“Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people”—why this argument fails against Christianity

Continuing a discussion with ‘Upandatom’ in a previous thread, I’d like to address his argument that:

Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. And it would not be hard at all for god to create a world where everyone gets what they deserve.

Upandatom: I think I can accept your statement that “bad things shouldn’t happen to good people” at face value. That seems intuitively obvious. But there are a few problems with trying to use this as a reason to think God doesn’t exist.

1. Maximum good seems logically impossible without evil

Do you think there’s a corresponding principle that “good things should happen to good people”? If so, we can easily imagine a situation where God wants something exceptionally good to happen to a good person, but where it’s logically impossible for that good thing to happen (or happen “properly”) without something bad happening first.

For example, imagine God wanted to give you unending happiness. Do you think you’d appreciate that more if you knew first-hand what it was like to be miserable? I know I would. We tend to take things for granted if we don’t know what life is like without them. It’s a basic truth about human beings that we value things far more highly, and enjoy them far more, when to get them in the first place we have to work hard, make sacrifices, experience loss. Marriage seems much better if you’ve been lonely before; a good meal tastes better when you’re ravenous.

It seems clear that without suffering, joy is diluted. So on this principle alone, isn’t it pretty plausible that God would allow bad things to happen to good people, precisely because he wants them to experience good things afterwards in the fullest way possible?

Remember also: God is capable of taking away any residual suffering we may experience as a result of evil. People with post-traumatic stress disorder in this life won’t have PTSD in heaven. So it’s not as if the evil we experience has a lasting effect. It’s just a temporary means for us to experience a greater good.

2. People are not good

It’s a core supposition of your argument that people are good—but the Bible is exceptionally clear that people are actually evil. See, for example, Romans 3:9 and onward. Christianity holds that people are naturally inclined to do evil, rather than good—that’s what it means to be a sinner. So although I agree, in a general sense, that “bad things shouldn’t happen to good people”, it’s not a relevant consideration in this case.

After all, you seem to be trying to show that God wouldn’t do something that Christianity says he would, to prove that therefore Christianity is false. But to do that, you have to stick to what Christianity says. You can’t say “the God of Christianity wouldn’t allow evil to happen to good people; bad things do happen to good people; therefore Christianity is false”…if in fact Christianity holds that people are not good. That would be a strawman, because under Christianity, bad things don’t happen to good people.

3. The statement “bad things shouldn’t happen to good people” either presupposes that God exists, or it’s just an opinion with no force

On the other hand, maybe you’re not trying to make the argument I think you’re making. Maybe you’re just saying that you believe people are good, that you believe bad things shouldn’t happen to them, and you believe God wouldn’t allow it.

But in that case, your argument doesn’t have any force. Your own opinion about what the Christian God would or wouldn’t do, etc, has no necessary bearing on what he’d actually do, right? Just like your opinion about what I would or wouldn’t do might not necessarily be accurate. It’s not like your opinion about God trumps his opinion about himself!

If you’re just trying to convince us that God allowing evil would be immoral of him, without using Christian morality to prove it, then you’re just begging the question: relying on the assumption that God doesn’t exist in order to supposedly prove he doesn’t exist. Because obviously if he did exist, it wouldn’t be immoral for him to cause suffering!

The problem here is: you apparently do believe that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. You seem to think this is a universal law; something that is true regardless of what other people believe (even God!) But where would such a truth come from, if not from God himself? So your argument, while seeming on the face of it to offer evidence against God’s existence, on closer examination seems to support it.

I’d welcome your thoughts in the comments below.

13 replies
  1. Upandatom
    Upandatom says:

    Hello. A few thoughts, since you asked, Bnonn:

    1.
    I was more thinking that god would set it up so that something exceptionally good only happens to someone who deserves it, just as he'd make bad things deserved too.
    Furthermore, why would god want to reward someone if they didn't deserve it? That is half the problem with this world! :)

    I do agree that things are more appreciated if we have gone without first. Certainly. There is the other argument, too, though. That happiness is a matter of neurochemicals. And we get a boost of them when we experience something novel and good – like, as you say, marriage after loneliness. I remember reading a book called the happiness hypothesis. The author points out that the research shows that people last for a while on novel experiences – good or bad – but that they soon return to normal. e.g. lotto winners, limb-losers etc. the novelty wears off and they return to their 'natural' happiness-state. —-This is a rather lengthy point sorry, and I'm not disagreeing with you about what I have termed "novel emotional states", I'm just adding to the picture—
    At the end of the day, though, just as it is valid to consider a world in which bad things don't happen to good people I don't see it as a problem to also consider that god could create a world without "novel emotional states".

    I'll try to post some more later. Ciao!

  2. Upandatom
    Upandatom says:

    2.
    Funny that you mention that I am trying to disprove christianity/god. That is exactly what I thought when I read your title – that the actual argument was afterthought… But we're all invested in our worldviews, no?

    I did not really assume that people are good. I intended that people got what they deserve, whatever that may entail.

    I find it odd that you actually take the character of human beings (evil) from the bible. How about looking at humans themselves and deciding for yourself? I think that human beings are capable of both evil and good – I think it is ill-considered to just paint them one or the other. I agree with the bible, humans can be evil, but they can also be good. I guess the bible was written in the stick days not the carrot ones – odd for a 'document' designed to inspire faith!

