part of the natural order of the earth, but an omnipotent God could let the tectonic plates slide smoothly, eliminating earthquakes and tsunamis, and obviate all the needless suffering of animals. As John Loftus notes, a good God would have made all animals vegetarians.

And you’d also have to answer why free will to choose God is such an overweening good that it trumps all the sorrows of humanity and of millions of animal species.  Why would God give us a faculty that inflicts such unspeakable suffering? Couldn’t he just let everyone go to heaven, or bypass Earth altogether and just populate heaven from the outset? Why create an Earth in the first place? Was that for God’s amusement? What kind of God would put us through tortures to ensure that we’d choose Jesus? And why didn’t he give that choice to the Maya or the Hindus?

These are the “big questions” raised by incidents like Aurora. Tellingly, religion—which parades itself as “another way of knowing”—has no answers, only speculations that insult the intelligence of any thinking person. Along those lines, Brendle suggests a few more possibilities:

The debate over this theological tension has persisted for centuries, and I don’t aim to settle it here. Let me suggest simply that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to make our decisions meaningful. Consequently, much of what happens on earth neither conforms to nor results from his preference. There are at least four influences on human events: God’s will, to be sure; but also the will of Satan, our adversary; peoples’ choices, for better or for worse; and natural law (gravity, collision, combustion, and the like).

It is difficult to know which force causes the circumstances that devastate us. But it is enough to know that God need not be responsible for them.

Satan? If God is all powerful, why can’t he get rid of Satan? God’s not responsible for the devil? Does Brendle really suggest that when your kid gets leukemia, it’s Satan’s doing? What’s the evidence for that? And if God gave us free will knowing that we’d use it to do evil, is he absolved of responsibility?

“God’s will” is a non-answer.  If we can’t know or fathom God’s will, then neither can we know that God is good, powerful, and all knowing. You can’t say that God is inscrutable in one respect but comprehensible in many others.

We’ve already dealt with “peoples’ choices,” and “natural law” is a nonstarter for an answer.  Since most of the faithful accept the occurrence of at least some miracles, or at least the possibility of a theistic, intervening God, then God can prevent some instances of natural law by making miracles.  He could, for example, have had the killer, James Eagen Holmes, have a heart attack before the shootings.  You can’t accept violations of natural law through miracles and then prevent God from performing at least some of them necessary to prevent evil.

Brendle suggests that even pondering the question of evil characterizes us Westerners as a bunch of weenies:

Much of the internal gridlock around tragedy is because suffering is foreign to us. This foreignness is peculiarly Western and modern. Most of the world, for most of the world’s history, has known tragedy and trauma in abundance.

You don’t get nearly the same consternation in Burundi or Burma, because suffering is normal to them. God and hard times coexist intuitively there. For us, though, God has become Anesthetist-in-Chief. To believe in him is to be excused from bad things. He is our panacea for the woes of life.

The God of the Bible promises no exemption from suffering. In fact, he all but promises suffering. He does not suggest that his followers won’t go through fire, but rather that we won’t burn up. Mostly he promises to be there with us, to comfort and encourage us and renew our strength. God grieves with us, and he grows us into good people in the process. . .

Where was God in Aurora? He was on the lawn in front of the Civic Building as thousands gathered in solidarity, hope, and love at a packed prayer vigil last Sunday. He was in University Hospital as neurosurgeons groped for synonyms for miraculous.

Yes, those who survived experienced God-given miracles. Pity that God withheld those miracles from the twelve who died.

And the “foreigners-don’t-question-God” answer completely sidesteps the question of “why is there evil and unnecessary suffering in the world?”  It just says that bad stuff happens and God will help us through it.  But that’s no answer: it’s like a parent allowing his little girl to get hit by a car when it could have been prevented, and then making up for it by driving the kid to the hospital and sitting by her bedside.  That’s the kind of God we’re talking about.

And really, does suffering make us into “good people”? Where’s the evidence for that? Yes, some people may say that going through a tragedy has made them better, but which parent would say he’s glad his child died of cancer because it made the parent a “better person”? That is monstrous. Are we all better because God allowed the Holocaust?  What a horrible thing to think! Only a theologian or ardent believer could accept such nonsense.

No, there’s no solution to the problem of natural evil. Charles Darwin, I suspect, finally crossed the line to nonbelief when his beloved daughter Annie died at the age of ten. Any rational person who sees things likes this happening constantly has to conclude that either God doesn’t exist, or, if he does exist, is either apathetic, weak, or malevolent. Isn’t it easier to assume the former than the latter, especially given the repeated instances of evil in our world? Natural and moral “evil” is precisely what we expect if there’s no God, but it’s counter to every Christian, Jewish, and Islamic notion of God’s nature. Therefore believers make stuff up.  Theodicy is perhaps our finest example of how humans believe what they want to believe rather than what’s true.

I’ll close with a comment on Brendle’s last paragraph sent by reader Justicar, who called my attention to this piece:

The valedictory is nauseating:

“What God our cities will see is what we show them. From the beginning, light has shone in the darkness – he ordered it that way. And the deeper the darkness, the brighter the light will appear.”

Know what else shines in the darkness? Muzzle flash.


p.s. Religion scholar Stephen Protero has collected and published a collection of 7 answers that CNN readers gave to the question “Where was God in Aurora?”


  1. Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    Wow. If I had any power to stop the killer, I would have used it. Does that make me better than god?

    • darrelle
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      Yes, but it is not difficult for a mere human being to be much better than the christian god.

      • lamacher
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink


    • Bebop
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      If you would have killed the killer, you would have certainly done something good, and by doing so, you would have also shown that good and evil don’t exist by themselves but are relative to each other. Because if good would be absolute and non-relative, how could use you use violence and obtain a good thing?

      The oriental traditions observed a long time ago that we are subjected to a dual mode of reasoning because we mainly grasp the world through opposites and its spectrum which leads us to think that it is the exclusive way things work.

      On a time/space plane like we have, you have no choice to have good and evil, for the same reasons that you have male and female, night and day, ugly and beautiful, sweet and sour or wet and dry. But they are not absolute in themselves, their value is relative to their opposite.

      So if God is truly One mind and that we are experiencing individually God’s mind from a physical, timed and so dual process, it would mean first that suffering is caused by our dual mode of perception which isn’t absolute,

      and second, that from God’s perspective, there is no such things as good and evil. These are human concepts that are caused by our dual mode of grasping.

      • DC
        Posted August 3, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        This is what most people miss. The concepts of good and evil exist only because we perceive them and interpret the events of our world and then rank them against our other experiences to determine if they are good or evil. The exact same situation can be interpreted totally opposite depending on the other experiences in your life. If a person always received only “good”, ie they got everything they wanted, if they got something good but it wasn’t as good as everything else it would be devastating to them. They would interpret that as evil.
        I have seen a 9 year old getting a brand new Bentley and he interpreted that as one of the worst things he could have happened to him because it was not painted “Spiderman” colors. I have also handed children a hot, dusty bottle of water that many children would turn their nose up at, and these children who have nothing interpret this as one of the greatest events of their life because they get to drink clean water.
        If the concept of good and evil weren’t completely relative how could getting a brand new Bentley be “evil” while getting a dirty, hot bottle of water be “good”. While I am not trying to compare getting a brand new Bentley to the shooting in Aurora, trying to use this tragedy as “evidence” for the nonexistence of God is faulted at best.
        What many fail to understand is many “scientific” theories take just as much of a leap of faith as religion does. Is it any harder to believe that God created this world or that somehow a ball of energy existed that exploded into this entire universe? Just as God created Adam a fully grown man, he created this Earth and his universe as a mature universe. He created the everything as if it had been here for a long time. We then study the things he left behind and attempt to understand them, but there are constantly inconsistencies and gaps that force us to continue revising our understanding of the Universe.

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Geri’s the worst of the collection by Steven Prothero, the apologist:

    4. God was behind the massacre, and it was just.

    Some believers saw God’s righteous hand in the Aurora massacre, inflicting a just punishment on a wayward nation now run by secular liberals rather than conservative Christians.

    These are the mentally disturbed people, many of them uneducated and done of them willfully ignorant due to their religious brainwashing.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:31 am | Permalink

      Geri’s -> spell check fail for “Here’s”

    • lamacher
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      After the tower shooting incident at the U of Texas, many years ago, one of these bozos was recorded as saying “God must have blinked. God is allowed to blink, you know.” No, he isn’t. He’s God, you know.

  3. Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    Great piece. To bad there’s no logic that deep faith is immune to.

  4. cubswin84
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    God consistently reveals itself as a megalomaniacal puppeteer – no more, no less.

    • Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      Indeed. In my e-mail to Jerry, I took exception to the pastor’s exculpation of his god: “Where was God in Aurora? He was on the lawn in front of the Civic Building as thousands gathered in solidarity, hope, and love at a packed prayer vigil last Sunday. He was in University Hospital as neurosurgeons groped for synonyms for miraculous.”

      I wrote, in a more condensed version, “So, where was god [when not at the theater]? The hospital to miraculously guide the hand of a surgeon whose ministrations we now know weren’t adequate in some cases and needed the divine assistance? Perhaps the shooter’s apartment keeping the bombs from exploding and killing more innocent people going about their lives?

      No. He was hanging out at the local civic center commiserating with the survivors and their families, conveniently embedding himself in their compassion, and standing with them as a show of solidarity. . . .He certainly knew it was coming and elected to head to the town square to let it happen so that people could come groveling to him in its wake. He was, in other words, letting his flock know once again that he made us and he will break us lest we not forget that we are his plaything.”

