A Possible Gospel And New Testament

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Gospel, Chapter Five: The Problems of Evil

But Ain’t That Og…

From within the One, the only problem of evil is the real problem of evil: how to overcome it, first within ourselves and then in the world. But a second problem – the riddle of evil – arises when we believe in the existence of an Other-God who is both all good and all powerful. “All powerful” is usually understood as having no limitations or constraints upon his power.

I call this all-powerful and all-good Other-God, the alleged Creator of creation and an Entity supposed to exist in distinction from the rest of being or nature, “Og” - the one with the missing letter who’s got it backwards. The problem that the existence of evil presents for Og is a logical contradiction that can never be resolved. Every proposed solution reduces Og’s power; for no one, understandably, wants to reduce Og’s goodness.

But Og - There’s a Razor Blade in My Apple…

Here are the major walls that we run into when we play, “Og: Escape from Evil:”

First, an Other-God able to pull anything into existence that he wanted like a rabbit out of a hat would have brought his Kingdom to fulfillment from the beginning. We would be in heaven now.

Some say that Og allowed for evil in the world so that we would be free to choose between good and evil; otherwise, it’s said that we would be “robots,” “automatons,” or “zombies,” and not humans. But to assert that Og had to allow for evil is to place a major limitation on his power. An all-powerful Og could have brought about his desired end of fully human beings dwelling with Him forever in heaven without being under any constraint to use a methodology that involves putting many of us through hell on earth in order to get from here to there. No means to his desired end could have been forced on Og. He’s just that kind of Guy.

Why would a Guy like that have needed any means at all? If an all-powerful Og created the world from nothing (“ex-nilos”), then Og could have created the best and ultimate world ex-nilos.

If we want to overlook this basic logic and still insist that Og decided to give us “free choice,” whatever that is - choice in a vacuum, with no influences at all, I guess? - on account of how this was necessary to save us all from zombiehood (Note: “necessary” = “had to” = limitation on Og’s power, but okay, let’s just try and forget about that one…), then surely Og could have created a world in which we were free to choose between good and better. Free choice does not require a choice between good and evil. When we let our young children choose something to play with, we do not include razor blades or knives among the choices.

… And Besides: Zombies Have Feelings Too

Furthermore, to assume that we do in fact have “free choice” is a big assumption. In fact, no one knows whether or what or if we choose; for time moves one way, and there is no going back for a do-over to learn if we really could have done differently at those times when we look back and feel as though it would have been possible. Feeling so is not knowing so. We cannot know that our lives aren’t simply or primarily the determined outcomes of our genes interacting with our environments

We do not know that we have free choice. Therefore we cannot know that, lacking free choice, we would become automatons and lose our status as warm-blooded, passionate human beings whose actions sometimes feel more compelled (someone is holding a gun to our head) and at other times feel less compelled, and even relatively free. (My personal speculation regarding choice vs. determinism is that it’s really something in-between – maybe you could call it, “influenced choice.” There are strong influences on us, but we do appear to have some degree of choice.)

Woe then, to you right-wing Christians who speak of zombies and automatons! For you have watched bad sci-fi and allowed it to influence your theology. Cf. Mat 23

55 Comments:

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Pamela said...

I tend to believe that we were given our free agency. We can choose light or darkness, good or evil.

You can't know the bitter without the sweet.

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger Stacey said...

You have put forth a fascinating argument (are you sure you're not a math person? It is very logical).

The problem that the existence of evil presents for Og is a logical contradiction that can never be resolved. Every proposed solution reduces Og’s power; for no one, understandably, wants to reduce Og’s goodness.

I would even go so far as saying that the existence of evil certainly does reduce Og's goodness (in addition to his power).

Allowing evil, even for the alleged purpose of making us "human" does not change the fact that evil exists, even if it is supposedly for the greater good.

And I agree with you about free will. There are no guarantees that the road not taken would truly have existed.

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger Homo Escapeons said...

I'll be your Huckleberry...
Evil is a human concept of course. In the Natural world there are simply actions and consequences. Pay attention to your surroundings and you may get to eat and not be eaten.

I had always been taught that the angels were the first attempt at created beings with limited free will and even one third of them supposedly rebelled and chose evil.

Very few people live in a world where the only choices are good and better. Only the wealthy enjoy choices of better and best

Free choice is ideologically impossible because it automatically has value added retribution attached.
Free choice is an oxymoron.

I remember a young man of the cloth once explained to me that Adolf Hitler would have been forgiven had he asked for it just before his chauffeur fired a bullet into his head and torched the body.

Were 55 million lives lost in WW2 because of Hitler's free will to choose evil. Is 55 million insignificant to a Creator. How many died with severely limited choices moments before their demise?

Evil and all that it entails, will never be eradicated until our species is.

 
At 11:55 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

Darius wrote:
Every proposed solution reduces Og’s power; for no one, understandably, wants to reduce Og’s goodness.

Enh, I'm not so sure this is correct. I have seen theodicies that explicitly question God's goodness, and argue that the correct (and biblical) response in the face of uncertainty about God's goodness is to complain to God about evil. A "theodicy of protest", I think it's called.

And, of course, there are lots of theodicies that neglect God's goodness to protect God's sovereignty -- any theodicy that claims that God is "in control" of everything that happens makes God directly responsible for the tsunamis, and earthquakes, and the holocaust, and whatever else.

In addition, you yourself argue that free-will theodicy is morally indefensible ... but couldn't a person accept it anyway, if she were willing to relinquish the idea of God's goodness in exchange for getting to keep the idea of God's otherness? The theodicy argument has traditionally been done between theists and atheists, rather than theists of different stripes, so the list of important qualities of God might differ when two theists are going at it.

Free choice does not require a choice between good and evil.

I think it does. In a world where children are allowed to choose between bouncy balls and knives, knives are rightly seen as evil. But if were instead only allowed to choose between bouncy balls and wooden blocks, wouldn't a child cracked in the head with a wooden block come to see wooden blocks as the ultimate evil?

Or, to turn it the other way around, if children were allowed to choose between bouncy balls and biological weapons, wouldn't giving a child a knife be seen as fairly innocuous? I mean, at least with a knife, the kid would only hurt himself, rather than annihilating everyone in the city.

Furthermore, to assume that we do in fact have “free choice” is a big assumption.

Good point. Justifying all the suffering in the world using the free will defense is a pretty shaky approach given what we think we know about psychology and the physiology of the brain. It's starting to look like we're meat machines, and it doesn't help the theist's case to have to argue theodicy and determinism both.

 
At 11:58 AM, Blogger crystal said...

Finding a solution to the problem of evil does seem logically impossible, given a God who is all good, all powerful. But to depersonalize God to the point where there's no longer a paradox is to lose any God that's worth knowing, I think.

I'd lean towards free will, away from determinism. It seems like no free will = no responcibility or chance for growth/change. You said ...

for time moves one way, and there is no going back for a do-over to learn if we really could have done differently at those times when we look back and feel as though it would have been possible.

... but don't we do-over all the time, just with different people or situations, but we do get the chance to learn from mistakes or sucesses and try again. For instance, my stepfather was a bad stepfather. But now he's remarried and has a new daughter, and he's become a better parent, thanks to some lessons he's learned.

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger Within Without said...

Hi Darius.

I can't begin to hope to examine this issue to the depth that you obviously have and do. And that's kind of the point...I don't want to.

I was raised Catholic, went to church, was an altar boy, the whole shebang.

