Letter: I call BULL

I received the below message through the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form. I present it for your comment (particularly if you disagree).

First of all, the hiddenness of God. If a supreme being of some sort put us on this earth to have a loving relationship with him, he would ensure that we would believe in him. So, what we would expect is that god would ensure that everyone who is supposed to have a loving relationship with him, would believe in him. In short, one would expect him to provide evidence to convince such people. So, the hiddenness of god is not what we would expect, given theism, but exactly what we would expect if there were no god at all.

Another is science. Biology, physics, chemistry, etc. are used to explain phenomena such as fire, earthquakes, and cancer by reference to natural causes. They don’t invoke causes like the intentions or actions of a divine being that is thought to stand outside of nature. However, they manage to be extremely successful without taking god into account. If theism were true, god would have to act in the world in ways science must take into account.

The supposed connection between our mind and our brains is also sketchy. It’s not exactly clear how an immaterial thing such as the mind (or soul) could have a cause and effect relationship with a physical thing, like the brain (or body). Most theists believe that our soul determines who we are as people, that it determines our personalities. However, brain damage can cause significant alterations to our cognitive abilities and even alter our personalities. Schizophrenia, for example. If the mind were entirely independent of the brain, none of this would be.

Evolution. Yes, you probably knew i’d bring this one up somewhere in here. Haha. This will also tie in with the fine tuning that you mentioned. :) If you follow that evolution takes place, which there is ungodly (haha get it..?) evidence to support, you will see that it is imperfect and inefficient which ultimately would lead to non-functional and dysfunctional designs. Hello.. extinction of species possibly? ;) This evolutionary process is wasteful and, as i said, inefficient. One would think that a supreme being such as god would design a masterpiece of some sort in advance, and then put the design into effect. Seeing that we are imperfect, we cannot possibly be fine tuned into a perfect design. For example, our esophagus and our windpipe being close enough together to make it really easy to choke and die. The birth canal is too small, increasing the chances of injury and death in delivery. This didn’t have to be this way. The wastefulness, inefficiency, and imperfection of
biological evolution are more likely on the assumption that it is a blind causal mechanism with no mind and limited powers, than that it is the instrument soehow of an all powerful, rational intelligence.

My last reason (finally, i’m sure you’re thinking. haha) is pointless suffering. Thousands of innocent people suffer every day from diseases that could be preventable from an all powerful being. Malaria, for example. Most of the time, if malaria hits a child, it will be fatal. This means that an innocent child will have to endure suffering in the last bit of their short life for no reason at all. One possible argument could be that this will prove the child worthy of being in “heaven” with god, but then again, why don’t we a;; suffer in order to make passage? Does this mean good people who have endured no suffering aren’t worthy of heaven? Or some say that we have to endure suffering for the “greater good”. This would make sense if there was anything to be learned from malaria to make the world a better place. However, we already know how to treat it and prevent it and see no such thing. Some scoff at this and say also that we have no right to question god’s “plan”, but if god truly loved us, then we would be the first to know why he permits such pointless suffering. So to that I call BULL. :)

Posted on February 21, 2011 at 7:32 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: Discussion

11 Responses

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  1. Written by Lynne Oeschger
    on February 21, 2011 at 10:21 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Yes, well… given that I am an atheist, I don’t disagree but I do want to make a point about the soul/mind/brain connection. If there is no god, then everything in the universe (multiverses depending on your leaning) must comply with physics and logic. Simply because we have not yet figured out what the laws are around brain function and a soul doesn’t mean that they do not follow rules. That would mean free-will is an illusion too. And when I say soul, I am not using it in the normal way theists would. The difference between a living person and a dead one is energy which we all know cannot die, simply change. We will work out the rules and all will be explainable.

    Anyway…

    Oh and then on malaria. I live in South Africa. A neighbouring country is Mozambique where deaths from malaria are overwhelming in number. The reason? The banning of DDT. When it was banned, the malaria carrying mosquito was about five years away from being completely irradicated. So, thanks to the tree hugging hippies we have dreadful death rates.

