A religionist gives us theodicy

October 12, 2022 • 12:30 pm

An anonymous reader just responded (after three years) to two readers’ comments on an old post from March, 2019:  “CNN uncritically covers a ‘miracle‘”.  The CNN story was about a church that burned down in West Virginia, but all the Bibles were spared. CNN reported this with others’ comments that the survival of the books constituted nothing less than a miracle.  That of course raises the question of what kind of God would spare a bunch of books while allowing the Nazis to kill 10 million people and who still regularly stands by and watches children die of cancer.

Two readers responded; first Christopher:

and then Keith’s response to what Christopher said:

Good point. Then a few days ago I got a comment on this post from an anonymous reader who wanted to explain why God allows bad things to happen to innocent people. I reproduce it exactly as I got it. (I didn’t post this, of course.) I’ve put my favorite part in bold:

It’s late 3 years late or so I guess but still gotta say it none the same. Your arguments stand on the foundation that only good things should happen to you, which is flawed and even then it also assumes that you are on God’s level, aka smart enough or sentient enough to question his motives and actions.
Even as adults we do not explain the reason of all our actions or request to children and sometimes it takes years for said child to see the reasoning, but we are flawed creatures and sometimes we just do things one way because we want to and there is no real overarching motive. Now I would assume that if a God exist he would be sentient or powerful enough to not need your ok to do something and if he wanted to send another flood to kill out the whole world along with all the babies and children like Noah it would be His prerogative.The only thing in Job that could even have been considered from God was the tornado that killed the children. Most of the evils inflicted on Job was because of humans doing wicked to one another. The thieves the raiders etc….. But let me ask you this; do you know that God is perfect and fully holy and cannot stand the sight of sin. Imagine a God who is gracious enough to give you free will says but if you do things contrary to my nature I will cast you out into eternal darkness. From a perfect being of light any sin/darkness is enough to condemn you to eternal “death” never to appear before His presence again. And as God he doesnt have to explain anything to you. Nor pander to your wishes or discuss why when millions of Jews were killed he sat back and watch, or why he sat on his throne and watch as Jesus his son was on the cross bearing the sins of the same people who was killing him. God is merciful to all and even if we suffer it is nothing compared to the reward that he will give. GOD IS No man’s DEBTOR and he will repay everyone according to our works.

This is perhaps the most common answer to the query, “Why does God allow innocent people to suffer, especially from physical evil (earthquakes, tsunamis, disease, etc.)?” There are two parts to the answer. The first is that He’s God, for crying out loud, and doesn’t have to give reasons for what he does. (This is the “Divine Command” theory of people like William Lane Craig.)

But then the commenter contradicts his professed ignorance (I’m assuming a male) by explaining that the suffering of people on earth will be compensated by a wonderful existence in the afterlife. That, however, raises two other questions. First, will those who suffered gratuitously on Earth get EXTRA rewards in Heaven? That seems unlikely since everyone is supposed to be basking equally in the glory of God.

Second, if there are no heavenly bonuses for earthly suffering, a position that I think most Christians would accept, then the question remains: why is there gratuitous suffering on Earth? After all, if God prevented earthquakes and childhood cancers, the net amount of suffering overall would still be less. Suffering is suffering.

The tortuous explanations of this reader show once again that theodicy—the theological excuses for the existence of evil—is the Achilles heel of religion. I just asked a former believer how she would rationalize evil when she was a Christian. She replied that she learned that stuff as a child, and the answer was always “It’s God’s will.” None of the children were sophisticated enough to ask the followup question. By the time they get sophisticated enough, they’re too brainwashed to deal with such quibbles. But it still amazes me that people can hold these beliefs.

The existence of physical evils occurring to innocent people would seem to drive any rational person away from Christianity, for its God, and many other gods, are seen as all-powerful and loving.

As always, the most parsimonious argument is that there is no God. The alternative is that God is either malicious, impotent, or at least doesn’t care about suffering.