I would say you are digging too deeply to try to harvest your crop, but that would be unfair and too simplistic, and I'll read more.

But I really think it is as simple as free choice. I think free choice is real, and what Og or God or the Creator wants us to do is think freely and be individuals, with the freedom to believe or not to believe in this religion or that or, if we choose, to not follow any "faith" at all.

Faith is handing your responsibility for your own life and behaviour over to someone else or some other entity.

I freely choose this: to be the best individual I can be with everyone I meet and everything I do, to care about the right things and to focus on those issues and people, and to not subjugate my responsibility to be that person to some other being who may or not be there and watching what I'm doing or not doing.

I really think while doing that is all very complicated and challenging, it's the basic assignment of life, and you're on your own doing it, either to fall flat on your face or to be an honors student or somewhere in between.

To rely on a human invention called religion and especially "the church" is to give up that responsibility and to become the automaton you talk about. That's my feeling.

 
At 12:13 PM, Blogger Chris said...

"Nothing which implies contradiction falls under the omnipotence of God."

Thomas Aquinas
Summ. Theol., I qxxv, Art 4

I will allow C.S Lewis to answer one piece of your puzzle: If not all of it.

"His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you chose to say 'God gave a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it', you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words 'God can'. It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God."

C.S. Lewis, The Problem With Pain

It seems that God is one steep ahead of you Darius, because I got this book yesterday. I did not go for this book, and I did not have the money to buy the book. Under every pretense I should not have bought the book, but I did it anyways. A real life example of the preparation the Lord has given me to answer the questions of today's world.

I will continue to add to this subject and the past ones, but I have to go and spend time with my six-year-old brother. Peace.

 
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At 1:19 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

As usual, Crystal seems to do a good job of distilling the argument: Is there a theodicy that allows us to affirm the goodness, power and knowledge of God while also allowing us to affirm the personhood of God?

Also, in the interest of accuracy, I think it's "ex nihilo", and (Chris) the C.S. Lewis book is "The Problem Of Pain".

 
At 1:45 PM, Blogger sirbarrett said...

Yes, I am now convinced that we could be completely controlled by chance and still feel a feeling of reward for making what we think our choices, controlled by physiological forces. Whether or not we choose good or evil then, depends on the efficiency and effectiveness of our design -a design that is either pleasure-seeking, moralistic, stoic, masochistic, half-hearty or whatever, which we are forced to test in this thing we called "life". Sounds kinda Darwinistic doesn't it -like survival of the fittest? OH, ok! I don't know what I believe but it's fun to speculate anyway.

I like your headings. They made me chuckle.

PS -Do you buy any of that Augustinian stuff about evil just being an absence of good or do you just think that's a clever way of ignoring that evil exists?

 
At 3:10 PM, Blogger UARIDI said...

Your theology is interesting - no comment because I do believe in the all wonderful, loving God who can do anything and everything.

The presence of Bush has nothing to do with creation by with spin doctors and the biggest liar of all - politics

Have a good day

 
At 3:26 PM, Blogger Nabeel said...

but that's what it's all about my friend .. being good in the presence of evil. if there was no evil then being good won't have any value.

 
At 3:58 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Hi all. I thought that was a fine post, Darius, very clearly expressed.

Good and bad are labels that we accord to actions. No action or thing can be termed 'good' unless it can be compared to something that is termed 'bad'.

Further, all actions have a multitude of consequences and these are unlikely to be all good or all bad. Our obsession with good and bad actions and behaviour may derive from being raised in such a way that good behaviour merited a reward and bad behaviour merited a punishment.

 
At 4:50 PM, Blogger anonymous julie said...

The problem isn't much of a problem - depending upon your point of view. Riddle me that? But that doesn't help the earth-bound humans too much.

Perhaps this Guy is lonely, and is playful... a game, with restraints created voluntarily, more of a challenge, more fun to win.

 
At 6:21 PM, Blogger kevin said...

Woe then, to you right-wing Christians who speak of zombies and automatons! For you have watched bad sci-fi and allowed it to influence your theology. Cf. Mat 23

:P

Chris quoted:
...because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God."

yes!

matthew wrote:
wouldn't a child cracked in the head with a wooden block come to see wooden blocks as the ultimate evil?

Who equates pain with evil?
Doctor, it hurts when I do this... "Then don't do it!"

benjamin said:
Our obsession with good and bad actions and behaviour may derive from being raised in such a way that good behaviour merited a reward and bad behaviour merited a punishment.

very well said. I concur.

I have a friend who likes to say that most people are really just glorified meat robots. Then again, he tends to tick people off and looses alot of them, too...

I don't really see any evidence for very much free will, honestly. I can't really stop myself from eating, pooing, sleeping, or dying. So I can only surmise that at best what I may have then is "limited will". If so, how much then?

I think it depends on how much of an animal I am vs. how much of a true humanbeing I have the potential to actualise.

I believe there are evil actions, certainly. Not absolute evil. That posits that there are Two, instead of One.

If we fill our lives with evil actions I suspect that we empty it of our 'humaness'. IMO

cherrio. good talk.

 
At 6:29 PM, Anonymous SH said...

"Free will", without a doubt, is a fiction, but the illusion of us being able to choose freely is almost impossible to escape in a day-to-day life.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the lack of free will is a blessing rather than a curse. For the existence of free will would mean that some of the events, including our decisions, are uncaused and that would spell out complete chaos in our decision making process as well as in the world at large. Fortunately, it is not what we observe around us - most people respond to the world in a quite predictable manner.

"There is an undeniable human tendency to see ourselves as free and morally responsible beings. But there’s a problem. We also believe—most of us anyhow—that our environment and our heredity entirely shape our characters (what else could?). But we aren’t responsible for our environment, and we aren’t responsible for our heredity. So we aren’t responsible for our characters. But then how can we be responsible for acts that arise from our characters?"

The above is an excerpt from an interview with British Analytic Philosopher Galen Strawson who discusses free will and how it relates to moral responsibility. You might find it to be of interest:

“You cannot make yourself the way you are”

 
At 7:59 PM, Blogger Darius said...

PAMELA T: Pamela, how do you get around, in your own thinking, what I mention in the post – that there’s no going back in time for a do-over to know whether our choices are real, or only apparent? Also, per the post, what would “free” choice mean? Free of influence? How would that work? And again, per the post: what do you think it is that would keep us from being able to taste sweet and sweeter? How do you know that the ability to taste sweetness depends on having tasted bitterness? What happens if you put sugar in a newborn's mouth?

STACEY: Seems that way to me too – that if there really were an all-powerful Og who was also all good, then we’d already be in a world-without-evil. Otherwise, if there really is an Other-God who’s absolutely in charge, then the way the world really is isn’t consistent with the all-goodness of Og.

HOMO ESCAPEONS: Right - that is, that very few – or zero – persons actually live in a world of good and better. Was just pointing out that when folks say that an omnipotent Og had to create good and evil so that we could choose, it isn’t so. If Og were omnipotent, then Og could have created a world of less dangerous choices in which choice was between good and better rather than good and evil. One of the choices, for example, would NOT be the possibility of “getting eaten" that you mention.

As to, “Evil will never be eradicated until our species is,” that depends – to emulate my post-modernist hero, Bill Clinton. Evil is usually categorized as “human evil” and “natural evil.” If people weren’t around, then it's true that the concept of evil wouldn’t exist. But I'd have to assume that animals would still find getting eaten alive pretty painful and unpleasant…

MATTHEW: Hadn’t heard of the concept of a less than completely good and yet all-powerful God, but I definitely believe in the existence of the idea. For one thing, it seems to me that this would be the God of anyone who hates in God’s name.