    (&3.)
    You make a good point that I should go to what the god of christianity actually says. The question arises in my mind then: from what vantage point am I judging the god of christianity? (for I am judging his world to be wanting). My answer is that I am judging it just as I (and Stuart) judge that murder is bad. We both do not need to go to the bible to see that murder is wrong, as you seem to do to determine the human character. Ultimately you must have some bible-independant thought with which to examine the bible, Bnonn. And that is what I use to judge this world wanting.

  3. Machinephilosophy
    Machinephilosophy says:

    I don't see a way to show that some suffering (or evil) is unrectifiable in principle, which seems to be what is required for it to be a problem for God's Justice or Goodness.

    Moreover, I don't see how there can be any "evil" beyond personal repugnance without some prior uncontestable standard of ultimate goodness by which we recognize something as evil, and such ultimate goodness can only exist if there is an ultimate mind that embodies or instantiates it as a necessarily-referenced ideal for making ethical or moral assessments.

  4. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hey Upandatom.

    I was more thinking that god would set it up so that something exceptionally good only happens to someone who deserves it, just as he'd make bad things deserved too. Furthermore, why would god want to reward someone if they didn't deserve it? That is half the problem with this world! :)

    Ah right. Okay, fair enough. But don't you think an exceptionally good God, like Christians believe in, would set things up so exceptionally good things happen even to people who don't really deserve it? After all, even lousy parents like me love to treat our kids for no other reason than that we love them. My daughter doesn't have to do anything to earn my love, and I don't always buy her chocolates or milkshakes because she deserves them (:

    Of course, in situations like that, I'm not rewarding my daughter. I'm just being gracious to her. I'm giving her something purely out of my own love, and not because of any merit on her part. Exactly as God does with us.

    There is the other argument, too, though. That happiness is a matter of neurochemicals. And we get a boost of them when we experience something novel and good – like, as you say, marriage after loneliness.

    Well, I actually agree that happiness is a matter of neurochemicals. At least, neurochemicals are part of the physical mechanism that causes happiness. I'm not sure how this suggests anything about God's existence, though. After all, a Christian like me would say God created us as physical creatures as well as spiritual ones, with the physical influencing the spiritual, and vice versa. I've always thought Christianity actually makes more sense of the relationship between body and mind than the alternatives do (I've got an article coming up on Thinking Matters about this soon). Could you explain the difficulty with neurochemicals, as you see it?

    At the end of the day, though, just as it is valid to consider a world in which bad things don't happen to good people I don't see it as a problem to also consider that god could create a world without "novel emotional states".

    Sure. But I don't think the question is whether God could create such a world, or even if he would create such a world. I think the question is whether the world in which we find ourselves is one which God could not or would not create, right?

    But we're all invested in our worldviews, no?

    Yeah, definitely. I mean, that's just human nature. It's hard to see things outside our own presuppositions. Which is why I'm interested in hearing yours.

    I find it odd that you actually take the character of human beings (evil) from the bible. How about looking at humans themselves and deciding for yourself? I think that human beings are capable of both evil and good – I think it is ill-considered to just paint them one or the other.

    Sorry, I guess I wasn't real clear. The Bible definitely makes people out to be both evil and good. Just in slightly different ways.

    They're good in that they're made in the image of God. They have moral character; they understand moral issues, and have an inbuilt sense of justice. They're naturally predisposed to love. Etc.

    But they're evil in the sense that their moral priorities are "broken". They take themselves as the reference point for moral issues, rather than God. Which of course is wrong, because God is the source of their own moral sense, and the moral laws they believe in. So when I say "evil", I don't mean like Hitler or something. People aren't generally psychopathic or anything. What I mean is that they evaluate moral issues without looking to God. They do what seems right to them, rather than what seems right to God (ie, what is right).

    Mind you, the Bible does say this kind of evil tends to get worse. If God leaves people to their own devices, they get more and more depraved. They turn morality around until evil seems good, and good seems evil. You can see that in a lot of pre-Christian cultures. The societies that were enemies of ancient Israel, for example, considered all kinds of abominable things normal: child sacrifice, infanticide, pedophilia, genocide etc. And in our own society you see this happening now, as it becomes more and more post-Christian. Drug use is no big deal. Abortion is a "right" (from a Christian perspective this is really gut-wrenching, since abortion is a form of homicide, only perpetrated against the most defenseless of victims). It's becoming "immoral" to have moral objections to homosexual unions. And so on.

    The question arises in my mind then: from what vantage point am I judging the god of christianity? (for I am judging his world to be wanting). My answer is that I am judging it just as I (and Stuart) judge that murder is bad. We both do not need to go to the bible to see that murder is wrong, as you seem to do to determine the human character. Ultimately you must have some bible-independant thought with which to examine the bible, Bnonn. And that is what I use to judge this world wanting.

    I think you're right. But there are a couple of problems:

    1. These moral intuitions of ours seem to be best explained by our being created in the image of a moral law-giver. In fact, it's hard to make any sense of them otherwise.

    2. Our moral intuitions can become skewed. We know this because we see them being skewed in others. For example, imagine a society in which pedophilia is considered normal. Would anyone really dare to say that we don't have any authority to tell them that pedophilia is wrong? That it's just a matter of differing social norms? Wouldn't we tend to see such a position as being itself craven and morally wanting? It seems far more sane to say that that society is wrong and practicing evil than it does to say that there is no objective right and wrong in such a situation.