54 thoughts on “A religionist gives us theodicy

  1. Thanks for posting this – it shows how powerful the fantasy is of a large man who is pretty much “your” father running everything in his supernatural laboratory. I mean the commenter’s description is clear, richly described, and to the point, and when we dissect it, rightly, it is like saying … well, to them at least, what… a Van Gogh painting is just some schmutz on some cloth.

    1. I think the plausibility of theodicies which make reference to a parent/child dynamic rests very hard on whether one’s had a rather disfunctional parent/child dynamic themselves. If you’ve had a gentle father who always tried to carefully explain his reasons, was quick to admit fault and apologize, and regularly asked for suggestions, these appeals to the raging My-Way-Or-the-Highway Patriarch fall flat.

  2. Matt Dillahunty always notes that theodicy/the question of evil is easily (if not very convincingly) refuted by believers in precisely the way you describe above, i.e. divine command theory. And there really is no way to argue with someone who says, “God’s ways are above our ways and you’re not so smart nanner, nanner, nanner.”

    Dillahunty therefore argues that divine hiddenness is a more potent weapon: Why has God become so very, very shy over the millennia?

    I mean, come on, the dude used to pop up all the time and throw tantrums, set fire to bushes, chat with prophets, lotsa keen junk! Nowadays, as the wags are quick to point out, he makes himself known by vague (and unimpressive) miracles like saving bibles or growing mold in a shape that somewhat resembles Americans’ notions of Jesus on a wall and suchlike.

    I often think of Thomas the apostle, aka Doubting Thomas, when pondering divine hiddenness. I mean, two thousand years ago and Thomas purportedly personally experienced the miracles of his homeboy Jesus, yet he *still* doubted. Jesus took pity and let him thrust a finger or two into his post-resurrection wounds, and yep, at long last, T-boy was convinced. Heck, he not only went to heaven: he’s a saint!

    Now, millennia later, when so many previously “divine” events have been revealed as perfectly natural (in other words, we, the living, have *so* much more reason for doubt), we hear from Christians and their ilk that it’s snotty or snarky or immature or arrogant to, y’know, ask for a credible sign from the Almighty.

    Why? Seriously, why? We have so much more reason for doubt, but God is so much less willing to provide neato-keeno-slicko-coolio evidence of his existence.

    I don’t get it. Ah, that’s right: God’s ways are not *my* ways…..

    1. Thomas Paine on Doubting Thomas, from The Age of Reason, Part First, Section 2: “But it appears that Thomas did not believe the resurrection, and, as they say, would not believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neither will I, and the reason is equally as good for me, and for every other person, as for Thomas.”

    2. Just to correct a common misimpression, it doesn’t appear that Thomas ever actually took Jesus up on the invitation to poke Thomas’ fingers into Jesus’ wounds:

      “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

      And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20: 24-29)

    3. > Dillahunty therefore argues that divine hiddenness is a more potent weapon:

      Fascinating. I know I’m comparing this with another aspect of my social life, so YMMV, but I have seen a number of narcissistic sociopaths over the last decade weaponize the silent treatment. They are able to escape responsibility for their actions because they go into hiding and don’t directly engage with the people whom they are attacking and undermining. What better way to remove yourself from the process than by blaming it all on the non-existent man-behind-the-curtain.

      In the early days of the Web, there was a copypasta about door-to-door evangelists pushing people to support a pyramid scheme where no one ever saw evidence of the people who’d cashed out of the system. No one had ever seen the founder, Bob (???), who allegedly lived in a new mansion. It made it seem like a cross between proselytizers and the mafia offering ‘protection’ services. If anyone can find it, please post it!

  3. I’ve often thought that the question ‘Why does God allow good things to happen to bad people’ just as unsettling.

    1. Another question is why people find it preferable to believe in a God that allows “good things to happen to bad people” (and that bad things happen to good people) to be preferable to not believing in a God…

  4. How about the billions of human beings living in parts of the world without access to the Christian Bible. I guess one might “trust” God to treat them humanely and not send tgem to Hell.

  5. “GOD IS No man’s DEBTOR and he will repay everyone according to our works.”