It also seems that some believers emphasize an Other-God of love, while other believers really do appear to prefer, or at least emphasize, an Other-God of vengeance.

Speaking personally, if I did believe in Other-God, and also found myself concluding that Og was all-powerful and yet had less moral integrity than, say, the average person I know, I couldn’t worship at the shrine. I might pretend to do so from out of fear, but for me this would be the necessary appeasement of a divine (sort of) dictator, and not God.

You’re thinking that free choice (if it exists – you agree that we can’t know whether it exists) would necessarily involve choosing between good and evil, not good and better - basically because anything “less good,” so to speak, would be experienced as relatively evil.

I’d still tend to think it would be experienced as relatively – less good. And that the less evil would be experienced as less evil.

As an aside, I’d like to point out that it’s always seemed to me that the more we talk about Other-God – whether for or against, theologically or anti-theologically - the more that we enter the field of pure logic and semantics. This is because whatever other form of existence Og may or may not assume, Og is certainly the greatest Hypothetical ever advanced – and left dangling out there for millennia. Because there’s no way to demonstrate the very existence of what we’re supposed to be talking about!

In contrast, when we talk about our experiences of life or existence itself – the One in whom everyone lives and moves and has their being – then talk gets real.


Okay, so what I mean is this: I think the concepts of good and evil speak to two distinguishable halves of one continuum: the dying segment and the flourishing segment; the contracted and the expansive; the unwell and the well.

So if, in your examples, we let a child choose between playing with a knife and a biological weapon – now remember everyone, don’t try this at home! – it’s a choice between worse and worser, as it were sir; evil and still greater evil.

As to your bouncy balls and wooden blocks, that’s complicating our analogies, because, on the one hand, the wooden block is fun; but on the other hand, the kid could possibly get clunked on the head with the block. Who knows, maybe the kid’s near an open window and startles easily, tumbling backwards…

So to keep us from going down other roads, let’s do a parallel analogy and make the kid choose between a gray bouncy ball and a multi-colored bouncy ball. Either way, the child would enjoy him/herself and develop some hand/eye coordination, even though she/he would be more visually stimulated by the colorful ball. One way would be good; the other better.

CRYSTAL: I understand how you feel about the idea of a “depersonalized” God. To me, that response comes from fact that we are (at least in some ways…) the greatest entities that we know of. So “depersonalized” equates with being less than human. But for me, it’s entirely conceivable that being, and even Being itself, may be far greater than human.

You write, “... but don't we do-over all the time, just with different people or situations…”

But these aren’t real do-overs precisely because of the fact that there’s a history behind them.

WILL CATCH UP WITH MORE COMMENTS TOMMORROW, YOU GUYS ARE WEARING OUT MY BRAIN!!!

(Glad everybody's making each other think though. It reminds me of a favorite saying of mine about Og: “If Og had meant us to think, He’d have given us brains.”)

 
At 8:36 PM, Blogger Trish said...

Hey, thanks for the words of moral support. I never thought of psychologists that way before! You're good people.

 
At 8:55 PM, Blogger Lady Wordsmith said...

GHaaaahH! Your brain is getting worn out? How is that possible luvie? I'm still panting trying to catch my breath from the 'running with God' discourse! -- Which still has me thinking on Taoism and the Experiential Pragmatist, so....

You say:

"Free choice does not require a choice between good and evil..."

and you go on to say:

" In fact, no one knows whether or what or if we choose; for time moves one way, and there is no going back for a do-over to learn if we really could have done differently at those times ... "


In turn I am compelled to share what Taoism says in the teaching of "Wu Wei", which is essentially a concept of "non-doing" which is tied to Taoist philsophy of adjustments are always needed for the demands of time. And Change.

The literal translation of 'non-action', of course, can be very misleading. In fact, "Wu Wei" is something which should ultimately appeal to any pragmatist. It is Experiential Pragmatism at its core.

It is an acknowledgement that ultimate joy and sublime happiness does not come from the free will to choose this state. It comes from knowing the elements - understanding the reactions and causal relationships - and expending the least amount of energy to deal with them. To find the path to contentment.

Wu Wei is not a matter of choosing good over evil.

Debating whether or not there is a good and an evil is counter productive. It is stirring the pot. It is putting razors into the apple.

The bliss of having free will - if you want to accept that free will exists - is not the freedom to choose good. It is the freedom that comes from knowing if you don't fight goodwill - goodwill will come.

But then again, these are the rambling words of a panting tired Lady who is still dazzled and struggling with the discourse of your Master's Seminar.

Ever yours - lady

 
At 9:53 PM, Blogger SusieQ said...

Mortimer Adler, American educator and philosopher, broke freedom down into three.

The first is freedom inherent in human nature. It is innate and consists of the freedom of the will. It is the freedom of being able to choose other than as we did. It means our actions are not instinctively determined or due to conditioning completely. It means each person is able to decide for himself what he shall do or become and, thus, change his own character. Adler says, "We are free to make ourselves whatever we choose to be." That is a statement which empowers the human being and gives hope.

The second freedom is acquired through habits of disposition we form. This can be thought of as moral freedom because it is tied to virtue.

The third freedom is circumstantial freedom. It is dependent on external circumstances. It has to do with being free to choose to do as we please. Circumstances do not always permit us that freedom as in the case of imprisonment for instance.

This is another way of looking at free will and freedom of choice.

 
At 3:56 AM, Blogger gautami tripathy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 4:01 AM, Blogger gautami tripathy said...

Withour evil, whats goodness?

BTW, Inspired by you, I started on a journey of trying to understand the Bhagavadgita.

Chk it here:Gita

 
At 4:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 5:36 AM, Blogger Meander Knot Press said...

You mean this isn't heaven? Rats.
Thanks for your comment on the poetry side of things.

 
At 6:14 AM, Blogger Pastor Doug Hoag said...

In the Garden of Eden, Eve was confronted with a choice, and I don't think that that choice was between good and evil, the knowledge of which was consigned to one tree. The other tree was the tree of life. It seems apparent that there was a choice to make, but it was a choice between life and death.

These choices are true today. We can choose to remain in relationship with God, which would be life, or we could choose to sever that relationship, which would be death.

 
At 7:45 AM, Blogger Benjamin said...

If perception is reality (there may be many levels of both and, indeed, all may be illusory), then I am responsible for what happens in the world just as the world is responsible for what happens to me.

My understanding of Taoist philosophy is that principles of non-action advocate surrender or letting things be to reach a natural accord.

To suggest that all life is suffering and that all is full of love need not be a paradoxical statement, imo.

 
At 8:42 AM, Blogger methatiam said...

I generally no longer comment on BLOGS/ discussion groups about theology, as I have found too many of the members of such organizations to prefer attacking the person who makes a statement rather than the statement itself. After having lurked here for a time, I have found that, for the most part, the people here have been respectful and not confrontational, so I will add a few tentative comments.