      • rmw
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        Amen, as it were. Why was god in the town square, and not the theater? Why didn’t he jam Holmes’s guns and why did he let Holmes “choose” to be evil in the first place, if god is all-knowing? Why did kill 12 people, including a child? Why did he let her mother miscarry her pregnancy and end up paralyzed? What the hell sort of “loving” god lets all that happen, and then says “I’m with you in your time of grief, even though I could’ve prevented it all from happening.” And finally, why would anybody worship, let alone believe in, a god like that?

        • Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

          Well, the issue of belief in such a deity is different than the worship of such a deity. I could be persuaded that an evil god existed provided the level of evidence sufficient to compensate for the strangeness of the claim were to be had. I could never be persuaded to worship such a creature.

          Since the question almost can’t not come up, I’ll go ahead and dispatch it in advance: yes, I could be tortured to such an extent that I’d say the words such a god wanted to hear, “I worship you” or whatever. Making the words a true reflection of what I think, however, is an entirely different affair.

          • lisa
            Posted July 31, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

            Just why would a being of such power and magnitude give any frick whether you worshiped It or not, much less bother with coercion or torture? I would imagine It’s a busy Guy; why would you be more important than anyone else with petitions (or demands, really),especially those who do believe? So just Who are you? Perhaps not up there with the lilies of the field or birds of the air? If you refuse to acknowledge It’s existence, just how close to the beginning of the line do you think you should be? Better take a number

  5. TJR
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    So, God spends large chunks of the Old Testament giving precise and detailed orders for food preparation and various rituals etc etc, but he can’t intervene in mass murder because of free will?

    • lisa
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      I think you have It confused with Moses and Aron.

  6. daveau
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    If you have to apologize for your god, it’s not much of a god.

    Do we have any breakdown of the victims’ religions? They can’t all be xian. Maybe god spared a bunch of Muslins or Hindudes or something.

    • lisa
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

      If Gog is real, would it not be extremely presumptuous to think you should need to apologize for It? Religions invent their own gods, so shouldn’t they have called a meeting and at least drawn straws to determine the percentages of each faith were there and injured or killed?

  7. Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Are we forgetting the caustic, all-encompassing fortitude of Nurgle?

  8. Ludo
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    From the point of view of a believer in a monotheistic deity, would it not be most logical to assume that God and Satan are one and the same deity? Would that not explain a lot?

    • Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Doctor God and Mister Satan? Then why does he keep taking the potion?

      • lisa
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

        Have you forgotten that by the end of the book, the good doctor needed to take the potion? By then the changes were no longer dependent on the potion and not under the good doctors control.

  9. Tulse
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    God could have given us a kind of free will that doesn’t permit our choices to produce evil

    Is there evil in heaven? Is there free will? Presumably the answer to those is “no” and “yes”, which makes it “proof” that the Christian god could indeed give us evil-free free will.

    As John Loftus notes, a good God would have made all animals vegetarians.

    And as a fundie would say, he did when he made the Garden of Eden — that’s where we get the Creation Museum’s display of tyrannosaurs eating coconuts. It is only “post-Fall” that animals allegedly became carnivorous. Why the animals had to suffer for a person’s failing is left unexplained.

    some people may say that going through a tragedy has made them better, but which parent would say he’s glad his child died of cancer because it made the parent a “better person”? That is monstrous. Are we all better because God allowed the Holocaust? What a horrible thing to think!

    Francis Collins: “In my case, I can see, albeit dimly, that my daughter’s rape was a challenge for me to try to learn the real meaning of forgiveness in a terribly wrenching circumstance.”

    If we can’t know or fathom God’s will, then neither can we know that God is good, powerful, and all knowing. You can’t say that God is inscrutable in one respect but comprehensible in many others.

    I don’t think this point can be made often enough. If the Christian god’s ways are impenetrable to humans, then how do you know he isn’t actually Cthulhu? A god that is beyond human comprehension can’t also be warm and cuddly and loving (or at least you can’t know that he/she/they/it are). If your god’s ways are not man’s ways, how do you even know his ways are good, or concerned with man at all?

    • ForCarl
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      Well apparently “the Fall” turned God into a carnivore too because he preferred Abel’s animal sacrifice over Cain’s veggie one, thus causing the world’s first murder. Do you think God confessed his sinful part in all that?

    • eric
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Another counter-argument to the free will argument is, basically: Satan had both free will and knowledge of God. So did Adam. So did Eve. So did many of the old testament prophets.

      So its clearly possible for us to have both. The argument that God can’t intervene directly because it would compromise our free will is refuted by the bible and Christian teaching itself, as there are numerous examples of people who exercise their free will in response to God’s intervention.

      • Sastra
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Yes, their own analogy counts against them. If God is like a father and we are like his children, does that mean that fathers who are clearly seen and known by their children can’t “really” be loved? The children don’t have the option of believing they are orphans … Daddy just too obviously exists. Therefore, love for him is forced — compelled by evidence — and perforce must be superficial. It only counts if there’s some sort of paranormal intuition going on with a loved one who is — and has always been — hiding.

        And, of course, a father who overtly gives explicit instructions on what he wants done can’t “really” be obeyed or ignored. If you want the kind of obedience which counts, give vague commands open to many interpretations, and make it seem as if they’re coming from a lot of different people. That way, whatever a child does must be guided by a choice-making ability which, again, operates on the supernatural level.

        God apparently wants followers who are made in His image: they have supernatural abilities, too.

        • Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink


          The ideal would appear to be if Daddy is gone but there is a babysitter around who can tell you what Daddy says you must do and tell Daddy whether you’ve been bad and that Daddy could walk through the door any minute and give you the whupping you deserve.

          Also, the babysitter doesn’t stop babysitting you when you grow up. Sorry. Daddy’s orders.

    • Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      Is there evil in heaven? I have to dissent with the ‘no’ conclusion. If the god of Abraham is up there, then evil definitely exists in heaven.

  10. DrDroid
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    How hard it must be to rationalize away the correct answer — there ain’t no God.

    Another recent post by Stephen Prothero had an even more revolting statement:

    “I was not raised a Catholic, but in my youth I admired the Roman Catholic Church for taking clear stands on the major moral issues of our time – on abortion and war and poverty and capital punishment. I have watched with both sadness and horror as this venerable institution has squandered the moral capital it accrued over centuries in a misguided and un-Christian attempt to wish away a problem that was staring it in its face for decades.”


    “Moral capital”??!! What moral capitol?! The Catholic Church is morally bankrupt!

  11. Another Matt
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    it’s like a parent allowing his little girl to get hit by a car when it could have been prevented, and then making up for it by driving the kid to the hospital and sitting by her bedside.

    I hate to keep needling on statements like this, because I agree with almost all of this post, and these are points that need to be raised again and again.

    But… I have a hard time understanding how “could have been prevented” fits with Jerry’s views.

    • Tulse
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      The issue is how it fits with the views of the religious, since they do believe in free will. Or are you saying that such folks would not think it monstrous for a parent to knowingly allow their child to be injured?

      • Another Matt
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        I’m pointing to the limited rhetorical impact of the analogy — that is if, in the final analysis, “could have been prevented” is nonsense under any definition of that phrase Jerry is willing to permit.

        • Tulse
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

          And I’m pointing out that the issue is the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the believer’s positions. What Jerry believes is, in this case, irrelevant to whether the religious view is consistent.

          • Another Matt
            Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

            I’m not sure I agree. As far as human action is concerned, the word “prevent” never applicable according to the view Jerry has expressed on free will in the past. The “prevention” concept is a bit of metaphysical nonsense.

            So why apply it at all? Why not just (rightly) take theist claims about god(s) to task without referring tangentially to human capabilities he doesn’t think exist? His rhetorical point is totally lost in this context.

            • Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

              Not so much. Jerry’s argument on the issue of free will deals with libertarian free will; namely, that we do not make decisions independently of physical laws. Our thoughts and decisions flow inexorably from some antecedent state. We are limited this way because we’re material objects, with material brains that operate on material laws.

              A god that can perform miracles by definition wouldn’t have such a constraint; it is able to operate independently of physical laws. Certainly, if such a being can perform magic in contravention of physical laws and processes for other people, it would surely be able to operate at least equally independently of said laws with respect to the decisions it makes for itself . . . Unless there’s some kind of rule of immune-to-the-laws-physics-beings operate on that constrains the ability with respect to one’s own decisions. Do you propose such a rule?

              Until Jerry starts arguing that either a.) everyone agrees with his position on libertarian free will with respect to humans, or b.) that even miracle-working magic universe creating wizards of holy scriptures are similarly constrained by the laws of physics with respect to thinking (unembodied thinking devices subject to libertarian concerns? lol? but not subject to needing a physical brain to do the thinking? lol), his rhetorical point remains well-aimed. All of the explaining to be done as to why a being that has pure free will evaluates all of the data and then decides to let certain people be killed while preventing others from being killed. Remember, Jerry’s point also accompanied the supposed divine intervention that spared a few lives . . .

              • Another Matt
                Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I get all this, and I quite agree when it comes to a god. I just don’t think using something like a human “failing to prevent a tragedy” as an analogy for a god’s similar failure is going to work if “failing to prevent” is not a category of activity you let others apply to humans in other contexts.

              • Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:25 am | Permalink

                “I just don’t think using something like a human . . .”

                It is a viable rhetorical device if the target of it is a group of people who believe the underlying framework exists. If it exists, AND if a parent knows his/her child is about to be seriously injured or killed, AND if the parent has the ability to prevent the harm/death, AND if the parent has the time within which to act, THEN . . .

                Even on far less than that, I hasten to note, we turn up our noses at parents who fail to reasonably intervene to protect their children even in the absence of libertarian freewill. Certainly, if one is to grant that level of freewill, the opprobrium is magnified. And further again magnified if instead of taking reasonable precautions against the harm, the parent elects not to take exigent action in a situation even we non-libertarians would do for complete strangers . . .