    Then a random thought on evolution. If it’s real (which I do in fact believe) then why is it that a gazelle, over thousands of generations, not evolved to the point where it can out-run a lion or a cheetah? And why do cheetahs need to be so fast? Can’t see much reason for it.

    Hi ho – just some random things I think about.

  2. Written by Joakim Rosqvist
    on February 22, 2011 at 4:30 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Because lions and cheetahs evolve at the same time, getting better at catching their prey.
    And, the more resources you spend on one thing (speed), the less you have for other things that are also important (e.g. strength, stamina). At some point, the diminishing returns of more speed are outweighed by the loss elsewhere.

  3. Written by Lynne Oeschger
    on February 22, 2011 at 8:00 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Hah! – Thank you. Joakim. One more question I can tick off as answered.

  4. Written by Zach
    on February 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I am an atheist; however, I disagree with many of your points.

    The hiddenness of God: this is a good argument to make if you are discussing God with someone who is of the belief system that only people who believe in God go to heaven, and everyone else is tortured for eternity. However, there are many religious people who do not believe that, and would merely say that God chooses to be “hidden” so that people would search him out — after all, it doesn’t mean very much, and isn’t very fulfilling, to believe in something that stares you in the face all of the time! But if you have ever struggled with understand a hard concept (for example, in a school course), and finally, after thinking about it for a long time, it all clicks: that’s pretty rewarding and fulfilling!

    Science: Science is pretty good at taking our world into account, at least in many areas (with notable exceptions, such as how life started, or how exactly gravity works, or what this dark matter/energy stuff is that apparently takes up something like 90% of the universe). But you are going to have to clarify for me how you get from that to “If theism were true, god would have to act in the world in ways science must take into account.”

    The mind: While many theists would probably say that there is a difference between your analytical brain and your soul, if you pressed them I bet they would admit that both reside in the space inside your skull, and therefore damage to that area would effect both. I don’t think anyone really believes that the mind is independent from our physical brain — perhaps I am wrong.

    Evolution: there is an obvious Christian answer to this: the fall of man. I am not going to make that argument, but will rather say: how do you know that evolution isn’t the best path? The complexity that evolution brings to every part of life has been shown to be crucial in many processes. Why did God (if, indeed, there is a God) chose to work through evolution? I don’t know, but I assume He had a good reason!

    Suffering: I think there is a very clear greater good to suffering. If you didn’t suffer, you wouldn’t appreciate the good things in life! This is true of everything with contrasts: if you only ate sweet food, you wouldn’t be able to taste the sweetness. If you drink tons of caffeine, it doesn’t give you energy anymore. If you are from a tropical climate, you don’t appreciate the warmth like someone from the North/South. When you get into specifics, I don’t know specifically what good malaria does, but in that it is a form of suffering, I believe it does a huge amount of good. You might think that this is harsh, but consider a world without any suffering at all: I wouldn’t want to live in that world!

    • Written by Monimonika
      on February 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      Dangit! I mistakenly posted a reply to you without making it a direct reply to your comment. Please see below for my reply to your “Suffering” comment.

      Anyway, I’ll use this direct reply to discuss something else in your comment.

      For the mind, I agree with you on how theists, when pressed, do tend to admit that the soul and brain reside in the same place and are affected by physical damage. I once argued with a theist about what a soul without a physical body/brain actually is, and the point of going to heaven/hell. The theist insisted that the soul is basically “myself”, but I countered with questions about what makes my soul have a “self”.

      There are no memories that can be recalled, so my past is gone, not to mention any words to even describe whatever it is that I am experiencing right then. I have no senses, so I cannot be aware of surroundings separate from “myself”. Given no way to store memories and no input, what is the point of the soul? It’s no longer “myself” and any kind of pleasure/agony (assuming that something like that is possible for a soul to experience) that would be meted out by a judgmental god would hold no meaning since there would be no understanding of why. Ugh.