The first thing that strikes me is that the term “evil” is not defined. Is evil
a). Any action that results in the death of another?
What if death is not the end? In most theologies, there is a promised after-life. If this is true, then the evil committed would fall upon the killer, not the victim. If, by the act of murder, the killer is denied heaven, or reincarnation, or whatever belief system is appropriate, then is the killer the true victim of the crime?
b) Any action or thought or whatever which separates us from God?
(This is my favorite definition, by the way). If this is the case, then atheism, agnosticism, Taoism, and most other –isms are – by definition – evil, and those who practice them are practicing evil.
c) Actions and beliefs and thoughts or whatever that are defined by humans as counter-productive to the benefit of the race/culture/community
If this is the case, then Darwin AT THE TIME was evil, as his theories and arguments flew in the face of established culture. So was Martin Luther, so was Christ, so was Galileo, Gandhi, and on and on.
In order to state that Free choice does not require a choice between good and evil, one must first define what good and evil mean.

The second thing (and I’ll stop here, it’s a long comment), is that by your own argument, you contradict yourself. I’m not speaking in theological terms, now, but in logic and semantics. You posit for an all-powerful God and then attempt to contradict this premise by stating “First, an Other-God able to pull anything into existence that he wanted like a rabbit out of a hat would have brought his Kingdom to fulfillment from the beginning. We would be in heaven now.”. This implies that God would have the same goal as you do. Thus, God cannot be all-powerful because He does not run the universe in a way that you find acceptable.

OK, one more –
Is it more logical to attempt to define God in scientific terms: “Because there’s no way to demonstrate the very existence of what we’re supposed to be talking about” than to attempt to explain science in theological terms?

 
At 9:15 AM, Blogger Darius said...

WITHIN WITHOUT: I follow what you’re saying, and, per the boldface remark I added here in comments after you posted, agree with you that this sort of discussion isn’t “where the action is” – unless you happen to be at a point personally where you’re dealing with the issue of belief in an Other-God. (For myself, this ended in my mid-twenties.) And although I apply the word “God” to being or reality itself, meaning that God’s being includes ours, still: the One in whom we live and move and have our being is so much incomprehensibly vaster than our mortal lives that there is a sense in which the experience of God does have an other-like aspect. (This subject is more than I can adequately address in a comments section.}

As to the idea that free choice is a simple matter in which we’re free to choose whether to believe in this or that religion, I’m not following. Consider, for example:

The overwhelming number of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. carry on with the tradition into which they were born. It was their parents’ religion, and, in most cases, the dominant religion in the area in which they resided when they were growing up. This isn't coincidence. Most people are heavily influenced by their families and culture as to what religion they embrace. Religious affiliation, all around the world, is clearly not a free choice.

And speaking personally, it's impossible for me to choose whether or not I perceive something as making sense. I'm not capable of freely choosing what I believe is true.

CHRIS: Sounds like you're wanting to make use of your quotations to maintain that anytime someone speaks against the idea of an omnipotent Other-God, they are necessarily logically contradicting themselves.

But your quotes only assert that arguments against the idea of an omnipotent God that are self-contradictory don’t work. I agree with that.

I don’t see how my posted argument is self-contradictory. If it is, you’d need to point out where and how.

If God guided you to your books, then I wonder if the same God guided me to William James’, “Varieties of Religious Experience.” I had no idea it was a religious classic when I picked it up at my local library about a week after having an experience that changed my life forever. I had no context for understanding the experience, and the book allowed me to find out that it was a spontaneous version of the type of religious experience sought in Christian monasteries and other contemplative traditions around the world.

But then lots of little kids die never having had a chance to pick up a book at all. It's a good illustration of why I don’t believe in an all-powerful, all-good Other-God who micromanages life on earth and sides with some people by heaping special blessings and guidance upon them while the other part of His "mysterious plan" is to let other people go through hell on earth.

Have fun with your little brother! Kids that age really exist, no doubt about that.

ANONYMOUS: Ok, thanks, I see the kind of thing you mean. In brief, the film's thesis would be: “both science and religion describe the same phenomena." Sounds interesting. While I don’t think that any religious perspective is now substantiated by science, I do see that in their ways, science and religion both seek to address one and the same reality. Maybe if we slow down the pace at which we’re making our habitat unlivable for us, our species will survive long enough to make the connections between science and religion stronger.

HI MATTHEW, thanks for the info and please see my reply to Crystal –

SIRBARRETT, thanks! The humor was my favorite part of the post too!

As to, “Do you buy any of that Augustinian stuff about evil just being an absence of good or do you just think that's a clever way of ignoring that evil exists?” please see my first reply above to Matthew for how I look at good/evil…

UARIDI: Yes, I follow completely re. George…

I‘d be interested in your understanding of how it is that you’re able to believe in “an all wonderful, loving God who can do anything and everything.”

From what I can see, this belief rests first on taking the Bible’s word for it (or, for Muslims, the Quran’s). And second, on accepting the pronouncements and doctrinal elaborations of one’s religious institution as having an authority which, if not equal to that of scripture, is pretty close. Example: viewing the church as the “Bride of Christ” because the church tells us that it is, and because we may believe the Bible passages which the church points to, and its interpretation of those passages, when it cites them in support of its authoritative claims.

NABEEL: Right. (I was arguing against the existence of an all-powerful/all-good God-entity, not against the existence of evil.)

BENJAMIN: That’s true - there are sometimes unintended consequences. Still, I think that well intended actions are more likely to produce helpful consequences and selfishly motivated actions are more likely to produce harmful ones. Otherwise the concept of morality would have zero practical applications or value.

As to good necessarily being relative to bad, I don’t think so as per the post and as elaborated in my replies above to a couple of other commentators – to the first commentator, I think, and to Matthew’s first comment. (These replies were posted after you left your comment.)

I think we should get beyond reward/punishment thinking in our spiritual lives too, and will have more to say on that later on.

 
At 11:14 AM, Blogger Liquidplastic said...

Darius my head is spending, but that's not a bad thing. I do not believe in freedom of choice, or free will, and this is more obvious in my life due to whom I am and where I was born. I am aware of the concept of evil verses good, etc. but everything I would want to say or ask have already been said and answered.

I am fascinated with this topic and the depth of the raw, but respectful, dialogue. I wake up and go to sleep reading this blog.

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

Darius said:
It's a good illustration of why I don’t believe in an all-powerful, all-good Other-God who micromanages life on earth and sides with some people by heaping special blessings and guidance upon them while the other part of His "mysterious plan" is to let other people go through hell on earth.

Ack! I thought we were coming from different directions regarding the other-God, but I agree with this statement completely. Maybe my own system of belief is just self-contradictory and I don't see it yet ... but why is it required to reject the idea of God as "other"?

Basically, It would be neat to read more about why you think adding the proposition "and God is not other" is the best way to solve (or sidestep) the theodicy problem. Particularly in light of this other comment:

And although I apply the word “God” to being or reality itself, meaning that God’s being includes ours, still: the One in whom we live and move and have our being is so much incomprehensibly vaster than our mortal lives that there is a sense in which the experience of God does have an other-like aspect.

And then there's this:

Okay, so what I mean is this: I think the concepts of good and evil speak to two distinguishable halves of one continuum: the dying segment and the flourishing segment; the contracted and the expansive; the unwell and the well.

Which strikes me as an exceptionally powerful pair of rubrics, useful in categorizing people's approaches to all sorts of ideas. I'll have to think about that one some more.

 
At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

DARIUS and All,
"Maybe if we slow down the pace at which we’re making our habitat unlivable for us, our species will survive long enough to make the connections between science and religion stronger."

When you say, "slow down the pace," that is what this movie is saying. You will have to watch it to find out how close you are in the way this film talks about "slowing down." I've got a good guess that it speaks exactly to what you mean by that and much more.