                I do not think your objection, as I said, is really much of one. At least not one that is taking into account the fullness of the construct.

    • Another Matt
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      To be fair, though, I might be ascribing to Jerry beliefs that I have only see his readers argue for in the free will threads. Perhaps he’s willing to allow some compatibilist concepts like “prevent,” “avoid,” “forgo,” “advantage,” and so forth unproblematically in his own discourse.

  12. Ken Pidcock
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    It is difficult to know which force causes the circumstances that devastate us. But it is enough to know that God need not be responsible for them.

    No, it is convenient to know…

  13. Greg Esres
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    “It turns out to be the old “free will” defense:”

    An omniscient god will always know which people will choose evil, so he doesn’t need to allow them to act out their desires on the world stage. Think “Minority Report”.

  14. Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    I think the first time I was introduced to the word, or at least that I remember, was on this site and I thought it was a portmanteau of theology and idiocy. It seems like a much more appropriate explanation of the term to me.

  15. ForCarl
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Gee Jerry… I had a christian friend of mine tell me the simple answer as to why this and Columbine occurred- it’s because we forced God out of the public schools.

    Problem solved!

    PS- my reply to the “friend” changed our friendship status. Oh well…

    • raven
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      it’s because we forced God out of the public schools.

      Pretty weak god there.

      Wingnut: Our god is the all powerful creator of the Universe. God can do anything.

      So what is he doing now?

      Wingnut: He’s hiding from the liberals, secularists, atheists, astronomers, and biologists.

    • raven
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      In the xian creation myth, god kicked the first two humans out of Eden because he was afraid of them. For the same reason, he destroyed the Tower at Babel.

      And the gods are right to be afraid of humans.

      When we stop believing in them, then they die.

      • ForCarl
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        “Gods are such fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense.” Chapman Cohen

      • Bebop
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

        Afraid of them? I would say it has more to do with being aware of good and evil. You can’t stay in paradise and split things into bad and good categories. In buddhism, nirvana, is more a state than a place, and that state is reached when you stop grasping the world through opposites, which happens when you reach an egoless state of mind.

    • Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps your erstwhile friend would like to consider the case of other countries like Turkey and China? They have excluded Jehovah from (most) schools for quite some time and are doing just fine.

      • lamacher
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, but they’re not the ‘chosen’, exceptional people like we are.

  16. David T.
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    In one of Plantina’s books he attributes natural disasters to demons…..this is why I don’t have time to believe. Could god not stop demons?

    • raven
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      Plantinga is an idiot.

      Supposedly he is one of the best theologians around and everything he writes is silly and stupid.

  17. Jeremy Nel
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Another thing about the “free will defence”, to add to the numerous problems already outlined in Jerry’s post, is that there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason why God couldn’t grant you free will AND protect other innocents from the evil consequences thereof.

    Remember: God is supposedly omnipotent. If he values free will so much, why couldn’t he (for instance) have (1) allowed James Holmes to make up his mind to shoot the people, and then (2) stop him from doing it?

    • Kevin
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      …or make the gun jam at the first pull of the trigger.
      …or make the bullets disappear into thin air before hurting anyone.
      …or magically transporting everyone out of the theater just before the mahem started.

      The only ‘miracles’ that happen now adays are of the ‘miracle of incomplete devastation’ type.

      • Vaal
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        I don’t think the rebuttals which depict God stopping people once they have made up their mind, or making bullets magically disappear are not as promising as they look.

        They start with granting-for-argument that people making choices to do evil is necessary for morally significant free will.
        Then you start talking about “Ok, but once people have made the choice, God can stop the actions from actually occurring.”

        But for this to make sense God’s interference would occur regularly. For if God only stopped evil acts sometimes, you’d still be left with the same dilemma asking “Well why didn’t God stop it the other times?” In which case you haven’t shown a good solution to the problem, while granting what you’ve granted to the Christian.

        But then, if God always intervened so that evil actions were never fulfilled, because he stopped them, then why would anyone think they COULD choose to do evil? We see it never happens: God won’t let it. It would pretty quickly cease to be a live option, both practically and in our deliberations.
        And if we know that evil actions are not actual options, then it makes no sense that the option-to-choose-evil would play a role in the moral significance of our choices.

        So these replies seem to grant the Christian too much, and then they don’t really solve the problem you’ve set up.


        • Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

          Your contribution here seems to overlook an important data set. In particular, you ask, “But then, if God always intervened so that evil actions were never fulfilled, because he stopped them, then why would anyone think they COULD choose to do evil?”

          Since when did it become the case that what actually obtains as a real consequence of one’s actions became a necessary constraint on what people believe? People buy lottery tickets by the million, but half of the US still fails to accept the truth of evolution, and who knows how many think climate change is a hoax.

          All that seems to be necessary to allow for is that some remote telling of an event that had ill-consequences exists and your dilemma is solved. Even if said isn’t confirmed to have happened – look at what passes for UFO believers to assent to the belief that UFOs are extra-terrestrial visitors who like to anally probe farmers and slaughter the occasional cow. Not a shred of evidence to suggest this and millions of people believe it.

          The stories in the bible, even when known to be false, are still cited by believers as accurate history. These stories alone would be sufficient to warrant the belief that one has the free will to both intend to do an evil thing, and then to follow through with it. And it would be entirely rational when compared against UFO believers, or talking snake believers.

      • Vaal
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        I prefer to undermine the very value God would be putting on free will, by pointing out how inconsistent it is with how we reason morally everywhere else. We don’t, in fact, think the free will of people to do evil trumps all; it is actually considered a moral virtue to STOP people doing evil when it is possible for us to do so. Failure to do so is often held to be a moral failure, as even Christians will argue. After all, we have laws, police and people in prison for a reason. We don’t think it’s better to allow a rapist to fulfill his desire to rape, free-willed or not!

        But we are suddenly asked to accept special pleading on God’s behalf, where his inaction is supposed to be morally exemplary. No. No dice there.

        Then there’s the issue many have pointed out that the Biblical God does not value free will in the say Christians say he does. Further, in the Bible God continually intervenes in ways Christians now say He can not do without violating this valuable “free will.”

        Then there’s the Problem Of Heaven in which many Christians have already accepted a realm of existence wherein a lack of sinning co-exists with free will.

        I also like to point out that even when it comes to God’s creation, humans, God as the author of human nature could have made humans inclined, or more inclined, to choose The Good over evil actions, without violating free will. If this were not the case, then every time a person whose nature
        inclined her to choose a good act where an evil act was possible, it would mean she did not have free will. But no one including Christians think that people who have been inclined to choose good over evil requires them to be creatures without morally significant free will.

        In fact, they’ve already accepted the existence of an All Good Being, God, in which free will co-exists with always-choosing-the-good. Making a hash of their logical necessity argument.

        The objections go on and on…


      • Filippo
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

        Several Dawkins quoted Pope John Paul II, words to the effect that The Holy Spirit (?) deflected the bullet (in the 1981 assassination attempt on the pope).

        Dawkins commented to the effect of wondering why The Holy Spirit did not cause the bullet to miss altogether.

        • Filippo
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

          “Several” as in “Several years ago.”

  18. Hempenstein
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    The free will postulate exists only to counter occurrences like this one. Therefore it is a specious argument and need not be dealt with further.

    Meanwhile, the preachers will be back in their pulpits intoning “God loves you, watches over and protects you,” just as soon as each of their flock’s amnesia has yet again set in.

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    This is when the humanist cry for reason and science shines brightly, because it is when theology becomes most idiotic. The only proper religious response to the Aurora shootings is silence.

    The fellow who said that in the ancient world pain was as normal as death and taxes has a point, but I don’t see why our achievements at alleviating it through science should be sneered at.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      When surgical anesthesia was first developed, there was a fairly loud and concerted objection to it being used during childbirth.

      Because the bible said that god increased women’s pain during labor as a punishment for eating the apple. And easing that pain would be a direct contravention of god’s will.

  20. Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Brendle’s excuses were expected. However, his attempts to invoke “free will”, the ol’ “but virtue isn’t virtue without it” fail as soon as one actually reads the bible and doesn’t listen to pastors. This god of Brendle’s has no problem with interfering with humans all through the Bible, constantly eliminating any glimpse of free will. The bible also says that an intent is just as bad as the act. So, this god again can interfer with no problems with the act, and indeed if it were real, and good as I understand good (and per this bible, I understand it as well as this god), it can stop wannabee murderers with no problem at all. So, poor Brendle, is left with more lies told to his flock to excuse his god, his bible and his desperate desire to ignore both.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Indeed! I remember how God repeatedly “Hardened Pharaoh’s heart” when Moses asked him to let the Jews leave. Pharaoh was inclined to do so until God interfered with his free will. Things like this are constantly occurring throughout the Old Testament.

      • Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        …and Jesus had no problem interfering with Thomas’s free will of whether or not to believe that the apparition before him was the Risen Christ. Indeed, Jesus insisted that Thomas soothe his doubts by soothing Jesus’s spleen through the spear wound in his side.

        So, we are to have faith in Jesus because Thomas didn’t until he got to squick him, but we’re not only not even granted a booming voice from the heavens, but Jesus cowers in terror rather than use his super-powers to save innocents from madmen lest somebody glimpse him and discover that he’s really real and really powerful?

        Puh-leeze. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” indeed.


        • suwise3
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          Every Superhero needs an ArchVillain. God created Satan to be Joker to his Batman. (or whatever…)

          • Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

            hmmm, well, I always thought that Batman was ahem bat-shit crazy and did indeed create his villians. I mean, where does the Joker get the money? Makes much more sense with a god working hand in hand with the debbil 🙂

        • Kevin
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

          No curtain, either.

          • Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

            And not even any neat overamplified steampunk monstrosity with fireworks, too. Just burnt toast, leaky pipes, and X-rated tree trunks.


    • DV
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Silly, Brendle doesn’t believe those parts of the bible are literally true.

  21. coconnor1017
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    The pastor says he believes god gave us reason as a reply to the problem of evil but then offers explanation that isn’t reasonable. He doesn’t argue from his premise. He waves his hands and uses rhetoric to appeal to emotions. It is this type of communication that made me question my religious belief and ultimately made me leave. The problem became clear when I went to a church with an unskilled rhetorician pastor and the lack of reason is clear.

  22. MAUCH
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Using a twist on philosopher David Hume’s dictum. When the possibility that god simply doesn’t exist is far more plausible than the explanations for god’s indifference or malevolence we should go with the prior assumption. Why do most people not come to that conclustion? It must be something I don’t understand.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Inertia, investment, peer pressure, tribalism, pride, angst regarding oblivion, authoritarianism, selfishness.

      • Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        It’s simpler than that. Much simpler.

        Power and profit.

        The sheep get fleeced in exchange for a soothing voice telling them they need not worry about the shepherd’s dog nipping at their heels nor the bleating of the lambs being slaughtered on the other side of the hill. And the sheep are so desperate to be soothed that they’d rather listen to the shepherd’s voice than the sound of the shears or the sharpening stone.



        • darrelle
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

          Hah! Is the glass half empty today?

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          As long as you subsume right-wing politics, self-satisfied consumerism, blaming the victim, and willful ignorance under the categories of power and profit, I’m with you. If not, I’ll have to insist that they be added as reasons to accept the existence of this particular god.

          • Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

            Yes, those are all either examples of profit or exercises of power or stepping stones to either.


      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        Christians truly believe that there is no moral virtue apart from faith. They may find it difficult to believe the things they claim, and incidents such as this make it that much more difficult, but they are convinced that belief in God is the only thing preventing our descent into savagery. Or more accurately, for believers in belief, is the only thing that prevents our social inferiors from descending into savagery.

      • Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        greed, fear

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

          Willful ignorance.


    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      I think that just as the parts of us that dispose of personal waste are weirdly also used for sexual reproduction, similarly humans are saddled with the parts of our minds/brains that deals with real questions about morality and spirituality are very closely linked with the parts of the brain that encourages magic and superstition.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      I think most people fail to come to the most reasonable conclusion here because nature and nurture has combined to encourage the belief that “the existence of God” is NOT a hypothesis. You don’t evaluate it or analyze it to see if it’s true, or makes sense, or is consistent with the claims that are derived from it. You don’t measure it against alternative explanations.

      “God” is a person. You either choose to trust Him, or you don’t. You aren’t coming to a conclusion; you are living up to a moral standard.

      Category error.

      Theodicy is one of the divine arts of category error. Pretend you’re trying to come up with reasons why someone you love and KNOW is good seems to have done something wrong. The more creative the excuses, the more you are to be commended — the greater your love and devotion must be.

      What compels most of these people, I think, is the quality of loyalty. It’s twisted and confused; a virtue misplaced.

  23. DV
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    >>Let’s put aside the scientific evidence that we can’t really choose between good and evil

    That’s a big claim. I think the “evidence” merely suggests that we have a problem wrapping our heads around the ideas of consciousness, determinism, and definitions of words.

    To say we don’t really have a “choice” between good and evil, does not help the argument against the theists. If there is no such thing as choice, then good and evil is meaningless. To be able to make a comparative value judgment between good and evil implies preference and will, which would be meaningless if we are just helplessly watching the movie of our lives unfold.

  24. DV
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    The old “free will” defense actually raises a bigger problem.

    Did God’s will coincide with the murderer’s will? If yes, then God is just as evil as the murderer. If no, then God was powerless in making his will prevail over the contrary will of the murderer.

    • coconnor1017
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      The pastor makes a category error when he seeks the free will defense. If Holmes (as the evidence seems to suggest) is a person with schizophrenia then this event is the evidential (evil from unavoidable natural disaster) not classical (evil from personal volition) problem of evil, and the free will defense doesn’t work.

  25. raven
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Satan? If God is all powerful, why can’t he get rid of Satan?

    Why should god control satan?

    God is the all powerful creator of everything. God created satan and the demons and lets them run around doing whatever they do.

    Satan and the demons are god’s agents in the universe, simple as that.

    It’s not like we humans can’t screw things up without supernatural help. Thanks god!!!

    • raven
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      If you try to unpack and make sense of xian mythology, you can’t do it.

      It simply doesn’t make sense. Logical fallacies and contradictions pop up right and left and are nearly endless.

      The intellectual basis of xianity didn’t collapse. It never existed in the first place. It’s all just let’s pretend and make believe.

      • Sastra
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        Yes. I think their story-telling tendency conflicts with their High Metaphysics. God is just like the hero who stands by your side and fights against evil … an evil which was planned in advance from His perfect Will.

        Suffering matters and it doesn’t matter. Everything happens exactly the way God wants it to happen — and God then cries about it in frustration as it happens. There’s so much internal inconsistency there you’d expect them to get whiplash.

  26. no name
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    why do atheist question the existence of something they believe do not exist, that’s is much more absurd…why is it that most of the time they are arguing about something that doesn’t exist to them that’s foolishness…If something doesn’t exist there would be no talking about it cos its not there …

    • Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      ah, the lovely anonymous Christian who makes such a poor agrument. Sorry, dear but atheists discuss and question the actions and beliefs of theists because they have very real world consequences. Your little attempt to try to claim we shouldn’t discuss such things is amusing and amounts to no more than a desperate plea to not demonstrate your religion to be the dangerous nonsense it is.

    • raven
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      We don’t give a rat’s ass about mythological creatures out of fiction books.

      It’s their followers that cause us and everyone problems. People like you.

      Unlike the xian Sky Fairy, xians themselves are…real. And the fundies are a huge drag on our society.

    • raven
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      dumb xian:

      If something doesn’t exist there would be no talking about it cos its not there …

      We don’t spend much time talking about the Loch Ness monster, ghosts, vampires, Zombies, and Bigfoot.

      That is because their followers aren’t threatening to kill us and trying to destroy our society.

      If the xians would just stay under their rocks, while oppressing their women and children, and telling lies to each other, No one would care. But they can’t do that. I guess it gets boring just ruining the lives of their own cult members.

      • Another Matt
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        I care very deeply that they oppress “their” women and children.

    • Marta
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      You are not making any sense.

      People talk about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny ALL THE TIME. Are you saying that those exist because people talk about them?

      I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you’re under the age of ten. Otherwise, this might be the dumbest argument I’ve ever seen submitted as evidence for God’s existence.

      • raven
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        Don’t forget the UFO aliens.

        Or supply side economics.

        Shakespeare’s plays.

        Harry Potter.

        Star Wars

        Star Trek

        Batman, Superman, Thor, the Avengers, The X-men.

        A lot of what humans discuss is from fiction.

  27. Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    All this retoric about religion can be explained in simple terms. Our vanity tells us that we must not die and never exist anymore. So comes the old invention bit. Voltair was right; if there was no god, we would invent one. Matter of fact, we invented a lot of them. Go down moses.

    • Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      @Leon Martin – You’re almost correct. You left out the power trip aspect of religion. Pharaoh’s, Kings, etc., either divine themselves or rule as the representative of divinity.

  28. geoffboulton
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Is there free will in heaven? If so, then, given the standard definition of heaven, it is possible for free will and a blissful ‘life’ to coexist. Whatever conditions would be necessary to make this work in heaven could be equally be created on Earth.

    Or, maybe there isn’t free will in heaven and you just become a mindless zombie just following orders (again!)?

  29. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Where was “God” at Aurora? Same place as Santa Claus: getting ready for upcoming December 25th.

    Imaginary beings only appear where they are supposed to appear. And “God” never makes an appearance on the natural earth, any more than Neptune makes an appearance in Timbuktu.

  30. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Where was God in Aurora? Only our current, self-deceiving media could even worry about this type of question in light of history.

    Consider this question re the German-Russian War of 1941 to 1945. There was an AVERAGE of 27,000 DEATHS per DAY, continuously, for 1400 DAYS!

    That is indescribably staggering! Answer that!

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Update: Got my numbers (the staggering numbers) wrong. It was 17,800 dead per day, not 27,000 dead per day, for 1400 days. Average per day, every day, for 1400 days.

      That, readers, is 25 MILLION people killed (and it was possibly more) killed, by killing each other.

      Where was “God’s Love” of man??

      This YouTube video (source of the number) is beyond sobering:

      • lamacher
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        Well now. As Stalin is reported to have said:
        “The death of one person is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic.”

  31. Gareth Price
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    “He does not suggest that his followers won’t go through fire, but rather that we won’t burn up.”

    I never really understand this sort of response (or any of the above really). Short of committing suicide which would presumably be considered burning up, you could be suffering terribly and someone could claim that god is there supporting you and keeping you going. It is a totally empty claim and just insulting to people who are suffering.

    Regarding suffering making us better people: many people suffer for a long time in mundane ways which depress them or stress them or grind them down. I read somewhere – although I don’t know if there is evidence for this – that happy, contented people tend to be more generous, helpful etc towards other people.

    • Vaal
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink


      And Brendle claimed: “Mostly he promises to be there with us, to comfort and encourage us and renew our strength.”

