May 21, 2008

Comments on Comments

I have a simple site meter on my blog where I can see the number of unique individuals that come to my blog. With a steadily increasing number and many readers, I am afraid the fact that I moderate comments has become a deterrent to actively participating. For this reason, I am removing the moderation of comments.
I had initially chose to moderate the comments, because I've witnessed the onslaught of belittling and bigoted comments coming uniformly across all-belief systems. This I wanted to avoid. However, if such comments (comments without thought, aimed solely to demean other belief systems and not to discuss them) do appear, I will just delete them manually. I hope to have more of your thoughts, you hundreds that read this blog. I have heard it expressed through confidential emails that some of the topics are esoteric or beyond the expertise of the reader. I hope this invitation lets you feel like you can comment, regardless.
May we make this a thinkers' accord,

May 18, 2008

The Logical Problem of Evil: Hume and Flew

The fact that this world is full of pain and suffering has probably elicited more distrust of Deity than anything else I can presently think of. One only needs to read Wiesel’s Night to glimpse some of the horrifyingly powerful injustice that occurs. Wiesel’s holocaustic journey takes him beyond his threshold of belief in God because of human suffering. Surely there are many reasons for struggling with the problem of evil. Wiesel has resolved these seemingly insurmountable issues for himself and continues believing. But for others, these issues are left unanswered. I do not presume to have the panacea for all questions of injustice in our short lives. Some answers would appeal to some and some to others. I want to address one problem of evil in specific: the Logical Problem of Evil.

The Logical Problem of Evil claims that an All-Loving God and the fact that evil, pain, etc. exist are mutually incompatible: if God is claimed to be all-loving and omnipotent, then He is impossible. There is plenty of material on this train of thought. Many who are “ex-believers” or people who feel betrayed by God, spend much effort trying to destroy the belief systems of others. I hope that I don’t come across as destroying the belief systems of others, but I would like to explain how my understanding of God removes the seeming impossibility of His perfect benevolence.

In order to produce a meaningful explanation, I need to take the best arguments I can against this logical problem. I have nothing to hide, for the rhetoric is available to everyone. There were many great minds that contemplated this question. If I took the skeptics’ understanding of God, I would likely come to the same conclusion. But I hope to help people understand, as I do, that God is a God of love and that this is not illogical.

The following are arguments for the problem of evil coming from David Hume. Hume was perhaps the most noteworthy skeptic from the enlightenment. This was his argument:

“Is [evil] from the intention of the deity? but he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive.” (From Dialogues concerning Natural Religion)

Some tried to find exception to Hume’s argument, so one of the foremost atheist thinkers of the 20th century, Antony Flew, clarified the statement even further. His philosophies has evolved over the years (as every good learner should), but he still holds to this argument, which is accepted and used by the current skeptic community (whether or not they recognize it). His argument is the following:

“We cannot say that [God] would like to help but cannot: God is omnipotent. We cannot say that he would help if he only knew: God is omniscient. We cannot say that he is not responsible for the wickedness of others: God creates those others. Indeed an omnipotent, omniscient God must be an accessory before and during the fact to every human misdeed; as well as being responsible for every non-moral defect in the universe.” (From New essays in Philosophical Theology)

So the outline is as follows:

  1. God is omnipotent, omniscient, created all things ex nihilo, and all-loving.
  2. Evils occur.
  3. An all-loving being prevents all the evil that it can.
  4. An omnipotent ex nihilo creator can prevent all evils.
  5. God prevents all evils.

It is obvious from this explanation that points 2 and 5 are perfectly contradictory: one says “God prevents all evils” the other is “Evils occur.” This is the logical problem of evil stated by those who espouse it.

My subsequent posts will address this problem, explaining why this seemingly blatant contradiction is mutually incompatible with what I understand about God. I hope to show that God and perfect love are not logically contradictory.

May 12, 2008

Love: God’s Greatest Attribute

If there is anything that I’ve learned and known for myself about God, it is that His attributes overwhelmingly point toward one attribute: His love. Though this is not the place to attempt to describe the ineffable experiences that I have received to learn of His love, I know that He loves us, people, mankind. The reader can dismiss that because all I am giving is my word—or they can try believing that it is one of His attributes. I recognize that there are many who disagree with this statement: I have to be open-minded and recognize that God may only have emphasized this attribute to me, but it is His attribute nonetheless. I do have comfort in knowing that other people who appear to know God better than I do agree with this statement. Pragmatically speaking, it is difficult if not impossible to trust or believe in a God who you don’t think is on your side, in other words, who loves you.