      The only way a soul would be a preferable thing to believe in is if you assume that you keep your memories of yourself, retain senses such as sight to experience your new surroundings, and continue to process new information even after death. But that makes no sense whatsoever without a brain (plus maybe some other parts of the body).

      I won the argument, of course, and the theist went back to not thinking too deeply about the logical flaws of his beliefs (I just wanted to win, not de-convert guy).

    • Written by Adrean
      on March 25, 2011 at 4:23 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      Zach,

      I’m actually the one who submitted this letter, so I’ll do my best to answer your questions. :) (I always appreciate a Devil’s Advocate)

      In regards to God wanting us to search him out, I want to bring up abnormal circumstances where a child has never been taught about God, lives in seclusion to the rest of the world, and would have no chance of searching Him out. Is that child sent to Hell simply because God chooses to remain hidden?

      What I mean here is that if there were a God controlling all of the earthly elements, then we wouldn’t be able to explain the mechanics of fire or lightning without saying “and then God does this”. We can use purely science and reasoning to explain these phenomena.

      I’ve spoken to several theists (mostly catholics I hate to say),and almost every one believes that when they die, their soul is what will go to Heaven. Their mind dies and remains buried in God’s earth. I am aware that there are several other views, however I am merely stating my own objections to this one in particular.

      I’m not sure exactly what you’re saying in regards to evolution. Saying “He had a good reason” is falling into the fallacy of “Ad Vericundium”, or appeal to false authority, and is therefore and unacceptable argument.

      I see you’ve already been arguing about suffering, but have failed to see my biggest point! My point was that if there were a God, He would not put the suffering on innocent children, but onto people that have sinned in someway and therefore deserve it. If God was a just God, as the theists claim Him to be, innocent people would not be suffering every day. I do agree that there should be contrast in the world. Without suffering, there would be no happiness. However, I believe it to be completely possible to appreciate things in comparison to other people’s lives. For example, I appreciate the fact that I have enough food to not go hungry because I see children starving in Africa. It’s not necessary to feel the pain of starvation to appreciate food.

      • Written by Zach
        on March 31, 2011 at 6:35 pm
        Reply · Permalink

        Well, to Devil’s Advocate (or, God’s Advocate, or Supernatural-entity good/evil/benign Advocate) some more…

        I completely agree with you that the idea that God would take someone who had never heard of Him (or, never heard the truth of Him) before and therefore send this person to hell is pretty ridiculous. This is one reason why, if I ever came to believe in God, I would probably have a hard time fitting into many religious doctrines. However, ultimately this is a matter of doctrine — there are religious people who do not believe that you must believe in the one true God while you are alive in order to end up in heaven; it is just that these people tend to be less vocal than the others.

        As to “we can use purely science and reasoning to explain these phenomena”…yes and no. Ultimately, science explains our observations about the world, and those observations change (and, therefore, science changes) the harder we look. Purely a priori science is impossible. And let’s not kid ourselves about how much we know: physicists now postulate that over 90% of the universe is dark matter and dark energy. How much do we know about dark matter and dark energy? Practically nothing, except that they need to exist in massive quantities in order to make the rest of science make sense. There are many more examples of this. I’m not saying science won’t be able to explain these things in the future, and I am certainly not making the argument that God can be found in the gaps in our scientific knowledge. Rather, I am saying that science is a tool we use to try and understand the world. It is not (necessarily) infallible, and I would argue that it is pretty hubristic to assume that we know what makes science work (or, at least, appear to work). Is God behind it all? I honestly don’t think we can say one way or another.

        Perhaps I’m not understanding your point about the brain/mind/soul connection, but it seems to me that a theist would say that the brain/mind is the outlet of the soul. It is beyond the material world, but its effects are felt in the material world through the brain and the mind. When the brain/mind die, the soul goes “up” to heaven (or, I suppose, “down” to hell). Brain damage affects the outlet for the soul, but not the soul itself.