      Then we can know this God does not exist, or at least does not hold his promises. Because we know a great many people suffering have NOT been given comfort and strength by God. And not only non-believers in terrible situations; the suffering of many a Christian has been if anything exacerbated by feeling they have been abandoned by God at precisely the time they most needed comfort and their strength and faith renewed. Mother Teresa being only one of many examples – it is not for nothing that Christians often have to deal with crises in faith brought on by suffering and the agonizing questions of why God doesn’t seem to be doing anything.


    • Sastra
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      The belief that God helps people get through crises is unfalsifiable, because stories to the contrary are always interpreted as a failure to commit to God.

      The smugness bothers me. When people go through a crisis they often look for some special reason they got through: “I couldn’t have done it without (my sister; my support network; my hobby to take my mind off it.”) Usually, they understand that people without sisters/support networks/hobbies ALSO “get through” things, too.

      Until they come to religion. They seem to honestly think that if they were not religious they would have melted, imploded, or fallen apart because there is no alternative. It’s part of the fear of atheism: you lose your ability to hope and recover, on any level.

      • Vaal
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        Well…yes and no.

        One presumes some standard of rational, reasonable interpretation if they are actually offering arguments.

        Take Ted’s claim: “My dog will birth a kitten tomorrow.” Of course it turns out the dog births a baby dog. Ted *could* interpret the puppy as a kitten and in that trivial sense make the claim unfalsifiable.
        But the reasonableness of interpreting a puppy as a kitten wouldn’t hold up to rational scrutiny. Similarly, insofar as a Christian wants to claim they are producing a reasonable, rational argument, they have to play by those rules.

        People who have suffered terribly, have been desperate for God’s comfort, and yet received no detectable alleviation physically or psychologically, are quite within their rational rights to say “Sorry, but you aren’t going to tell me I wasn’t sincerely seeking God.”

        Any outside observer can also conclude this: that it is simply not believable that in a great many cases we should think people were failing to commit to God, or were lacking in sincerity.”

        And, further, that if at the greatest moments of suffering the most sincere requests for God’s amelioration were not enough for Him to act on His promise, then it is not reasonable to think we are talking of a good or compassionate God.

        So, I don’t think it’s so easy for Christians to introduce unfalsifiability into these claims. What a Christian will tend to do is different from whether they are making compelling arguments.


        • Sastra
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          I agree, and should have put my objection more carefully. The hypothesis that “God is Good” is, by reasonable standards, falsifiable. I was complaining about the immunizing strategies.

  32. Willy-Wonka
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    If G-d could allow 6 million human beings to be annihilated in the Holocaust, if G-d could tolerate 55 million deaths in the Second World War, then what’s 12 deaths in a movie theatre? Why would they matter in the overall scheme of things?

    G-d did not “turn away from” America or the victims of the shootings. G-d did not “cause” the shooter to kill anyone. G-d did not “lift his protective hand” from the victims in Coloorado. G-d did not “allow” millions of Jews to be slaughtered in order to “teach them” any “lessons”.

    Man is imperfect, Man is flawed, Man makes mistakes.

    Perhaps the biggest mistake anyone could have made was in America, where someone apparently decided that it was perfectly fine to sell the civilian version of an M16A2 (the automatic weapon which was issued to US troops in Vietnam and which fired 400+ rounds per minute in full-auto fire mode) to a man who turned out to be horrifically mentally ill and homicidal. After all, “what could POSSIBLY go wrong” with that one? Whose brilliant idea was THAT one?

    Leave G-d out of this. Men commit horrific killings, not G-d.

    • Vaal
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Boy Willy-Wonka, you sure know a lot about God. How is that? Some advantage one fictitious character has in knowing another? 😉

      “Leave G-d out of this. Men commit horrific killings, not G-d.”

      I guess you aren’t talking about the Biblical God then, who does indeed kill a great many people horrifically. (But then…where do you get your knowledge about what God does?).

      You seem to think it is silly to talk of God’s moral culpability or responsibility for inaction in the face of human evil.


      I presume that if the principle of your child’s school watched passively as the children were systematically abused, doing nothing when he could have been part of stopping it, you would be outraged. Like anyone else, you’d expect a good principle to have acted to prevent the suffering of the children if he could.

      What if someone argued: “It was the teachers doing the abusing not the principle. There is no reason to criticize the inaction of the principle!”

      You would recognize that as ridiculous; which is why we recognize your call to stop criticizing God’s inaction as ridiculous.


      • Willy-Wonka
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        RE: “(But then…where do you get your knowledge about what God does?).”

        From the same choices of Holy Books that everyone else can choose from.

        RE: “You would recognize that as ridiculous; which is why we recognize your call to stop criticizing God’s inaction as ridiculous.”

        You create a child where no child previously existed. You raise that child with love and compassion and discipline where needed. You teach that child a moral code to live by, give that child the power to reasona nd understand, help guide that child to do the right thing.

        And then, at some point, you set that child free to live on their own in the world, to make their own choices, to be individually responsible.

        If that child should then commit some horrific act, possibly kill someone, who do you blame: The Creator (Parent), or the Creation (Child)? Whom do you choose to hold accountable?

        • Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          RE: “(But then…where do you get your knowledge about what God does?).”

          From the same choices of Holy Books that everyone else can choose from.

          What, you mean the one that opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry giant? The same one that includes a talking plant that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero? That also ends with an utterly bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy involving fondling the king zombie’s intestines through a gaping chest wound?

          You actually read those “Holy Books” and came away with the conclusion that they’re something more than really bad Iron-Age fantasy, and not very healthy fantasies at that?

          As to your parable of a child…let me offer you another view.

          A world-renowned emergency room surgeon is driving to his weekend home one Friday afternoon in his convertible to join his family. It’s a long and lonely twisty mountain road out in the middle of nowhere. Up ahead, he spies a bright yellow motorcycle wrapped around a tree. He keeps going, and another hundred feet down the road, off in a ditch, he catches sight of a figure in leathers wearing a hot pink helmet, with long blonde hair trailing from underneath the helmet, and what hair isn’t blowing in the wind is stuck in a growing dark pool oozing from underneath the figure.

          The surgeon not only doesn’t stop to help the motorcyclist, he not only doesn’t call 911, he doesn’t even bother to slow down as he sees the figure feebly twitching out of the corner of his eye. When he reaches the cabin, he says nothing of what he saw to his wife who’s there waiting for him.

          His daughter, who was on her way to join the family this weekend, is a young blonde who rides a bright yellow motorcycle and wears a pink helmet.



          • Willy-Wonka
            Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

            Did it occur to to you that maybe the reason he didn’t stop was because he was singlemindedly on his way to save the lives of 20 other people, and that he can’t be everywhere at once?

            If you want to engage in a crusade of your own against the idea of a Creator, be my guest. Why you would care about what if any deity I choose to believe in is beyond me. The bottom line is that neither you nor I will ever know until we potentially meet that Creator face-to-face, at which point it will be a little late for either of us to come back and argue about it.

            • Sastra
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

              Ah, so the subject of God, religion, and the nature of reality is a silly, fluffy little subject. You simply can’t imagine why anyone would care about any of it!

              Don’t be disingenuous. If you can’t look at the problems with your theory without whining about how mean it is that people want to argue about such a private little personal quirk, then the problem is probably with your theory. Not with us.

              Take it seriously. We do. Examine it carefully. This isn’t about you.

              • Willy-Wonka
                Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                You are the one who created the “Imagine that a world-renowned emergency room surgeon is driving to his weekend home one Friday afternoon in his convertible to join his family” hypothetical situation. Not my problem if your scenario doesn;t hold up under questioning or stand up to the possibility of alternative outcomes. I’m not here to validate your scenarios.

              • Sastra
                Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

                Well, that wasn’t my scenario, but the “world renowned surgeon” does not have supernatural powers. S/he certainly doesn’t have the power to be in all places at once. So your objection to the analogy doesn’t hold. We must assume the surgeon drove by on purpose.

            • Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

              So your all-powerful imaginary friend who created Life, the Universe, and Everything in under a week, later flooded the planet, and who got his rocks off by waging unrestricted biochemical warfare upon ancient Egypt…

              …is incapable of jamming the action of a gun notorious for its tendency to jam until after several people lay bleeding to death?

              God damn, but your god is fucking pathetic. Why the hell would you waste your time worshipping such an incompetent layabout?

              Jesus Christ, man. At least the pagan gods could play catch with thunderbolts. What good is your god?



        • Mark Fuller Dillon
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

          I blame the apologist who shamelessly uses the death of human beings as an opportunity to promote his religion.

          There is much to be said for mourning in silence.

          • Willy-Wonka
            Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

            Who is “promoting” anything?

            • Mark Fuller Dillon
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

              Rob Brendle, for one, as Mr. Coyne pointed out.

            • Sastra
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

              Asking “where was God?” with no attempt to consider the hypothesis itself is an attempt to shore up faith. It’s a foregone conclusion what the answer will be. Waxing on about how God was in the theater crying or standing wisely in the wings watching free will play out is promoting the idea that we OUGHT to find ways to see God in EVERYTHING. Promote twisting like a pretzel.

              This article was written for the general public. The writer didn’t hand it to you in a note in response to your private request to “figure out a way for me to keep my faith that God was in Aurora.” It’s open to criticism.

              And highly deserves it.

        • Vaal
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

          Willy Wonka,

          You are leaving out very important issues in your reply.

          That is: the knowledge of the “parent” and the ability of the parent to intervene to stop the horrific act. The “kids have to be allowed their independence” excuse simply does not cover what you need it to cover.

          If your child were taking a hammer to another kid’s head, or you sit passively watching, or you allow your child wander on to a busy street to be run over by a car, then you don’t get to excuse yourself by saying “Look, they have to make their own choices.” You would be a grossly unfit parent if you allowed your children to do such things with an excuse like that.