With stating that He is loving, there arrives a series of logical complications from traditional views of God. I will list the most common questions, and I will have follow-up posts that answer these.

  • The first and foremost is the following: If God is loving, why is there evil, pain, death, etc? Didn’t He create all? To answer this question, I wish to address the best arguments of which I know that suggest this is illogical. Without addressing the claims of skeptic thinkers, we would not fully represent the logical feelings of people of non-theist belief systems. I want to show how the love of God is not logically impossible. Because this is an old problem, I intend on taking the next number of posts to explain this.
  • Second: What about eternal hell and punishment that is associated with so many religions? If God is loving, how could He knowingly consign someone who committed a finite crime in a finite world to some sort of infinite punishment after this life? This argument follows the same form as the previous.
  • Third: How can I trust that a God is loving who doesn’t curb all the blatant evil of bad people and destruction of natural disasters throughout the world? This is the practical question of evil: How can I trust that He is after my best interests?

There are probably more questions, but in answering these, most of the other ones will be cleared up.

May 5, 2008

The Experiment Going Awry: Attributes of God

There are a number of places where this experiment of belief can go awry, as we have already mentioned. I think one of particular note is given in the following question: what if someone attempted the experiment of faith, but believing in a God that had different attributes than God really has? What if they believed that He had to react in a certain way or do something, when He really didn’t have to?

People form a spectrum: from those who find it very easy to believe to those who find it difficult to believe. For those who find it very easy to believe, inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and misinterpretations don’t seem to hinder their belief. Such inaccuracies may lead to varying beliefs in God, a topic that will be addressed in later posts. For many, insofar as they have peer support, tradition, or desperation, they can look beyond or accept what I would call inaccuracies in God’s nature, and still find peace. I am not one of those people.

What about those for whom it is difficult to believe? For these, belief in something inaccurate may become as detrimental as not believing; the seeming inconsistencies or misrepresentations create a hostile environment for the more skeptical person who wishes to know God, or if God is real. In fact, it may bring them to depression, apathy, hate, total unrest, and even, in some cases that I have heard, suicide. This is not to say that those who find it easy to believe don’t suffer from negative side effects of misguided belief. But for the critical thinker, an inaccurate, inherently difficult view of God will make nurturing belief like planting a seed on asphalt. It’s not that the seed was bad to begin with; rather, the environment in which it has been placed is unsuitable.

It may be like the following analogy: the experiment gone awry through inaccuracy is like telling someone that if they believe a cat is a dog, that cat will be a dog. And when they find out that it doesn’t respond like a dog, when they believe it is, they will experience serious confusion. This is to say nothing of one believing that the cat is the popular flying spaghetti monster of Bobby Henderson.

I want to assure the reader that as a religious believer, one has to consider the many religious views that have been expressed by those who believe in God, who may have tried a similar experiment and failed, or who may have encountered other obstacles with this approach. Previously, I gave an analogy:

As an analogy, if God wants to paint a picture in our minds using bright oranges, reds, greens, and violets, but all we’re letting Him work with in our minds is gray (because we think that gray is the only thing He can use), the intended picture may come out sadly monochromatic; even if He does give us something of a painting, it is likely our restrictions on the answer that distort the picture.

I have found this particularly accurate. When I have been thinking about the way I think things should be, in my own closed-mindedness, if I pray to God and ask for guidance and direction and get something different than what I calculated, I feel betrayed. I feel that God has turned His back or that He neglected to take something into His planning. If I can recognize that I might not be right and let Him use whatever color He so chooses in the analogy of my beliefs, He undoubtedly and consistently gives me ideas and answers that far surpass my logical claims from before. God will not force us (or He would have done a lot more of that early on) to believe in Him, but will work with the tools that we make available to Him in our minds. If we can search in open-mindedness, He will have more to work with.

Why does it matter that we have the attributes of God correct? God, in all cultures as far as I know, expects that humans have some level of holiness or righteousness: some elements of character or behavior or experiences that are desirable. This holiness is usually a reflection of what God is. If a believer believes God is just, he/she also should want to be just. If a believer believes God is merciful, he/she also should want to be merciful. If a believer believes that God likes vanilla ice cream the best, then he/she also should like vanilla ice cream.

Obviously, from that last example, we have reason to question the extent to which some may take God’s characteristics. But if we do know His characteristics, it does help us understand what He wants us to become. As far as I know, most religions honor their God as being perfect, by some definition, and they try to acquire those attributes that they feel best reflect who God is. So, the greater the accuracy we have towards views of God, the greater the ability to apply this belief and experiment of belief.

The next number of blogs will reflect this intent: I wish to explain some of the attributes of God with the hope of making believing clearer.