    So although our moral intuitions are certainly useful, we have to admit they can be mistaken sometimes. And that's especially the case when different people have different intuitions. So when you feel that this world is wanting, and I feel that it isn't, what can we do? (I have a very strong intuition that this is exactly the kind of world that the God of the Bible would create.) If there's no higher authority to which we can appeal, we can never agree. Whereas if the Bible is genuinely the word of God, we can examine it to discover whether our moral intuitions are on the money in this instance.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Upandatom,

    Since my name came up,

    The question arises in my mind then: from what vantage point am I judging the god of christianity? (for I am judging his world to be wanting). My answer is that I am judging it just as I (and Stuart) judge that murder is bad. We both do not need to go to the bible to see that murder is wrong, as you seem to do to determine the human character.

    I judge that murder is wrong on the basis of my moral intuitions. That's not to say that it is wrong. To guarantee the truth of a prescriptive fact like that so its not just a subjective experience, we need God. I suppose our moral intuitions would be quite similar. But as a theist I have a basis to ground such moral facts in reality.

    The role of the Bible in morality is, as I see it, to communicate if my moral intuitions are either screwy or spot on, on both the ethical and meta-ethical level.

  6. Upandatom
    Upandatom says:

    Hi Bnonn,

    Wow… I probably won't be as….exhaustive! Here goes. The numbers are for your sections of writing:

    1.
    I guess I would agree that an exceptionally good god might set it up so that people get over and above what they deserve. Since that doesn't necessarily happen I would suggest then that, there is no (exceptionally good) god! Again I am reminded of the happiness hypothesis – I really recomment it! – in which the author asks, " if you could control the path of your children's life, you could make it easy and carefree. But would you really want to?…." As you pointed out before with longing making the heart grow fonder, negative experiences can be character-building. Imagine how much better our characters would be if there was direct and even immediate feedback for what we do. Our characters would no longer overstate our insurance claims etc. we would do, and know exactly why we should do things honestly because we'd get to experience direct deserts.

    I don't think the hypothesis that god is gracious to people will stand up to scrutiny. This is the confirmation bias in action. Those lost miners….yep, it was god!
    Has it occurred to you that maybe the biblical character 'god' was modelled upon the purely earthly relationship of 'father'?

    2.
    Neurochemicals……ahhh, what was my point?……..I think my point was to get to 3! Lol

    3.
    Ahhh….yeah, I guess. I personally find that an ultimately good being would not create the world that we live in. It would be better!

    4.
    Awesome! Yeah it's horrendously important. I think that the Truth lies at the sum-average of human beings opinions. After all, we all have reasons for believing what we do. Even if we are wrong about things, the reasons behind them are very real.

    5.
    Yeah I took you too literally. I certainly hoped you had a more….wide view. :)
    I guess all religions have similar things, you know, explanations for why humans are good and bad. I think this is an extrapolation; god, the devil, doctrines etc. etc. are all attempts at explaining these things. Like I said above, the explanations might be factually wrong (I think they are) but there's a damn good reason as to why we believe the things that we do.

    One point I'd like to ask you about. You say that we have moral character and an inbuilt sense of justice from god, but then you say – in what I take to be a negative way – that we take ourselves to be a reference of moral issues and that we need to look to god as the reference. This latter statement seems to kind of undo the former. If we can't take our own (god-given) sense of morality as right and have to look to god, that kind of makes our own moral character and internal sense of justice useless and untrustworthy, doesn't it? In fact, it makes it amoral doesn't it?

    If I may be so rude!: Fundamentalist religion, conservatism and views of moral decline seem to go hand in hand. I remember talking to a home schooled (read: religious – there's an interesting correlation!) chap, and he just couldn't believe that I didn't believe that morals are declining. He had to ask me thrice!

    I think that we are much more moral than in the times of Jesus, for instance. I remember reading Geering (who you'll love no doubt :)- ) and he said an odd thing. He said that the Bible has become a false idol to which it itself refers. In the Eastern religions/philosophies they often say "these things are not the Truth, they are merely pointers". The West, with it's Christian heritage does the opposite. They write it down, make it explicit, declare it the Truth and the end of the matter. How can doing this NOT end up being backward(past)-looking and focussing on the negative? I (and evidently Geering) think there's something wrong with this. The Israili tribe was writing about the future when denouncing those other cultures' practises, not the past. So was Jesus, I think. He was using old lingo and pictures, sure, but he was synthesising something new. They both were trusting their senses. Hope for the future. I think we should be trusting sense of morlity too, and writing the future. Proacting and positive rather than reacting and negatve. Sure it's scary; throwing out the user manual always is. But that's real faith. [end of motivaional rant] :)

    To my understanding: The best places in the world to live are the most irreligious. Scandinavia followed by Western Europe. The U.S. is, but only if you have money – there's very poor social welfare. That's hardly the future Jesus would have intended, I think.

    I don't think I could ever abort. I can't resist sharing this though. I know a person who had four miscarriages before a pregnancy went full term. I think this poses an interesting problem. After having several miscarriages, it is obvious that the chances that it happens again is quite high. This is not far off abortion, I think. After all, she was quite prepared to sacrifice human lives to get a full term baby.