          And the issue of moral culpability doesn’t end when the child becomes an adult.

          If your are the mother of a man who you KNOW has just armed himself like a one-person army with the intent of committing a massacre, or is about to put a pathogen into the drinking water supply, then it would be morally negligent – and condemned by everyone – if you did nothing to stop it if you could. If you didn’t even lift a finger to phone authorities etc.

          You can not use the excuse “Hey…I don’t want to interfere with his independence…they’ve got to be free sometime!” No. There are many, many instances were it is understood it is a moral virtue to act to stop suffering when you can, even when that means interfering with someone’s grown-up, free willed choice to do evil.

          Or…would you be happy releasing every criminal, psychopaths from prison right now and ask police to retire?

          See, this appeal to parent-hood thing God-believers do at every opportunity simply doesn’t work. It does not cover the problems you actually have to deal with.


          • Willy-Wonka
            Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

            I, like most people, have to work for a living. I can’t be everywhere at once. If my kid were to take a hammer to some other kid’s head, there’s absolutely nothing I could do about it at the exact moment it was happening.

            And yeah, I do have to let my kid make his own decisions and his own mistakes. It’s one thing if my kid is 5 years old and is not capable of rationally making those decisions. It’s entirely a different matter if they’re 25 or 30 years old.

            Mankind is grown up enough by now to make its own choices and live with the results. If you want to blame the Creator for not treating Mankind like a child, be my guest. It’s no skin off my nose. And if there is a Creator, it’s no skin off of his or hers or their nose, either. I imagine that if a Human gets an opportunity to question the Creator, the first question a Human would ask would be “Why did you let this happen?”. Maybe they will get an answer, maybe not. Maybe they will be satisfied with that answer, maybe not.

            And no, I don’t blame the parents of the Colorado shooter, either. It was not their “fault”. They are in their own kind of Hel right now, one not of their own making and which they do not deserve.

            • Vaal
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

              You are, not surprisingly, completely avoiding the argument against your position.

              I posited the situation where a parent KNOWS his child is striking (or about to strike) another child with a hammer and CAN stop the child from doing so. We both know a parent would be judged negligent, a bad parent, for simply allowing one child to hammer another into oblivion.

              Whereas you resorted to making up your own scenario in which you wouldn’t be there and had no knowledge and couldn’t stop it. In other words: you completely avoided the point. God is like the parent who IS THERE when his child is about to do evil. God WOULD see these things happening among his children and COULD intervene to ameliorate suffering. We’d condemn a parent who didn’t act, but you want to reverse this reasoning and not condemn God-The-Parent under the same circumstances. This is ridiculously inconsistent moral reasoning – God would not be analogous to a good parent as anyone normally understands good parenting. (It’s amazing this has to be pointed out).

              “And no, I don’t blame the parents of the Colorado shooter, either.”,

              But IF his parents KNEW James Holmes had walked out the door armed and intending to commit a massacre we WOULD expect them to do what they could to prevent the tragedy. Stop him. Call the authorities. Something within their power.



              You aren’t seriously going to say it wouldn’t be expected of a virtuous parent to do so would you?

              Your argument lives and dies by the quality of your own analogies.

              So…stop ignoring the point here please.
              If God is analogous to a parent, God is also analogous to a parent who refuses to do what we would expect of any good parent in the same situations. He is therefore analogous to an irresponsible, if not flat out evil parent.


            • Sastra
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

              God, unlike most parents, doesn’t have to work for a living and CAN be everywhere at once. It also presumably knows the future before it happens. That’s why talking about it as if it were like a “parent” and human beings were like “disobedient children” doesn’t work.

              Every single person who has ever been attacked by an aggressor throughout history suffered for a noble cause. No matter how innocent the victim, no matter how horrible the crime, it’s worth it in the end. More than worth it. It’s the best thing that could have happened, all things considered.

              And God is like a benevolent parent watching it play out.

              Is God happy?

              It doesn’;t work.

        • Tulse
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

          RE: “(But then…where do you get your knowledge about what God does?).”

          From the same choices of Holy Books that everyone else can choose from.

          From the Nyingma Gyubum of Tibetan Buddhism, or the Book of the Dead of New Kingdom Egypt, or the Avesta of Zoroastrianism, or Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health of Scientology, or The Book of the Two Principles of Catharism, or The Metamorphosis of the Greek religion, or the Vedas of Hinduism, or, or, or….?

          Those various texts give vastly different views of god, and in many cases postulate multiple gods and goddesses, some of which oppose each other. How did you decide which one of the texts was right after you read them all? (You of course did read them all, right?)

          • Mark Fuller Dillon
            Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

            >>You of course did read them all, right?

            By this point, I’m always amazed when I meet christians who’ve actually read their *own* bible.

            • Willy-Wonka
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

              I’m not Christian.

              • Mark Fuller Dillon
                Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

                Neither am I, thank goodness: too much bible in my background. 🙂

              • Tulse
                Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

                But you have read all the world’s “sacred” texts, right? Otherwise, how you could properly decide what the character of god/gods/goddess/goddesses is?

        • Sastra
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

          Willy Wonka wrote:

          And then, at some point, you set that child free to live on their own in the world, to make their own choices, to be individually responsible.

          Your two versions of God are running into each other. The God-who-is-like-a-Daddy is in conflict with the God-who-knows-everything-in-advance and created the damned knowing they will ‘choose’ damnation.

          God is not someone whose actions can be excused if you just invent inappropriate analogies. It’s a hypothesis, a proposed explanation, a concept which may or may not have referent.

          Test it. What would have to happen for you to say “Yes, God does not exist … or, if it does exist, it is not good.”

          The analogy doesn’t hold: in your scenario, the fact that the child is directly taught by the parent is significant. In real life, there is no such direct contact with God.

          • Willy-Wonka
            Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

            If you created a child were there was no child before, would you love that child with all your heart?

            If that child did something horribly wrong, maybe killed someone – would you disown that child? Would you stop loving and caring about that child?

            For how long would you follow that child around, protecting it and preventing it from doing ‘bad’ things? Ten years? A 10 year-old is not legally responsible. Thirty years? We’d call that child a mama’s boy and incapable of taking care of himself.

            Being a Daddy does not mean moving in with them for the rest of their adult lives. At some point they have to be considered responsible for themselves. And at that point your ‘responsibility’ for them is ended, though you’d probably never stop caring for them.

            I didn’t create my kid to be “damned”. I created him to make his own choices.

            At some point you have to stop and say “I’ve done what I could.. now it’s up to them.”

            When you are a parent yourself, maybe you’ll understand this.

            • Sastra
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

              Again, a conflict between seeing God as similar to a parent — and seeing God as all-knowing and all-powerful and everything just as it needs to be from the beginning. God concept vs God concept. God is like a person and it’s nothing like any person at all. This is a problem if you want to try to plug it into a human situation and show an analogy. The analogy would fall apart.

              You didn’t create your child to be “damned” because you didn’t know — couldn’t know — the future. A more realistic analogy then would be you, as a parent, realizing that if you conceived a child then it WOULD choose to do horrible things and WOULD end up in jail for life and be miserable on every level.

              You decide that the benefits of choosing to create this future outweigh the problems. You get to watch the child “make choices” and you get to pretend to be all disappointed and surprised. You’re not — because you knew what would happen — but you get to cry over it anyway as if you didn’t.

              And the fact that this child “chooses” to kill its sister is a side casualty. You get to cry over that, too. You created her so that you might.

              In time, out of time, in time, out of it. God is frustrated when its perfect will unfolds in a perfect way. It can’t be reconciled.

              • Willy-Wonka
                Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                If you could jump into a time machine, go back to December 7th 1941 and warn someone that Pearl Harbor was about to be bombed – would you do so?

                That would be deity-like, wouldn’t it? The ability to change all recorded world history for decades, maybe centuries to come. Because you alone knew what was about to happen.

                Would you go back and knowingly, willingly, intentionally change History, knowing full well that you’d be changing the History of potentially millions of people, changing rhe course of History involving America’s entry into World War II -FOREVER- … would you do so?

                Would you “play G-d” yourself? Would you “know” what the consequences would be, of establishing a new and entirely different version of History?

                Maybe one where the United States limits its military involvement to defeating Japan and ignores Germany entirely?

                Maybe one where Nazi Germany, freed from the requirement of having to fight a two-front war against the USA, emerges victorious, maybe develops the A-Bomb first and wins the war?

                Or would you let events play out, unchanged?

                Would you let the Holocaust occur, if you knew the result would be the creation of Israel? Would you just let it happen without regard to that?

                Go on, assume that nobody out of a population of billions has any free will, that you’re “in control of” all of the possibilities.

                “Play G-d” yourself. Tell us how you’d change History with a flick of your middle finger.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

                Okay, Willy, no more posting until you give us the evidence for your G-d (a monicker implying you’re Jewish).

              • Willy-Wonka
                Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:59 am | Permalink

                Sorry, I really don’t think that’s quite your decision to make.

                But yes, I am Jewish.

              • Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

                Such little imagination the religious had.

                Willy-Wonka, even a lowly Greek Muse, at the bottom of the Olympian pantheon, could have inspired Hitler to have become a moderately better painter than he was, and today we’d not have gone through the Holocaust but instead have another dark German expressionist master whose artwork we could simultaneously admire and be repulsed by.

                What’s that, you cry? Unintended consequences, such as some unknown random schmuck who comes to power in this alternate universe and is even worse than Hitler? Well, he grew up wanting to be a doctor but couldn’t handle the coursework and so dropped out and went into politics with disastrous consequences. Or, he would have were it not for the fact that Æsculapius guided him in the healing arts and we’re now thankful for all the breakthrough medical discoveries he made.

