Free will for cancer cells?

This tw**t, sent by Grania, called my attention to an article in the Irish Times that criticizes the country’s blasphemy law:

What is the penultimate sentence? I’ll put the last paragraph here and bold the sentence and the one before it:

In any case, Fry’s comments to Gay Byrne, far from being an insult to God, were a profound and eloquent statement, albeit in a robust form, of what philosophers call the “problem of evil”, the challenge in arguments for the existence of God in reconciling an all-seeing , omnipotent, benevolent God with the pain and evil we see manifest in the world around us. “Why,” Fry asked, “should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” To which the reply of the Christian, though not altogether convincing, should be “because God created free will”. And not a knock on the door from the boys in blue.

Well, it’s not “not altogether convincing”, but “wholly UNconvincing”! But the editorial is pretty good, and the “inane sentence” is not quoted with approval. Still, it’s worth pointing out that believers in a beneficent and omnipotent God have never come up with a remotely good argument for UNDESERVED evil, like the death of people from tsunamis or, as Hammill notes, bone cancer. Plantinga suggests that Satan is responsible, but given the absence of evidence for Satan (is that a “basic belief”?), that’s a cop-out. So is free will, which can’t be adduced at all for things like cancer, earthquakes, and so on. Free will for who? The Earth? Cancer cells?

Ask yourself this question: if you were God, would you allow children to get bone cancer? Of course not! Conclusion: if there is a God, he’s a nasty piece of work—or not very powerful.

77 Comments

  1. sensorrhea
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Anticipating a direct request from the Pontiff, Jake Tapper of ABC News asked the Ultimate Power of the Universe if He would consider changing His stance on Earthquakes, adding “especially those which cause terrifying tsunamis that kill tens or hundreds of thousands of Your constituents.” Elohim replied that, as with rape, disease, and many volcanoes, Popes and other Vatican officials often pray for the victims of such events and circumstances but rarely proactively ask for their prevention. As a result The Lord “sees no reason to consider changing His policies” on any of these issues in the next fiscal year or, for that matter, all future time until the end of both the Universe and the very concept of time itself.

    Even differences on something as seemingly uncontroversial as “the dignity of life” may cause strong divisions between the Pope, who has frequently spoken in support of it, and God Almighty, whose record includes infinite varieties of hideous fetal mutations, flesh-eating bacteria, organ-liquefying hemorrhagic fevers, and continence-robbing brain injuries and diseases.

  2. Danny Kodicek
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    A relatively effective opposing argument I’ve seen when I’ve posed this question is ‘because there’s no reason to assume God ought to prevent suffering’. Essentially, in a belief system that includes the infinite reward of a heavenly afterlife, any quantity of finite suffering during a lifetime is negligible, therefore if it might benefit us in some other, ineffable way, we can’t expect God to prevent it (hence the need to petition the deity to do so)
    Honestly, I think it’s a fairly reasonable response, although it begs the less answerable question ‘well, if we can’t use the relative amounts of pain and suffering in the world as evidence for or against God’s existence, what reason is there to believe?’

    • Steve
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Then why the vast difference in which people suffer? If it’s of some “benefit” why not the same for everyone?

      • Danny Kodicek
        Posted May 11, 2017 at 4:42 am | Permalink

        Oh, there’s lots of ways to get around that part too – once you jettison the idea that God has to care about suffering, you don’t really have to worry too much about it.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted May 11, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          once you jettison the idea that God has to care about suffering,

          I suspect that some of the god-squad would consider that if you did that, then there would be no actual point to having a religion.
          which there isn’t. But that won’t appease them.

    • Peter
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Danny, I find this response lame. We expect god to prevent suffering because he supposedly is benevolent. If hurt, grief, and other bad things that may befall somebody on earth don’t matter because of the infinite bliss to be had in the afterlife, then a Christian has no basis for condemning murder, theft, rape, etc. Also if murder, theft, rape, etc., might benefit us in some other way, again, there is no reason to complain about them.
      See also Peter Singer’s short article on the theodicy problem:
      The God of Suffering?