    So god is actually some kind of banker- cool. I wonder what kind of scale he uses for divvying up repayment for works. It must be an elaborate system, what with billions of souls and their trillions of earthly works. But I guess for the hell-bound, they must be considered “bankrupt” and their repayment (assuming they did some worthy works) would go back into god’s surplus account. That must be why god doesn’t want everyone to go to heaven, or else he’d go bankrupt like the damned. Makes total sense.

    All in all, the religiously addled do provide a bit of entertainment on account of their infantile imaginings. But that’s also why they make dangerous politicians.

  6. It’s inevitable. The moment they argue, “Who can know the mind of God?” they proceed to tell you the mind of God.

  7. God gave out free will so evil could exist? if not, it would just be will? motivation? The eevil barstard threw free will in like throwing a match into a container of gasoline, fired up the whole sorry mess for entertainment and according to this commentor, to be mysterious.
    I assume boredom is part of the god product. Watching humans on repeat for thousands of years must be a massive waste of god, little wonder it fucked off somewhere else…

  8. Another answer that theists sometimes give is that evil or suffering are logically necessary for God to achieve certain ‘greater goods’. For instance, there can be no compassion if there is no suffering. There can be no courage if there is nothing to fear. There can be no generosity or feeling of satiety if there is no deprivation. There can be no exhilaration from medical discoveries if there is no illness. There can be no joy in science if there is no ignorance. There can be no gratitude or sense of meaning in life if there is no possibility of loss or death. And these goods are considered to be so paramount to us that they justify the horrendous amount of suffering that is logically required for them to exist (or so the argument goes).

    An atheist who generally agrees with this ‘means-ends’ reasoning may reply that the amount of suffering goes well beyond what is necessary in order to achieve these lofty goods. The theist then asks the atheist to go ahead and specify the amount of suffering in the world that they would find acceptable in order to enable these goods. And then the argument enters into ‘this is the best of all possible worlds’ territory- which, as far as I know, is insoluble.

  9. I suppose I should be flattered that three years on, something I said is still getting under the skin of a religious person. Not that I try to get under anyone’s skin honestly…But I don’t buy the argument for one measly second.

    Personally, I always tried to explain my actions to my son when he was a child. I tried my best to be an authoritative rather than authoritarian parent. I wanted him to become an intelligent and thoughtful adult and I encouraged his questioning and developing mind. I disliked the notion of parenting by “Because I said so!” It’s not enough to know right from wrong; one needs to try to understand why. But unquestioned obedience to authority is quite popular with the religious folk.

    If I’m honest, the commenter’s argument sounds less like they put their faith in a parent-god that treats them like ignorant little children, than a bully-god who treats them like ants under a magnifying glass, at the very least, a negligent pet owner-god who allows their fish tank to get diseased and can’t seem to do anything about it. I didn’t see either as worthy of praise or obedience, much less a basis for morality or lifestyle.

    1. Agreed. I raised my children much as you did. Even while young, they responded better to an explanation for why we did things. It is all part of teaching them to understand why rather than simple rules. So they can do better when an unfamiliar situation occurs.

  10. How can otherwise intelligent people think theodicy works? It’s got to be the power of early indoctrination. Steeped in the irrational soup for many years, it becomes impossible to throw off. At base that seems to be the only explanation. Almost as if it becomes burned into firmware.

    1. Yes. It is difficult for people to abandon ideas that have been with them since childhood. Even though there are atheists who take up religion later in their lives, for many who never believed, god issues like this one are utterly vacuous. I think there are more foundational issues like language and meaning that are missed when people discuss theological issues. Once one admits supernatural constructions into the discussion, one can support almost arbitrary positions in defence of religion. The problem of theodicy seems like a manufactured problem. The empirical reality is that people suffer. Inventing a notion of a kind and loving god is muddle headed.

      Non-theistic religions, even though they avoid the problem of theodicy, don’t get anywhere either.

      Watching religious people struggle with problems like this is like watching people trying to argue their way out of a cage when they have the key in their hands. It’s even worse when you realize that it is they or their ancestors who built the cage and locked themselves up in the first place. For those born outside, it makes no sense.

      1. “It is difficult for people to abandon ideas that have been with them since childhood.”

        Yet we all – even the religious – have to abandon many ideas from childhood.