        Evolution: all I was saying was that it doesn’t make sense to assume God doesn’t work through evolution and then use evolution to disprove God. What if God does work through evolution? Again, maybe I’m not understanding your point.

        I hesitate to say anything about suffering for fear that I will sound heartless. But it seems to me like so much can be learned from the suffering of the innocent. Think of all the great art, the great literature, the great conversations that have resulted from the suffering of the innocent. Most religious people would say that, in the end, when we die, God sets it right. Also, I don’t believe you would appreciate that you have enough food to not go hungry just by seeing children starving in Africa. I believe you must at least know what hunger feels like. I’m not saying you need to have starved yourself in the past — but if you have never even felt the smallest twinge of hunger, then you don’t even know what hunger is, and people starving doesn’t even make sense to you. You don’t feel sorry for starving children until you think, “Gosh, I was really hungry when I ate supper an hour later than usual last night. Imagine multiplying that hour of hunger by a hundred!”

  5. Written by Monimonika
    on February 26, 2011 at 9:33 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Zach,

    I will have to call bullshit on the part of your comment about suffering. In your explanation about suffering, you assume that “bad” things that cause pain are placed in this world in order for creatures to know what things are “good”.

    It’s actually the other way around. The “bad” things are already in this world, and it is creatures that are able to perceive them as “bad” that survive and thus strive for life-sustaining and/or “good” things.

    Suffering is basically the ability of feeling pain, which is what informs us that something bad is happening/has happened to us (particularly life-threatening/shortening things). Pain is a warning system that has emerged through evolution because creatures that have it tended to survive and reproduce much better than those creatures that didn’t. Heck, even the uncomfortable feeling of itchiness is warning enough for us to try to avoid/eradicate places where there are malaria-carrying mosquitoes about.

    Your argument is based on the same fundamental flawed thinking as that of those who argue fine-tuning of the universe. It’s the arrogance of the puddle to think it is so special that the surrounding world was designed for it, rather than that the puddle itself is shaped by the surrounding world.

    You wouldn’t want to live in a world with no suffering? That’s because the traits that you have inherited from your ancestors (traits that allow you to survive and even thrive in a world with suffering) are not fit to live in such a world.

  6. Written by Zach
    on February 26, 2011 at 10:16 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Monimonika,

    I am not saying that painful things are put here so that we will know which things are good. At least, not exactly. I am saying that good things are defined as being “not bad”, and bad things as “not good”. If you are not from Minnesota or otherwise don’t listen to Minnesota Public Radio, you may not be familiar with Garrison Keillor’s closing remarks: “And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Lake Wobegon, of course, doesn’t exist, and its qualities are such that it can never exist, because all those qualities are only defined as by their opposites.

    Also, there are many different kinds of suffering. Mental and physical, and of course gradations of both of these. Let me give some examples of various kinds of suffering:
    A loved one dies.
    You get sick.
    You are late to work.
    You have to get up at 6 to get to work on time.
    It’s cold outside, and you have to shovel the driveway.
    It’s cold outside, and you have to step outside to get to your car.
    You are tired, and you have to get up and make yourself breakfast.

    For each of these sufferings, we can see a “purpose”, if you will. Making yourself breakfast will help you appreciate it more than if it were given to you at your bedside all the time. The cold makes you appreciate the warm. Getting up at 6 may be painful, but you will appreciate your day more (and your weekends) if you do it. Being late to work will make you conscientious of when you leave. Being sick will make you appreciate being healthy. And it might sound harsh, but I think that if our loved one’s never died we would grow to appreciate them less.

    There is another point to be made from this: suffering is in the eye of the beholder. If all of the sufferings I mentioned were gone, people would find new things to suffer about: getting up at all in the morning! Having to work at all!

    You may say that these little things aren’t actually sufferings — but then where exactly do you draw the line at what is a petty grievance and what is a suffering?