      • Danny Kodicek
        Posted May 11, 2017 at 4:38 am | Permalink

        I’m always finding myself defending beliefs I disagree with! Anyway…
        No – a Christian does have a basis for condemning murder, rape etc, which is that God has decreed they are wrong. Just because God doesn’t prevent them (for whatever reason), doesn’t mean they aren’t crimes.
        Atheists oppose murder because we think it is objectively wrong (with interesting discussions to be had about why that is). For Christians, there is no objective morality, morality comes from God and the Bible.
        In the past, I’ve likened religious morality to an economics based on a gold standard, while atheist morality is more like economics based on a free-floating currency.

        • reasonshark
          Posted May 11, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

          “No – a Christian does have a basis for condemning murder, rape etc, which is that God has decreed they are wrong.”

          Yoiu are aware that “because I said so” is a non-explanation, deity or no deity? This is even lamer than the “benevolent… but doesn’t actually care about suffering” nonsense you started out with (on its own terms, for starters: why blot an infinity of happiness with ANY suffering?).

          • busterggi
            Posted May 11, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

            The commandment about not committing murder has always been interpreted as being valid only within the tribe, outsiders can be murdered freely. And there is no commandment against rape.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted May 11, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

              And there is no commandment against rape.

              Given the number of women and girls “taken as slaves” in the various cities during the Biblical conquest of Israel, it would be just slightly hypocritical if there were such a commandment. Not that a little hypocrisy ever got in the way of a religion.

              • darrelle
                Posted May 11, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

                “Not that a little hypocrisy ever got in the way of a religion.”

                Yep. For example the Christian commandment “Thou shalt not kill” given all of the killing done during the Biblical conquest of Israel.

          • Danny Kodicek
            Posted May 11, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            Yes, it is, but that’s what religious people at least profess to believe – that the Bible or whatever religious text they follow is the word of God and the source of all morality. It’s a crap system (and in practice isn’t really what any of them actually abide by – as busterggi points out, rape is barely more than a property offence as far as the Bible is concerned) – but that’s the theory. I don’t like it any more than you do.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted May 11, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

            ‘You are aware that “because I said so” is a non-explanation, deity or no deity?’

            On the other hand, ‘because I said so’ (usually expressed as ‘because it’s the Law’) *is* used as a basis for regulating human behaviour all the time. Even in cases where it’s manifestly irrelevant. It may have no logical justification but it still ‘works’ (more or less).

            So, similarly, the ‘Word of God’ (as interpreted by the current hierarchy) can be used as a ‘basis’ for morality. (Danny and I both think it’s a logically shaky basis, obviously). It can also, of course, be used for malign purposes.

            cr

            • reasonshark
              Posted May 15, 2017 at 7:17 am | Permalink

              This is putting the cart before the horse. The rational moral basis comes first, and then is (supposed to be) codified in the law. Otherwise both the law and the deity come up against Euthyphro.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted May 15, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink

                I’m fully aware that it’s putting the cart before the horse. I’m of the view that it’s probably impossible to establish an absolutely rational moral basis for anything. But laws still get made and (for the most part) they ‘work’. With luck, they will have been based on common sense and a sense of fairness which, in the absence of any rational morality, is probably the next best thing.

                (I’m fully aware of the large number of times they don’t work, you don’t need to point that out).

                cr

    • darrelle
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      I don’t think that argument is very convincing. The reason to assume that the Christian God ought to prevent suffering is that according to Christians themselves their God is all knowing, all powerful, the source and author of everything (including evil) and that it is a loving god.

      Given those characteristics it is very reasonable to assume that such a god would not willingly be the author of kids dying of bone cancer or people burning in hell for eternity or any of the evil shit that constitutes a day in the life. Unless it is a very evil god. Or is not the author of all things or all powerful. Or a combination of the two. It immediately invites comparison of the gods abysmal moral standards to those of, say, me. I’ve no doubt who comes out on top in that comparison.