    6.1
    Yes, I have often wondered if I would be doing a disservice to this world if I tried to deconvert someone like yourself (and vice versa), despite the fact that I think you are wrong on many things. Because I wonder whether what we believe is more a matter of personality than anythign else. For instance, it doesn't particularly bother me that I can't explain where moral motivations come from, or that other people have different opinions. But I can understand why some people DO want to explain these things. I can see that if my personality was different in certain ways, that I would too.
    And so I wonder that maybe if you were an atheist you would be miserable, and if I were a theist I would be miserable. This might sounds backwards or even selfish from the christian perspective, but the best thing a person can do for a society is be personally content. Not materially, but 'spiritually'. I would submit that both of us use our (ultimately unjustified) innate senses to guide our beliefs, and we have both arrived at positions that help align us best to be well-adjusted, content human beings.

    6.2
    I think your point here is about how to ground morals. Perhaps I should just put my view across as an alternative. My view is that the best morals are those which are the sum-average norm. This obviously requires a faith in our innate morals. But have a look at this: put yourself in my shoes. I don't believe in any god or supernatural stuff AND YET, just LOOK at the improvement in moraltiy and equality and flourishing that has arisen out of, well, chaos using nothing but our innate senses!! How could one behold this and NOT have faith. In the future, and in our innate senses.

    I have to confess that I think that throughout history religion has often been the manifestation of our lack of faith in our ultimately unjustifiable morals. We can't bear to just come out and recognise that they are unjustified, so we make them edicts from the gods. But don't get me wrong, despite thinking it as merely a vehicle for morals, religion is/was(/still is? – depends how you define religion. One could define it as visions of the future; faith; optimism) a necessary vehicle and a mainly good one at that, I think.

    There is paedophilia and there is paedophilia. Juliet of the Romeo variety was said to be conceived as about fourteen. Marriages in biblical times probably occurred even younger at times, and not to people Romeo's age!. But I think there is a hard wall that you hit eventually: we can say a lot about flourishing and health, and some forms of paedophilia just won't jibe.
    I think of large populations of exceptions – e.g. your society that is suddenly discovered and discovered to be paedophilic (in a bad way) – in the same way as I do light and shade. As soon as you expose such a society to a better way of living it can't help but change. (This is why fundamentalism resists exposure and closes up, I think. It is driven by fear. For example, home schooling!) Why? Well, I have faith that the individuals in that society, once exposed, can't help but see that 'light'. What are they using? Hehe, their innate senses. Would there be resistance? Or course their would. Their elders would warn of leaving the wisdom of their culture and rites etc. And would I blame them? No. No more than I blame you for looking to the past/bible for your values. And hopefully you won't blame me for trusting human insticts without….well, 'proof'.

    I guess there's a couple of things we can count on. Unfortunately for me I think religion is here to stay. And unfortunately for you the world and its morals will keep moving on.

    Sorry if I come across arrogant or presumtuous at all. It's merely exuberance!

    Ciao,
    :)

  7. Upandatom
    Upandatom says:

    Hi Stuart,

    I read your last-but-one sentence as being quite aggressive. I guess it is your opinion that you need god to ground facts in reality. That is a moral opinion of yours, no?. Personally I find it, well, just wrong to use 'reality' and 'god' in the same sentence.

    Sometimes I find it strange that we have democracy, when so many people are so polarized and emotional over issues. So many people, I think, would steamroll others with different opinons if they were given the chance – so sure they are that they are in the right – that I sometimes wonder who is keeping democracy? I hope that mankinds future involves the ability to really empathise with others and their opinions – to really engage with democracy, rather than begrudging it – and that our opinions be informed by more than just our own views somehow. I guess the way to do that would be by getting to know a person….

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hi Upandatom,

    Above, you used my name to support what you were saying and I felt the need to bring clarification. As further clarification.

    I read your last-but-one sentence as being quite aggressive.

    I'm not sure if an argument can be aggressive or not. People are aggressive. But arguments? In either case, your emotional state is not a valid defeater.

    I guess it is your opinion that you need god to ground facts in reality.

    Maybe. But, I was talking about moral facts.

    That is a moral opinion of yours, no?

    No, its a meta-ethical argument. One I think is good.

    Personally I find it, well, just wrong to use 'reality' and 'god' in the same sentence.

    Two things are required; (1) a ground or foundation so "wrong" is not just your own subjective opinion but a true fact, and (2) an argument for atheism to make it rational.

    Not sure how the diatribe on democracy is relevant at all.

  9. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hey Upandatom. No worries about being exhaustive. It's just a friendly chat. I tend to talk a lot I guess (;

    I don't think the hypothesis that god is gracious to people will stand up to scrutiny. This is the confirmation bias in action. Those lost miners….yep, it was god!

    I think the difference between our two views here is less to do with the range of actions or attitudes we think the God of the Bible could have, and more to do with how consistent we think he would be in them. You seem to be taking a view where God would always act in one particular way; ie, he'd always give people what they deserved, or he'd always be equally gracious to everyone, etc. (Forgive me if I'm wrong; that just seems to be how you're arguing.)

