“Blue-sky thinking” For anybody disinterested in politics or corporate drone speak (that’s almost everybody) has been an expression used synonymously with “open-minded thinking”, now, in the mind of the person often saying these things, nobody really needs to know what these expressions mean, rather it’s the aim of the speaker to have the listening audience know the particular behavior or postures they ought to adopt after having heard the expression. Upon hearing a claim or view which the speaker immediately prefaces as being the “open-minded” view, you’ve been forewarned to disagree may leave you open to a charge of close-mindedness, and who wants to be perceived as closed of mind?! Thinking blue isn’t far different, so to try and distance yourself from what’s quickly becoming the commonplace lingo means risking social and career alienation.
Open-mindedness is of course a wonderful sounding prospect, and that’s everything it’s required to be (wonderful in sound only), meaning it’s not meant to be deep, intelligent or even accurate (although the idea may be portrayed as each of the three and more). It’s metal painted gold, in short. Yet another definition, or perhaps description, of thinking blue in action would read like so: “emptiness of the skies – in blue-sky thinking there should be no preconceptions.” or even “original or creative thinking, unfettered by convention and not grounded in reality”, now, to write “not grounded in reality” makes me increasingly less convinced by blue-sky thought, much like how I’d be reluctant to enter into a house if the builders had told me it’s without a firm foundation. There’s something slightly disturbing about reasoning without plain ideas like “conning money from the elderly isn’t moral”, or “logically incoherent sentences don’t make for sound logical arguments.” nonetheless, politicians and office workers everywhere apparently aren’t so worried as I about trivialities like saying coherent words, being moral or even holding to accurate positions. Maybe that could be described as cloudy or grey thinking in the board room. Steven Poole, writing for the Express, describes the origins of the term:
Funnily enough the earliest recorded metaphorical uses of the phrase “blue sky” were applied to issues of corporate fraud. In the early 20th century people trading in worthless securities – the kind of thing that much later would have been termed junk bonds – were said to be selling “blue sky and hot air” and they were called “blue-sky merchants”.
So, to offer a person nothing is what was originally meant by selling blue-skies and hot air (how worrying for people who’s stock and trade are in these empty rhetoric devices). Though “That’s just corporate jargon” I already hear average Joe object, “these things don’t happen outside of politics and white collar places”, and they’re right . . . aren’t they? Methinks not. In fact, whatever the elite think speedily trickles down into everyday life via media, education and entertainment, meaning their shared ignorance, ignorance not guarded by, but rather promoted by wealth, is being fed into the general populous nonstop. People may think the impoverished able to influence the wealthy insofar that those of wealth can be shamed for their “privilege” or substance, though that’s simply not the case, instead it’s the wealthy who by a use of the impoverished pressurize or wealth shame their wealthy peers, a sort of “You’re more elite than me!” attack.
The above means although ridiculous ideas like blue-sky thought begin or are prevalent amidst the well-off, they’re quickly ushered into every home, school and place of business, meaning nobody is left unimpacted. To object means risking your grades, friends, job or that promotion you’re after, meaning there’s a big incentive to behavior in a certain way whether you believe it’s moral, coherent or founded upon the best information. We’re talking about an invasion, one super elite class of people controlling the thoughts and behaviors of others by sheer force of information, and at the risk of sounding like Alex Jones (heaven forbid), it’s already begun.*
There are truly people out there who self-identify as being of the “Christian” persuasion, men and women working minimum wage jobs, who love and value their family, yet they’re also pro-homosexual marriage, pro-religious relativism, pro-abortion, pro-Tory! They’re supporting everything that harms their supposed way of life, or worse things and people who hold even their nominal Christianity in contempt, they’re simply a large group of people who bought magic beans. These people self-identify as many different sorts of a thing, some are “Muslims”, others “Christian”, though there are also the poor, the sickly and alone, even people who identify as same sex attracted or transgender. To people who are going through such terrible things, regardless of political affiliation or what you’re believing about yourself, there’s another (better) way. Don’t harden your heart to that. With the above in mind, my conversation partner today is Alex Black (a pseudonym), who in writing about themselves explains “I’m an aromantic asexual transgender atheist, and I like to blog about all those things. A disproportionate number of my posts are about atheism. I make no apology for this.” They certainly don’t. In addition, they’re currently taking a course in human sexuality, so, being a “transgender atheist” they’ll surely have strong views on God, sense and sexuality. These views however take a back seat, not explicitly being displayed for the first few exchanges of ours, instead it’s much later when we’ll return again to blue-sky thinking, and whether or not Alex, who I respect and admire for the hard choices they must have already had to make in their life, is trading on junk ideas to everybody’s hurt. The conversation began on December 30 (shortly after Christmas day 2015), with the exchange being initiated after an article about supposed contradictions in the Bible. So, let’s enter the wacky world of the often illiberal left. Ding ding, round one!
Midori Skies: Interesting article. I didn’t read the whole list of 50 contradictions, but I agree the first seven or eight that I read don’t seem terribly contradictory. In any case, as you say, the presence or absence of contradictions in the Bible does not prove or disprove the existence of God. But it does say something about the veracity of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.
The one contradiction I’ve seen that I care much about isn’t so much a contradiction between one part of the Bible and another, but between ideas. I really cannot see any way to reoncile the idea of a good, loving god with the god of the Old Testament who commanded his followers to wipe out entire cities, sometimes down to the last child and infant, and even including livestock. The best way I can think of to reconcile these things would involve redefining the word “good”.*
Oldschoolcontemporary: I appreciate the considered way you must have approached these hard questions, Skies. And I must write having read through a little of what you’ve written I’m excited, tempted even to write you a sprawling wall of text delving into all the nuances and small wonders that I’m certain interest us both, nevertheless I shall restrain myself!
Firstly, I agree with your understanding of belief, as found in your post on double standards in the world of believers, furthermore to claim “complete certainty” isn’t a helpful thing without first entering into the field of mathematics or properly basic beliefs, where you may know something more certain. What both you and I would believe (I imagine) would be that we can know certain things beyond a reasonable doubt, and it’s that reasonableness that automatically attracts us to a certain world-view. René Descartes in his Meditations has a lot to say on the subject of knowledge, he’s also very readable if you find yourself with a little free reading time. Now, to get into the gritty details of the things I disagree with, for which I will briefly quote you on the subject of knowledge, because in order to tackle your point (whether or not we can know or need to redefine the good) we must first define knowledge or how we’re allowing things into that category. You wrote: “it is impossible to prove the non-existence of anything with absolute certainty, whether that is gods, leprechauns, Santa Claus, or a teapot orbiting the Sun somewhere between the Earth and Mars.”
Now, about this point, Descartes found we had what Alvin Plantinga later called “properly basic beliefs.” For example, you can safely say you exist, because you may doubt many things, you may doubt that other people are real, you may doubt that there is a country called Ireland, you may even doubt yourself…..but wait! Descartes happily reminds us, if you doubt yourself, that is to say you doubt your own existence, then who’s doing the doubting?! So you can disprove a thing, since if I supposed you didn’t exist in our universe, meaning I supposed there is a universe in which you aren’t a feature, you could immediately know I wasn’t getting it right, at least not right with regards to our universe. So surely some beliefs can be proven, at least proven to yourself. Similarly I can’t prove that you are real, but I can prove that I am. There are, despite disagreements, really some things that we can know, and thus things that can be disproved with certainty, so by the use of properly basic beliefs, we too can disprove various things. We can prove there are no tyrannosaurus rex on the isle of wight, or whether or not dry water, square circles or married bachelors exist, these things disprove themselves so they’re already disproved. I too believe the evil God would be one of these things, as we find in the scripture when it reads God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
My reply is already running away with itself! Still I hope you’re enjoying the material. I’m going to quickly turn to page 104 of Craig Keener’s Miracles book, which contains an interesting tale about the king of Siam:
‘Other scholars have also pointed out how cultural or other experiential limitations sometimes compromise the usefulness of the analogy argument for historiography, since history is full of apparent anomalies. some scholars develop a story, long bantered about as an illustration for competing epistemologies, about a king of Siam. Hearing from Dutch visitors about riding horses on top of rivers that became so cold that they became hard like stone, this ruler “knew that the men were liars.” The king’s inference was a logical one based on the reality with which he was familiar; it was his expectation of a rigid uniformity in the human experience of nature that proved inaccurate.’
The king “knew” (as the illustration put it) what he knew, and clearly there would be no convincing the king if they were a tyrant or a particularly stubborn man, they would simply dismiss any ideas to the contrary. Similarly Tolstoy, a skilled writer, though one I wouldn’t recommend on religious matters, explained in his “The Kingdom of God is within You” book: ‘The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.’
Our situation with God would certainly come into play here, since God has expectations for our behavior, yet we too (funnily enough) hold God to faulty standards of our own. We are the king of Siam in the above text, and when God behaves in such a way that disappoints our expectations, we then turn away or go sour on repairing our relationship with Him. An example of this would be a recent interview with Stephen Fry which gained much attention, in which (to sum up) his entire argument was “How dare you?!” How dare God not make the sort of world Mr Fry expected Him to make, how dare He disappoint Stephen Fry. Think about the situation however, the question put to Fry was along the lines of “What would you say if when you die you are stood before God, the all good, all loving, wonderfully perfect God?” In the set up to the question Fry is already proven sinful, inadequate and guilty before a perfect God, he lived an objectively mistaken life according to the set up of the question, he’s caught red handed so to speak, he’s before a God who loves him and died to protect him. Yet still, the only thing this man can think to do is attack the perfectly good God on moral grounds, how absurd!
We as people are simply confused when we try and out good God or assume He should be matching our standards of goodness (how good are we the murders of all murders after all?) Furthermore, I am in this boat as much as you or someone else. Moreover, not only does God disappoint our desires, but people do as well, they’re thoughtless, disloyal and weak in keeping their promises, for which we must grow and learn to understand what sort of heart they had when they did these things. When a family member breaks a promise, was it done with a mind to hurt us, or was it done by mistake, or with our best interests at heart, when we know that person’s character we will know the overall reason they’re doing the things they do. But that means, if God’s character is good, truly and unmistakably good, then His commands are good given the context and our own free will to choose evil, He is commanding good, we simply aren’t seeing it.
Lewis wrote it like so: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” Yet such quotes are abstract, ethereal even. For which I’m also tempted to quote a little from Alvin Plantinga in his Knowledge and Christian belief book, which I think will interact with your interests directly, he writes about how we develop our loves and hates, our idea of the good and evil:
‘There is a deep and obvious social side of sin. We human beings are deeply communal; we learn from parents, teachers, peers, and others, both by imitation and by precept. We acquire beliefs in this way, but just as important (and perhaps less self-consciously), we acquire attitudes and affections, loves and hates. Because of our social nature, sin and its effects can be like a contagion that spreads from one to another, eventually corrupting an entire society or segment of it.’
If the above is true, it’s us who are quick to jump to conclusions and condemn our loving God, a God who wants only the best for us, we then seek comfort in each other, though we as selfish, broken and confused people can’t truly heal our wounds/sicknesses in the arms of lovers, family and friends, we need a real healer. So briefly I would say this, in our search for the good we can trust that God in His commands is doing what’s best for us, He has sufficient reasons for the pain we experience or the seemingly cruel actions He demands of us. Sometimes the good result of these things could only be observed decades later in another part of the world (ask more about that).
Nonetheless, with that in mind we need turn no further than to Jesus of Nazareth. He is the answer. Though this may seem too neat, too tidy to someone living a life of hardship, saying “Jesus loves you” as you have written could be felt as a deep, cutting insult (especially so depending on who says it). Still, I truly believe He is the healer our lives need, He is the good, so to define it we need to start with Him. In closing, I’d like to recommend two challenges to you, the first being to listen to Paul Copan vs. Norman Bacrac on the topic “Is God a Moral Monster”, which you can find on YouTube.
Probably more so than anything I have written today he speaks directly to your interests. Secondly, I’d recommend you read a post of mine which you can find on the blog, it’s titled “OSC’s Atheists in denial.” (not that I consider you in denial!) I recommend the first because it directly tackles your point about entire cities being wiped out in what I find a satisfying and in-depth way. And my second challenge would simply be to get your feedback on the material, it covers the ideas of good, evil and whether or not we are justified in holding to these things at all. Enjoy the material, and I hope this message finds you well!
Midori Skies: Hello. Thank you for your considered response. I’m glad to hear you took a look at my blog. I take that as an indication that you are willing to consider what I say, which has not always been my experience on religious blogs (I usually only comment on religious blogs which have brought up the topic of atheism–some of these are more interested in discrediting atheism or converting atheists than in having a fair, civil conversation).
It’s been a few years since I read Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, but I remember being disappointed with it. I don’t remember the specifics of why. I still have a copy on hand, though. I might give it another shot.
In my post about double standards, I was much less specific than I might have been about the concept of proving that a thing does not exist. We can, of course, show that a specific thing does not exist in a specific location and time.
Given the responses I have received from some theists (“have you searched every corner of the universe?!?”), this is not the sort of proof of non-existence they are asking for, but rather they want a standard of proof to accept non-existence that is quite unreasonable, if not outright impossible. Regardless, in every-day conversation we rarely use absolute certainty in the philosophical sense as a metric for accepting something as belief or fact.*
Likewise (and more relevant to your post), something which is a logical contradiction can be shown not to exist. I do not see the idea of an evil god existing as contradictory, merely that it would be inaccurate or misleading to call such a god “good”. Indeed, I do not see potential contradictions in the Bible in general as problematic for belief in God (although it’s highly problematic for the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy). Contradictions in the Bible would say more about the people who wrote it than about a potentially existing god.
On the story of the king in Siam and Tolstoy, certainly it is impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to convince a person who has already made up their mind and is unwilling to even consider other possibilties. I like to think that I am always willing to consider viewpoints which contradict my own, and that if I am shown to be wrong, I will be happy to have been corrected on a matter of fact. I’m not perfect, certainly, but I do my best.
I haven’t got any particular expectations of what a god might be like if they exist. I’m open to the idea of any sort of god for which credible evidence exists (I have yet to see any credible evidence of any gods). But if the god described in the Old Testament exists, he is not a god that I would consider “good”, unless he has changed significantly since ancient times (people can change, I won’t rule out the possibility that a god might likewise be able to change).
As for a relationship with God, I don’t understand how it is possible to have a relationship with someone you cannot see or hear or touch or receive mail from or chat on an instant messenger with, or otherwise receive any sort of concrete, tangible, dynamic communication from. People talk about “feeling” that God is saying something, or having a prophetic dream, or the like, but how do they know it is from God, and not their imagination or an impostor?
I don’t see someone saying “Jesus loves you” as insulting (unless it is clear from context that it is meant that way), but the person saying it is asserting their beliefs as facts. Using this as an example in my post about double standards was meant to show how differently atheists are treated when they assert their viewpoint as fact.
In closing, a question for you. It seems to me that you are saying that the things God does are all good, even if it may appear otherwise to us at the time. Is there anything at all, then, that God could do or say that would convince you that God was evil?*
Oldschoolcontemporary: Good day to you, Skies! Feel free to comment on “Another 50 Bible contradictions answered”, both I and a poster named kaptonok are discussing the subject of ethics, in addition to objective moral values and duties, which would certainly overlap with our conversation here. Firstly however, let me interact with a little of what you’ve written, beginning first with a challenge fired back: “In closing, a question for you. It seems to me that you are saying that the things God does are all good, even if it may appear otherwise to us at the time. Is there anything at all, then, that God could do or say that would convince you that God was evil?”
To answer that (which I shall do plainly), would be a sort of autobiographical statement which would answer where I’m at in terms of spiritual development, sadly I doubt it would be an advancement in our knowledge of God, His nature or attributes, nonetheless. By way of 1 John 4 we read: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,” Meaning we’re not to be driven into the wilderness or into high skyscrapers based upon whims or fancies, instead we’re to test ourselves and every “spirit” against the evidence, with which we’re constraint to define what we’re allowing as evidence, what exactly constitutes knowledge. So, in answering your question, I certainly could be convinced that God was evil, but that would involve a radical redefinition of what God was (insofar that they would be a sort of demi-god like Zeus). Moreover, unpacking the subject of God having justifiable cause for the way in which history plays out is Dr William Lane Craig, who every atheist interested in interacting with Christians should be familiar with:
“I promised to give two illustrations of this point, one from science and then one from popular culture. The first illustration comes from the field of science called “chaos theory.” Scientists have found that certain large scale systems exhibit chaotic behaviour. That is to say, they are sensitive to the tiniest disturbances that will upset the entire system. For example, weather systems are this way. Insect populations are also chaotic in this way. A little butterfly fluttering its wings on a twig in South Africa can set up a chain of events that will eventually ensue in a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean. And yet no one looking at that little butterfly fluttering on the branch would ever, in principle, be able to predict such an outcome. We have no way of knowing how even a trivial alteration in the events of the world might have an impact that is utterly unexpected.”
“The second illustration comes from popular culture – the movie Sliding Doors, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. This is a fascinating film which tells the story of a young woman who is rushing down the stairs to catch a subway train. As she approaches the train, the doors begin to slide shut. At that point, the movie splits into two separate tracks. In one track, it shows how her life would go if she manages to get through the sliding doors into the train. In the other track, it shows how her life would go if the doors slide shut before she manages to reach the train. What you discover is that, in these two lives, the trajectory of these lives take increasingly divergent paths.
Based on this seemingly trivial incident of the sliding doors, the one life goes into a trajectory that is filled with happiness, success, material prosperity – everything she does succeeds! The other life is filled with disappointment, failure, suffering, and misery. All because of this seemingly insignificant incident of making it through the sliding doors or not! Moreover, whether or not she makes it through the sliding doors depends upon whether or not a little girl playing with her dolly on the stairwell railing is pulled back by her father as the young woman rushes down the stairs to catch the train. And you can’t help but wonder as you watch this film what other trivial, seemingly inconsequential, events went into preparing that event.
Maybe the father and the daughter were delayed that morning because the little girl didn’t like the breakfast cereal that her mother poured for her that morning. Or maybe the father was distracted from watching his daughter because of something he read in the morning newspaper, and so on and so forth. Just utterly seemingly trivial events could have resulted in that momentary difference of the little girl’s playing with her dolly on the stairwell railing that resulted in the incredible impact on this young woman’s life!
The most interesting part of the movie, however, is the film’s ending. What happens is that in the life that is filled with happiness and success the young woman is suddenly killed in an accident. In the other life, the seemingly miserable life, she learns from her experiences, and that life turns around, and it turns out in the end that the life with the suffering and the misery was really the better life after all!
Now, don’t misunderstand me. My point here is not that everything is going to turn out for the best in this life and that we will see that it was all for a reason. No, no! The point I am trying to make here is much more modest. It is simply this: given the dizzying complexity of life, and the incomprehensible way in which events are intertwined with one another, it is simply beyond our capacity, when some incident of suffering enters our life, to say with any confidence that it is improbable that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing that to occur. Every event which occurs sends a ripple effect through history so that God’s morally sufficient reasons for permitting it might not emerge until hundreds of years from now or maybe in another country. Only an all-knowing God could comprehend the infinite complexities of directing a world of free people toward His ultimate ends for human history.
Lastly, I’ve brushed off my copy of On Guard (again by WLC), in which they wrote something truly interesting when first read. “It’s precisely in countries that have endured severe hardship that Christianity is growing at its fastest rates, while growth curves in the indulgent West are nearly flat. Consider, for example, the following reports:
“China: It is estimated that 20 million Chinese lost their lives during Mao’s cultural Revolution. Christians stood firm in what was most probably the most widespread and harsh persecution the Church has ever experienced. The persecution purified and indigenized the Church. Since 1977 the growth of the Church in China has no parallels in history. Researchers estimate that there were 30-75 million Christians by 1990. Mao Zedong unwittingly became the greatest evangelist in history. . .”
“El Salvador: The 12-year civil war, earthquakes, and the collapse of the price of coffee, the nation’s main export, impoverished the nation. Over 80% live in dire poverty. An astonishing spiritual harvest has been gathered from all strata of society in the midst of hate and bitterness of war. In 1960 evangelicals were 2.3% of the population, but today are around 20%. . .”
“Ethiopia: Ethiopia is in a state of shock. Her population struggles with the trauma of millions of deaths through repression, famine, and war. Two great waves of violent persecution refined and purified the Church, but there were many martyrs. There have been millions coming to Christ. Protestants were fewer than 0.8% of the population in 1960, but by 1990 this may have become 13% of the population. . .”
Imagine this in light of the Christian narrative, we’re a people in rebellion against God, for which the God who loves us tasks Himself with putting humanity right again, yet to right our wrongs isn’t done by way of pleasure, in fact, pleasures, happiness, comfort and perpetual joy in our sinful state wouldn’t motivate anybody to change their heart (thus dooming humanity). Who has ever heard of safety and prosperity causing people to leave their country, or love and commitment endangering a pair of newly-weds. Yet, the above would mean a Christian perspective isn’t so otherworldly or unlikely as an unbelieving community might expect, rather it’s being lived out in the now.
About another interesting point you’ve made: “I don’t see someone saying “Jesus loves you” as insulting (unless it is clear from context that it is meant that way), but the person saying it is asserting their beliefs as facts.” But surely even to hold the belief is to assume you’re right and your opposite number isn’t, merely by holding to my views, even if I don’t explicitly assert “such and such is wrong because I am right”, my mind and behavior would nevertheless insist upon my view, which is entailed merely by virtue of the fact that I believe it. Moreover, as interesting a read as your post about double standards was, in my mind it plays into the divide between believers and the self-styled infidel community, a divide I believe you find as distasteful as I do.
For example, believers conveniently hold other beliefs to a standard which they wouldn’t apply to their own religious beliefs, however, to suppose in writing some sort of lopsidedness in favor of either believers or atheists simply isn’t accurate, rather the problem is a human one. In your experience with believers you have (in general) came across double standards, bigotry and hatred, whereas in my experience while interacting with atheists I have came across double standards, bigotry and hatred! It’s not that either side happens to be more or less human, rather it’s that we’re all too human. An example I have found in the infidel community: Atheists lose any ability to read when somebody lays a Bible before their eyes, yet add any modern piece of literature and their ability to understand nuances and literary style miraculously springs into life.
The Bible says Jesus will come like a thief in the night, atheists quote “Thou shalt not steal” from the ten commandment. Psalm 91:4 says God will cover under His wings, atheists mock God for having feathers. Jesus says “I am the door”, to which atheists ask “Then where’s your door frame?!” From this I can only gather that either atheists are incredibility dense (which I don’t for one second believe), or that they intentionally suspend their reading comprehension because they’re uncomfortable or unhappy with the material. Yet they’re happy to employ such abilities around other literary works of antiquity. Surely both mine and your examples are illustrative of how it is humankind, not exactly any group within it, who’re so guilty of double standards.
Lastly, and something I find important to the notion of conversion, which you have briefly touched upon: Beliefs breed behavior. They truly do, meaning, in the mind of any sincere believer I have met (barring arrogance or prejudice), are various beliefs, beliefs like “We’re estranged from God”, or “Jesus died for humanity’s sake.” I hope that whenever you’re approached by believers with a mind to share their faith, it is done so that you too may share in their joy, not merely to defeat or shame “the other.” This to me is paramount, for if you had come across a person slowly (very slowly) being pulled into quicksand, you wouldn’t ignore them merely because they were 99 years of age, sinking slowly and had ample rations to survive until a natural passing, rather you would attempt saving them. Similarly if you came across who some atheists would consider “an enemy”, you wouldn’t abandon their life merely because of disagreements between you both, instead you’d rescue them.
To clarify, if you believed the things that believers do, that we’re lost and in need of Christ, wouldn’t you too try to rescue people from the slow acting poison of sin, meaning you’d have to share Christ with them. Wouldn’t you risk being thought of as a fool, bigot or hatemonger for the chance to help your family, friends and even enemies, that way you wouldn’t be enemies, in eternity you would be friends. This totally turns the debate on its head. Another challenge in closing, it appears to me you believe in the objectivity of good and evil (as do I), if not do clarify, if you do however, where would you ground such a thing as The Good if not in God?*
Midori Skies: I don’t believe in objective morality, actually. I rarely even use the word “evil” because I don’t usually find it useful. I used it in my question to you because it seemed like a concept that you find useful.
Of course the problem of double standards is a human problem. I don’t think it’s equal between Christians and atheists, though. Christians dominate the culture, where I live. I think the most insidious thing about it is that I don’t think most people (Christians or even atheists) realize the double standards are there at all. I certainly never noticed these double standards when I was a Christian, and it took years after I became an atheist to actually notice them.
I don’t really find the chaos theory explanation very satisfying. Is it a moral good to kill an innocent baby as the metaphorical flapping of butterfly wings in order to bring about many good things in the future? If that baby will, in the future, become a mass murderer, is it justifiable to kill that child for something that they haven’t done, yet? And if the innocent children of an entire city are to be slaughtered, certainly they cannot all have such a reprehensible future as, say, baby Hitler?
I’m finding it a bit difficult to respond to such long comments. My apologies if I’ve failed to respond to any important points.
“I’m finding it a bit difficult to respond to such long comments. My apologies if I’ve failed to respond to any important points.”
No need to apologize, I find people reply in general to points they feel they’re fully equipped to write and contribute to. Meaning if there’s something you’re more attracted to in my post, do task yourself with explaining it more clearly. In addition, like I said in a post just sent to another user visiting the blog, if ever I’m posting something it’s because I found the material compelling, for which I’m tempted to share it with others. Now, getting into the meat of your reply: “Is it a moral good to kill an innocent baby as the metaphorical flapping of butterfly wings in order to bring about many good things in the future?”
Well, the question isn’t is it moral in a general way, rather the question should be like so: Is it moral for God to kill so to bring about good in the future. But that is to say God is held to some moral standard like you and I are, that couldn’t be right if our definition of God as the maximally great being is correct. Laws are for criminals, prisons for criminals, judges for supposed criminals to discover whether or not they’re in violation of the law, meaning God being morally impeccable wouldn’t violate such a law as one which was defined by their own nature, nay, it would be a logically impossibility for a God as so defined to do the immoral! Since the immoral is directly contrary to their character.
Rather, and the distinction I next mention is highlighted in the ten commandments, to kill isn’t a moral sin, it’s to murder that’s a sinful behavior. Rightly or wrongly even we have this distinction in our nations today, for example:
Soldiers going to war aren’t considered murderers.
A person who kills in self defense isn’t a murderer.
Abortionists (even late term abortionists) aren’t considered murderers.
State executioners aren’t considered murderers.
The list could go on, nevertheless I’m trying to constrain my message length!
“And if the innocent children of an entire city are to be slaughtered, certainly they cannot all have such a reprehensible future as, say, baby Hitler?”
I wonder if you have availed yourself of Paul Copan vs. Norman Bacrac as of yet, because doing so would help explain how often the Bible account employs hyperbole when describing the destruction or even command for destruction of such peoples. Moreover, this sort of writing was “standard” in the ancient middle east. The fact also isn’t a modern invention used by wily Christian apologists, instead it’s found directly in the Bible! Joshua 11:21:
“At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns.”
Totally destroyed. Yet later (within three chapters) Keleb is asking permission to drive out the Anakites from the hill country! Meaning we’re discussing a wholesale slaughter that simply didn’t happen, it’s merely hyperbole. Nevertheless, as explained above, moral duties being defined by God’s perfect moral character would inevitably mean they’re incapable of doing evil, nor would they desire to do so are we might. This plays into atheists (and Christians mind you) misunderstanding the material.
“I don’t think it’s equal between Christians and atheists, though. Christians dominate the culture, where I live.”
Are these truly Christian cultures though, people may identify as Christian, just as you and I may identify as teapots, nevertheless, unless there’s some criteria whereby to measure who is holding to Christian values and duties then it’s far from safe to say we belong within a Christian culture. In my mind to know if someone is indeed a Christian, by which I mean changed at their very core by Christ, we need look no further than the short command in 1 John 4:8. Nevertheless, an example of how we can misjudge our culture from Richard Dawkins’ best seller The God Delusion hereafter, in the book Richard bemoaned that the American people, although having a supposed separation of church and state, yet grew more zealous in their religious faith. Whereas England, officially a Christian nation, has been becoming more and more atheistic in their culture.
Dawkins praised the soft, weak church of England, a church who were (in truth) a congregation built up of unbelievers, he praised their efforts for what he called “inoculating” the English from the disease of religious belief. What different fortunes these nations have! In the UK, especially so here in London, there’s a sort of thinly veiled hatred for Christianity, and a violent backlash against people who would dare to speak in support of it in anything more than a flippant way. Imagine a sort of “nobody share their views” view, conveniently the view which says nobody is allowed to share their view is exempt from the no views rule. Dare I write, people are actually scared to speak about faith here. Talk of sexual promiscuity (more so than the rest), drink and drugs is commonly enjoyed in the public space, yet to say a prayer before a meal is looked upon with disgust. An interesting contrast.
A question I’ve had in mind but been unable to get to, why not merely call yourself an agnostic? It appears to be the best bet given your material, since if it’s truly impossible to prove that such and such (barring self contradictory things) do not exist, then surely everyone should abandon their atheism since the belief isn’t provable. Simply to be an agnostic would include both a lack of belief in God, while not committing one’s self to the statement “God does not exist.”
UPDATE: To clarify, it appears to be that you’re holding to two positions, the first being “No Gods exist, no not one.”, yet you’re also writing “I can’t show any Gods don’t exist, no not one.” So, this line of reasoning is saying you can’t discount any god, yet you’ve discounted every god!
Midori Skies: It seems like you are saying that we cannot judge God by the same moral standards we use to judge humans. That is, if you lit your neighbor’s house on fire, you would be rightly called an arsonist, but if God lit your neighbor’s house on fire, that would be… God’s righteous judgement? God helping your neighbor in a really roundabout way? God doing whatever God does to make the world a better place? It seems as though you just assume that God must have a good, moral reason for doing whatever he does, no matter what it is. I’m really not seeing how it would be possible to differentiate a good god from an evil god, if every act of God is assumed to be right and moral? Unless you have some other set of standards to use for judging God’s actions, different than the set of standards used to judge humans? Or am I even understanding you right?
I’m not really interested in which parts of the Bible were meant to be metaphor or allegory or whatever. I know different people disagree about which parts these are, and some people hold that the Bible is inerrant, while others don’t. My original idea rests on the idea that these things happened literally–if that god exists, then I do not see a way to reconcile that god with the idea of a good, loving god. If not, then the point is moot, but I think it’s spawned an interesting discussion regardless.
I’m really not interested in discussing who is a true Christian. I can certainly see why that is important to Christians, and I don’t want to discount that, but I’m not one. I don’t have any stake in that argument, nor do I have any sort of qualification to be able to make such judgements. I don’t really have a better word for “people who call themselves Christians” than “Christians”, though.
As for culture, it certainly does help to understand your thoughts on my post about double standards better to know that attitudes towards speaking about religion/atheism are quite different where you live than where I live. I can only speak to my own experiences, of course, which are limited to the internet and the Christian dominated area where I live.*
As to why I don’t call myself an agnostic, I’ve gotten that question a number of times, so I figured I would link to one of my posts that explains it… except then I couldn’t find one. I guess I’ll have to write it. Short version, though: an atheist is a person who doesn’t believe in any gods. I don’t believe in any gods, therefore I am an atheist. I am open to changing my mind if I see convincing evidence, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I do not currently believe in any gods. If you want the longer version, I can give you a link once I’ve written it.*
When I say “no gods exist”, I mean it in the same way that I mean “no unicorns exist”. Which is to say, I see no convincing evidence for either unicorns or gods existing. However, it cannot be proven that no unicorns exist anywhere in the universe, anymore than it can be proven that no gods exist anywhere in the universe. Basically, I don’t see a problem with discounting an idea that is unfalsifiable, and acting as if that thing does not exist (including saying it does not exist) until given a reason to think otherwise. Though I will add a caveat: if certain attributes are attributed to a god (or unicorns), such as “has a large, visible, corporeal form and currently lives on the Isle of Wight”, then that specific conception of a god (or unicorns) becomes falsifiable and can potentially be disproven.
Oldschoolcontemporary: The long refusal to rightly define atheism appears to me a position atheists must surrender, their redefinition of words simply isn’t achieving anything. Let’s see if you feel convinced with regards to that hereafter. By way of reply you first wrote “As to why I don’t call myself an agnostic,” there’s then a reason provided: “an atheist is a person who doesn’t believe in any gods. I don’t believe in any gods, therefore I am an atheist.” Now, your popular definition simply doesn’t include atheism, an atheist believes in and affirms the statement “God doesn’t exist.” (something no agnostic person would do). Believers in atheism make a knowledge claim, that being that no gods exist. Therefore your definition, which reads “an atheist is a person who doesn’t believe in any gods.” could be applied to an agnostic person, yet doesn’t properly explain atheism.
Theist = Has belief in a God. Holds to the statement “God exists.”
Agnostic = Lacks belief in a God. Holds to the statement “I don’t know whether or not God exists.”
Atheist = Lacks belief in a God. Holds to the statement “No God exists.”
Merely because atheists lack belief doesn’t mean they’re agnostic, similarly an agnostic person due to their lack of belief doesn’t automatically qualify as an atheist. Atheists affirm the statement “No gods exist. (Fact!)” Well, fact according to atheists. The problem here is that many atheists can’t accept the fact that to disbelieve in something is in fact a belief! Don’t atheists believe in the position “God doesn’t exist”? Of course they do.
“It seems like you are saying that we cannot judge God by the same moral standards we use to judge humans.”
Wouldn’t that be true by virtue of God being utterly unlike humankind. True merely by correct definition. An issue as to their position and sovereignty would only arise when a creature refused to accept their creator God. God as so defined in the Judeo-Christian tradition would be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresence, infinitely good and necessary. Whereas you and I being finite, ignorant, unnecessary and even cruel would be without recourse to make demands or render judgement against an impeccable God. We’d rightly correct a patient for lecturing their surgeon on how to perform a successful triple heart bypass, yet far worse an absurdity would be going on if indeed God as described in Scripture is actual. Again the above is covered within the Bible:
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (The book of Numbers).
Nonetheless, I’m beginning to think your actual problem isn’t whether or not the above is true, because by all appearances it would follow logically and inescapably if the God in question is true. Rather your discomfort appears to be twofold, firstly, you may be finding something arbitrary about God’s commands, and (more certain) you’re of the mind there’s no method if such a God did exist to discern whether or not their commandments have in truth been made in our best interests.
However, a view as the above describes, a sort of God who’s God for the sake of being God, and thus issues arbitrary commands, isn’t a Christian position, it’s instead a lesser defended views known as “Voluntarism.” Voluntarism imagines our duties and the source of moral values solely based in the sovereignty of God’s will, now again, by definition, if God as described in either the Torah, New Testament or even Koran is real then they’re sovereign. Meaning, there’s no sense in you or I doing a Stephen Fry and saying we hold this perfect God in contempt for failing to lower their standards so to better appeal to our crude tastes.
Voluntarism however, while rightly supposing God’s authority, applies none of its findings and supposition in a study of God’s essential virtues. Due to which many critics of Christianity are pleased to assume God possessing a variety of attributes (omni attributes), however, they’re then reluctant to admit to essential virtues (love, fairness, impartiality, compassion). The goodness of God was once explained like so: “These are as essential to God as having three angles is to a triangle.” You don’t get God as defined in Christianity without also getting the good.
Now, and again by definition, whenever such a being as described acted within the confines of their creation (or even when they withheld activity), they’d as a matter of fact be doing so in humanity’s best interest. In addition, your previous message rightly explained if God doesn’t exist, or if atrocities didn’t necessarily happen in such a fashion as you have read, then any moral argument against God wouldn’t be valid, after all who gets irate at a god who doesn’t exist about a command they never issued. Although, reread and imagine God as described above forming a command which they’d reveal by various means to humankind, without fail their commands would be formed in light of their love, fairness, impartiality and foreknowledge of every possible occurrence.
The end result of our two outcomes may surprise you: For if there’s no such God so to command what appears various atrocities your previous point would be moot (how you explained), however, if there’s such a God as is included in Scripture, that being a wholly good, morally perfect just judge, then once again your previous criticism would be rendered moot! No matter the direction the blade cuts in it’ll void your previous objection.
“I’m not really interested in which parts of the Bible were meant to be metaphor or allegory or whatever.”
Hyperbole. Both metaphor and allegory would mean the events in question didn’t happen, which wasn’t in any fashion the original author’s intent if we’re judging by their material. Rather by hyperbole they had used a common writing style so to express how thorough their victory appeared or to raise in the reader a certain understanding of how important or dire their situation appeared. If a friend and yourself were hiking your way across Europe, and they thought to remark “My backpack weighs a ton!” you wouldn’t reply “Impossible! You’d never have traveled so far while encumbered by a heavy load such as that!”
Nevertheless, “I’m not interested” is the one thing you and I cannot write, not if our desire is to avoid the commonplace double standards which are to us so unattractive when noticed in others. Why notice the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the log in our own. Understandably when a certain subject arises you might write “I’m not interested” as if to say “My curiosity isn’t instantly set ablaze by the topic”, though to write that isn’t controversial, it’s something everybody can experience. If however someone were to say because the topic didn’t instantly ignite their affections or excitement they then would sooner have nothing to do with it, that to me betrays a deep immaturity.*
Moreover, it’s the interpretation which takes into account use of hyperbole which can most accurately restate early Jewish belief about their early conquests, so to ignore a subject carrying such importance as how to rightly read the material in question, that would be no better than allowing ourselves to slip into hypocrisy. The end result would in truth be no better than atheists who renounce Christianity because Jesus called Himself water or bread, which would be intellectually irresponsible in the extreme. An example of such tactics from C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity:
‘There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible.
Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy.
Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take the symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.’
“I’m really not interested in discussing who is a true Christian.”
Now, let’s imagine, as it would appear the above shows, you’ve wrongly defined both atheism and Christianity, wouldn’t this lead to a warped understanding of both beliefs (atheism being indeed a belief in a state of our supposedly godless universe)? Again, Lewis wrote in an insightful fashion with regards to the topic:
“It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of-all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain-and, of course, you find that what we call “seeing a table” lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of. A child saying a child’s prayer looks simple. And if you are content to stop there, well and good. But if you are not-and the modern world usually is not-if you want to go on and ask what is really happening- then you must be prepared for something difficult. If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple.
Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made “religion” simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc. You must be on your guard against these people for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your tune. Notice, too, their idea of God “making religion simple”: as if “religion” were something God invented, and not His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.”*
‘I don’t really have a better word for “people who call themselves Christians” than “Christians”, though.’
You’re disinterested in defining who is and isn’t a Christian, yet you’ve also already adopted an indiscriminate form of defining in which you’re compelled to dub everybody who self identifies as a Christian Christian. Therefore, you’d be content to call a society of violent thugs a society of pacifists, and a tribe of savages who ate each other raw you would name vegetarians, just as long as they believed they were indeed vegetarian enough.
To close by the overall theme of your replies: Truly if indeed a person desired to reconcile the God of love as found in Christianity with God as so described in the Torah they need look no further than the use of hyperbole in the text, furthermore Torah material itself explains why various battles had to have taken place. Writers who believe they’re incapable of believing in both God as described in the Torah and Jesus as God in the New Testament appear to forget that Jesus Himself was a faithful Jew! Ideas that He taught were certainly radical with regards to Himself, however their teaching of God as loving and merciful is pure Torah. In fact, Jesus confirmed the entire Torah as we have it today when he taught: “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” (Thus confirming the first and last books of the Torah in their ancient chronology).
And that’s the end of round one! Alex has raised some really interesting objections to the believing community, they’re also common objections, as people have often wondered if indeed there was a God, a God so perfect as people believe, wouldn’t our notions of the good be utterly unlike Their notion, or wouldn’t we to Them appear as ants or slugs in terms of our limited minds and failing goodness? I’d have to answer no, no we’re not as slugs or ants to the divine mind, and not because we’re great, but because God is great. God’s goodness towards humanity is an expression of their character, a character humanity discern as good because we’re largely designed to discern God as the good, in the same way we’re programmed to be pattern seekers etc (by which I’m meaning to allude to the law upon our hearts, the moral experience). “Doing good” without “Doing God” would be a false distinction therefore, there’s simply no object in which to ground the good without the person of God. In fact, that intuitive value we discern in each other, rather than being extrinsic value, is really real, it’s actual, actual because humanity is “in the image” of God. We matter because we’re in some small degree sharing in the essential attributes of God communed to us by Him.
In addition to the subject of morality, defining Christians and atheists has featured prominently in the exchange, as it’s going to continue in part two, moreover, for rounds two and probably three the game of “define and conquer” is seriously going to heat up. What exactly does it mean to be a Christian, is it simply what a person self-identifies as, and how about atheism, are atheists right to be generally annoyed when people like me (AKA non-atheists) start defining atheist’s beliefs for them?! We’re going to find out later. In closing, if your mind hasn’t already been bent into a pretzel with the tricky use of definitions, then you’ve probably been reading the theist vs atheist debate in its many forms for as long as myself.
― T. C. M