      For the argument to be considered reasonable you have to first concede all of the claims of the believer. Morality is whatever God says it is, even if that means killing your child is moral. Or that God causing a child agony, existential fear and a miserable painful death then, after visiting that unconscionable brutality on the child admitting it to Heaven (have to accept Heaven too) forever, is moral. That God works in mysterious ways that we can never understand is a valid argument for evaluating and of Christianity’s claims. You’d have to concede all of that, and much more, first. Unless you are already a Christian it is not remotely convincing.

      I can’t guess how effective the argument has been or is, but it sure isn’t reasonable or convincing to me.

      • Danny Kodicek
        Posted May 11, 2017 at 4:46 am | Permalink

        “For the argument to be considered reasonable you have to first concede all of the claims of the believer”, well, sure. But that’s true of all theological arguments. Because God is imaginary, you have to start by asking what imagined properties he is supposed to have.

        My point is that this response to the problem of evil question denies your premise that a ‘loving God’ by definition ought to care abut and seek to diminish suffering. As I said originally, the follow-up question is then ‘so what *does* a loving God care about?’

    • Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      This is where the Scriven-Goren argument comes in. If a human child of 6 would prevent it (even to the extent that he can), then there is no god (of the relevant sort that believers actually believe in – I think one can do a cosmological atheistic argument to rule out evil gods, but that’s irrelevant here).

      • ChrisB
        Posted May 10, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        “Essentially, in a belief system that includes the infinite reward of a heavenly afterlife, any quantity of finite suffering during a lifetime is negligible, therefore if it might benefit us in some other, ineffable way, we can’t expect God to prevent it (hence the need to petition the deity to do so)”

        Under such an argument, there could be no evil in the world. For whatever suffering humans inflict upon each other, no matter how horrible, is negligible. They would just be doing god’s work, and would be an actual benefit to the suffering.

        Do you see what an utterly depraved, morally bankrupt excuse this is? Could you imagine if everyone really thought whatever capacity humans have to suffer in a lifetime is always negligible? That has to be one of the most frightening ideas I have ever heard.

        • ChrisB
          Posted May 10, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, Keith, this is a response to #2 Danny

        • Danny Kodicek
          Posted May 11, 2017 at 4:32 am | Permalink

          I agree – and indeed it *is* an argument that many religious people over the centuries have used to justify all manner of atrocities. I didn’t say I agreed with it, but I do think it effectively answers (or more accurately denies the premise of) the problem of evil. It simply suggests that what we atheists think a loving God would do – care about the suffering of his children – is wrong. For someone who thinks that way, the problem of evil is no challenge.

          • Vaal
            Posted May 11, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

            It simply suggests that what we atheists think a loving God would do – care about the suffering of his children – is wrong. For someone who thinks that way, the problem of evil is no challenge.

            Please see my longer reply, but to re-iterate somewhat:

            Your conclusion is incorrect because the problem of suffering never arose among atheists; it arose within theism. The problem is that theists share mostly the same moral intuitions and judgements atheist do in evaluating “goodness” in persons.

            And God seems to violate those moral intuitions.

            One way of answering this is to say that, well, God isn’t bound by the standard of “good” that we are bound to. For instance, maybe God’s commands constitutes goodness or what we “ought” to do. But God is under no such moral obligations thus God can do whatever He wants. But then this is fatal to calling claiming God is “good” in the first place. What sense can it make to call a God “good” (let alone All Good) who is not what we normally mean by that word, and is not bound by it at all? It empties the word of meaning.

            This problem of arbitrariness is why most theodicies attempt to CONNECT our normal moral intuitions and understanding of “good” with God’s goodness. God IS Good in the way we understand “good,” and hence this makes sense of goodness in the first place.

            Except you can only justify calling God “good” insofar as you can produce reasons God
            has for causing or allowing suffering that are plausible, given our understanding of “good.” The problem is…Christians have failed to present any such plausible excuse for the suffering we find in the world.

    • Vaal
      Posted May 11, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Danny,

      I’ve seen that response plenty of times from Christians and, no, it isn’t reasonable. It doesn’t answer the problem of suffering at all.