        Personally, I have noticed childish things lingering about to which I’d have to tell myself “alright, enough of this already.”

        Is it all due to the psychology of indoctrination?

        1. I don’t know. I suppose there are those who study such things. I listen to Catholic radio often and they recognize that their numbers are dwindling, and many encourage parents to inculcate Catholicism in their kids at an early age. I suppose it is their way of resisting intellectual maturity.

          For the believers with whom I have discussed such issues, the cultural ties are very strong. It is a question of cultural self esteem — it just means too much to them. The kind of aggressive, analytical introspection one needs to assail one’s strongly held beliefs comes at a cost. I know people who have suffered doubt. This is what happens when you hang your self esteem on a superstition.

          Not many start off with the default of not knowing. To those who do, arguments against religion do not serve much purpose. There is no point in constructing intricate arguments to disabuse a person of superstitions they don’t have. To them, religion is a sort of straw man: one that people construct and then spend hundreds of years trying to tear down. To people who were never immersed in the culture, the whole effort seems primitive and silly.

          As for theologians, for all their hard work, they don’t seem to have progressed beyond this.

          Once we bring god into the conversation, we are free to characterize the dear chap however we want. Then we can defend our position in arbitrarily many ways, like the anonymous reader above. There are no constraints other than the ones you impose on yourself, and the cost of coming up with a ridiculously silly position is that other people think you are ridiculously silly. And we know that people are willing to bear that cost. It is part of their religion that they will be persecuted for defending the truth.

      2. Re. “Non-theistic religions, even though they avoid the problem of theodicy, don’t get anywhere either.”
        Well, I’m not so sure about that. I’ve always thought that having heaps of gods and goddesses who are jerks and buffoons just like us does a pretty good job of explaining things. Of course, it’s not a terribly parsimonious conception of the universe, I must admit. But otherwise it’s pretty hard to poke logical holes in.

        1. > heaps of gods and goddesses who are jerks and buffoons

          Precisely, we made the gods in our own image. When I take that perspective, mythology is a true revelation about basic human nature. We don’t need to pretend that there is an omnibenevolent god.

          I wonder how humans stopped believing that the gods lived on Mount Olympus. Shifting from a belief in a physical, breathing, fornicating entity to a belief in platonic ideals and ‘god is love’ was an interesting logistical maneuver. It meant that we could stop searching on the mountaintops because we would never find proof. Instead, people are asking us to look in our hearts. I’ve been discussing ‘toxic positivity’ lately, the idea that you have to be warm, open, and positive for your ideas to be valid and worthwhile. It undermines the idea of analytic rationality. The “look in your heart” crowd seem to be embroiled in toxic positivity.

    2. It’s Shrodinger’s God, shifting from Controlling All That Happens From The Beginning to Sitting By You In Sympathy Upset That There Was Nothing He Could Do, and back again.

  11. Your arguments stand on the foundation that only good things should happen to you, which is flawed and even then it also assumes that you are on God’s level, aka smart enough or sentient enough to question his motives and actions.

    Well, two can play that game! Because the commenter is also smuggling in a whole ark-load of assumptions, like: there is there a god in the first place; and it’s aware of our distress, and it cares, and it has the capacity to act to relieve it, and for whatever reason it has chosen not to in this case. That’s five assumptions this Christian is making, vs. our one, which is that an all-good god should do something to prevent human suffering. All before we get to “as God he doesn’t have to explain anything to you. Nor pander to your wishes”.

    1. ” . . . as God he doesn’t have to explain anything to you. Nor pander to your wishes”.

      I’m reminded of a teacher telling me about another teacher’s interaction with his principal, asking the latter why he was not recommending him to continue on in his (high school) position. The principal (relying on the laws/regulations/policies obtaining at the time) replied (with apparent semi-glee) that he didn’t have to give him a reason. (Public) Education remains a cauldron of bureaucracy and politics. The forms and scripted lessons of pedagogy and educrat theories suffocate the substance of learning and take the wind out of the sails of teachers.