    I can see a certain sense in that, but on the other hand, there's no obvious reason that God would be gracious to everyone equally. Or give everyone what they deserved. Maybe he'd give some people what they deserved (because he is a just, wrathful God, and wants to exercise his justice); and on the other hand be gracious to others (because he is a merciful, loving God who wants to exercise those qualities as well). It seems to me that if God is actually as complex as the Bible makes him out to be, then his creation would be complex too, and his interactions with people would reflect that.

    What I'm getting at is that God has many qualities or attributes, and that if he were to create a world where he could exercise them all, then it seems as if we're living in it. On the other hand, if he wanted to only exercise his mercy, or his justice, then the world would look a lot different (as it seems you agree?)

    Has it occurred to you that maybe the biblical character 'god' was modelled upon the purely earthly relationship of 'father'?

    Sure. But I think it makes more sense, when you look at the broader sweep of one's worldview, to suppose that earthly fatherhood is modeled after God (:

    Ahhh….yeah, I guess. I personally find that an ultimately good being would not create the world that we live in. It would be better!

    Well, fair enough. But I trust you see that Christians aren't being unreasonable in disagreeing? I think it comes down to having different presuppositions about what "good" is. Remember I talked about that as well. When Christians talk about God being ultimately good, they don't just mean that he's ultimately benevolent. They have in view all of his perfections: so that includes things like justice and wrath as well as mercy and love. If justice and wrath are part of God's ultimate goodness, wouldn't we expect him to create a world where they're manifested?

    If we can't take our own (god-given) sense of morality as right and have to look to god, that kind of makes our own moral character and internal sense of justice useless and untrustworthy, doesn't it? In fact, it makes it amoral doesn't it?

    I see what you're getting at, but I don't think it makes as amoral. Quite the opposite. We are distinctly moral, in the sense that we know that certain actions are either good or bad. We just sometimes don't get it right as to whether certain actions are good, or whether they're bad. But remember, under Christianity, this is not our natural state. When man was created, he enjoyed two very significant moral benefits:

    1. He was not morally corrupted. Ie, he wasn't sinful, so his moral reference point was not himself. It was God.

    2. He was in direct communication with God. There was no separation as there is now. So if there was ever any doubt, he could always ask!

    So in a way, you're right: our fallen moral character and internal sense of justice is rather useless. It needs to be brought back in line with God's way of thinking, which is what Christianity teaches. That's part of the process of sanctification in Christian life. Being able to better discern what is genuinely good, and what is genuinely not. But this isn't the way God designed us. Originally, we weren't "broken".

    I think that we are much more moral than in the times of Jesus, for instance.

    In some ways we undoubtedly are. But at the same time, you have to make certain adjustments for the lives we enjoy in comparison to how people lived then. It's easy to look back on previous times and talk about how brutal people were. But they lived brutal, unsheltered lives. We, on the other hand, are pretty pampered, and generally far removed from the harsh realities of survival. Christians often wonder, for example, how their forebears could have so merrily burned other (ostensible) Christians at the stake. But it wasn't that the Christians back then were less moral, per se; rather that they lived in a time when that was how life was. Everyone is a product of his own age. Doesn't excuse the evil he does; but it can explain it.

    What I'm getting at is that human moral nature hasn't changed over time. If we were all thrown back into a society like that of ancient Israel, no doubt we'd act much like ancient Israelis did.

    They write it down, make it explicit, declare it the Truth and the end of the matter. How can doing this NOT end up being backward(past)-looking and focussing on the negative?

    I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at here. I guess the first thing I'd say is that if the Bible is genuinely the word of God, then your position seems to have some flaws. And of course, I believe that the Bible is genuinely the word of God. It is not just a "pointer" to the truth; it is God's revealing of the truth.

    The Israili tribe was writing about the future when denouncing those other cultures' practises, not the past. So was Jesus, I think. He was using old lingo and pictures, sure, but he was synthesising something new. They both were trusting their senses. Hope for the future. I think we should be trusting sense of morlity too, and writing the future.

    Again, I'm not sure what you're getting at. The Israeli tribe was generally writing about the present or the past. The Bible is largely a history of Israel. The only times when the future is explicitly in view is when prophesies are made.

    Jesus was certainly looking more to the future—but in the sense of the end days, judgment, the inauguration of a new kingdom and so on. He wasn't teaching a gospel of hope in man's gradual improvement. He was preaching a gospel of hope in God's salvation…

    But that's real faith.

    Well, faith has a specific meaning in the Bible, and it ain't that (:

    To my understanding: The best places in the world to live are the most irreligious. Scandinavia followed by Western Europe. The U.S. is, but only if you have money – there's very poor social welfare. That's hardly the future Jesus would have intended, I think.

    I think that depends on how you see the term "best" in regards to living. I certainly wouldn't want to live in the US; but I wouldn't want to live in highly secular countries either, because I'm not secular.

    More importantly, though…

    1. You shouldn't mistake Christianity for a political or ideological movement. Christianity wasn't established to make people's quality of living better. Its focus is not on the here-and-now. Sure, some Christians are very concerned with social justice and the like, and that's no bad thing. We're certainly entreated to care for the sick, the poor and so on. But that's not the gospel. The gospel has its focus on the life to come. So if some cultures create better societies without Christianity than with it, that's neither particularly surprising, nor particularly compelling. A Christian would rather suffer now and enjoy the life to come than vice versa!