      The first thing to remember is that the very problem of evil/suffering arises in the first place insofar as the world as we find it (as well as parts of scripture) seems to violate our moral intuitions. It seems no being who is “good” as we normally understand that term would create a world so full of injustice and suffering. And that’s the reasons for theodicies in the first place – to try and reconcile the Goodness of God with our moral intuitions, they search for some moral justification God may have that seems plausible in light of our own moral intuitions. If you don’t come up with that, you haven’t answered the problem.

      So to say ‘because there’s no reason to assume God ought to prevent suffering’.

      …is a non-answer. There IS a reason to assume God ought to prevent suffering: that is our understanding of what a GOOD Person with the power to prevent suffering would do, and hence it makes no sense to call a God “Good” who refuses to do this.

      So now you have to look for a morally compelling reason – again one that must be plausible on our OWN moral understanding – for why God doesn’t do it.

      You can’t beg the question and ASSERT God has a morally relevant reason. You would have to argue for it, and give a plausible reason.

      So to say “MAYBE God has a reason for our suffering in this life” without giving a plausible reason, is a non-answer. It’s like a cop demanding what good reason I had for speeding and I reply “Well, maybe there’s a good answer to that question” (except…I can’t give you one…)

      So any answer that relies on some “ineffable way” is a non-answer. The Christian needs to actually present a plausible benefit that makes sense of suffering, not simply hint there “might” be one.

      Typically – and I think your reply at least implies this as well – the Christians will claim that it’s ok that God allows suffering in this life because, relatively speaking, it is not even a blink of an eye in our eternal life, and that God granting us an eternity of bliss surely makes up for the suffering God allows in this life. It’s a proportion thing.

      But this is inadequate as well: it does not in fact jive with our moral intuitions when you look at it. Say a wealthy man rapes and briefly tortures a terrified woman, then says “Don’t worry, after this brief few minutes of rape and terror, I will be setting you up for life, house, healthcare, everything you need…”

      Now, who thinks that actually makes the rape part ok? No one. Surely what is wrong with rape and torture doesn’t have to do with what occurs afterward – rather there is something about rape and torturing ITSELF that is bad, and there is something wrong with anyone who would WANT to rape and torture someone, whether they pay the person off after or not.

      It’s the same scenario with God. If the things we hold to be wrong are actually wrong, then God doing them, or allowing them to occur under his watch is inexcusable. No matter how brief, it is gratuitous suffering and evil, and it makes no sense that a Good God would cause or allow gratuitous suffering and evil.

      So, no, I entirely disagree that the type of response you gave was reasonable in any way.

      And so you don’t really need to spend effort defending it 😉

      Cheers,

      Vaal

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    It always seems such a stupid statement when, after the tornado passes and the guy stands there looking at what is left of the house, almost nothing, and says thank g*d we are alive.

    • Steve
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      I love this one! Obviously g*d works in mysterious ways and he hates others even more because they have no house!

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Whenever some twit says that I want to ask, “Why didn’t he prevent the hurricane in the first place?”.

      • Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        It doesn’t even have to be that much – if a kid could help alleviate a tiny bit of suffering, then a wimpy god could have, and hence (a fortiori) an actual believed-in god could have.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          Yep!

  4. Tom
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Allowing free will is just the same as accepting chance.
    Since a god cannot predict the behaviour of an animal with free will, he cannot predict the likely future of his creations except statistically; neither can predict his own reactions accept as a trend.
    Einstein once said that god does not play dice but allowing free will means he is a gambler and so he must be gambling against himself.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      @Tom Does it follow that god allowing free will means god can’t predict the future?

      Let’s assume, for simplicity, there isn’t a multiverse, god exists & for the sake of argument, that all organisms with a mind have free will…
      Why can’t god see the singular outcome of all events, at all moments [past, now & future] in the universe I’ve posited?

      PS I don’t think free will nor god exist

      • Tom
        Posted May 11, 2017 at 12:34 am | Permalink

        In that creation when he can see them all why bother with granting free?

