Arguments against God, pt 1

I keep trying to avoid writing a lot about religion on here since I’ve decided to set up a separate blog to cover that vast topic. Whenever I get the urge to attempt to teach someone about God, I simply write it in a notepad for future use on that blog. Why? Well, for one reason, I intend to try to hold myself to a higher degree of civility in the discussions regarding religion. This blog tends to be me in my “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” mood, a place where I can vent my frustrations at the world as I see it now. Unfortunately, I can’t resist a good religious discussion debate argument, and the rest of the world doesn’t have the courtesy to wait for my nuggets of truth and understanding which I will be authoritatively presenting on the new blog. *grin*

Case in point: Over on Very Important Stuff, Dr. Dunning has a recent post addressing some of the most common atheist arguments. This post isn’t really a response to his, which is itself personal opinions in a post inspired by someone else’s post on their personal opinions (God bless the blogosphere!), but rather a convenient excuse for me to make another post for which an arguably suitable response is tl,dr. :) Despite that these supposed arguments against God are nothing new, and I’ve got reams of material already written to attack these arguments, I find myself compelled to jump in with my own opinions. People who know me just chuckled at that last phrase, probably saying “that’s nothing new either”. :) Anyway, without further ado, let’s get down to the four main arguments:

1) The “problem” of “evil”. Like so many arguments in religion, this one is made worse by most people having a poor definition and/or understanding of the word “evil”. I’ve found that many people, including some truly great thinkers throughout history, muddy the waters by apparently defining evil as being synonymous with “anything bad that happens”. Secondly, an overwhelming number of people seem to believe that “evil” and “good” are opposites, both of which have a separate unique existence or, at best, are two sides of the same coin. Then, of course, we finally come to the fact that due to a highly limited scope (and mental/spiritual capacity), humans tend to incorrectly believe that they have a good idea regarding the definition of “bad”, “good”, “evil”, “right”, “wrong”, etc. at any given point in time. Any true master knows the fallacies of these opinions and can see easily why people have such a tough time with the “problem of evil” and why they think it is either a good argument against God’s existence or a difficult problem if one posits a perfect or benevolent God.

Given that I assert that the entire conundrum is based in a fundamental misunderstanding of “evil”, allow me to describe my understanding of it. Many will argue that I’m simply re-defining the word, but so be it. If you want to have any hope of figuring out this “problem”, you’re gonna have to unlearn the poor thinking that got you here in the first place. Evil is not a physical occurrence; it is specifically an intentional decision to act in disharmony with one’s understanding of God’s plan/intention, rather than the physical action which is taken. Evil, being related to the concept of free will, finds its origin in a decision of a will creature; it is a specific decision to do something that creature understands as “wrong”. Events which were not precipitated by a specific decision are just that…events, maybe bad, but are never properly referred to as “wrong”, much less “evil”. Earthquakes and other natural disasters aren’t evil; there was no will creature making a decision to do something wrong. People dying due to earthquakes is nothing more or less than the consequence of them living on a mostly-molten ball of rock which is slowly cooling down. It’s not evil, it’s thermodynamics. For the layperson, suffice to say that “shit happens”. Likewise, manslaughter and other accidental things are also excluded from any true understanding of “evil”. The death of a child who darts into the street and gets accidentally hit by a car is an unfortunate occurrence, but it is not properly called evil. There was no decision between perceived right and wrong which directly influenced those two timelines. To be evil, the motorist would have had to both believe that harming children was wrong as well as possessing specific intention to do precisely that.

Now let us refine our understanding further and examine it in the light of things that people take to be separate but equal “opposites”, e.g. Light/dark, good/evil, love/hate, etc. Anyone with any knowlege of basic physics should specifically note the first example I give in the above list and pause for a moment to reflect on it; you’ll probably get a good idea of my teaching here simply by noting the physical definitions of “light” and “dark”. He that hath ears, let him hear, donchaknow. Sure, you can look at it as being opposite, but examine closer. Light == presence of photons. Dark == absence of photons. Simply put, “dark” has no real definition on its own, such as “the presence of anti-photons”; it is merely a convenient way of saying “no light”. If “dark” truly existed, I could go to Wal*Mart and buy a darkbulb, a device which would darken a well-lit room, counteracting any active lightbulbs. No, darkness vanishes instantly when one turns on a light. The brightness in a room cannot be understood as a ratio of dark particles and light particles, it can only be seen as a positive, non-zero number of how many light particles there are. There’s no war going on in a dimly-lit room between the relative power of light versus the power of the dark.

I argue that most things containing spiritual value are the same way. God cannot hate fags, for example, because as soon as pure love shows up, hate vanishes like the nonexistant thing it truly is. Like turning on a light. Hate is the absence of love. “Unfairness” is the absence of justice. Evil is the absence of Good.

“But wait a damn minute,”, I can hear some of you saying, “evil does too exist! What about those people who indeed know the difference between right and wrong and choose to do evil anyway? Are they not actually creating evil as something separate from good? A murderer isn’t guilty of ‘not helping the victim’, they’re guilty of killing him!”. This is a fairly good point, but still reflects the idea that evil finds its basis in a physical action. As I said before, evil is based in the decision to take a “wrong” action, not the action itself. You need to examine the fundamentals with a stronger microscope here. At the fundamental level, the act of murder isn’t the source of the evil…the decision to murder is what was based in evil. And we’re back to being able to view that decision as being made due to a lack of “goodness”. Had the murderer-to-be allowed any amount of “goodness” to influence his decision, he would not have made the decision to do wrong. Any choice to do good towards a person will immediately eliminate all choices to do bad to them while that choice stands. The converse is not true.

Lastly on the subject of mislabeling evil, I mentioned the idea of our limited scope and understanding. Despite that most our great spiritual leaders throughout history, irrespective of their individual theologies, have been fairly unanimous in presenting the concept that our lives extend past physical death in some way, we still attempt to define good and evil according to those limited terms. More on that later. To make matters worse, at the same moment we freely admit that we don’t know that exactly God’s plan is, we freely prognosticate on what does and what does not constitute harmony with that plan. We treat morality, “right and wrong”, as if it were an absolute despite the fact that it is easily demonstrable that our concepts of morality are incredibly dynamic over the course of history. Yes, on an ultimate level, morality is absolute, but we’re a long, long way from any ultimate level of reality here. For every “everybody knows THAT’s wrong”, there’s a time period in human history where THAT wasn’t thought of as wrong at all. It’s likely that THAT was even thought to be righteous once upon a time. As an example, allow me to have a word with Lot from the Old Testament: Hey Lot….guess what man, your responsibility for protecting your own children from harm supersedes any responsibility you have to protect others, including yourself, from harm. See what I mean? Lot was cast as a righteous man; nowadays we can go as far as making a formal, logical proof that he was not.

As an aside, I find it interesting that over the course of history, the refinement of mankind’s spiritual concepts of morality seem to exhibit a growth pattern similar to that seen in the physical world. Relatively slow and steady evolutionary progression with a few well-placed dramatic upticks. Then again, I may only find it interesting due to the fact that my pet “evolution is the only perfect way to accomplish creation” theory predicts it.

No matter how correct we are in our current concepts of morality, we must concede that there is a great likelihood that we are ultimately wrong about many things. At this point in our progression, it is safe to say that if morality is indeed an absolute, then only God knows what that absolute is, and that we have a greater chance of being wrong about it than we do in being right about any given question. There are most certainly things that we currently think are morally repugnant which aren’t really, and vice versa. This doesn’t give us license to freely violate our conceptions of morality, but does illustrate the need to constantly subject our notions of morality to critical thought, and try to refine and improve those notions as our ability to conceive them grows.

I mentioned earlier the idea of us having a limited scope. By this, I mean we cannot see the “big picture”. I have a frequently-used parable to illustrate how this applies to the question at hand:

A boy in preschool was playing with a favorite toy. Another child, upon seeing how much fun he was having, came and took the toy away and began playing with it. The boy’s limited sense of justice and fairness was thus offended, and he began to wail and cry; his sense of suffering was both great and very real to him. Upon reaching adulthood, his parents told him of the incident but he did not remember it due to its lack of importance and ultimate meaning.

A pubescent girl, upon the onset of her first period, felt strong cramps and saw her bloody emission. Having been shielded from knowlege of the proper functioning of her body, she ignorantly thought that she was mortally wounded, that her death was imminent. In later years, as she recalled the incident, remembering the very real mental anguish and suffering she experienced, still chuckled at her own ignorance.

Such is the life of mankind in the physical realm. Lacking in experience, possessing of an incomplete and ofttimes inaccurate view of the Universe, and unable to see the his true longevity, he frequently believes his very real problems and suffering in this world to be of consequence in the wholeness of his life.

And there ya have it. On any ultimate/perfect level, evil doesn’t exist at all. On lesser levels, it may exist due to a will creature choosing not to do good. In those cases, even assuming that you are indeed correct that it was evil that was done, even the worst evil done to someone is ultimately inconsequential to that person. The attribute of benevolence or “all-goodness” is not denied to a God based on the occurrence of inconsequential events.

Crikey. I’ve only covered one of the four arguments, and this post is already at the point where it arguably needs to be split amongst several posts. I’ll have to take them up separately.

3 Responses to “Arguments against God, pt 1”

  1. Scott Carson Says:

    You may be interested in some of my own more recent attempts to address the problem of evil, here, here, and here.

  2. Lenoxus Says:

    I wish you could see my expression of extreme horror/hilarity upon reading the given self-quote. So all the world’s privation, oppression, suffering, disease, torture, etc — in the “long run”, it’s no worse than a child losing a toy, or, at the very worst, menstruation.

    Heck, I’m a rather privileged person, in both where and when I live, but based on what I have experienced and heard from others, I can still acknowledge the non-triviality of extreme suffering. Now I can’t help but wonder… how sheltered can someone get? Would you really say that sort of thing to a cancer patient’s face, and if not, why not? Because that might make them feel worse (which of course still wouldn’t “matter”)? Sheeeesh.

  3. Lon Says:

    @Lenoxus: No, I would not make a point of expressing this to someone undergoing suffering, no more than I would indicate to a child that I thought his loss of a toy was a trivial matter or tell the sheltered girl that she was being silly.

    I chose the examples and the wording very carefully. Read it again, and you’ll see that it was pointed out that the suffering and anguish were *very real* to the subjects at the time of its occurrence, and thus, not exactly trivial. Losing one’s favorite toy as a child may appear trivial to an adult, but it is quite possibly the worst thing the child in question has ever experienced. And even if the adult knows that it is indeed a trivial thing, only a total asshole would treat it as such in the presence of said child.

    My point is rather that after you are a few million years old (in earth time), and dealing with issues you face at that point, you will wistfully remember all the “problems” you had back on Earth and, similar to an adult pondering the child’s loss of their toy, will wind up thinking “they don’t know how good they have it”. Perhaps not so obvious is that I’m not saying that the so-called afterlife is bad….just that the issues you will face there will be on an entirely different level in their importance.

    Also not so obvious is my belief here is that those who have gone through what we currently think is extreme suffering will prove to be better equipped to handle the issues arising in the “afterlife”; the ones who have been sheltered and lived a life of little suffering will be at a distinct disadvantage. Again bringing to mind the idea of a child who never had his favorite toy stolen finding it harder to deal with adult life as we know it than one who has attended the “school of hard knocks” a few times.