    2. I'd hesitate to call America a Christian nation. It was founded on some ostensibly Christian principles, and many of its citizens still maintain the appearance of Christian religion. But being a Christian doesn't mean going to church at Christmas and Easter.

    3. Most of the prosperity of the West in general rides on the coat-tails of Christianization. Before Christianity was spread throughout Europe and later America, the situation was rather less pleasant.

    This is not far off abortion, I think. After all, she was quite prepared to sacrifice human lives to get a full term baby.

    A bit off topic, but yeah, that is an interesting question. But I think there are some pretty clear differences. A miscarriage isn't something you initiate. And you don't know it's necessarily going to happen. More to the point, for a Christian a miscarriage is something tragic, but ultimately in the hands of God. Whereas an abortion is something tragic, and clearly in the hands of man.

    Because I wonder whether what we believe is more a matter of personality than anythign else.

    Well, two things:

    1. I don't think so. I've seen too many Christians with vastly differing personalities, and gotten on very well with too many atheists and other non-Christians, to think that makes any sense. Plus, I was an atheist before I converted to Christianity…

    2. If belief is a matter of personality, then it would appear that what we believe really has nothing to do with truth. But then why believe anything?

    it doesn't particularly bother me that I can't explain where moral motivations come from

    Well, I do find that weird, but I've met so many other people who aren't worried about these things that it doesn't surprise me. It just makes me wonder: even if it doesn't bother you, surely you're still able to evaluate the various options and see that the Christian worldview gives an exceedingly good account of where moral motivations come from? Seems like even if you don't really care, you'd still be in a position to see moral motivations do exist, and that things that exist must exist for a reason. And atheistic worldviews don't seem able to offer any good reasons in that regard.

    I think your point here is about how to ground morals

    Yeah, but it's a tricky topic, and I think it would be better if I started a new post for it maybe. Could get messy in here (: I'd just say that if our morals are genuinely unjustified, that would seem to completely undermine what they are in the first place.

    I don't think it's sensible to chalk all religion up to our need to explain morals, specifically. In fact, I think if you look at the history of religion, the philosophy of ethics is a relatively new invention. Most religions are concerned with finding order and reason in the world, explaining our place in it, and (from a Christian perspective) doing so without having to acknowledge the existence of a God who is in judgment over us.

    (This is why fundamentalism resists exposure and closes up, I think. It is driven by fear. For example, home schooling!)

    Not sure what you're getting at here…I'll readily admit some home-schoolers are pretty weird, but I plan to homeschool my children, and I don't think I'm particularly abnormal. The stats speak for themselves: homeschooled children always score better in just about every test you can throw at them. Plus my dad's a teacher, and I know too much about New Zealand's education system to have any faith in it.

    Anyway, I gotta run; sorry if some of this is rambly. I haven't had a chance to read over it (:

  10. Upandatom
    Upandatom says:

    Stuart,

    I'm not sure why you think my interpreting your aggression reflects upon my emotonal state. I'm fine thanks!

    Mnnn! I've learned a new concept: meta-ethics.

    Two things are required; (1) a ground or foundation so "wrong" is not just your own subjective opinion but a true fact, and (2) an argument for atheism to make it rational.

    Of course. So what?

  11. Upandatom
    Upandatom says:

    Bnonn,

    Sorry for the late reply. I was cycling round Lake Taupo!

    <

    You seem to be taking a view where God would always act in one particular way; ie, he'd always give people what they deserved, or he'd always be equally gracious to everyone, etc. (Forgive me if I'm wrong; that just seems to be how you're arguing.)

    Better to be clear on this one: Yeap, he'd always give people what they deserved, whether good or bad. So if you do something good, you'd get good 'luck'. Do something bad and you'd get bad 'luck'. Of course, in my world it's not Luck at all, it's….Karma, I guess. Everyone gets what they deserve.

    I can see a certain sense in that, but on the other hand, there's no obvious reason that God would be gracious to everyone equally. Or give everyone what they deserved. …

    No he wouldn't be gracious to everyone equally. He'd be gracious according to how good you've been. Everyone would get what they deserved.

    What I'm getting at is that God has many qualities or attributes, and that if he were to create a world where he could exercise them all, then it seems as if we're living in it. On the other hand, if he wanted to only exercise his mercy, or his justice, then the world would look a lot different (as it seems you agree?)

    I rather think that you might be lookng at this from the wrong angle (at least if you're trying to undertand my point of view). I am certainly not starting from god's purported attributes. I am starting from the problem that people often don't get what they deserve. It seems silly to me that god would show his character inconsistently, that's just….wanton, callous. Cruel in fact.

    Well, fair enough. But I trust you see that Christians aren't being unreasonable in disagreeing? I think it comes down to having different presuppositions about what "good" is. Remember I talked about that as well. When Christians talk about God being ultimately good, they don't just mean that he's ultimately benevolent. They have in view all of his perfections: so that includes things like justice and wrath as well as mercy and love. If justice and wrath are part of God's ultimate goodness, wouldn't we expect him to create a world where they're manifested?