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted May 11, 2017 at 7:30 am | Permalink

          @Tom Precisely! The god of the bible is all-knowing & outside time so all that statistics stuff isn’t something god needs to indulge in. Giving his creations free will doesn’t inhibit his ability to ‘see’ all – he knows what choices his creations will make.

        • darrelle
          Posted May 11, 2017 at 7:37 am | Permalink

          Because he’s a cruel bastard that gets his kicks out of burning people for ever and ever while convincing them that it is their fault?

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 11, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Let’s assume, […]
        Why can’t god see the singular outcome of all events, at all moments [past, now & future] in the universe I’ve posited?

        Because (1) inaccuracy of measurement ; and (2) imprecision of calculation leading to chaotic outcomes. Even physics agrees on these points.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 11, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

          I agree too. (All physicists will be most relieved and gratified to hear that, I’m sure).

          BUT – if the outcomes are chaotic, diverging slightly but increasingly from the planned course, so what? God is still there in the driving seat, He’s omnipotent, He can make the necessary adjustments. That does not let Him off the hook.

          cr

    • reasonshark
      Posted May 11, 2017 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      “Allowing free will is just the same as accepting chance.”

      No. Chance is a quantifiable concept of probability-based causality, and thus is the only real form of indeterminism. Free will is a feel-good assertion – that, in a causally unique or exempt way, we CHOOSE things – of an intuitive feeling, an assertion which collapses into self-contradiction the moment any real analysis is done upon it. That’s why the likes of Sam Harris point out that you can’t demonstrate free will merely by denying determinism; to paraphrase him, any real human being behaving indeterministically would randomly be blown about by an internal, ever-changing wind, scarcely resembling a human in behaviour at all.

      Free will just can’t win.

  5. jeffery
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I like to counter the, “It’s all OUR fault, you know- we bring disaster upon ourselves because we have free will” argument with, “Don’t bother tossing that ‘free-will’ bunk at me: it’s IMPOSSIBLE to ‘surprise’ an ‘All-Knowing’ being or to hide your intentions FROM Him- were it to happen, He would not be all-knowing. Your “God” created this world, knowing BEFOREHAND who He’d have to eventually punish or reward, but He went ahead and ran the whole meaningless, brutal exercise anyway- does that make any sense to you?”

    • JohnH
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Good point. Once you toss in omnipotence, another core Christian belief (as well as other God qualities), a simplistic “free will” argument looses a lot of ground.

    • JohnH
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, I meant omniscience. Guess I’m not godlike enough.

    • Posted May 11, 2017 at 5:36 am | Permalink

      “Your [‘All-Knowing’} ‘God’ created this world, knowing BEFOREHAND who He’d have to eventually punish or reward, but He went ahead and ran the whole meaningless, brutal exercise anyway–does that make any sense to you?”

      First, you don’t have to be “All-Knowing” to figure out that introducing a creature with free will into a universe where all other creatures do what they’re supposed to be doing willy-nilly is likely to have some nasty repercussions. Question is, is it worth it? It’s going to mean 1) that these new creatures are genuinely free to do whatever the hell they want to do and 2) that you can’t intervene no matter how badly they screw it up. It may not “make any sense,” but you gotta admit it’s gutsy.

      Second, if one is going to be an anti-evolutionist (which I’m not, by the way) one should at least know what evolution is; and if you’re going to an anti-creationist, you should at least have some idea of how things get created. Nobody creates anything knowing BEFOREHAND how it’s going to turn out. This is an error that the Intelligent Design people make all the time, as if God were an engineer rather than a creator. You don’t need God’s word on this, just ask any artist or poet.

      Here’s a link to poem I created some 30 years ago shortly after my first (and only) child was born. It bears, I think, on the topic at hand.

      https://cl.ly/1Q1j1H1G1G47

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 11, 2017 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        “all other creatures do what they’re supposed to be doing willy-nilly”

        You suggesting that animals don’t have ‘free will’ ?

        “Nobody creates anything knowing BEFOREHAND how it’s going to turn out. This is an error that the Intelligent Design people make all the time, as if God were an engineer rather than a creator.”

        That is because ‘nobody’ is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. EXCEPT, of course, God.