    Personally, I feel like a world without sadness would be a world without joy — the two complement each other, and neither can exist without the other, simply because each is defined by the other.

    • Written by Monimonika
      on February 27, 2011 at 12:20 am
      Reply · Permalink

      Zach,

      I was about to rant at you for missing my point, but a bit of re-reading of your previous comment made me reconsider my reading comprehension skills.

      I now get that you did not imply at all that the reason the “causes” of suffering exist is to contrast with the good. Sorry about that.

      However, I cannot say I agree completely with what you are saying.

      You say that we can appreciate the “good” in life because we know about what the “bad” is. That is true in a sense, but why is there an assumption that taking things for granted is undesirable? Aren’t you in other words saying that we ought to be in a constant state of happiness over everything in our lives that are not life-threatening/bad? Do you sit there and praise your good fortune every single time you take a breath? Why not?

      Let’s look at some of your examples:

      “A loved one dies”
      You later say that we would grow to appreciate our loved ones less if they never died. Sure, but even after a loved one dies and you have a bout of appreciating those who are still living, you eventually level out to taking them for granted again (imagine their annoyance if you continually cling onto them for the next few decades just because they might die any second).

      “You get sick.”
      Um, life-threatening/shortening illness? Warning system is there to alert you to abnormalities. Don’t really need to be constantly euphoric about your body functioning normally on a daily basis, you know?

      “You have to get up at 6 to get to work on time.”
      If the suffering is from lack of sleep, your body is signaling that something is wrong and you need to fix it (maybe get more sleep the night before, or get a new job that fits your sleep schedule better). You later talk about appreciating the day more, but that’s missing the point of why getting up at 6 is such a pain in the first place.

      “It’s cold outside, and you have to shovel the driveway.”
      Do you really think people ought to be giddy each and every single day there’s no snow to shovel?

      “You are tired, and you have to get up and make yourself breakfast.”
      You later say that breakfast would be appreciated more by getting up and making it yourself than if it was brought to you in bed. I don’t get the logic on this one. I don’t think the breakfast will taste any better if I’m tired during and after I make it. I think you meant this some way else.

      I notice that you categorize things as “good” and “bad” (which is, as you said, subjective), but you don’t mention that there are things that are neither. What about “neutral” things? Is having a neutral response to something a good thing (since it’s not bad), or a bad thing (since it not good, or it’s not making us appreciate the good)?

      …Okay, the previous sentence was confusing and I’m not sure how to fix it. Sure, I would be happier if I were, well, HAPPIER about all the non-bad things in my life, but apparently our bodies are physically unable to sustain constant euphoria due to eventual desensitization to the happiness-inducing chemicals in our bodies. Damn the limits of our evolved bodies in this world with suffering/happiness/meh-stuff!

      So, is a world where everything is taken for granted such a horrible world to be in? You say yes, but do you not spend most of your time responding to life in a neutral manner anyway? Or would you prefer a world with no middle ground?

      “You may say that these little things aren’t actually sufferings”

      Uh, no. I would actually call a lot of those sufferings. Suffering in the sense I use does not mean only the horrific kind. I didn’t make it clear in my comment, but I include the discomfort of itchiness as a type of suffering as well. So, yeah, petty grievances count.

  7. Written by Zach
    on February 27, 2011 at 8:31 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Monimonika,

    I would say that I spend much of my life responding to things in a neutral manner. That is because I have much bigger things to be happy or sad about. However, if those bigger things were all magically gone, the neutral things would become bigger in comparison, and all the things which I was neutral about would become large grievances or give me large amounts of happiness. And if all those smaller sufferings were gone, still more little things would give me suffering and happiness. The only way to truly have a world with no suffering is to have a world where no bad things ever happen, and I still believe that such a world would be a pretty boring, lifeless, joyless place.

    Suffering obviously has a very clear scientific reason, as you have described. But I do not see how its necessity cannot also come from purely theological reasoning.

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