    Oh, heck yes. I certainly don't mean – in my idealized world – that only good is rewarded. I also mean that bad is punished. Everyone gets what they deserve. Like the christian, I too have a more complex idea of 'good'. So, not that I have god's character in mind at all, I think my 'idealized god' is still in line with this.

    We are distinctly moral, in the sense that we know that certain actions are either good or bad. We just sometimes don't get it right as to whether certain actions are good, or whether they're bad.

    Mmmmmmmnnnn, I think I understand where you're coming from. You don't really trust our innate sense of right and wrong – or at least it's not always right.

    When man was created…

    Just out of interest, do you believe in a literal adam and eve? And how old do you think the earth is? I'm just curious as to how metaphorically you take Genesis.

    So in a way, you're right: our fallen moral character and internal sense of justice is rather useless. It needs to be brought back in line with God's way of thinking, which is what Christianity teaches.

    Ahhhh, interesting. And you have Faith, and maybe Hope that if people come into line with god – become christian – that they will become better in line with what is really good, yes?

    What I'm getting at is that human moral nature hasn't changed over time. If we were all thrown back into a society like that of ancient Israel, no doubt we'd act much like ancient Israelis did.

    Yep. So, before you claimed that morality is getting worse. I assume, then, that you believe it to ebb and flow over the ages, but that at the present time it is getting worse.

    ———
    Clearly we have completely different views on the bible and so interpret it quite differently, which is why you don't really understand what I say of the bible. And yes I certainly don't view it as the word of god. This is kind of a different topic so I won't pursue it (here)
    ——–

    So if some cultures create better societies without Christianity than with it, that's neither particularly surprising, nor particularly compelling. A Christian would rather suffer now and enjoy the life to come than vice versa!

    I have to confess that this is quite scary. I guess it comes back to not trusting our morality. If you don't trust it, then even if you have an ideal all-christian society and everyone hates it and is miserable – well, maybe that's what god wants – maybe that's god's/real morality! I find this chillingly disjointed from reality.

    3. Most of the prosperity of the West in general rides on the coat-tails of Christianization. Before Christianity was spread throughout Europe and later America, the situation was rather less pleasant.

    I find this an interesting comment. Why does the prosperity that christianity led to count for christianity, but the serenity of a post-christian culture doesn't count for post-christianity?
    Personally I think that the flourishing of christian society speaks volumes for christianity, and the same for post-chistian societies. I can see why you'd want to reject the latter, though.

    I don't think so. I've seen too many Christians with vastly differing personalities, and gotten on very well with too many atheists and other non-Christians, to think that makes any sense.

    Yes I take your point. I am curious, though, what is it – and why is it – that you latched onto in christianity whereas I am disinterested in it?

    If belief is a matter of personality, then it would appear that what we believe really has nothing to do with truth. But then why believe anything?

    I think a lot of our beliefs have to do with what the beliefs do for us.
    In my experience, people only convert to religion for emotional reasons. Though I can see that some people might be convinced by a sound argument, and that that might lead to emotional experiences. But without the emotional experience, there is no conversion, I think. People that I know who have deconverted tend to do so for non-emotional reasons – reasons about evidence ususally.
    I think that in philosophy or religion there are arguments for and against almost everything, so there is scope to rationalise almost any position, and so we can be guided by non-evidence reasons. In this way, no, our opinions on many matters have little to do with the real world.

    surely you're still able to evaluate the various options and see that the Christian worldview gives an exceedingly good account of where moral motivations come from? Seems like even if you don't really care, you'd still be in a position to see moral motivations do exist, and that things that exist must exist for a reason. And atheistic worldviews don't seem able to offer any good reasons in that regard

    I don't see the christian worldview as giving a particularly good explanation. I don't see why it's better than other religions, for instance.
    I certainly agree that moral motivations exist, but I don't see why they must exist for a reason. I mean, there is a reason that they are there – they are built up from our genes and upbringing and experiences, but there is no top-down reason. I think I view it a bit like evolution. You could say to me "well, evolution must have a purpose, there must have been an aim to create humans". But I think this is wrong – there is no aim. And this in no way takes away from the amazing things evolution makes, and I don't think there being no god takes away from morality – it is still very real. I can see why some people want there to be an absolute, though. They don't like the idea that things change or aren't certain. And in that respect I think non-theistic worldviews are more honest. We just don't have top-down reasons for our morality, why not admit it?

    I'll readily admit some home-schoolers are pretty weird, but I plan to homeschool my children, and I don't think I'm particularly abnormal.

    Arrrghh! The abnormal people would probably say the same! :)
    It's not all about test scores of course. It's about being adusted, and part of that is experiencing the same, imperfect melee of the real world that's, well, real. And having that in common with others.

    ciao

  12. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hey Upandatom. How was your cycle? Seems like a horrible idea, cycling all that way :D

    I guess what I really need to ask here is: why should anyone find your notion of an "ideal god" any more convincing than my one?

    Why is a god who gives everyone exactly what they deserves better or more likely than one who is gracious to some? (Incidentally, your comment that your god would "be gracious according to how good you've been" suggests that you don't get what grace actually is: ie, UN-merited favor.) I think I've given good reasons, based on what we know of human goodness and love, for thinking that if God exists, he'd be more like the Christian God than your ideal deity. You haven't really given any reasons to the contrary except your own intuition, I think?