      I wonder if God is an advocate of “Right To Work” laws. He obviously views flesh-and-blood human beings as human “resources” and “capital” to manipulate and exploit as he pleases. Why couldn’t God’s and Satan’s little wager involve Job only and not condemn his wife and children to death?

      (Why should a fig tree have to wither as egregious punishment simply because its fruit is not in season? Can’t an omnipotent being simply cause a miracle to happen and the fig immediately and conveniently bear fruit?)

  12. > I just asked a former believer how she would rationalize evil when she was a Christian.

    My preferred response is that evil does not actually exist; it is not part of a worldview rigorously shaped by Occam’s Razor. There are things we abhor, but no evidence that any of it is innately, objectively evil. For some reason, though, theists tend not to embrace that solution. I don’t think they are emotionally able to do so. Many of them want to live in a world of black-and-white, us-and-them, and labelling things as ‘evil’ allows them to turn people into the enemy. Tribalism at its best. Emotionally, many political rivalries thrive on the dichotomy of good-vs-evil or smart-vs-stupid.

    (If anyone wants to ask “What about the [group/activity/event]? Wasn’t it ‘evil’?” I’ll preemptively answer “I (probably) abhor/dislike/avoid it; my subjective dislike does not make it innately, objectively evil.)

  13. Perfect God exists for all time. All is well, all is perfect. Perfect God then decides, out of the blue, to alter reality by introducing a physical universe that allows for suffering, in some cases eternal suffering for the “damned”.

    So Perfect God, for some reason, alters perfection by introducing imperfection in the form of evil and suffering, and yet it’s still “perfect”?

    If evil and suffering are necessary for good to exist, did good not exist prior to their introduction? Heaven is free of evil, does that mean there is no good in heaven?

    Makes no sense. You have to be a child, or an obtuse and brainwashed adult, to believe this stuff.

  14. “If a God exist he would be sentient or powerful enough to not need your ok to do something and if he wanted to send another flood to kill out the whole world along with all the babies and children like Noah it would be His prerogative”.

    Well, that’s a couple of pretty big “ifs”. I’d like quite a lot more evidence before even considering whether they add up to a single bean, let alone a row of beans.

    Over the centuries, loads of serious people, including our host, have tried to bring reason to the madness of theodicy. It never works. As Swift originally wrote in 1721, “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired”.

    Goodness knows what sort of upbringing brought Jerry’s correspondent to his unevidenced opinion; it seems clear that no coherent argument at all will get him off it.

  15. Belief in God despite the Problem of Evil:

    “I can’t accept that this reality — my short life — is ‘all there is.’ I need the promise of Eternity to ward off facing Oblivion.”

  16. “Your arguments stand on the foundation that only good things should happen to you, which is flawed and even then it also assumes that you are on God’s level, aka smart enough or sentient enough to question his motives and actions.”

    Our religious friend of course does not realize it, but that last sentence means that we have no basis to evaluate whether God is good in the first place. Even if we grant that such a God exists, how do we know whether such a God is really evil? It could be that this God is fundamentally evil, but introduces a bit of good in the Universe only to make the evil more palpable.

    In contrast, if we have a moral code that is independent of the promulgations of some all-powerful bully, we can evaluate moral claims on their merits (i.e. their consequences). That does require us to make a very foundational assumption that suffering is generally bad (which is ultimately not an objective fact), but we can then build a more objective moral code around that basic assumption, without the need to refer to a Cosmic Judge.

    1. I think suffering is definitionally bad. What is “bad” if it is not unnecessary suffering? I fully accept that measuring the least suffering is problematic in practical terms.

      In case it’s not clear, I am arguing here that “suffering is bad” is a tautology in a moral system based on least suffering and therefore by, by definition objectively true).

      1. With God, all things are possible. If, within God’s Perfect Moral framework, unjustified suffering is a good, would True Believers throw out every moral intuition of their own and still consider God “perfect?” If they don’t, they limit God.

      2. “I think suffering is definitionally bad. What is “bad” if it is not unnecessary suffering?”

        That’s the exact argument that Sam Harris made in The Moral Landscape. I mean, I really would like to subscribe to that view, but it still seems possible to ask “why is suffering objectively bad”?

