Sunday, 22 April 2012
Something that always perplexed me about the Book of Job is that it seems God doesn't consider Himself accountable to His creatures.
God's speech also emphasizes his sovereignty in creating and maintaining the world. The thrust is not merely that God has experiences that Job does not, but that God is king over the world and is not necessarily subject to questions from his creatures, including men. The point of these speeches is to proclaim the absolute freedom of God over His creation. God is not in need of the approval of his creation. It is only the reader of the book who learns of God's conversations with Satan; Job himself remains unaware of the reason or source of his sufferings. The traditional interpretation is that, humbled by God's chastising, Job turns speechless, giving up and repenting his previous requests of justice. However, another interpretation is that Job's silence is defiant, and that what he gives up is not his belief that justice be done, but his confidence that God will behave justly.
I don't mean that God has no good reason to allow suffering. God may have a fantastic reason. My concern was I didn't understand why we can't hold God to account.
For example, surely if you had a child who was suffering, while their parent was standing around and could seemingly assist that child, then it would be reasonable to demand that the parent explain their inaction. Maybe the parent has an excellent reason, e.g. the pain involved in the medical operation was necessary for the child's future health. But, at least with parents, courts can demand an explanation for apparently negligent actions.
It occurred to me that one way to justify the Book of Job's position might come from the definition of God.
Consider these verses:
James 1:13: "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone"
Titus 1:2: "in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago"
Hebrews 6:18: "God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged."
They seem to say that God is unable, not just unwilling, to sin (maybe because sin means acting on some untruth, and truth is so firmly planted in God that He cannot so act).
If you define God as a being who is unable - not just unwilling, but unable - to commit evil, then asking God whether or not He is committing evil seems a bit silly. It would be like defining a triangle as an object with three sides and then asking why there is no fourth side. E.g. the answer why there is no fourth side is that a triangle can only have three sides. Similarly, if God is defined as unable to do evil, then you already know whether that particular God has committed evil before you even ask the question.
Under the definition of God as a being who is unable to commit evil, it's fair to say that you shouldn't demand that God tell you whether He is committing evil. Why? Because, with that assumption, the question doesn't make sense. If you already accept that God is unable to do evil, then the answer has to be: God didn't commit evil.
So I suppose you can make an argument that if you are running with view that God is unable to commit evil, then you shouldn't question God because the question is nonsensical.
Applying this to Job, one main difference is that even though the Bible tells us that God is unable to commit evil, by looking at the world we can have some doubt about that. So are we really in the position of being able to say God cannot commit evil before we discuss the problem of suffering?
If we can't start off with that assumption, then you can't say that questioning God is nonsensical.
I would say that if we look at the world, then yes, we don't know that God is a being who is unable to commit evil, but consider the issue from the point-of-view of a God who is unable to commit evil and created the world. According to this God's point-of-view, He is allowed to disagree with our negative impression. For this God knows the real situation. So from that God's point-of-view, maybe He is allowed to say, 'Well, if you knew the truth, then you would know it is nonsensical to question me', and put forth this view to His creations.
In summing up, I think that for people who don't know that God cannot commit evil, I don't think it's necessarily wrong to question God. But this doesn't take away from the fact that from God's point-of-view, questioning His goodness is literally nonsensical (assuming us Christians are right), on the basis of inability. That is, on the basis that God is unable to do evil, it makes no sense to ask whether God did evil. So I suppose that God could in this way have a right to tell people they are unable to question His ethical conduct.
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Saturday, 03 March 2012
A lot of atheists make a distinction between 'strong' and 'weak' atheism. 'Strong' atheism is where you claim there is no God. 'Weak' atheism is where there is no evidence for or against a God's existence, so the 'default position' is you go about life without any belief in God, with the help of Occam's razor (note that specific ideas of God may have lots of evidence against them, but the general idea of a God is neutral).
Atheist thinkers have given us a number of analogies to support weak atheism. A famous one is that we all assume there is no teapot flying around the Sun because there is no evidence for any such teapot. Not thinking there is a teapot flying around the Sun is the default position. Some argue it's the same with God.
But I don't think this analogy is appropriate because the claim, 'There is a teapot flying around the Sun', is not a 'no evidence for, no evidence against' 'default-position' issue. In addition to no evidence in favour of a teapot, there is a lot of evidence against it.
One piece of evidence against the teapot claim is that there seems to be no way for a teapot to get out into space unless some astronaut has put it there. But it seems unlikely that an astronaut has ever thrown a teapot into space which has found a stable orbit around the sun.
This means the teapot analogy is not really a good analogy to express weak atheism, because it doesn't express well the situation of something having no evidence for or against it. The teapot analogy is a situation where there is overwhelming evidence against something (the teapot's existence). But God's existence, in weak atheism, is a claim where there is no evidence for or against, and then Occam's razor gives you a bit of evidence against and that's it (although specific ideas of God may have more problems).
So the 'teapot' analogy only works if the idea of God has a lot of evidence against it and no evidence for it.
But if the idea of God's existence receives little evidence either way, then an analogy which is supposed to show what belief in God is like needs to be the same.
But it's actually quite hard to find such analogies, because most claims with no evidence for them also have evidence against them. Such as the fairies at the bottom of the well analogy (how could fairies come to exist except by divine intervention?) and the flying spaghetti monster analogy.
I think an appropriate one would be that believing in God if there's no evidence either way is like someone believing that there exists a place in Melbourne where an standard sized cappuccino cup of coffee costs $6. On the one hand, that is extremely expensive for an ordinary cup of coffee, but, on the other hand, Melbourne is a large city and maybe there's a place somewhere that charges that much. So perhaps this is an example of a claim with no real evidence for or against it.
Do I believe that such a place doesn't exist? Well, I don't really know. I wouldn't say that I believe no such place exists, because the truth is I just don't know. I wouldn't tell anyone that no such place exists in Melbourne because I don't have enough information either way to judge. I must be very agnostic about whether that place exists.
Another example would be someone believing there is an ocean-going cruise ship currently docked in Melbourne's harbour right now without having consulted any information. According to the Port of Melbourne website it is a common occurrence but there are more days without an ocean going cruise ship docked than with one (although the website can actually answer my question, but let's imagine it can't). But if someone forced me to give an opinion, although I would say there probably isn't one docked, my confidence about it would be very low.
I think this shows that if we are really careful to use an analogy where there is little evidence for or against the existence of something, then we are pushed towards a very agnostic view. Our confidence will not be great.
Also, we can see that many analogies used to support weak atheism often involve a fair amount of evidence against and not just a lack of evidence for, and that these analogies indicate a less agnostic, more confident position than more evidence neutral analogies would.
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Wednesday, 21 December 2011
I totally stole this idea from Seth Godin. You are welcome. Fresh herb plants (basil, thyme, rosemary) are one of the best investments you can make if you’re a foodie. Buy a heat lamp, too. If you have an artificial Christmas tree, buy a bag to put in. You’ll thank me for this next week. [...]
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Monday, 19 December 2011
• Biggest announcement of the day: We’re in the LEAD! I don’t know how, or why, but I’m actually in the lead for the Des Moines Social Czar caucus. There’s still time to vote! Head to the DMSC Survey and cast a vote for Yours Truly before noon today. (Check the chart down below. If you have no [...]
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Sunday, 18 December 2011
People sometimes ask: why can't God just forgive sin? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross for us?
My answer to this would be that there are two kinds of forgiveness, one of which is a lot more 'powerful' than the other, and God needed to use this second, more powerful kind of forgiveness. Moreover, giving this kind of forgiveness required Jesus to die on the cross.
Imagine a thief who keeps stealing some guy's stuff - let's say John's stuff. John is so nice that whenever the thief steals from him, he forgives the thief. But the thief never changes his behaviour. John can forgive the thief all he wants, but it doesn't stop the thieve from stealing. Forgiving the thief doesn't make the thief a better person.
John's kind of forgiveness could be called the first kind.
The story shows that John's kind of forgiveness doesn't do that much. John's forgiveness won't make the thief stop stealing, it will only prevent John from seeking justice and might also relieve some emotional tension from his anger. John's kind of forgiveness won't change the thief's behaviour.
If God's forgiveness is like John's forgiveness then God's forgiveness won't change people's behaviour. If God's forgiveness is like John's forgiveness then we'll act in heaven the way we do on earth. This could lead to heaven having such things as people really disliking one another, splits between different groups, cliques, and so on. Not really a great picture of heaven.
The Christian idea is that to solve humanity's problems, God needed a more powerful 'second' kind of forgiveness - one that changes behaviour. That's the kind of forgiveness you need to really deal with humanity's issues.
See Col 2:13: "You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins."
The Bible says that when God forgave us He managed to change our behaviour as part of the forgiveness. Our sinful nature was 'cut away' by God's forgiveness, although we will still fight against it until Jesus comes (Gal 5:17).
Imagine John forgiving the thief with such 'power' (somehow) that the thief decided never to steal again! That would be similar to the second kind of forgiveness.
So how does it work?
The Bible says that the mechanism for God's more powerful kind of forgiveness must involve Jesus dying for us (Matt 26:39). I'm not too clear on the details of how it works, but I suspect it involves some kind of exchange between sinners and Jesus. 1 Peter 2:24 says, "He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed", in Romans 6:6, "our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ", and in Gal 2:20, "It is no longer [my old sinful self] that lives, but Christ lives in me".
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