        But even engineers, when the prototype turns out to have bugs in, fix those bugs. They don’t usually scrap the whole design and start again. So even God, if He finds out His creation ain’t behaving according to specifications, should adjust the paramaters a bit. He’s omnipotent, He made it, He can certainly fix it. Can’t He? Instead of hiding behind ‘free will’.

        cr

        • Posted May 11, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          “You suggesting that animals don’t have ‘free will’ ?”

          Yes. Free will presupposes reason. Not that humans rely on it all that much.

          “But even engineers, when the prototype turns out to have bugs in, fix those bugs.”

          As I noted above God is NOT an engineer. More to the point, you’re assuming that something needs to be “fixed.” The “a benevolent God wouldn’t allow evil” position is implicitly arguing that a world without free will would be better than a world with pain and suffering. This is, to put it mildly, highly questionable. Watch “The Truman Show.”

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted May 11, 2017 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

            “Yes. Free will presupposes reason. Not that humans rely on it all that much.”

            And animals have no power to reason? I would have thought animals could do what they wanted to, just as we can.

            “The “a benevolent God wouldn’t allow evil” position is implicitly arguing that a world without free will would be better than a world with pain and suffering.”

            YES. What’s so marvellous about ‘free will’ anyway? (Jerry will tell you there’s no such thing). And even in the ‘common’ sense of the word, we don’t have free will. I can’t just step out of my house and shoot my neighbour, not without legal consequences. If G*d magically tweaked things so that peoples’ psychopathic instincts were suppressed, that would be no more imposition on them than the fact that I’m inhibited from doing so many things by laws and conventions. My ‘free will’ may be in direct conflict with other peoples’ ‘free will’. ‘Free will’ is a myth. In practice it’s the ability to decide on a limited range of options circumscribed by circumstances. It’s absolutely not a requirement for G*d to permit evil.

            All the millions of people who have been enslaved and imprisoned over the years, whatever happened to their ‘free will’? Or was their unfortunate loss of free will urgently necessary to permit their so-much-more-deserving captors to exercise their own?

            If a ‘benevolent’ G*d can’t restrain evil, then he’s not much bloody use, is he?

            cr

            • Posted May 12, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

              I trust that both you and Dr. Coyne will forgive me if I don’t accept “Jerry will tell you there’s no such thing” as definitive evidence on the matter of free will. Also, since no one forced you to reply, it’s hard not to notice that you’re exercising free will even as you deny its existence.

              That said, I’m perfectly willing to concede that the exercise of free will is always limited by a “range of options circumscribed by circumstances.” I’m even willing to concede that in extreme cases, such as “people who have been enslaved and imprisoned,” the exercise of free will can be curtailed altogether. But this doesn’t mean that free will is a “myth” or doesn’t exist. Quite the contrary: you can’t be deprived of exercising something you don’t have.

              You are, of course, free to disagree.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted May 12, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

                Okay. Absolute ‘free will’ is a myth. In practice ‘free will’ is circumscribed by circumstances, extremely so in the case of slaves.

                Therefore, what is so sacrosanct about ‘free will’ and so taboo about interfering with it? People interfere with my free will all the time, and I with theirs, it’s called living in society and it is unavoidable. In particular, society interferes with my freedom to rob banks and break the speed limit in spectacular fashion. And also with my more psychopathic urges.

                So, why is it therefore verboten for G*d to interfere with peoples’ ‘free will’ (and I note here, we’re talking about the ‘free will’ of the nastiest people to do evil)? If G*d is omnipotent and omniscient and benevolent He certainly could stop them and, for the benefit of all the potential victims who are about to have their ‘free will’ trampled on by the malefactors, He certainly should.

                In other words, ‘free will’ can not be used as an excuse for the existence of evil.

                cr

  6. Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    One of my favorite “memes”, as Redditors call them, is a picture of a woman lovingly holding her newborn baby as Jesus stands behind her and says “Don’t get too attached, I’m giving him leukemia next week.”