                And, again, that’s with low-level lackeys amongst the pagans.

                Your god can’t even manage that much, and you have the chutzpah to dare damn us if we fail to fellate its priesthood?


              • Sastra
                Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

                No. If we get to play God, we get to play God from the beginning. No re-writing history. We WRITE it.

                There is no way to defend the world as it is as the best POSSIBLE world that could conceivably be, down to every last ounce of suffering. One less child dying of starvation does it. That is all we need.

                What is the goal? If it’s to create a world where ALL people are as happy and fulfilled as possible — then this one isn’t it.

                If it’s to use most human beings as a means to the end of making a small fraction eternally happy, then you might be able to shrug it all off as collateral damage.

                And God is evil.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:00 am | Permalink

                Yes, it is indeed my decision to make. You’re free, Willy.

    • Tulse
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      If G-d could allow 6 million human beings to be annihilated in the Holocaust, if G-d could tolerate 55 million deaths in the Second World War, then

      …your god is one evil bastard.

      • Willy-Wonka
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        He didn’t invade Poland.

        He didn’t build the concentration camps.

        He didn’t build the ovens.

        Men did that.

        • Sastra
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

          God created men knowing they WOULD do that, someday. That’s the necessary background assumption with an all-knowing, all-powerful God. It has to KNOW exactly how the world plays out, how the holocaust WILL happen. But apparently the benefits were worth the cost in suffering, lives, and horror. Human beings were created as tools, a means to an ends. There are necessary casualties for the greater good.

          When people use other people as a means to an ends, as opposed to being an ends in themselves, we say they are evil. They are playing God.

          Why wouldn’t God also be evil? It’s the same process. You can’t put God into the role of a parent who hoped for the best, is disappointed, and stands helplessly by. God can’t be “disappointed” if its perfect will is always fulfilled in every aspect.

          • Willy-Wonka
            Posted July 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

            Maybe He created them knowing they COULD do that. Maybe not necessarily “Would”, but certainly ‘could’.

            You’re asking questions about things that go back as far as Cain and Abel. Did G-d create Cain for the purposes of killing Abel? Did G-d create Abel knowing in turn that at a specific moment that human was going to die? Why didn’t He stop Cain from killing his brother? Why didn’t he intervene and prevent it? Who the Hell knows??!?! It’s unprovable.

            Assuming for the moment that Jesus existed, did G-d specifically create him in order for him to die?

            Christians on one hand believe that was the case, or what else would his purpose have been?

            On the other hand, they’ve spent 2,000 years blaming the Jews for the fact that the Romans crucified someone who supposedly was sent here to die anyway.

            Another reason I’m glad I’m not Christian.

            • Sastra
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

              Is God less than perfect, less than all-knowing, less than all-powerful? Is it not even particularly knowing or powerful — standing by wringing its metaphorical hands at what the kids have chosen to do? It is surprised.

              The more human you make God, then the less ultimate responsibility it bears. Yes. But the more human you make God, the less godly God becomes. It turns into a lesser deity, sort of like Zeus or Apollo — poking itself into the affairs of humans and messing things up.

              Of course I’m asking questions. I should be asking questions. So should you.

              I’m an atheist because I ask GOOD questions. We ask better questions than “people of faith.” The only questions they ask have to do with spin-doctoring their faith with the facts.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

              Okay Willy you say you’re not a Christian. Time to come clean–do you believe in God? If so, what is your evidence.

              And please refrain from dominating this thread. Before you can post again, you need to adduce the evidence for God that, if you are a believer, has convinced you.

            • raven
              Posted July 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

              Why didn’t He stop Cain from killing his brother? Why didn’t he intervene and prevent it? Who the Hell knows??!?! It’s unprovable.

              A god that does nothing ever is equivalent to a god that doesn’t exist.

              That is the most parsimonious explanation.

              Or your Jewish god Yahweh might be the wrong god. There are thousands of gods after all, even the Torah admits that. The early sections are all polytheistic and the plural of god, gods is used often, even on the first page.

        • raven
          Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

          What your G-D did was…nothing while the Holocaust happened.

          According to Jewish mythology, god is the all powerful creator of everything.

          He could have done something to save his self admitted “chosen people”. He did nothing.

          Willi, the fact is, the universe looks exactly like it would if your god didn’t exist. The difference between an invisible god who does nothing and an imaginary one is about zero.

          PS An old friend of mine from Eastern Europe managed to survive the Germans. In a refugee camp, he found out that virtually all of his family died in the camps. He thought it over and decided that a god that does nothing in that case is one that…doesn’t exist.

  33. Mark Fuller Dillon
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    >>After extensive reading of theodicy (religious justification for evil), I haven’t found one remotely convincing reason why a god who was wholly good, knowing, and powerful would allow such things to occur.

    “The Book of Job” makes it perfectly clear that believers will never understand the ways of god, who treats people like utter dirt and slaughters with cold precision because… well, he’s god. That’s what he does.

    “Are YOU god? Did YOU create the universe? No? Well, then, shuddup and die!”

    Theodicy problem solved: god is a total psychopath.

    • raven
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      This is the “god and his ant farm” model of the universe.

      As bleak as it is, it is the leading fundie xian worldview.

      But it could be worse. Once to annoy us, god poured water on his ant farm. And almost killed every one of his special ants.

      • Mark Fuller Dillon
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        And what’s more, he erased all physical evidence of this crime from the geological record. Sneaky bastard! He knows what he’s doing.

  34. Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    A commentor called “justin opinion” on Stephen Protero’s blog probably put this whole exercise in perspective better than anyone else:

    Hey CNN, here’s a good subject for your next in-depth journalistic investigation: Where was Batman in Aurora?

    • Vaal
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Oh man. Perfect!


  35. Dianne Leonard
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I have run into a lot of people that say that, because I’m disabled (an orthopoedic disability I was essentially born with) that it’s “god’s will” or that I will be stronger because “god gave this to me.” Such horseshit! A woman even told me and a blind friend that on the bus. I’m not stronger because god did it. I’m the way I am because of (a) a mutation, and (b) the excellent medical care I’ve gotten. I don’t consider disabilities to be “good”, for whatever reason; I think that they are unmitigated evil. Was it Mark Twain who said that “any god who exists is a malicious thug”? My life is living proof of (a)a malicious thug of a god, or (b)no god. I prefer (b).

  36. zendruid1
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    God was the voice in James Holmes’ head urging him on.

  37. shakyisles
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Had a quick read of the blog, as much as I could stand (I’m on the liver-cleansing diet, so the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak)

    I like this comment;
    Where was “God” at Aurora? Same place as Santa Claus: getting ready for upcoming December 25th.

    It’s good to laugh

  38. Vaal
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    What we get here with these common arguments from folks like Rob Brendle and commentators like “Willie Wonka” is the standard putting-on-blinders to ignore the way one thing you believe clashes with another.

    To excuse God there is an appeal to generally accepted principles, without really noticing whether those principles cover the suffering being excused.

    “I support individual rights for freedom” is a noble idea most would agree with. But if this general appeal to personal freedom is being used to try and excuse the “freedom” for someone to steal your property, rape your wife, fly a plane into a building or go on killing sprees, obviously the appeal to personal freedom fails. That’s because in the real world we have other issues to balance such as civic and moral expectations.
    We value freedom, but not the freedom to do ANYTHING you want because many acts will run up against our notions of virtuous actions and morality. You can’t just do anything you want if it causes gratuitous suffering and ALSO be worthy of moral praise.

    Same goes for this constant appeal to the God-The-Parent analogy from theists. Yes there are elements of parenting that involve discipline and giving your child room to make his own choices. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still have notions of virtue and morality that will come into play to mitigate or guide behavior. If “discipline” means to some parent “torturing my child with fire for months upon getting a C in English”…that obviously clashes against our notions of wisdom, compassion, virtue, morality etc. They don’t just disappear conveniently.

    But theists allow these other concerns to disappear into their blinders as it is convenient, so they can talk to themselves about God using parent analogies for discipline and allowing children to gain their freedom…without having to bother noticing that the issues they are excusing clash horribly with our other notions of morality and virtue.

    It’s our job to keep noticing when they do this and point it out. Keep lifting their blinders to let those inconsistencies see the light:-)


  39. Posted July 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    For determinists, the explanations for all the issues relating to Aurora are simple: everything that happened, before, during and after the shooting, happened because prior conditions predetermined that things should happen that way – and predetermined that all the above commentators should comment in precisely the way they did. That’s all there is to it – for determinists. Many will disagree, of course; but that’s just because they’re predetermined to disagree.

    • zendruid1
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      What’s so deterministic about a sociopathic _______ with access to firearms?

  40. Ana
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    A father can tell his child to hold his hand while crossing the road, but if the child does not listen and runs out into the middle of the road is it the father’s fault that the child did not listen? Would you blame the father for the child’s disobedience? Of course the father loves the child, but because of the choice the child had to obey or disobey there will be different consequences.

    • Tulse
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

      A father can tell his child to hold his hand while crossing the road, but if the child does not listen and runs out into the middle of the road is it the father’s fault that the child did not listen?

      It’s the father’s fault if he could grab the child before running into the road but chooses not to. The Christian god is supposedly omnipotent, which means that, in a very real sense everything is “his fault”.

    • DV
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      Is this supposed to be a hard question? Of course it is the father’s fault for not protecting a child from doing childish things? Does a real father tell a child what to do and expect the child to behave like a fully-comprehending and responsible adult and blame the child for being a child?