In essence, the film proves that we completely control our own destiny. As if the globe is one big ball of clay or putty to be shaped into anything we want. Keep in mind, this film is not simply a theatrical story with a quirky plot. This is a landmark study on human nature made in to an entertaining hour and a half. You need to spend one of your nights this weekend and watch!! Trust me.

 
At 12:42 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I don’t see how my posted argument is self-contradictory. If it is, you’d need to point out where and how.

The biggest flaw is the allowance of God and natural evolution to co-exist in an argument, or belief. Let me explain. Your statement: We cannot know that our lives aren’t simply or primarily the determined outcomes of our genes interacting with our environments. The fact is we must know because all other knowledge hinges on this one fact. Our worldview hinges on this fact. If we stay neutral say that we cannot know then we are left empty, and the philosophy of scientific naturalism has control of you.

The answer to any question, whether in science, philosophy, or science; has its root in creation. Whether it was the divine creation, or the events of things that just happens.

Whether we are a caused thing, or just a mere combination of particles. Freewill, morality, good and evil all rest solely in this beginning fundament belief.

“The whole doctrine that we are created in the image of God gives a solid foundation for human freedom and moral significance.” (Pearcey, in her book Total Truth.)

But if we are a matter of chance then what we do is pointless. We have no purpose, function. In fact everything is a social construct that will never mean anything. Even that which you think has meaning has no meaning at all. Everything that you perceive is nonexistent in reality (if that exists), and nothing is really knowable. (Sound familiar.)

But if it is created, then it has a purpose, or function. If it is created then it means something. If it is created and given conciseness then we have knowledge. Then we can make a choice, not because we have to but because we want to.

I would also like to add that it would behoove some to read a little about Common Sense realism. It is not meant to be a joke, but it has dominated American thought for the past hundred years or so. Thomas Reid proposed that some knowledge is self-evident and that it was brought about by the way of human nature. What he was talking about is free will, morality, and good and evil.

But if you stand to believe in natural causes as are way then it does not matter because there is no solid ground. If you stand to believe that God, or Og, created our existence then there is solid ground. I urge you to find it.

On a personal note to Darius, I believe that God did give that book to you. But I also want to point out that C.S. Lewis was an atheist, and yet to most Christians, has done more to our understanding of Christianity than most writers on the subject.

 
At 1:44 PM, Blogger Darius said...

TISH, you’re welcome and good luck! And feel free to chime in here, no special expertise required.

LADY WORDSWORTH: From your description, Wu Wei sounds like it may be on the same general wave length as Buddhism – also, from Crystal’s link, as Gnosticism – in seeing the way forward as occuring with increased awareness. This contrasts with conceiving of religious life as consisting primarily of making the alleged free choice to believe one or another of the world’s various religious doctrines.

As far as stirring the pot by talking about doctrine goes, I figure it’s already being stirred, and in one particular direction, by increasingly outspoken and well financed believers who are entering the political realm in increasing numbers, using Og to justify blatantly self-serving egotism, and deliberately distorting the nature of science in the public mind. (Not, of course, that most believers do this - just the loudest ones!) So I feel ok with mixing it up a bit by stirring in the opposite direction, even though it’s just a kind of existential statement given that this is just a blog.

SUSIEQ: I agree. Even though I don’t think that free choice/determinism can be proved one way or another because of that “do-over” restriction, my own best guess or feeling for this is apparently the same as Adler’s: that there are strong influences and circumstances that affect us, but there is also some degree of choice, in some matters, which is less than perfectly free.

GAUTAMI: I’ve addressed your, “Without evil, what’s goodness?” in my reply to Pamela and in my first reply to Matthew.

Glad to hear you’re reading the Bhagavad-Gita. I do wish that Christians as a group had more familiarity with other great world religions, especially eastern ones, in order to get a feel for what’s similar and what’s different. (While my own knowledge of Buddhism is limited, I found what reading I did in that area of great personal value.)

Of course there's not much incentive to look at other religions if you believe that yours and yours alone grasps The Truth.

AUDREY: Yeah, sometimes it’s almost enough to make me confused about that too, more than ever in recent times; and you’re welcome.

PASTOR DOUG HOAG: I appreciate that this is what you think. If I’m remembering correctly, I may have previously responded to you by stating my perception of your premise concerning the Bible, and one that I think Chris shares with you: that it consists of the actual words - in some unique sense that is found in no other language on earth - of a God-entity or Other-God. Therefore, in your view, whatever the Bible says must be true. (And whenever a passage requires interpretation, then your church’s view of the passage must be correct because nowadays your particular denomination’s leadership speaks for Other-God.)

Unless you can speak to why you find this premise compelling, quoting the Bible to support your point of view isn’t going to work unless you’re talking to someone who already thinks like you do.

HI BENJAMIN – Lady Wordsworth… You still out there? She would be the Taoist in residence...

METHATIAM: Glad you noticed I’m encouraging the non-attacking atmosphere you’ve noticed.

My mantra on this is: Nobody on earth has taken the view of religion that they have for the purpose of aggravating me. Why should I feel affronted by anyone?

Yes, it seems that one of the things belief in an afterlife does is help people cope with the injustices of life as we know it by positing another domain in which justice prevails.

Re. your thought that anything separating us from God is evil: It also sounds like God, for you, is not the God of any belief system. So is sounds like you’re saying that you think such beliefs separate people from what you see as the authentic God (which you haven’t attempted to describe); and that this makes believers evil.

Of course plenty of believers would say, “No, YOU’RE the one who’s evil, buster, because you haven’t accepted… {fill in the blank – Jesus as Savior, Mohammed as Seal of the prophets, etc.}”

Personally, I don’t think in terms of people as good or evil but as more or less aware. But I think (along the lines suggested by my reply to Matthew’s first comment) that actions and outcomes can often be described as good and evil, even though there’s a continuum.

Re. your point c), right – I don’t see how that definition of evil would work either.

I haven’t noticed that I’m contradicting myself; least of all by positing an all-powerful God and then arguing against it. I’m not doing the positing, just the arguing-against – against, that is, the idea, posited by many believers, that there exists an all powerful, all good Deity existing apart from reality or nature itself. I refer to this Entity as “Og” or Other-God. In my own religious orientation, I reserve the word “God” for being or existence itself - the complete Context, including all we know but also all we don’t. The One in whom we live and move and have our being in every sense.

So of course it's mistaken to say that I'm implying anything about Og’s goals or point of view, since I don’t believe that Og exists. But if people who believe that an all-powerful Og created the world from out of nothing don’t believe that he had the potential to create whatever world he wanted to (the “rabbit from out of a hat” analogy), then it seems to me they’re placing limits on the power of the Og they’re positing.

And yes, to modify your assertion about my position, I am assuming that for believers in Og - again, not for Og, since I don’t believe in Og - the goal is generally going to heaven. And in so far as we want to identify Og with God as presented in the New Testament, it’s pretty clear that there too we find a focus on heaven (and hell) in the form of a general resurrection of the dead and eternal life for believers and damnation for unbelievers.

So I don’t think I’m talking about things that I in particular or peculiarly presuppose or find acceptable. I’m addressing others’ presuppositions.

I wouldn’t take either one of those jobs – trying to “define God in scientific terms,” or trying to “explain science in theological terms.” I’ve never heard of anybody trying to explain science in theological terms.

Science only tries to study what believers call “creation” – nature or existence itself. Believers posit an Og that exists more or less – usually, more – in distinction from and apart from nature as a Supernatural Entity. Science isn't equipped to study the supernatural.