  17. what kind of God would spare a bunch of books while allowing the Nazis to kill 10 million people

    It’s a lot more than that. Estimates for the death count of the invasion of Russia range from 20 million to 40 million just on the side of the USSR.

    Maybe the Christians could argue that that was what was needed tov expunge the world of the Nazis, but Stalin was pretty much as bad as Hitler and all it needed to stop him was a stroke. Why couldn’t God give all dictators a stroke?

    And as God he doesn’t have to explain anything to you.

    |I think it’s pretty obvious why he needs to explain himself. Millions of people died to stop the Nazis in the Second World War. An alternative might have been to give Hitler and maybe a few other people some sort of fatal illness. FFS he could have bumped Hitler off with a stray bullet in the First World War. If God wants us to believe that he is good – or even exists – he needs to explain himself.

    1. If God wants us to believe that he is good – or even exists – he needs to explain himself.
      Absolutely – this “mysterious ways” nonsense is pathetic. And, in any case, the true believers seem to always be able to sidestep it whenever they choose to offer an interpretation of what their mysterious almighty being allegedly wants. It must be another miracle – they alone can have their cake AND eat it!

  18. I try to tie theodicy to prayer. The Bible gives us lots of statements of how powerful prayer is, ‘ask, and it will be given to you’, ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’, ‘And whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.’, ‘And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’, ‘If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’, and many more.

    But those that pray are statistically just as likely to be visited by suffering. Anecdotes be damned. Or the actuarial charts would show the correlation. Thus either their theodicy is completely empty of meaning or they are saying all those verses about prayer are.

  19. It’s hard to imagine that if the benevolent god Christians would like us to believe in actually existed, he would go around saying “Look, I don’t have to explain myself to you. You probably wouldn’t understand anyway.” That’s the attitude of a jerk.

    1. I’m reminded that I have a relative who, Scrooge-like, has told not a few people over the years, “I don’t owe you an explanation,” or, “I don’t owe you that consideration.”

  20. I can’t help but recall Eddie Murphy on SNL clapping back with “I’m Gumby, dammit!”

    Apparently God and Gumby draw on the same justification.

  21. I’ve always liked the book of Job because God’s answer to him (essentially, “I’m God and what do you know?”) is the only one God could honestly give, if he were into giving answers, which he obviously is not.

    As I slowly moved away from my certainty that there is a God, removing the pieces I couldn’t believe, I came to believe these things: There doesn’t seem to be any God. If there is, we can’t understand the God idea. If there is, God isn’t good and probably can’t really be called bad — just not operating on a good vs. evil dimension at all. And most important, whether I believe in God or not is of no importance, least of all to God. So I don’t believe there is a God (though I still like some of the Christian and Hindu images associated with the idea), and I anticipate only a state of absolute non-being after death, a state that could technically be called nirvana because I won’t be reborn, except that seems to imply a degree of desirability that I don’t think death has.

  22. To me it seems that a key issue with this theodicy gibberish is the fallacious belief in free will. If you believe in free will then bad people certainly are evil which could give justification for God’s punishment. Why God is completely indiscriminate with his punishments is something else.

    But I believe free will to be a logical impossibility. In a previous post Jerry stated that he believed that we do not have free will and are governed by the laws of physics. I believe that is quite correct but it is hard to see if and how that applies at the human level. I feel that it does but have never been able to find adequate words for why – but here’s my best shot:

    You do not choose your genetics at conception nor any of the biological influences during gestation. You don’t choose your parents or any of the people you interact with as a baby. Nor do you choose anything in the physical world around you. All of this determines what you are. At some point you start to act independently. But this independent action is determined by your state at the moment of action. There is no magical self outside of that state. That state is itself the “choice” of action. This action determines your next experiences. How those experiences are integrated are determined by your current state – there is no self outside of that state that gets to pick and choose how the integration occurs. This of course feeds back into who you are and the cycle continues. There is no point where you can stand outside of your current state and manipulate it freely.