  41. Uommibatto
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    These senseless incidents and their aftermath always make me think of the Tom Waits song “Georgia Lee”, which begins:

    “Cold was the night
    And hard was the ground
    They found her in a small grove of trees.
    And lonesome was the place
    Where Georgia was found
    She’s too young to be out on the street.
    Why wasn’t God watching
    Why wasn’t God listening
    Why wasn’t God there for Georgia Lee?”

    No one has said it better or more poignantly.

  42. jeffery
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    What no one seems to reflect upon is that the “non-actions” of an omnipotent being (given there is one) carry the same weight as that being’s actions: were God to say, “I will, from this point on, no longer interfere in the affairs of men”, the effect produced is exactly the same as if God had said, “From this point on, I want the affairs of men to be as if I was no longer interfering in them.”
    It’s like a washing machine: I load it, set the timer, and shut the lid, at which point it starts its cycle. If I return and lift the lid, it stops. However, if I do NOT lift the lid, it keeps going. No matter whether I do something, or not, I am directly influencing the washer. Another, “opposite” example is that of a wind-up clock: if I wind it up, it runs- if I do not return to rewind it, it will eventually run down and stop. So- in the case of the washer, my “not-doing” caused it to keep going; in the case of the clock, my “not-doing” caused it to stop.
    Isaiah 45:7 makes it quite clear that God is responsible for all evil as well as all good (if you’re into believing anything you read in that book, that is)- the book of Job tells of a juvenile “bet” between Satan and God as to whether Job will curse God if tormented enough (something that an all-knowing deity would already know, anyway, but that’s another paradox). It is quite clear that God, in this instance, “controls” Satan in setting limits on what he can do to Job. I’m not trying to give any credence to the Bible, here; just trying to illustrate how absurd it is, and how this whole belief system (indeed, the belief systems of ALL organized religions) needs to be scrapped in favor of one more in line with reality.

    • Ellen
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 3:51 am | Permalink

      Isaiah 45:7 is a favorite of mine to quote at Christians who attempt to ‘explain’ evil as the work of Satan–hey, take a look at this–there is no Satan, there’s only your God, and he’s candidly admitting in your Holy Book, in which he cannot tell a lie, that he’s responsible for all of the evil you’ve been blaming a nonexistent Satan for (of course your God is equally nonexistent, but we’ll put that aside for the moment).

      I’ve never yet encountered a Christian who had anything even remotely resembling a coherent response to that passage–and what’s funnier yet is showing this to those ‘believers’ who actually didn’t even know that passage existed in the bible. And you’d possibly be surprised at the number of them I’ve encountered who didn’t. Somehow I get the feeling Isaiah 45:7 is one scriptural verse that doesn’t get quoted in church too often.

  43. Wolfkiller
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Does the “will” of those who were shot not matter? Certainly they didn’t freely choose to be shot. The free will of the killer is more important than the victims, it would seem. If god had set up the world where suffering and pain and death didn’t exist, we could still have “free will” and not worry about events like this.

  44. lisa
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    If you will listen, I will answer your questions. I know that you will reject all of it out of hand, but frankly, I don’t really care what you choose to believe. Besides, you will find out soon enough. Perhaps someone will read this and find something in it to help them. You probably could not explain string theory or particle physics to me so that I fully understand it. You could not understand God any more than the rest of us. As you have mentioned more than once, our science cannot explain Its existence. So It’s not real. And to make a point that you continue to ignore, there are a whole lot of things our science cannot define or detect. One of my hobbies is reading old science books. (and with the speed our technology advances, they get ‘old’ fast. I could go all the way back to the enormous gyrations that were required to prove that air existed, or a bit closer to us, the changes in our understanding of science after we developed telescopes and microscopes. Less than 200 years ago, science repudiated any use of hypnosis other than being useful for anything more than lining the pockets of charlatans taking advantage of a credulous public (or in some smutty little minds to take ‘advantage of weak willed mesmerized women.) Electricity would never be more than a toy to frighten women and children. Let’s even get into fossils, or finding sediment from large bodies of water on top of mountains. If you don’t like to think about such ancient history, in 1900, the head of the U.S. patents office wanted to shut down the whole business because science and technology had gone as far as it could. Want closer? X-rays, radioactive isotopes, the full light spectrum, subatomic particles, gamma ray bursts. How about the 1970’s when the idea that the extinction event that destroyed nearly all land animal species was facilitated by a large meteor strike was dismissed by most of the mainstream scientists because nothing that large could hit our planet. Until Shoemaker-Levy proved it could. Closer still? How about Imaging using sound or heat, black holes (still not totally stamped as approved), DNA, genetic or bioengineering? The disenfranchising of poor little Pluto? Dark matter and energy? Our science is totally dependent on what our senses can detect, and no educated person will promise that our senses are totally reliable (we only have 5, for Pete’s sake; even a shark has 7.) Most of our modern science is totally dependent on our use of technology to enhance our senses, and though I for one am really crazy about it, we must still trust that it is working how we want. To make the statement that God does not exist only because we can’t prove that he does is totally irresponsible in a scientist. Just because we do not have the technology now to perceive It doesn’t mean It does or does not exist. Or have we once more found everything is already known, so all of you can shut down your labs and offices and go fishing?
    But back to the matter under consideration:
    1. The God both you and Rob Brendle discussed has been hobbled by what you believe It should be and what most sacred writings describe. This God is malleable enough to be interpreted any way some ‘holy’ persons wish to shape It, so that God wants exactly what they want. Jumping from religion to religion, it varies a lot. In fact, God as depicted in the Old Testament is wrathful, jealous and vindictive. How many times have you hear about “the fear of God?” No kind of God (or supreme being, using the actual definitions of those words) would be the puppet or handy Nom de Plume for religious leaders to assume. All of you need to just STOP limiting It with all the frailties and understanding with which we humans are plagued. God is not human. In fact in most ’sacred” texts, It isn’t even humane. As you said “If we can’t know or fathom God’s will, then neither can we know that God is good, powerful, and all knowing.” Nor can we know that he isn’t. Religion has all kinds of answers, but religion is a man-made tool and isn’t about God.
    Now, if you haven’t already deleted this, to continue:
    2. You cannot reconcile free will with most of the codicils you or the rest of the ‘guardians’ of our faith (and like it or not, you appear to be just as passionate and convinced that YOU have all the answers as every other evangelical out there. You simply have great faith that there is no God.) How could free will possibly have any meaning if God said “Okay, I am giving you free will, but if you are naughty, I will take it back.” How free is a ‘choice’ if you can only make one? I know you are unhappy with the concept of free will, but if we go with its existence hypothetically, even you cannot argue with that logic.
    3. There is no great Evil hovering around in a dark sulfurous cloud waiting to pounce at any moment. People do evil things sometimes. Sometimes they do wonderful things. But we must admit that our assignment of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ is totally subjective. Quick example: If two young men come face to face and shoot each other, they are vicious and evil murderers. But if you put them in different uniforms and give them different flags, they are heroes. There is no hell, except maybe here for some of us. If there is such a being as Lucifer, looking through history and you will find he has evolved faster than any other creature. In the bible, he is usually mentioned as either a colleague, or perhaps a senior employee of God; he is the ‘Tempter,’ supposed in these texts to test our faith, strength and commitment. Satan didn’t come on the scene until religious leaders felt they needed more threat to keep their people under control. The demons, devils and djinn accepted long ago were just powerful beings to be feared or revered as one chose. Or better yet, to avoid at all cost.
    4. This is not heaven; it was never intended to be. Assuming that God popped the balloon and caused the Big Bang, it is likely that he wouldn’t muck around in the way it is unfolding. As I just cannot believe that we humans are ‘The Crown of Creation.’ I know we are not ‘finished’ yet, just as the universe is not. You believe that this is all there is for us and that dead is REAL dead. I think we haven’t gotten past the larval stage yet. (Well, maybe I have, but the rest you still have a ways to go.) There is the possibility that tragedies, catastrophic or otherwise, are not punishment, not tests of our faith or our endurance level. Perhaps they are lessons we must learn to continue to mature. There are hard lessons and easy ones, but frankly, humans learn a lot more and retain it a lot longer from the really hard ones. This does not necessarily mean that God doesn’t love us. Ask any parent. And there is nothing to show that this life is all there is. Perhaps the mourners will eventually find comfort and understanding. We mourn for ourselves and our loss. We both think the dead are okay; they are past all of this.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

      My, what a rich word salad you’ve just served up.

      Let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?

      First, what, exactly, is a god? How is one to know that the entity under question is a god, and that some other entity isn’t?

      And second, how do you know that there exists an entity that matches your definition of a god?

      Never mind all your ranting about the limits of science. The laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood. And there’ve been plenty of times in the past when people intuitively knew something must exist — such as the luminiferous aether — which later turned out to be a figment of the imagination once we knew how to look for it.

      In all my experience, gods fall squarely into that latter category, along with faeries, daemons, dragons, and all the other fantasies of legend. You seem utterly convinced that gods are different, that they’re real…yet, I’ll bet you a cup of coffee / beer / other suitable beverage that your gods are exactly as ill-defined and poorly-evidenced as, say, djinni.



  45. IW
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Why is no one asking where Batman was? He’s just as fictional a character as Yahweh.

    On a different level, why was someone taking their 6 year old daughter to a midnight showing of a PG-13 rated movie?

    • Posted September 16, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Because they couldn’t get a baby-sitter and wanted to see the movie? because the kid could sleep in the next morning? Because they didn’t believe their child would pay much attention/be damaged/not sleep through it – and maybe they were right, since they know their kid? Maybe they weren’t? Do you police the theaters and demand that about every parent taking a kid to see something they aren’t breaking the law by doing?

      Seriously. Internet Now is not the time for that question.

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