So when I say, “... there’s no way to demonstrate the very existence of what we’re supposed to be talking about” with regard to Og, I wouldn’t expect a scientific demonstration. Or any demonstration. I think it’s indemonstrable.

EVERYONE: Thanks for all the thoughtful feedback, I see others have posted further comments, I'll catch up –

 
At 1:59 PM, Blogger Leila said...

If there was no evil, why then there would be no good! For things only exist by shades of comparison. It's like in 1984 (the novel).... kind of.

Besides that, surely with anything comes its opposite? Can anything exist without it's polar opposite?
Just a thought...

I get the kind of feeling that this blog is waaay to intelligent for the like sof me though.

 
At 2:18 PM, Blogger methatiam said...

and that this makes believers evil.
Uhm, I said atheists, agnostics and Taoists. I wouldn’t define these as “believers”
Also, please understand, I wasn’t attempting to define evil, simply illustrating the point that it wasn’t defined in this discussion.
actions and outcomes can often be described as good and evil
Absolutely. I fully agree. But which actions and outcomes? Are you and I in agreement about which action are “evil”? If not, we can only talk to cross-purposes. That’s all I was trying to say.
So of course it's mistaken to say that I'm implying anything about Og’s goals or point of view, since I don’t believe that Og exists.
Again, let me say that I was not addressing this from a point of theology, but from a standpoint of logic. The original statement was:
First, an Other-God able to pull anything into existence that he wanted like a rabbit out of a hat (here is the premise. God is able to pull anything into existence. Whether you believe it or not is irrelevant, it is stated in the argument.) I am assuming that for believers in … the goal is generally going to heaven you are then attempting to disprove something you don’t believe in by assuming the goal of the very thing you claim does not exist. This is circular reasoning. Again, this is an application of logic, not theology.
I wouldn’t expect a scientific demonstration. Or any demonstration. I think it’s indemonstrable
That’s what I was saying, it isn’t. Whether God exists or not, it isn’t scientifically provable, at least it hasn’t been throughout the history of man. But demanding scientific, repeatable demonstrative proof of God is no more logical than saying that electricity is an act of God.

 
At 3:01 PM, Blogger Pastor Doug Hoag said...

Don't know if this is the appropriate place for this, but you've commented on your perception of how I approach Scripture. I would like to respond, if I may.

I don't believe in the Dictation Theory, as if the Biblical writers were listening to a Dictaphone. I view Scripture as theological interpretations of historical events. I even read the Gospels this way. People had an encounter with Jesus, and these encounters were interpreted according to the worldview held by that particular person or community.

To me, Scripture is to be read narrativally. There are themes that weave their way throughout, like threads in a tapestry. I don't quote verses and build a whole theological system around them. Nor do I interpret according to doctrine.

I believe that the Bible contains the Word of God and the word of humanity. I also believe that the Bible is inspired, not in the sense that it's a unique kind of writing, but because it is a long and arduous account of people trying to understand how God works in the world. It's as if when Jesus came onto the scene, people's eyes gradually started to open and their minds gradually were transformed, and they were able to "see" the immanence of this transcendent God.

The God revealed in the Bible is both immanent and transcendent. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that the transcendent part is what you call "Og". You would have to if it was an either/or question. To me, it's a both/and proposition. It is much too lofty for words, but the Bible records how people place God into neat little boxes, and how, in Jesus, God destroyed those boxes so that God could be revealed as "all in all". So, to me, transcendence means that God cannot be contained in our theologies, nor can God be defined by human whim.

I reject any interpretation of Bible verses that are detached from the sweep of the Biblical Narrative, the goal of which seems to be the vindication of Israel as the Son of God and the establishment of God's Kingship. The goal was reached in Jesus.

In short, the Bible is the Greatest Story in the World.

I hope that helps. If it doesn't, then feel free to erase it.

 
At 6:44 PM, Anonymous Marissa said...

"Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right." -Ani DiFranco

And by contrast, every weapon could be used for something good (for example, missiles being fired into the air to record weather patterns, etc). What it comes down to is the intention behind whoever is controlling these objects.

Believing in an all-powerful Og who created everything (to me) means believing that Og created people with the capacity for evil. That Og could not be All-Good, in my opinion.

I think all people are different and for some, they need a sort of intimidating father-figure type to instill the "fear of God" (so to speak) in them so they do good. Some people don't need that fear, but thrive on the kind, loving God who is more about encouragement as opposed to punishment. Some people, like myself, don't believe in any god at all. I don't think any of those ways are particularly better than an other, just that people are different.

Regarding free will/choice-- I think life itself is pretty reactionary, just about everything happens because of something else. I probably wouldn't be an athiest if I hadn't gone to Catholic school and learned about the religion I was born into, for instance. :D

Some people need to have an outward purpose to function, meaning something outside of themselves (for example, those who value creationism over evolution) because they feel lost without that direction in their lives. Some can accept the fact that life is what you, yourself, alone make of it and the purpose comes from within. (I wonder if there's any correlation between extroverts being more religious and introverts being more inclined to athiesm...?)

"Woe then, to you right-wing Christians who speak of zombies and automatons! For you have watched bad sci-fi and allowed it to influence your theology. Cf. Mat 23" LOVE IT. :D

 
At 7:06 PM, Blogger Darius said...

LIQUIDPLASTIC: My head sure is "spending" too, maybe I’ll start pinching some pennies, ha ha. I like appropriate typos!

MATTHEW, I've had the same thought - that my "wavelength" probably isn't substantially different from some of you who may consider yourselves believers. Certainly the "Og" I'm speaking of is Og as conceived of by those believers who most strongly think of God as highly "other." (Compare that, for example, with theologian Paul Tillich where God is the "ground of being...")

ANONYMOUS, thank you.

CHRIS, you seem to be pointing to belief in God and in the theory of evolution as a contradiction in my thinking? But my post is rejecting belief in Other-God and doesn't mention evolution, so I don't follow.

But also, there really is nothing logically contradictory about believing in an Other-God and accepting the theory of evolution. Millions of Christians do. The theologian Tiellhard de Chardin, whose name I just murdered, believes in God and actually bases his theology on the idea of evolution.

Chris, to assert something isn't to demonstrate it. You say that we "must" know there's free choice: How so? I've already stated why we can't know; and that I'm nevertheless inclined, like I think most people are, to see us as having some degree of free choice although it's obviously far from perfect, since certainly there are factors in our environments and genes that do have major impacts on us and are outside of our control.

I don't hold to a "philosophy of scientific naturalism." That sounds like somebody who thinks science knows everything? Or will eventually know everything? The first I'd definitely reject; the second, I doubt very much.

I do think the scientific method works well at what it does - that it's the best tool we have for understanding nature in so far as it can be perceived directly or indirectly by our senses.

Basically, you seem to be equating the existence of an Other-God with life having meaning and with leading a moral life; and the absence of this belief with a meaningless immoral existence. But many many millions of, say, Chinese and Buddhists would disagree. I’ve never read or noticed that either of these groups are especially depressed or immoral, or that Christians are less depressed or more moral than other groups. I think it’s important to recognize our own feelings without ascribing them to other people. (I do understand how you feel, because I used to feel similarly myself in my teens through early twenties.)

Actually, no - "nothing is really knowable" doesn't sound familiar. I said only that we can't know that free will exists; again, even though I, probably like most people, am inclined to feel that it does exist in limited degree.