    Another way to look at it is that any decision that isn’t random must be based on something or somethings. Those somethings determine what we decide. What makes it feel like we have free will is that we pick and choose among those somethings that go into our decision. But this leads to a recursive problem – every something picked to go into the decision also requires a decision, which, again must either be random or based on something or somethings. If this chain of decision has a beginning it must be at a point that is random or fully determined (because if it’s not one of those it’s not beginning). Of course decisions are not usually single strands but complex webs but ultimately it seems to me that the logic holds.

    1. But I believe free will to be a logical impossibility. In a previous post Jerry stated that he believed that we do not have free will and are governed by the laws of physics.

      Also, it seems that God’s alleged omniscience is incompatible with human free will. For if God knows everything that will happen in the future, the future is in every sense already determined.

      Imagine that God is asked to write down on a piece of paper what I will exactly have for lunch one year from today. Since God is never wrong, is there any possibility of me “choosing” to do something other than what is on that paper? Note that I am not saying that the act of God writing the thing down is what determines my choice..it is rather than in order for God to have this power of all-knowing, the Universe must be set up in a completely deterministic way…

  23. Children go through a developmental stage in which they are obsessed with ‘fairness.’ I suppose we may look upon it as one more way in which they try to ascertain whether the primitive predictive models they make about the world are accurate heuristics for understanding what happens and why. That stage fades, but remnants of it survive into our teens, where a sense of fairness inevitably butts up against the remaining parental rules.
    All of which is to say that when I was a teenager I held a very strong view as I lost the lukewarm belief I had absorbed, that if god did exist, it would be our duty to resist him. Not in the everything backwards way of the silly satanists, but as a moral duty. Do we believe it is right to own and control human beings? No! Is slavery acceptable? No! Is eternal torment a fitting and proportionate reward for minor disobedience? Never! You can see I was filled with the spirit of Nat Turner and Toussaint L’Ouverture, as channeled by the original series of Star Trek and its simple morality plays. If god existed and had created us, would he not respect our attempts to stand up for ourselves and what we believed in as the most important characteristics of free-willed sentient beings? Well, I convinced myself, and the times were such that it would have been unwise to try to convince everyone else. I became not just an atheist, nor even an anti-theist who dislikes religion and its proponents: I became anti-god, a freedom fighter if you like (which is the essence of the teenage mindset, I guess).
    I suppose a believer will school me on the dreadful sin of pride, but I still think that if I knew there was a god, and one who ‘does what it says on the tin’ I would still hold to that position that I cannot bend that knee and be subservient and slavish. I’m told the company is more entertaining in hell, anyway.

  24. If I , as a mere human being, were to behave in the way that a god behaves I would be condemned for my behaviour (and rightly so). But followers of the christian god allow it to behave in such an appalling fashion by saying that we cannot comprehend this gods motives and that it has a plan. My question to them is this, why am I, a mere human remember, being held to a higher standard than they hold their god?

  25. Fans of Jerry might enjoy Oats Studio “God: Serengeti/Chicago” on Netflix. It’s about 5 years old, but I just discovered it.

  26. theodicy—the theological excuses for the existence of evil—is the Achilles heel of religion

    Is anyone actually keeping count of how many Achilles’ heels religion in general (or any specific religion) has? To stick with the mythological theme, aren’t we more in the range of the Hecatoncheires‘ carpal tunnels than Achilles’ heels?

  27. I am baffled how religious people (I was one of them in my 16’s) came up with so many answers like: god is doing that, god is doing this or god works in mysterious ways … or let’s conclude: god is whatever he/she wants to be and is doing what he/she wants, just like that (and you / I have to accept it).
    And all of this just because every religious person, on this planet, doesn’t have (or doesn’t want) to come up with a good explanation for all the other bad things that happen in the world.
    Really? Who are you (the religious one) to tell me what god wants, what gods is doing … and so on? Who are you (thinking that you of course you know who god ways works) to know for sure who is and what is god?
    And to finish this (stupidity that happens all around us: religious people keep imposing their way of thinking because they think is the good / best one) ->
    “As always, the most parsimonious argument is that there is no God. The alternative is that God is either malicious, impotent, or at least doesn’t care about suffering.”
    Yes I think (and I am pretty sure 95%) that there isn’t one at all!

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