    • darrelle
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      The only reasonable response from a true Christian mother would be a joyful, “Oh THANK YOU Jesus! Thank You, Thank You!” But that seems to be a very rare response to such events from Christians in real life.

      • Kevin
        Posted May 10, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Unfortunately, rare still means it happens. There are some who feel blessed with misery. Worth sharing Perfect Circle Judith (written about his own mother’s willingness to accept a broken life as God’s will) lyrics:

        Your Lord and your Christ
        He did this
        Took all you had and
        Left you this way
        Still you pray, you never stray
        Never taste of the fruit
        You never thought to question why
        It’s not like you killed someone
        It’s not like you drove a hateful spear into his side
        Praise the one who left you
        Broken down and paralyzed
        He did it all for you

        • darrelle
          Posted May 10, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that song has always pissed me off. Just as Maynard intended I’m sure.

  7. Juan
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Even if there was evidence for the existence of the devil. He would exist only because god wanted it, otherwise he won’t be all poweful, thus making him directly responsible for the existence of evil.

    • busterggi
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Clearly Yahweh needs a fall guy.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      I can’t remember where exactly, but right there somewhere in the bible God pretty clearly says that he is the author of all evil.

  8. JohnH
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    And the evangelical preachers continue to preach that we must strive to become more “Godly”. Would painfully torturing people until they die count? Sort of reminds me of a certain 20th century dictator.

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    The 9th chapter of “Philosophy of Religion” by Louis J. Pojman has a reasonably good critique of Plantinga, in which it is pointed out that while AP doesn’t claim Satan as a basic belief, there’s no reason why he couldn’t, by his logic.

    It’s part of the “Great Pumpkin” argument against Plantinga. See p. 129

    In the following chapter, the author vigorously argues that the notion that belief is required for salvation is incoherent.

    Although the author never argues for flat out atheism, this book might restore some of John Loftus’ confidence in philosophy of religion as a legitimate academic discipline.

    • Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      There *are* honest works in the philosophy of religion. I particularly like Patrick Grim’s argument against omniscience.

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    The phrase “not altogether convincing” means “wholly unconvincing” in British-speak. I probably would have phrased it the same way myself. Saying it that way adds a hint of mockery to the opposition to the argument. Cultural differences.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      In US English it is also often used in that way. It all depends on inflection and tone of voice, which doesn’t always come across very well on the internet.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 10, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Good point. I always remember years ago when Condoleezza Rice became Secretary of State and some former students of hers were interviewed. The comments were presented out of context and most very fairly non-committal. One young man said she was “very cool” and there was no way to tell if it was a compliment, or he thought she was emotionally cold. To this day I wonder what he thought of her!

        • darrelle
          Posted May 10, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          I’ve never understood Condoleezza Rice. Some reliable insight about her would definitely be interesting to me too.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. (I wrote this as a comment but it can go here as a reply:)

      I wouldn’t criticise the Irish Times’ article.

      That reply, “because God created free will”, is probably the Christians’ best argument. (Not that it’s any good).

      Calling it “not altogether convincing” is I think journalistic understatement.

      cr

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 11, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      The phrase “not altogether convincing” means “wholly unconvincing” in British-speak.

      I think it predates “Yes Minister” by a considerable stretch, but it has the air of a SirHumphrey-ism.
      Actually, I’d bet a beer on the proposition that blames it on Private Eye. I bet the scriptwriters found plenty of material in the pages of that august journal.

  11. Kevin
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Cancer is part of the Catholic way. Have a gander at the long list of Saints.

    Pain and suffering. Acute or chronic. Without it life is meaningless. The more dire the circumstances the closer to God one gets. Lovely.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      The belief that suffering gets you closer to God is one of the most revealing cons that Christianity has perpetrated on its adherents. As many have said before the powerful have very often in history viewed religion as an effective way to keep the common folk in line.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 10, 2017 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

        Anybody mention Agnes Bojaxhiu?

        She certainly helped a lot of people get closer to God…
        (whether they wanted to or not)

        cr

        • darrelle
          Posted May 11, 2017 at 7:44 am | Permalink

          Regarding what gets one closer to “God”, I tend to agree more with Trent Reznor rather than Agnes Bojaxhiu. But then, I’m a sensitive guy!