    I certainly don't mean – in my idealized world – that only good is rewarded. I also mean that bad is punished. Everyone gets what they deserve.

    If I may point out, isn't it reasonable to think (given the remarkably complex network of relationships between six billion people) that this would be entirely impossible? Wouldn't it make more sense to think that people get what they deserve in the NEXT life, rather than this one? Why discount that possibility? After all, if a crack whore mother got what she deserved in this life, her baby boy might die (not what HE deserves, under your lights). Or if every embezzling politician got what he deserved, the world economy would fall apart and the rest of us would suffer more (not what WE deserve). Or a saintly person who helps the poor gets rewarded with a wonderful life and family…that takes him away from his good work, and leaves the poor suffering even more. It seems trivial to show that giving one person what he deserves means that other people fail to get what they deserve.

    Just out of interest, do you believe in a literal adam and eve? And how old do you think the earth is? I'm just curious as to how metaphorically you take Genesis.

    I believe in a literal Adam and Eve. I don't have a considered opinion on the age of the earth, since I don't see that the science is definitive for either side. Each side has what seem like reasonable arguments. Going by the biblical data, I think the best exegesis points to a young earth.

    So, before you claimed that morality is getting worse.

    No, I claimed that society is getting worse (:

    If you don't trust it, then even if you have an ideal all-christian society and everyone hates it and is miserable – well, maybe that's what god wants

    I think it's hard to make a case for God wanting anyone to be miserable, unless it is a judgment upon them for prior sin. I don't grant that truly Christian societies would be miserable. Quite the contrary. I merely grant that non-Christian societies won't necessarily be miserable either.

    Why does the prosperity that christianity led to count for christianity, but the serenity of a post-christian culture doesn't count for post-christianity?

    Because by definition the "serenity" of post-Christian culture is predicated on Christian values. As Nietzche observed, when people give up Christianity, they tend to retain its ethics (especially the less troublesome rules), and find themselves even more bigoted about them than before. You can see this in the notion of "tolerance", which has become the new standard for good in liberal ethics. The only thing it's okay to be intolerant of is intolerance itself.

    what is it – and why is it – that you latched onto in christianity whereas I am disinterested in it?

    Epistemology.

    It's not all about test scores of course. It's about being adusted, and part of that is experiencing the same, imperfect melee of the real world that's, well, real. And having that in common with others.

    Yeah, school is definitely a good primer for normal society. I mean, if you consider jail time "normal" q:

    I've met a lot of poorly adjusted people who went through "normal" school. And I've met a lot of well adjusted people who were home schooled. But by all means, do your research and show me some evidence that home schooling leads to social maladjustment (:

  13. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Hey Upandatom, sorry for the slow reply again. Just a couple of comments, as I think this discussion has mostly run its course:

    I think people should find my idea of god better due to their inherant knowledge of good, bad, and better, and that this world is wanting. That's it really.

    Okay, but then I trust you'll see the issue in a moment…

    Because if grace, as you point out, is unjustified and random (you said earlier that he might give wrath to some and grace to others), it is half the problem with this world!

    See, on the contrary, I'd interpret grace as the one bright spot in the world. Given my inherent knowledge of good and bad, I can see that all people are bad to some degree, and that if there is indeed a good God, then we're all under judgment by him. So the way the world is, with suffering and so on, seems pretty much right if we are actually all being judged for wrongdoing. The fact that some people get a reprieve in this life, and the fact that some people are even saved in the next, looks to me very much like the actions of a God who loves even bad people. God's grace is what makes this world bearable to live in.

    So the problem seems to be that trying to extrapolate how God should be, based on how we interpret "ideals", is a very flawed process. Different people will come to different conclusions.

    Not sure where you've mentioned human goodness and love. I feel that my idealised god is based upon human ideals, which is surely better than our actual, flawed nature..

    I've talked about how human fathers show grace to their children, giving them unmerited favor sometimes, purely because they love them. I dunno if you're a father, but it's hard to believe you think that fathers shouldn't treat their kids that way. How is it not ideal to love your kids more than they even deserve?

    And besides, nothing would be impossible to a god.

    Why not? You don't think God could do the logically impossible, do you? The inability to do the logically impossible is hardly a limitation. It's just a prerequisite of coherency.

    But why torture people in the meantime? I.E. My world is still better than that scenario, because there's little/no waiting time.

    Not really sure what you mean. Who's being tortured?

    People get grace if they ask and not if they don't.

    No, people get grace if God chooses to give them grace. Grace is a gift (Ephesians 2:8).

    I don't see why good but non-christian people deserve hell and bad but christian deserve heaven.

    You're misunderstanding what "good" and "bad" are. Under Christianity, there is no one good (Romans 3:10 and onward). Everyone is a sinner, and so everyone is under God's judgment. That isn't to say everyone is as evil as they possibly can be—merely that our moral compass is turned away from God, and toward ourselves. That's why it's even possible to think that there are "good" and "bad" people—because we're judging based not on how people act towards God (ie, the real standard for what is moral), but based on how people act towards each other. I think I explained that before?

    Depends what you call science I guess. It's only religious folk believe in a young earth, therefore it is a religious opinion not one based upon science.

    Could I make the same argument if there was some contested fact believed only by non-religious people? Seems pretty tendentious to claim that something isn't science just because of who believes it.

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