LEILA: Please see my reply to Pamela and my first reply to Matthew, or to make it quick, just consider: if you put sugar on a newborn baby’s tongue, do you think the infant wouldn’t taste sweetness because it had never tasted anything bitter?

Oh, you and… I forget who else said that. A lot of us are long-winded, but that doesn’t mean we’re smart. If we were that smart, we could think of shorter ways to say stuff.

METHATIAM: Ok, I see what you mean – and so you’re not really saying that you think non-believers are evil either then, right? I mean, obviously Buddhists and Taoists are two pretty well-behaved groups. You don’t read much about Buddhist hate groups!

As to which actions/outcomes I see as evil, please see my reply to Matthew - the first one I think.

I’m not following what you think is illogical about, “An Other-God able to pull anything into existence that he wanted like a rabbit out of a hat would have brought his Kingdom to fulfillment from the beginning. We would be in heaven now.” The logic goes: 1. Og’s supposed to be all-good, 2. Og’s supposed to be all-powerful, 3. Og’s supposed to have created the world from nothing, 4. So you’d think Og would have created heavenly existence right from the beginning.

“Assuming the goal of the very thing I don’t think exists??” Again, I, Darius, am not assuming that heaven exists! But people who believe in Og almost always do.

#4 follows from 1, 2, and 3 and is assumed by none of them. Not an example of “circular reasoning.”

You say, “Demanding scientific, repeatable demonstrative proof of God is no more logical than saying that electricity is an act of God.” Right. You wouldn’t look to science to convince you of God’s existence. But someone who believes in the existence of an Other-God that can’t be known empirically or through reason needs to offer some sort of grounds for belief to non believers if they want to communicate with them effectively. It would be equally illogical for non believers to believe what believers tell them just because they say so…

PASTOR DOUG HOAG: Well stated, and I wouldn’t think of deleting it. This is your understanding of the Bible, and in many respects it’s like mine.

By “Og,” which stands for “Other-God,” I mean God as externalized and objectified. Not unlike the God we picture when we’re kids: the Guy in the Sky. A Being that’s ontologically separate and distinct from the rest of life or existence and that created existence from a distance, so to speak.

I’d have to disagree that the entire Bible narrative points to the person of Jesus. The Gospel authors do pick out verses - from Isaiah, mostly - and try to say, “That’s Jesus he was talking about!” Frankly, this strikes me as pretty tendentious It certainly doesn’t work for Jews.

It’s not clear what your position is on Jesus as being God, being resurrected, saving believers, and coming again to bring eternal life to believers and hell to non believers. This IS a theological system, and it’s right there in the NT. John, particularly, even details it further by pretty much personifying the Holy Spirit as the third person in a Trinity.

So for me, this is already putting God into the kind of “little boxes” you don’t like, and I have to reject the New Testament as theology even while much of the narrative and symbolism resonates powerfully for me at other levels.

 
At 7:10 PM, Blogger Darius said...

MARISSA, I swear, you'd think we were Cosmic Cousins or something. Just posted my replies, and find you've again simultaneously posted a comment!

I think that happened with like 3 out of 4 of your last comments! I'm going to bed but will get back to you -

 
At 7:48 PM, Blogger Pastor Doug Hoag said...

The Hebrew Scriptures are quoted many times in the New Testament as hook phrases so that the person listening can follow the narrative.

Here's an example. While on the cross, Jesus said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" While this has been traditionally understood as God abandoning Jesus because he couldn't stand to look at the sins Jesus was carrying, and God was pouring out his wrath on sins, etc., that is not how a 1st century Jewish person would have understood it.

Many Jews, especially the women, would have the Psalms memorized. They were hymns that were sung on various occasions. What Jesus did on the cross was quote Psalm 22:1. It was not merely a statement of agony, although it was that. It mostly served as a hook phrase so that the people at the cross would, in their heads, recite the rest of the Psalm. In giving the hook phrase, Jesus was telling the people what was happening in relationship to the to the overall narrative. Psalm 22 was unfolding right before their very eyes, even though it also unfolded at a time in the distant past.

There's nothing unusual abou this at all. It's solid Jewish theology, and the original followers of Jesus understood it as such. Otherwise, Jesus would have had no followers at all. It was tendentious to many Jews of the 1st century because of nests to feather, power to maintain, and pensions to collect.

Whenever an Old Testament verse is quoted in the New, I go back to read the quoted verse in context, and ask myself, "What part of Israel's history is being replayed here?", among other questions.

I could comment on Jesus as God, resurrection, etc., but that would take way too much time. Perhaps some other time?

With that, I must say that I thoroughly enjoy your blog. I too am opposed to "Other God", the Old Man on the Distant Planet, complete with long white beard and bedsheet robes. But I think I approach the Scriptures differently than you (notice I didn't say "better" than you)! :)

 
At 8:31 PM, Blogger Amy said...

If Og created everything, then isn't "evil" included? If you believe in a all loving, powerful God, what do you do with this question?

 
At 9:45 PM, Anonymous SH said...

Amy,

Indeed:

"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7)

 
At 9:57 PM, Blogger SusieQ said...

The thinking among neuroscientists is that free will is an illusion. They base this on research into the brain. Determinism gets their vote. I was disappointed in their conclusion.

I know this is off the subject, but I wonder what this will do to the idea of personhood and inalienable rights.

Finally, I want to thank Pastor Doug for making the scriptures come alive and take on flesh.

 
At 12:00 AM, Blogger Leila said...

Okay, so you put sugar in a newborns mouth. The newborn tastes something, but not until it tastes something bitter will it know the extent of the sugars sweetness!

 
At 7:25 AM, Blogger Darius said...

MARISSA: Thanks for picking up on the humor. Frankly for me that’s the most authentic aspect of the post. Since I don’t believe in the Other-God – let’s call him “Theo” – this means that for me, the “ology” part (theology), and therefore the detailed analysis of all the ways in which it doesn’t work (maybe call that “anti-theology”) is a whole lot of words about unreality…

You were predetermined to be an atheist because of your Catholic upbringing!? Abomination and heresy! I daresay, Nay, Not, and Fie! I say, assert, and most solemnly declare, and decry, that you FREELY CHOSE to embrace atheism because you saw the truth of the risen Lord; that He alone could save you from the eternal flames; fully grasped the infinite gravity of the situation – the arms of heaven awaiting you, the dastardly fires lapping at your feet, the grief your friends and family would feel on Judgment Day watching Marissa cast into the outer darkness to weep and wail and gnash her teeth – and then, in full conscious awareness, summoning your fullest capacity for the utterly free choice that belongs to each of us as God’s grace (ok, well maybe not that then, because in that case the very capacity for free choice wouldn’t be free, it would be determined by Og…) Uh, what was I saying?

Anyway, after all that you decided to opt for eternal punishment. And not because you’re a major masochist of some kind either, because then the reason that you chose hell amounts to naturalistic determinism. You opted for the fire just “because.” You had absolutely no reason. And that’s what made it free.

Wait, wait, I know how you decided to go to hell: you flipped a coin, right? So then it really truly was a perfectly free, random – Oh my Og, my Og what have I done? (Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957).

The thought - the dastardly naturalistic, dangerous, heretical thought - crosses my mind that in that case your “free” choice would have been RANDOM! PERFECTLY FREE CHOICE WOULD BE RANDOMNESS!!!

I can’t believe I just said that! The flames! The flames! Something is lapping at my feet, my teeth are beginning to grind, for now I’ll just make a dentist appointment for next week and try and get one of those mouth guards while I still can… Heeeeeelll-p….