  12. Cornelius
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Of course there is a God. He’s 100 per cent malevolent but only 80 per cent effective.

    From:”Why does the world exist” by Jim Holt

  13. Posted May 10, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    “So is free will, which can’t be adduced at all for things like cancer, earthquakes, and so on.”

    There is scientific evidence that all cancers are the result of human activity (e.g., http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/scientists-suggest-that-cancer-is-man-made). Moreover, if we can credibly posit that human-caused climate change is capable of producing earthquakes and tsunamis in the future, there is no reason to doubt that this may have happened in the past as well—i.e., that earthquakes and tsunamis are also the result of human activity of one kind or another–and, ultimately, of free will. Not saying that either of these arguments solves the “problem of evil” definitively, but they at least work better than having to introduce Satan into the mix.

    • Posted May 10, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      At least, they cannot charge us with the extinctions of South American ungulates, the dinosaurs and the Permian fauna.

      • busterggi
        Posted May 10, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Until we invent time machines anyway.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      That is just utter nonsense.

      Firstly that paper, despite the headline, does not suggest that *all* cancer is man-made. Secondly, having skimmed through it, I doubt its conclusions – but I’d like to see what more qualified people than I, would make of it.

      What *is* nonsense is the implication that all cancers are the ‘fault’ of humankind and therefore, not the fault of the Creator.

      Create a species that is going to cause horrific suffering for itself *without the knowledge or ability to avoid so doing* – how does that let God off the hook?

      Right now, we know a lot about the processes and how to counteract them – though the political ability and organisation is lagging. But in the past, who knew that digging asbestos, or burning coal, or over-cropping, even smoking, was going to lead to terrible consequences?

      And this is where the comment really goes adrift from reality –
      “if we can credibly posit that human-caused climate change is capable of producing earthquakes and tsunamis in the future”
      NO, we can’t. Not credibly.

      It is possible that some small quakes near e.g. oilfields may be triggered by drilling, but not the big ones – they are caused by strains built up by tectonic plates moving and we cannot control those (even less, could our ancestors). Hurricanes may be caused by climate change, but NOT earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic activity.

      “there is no reason to doubt that this may have happened in the past as well—i.e., that earthquakes and tsunamis are also the result of human activity of one kind or another”

      That is a complete non sequitur. Humankind’s geological impact on the planet has increased exponentially in recent centuries. Before a few hundred years ago it was effectively nil.

      “human activity of one kind or another” – such as *what*?

      cr

  14. Posted May 10, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    To the Hamites and other fundies it is all very clear – free will lead to eating the forbidden fruit [ironically to know the truth of good and evil] which caused the fall – thus we brought it on ourselves, so don’t blame the big guy!

  15. Posted May 10, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Do molecules have “free will”? Or just god-like humans? If humans are god-like, no wonder there are so many mean, uncaring SOBs.
    Like god, like creation. God made us do it.

  16. rickflick
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    The argument from evil is a weak one if you accept that g*d is evil.

  17. Posted May 11, 2017 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    But cancer is not evil.
    Evil does not exist…

  18. reasonshark
    Posted May 11, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Still irritates me that this is considered a serious academic discussion anywhere. There are the obvious facts: that it’s a moot point without independent evidence of anything even remotely deity-like to begin with; that the notion of free will makes no goddamn sense and is a feeble intellectual excuse for pandering to intuitive revenge impulses; that calling something “omni-whatever” is far more problematic than simply positing it’s “very whatever”; and that Ben Goren’s “call 911” test puts to shame virtually every imaginary friend – sorry, “deity” – ever posited.

    People tell me I’m too intolerant of religious beliefs. But look at what mockeries they make of rational inquiry and moral argument! If anything, I’m not intolerant enough.

    This inanity needs to be kicked out of the intellectual club, along with many other pseudosciences and hoaxes and superstitions and idiocies. The sooner the whole enterprise becomes a global laughing stock, the better.


Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*

%d bloggers like this: