DEBATE ON THEODICY


The Investigator debate on God and Evil (= Theodicy) included 20 articles and letters in 12 issues of the magazine and appear below. Several other items involving another debater, "Paul", are omitted.

Some of the articles below include comment on topics other than theodicy. This is because sometimes the same persons debated several topics simultaneously.
 

# 61 The Bible Portrays God as Merciful.  Anonymous
#61 God Creates Evil. Kotwall
#62 Defending the Indefensible  Straughen
#63 Response to Straughen on Lot   Anonymous
#64 Four Skeptics to Anonymous Newbrook; De Kretser; Straughen; Williams
#65 Response to Four Critics  Anonymous
#66 Four Skeptics to Anonymous  Straughen; Newbrook; De Kretser; Williams
#67 Response to Four Critics Part 2 Anonymous
#68 Response to Anonymous (Inv.67) Newbrook
#68 Response to Anonymous (Inv. 67) Williams
#69 God and Evil: Response to Two Critics Anonymous
#70 Further Response to Anonymous (#69)  Newbrook
#71 Response to Newbrook (#70)  Anonymous
#72 Discussion Closes Newbrook






 


THE BIBLE PORTRAYS GOD AS MERCIFUL

Anonymous

(Investigator 61, 1998 July)

An article in Investigator 60 cited Bible reports of God destroying Egyptian power and of God commanding Israel to exterminate Amalek and Midian. The writer concluded: "Is the Bible the word of an all-powerful, all-wise, and morally perfect being? The answer is no, it is not."

In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah the Bible reports Abraham asking the angel of God:
 

Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:23-25)


The final reply was:

For the sake of ten I will not destroy it. (18:32)


The Bible describes Sodom as a rather nasty place. I've never in South Australia heard of crowds of homosexuals breaking into houses to rape householders and their guests. That, however, is how Genesis portrays the city of Sodom!

As things turned out Sodom and Gomorrah had only four "righteous" people and those four left! (Genesis 19)

In agreement with the principle stated by Abraham we should expect Egypt and Amalek to have been particularly nasty places so as to merit destruction. Egypt, for example, forced a guest nation into slavery, sought to work them to death and to murder the newborn boy babies. (Genesis 45:16-20; Exodus 1:8-16)

Greater details may be supplied in a future Investigator article. In brief the Bible portrays God as merciful (Psalm 145) and putting up with great evils but eventually – perhaps after three or four generations of patience – forcing consequences upon nations which oppose his will and are particularly corrupt.
 



GOD CREATES EVIL

B J Kotwall

(Investigator 61, 1998 July)


Regarding Kirk Straughen's article The Bible: Word of God or Man? (Investigator No. 60) reminded me of Robert Ingersoll's remarks in Works:

In nearly all theologies, mythologies and religions, the devils have been much more humane and merciful than the gods. No devil gave one of his generals an order to kill children and to rip open the bodies of pregnant women. (Volume 1 pp. 17-18)


But then the Bible attributes to God the creating of evil:

I form the light and create the darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these thing. (Isaiah 45:7)
Is it not from the Most Hight that good and evil come? (Lamentations 3:38)






Defending the Indefensible

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 62, 1998 September)


I am unable to agree with Anonymous' assertion that the Biblical god is merciful. If God exists and is the creator of the universe then It must possess wisdom and power beyond our comprehension.

Unfortunately the Bible rather than portraying God as an all-wise and morally perfect being paints a picture of a Middle-Eastern despot writ large. In order for God to be considered good not only must It be good, It must also be seen to be good. Needless to say this is not possible when It commits or orders the commission of atrocities.

Anonymous says "… we should expect Egypt and Amalek to have been particularly nasty places so as to merit destruction. (Letters: Inv. 61). My question is this: what crime did the new born babies commit? The answer is that they could not have committed any crime and therefore God's killing of infants is unjustifiable.

Moreover, God's solution is not one we would expect from an all-wise being – with all the supernatural powers available to God. It could easily have initiated massive social reform programmes aimed at eliminating the social and moral evils attributed to Sodom and Gomorrah. Indeed, these programmes should have started well before the situation became as bad as it is alleged to have become.

Why God chose to save Lot and his family is puzzling, for they are hardly any better than the people of these cities – Lot offers his daughters to the mob to be gang-raped (Gen. 19: 6-8), and his daughters seduce and bear his sons (Gen 19:31-38). Needless to say, this is hardly most people's idea of "righteous characters."

I am also unable to agree with Paul  ["Paul's part in the debate is omitted – Ed.]  who, along with Anonymousattempts to defend the indefensible. He claims that we can know the Bible is the word of God "only by the action of the God in producing this belief in people who do not otherwise believe" (Inv. 61 page 57). This is really no proof at all – a Muslim could say exactly the same thing of the Koran. Indeed, many people have converted to Islam and believe that the Koran is a divine revelation. Paul's belief that the Bible is self authenticating is an example of circular reasoning. It's like the man who said "the Bible is true because it says it's true." The fact that Christians in different ages (as well as our own) placed different interpretations on Scripture indicates that the process is dependent on cultural factors rather than God.

Paul goes on to say "No man…is perfect in knowledge and able to sustain an objection against God or God's word." Firstly, although we may not have perfect knowledge, our knowledge is sufficient for us to see that God's actions are evil rather than good. Secondly, I am not criticising God. I am criticising what the authors of Scripture have written about God. The Biblical writers were human, and therefore fallible. This fact is evident when they portray God acting no better than an evil man. Paul continues with five points that I shall now address.

1 The slaughter of entire populations is indeed evil, and the fact that Paul is unable to see this is extremely disturbing. If God ordered Paul to slit the throat of a child, could he do so and still be considered a good person? Evil is evil regardless of whether or not the act is divinely sanctioned. Indeed, much evil has been committed by people who thought that they were killing others in the name of God–the Inquisition is a prime example of this fact.

2 The Bible says "Thou shalt not kill", period. There is no qualification in Deut. 5:17 that could permit the death penalty.

3 Paul says "the Bible teaches that every human comes into the world in the condition of being by nature or character utterly opposed to GOD and beyond hope of human reformation." He then uses this assertion to ralionalise the suffering of innocent children. However, the babies that are alleged to have been killed have committed no crime–they are not in a position to oppose God, for their minds are incapable of comprehending such complex ideas. In fact no child is born with a predisposition for or against any religion. Their beliefs are formed through the influences of parents, education, and eventually their own reflection on the matter when they are adults.


Paul then goes on to say "Who knows how many baby Adolf Hitlers God removed before they grew up and became monsters?" This is a rather ill-conceived statement for if God was in the habit of doing such things, then Hitler would never have been born.

4 Paul chooses to interpret my comment as being sarcastic. However, sarcasm was never my intention; I do not reject God, I reject the Bible and Paul's idea of God.

5 The reason eternal damnation is unjust is that it is an unlimited punishment for limited crimes. Moreover hell, rather than eliminating evil, merely perpetuates it. Indeed, I have always wondered how the elect will be able to enjoy heaven when they know that the damned shall endure eternal suffering.

Finally, Paul says "If you truly desire compelling evidence, then consider the universe and the Bible without any presupposition." I have indeed done this for well over ten years, and to date I can see no evidence that proves God's existence or that the Bible is the word of this being.
 





RESPONSE TO STRAUGHEN ON LOT

Anonymous

(Investigator 63, 1998 November)


Mr Straughen argued: "Lot offers his daughters to be gang raped and his daughters seduce him and bear his sons…this is hardly most people's idea of righteous characters." (No. 62 p. 26)

An important Bible principle is that of hospitality to travellers. Canaan lacked hotels, police stations, paved highways, K-Mart and hospitals. There were lions, bears, poisonous snakes, scorpions and other dangerous creatures. In summer dehydration threatened because wells and cisterns were owned. Hospitality, therefore, was a life-saving principle – which Lot tried to apply. This care for strangers constituted righteousness. (Hebrews 13:1-2)

Offering his daughters to be gang raped was Lot's effort to protect from gang rape the travellers who were his guests. The offer was not literal but an attempt at a moral lesson. Lot in effect was saying, "What you fellows want to do – deny hospitality and instead commit homosexual gang rape – is so evil that a father would offer his virgin daughters to be raped to prevent it." The idea and hope would be that the Sodomites would understand and rape no one.

Compare this with Jesus intention when he said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Although putting it positively Jesus intended the opposite–that no stone be cast. Similarly, although putting his offer positively Lot intended the opposite – that neither his daughters nor the guests be raped. We see that the "massive social reform programmes" which Mr Straughen says God should have started for the Sodomites were actually in action! But the Sodomites didn't appreciate it!

Mr Straughen implied that God – if he exists – should use his power and compel people to be good, or at least prevent bad consequences when they choose to be bad. However, Dr Mark Newbrook, apparently thinks the opposite: "God has forfeited any moral right…to dictate to us how we should live, or to take any action against us for not obeying his commandments…" (p. 32) One skeptic wants more intervention, the other wants less. Perhaps the two need to discuss this. Another time we'll consider why God's judgments – according to the Bible – include infants.

Mr Straughen's points lead into the topic of "theodicy" – a word coined by Leibnitz in 1710 for the study of why there is evil if God is almighty and good. It seems we have to deny God's existence, or goodness, or power, or deny evil exists!
 
 



Four skeptics Respond
to Anonymous


The next four items appeared in Investigator 64, 1999 January:




 
 

Reply to Anonymous, Investigator #63

 
Mark Newbrook


Firstly: skeptics need not agree on everything. We accept that in some cases – perhaps especially in non-empirical domains – it is very difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at final answers on which all will agree. Straughen makes it clear that he rejects only Paul's and the Bible's idea of God, not God per se; I myself, as I made clear, believe that God does not exist at all (and would oppose Paul's God even if I believed he did exist). We could doubtless discuss these matters profitably; but no-one can demand that we agree (or, because we disagree, say nothing).

But, secondly, I am not sure that there is in fact any real disagreement between Straughen and me, as quoted by Anonymous, on the particular issues at hand. Straughen's arguments suggest that if God is merciful he could and perhaps should intervene more than he apparently does to protect the innocent and helpless against the obviously harmful activities of others. This may be tenable; but it does not imply that God is justified in specifying that many activities or attitudes which do no harm to any unwilling party (e.g. private sexual activity between consenting adults, not keeping the Sabbath, sincerely disbelieving in God) are somehow evil and must attract penalties. Neither does it imply that God has the right to act as a supreme judge of human morality – which, in my view, he does not, even if he does exist.

Thirdly, most of the points Straughen and I made have not been answered.

Anonymous promises to deal with God's judgment of infants 'another time, and I would very much like to see what he has to say in defence of his version of God on that point. I await comments from Paul or anyone else on my own points, including my challenge involving the relationship between religion and morality.
 
 

QUESTIONS FOR ANONYMOUS

Brian De Kretser – Darwin


Given that God is omni everything, why did he – knowing the future consequences for all mankind – plant the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and then call Adam and Eve's attention to it?

What did the serpent look like when he tempted Eve, bearing in mind that it was only after he tempted Eve that God cursed him to slither on his belly. According to Ingersol he must have walked upright and spoken fluent Hebrew. Who created this serpent which walked upright and spoke Hebrew?

Why did God create carnivorous animals (e.g. lions) which prey on gentle animals such as deer and sheep – and mainly the young who cannot get away? Why did not this great, kind, loving God make these carnivores into herbivores and spare innocent little animals?

I agree with John H Williams (Investgiator 63) that Anonymous uses lots of "fuzzy" evidence to drive home the authenticity of the Bible. The deities of all religions are just man created. Anonymous is quite entertaining in his blissful ignorance.

Faith versus reason:

Faith is belief without, or in spite of reason. For any belief to claim the status of knowledge the following must apply –

(a) Must be based on evidence
(b) Must be internally consistent
(c) Cannot contradict previously validated knowledge with which it is to be integrated.
Reason demands that the degree of certitude assigned to a belief must be in accordance with the available evidence. Reason does not demand that every bit of human knowledge must be accepted as certain, or closed to further investigation.

The essence of faith is to consider an idea as true even though it cannot meet the test of truth. Faith is possible only in the case of beliefs that lack rational demonstration.

Reason and faith cannot coexist in the same person at the same time with respect to the same object of knowledge. Reason and faith are irreconcilable since the presence of rational demonstration negates the possibility of faith because non-rational belief is an integral component of faith. Since reason and faith cannot simultaneously reside over a given sphere the dominance of one requires the exclusion of the other.
(From the works of the great atheist George H Smith)
 
 

Lot and Healing–Reply To Anonymous

Kirk Straughen–Queensland


Anonymous claims that when Lot offers his daughters to be gang raped he is attempting to teach the Sodomites a moral lesson:

"What you fellows want to do–deny hospitality and instead commit homosexual gang rape – is so evil that a father would offer his virgin daughters to be raped to prevent it" (Inv. 63, page 4).

Is raping women less evil than raping men? To some men it might be, however, this is probably because they are not women. That the mob failed to perceive what Anonymous alleges is Lot's true meaning is understandable, for the message is contradictory: Lot says one thing and, according to Anonymous, means the exact opposite. Anonymous' explanation is nothing more than a case of special pleading – here is what Lot said: "Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please..." (Gen. 19:8.)

Suppose that a mob was attempting to break into your house and "assault some guests, would you, if you had daughters, say this to a pack of rapists and expect them to, in Anonymous' words, "understand and rape no one."

If Lot intended to mean what Anonymous claims he meant, then he should have said so in plain language that could not have been misunderstood. Alternatively, if Lot was virtuous then he should have offered himself to the mob, rather than risk his daughters lives and thereby appear to hide behind the skirts of women.

Comparing Gen. 19:6-8 to Jesus' defence of the adulteress in John 8:7 does not help Anonymous' argument because it is a poor analogy – neither Jesus nor Lot said "let he who is without sin rape my daughters."

Anonymous claims that massive social reform programmes were in place. However, as I have exposed the weakness of his initial argument this assumption is questionable at best. Indeed, if God was initiating such programmes, then they would not fail because God, if all-wise, would foresee all factors that could defeat the plan (such as misunderstanding the message) and counteract them before they arose.

Anonymous says "One sceptic wants more intervention [from God], the other wants less." The point of my argument was that if God exists, is all-wise and morally perfect, and intervenes in human affairs, then this intervention would harm no one, especially innocent children.

Concerning faith healing Anonymous says "Healings are reported from thousands of Churches...Why didn't all these people get healed by doctors?" (Inv. No. 63, page 6). Firstly, the evidence presented is anecdotal in nature, and therefore proves nothing except that some people believe they have been supernaturally cured. Secondly, these people may have been healed naturally and attributed their cure to God–some may have been cured by purely psychological processes, and others by physiological processes.

Anonymous then goes on to say "Science uncovers ever more phenomena...We experience four dimensions...If four have points of contact why not the others?" The problem is that the forces and dimensions Anonymous refers to are part of the continuum of Nature and therefore can interact with each other, whereas God is traditionally held to be divorced from the Cosmos by virtue of Its incorporeal and timeless nature. Given that God is not in or part of the world, how can It effect the world?

When seeking to explain events, reason requires us to apply Occam's Razor – the least speculative theory that best fits the known facts is the one most likely to be true. At the present time there is no conclusive proof that supernatural forces exist and, given that this is so, the natural explanations for faith healing are more likely to be true than the supernatural alternatives.
 
 


WONDERFUL IDEAS
BUT NOT 'INCREDIBLY ACCURATE'

John H Williams – South Australia


Anonymous
(Investigator 63) is right about Homo sapiens wanting to be right and often not being so, particularly in the realm of beliefs. My view is that the "tens of thousands of cults and religions" have "everyone deceived". Billions believe (or pretend to, or half believe) via childhood conditioning, reinforcement of community norms, ignorance, and fear (of lack of meaning or of death) and a naiive desire for an afterlife.

  Readers of Le Carré and Deighton won't be surprised about the news (The Advertiser 1998 Nov. 19) that Russia's big GR-1 rocket, and other rockets displayed in 1965 were clever fakes or failures, causing a panic in the West and billions of dollars spent on anti-missile missiles! In the 1980s, Reagan's Star Wars program was designed to bankrupt the Soviet Union (The "evil empire") in the latter's attempt to counter the threat. To a degree it worked, at huge cost to an economy that now limps along, unable to feed or pay all its (now Russian) people.

Well done to all deceivers, spin doctors, propagandists, gurus, messiahs and some politicians who have conned people since Adam was a boy (no, that won't do since there was no such guy, nor did 'he' ever have a childhood). Lots of damn good stories, making our planet an interesting but insincere kind of place! Many have believed that Hitler was 'mad' but an eminent psychiatrist believes that likely he was not mentally ill, just paranoid, narcissistic, anxious, depressed and hypochondriac, and that his frequent hand-washing and sexual difficulties were the result of a hereditary condition called spina bifida occulta (The Advertiser 1998 Nov. 19).

Gradually we know more about everything. That process of explaining the once unexplainable will continue via discoveries such as the fish-eating dinosaur, Suchomimus tenerensis or technology, such as the Hubble telescope. Sadly, millions of people have their minds firmly closed to the realms of science, cosmology palaeontology and archaeology because of their adherence to certain books, the foundation stones of their faiths. The third millennium will be pretty much the same as the previous one, only slightly different. If one of those asteroids zaps us I'd argue coincidence, but the millennialists would be chuffed and, at last, 'proved right'!

I concede that The Bible is full of wonderful ideas and stories. It's deservedly a powerful essence of our Judeo-Christian culture. Who could have remained unaffected on reading, for example, the Sermon on the Mount? Yet Anonymous attempts to portray The Bible as the only exception to what he spent four pages arguing, that "everyone was and is mistaken in much of what they think is true". His argument is littered with lines like "Eve ... was the first person deceived ... by the serpent", or "Sin...inherited from Adam", and "...Adam's sin...altered mutated his genes and made it impossible for humans to be righteous". In a word, nonsense!

All the available evidence tells us that there was no Adam, Eve, serpent or Satan. They're just characters in a story in Genesis, not to be taken literally. Similarly, Noah and the flood, the virgin birth and the resurrection, heaven, hell, angels and a mythical anthropomorphised being called God. I don't intend to spend vast amounts of time and energy trying to prove my non-belief right. It's what the Monty Python team called the "bleedin obvious". Lines like "putting myth aside, the evidence is still such that Satan can be taken seriously" are quite amusing.

The Bible isn't "incredibly accurate". Anonymous cites this as "an objective fact", "demonstrated for ten years in The Investigator, often in debate and therefore reliable". He's attempted to demonstrate its accuracy and, presumably, because he's gone unchallenged, has proved to himself that he's right, rather like Paul's defence of the Good Book as "self authenticating" (Investigator 61)! One of us is utterly wrong. However, Anonymous writes so well and so entertainingly that I say, please keep fighting the good fight, but he should realise that self deception could very well apply to his own beliefs, totally unaided by any mythical being, variously known as Lucifer, Old Nick and The Great Deceiver.

I'd like to recommend the source of some of my views: it's The Psychology of Anomalous Experience by Prof. Graham Reed, Hutchinson University Library, London,1972. I believe that Anonymous will find Chapter Seven, Anomalies of Judgment and Belief interesting!
 

 




RESPONSE TO FOUR CRITICS

Anonymous

(Investigator 65, 1999 March)


I've read the letters of Mark Newbrook, Kirk Straughen, John Williams and Brian De Kretser. (Investigator No. 64) and now respond:


To Dr. Newbrook:

Why doesn't God if he exists "intervene more" and prevent consequences when humans stuff things up? Philosophy journals have complex debate but I'll give a simple answer such as can be derived from the Bible.

Most humans, including humanity's original representatives have asked God – implicitly or explicitly – to butt out so that they can decide right and wrong, good and bad, for themselves. They in effect took or take fruit from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." (Genesis 2:8-17)  Like Dr Newbrook they claim God has no "right to act as supreme judge of human morality…"

God could use the big stick method and force rebellious populations into sullen compliance. However, to use force to counteract decisions of humans to set their own standards or to prevent consequences would be inconsistent with giving humans such freedom and choice in the first place and inconsistent with putting them in a universe where decisions and actions have consequences.

Therefore God takes a back seat approach until such time as humanity's need for his guidance and rule is proven, settled and accepted.

This self-restraining, let-them-learn policy is tempered – due to God's affection and mercy – by limited intervention when things get too horrible. Restrained involvement is also necessary to prepare means for eventually undoing the worst consequences of humanity's own decisions. (Hence the Bible's Messiah/Salvation theme.)

Such intervention as is necessary is non-obvious and mostly has alternative explanation. This means that human freedom to choose is not compromised by overwhelming, obvious display of supernatural power.

One way to be unobstrusive would be for God to act when the action can be confounded with coincidence and therefore understood naturally. Another way would be to communicate and act via representatives.

Even the Bible – which plainly alleges that "Scripture" is from God for human guidance – avoids compromising humanity's freedom to ignore it and to ignore God. This the Bible does by incorporating thousands of claims which appear to be erroneous or unprovable yet which over centuries of time, and statement by statement, turn out correct. Such a style permits people to point to seeming errors and reject the whole or to point to the expanding list of proven accuracies and accept the whole.

Humans have managed to survive despite large-scale rejection of God's standards but with huge casualties. If – as was estimated in an Investigator article – 50 billion humans have lived since 2000 BC, then about 2 billion died from war, 2 billion due to famine or malnourishment, perhaps 5 billion experienced rape or other sexual abuse, thousands of genetic diseases afflicted perhaps 3 billion, natural disasters may have killed 1 billion, sexually-transmitted diseases killed up to 2 billion and reduced the quality of life of billions more. And so on. It's doubtful also that humanity can survive indefinitely without God. Hazards facing us may include, for example, major asteroid impacts. (Investigator 62)

In a nutshell evil is a consequence of human rejection of God and God permits it until it's proven humans need him. Then hurt and pain will cease. (Psalm 22:27; 33:11; 72:8-11; Revelation 21:4)

There is more of course. Clues can be found in Psalm 37; 49; 73; 107; Jeremiah 12; Ecclesiastes 8:8-17; Romans 5. Also we may want to distinguish evil inflicted by nature from the hurt done by humans. And most importantly – the rebellion against God by humans is (according to the Bible) part of a wider conflict led by God's chief opposer – "Satan". (Job 1-42; Revelation 12:7-12; 20:1-15)

For points on whether a "Satan" or "Devil" exists see Everyone Correct and Right in a World Deceived–Why? in Investigator No. 63. Consider also the "Flat universe" analogy in the section that follows:
 

To Mr Straughen:

People do not always speak literally but also use figures of speech.

Lot's offer of his daughters to a gang of homosexual rapists could be a use of irony. To offer his daughters is ironic because Lot knew what his neighbours were like and would know they weren't interested in females.
 

Irony 1. a figure of speech or literary device in which the literal meaning is the opposite of that intended…
The Penguin Macquarie Dictionary


Yet by making such an offer Lot also demonstrated how horribly the Sodomites had forsaken decent standards. To deny the life saving principle of hospitality to travellers and instead intend to gang-rape them was so evil that a father would offer his daughters to prevent it. Lot, therefore, was giving a moral lesson. For Lot to offer himself to the rapists [Mr Straughen's solution] would have condoned homosexual conduct. Such an offer would certainly have been accepted and Lot's two guests certainly still wanted as well.

The strategy Lot used – an ironic offer of his two daughters as a critique of Sodomite ethics – at least would have less predictable consequences and so was worth a try.

That this was Lot's strategy is also clear from the wider context:

1 Chapter 18 indicates God's intention of destroying Sodom because its inhabitants were excessively unrighteousness but Lot and his family (ch. 19) were saved implying they were "righteous".

2 The daughters were betrothed and to literally offer them for adultery and rape was contrary to generally accepted standards in Canaan and Egypt.

Perhaps Mr Straughen would have handled the situation differently. Lot did what he could in a desperate situation. He set an example and therefore was "righteous Lot". (2 Peter 2:7-8)

The debate on Lot's character began when I pointed out that God's mercy (according to the Bible) is such as to spare a city from destruction if only ten righteous people lived there. However, Sodom had only four – including Lot. Straughen then argued that Lot failed ordinary standards of righteousness. However, we now see that Lot passed.

Straughen also suggested that God could/should defeat every evil, as or before it happens, without using punishment or execution and yet still permit freedom of decision. But how?

Newspapers reveal that many of the richest and most powerful people on Earth – people who presumably have the most to be grateful for – disobey the Bible and commit immorality, sexual abuse, terrorism, deceit, etc. If having virtually everything this world can produce does not generate good and right conduct all the time, how can right conduct be assured if minute by minute arm-twisting is ruled out?

Straughen needs to explain. He seems to have a Behaviourist notion of humans in which it's assumed humans don't have a mind which can choose contrary to the reinforcements/conditions which the controller/experimenter uses to shape behaviour. But this is precisely an important theme of the Bible – that it's impossible for humans to do right all the time because they are genetically incapable. The Bible says it's due to "the flesh". (Romans 5:12-14; 7:15-20; 8:6-8) Therefore there are no foolproof inducements God can use to shape/assure right conduct all the time.

The Bible also teaches that God uses unimpressive people to accomplish his purposes. (1 Corinthians 1:26-30; Luke 22:24-26) This approach reflects his own self restraint in not using his almighty power to enforce his will and instead letting rebellion run its course.

We see examples in a "criminal" on a cross [Jesus] providing salvation, a slave in prison [Joseph] saving the world around Egypt from famine (Genesis 39-41), a fugitive with defective speech [Moses] leading the Exodus. Except for few and brief exceptions God, according to the Bible, has set aside the use of force. His strategy is such that most humans will willingly accept his friendship again. (Revelation 21) But this takes time plus lots of ultimately minor defeats along the way.

Straughen also argued in response to my points about healing:

The problem is that the forces and dimensions Anonymous refers to are part of the continuum of Nature and therefore can interact with each other, whereas God is traditionally held to be divorced from the Cosmos… (Letter – Investigator No. 64)


To answer this let's use an analogy often used by philosophers who discuss the "shape of space" and "hyperspace" and other dimensions:

Imagine a universe of three dimensions – two spatial dimensions, length and breadth, and one of time. It's a flat universe – like a sheet of paper and stretches through our four-dimensional (length, breadth, depth and time) universe. Its flat inhabitants can neither see nor experience "up" or "down" but only flat things on the flat surface.

One day someone from the fourth dimension, ours, shoots a hole through the Flat universe. The Flat inhabitants soon discover a boundary where fellow Flat people vanish from sight. From our four dimensional view it's simply a case of falling into the hole and then up or down. But to Flat people the observation is inexplicable because they can't see up or down.

Suppose also that one Flat person has been born defective – an organ which occurs on every Flat person's left side occurs on his right. Someone from the fourth dimension, ours, picks him off his Flat universe and flips him over and puts him back. His misplaced organ is now on the correct side! To Flat people it's an inexplicable healing.

Some Flat people reason that disappearing-inhabitants and inexplicable healing proves the existence of supernatural beings who occasionally interfere in their lives. Others reject this and instead speculate about other dimensions.

The first group would be right in the sense that life in four dimensions is so different and unattainable that it can be called "supernatural". The second group would be right in the sense that from the four-dimensional view the natural/supernatural distinction vanishes and reality in both universes is physical/natural.

What, however, if reality is not limited to four dimensions (three of space and one of time)?

By extending our analogy to further dimensions it could be the case that the natural/supernatural distinction which we, who experience four dimensions, make is only the result of our limited view. From the view of beings who inhabit further dimensions inaccessible to us, everything would be physical! Such beings could act upon humans without being noticed! They could even rotate a human through a higher dimension and return him with his left and right sides transposed!

People who describe God as "divorced from the Cosmos" were probably not aware of the above analogy and reasoning. Therefore to reject evidence of physical healing from a supernatural source on the basis that nature and the supernatural are distinct is inconclusive.

Science may soon expose the Fifth Dimension (New Scientist 1998 October 24) and, according to "Superstring theory", ten dimensions exists! (M Kaku 1994 Hyperspace Oxford University Press)
 

To Mr Williams:

John Williams disliked my argument (Investigator 63) for taking seriously the existence of the "Devil and his angels" who can influence humans. The Flat-universe analogy above is further reason to at least be open-minded about it.

Mr Williams wrote:

His argument is littered with lines like "Eve…was the first person deceived…by the serpent", or "Sin…inherited from Adam", and "…Adam's sin…altered his genes and made it impossible for humans to be righteous."


The first statement, about Eve, was qualified by the words "according to the Bible". I was demonstrating the observation that "everyone is wrong yet thinks he is right" is a theme of the Bible. To show that this idea is a theme I needed to mention where in the Bible the idea starts – with Eve and the "serpent".

The comment about Adam was in the context of stating what "the Bible story implies" and how the implication may in future become testable. Whether Eve or Adam actually existed was not discussed or even in that article assumed. That's why potential future tests were mentioned. However, since the 1980s we've had the theory that all humans descend from one woman. And in 1997 came evidence from genetics that:

"Virtually all the men in the world trace back to one male."
(The Advertiser 1997 November 22 p. 62)


With this matter clarified Mr Williams could re-read Everyone Correct and Right in a World Deceived – Why? and see whether he can "take [Satan] seriously."
 

To Mr De Kretser:

A person can investigate the Bible whether he has faith or not. I investigate the Bible statement by statement and check the statements against scientific discovery. I take care to read literally what is literal and non-literally what is symbolic or poetic. To fail in this could make accurate claims appear wrong.

When I originally started my research I encountered Bible claims which critics had called "erroneous" but which subsequent science proved correct. I tried generalizing this observation by predicting that more Bible claims will come up trumps if we wait. When we generalize our observations – i.e. when we reason inductively – are the resulting beliefs "faith" or "reason"?

Reasoning inductively is to be reasonable. Past experience, for example, tells us that people who get hit by speeding cars get hurt. It's the person who denies that speeding cars are dangerous – in effect reasoning anti inductively – who is unreasonable.

Religious faith, however, appears to be more than inductive reasoning. It includes a feeling of trust in God and belief in personal contact via prayer. The decision to seek such faith, however, can be a rational decision if the decision is based on ever-accumulating evidence of the sort I'm uncovering.

De Kretser asked whether the serpent in Genesis walked on legs and spoke Hebrew.

There is another story of a talking animal – an ass speaking to Balaam. (Numbers 22) This story makes clear that a supernatural agent, an angel, was present and responsible for the ass's words. The ass talking was as things appeared to Balaam. The Bible is giving Balaam's perspective.

The talking serpent, similarly, was as things appeared to Eve. The New Testament explains that behind the words was a supernatural agent. (Revelation 20:2) We might compare the alleged events to a ventriloquist and his dummy. A report on the conversation between ventriloquist and dummy might quote what the dummy "said" even though the dummy did not say anything but only appeared to do so.

Some argue from the words "upon your belly you shall go and dust you shall eat" that the serpent – the literal one – at first had legs. (Genesis 3:14) Alternatively, it could refer to a tree dwelling snake forced to slide on the ground. This physical action upon the serpent would symbolize the future restraint and destruction of the real deceiver of humankind.

Mr De Kretser also asked why God created carnivores which prey on gentle sheep.

So-called "Scientific Creationists" preach a formerly heaven-like world where nothing died, not even ants. The entire planet – it's biology and everything – was transformed by sin. Such belief, however, is not supportable from geology, palaeontology, astronomy, physics, etc. My preferred "model" of Creation – which I believe to be consistent with Bible statements – was outlined in Investigator 54 p. 45 and 64 p. 15.

Put briefly, God started the Universe and set the initial conditions and laws so that a living planet would evolve. Sir Fred Hoyle, for example, researched "resonance states" of carbon atoms, and reasoned:

A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.
(The Universe: Past and Present Reflections Engineering & Science November 1981 p. 12)


The Universe, I believe, evolved as described by science. So did Earth and life on Earth 8 or 10 billion years later.

Genesis chapter 1 is a story of God restoring planet Earth after some great catastrophe – so great that oceans covered continents, sunlight was screened out, plant and animal life ceased and great winds raged. The restoration by God – in "six days" – included creating living things along similar lines as existed before. After that, evolution resumed and continued.

So why do lions eat lambs? It's part of the ecological process which evolved.

Finally, according to the Bible, "God created man … male and female." I suspect that modern humans got their start in the safest place in the Universe at a time when Earth was between major ice ages, between major asteroid impacts, and after the most dangerous animals were extinct. Apparently we're also well between "gamma ray bursts" which may sterilize galaxies! (New Scientist 1999 January 23 p. 16) With such tremendous threats ahead the command to "fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28) is seen to imply more than anyone imagined. That planet Earth was not completely safe and pleasant when humans appeared is implied by God giving them a safe haven – the Garden of Eden.

Many Christian groups reject evolution completely. However, I see the Bible's creation statements as so brief as to allow for multiple interpretations when we try to align them with scientific discovery. My approach is but one interpretation.

If the scenario I've given is expressed in one sentence to people without scientific background we could say:

"God created all things and by his will they existed and were created." (Revelation 4:11)
 

 


 
Response by Four Skeptics


The following four replies to Anonymous appeared Investigator 66 (1999 May):



 

Freedom & Healing – Reply to Anon

Kirk Straughen

In order to finalise the debate on these topics I will make this the last reply to A's comments (Inv. 65, page 32.)

A. asks how God could defeat evil without punishment and still allow "freedom of decision."  A. appears to think that if we are not free to commit evil, then we are not totally free. However, by threatening us God limits our freedom from the outset – "do such-and-such, and you will be severely punished." Moreover, many Christians consider God to be incapable of evil, yet consider It to have free will. If this is true then, like God, we could enjoy free will and moral perfection.

A. says we are "genetically incapable" of moral perfection. However, if all immorality is due to genetic factors then it should be possible, given scientific advances, to eventually perfect human nature by genetic engineering. Perhaps this is the answer to A's question of how God could defeat evil without using violence.

A's comments on healing are extremely speculative – other dimensions may exist, but could intelligences exist in them? A's Flatlanders may be impossible–three-dimensional DNA could not exist in two dimensions, so life would be impossible in a Universe with properties other than our own. Besides, such intelligences would, as a result of their environment, have alien minds. A's anthropomorphic God would not exist.
 

 

Response to 'Anonymous': Investigator 65


Mark Newbrook

Anonymous is here responding to points made by Straughen rather than by me. I merely stated (64, p 6) that as far as I could see there was no necessary conflict between my previously stated views and those of Straughen, the latter including the idea that (even given my view of the case) God might perhaps be expected to intervene (more often) on behalf of the innocent and helpless. I was not seeking to endorse this idea strongly.

In fact, it seems to me that Anonymous has developed a relatively plausible case here. If I shared his belief in the existence of God and his meta-ethical views, I might find it fairly persuasive, at least in part. But it does not deal adequately with the issue of haphazard natural evil, nor with the case of infants who are not yet moral agents. Indeed, I note that Anonymous has still not justified the notion that God would be acting rightly if he treated infants as moral agents or similar. I suspect that he cannot.

With respect to my own published views: I stand by my meta-ethical claim that a creator God, if real, has no moral right to judge humans as suggested by Anonymous' interpretation of the Bible. Anonymous has not addressed this claim and I challenge him to debate it. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that if anything it would be God who should be judged (by humans and any other intelligent species there may be in the universe) on the charge of incompetent and unjust management of his creation (after all, he has no excuse on the ground of limited power).

I also stand by my stronger claim (shared with Russell and many others) that the definitions of ethical notions such as 'good' can in no way be derived from any fact, definition, etc in the religious domain. The argument here is very simple: if it is not a mere tautology that what God commands or endorses is good–and surely believers do not regard this as a mere tautology – then there must be a definition/standard of goodness independent of God's wishes. It follows from this that one cannot deduce from the fact (if so it be) that God commands or endorses some type of action that such an action is morally good (or the converse for moral evil). It is thus open to a moral agent to regard God's commands, qua God's commands, as evil or as of no ethical significance at all. I again challenge Anonymous and those who share his views to debate this too.

Mark Newbrook
Dept. of Linguistics
Monash University
 
 

Two Questions for Anonymous 

Brian De Kretser – Darwin


Given that God is omni everything, he would have known the consequences of planting the "tree of knowledge" in the garden and then deliberately call Adam and Eve's attention to it. Why did he do this?

Why are there two conflicting stories of Noah's Flood in Genesis? If the Bible is God's word there should be no mistake. Or are the ignorant Jews of old the real authors?
 

 

Potpourri of Nonsense & Speculation

John H Williams – South Australia


Until now, I've quite enjoyed Anonymous' writings, but his eight-page attempted demolition of four of his critics' views, including mine, in Investigator No.65 was well over the top. He protests far too much and at tedious length.

Anonymous has raised naive speculation to an art form. Is there anyone who is convinced? A healthy and robust debate is fine but I get the impression that 'A' is working overtime to convince himself! In my assessment, his somewhat obsessive explanations, analogies eg the Flat-universe, and clarifications are as clear as the proverbial.

I now see why The Advertiser has a restriction policy on the original letter-writer: the same ball can be boringly bounced over the net. When 'A' exhorts me to re-read his myriad articles, it's insulting, especially as one has already taken pains to present his stranger ideas as the merest speculation, with which he agrees (The investigator No.64)!

It seems that 'A' has the quaint belief that if he has something published in The Investigator, then it is established fact, especially if he can throw in some quotes from New Scientist. Like so many believers, he travels in hope of finding the Grail, of prophecies being fulfilled, of science "catching-up" with The Bible.

It's clear that nothing anyone says will have the slightest impact on A's beliefs and that his work will continue to take up large amounts of this magazine's space (too much, in my opinion). His latest piece was a potpourri of self-justifying verbiage masquerading as argument. We heard about "evil inflicted by nature" (TC Vance was evil?). Mr 'A' keeps referring to a highly debatable being named God who "permits (evil) until it's proven that humans need him" or who "takes a back seat approach" or who is an "unobtrusive" celestial CEO, without whom "humans cannot survive indefinitely". Naturally, this deity is Jesus' Dad who chose Mary for an immaculate impregnation!

We learnt that "humans have managed to survive despite large-scale rejection of God's standards but with huge casualties"! It's incomprehensible to me how someone who quotes Fred Hoyle, the NewScientist and other learned works can author such nonsense!

I return to the "bleedin' obvious" – on watching Fawlty Towers for the nth time I realised that it was Basil's line, not Monty Python's – it's bleedin' obvious that few of us "can take Satan seriously", especially as the Anglican Synod, in 1996, had him "packaged-out", offering instead a nice retrospective line they called "annihilation". Pity that, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot not being rotisseried eternally, but, as they're quite dead, it makes perfect sense to re-assign them. Since there's so much twaddle abounding in the planet's belief systems, one can have a therapeutic belly laugh at the fascinating and untrue stories they throw up.

I've re-read my King James to try and make sense of Mr A's extraordinary belief that in Genesis God "restored" Earth after "some great catastrophe". Nice try, but your "interpretation" is, yet again, the most specious speculation, there being not one scrap of real evidence to support it. So, "God created all things and by his will they existed and were created" is the "scenario" you'd give to "people without scientific background"? Wouldn't you say the same to scientists, or should we have different versions of "what is" for the preliterate and the literate?!

By the way, Genesis was the last compiled of the OT books, around 500 BC (Time Magazine Dec. 18, 1995, Is the Bible fact or fiction?) so it couldn't have been written by Moses, who if he did exist– and there's no evidence that he did – would have lived around 1400 -1200BC.

I've been a bit hard on Mr 'A' because it's futile continuing a debate with someone who will want to endlessly argue that The Bible is the only exception to his belief that "everyone is wrong". There were some pluses, such as his attack on "scientific creationism" and his acceptance of scientific thinking on the origin of the universe / Earth / life on Earth.  Sadly, Mr A's favourite song may well be When You Believe, (Best Original Song, Oscars, 21/3/99), from that ineffably literal hokum called The Prince of Egypt. When one looks at the news on Kosovo and other disasters, it's clear, to me at least, that it is very strongly held tunnel-visioned beliefs that are the breeding grounds for creating what Mr 'A' calls evil, and which create a hell on earth for millions of our fellows.
 




RESPONSE TO FOUR CRITICS

PART 2

Anonymous

(Investigator 67, 1999 July)


I've read the responses of Mark Newbrook, Kirk Straughen, John Williams and Brian De Kretser (Investigator No. 66) to my article Response to Four Critics (No. 65) and now reply again:
 

To Dr Newbrook:

Dr Newbrook read my explanation of why God (if God exists) permits evil and asked about "haphazard natural evil".

I presume Dr Newbrook means earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones, sicknesses, lightning, accidents, etc.

In monetary terms the average annual cost of, for example, earthquake damage is less than the cost of supplying humankind with shoes. Yet most of us do not rail against God because our shoes wear out.

Earthquakes are a component of continental drift and slow collisions of tectonic plates. Over millions of years this results in new mountain ranges, new land, new mineral deposits, new spectacular scenery, and therefore counteracts the erosion of continents by water.

If earthquakes were predictable people could temporarily move out of the area or otherwise get ready. And if humankind cooperated and shared to the extent the Bible teaches, earthquake victims would quickly be compensated and even be better off than previously! Furthermore, the opportunities for cooperation in restoring damaged areas would produce good feelings and friendships.

In such a scenario earthquakes would be less worrisome than regularly replacing our shoes. Indeed, people might even pray for more earthquakes!

Of course humans do not cooperate and share in the way the Bible teaches. But that's a social problem and part of humanity's rebellion against God.

Concerning predictability of earthquakes I make two points:

1 Originally the intent was that God and humans would cooperate. The Bible account of Eden, for example, shows God talking directly with Adam. In such a situation God could communicate essential information. But this benefit was lost by human rebellion against God.

2 Earthquake prediction will doubtless be possible after we know how, or with future technology. The recent war over Kosovo plus repair of war damage is estimated at $100 billion. Imagine if people including politicians solved disagreements in the way taught by Jesus and put the money saved into research. Imagine the scientific research – including research into earthquakes – that could be done for $100 billion!

In brief, earthquakes have nasty impacts on populations because humanity collectively decided to have it that way! Similar reasoning applies to other "haphazard natural evils".

Dr Newbrook also wants "justified the notion that God would be acting rightly if he treated infants as moral agents…"

In the Bible, God treats adults as "moral agents" responsible for their kids. On the individual/civil level in Israel children were not punished for crimes of their parents. (Deuteronomy 24:16) Children were a "heritage from the Lord". (Psalms 127:3) Therefore Judaism and Christianity opposed infanticide in much of the world – benefiting millions of children. (Investigator 51 p. 23) However, when entire nations opposed God so as to merit destruction children were included.

One principle was allegiance to a king. If a king owned the land and subjects – a situation which could come about by agreement with the people (Genesis 47:20-26) – a king could be punished by destruction of his property including his people. Children, in addition, were often considered property of parents. Hence some nations thought infanticide OK and child sacrifice OK.

Such harmful social structure and standards were among the consequences of human rebellion against God – because by wanting God out of the picture humans must make their own rules. The result has been that every society eventually fails. Ecclesiastes 8:9 says: "Man lords it over man to his hurt."

When nations provoked a showdown with God the destruction of kids along with the adults therefore followed from the legal/social arrangements in place. Nor did the adults have childcare arrangements ready so kids could survive without them.

Of course people can change sides and in the Old Testament judgment stories those that did were spared with their children.

Dr Newbrook's third querie was "the definitions of ethical notions such as 'good' can in no way be derived from…the religious domain." I hope to address this topic another time.
 

To Mr Straughen:

Mr Straughen reasoned: "However, by threatening us God limits our freedom from the outset – do such and such and you will be severely punished." (Investigator 66 page 4)

Rather than argue about "freedom" abstractly, let's think in terms of circumstances in which most people feel "free".

Jesus said:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. (Matthew 11:29-30)


The "rest" and "light burden" follow from the principles Jesus taught which were such that if obeyed would produce good relations, good feelings, health, peace, friendship with God, and salvation.

For example Jesus taught that people should settle their disputes on the same day. (Matthew 5:23-26) Nevertheless, the world is full of people with grudges and planning revenge. Those who follow Jesus in this matter will likely have better feelings and relationships and health than those who don't.

Jesus also taught against sexual immorality. Deaths from sexually transmitted diseases, especially syphilis, from the 16th to the 20th centuries total many hundreds of millions. In addition murders related to sexual immorality probably amount to tens of millions and the broken relationships billions!

Diseased, depressed, rejected and dead people were "free" in that they made decisions that led to such states and no one used force to prevent such decisions. Yet most of us want the opposite – good feelings, health, life, etc – and such are what God's commands generally promote.

If people who hurt others are "severely punished" by "God" their freedom to hurt is restricted if they take the threat seriously. But this helps to maximize the sorts of freedoms most people want!

The Bible's implication that we are "genetically incapable" of moral perfection does not mean that "all immorality is due to genetic factors". In Christian theology Adam, Eve, and Jesus were all originally morally perfect and had no genetic predisposition toward evil. Yet two of those three still chose to rebel against God.

Much of the New Testament is rousing counsel to abandon damaging conduct and advance to moral excellence. This implies that people can change, even under current circumstances, especially with God's help.

However, to achieve perfection would require a physical change – different bodies. This is because "sin" is in "the flesh". (Romans 7:15-20; 5:12-21)

Thinking in terms of genes instead of "flesh" suggests that inability to avoid sin, even when we choose to do so, is due to DNA mutations.
 

To Mr Williams:

Mr Williams objected to my "flat universe" analogy". The analogy is standard material when discussing other dimensions and trying to visualise what we would perceive if beings from a more-complex realm – beyond the four dimensions familiar to us – influenced us.

Whether flat universes of two spatial dimensions and their 2-dimensional inhabitants exist an objection of Mr Straughen – is irrelevant. Philosophers using the illustration do not insist they do.

I used the illustration because of my disagreement with Mr Straughen on whether miraculous healings inexplicable by science occur. Straughen's objection was that other dimensions and forces are part of "the continuum of nature and therefore can interact with each other, whereas God is traditionally held to be divorced from the Cosmos…" (64 p. 8; 65 p. 33)

Supposedly, then, there could be no miraculous healing because God is "divorced from the Cosmos". I used the flat universe analogy to explain and conclude that:  "the natural/ supernatural distinction which we, who experience four dimensions, make is only the result of our limited view. From the view of beings who inhabit further dimensions inaccessible to us, everything would be physical! Such beings could act upon humans without being noticed." (65 pp. 33-35)

I wasn't arguing for the existence of a "flat universe" but was using the idea to show why the distinction between natural and supernatural to rule out supernatural healing is inadequate.

Aside from this theoretical debate we actually have the practical/empirical situation of numerous healings following prayer in cases where medical science failed! (63 pp. 6-7)

I also suggested that the possibility that ten dimensions exists could allow for a supernatural realm and thus add to my evidence (in Investigator 61) for the existence of Satan.

Mr Williams also lamented that: "Mr 'A' keeps referring to a highly debatable being named God who permits evil until it's proven humans need him." (66 p. 16)

A standard objection to the existence of an all-powerful, loving God is that the following three statements are inconsistent with each other:

1 God is omnipotent/almighty;
2 God loves us;
3 Evil exists.

In answering this objection we need to refer to that "highly debatable being" so as to avoid excessive circumlocution. Answering the objection does not prove God exists – but it does remove one barrier to belief. My answer was that – according to the Bible – God imposed limits for a while on using his power. In effect I modified the first premise.

Mr Williams queried my "belief that in Genesis God restored Earth after some great catastrophe." (66 p. 17) This was explained in Investigator 38 and in 62 p. 50.

The interpretation followed from the following observations:
 

a. Genesis 1:1 is an introduction and summary of the creation story that followed. (Compare 2:1) This means that what we recognize as our planet in 1:2 was already there before creation started!
b. In verse 2 the "earth" i.e. the land is covered by the oceans; it is "void" or empty of life; everything is dark; and there is a "spirit of God" over the waters. The Hebrew "ruach" usually means "wind". "Wind of God" is a figure of speech referring to a powerful wind.
c. The creation account describes what a hypothetical observer at sea or land level would have observed during creation.


From 20th century scientific research we can recognize the description in Genesis 1:2 as corresponding to the description of the effects of an impact of a large asteroid (or several) in a major ocean. Hence my comment that "in Genesis God restored Earth after some great catastrophe."

From point "c" it follows that the "lights" on day 4 do not imply a creation of the sun and moon on day 4 but rather changes in the atmosphere so that the sun, moon and stars became visible to our hypothetical observer.

Mr Williams also made personal accusations of me being closed-minded. As far as Mr Williams knows I might be an atheist playing "Devil's advocate" by presenting evidence for the Bible. For this reason personal accusations are irrelevant and it's the evidence and arguments that should be answered.
 

To Mr De Kretser:

Mr De Kretser argued: "God…would have known the consequences of planting the tree of knowledge – therefore why did he deliberately call Adam's and Eve's attention to it?"

Perhaps God didn't know for certain! Perhaps he exercises his foreknowledge selectively. Perhaps God gave the Universe such properties as to prevent himself from knowing some future things. The Biblical debate on this topic is complex. To avoid such debate I'll add the word "possible" to De Kretser's question – "God…would have known the possible consequences…" – and answer the revised question.

The answer is that a Universe in which humans have rebelled and ruled themselves without God and suffered the consequences and therefore finally accept God's friendship willingly, is better than a Universe in which humanity has not learnt the consequences of rebellion and therefore always feels tempted to rebel and must always be controlled/manipulated/forced.

It's the difference between eternal cooperation with friendship and eternal rule by force with resentment. The cost of achieving the better of the two types of Universe is to permit a period of rebellion with its consequences.

During this period when God permits evil, and restricts his involvement to the degree that many believe he doesn't exist, he nevertheless has set limits. The saga of Job – reduced from power, wealth, health and respect, to being in poverty, diseased, despised and rejected and finally restored again – is an analogy of humanity's experience as a whole. God imposed limits on Job's suffering. (Job 1:12; 2:6-8)

De Kretser's other question on "two conflicting stories of Noah's Flood" may be tackled another time
.



 
 

RESPONSE TO "ANONYMOUS" (#67)

Mark Newbrook

(Investigator 68, 1999 September)


On God's toleration of haphazard natural evil, I cannot really take 'Anonymous' seriously.

His comments amount to nothing more than special pleading and also involve thoroughly implausible interpretations of how things happen. Firstly, his statement that natural disasters (exemplified by earthquakes) are less costly than routine (relatively harmless) wear and tear on shoes suggests that he is more interested in monetary damage than in the arbitrary suffering and untimely death of innocent people.

Surely this is a wholly inappropriate attitude for a religious believer (or any person of goodwill)! Next Anonymous identifies the advantages of earthquakes(!); but these could have been produced by an omnipotent God in non-destructive ways.

He then refers to the ways in which humans, by their own efforts, might succeed better in avoiding natural disasters and/or in coping with their consequences; but none of this obviates God's responsibility for allowing them to occur in the first place. It is utterly ridiculous (and callous) for Anonymous to blame humanity for natural disasters.

Anonymous also argues that in certain circumstances the destruction of children along with adults is reasonable, even though they are not yet moral agents. While this may have been an accepted practice in some ancient cultures, the suggestion that it is endorsed or practised by a fair-minded God appears ludicrous. There can be no conceivable justification for punishing one person – especially a child for the 'misdeeds' of another, or for needlessly allowing such a person to suffer or perish. And an omnipotent God could readily make provision for children orphaned by the destruction of their 'wicked' parents. If Anonymous is right about the metaphysical facts (which in my view is most unlikely!), God is morally inferior even to most ordinary humans, and humans cannot possibly be under any obligation to honour or obey him.

In my view, all this discussion suggests that people like Anonymous have no reasonable basis for their views on such matters. If other advocates of Anonymous' world-view have better arguments, let us hear them!

I await Anonymous' comments on my 'third query'.
 



 
 

RESPONSE TO "ANONYMOUS" #67

John H Williams

(Investigator 68, 1999 September)


In Investigator No. 67 'A' again attempts to respond to his critics, continuing his propensity for what I've criticised as "protesting far too much and at tedious length": this time it was six and a half pages of anthropomorphic sophistry!

 I have a preference for "A"'s excellently researched articles, such as the one on comets and asteroids. I appeal to him to let his critics go and get on with the kind of writing be does so well.

‘A' must surely realise that he will alwqys have detractors, with whom he will sooner rather than later, one hopes agree to differ. In Investigator No 67 he takes me to task for "accusing him of being closed-minded", when all I'd done was to offer an opinion, based on reading his articles, that "nothing that anyone says will have the slightest impact on his beliefs". Until I perceive that "A" is able to see the absurd and risible nature of some of his ideas I will continue to hold that opinion.

"A" believes that "it's the evidence that should be answered". I agree. The problem is that what he presents as ‘evidence' isn't. It's belief, faith, quotations, references to "explanations" in previous Investigators, speculation abstruse interpretation and endless anthropomorphising of the being he calls God. The Bible's a terrific book, but it's just one source of information which, by it's very nature, cannot be regarded as providing verifiable and infallible evidence, because it was written by people who lived a very long time ago whose beliefs were intrinsic to what they wrote and whose agenda made them likely to have been less than objective.

Naturally, if one relies heavily on The Bible for one's ideas and explanations, as does "A", then it's logical to devote lots of energy attempting to ‘prove' its historical accuracy, such as all those hundred names which "A" has verified as actual people, thereby giving The Bible a kind of authenticity – spurious in my opinion: "This is so, thus all of it is so, by association."

Regarding earthquakes and tropical cyclones: I believe that they're natural hazards which kill people who live in their vicinity. Contrary to "A"s opinion, earthquakes are ‘predictable' but those who live on seismic zones prefer to take their chances (maybe they like the idea of living dangerously, rather like those who refused to go to shelters during the Blitz?). Tokyo's last Big One was in 1923 and seismologists predict a c. 69-year cycle, so it's a few years overdue! The same with LA/San Francisco. But I can't see his point about "earthquake victims being compensated and being better off than previously" (Investigator 67 p16) if they are dead! "A"s idea that "people might pray for more earthquakes" was original, if a little unrealistic! And just who are these hopelessly impractical people going to pray to for a high Richter hit? We're back to the Big Guy (to whom, for some reason, ‘we' assign the male gender), but it's just a vast cosmic joke because, in my opinion, the BG doesn't exist and, literally and metaphysically, no-one is listening.

If "A", or anyone else who believes that tropical cyclones are "evil", should read some meteorology and climatology, he'd find that they are a part of the Earth's atmospheric heat engine in which surplus tropical heat energy is ‘exported' polewards, as our atmosphere attempts to balance its latitudinal ‘budget'. To characterise TCs as "evil" is ludicrous as silly as a literal belief in Old Nick and Hell.

Today's Weekend Australian (17 /7/99) carries an article on a "Portable Hell", from the Italian Jesuit magazine, Civilta cattolica. It dismisses the idea that Hell might be a form of divine retribution. There's no fire or brimstone but "one's own personal Hell, portable and forever, something we make for ourselves". So all those who suspected the concept of Hell was a big ‘porky' were right; ditto, of course, for heaven. It seems pretty obvious this ‘new' personal hell can last only as long as life itself, often being the prelude to its premature demise. (It appears that the Catholic Church is increasingly eager to jettison medieval literalism: and about time!)

If "A" continues to write what I consider naive and speculative nonsense for which there is no real evidence – onlythe evidence from his published Investigator articles based on his (often literal) interpretation of biblical material – then he is setting himself up for extensive criticism to which he will probably want to write lengthy, tedious and ‘clear as mud' rebuttals. Can we please ‘break the cycle' and move on?

 




GOD AND EVIL: RESPONSE TO TWO CRITICS

Anonymous

(Investigator 69, 1999 November)


To Mark Newbrook:

My explanation (Investigator 67) of why "God" permits events humans interpret as "haphazard natural evil" – and using earthquakes as an example – had three components.

1. Benefits of earthquakes;

2. I showed that if humans cooperated more with each other – as taught in the Bible – and if earthquakes were predictable then no one need be hurt and the cost of damage would average less than expenditure on shoes.

3. According to the Bible God originally wanted fellowship with humanity. Such fellowship would have included information about "natural evils" enabling humans to be prepared. However, this benefit was among the benefits forfeited when humanity chose to go it alone without God.

To point "1" Newbrook says:  "these [advantages] could have been produced by an omnipotent God in non-destructive ways."

It's clever to imagine a different universe with different laws such that earthquakes can't occur but the benefits of earthquakes still do occur. But would such an alternative universe with its alternative physics be compatible with the existence of life and the benefits we have in the Universe as is? Dr Newbrook needs to demonstrate this!

Margaret Wertheim argues:

The unacknowledged problem is finding the theoretical grounds to claim that other universes are physically possible. The powers that subscribers to the anthropic principle attribute to the "scientific imagination" are staggering. The basic claim is that if a scientist can, in his or her mind, fiddle with the force of gravity, or the fine-structure constant, or any of the many mathematical parameters found in various equations, and thereby imagine some other universe, then such a universe must ipso facto be a genuinely viable alternative reality. In any other area of human endeavor, such imagining is called fantasy.
(The Sciences Volume 39 No. 2 March/April 1999 p. 40)


Point "2" is not "implausible" as Newbrook claims but common sense. An article in New Scientist, using hurricanes rather than earthquakes as an example, said:
 

They [the rich nations] must admit three truths that disaster experts say have fallen on deaf ears until now: that we have the technology to prevent such catastrophes, that it is cost effective, and that it is in the best interests of everyone to use it. (1998 December 12 p. 57)


My comparison with the cost of shoes did not imply I care more about shoes than human life. Rather it demonstrated the potential simplicity of the solution. When I was a child – during a post war period – parents often had kids go barefoot to save on shoes. Sometimes tender feet got hurt. I would blame this on human governments for diverting so much wealth to war and to forcing temporary changes in national boundaries that shoes became expensive. Dr Newbrook instead would blame God, perhaps – if I may reapply his logic – arguing: "God, being omnipotent, could have created humans with tougher feet." Don't act responsibly, don't change harmful ideas – instead blame God for not creating a different universe!

Another New Scientist article said:

Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, even volcanic eruptions can be forecast, monitored and tracked, their basic mechanisms observed and modelled with some degree of confidence. But earthquakes have remained cryptic and slippery… (1998 October 10 p. 36)


"Forecast" and government disaster plans are not yet accurate enough, nor building regulations strict enough, to prevent ALL physical hurt to humans from hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.

But that's the fault of humanity, not of God – if God exists. To mismanage the wealth/opportunities within the environment and then blame God for consequences — when all resources needed for constructive solutions exist in that same environment – is irresponsible.

The plausibility of point "3" depends on the plausibility of the Bible in general – this being an ongoing topic in Investigator.

________________


Regarding God's judgments including children:

As explained (67 No. 17) the principle of parents having charge of children works in our environment and potentially benefits all children.

It goes wrong when humans establish social structures that cause wide-scale poverty, war, disease and death – including defining children as possessions of adults and the nation as the possession of the king. Nor have any human societies passed and enforced laws requiring that all children be unaffected by consequences of bad adult decisions.

Consider:

14 million Africans have died of AIDS and 23 million have AIDS including many children – some getting the disease via rape.
The 55 million dead of World War II included 5 million children.

Also:

Lack of iodine in the diet is the single largest cause of preventable brain damage and mental retardation in the world… More than two million Indians are afflicted with cretinism because of insufficient iodine intake…
(New Scientist 1997 September 6 p. 17)

More than 90 per cent of the children in some African cities suffer from lead poisoning… (New Scientist 1996 March 23 p. 6)


We could multiply examples of harm to children.

The world spends about $1trillion per year on war and armaments and a comparable sum on crime and crime-prevention. Most harm to children is preventable simply by goodwill combined with better use of a fraction of available resources.

However, God doesn't force needed changes upon human societies. Why not?

As explained in Investigator 65 pp 30-31, humanity rebelled, chose self-rule without God and such self rule included inventing their own notions of right and wrong. Humans in effect ate/eat from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:8-17) and choose their own "knowing [of] good and evil." (3:22)

To prove that such "knowing" by humans is sham knowledge causing hurt – sometimes immediate hurt, sometimes long afterwards – requires time. It requires time for humans to set up and try out every form of government, religion, technology, law and ethics and experience failure.

It takes time to prove by experience and consequences that:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:8-9)


Dr Newbrook wants God to immediately undo or prevent nasty consequences of human decisions, especially when children are involved. But such action would be incompatible with humanity's self-rule.

Nor can God intervene too obviously since that would effect the experiment. For human self-rule to be tested without biasing the result requires that humans be able to ignore God — even believe God doesn't exist. Psychologists who study human behaviour know that the behaviour of experimental subjects changes if they know what the psychologist is researching or testing. Even subtle clues in voice or mannerisms can give the game away and effect research results. To avoid this, psychologists often practice elaborate deception on subjects or use "double blind" techniques.

A world-wide experiment to test whether humanity can rule itself indefinitely without God similarly requires – so as not to bias the results – that God stays away and only intervenes in ways humans can ignore or interpret naturally.

One result of human self-rule is that everyone is wrong in significant ways and yet thinks he is right – no matter how absurd his beliefs! [See: Everyone Correct And Right In A World Deceived – Why? in No. 63]

Billions of humans have lied, killed, sexually abused, robbed, destroyed, sacrificed to idols, infected each other with disease, and otherwise caused hurt and considered all their conduct "right" or "good" and blamed bad consequences on God. This raises the question of punishment.

Regarding punishment we're rather lucky. According to the Bible:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)


In brief, the answer to Newbrook's question is:

Children suffer along with adults because adults, as part of their self-rule in opposition to God, created social structures that have that effect; and God can't intervene to stop children suffering, because intervention would invalidate the result of testing what sort of conditions human self-rule without God would result in.

This said, we could nevertheless interpret the Bible's opposition to infanticide, child sacrifice and sexual abuse and it's teaching that parents love and support their children – notions incorporated in fact or principle into modern legal systems – as interventions by God benefiting billions of children.

The topic of the extermination of certain tribes of ancient Canaan was briefly discussed in Investigator 30. I plan to address that topic another time.
 

To John H Williams:

Mr Williams misunderstands when he calls my evidence for the Bible:  "belief, faith, quotations … speculation, abstruse interpretation and endless anthropomorphising of the being he calls God." (No. 68 p. 20)

What I do mostly is seek out testable Bible statements and compare them with recent scientific discoveries in the relevant areas.

I have found hundreds of testable statements and found all to be either accurate or defendable, and previous opinion that proclaimed the Bible erroneous to be itself erroneous.

"Speculation" enters when I predict/speculate that the trend will continue into the 3rd millennium and that thousands more Bible claims will be confirmed.

Instead of disagreeing for the sake of disagreement Mr Williams could make the opposite prediction, namely that – "No more Bible statements will be confirmed by future scientific discovery." At least then we have a disagreement that future science will settle.

My procedure for researching the Bible does not assume the Bible to be true. It's truth or falsity is ascertained statement by statement using whatever statements I find to be testable.

Mr Williams, therefore, misunderstands when he says I "rely heavily on the Bible for…ideas and explanations…"  Rather I rely heavily on scientific discovery and examine whether the Bible agrees with such.

That's what I do "most of the time".

If – as occurred recently in Investigator – skeptics ask why there is evil if God is omnipotent and loving, then the answer is not scientifically verifiable. The very nature of the question "Why is there evil if God…" asks about the supernatural and so precludes direct scientific test. However, the explanation though not presently testable by observation, can still be consistent with observation.

Mr Williams agrees that earthquakes are not necessarily "evil". Whether earthquakes hurt people more than the cost of shoes, depends on the people — particularly the ruling powers. The most devastating hurricanes and earthquakes this century caused damage of about $30 billion. If we assume the average person spends $50 per year on shoes, the world total is $300 billion. It's possible, therefore, that world expenditure on shoes exceeds the current cost of all natural "disasters" combined not just earthquakes! As argued before – if such "disasters" were predictable no one need die or get hurt. And if we had a worldwide system of spreading/sharing the cost, then no one need suffer serious loss — no greater loss than the cost of shoes.

Mr Williams' is right about tropical cyclones transferring heat polewards from the tropics. I used that point in university philosophy long ago when a lecturer claimed cyclones were incompatible with the existence of God!

Contrary to Mr Williams' accusation, I do not call tropical cyclones "evil" but, as with earthquakes, see them as having nasty effects because humans — by neglect, lack of foresight and their supposed "knowledge of good and evil" – have arranged matters that way.

Since much of Mr Williams' criticism is a misunderstanding, I recommend he read my articles again – more carefully. His church-choir days (62 p.16) could potentially return and return as a rational decision!
 



 

Further response to Anonymous #69

Mark Newbrook

(Investigator 70, 2000 January)

I will follow Anonymous' numbering here.

1) It is disingenuous and contrived to suggest that an omnipotent God could not create the ‘benefits' which currently arise from earthquakes by other means, without making a universe so different that we could not exist in it. I cannot see that I am under any obligation to demonstrate anything here. In any event, where is the evidence that God created earthquakes because of the ‘benefits' they produce?

2) We do not need the Bible to tell us that cooperating makes more sense than not cooperating (and in fact believers have hardly been conspicuous cooperators over the centuries!). If we do cooperate, no doubt we can and will do better in respect of averting or coping with natural disasters. But the main factor in this will be our application of our intelligence, not our ‘obedience' to the alleged commandments of God. Many successful scientists, technologists and administrators are atheists and such. Further: now that Anonymous is being more explicit, I understand his point about shoes better. But for a caring God to encourage us to work together to make better shoes and supply them more equitably is one thing; for him to allow thousands of innocent lives to be lost in haphazard disasters is quite another — especially when learning enough to predict these disasters is so difficult (which is NOT, predominantly, our fault – and what of the many generations who endured disasters at times when such knowledge was as yet quite out of the question?).

3) We can also do better in respect of caring for children. But there can be no justice in permitting the suffering of powerless and innocent minors because of what their elders have or have not done (including the social structures they have set up). Nothing that Anonymous says addresses this point effectively.

In my view, the main problem for people like Anonymous is that a theistic account of the universe is ultimately implausible, if not indeed incoherent. In order for such an account to make sense, special pleading and contrived interpretations are repeatedly required. In some cases, even these cannot be made to work, except perhaps by unwarranted leaps of faith. The onus is on believers to show otherwise. Anonymous' God surely does not exist, but, if he did exist, the world would in many respects be a bad place, and that would indeed be, predominantly, God's fault.

In addition – as I have pointed out several times without getting any kind of coherent response – there is a strong philosophical argument against any valid link between religious and moral truths. In other words, even if God does exist, we are under no moral obligation to act as he purports to require, unless there are sound independent reasons for so acting. So – unless the relevant argument can be overturne – none of this debate about the coherence or otherwise of the notion of ‘God' has any real bearing on our view of how humans should behave.
 



 
 

RESPONSE TO NEWBROOK (#70)

Anonymous

(Investigator 71, 2000 March)


Could an "omnipotent God" create: "the benefits which currently arise from earthquakes by other means, without making the universe so different that we could not exist in it?"

If all laws of physics that effect the occurrence of earthquakes were changed, everything else would change also – including biology. Would the resulting alternative universe be compatible with life? Certainly it wouldn't be human life. And would alternative life – assuming it intelligent and given choice – choose only right?  I refer again to Wertheim's comment (quoted in Investigator 69 p. 24) that to imagine alternative universes by fiddling in one's imagination with basic laws and thinking the results are viable alternative universes, is "fantasy". (The Sciences Volume 39 No. 2 March/April 1999 p. 40)

Rather than fantasise about imaginary universes let's look for solutions to problems in the real Universe that we have! By doing this I showed previously that earthquakes, and other "natural evils" that hurt us, are potentially no greater problems than our shoes wearing out.

The simplified reason for "natural evils" include the components:

1 Governments and people fail to act with good will on the scientific knowledge already available;
2 Humans, according to the Bible, were created to interact with God and learn from Him — but this source of knowledge was forfeited because humans chose to go it alone.

Elaborating on point "2" consistently with the Bible:

1 Humans decided to choose right and wrong for themselves that God should butt out and let them govern and rule without Him.
2 Since humans were created with the ability to choose, God permitted their decision to go it alone.
3 The human race, therefore, is in an experiment to test whether it can achieve the good life independently of God.

A genuine test of whether humans can achieve "paradise" without obvious input from God requires God's absence. An unbiased result requires letting humans set up every sort of religion, ethics, government, ideology and law, and utilise the environment in every way they think of.

If people know they are being watched, their behaviour changes. When surveillance cameras operate crime decreases! Psychologists studying human behaviour keep subjects ignorant of what's being investigated – otherwise the experiment will give irrelevant results. Similarly with the "experiment" of human self-rule: A valid result requires letting the origin of human life recede into "myth" so that people can ignore God in their decisions on how to act.

Philosophers agree that omnipotence does not include ability to do what is "logically impossible" such as drawing a square circle. (Mackie, J L 1982 The Miracle of Theism, Clarendon Press. p. 151)

I suspect it's "logically impossible" to test for the effects of human self-rule if God intervened to prevent the effects before they occurred.

As regards children: In our world most complex life depends on parents. Adam and Eve – if they existed – would have known this and we know it too. If God intervened supernaturally every time adults hurt children it would:
(1) Contradict the agreement to let humans rule themselves;
(2) Again prevent the experimental results by preventing consequences before they occur.

In this article I've not examined whether God exists. I've merely answered the seeming paradox of how the existence of evil is compatible, or would be compatible, with there being a God who is good and omnipotent.

An empirical test, however, might be SETI – Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. If all means of rule without God are being tested on Earth, I suppose that a repeat of this on other worlds is unnecessary. Alien civilizations, therefore, either don't exist or if they do exist they would be at peace with God and therefore forbidden from contacting us and telling us.

Dr Newbrook complains about not getting "coherent response" on his "philosophic argument against any valid link between religious and moral truths." So far I've attempted no response coherent or otherwise. It's on the agenda after the other discussions die down.
 



 

ONE DISCUSSION CLOSES –
ANOTHER AWAITED

Mark Newbrook

(Investigator  72, 2000 May)

Response to 'Anonymous', Investigator 71, pp 29, 35.

I do not think that 'Anonymous' has in any way confounded my earlier points or indeed added anything worthy of further comment. I stand by everything that I have said. I await a response on the meta-ethical issue which has been mentioned.

Dr Mark Newbrook
Dept. of Linguistics
Monash University
Clayton, Victoria



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