PASTOR HOAG: Could be. But trying to figure out what was going on in the mind of the historical Jesus is so speculative. I have my speculations too. Maybe our speculations are more informative about us than the historical Jesus.

Ha! I forgot about “the long white beard,” I had that in mind as a kid too! Look forward to hearing your thoughts on Jesus as God and the resurrection. There will be forthcoming posts bearing on those topics… And yeah, you’re right, it could overwhelm this thread!

Glad you enjoy the blog. I enjoy both the tone and content of your comments.

AMY: Sure seems that way to me…

SH: Thanks for pointing out this very “unorthodox” quote from scripture – an interesting concept that illustrates another point: The Bible is a huge multi-authored anthology. Everybody reads it with selective emphasis, including church hierarchies.

SUSIEQ: I guess personally I’d be inclined to take with a grain of salt anything anyone says about knowing free will to exist or knowing that determinism prevails.

Don’t see how you get around the fact that in the world of space-time as we know it, every event has a history that can’t be experimentally changed. Also, just as a scrap of scientific information that somehow happened to stick in my mind, I know that in physics there’s something called the “uncertainly principle.” As I understand it, at the subatomic level, it marks a limit to what scientists are able to predict because the very act of observing a particle can alter its state! (Don’t ask me to explain it, maybe “Ghost Particle” will come back…)

LEILA: That makes sense to me… It also makes sense that if you continued to refrain from giving your baby anything bitter but gave it things that were more and less sweet, this would still provide something of a contrast...

So for Og to have provided us with choice by creating a world of good and evil instead of a world of best and better is the equivalent of a parent putting lemon juice in the baby’s milk bottle to give it a better appreciation of sweetness. Sure, it does give a better sense of contrast – but is that really for the best when we could have given the baby sweetness, and even some degree of appreciation of its contrast with less sweet, without making it repeatedly cry from lemon juice feedings??

And so the eternal question remains: Why did Og put lemon juice in our milk bottles?

 
At 9:24 AM, Blogger Darius said...

KEVIN, sorry about that, looks like I managed to overlook your comment.

That's my gut feeling too - that while there may well be some choice, whatever freedom there is is powerfully limited by innate aptitudes/environment.

I don't think that under any circumstances, for example, that I would have been free to become a mechanic! Maybe just as a Maytag repairman in an alternate universe where nothing ever needed fixing...

 
At 9:29 AM, Blogger Darius said...

SH, shoot, missed yours too. But as you can see from my last comment to Marissa, we're on the same wavelength. If we have any degree of freedom to choose, my own subjective experience is that this feels most to be the case re. inconsequential choices.

I very much feel, when I go shopping, that I could choose tangerines instead of oranges.

Of course everyone doesn't feel this way. Many people claim to have chosen their religious belief. I don't understand how that works. For myself, I either believe something or I don't. I can't decide what I believe because it depends on what I perceive as being true or not.

 
At 12:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darius, you said, "Don’t see how you get around the fact that in the world of space-time as we know it, every event has a history that can’t be experimentally changed. Also, just as a scrap of scientific information that somehow happened to stick in my mind, I know that in physics there’s something called the “uncertainly principle.” As I understand it, at the subatomic level, it marks a limit to what scientists are able to predict because the very act of observing a particle can alter its state! (Don’t ask me to explain it, maybe “Ghost Particle” will come back…)"

Man, strange, you must have already seen "What The Bleep..." If not you've got to right away! Lest anyone think our minds have been blown away now? Just wait.

 
At 12:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, it makes "Ghost Particle" look like a "Prarie Home Companion" rerun.

 
At 8:01 AM, Anonymous Rachel said...

Furthermore, to assume that we do in fact have “free choice” is a big assumption.

It's kind of hard to imagine how someone born into a poverty stricken area of Africa, e.g., has free choice in the way we are
talking about. If they had free choice, no doubt they would opt to have plenty of food to eat. We, on the other hand, do have the choice to do all that we can to help them, but do we? Unless we believe people decide before they are born where and when they will be born, I don't think free will plays as big a role in some lives as it does in others.

In fact, no one knows whether or what or if we choose; for time moves one way, and there is no going back for a do-over

Time may move in one direction, but is there another dimension where time does not exist or where a greater law overrules the working of time? Somewhere I've heard it said that we can change the past--or at least some of the karmic effects of our past actions--by changing our attitudes toward those past actions. In other words, truly regretting a past action may mitigate some of the effects of that action. I assume this sort of transaction assumes we are more than our physical bodies and takes place on a soul level. None of this gives much comfort to those who are suffering or watching others suffer unless they are in contact with a higher level perspective, which might be the God's perspective.

The problem that the existence of evil presents for Og is a logical contradiction that can never be resolved. Every proposed solution reduces Og’s power; for no one, understandably, wants to reduce Og’s goodness.

It's a logical contradiction from this level of perspective anyhow. I guess the hope would be that ultimately, somewhere, somehow--or here and now if one could get beyond a nondualistic perspective--neither Og's power nor goodness is diminished. "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do" may have been uttered from an understanding beyond space/time and a good/evil dichotomy. Beyond an us/them, me/you mentality as well. Ironically, unless we were all masochists, if we lived more from that mentality there would be less evil in the world.

None of this addresses why evil exists or why an all God good who allow/create evil. Maybe Og wasn't always all good, maybe Og evolved--and is evolving still?

 
At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Marissa said...

Darius, your response to my comment rules. :D

 
At 5:41 AM, Anonymous Rachel said...

or here and now if one could get beyond a nondualistic perspective

Oops. Should read:

get beyond to a nondualistic perspective

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger Darius said...

RACHEL: Exactly. I don't understand strong "free choice" positions when those sorts of things - poverty, birth defects or lack thereof, who your parents are in terms of social status - have such a strong impact on what is possible or likely to happen to you. Bush is a great example.

As far as time and space goes, plenty of weird things do go on that aren't readily apparent to us - guess Einstein started pointing that out. At the same time, speaking for myself, even though I know, say, that quarks behave in odd ways, and that if you put me on a rocket at the speed of light for a while and I returned to earth I'd have aged less than everyone else, this doesn't leave me feeling free to accept alternative belief systems that defy space and time.

It seems to me that you can't extrapolate from anything now known in science to what's to become of human beings or consciousness - even though it's fun to speculate. And even though the weird stuff in science does, to me too, suggest the possibility that there could be a lot more going on than we're aware of.

You write, "Maybe Og is evolving and is evolving still." We can see that life on earth, and the cosmos itself, is an ongoing process. For me personally, it therefore becomes simpler and more honest if I acknowledge reality or existence itself as the One in whom we live and move and have our being, instead of positing the additional existence of Other-God.

While yes, there could be an Other-God beyond space and time, there really could be anything I may want to imagine beyond space and time. Unless there's support for it's existence, the bare fact that I can imagine it and no one can disprove it doesn't make it plausible to me. (Maybe there's an Other-Apple who saves all produce at the end of time...)

To me an interesting question is why do people want to believe in Og, reincarnation, karma - entities and processes that are beyond the possiblity of being disproved not because they're so compelling, but because there's no possible way to absolutely disprove them...

MARISSA: I guess that your comment somehow inspired me!

 
At 8:57 PM, Blogger gardeinfo said...

As free moral agents,the presence of ogs are to make sure we exhibit what we really are

 
At 7:29 AM, Blogger Darius said...

GARDEINFO: I don't follow...

 

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