People fighting, animals fighting, everything’s fighting. There’s sickness, poverty, death… Where is God? Shouldn’t he come down and help us out?
According to Christians, no, God is mad at us, because our great great great great …. (many more greats) great grandparents Adam and Eve ate from a tree, and now we all suffer.
According to the Bible, God’s initial creation was perfect, but it is in its current state because of Sin. Animals used to live peacefully with man, there was no sickness, no hunger, and no death. Everyone and everything was happy, including God.
Now we look at the world, and… well… it has a lot of good points, but we all have to admit, things are also pretty bad. If you’re like me, you probably wonder if it’s all neccessary.
No need to worry though, because God is eventually going to come and remedy all this, right? In the book of Revelation, at the second coming of Jesus Christ, all the problems which now exist in our world will come to a close. The Earth will once again be restored to a paradise, and God will dwell with man again. All who have died, and were right with God, will be raised from the dead, and all the Holy saints of God will rule the universe along with God, and things will be wonderful.
Sounds good, and I hope it is true myself, but does it even make sense? Can we believe in this? Should we believe this?
This whole framework is based upon the idea that God has this view on right and wrong, and he gets REALLY mad when someone transgresses his law. After all, he’s perfect, and if you transgress his perfect law, then he has to show you what an awful thing you’ve done, by punishing you.
Ok, so to begin with, we are going to make a distinction between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. If you don’t believe this initial distinction, then you also can’t believe the entire account of Christianity, and that’s what this journal entry is about.
Now if we are to make a distinction between right and wrong, we are then left in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s arbitrary choice or is it not?
If it is due to God’s arbitrary choice, then to God himself there is no difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. God just made up the distinction, and imposed it on us. If this is the case, there’s no sense in saying ‘God is good’, ‘God is love’ or God is anything morally worthwhile.
The other route to take is to say morals are logically anterior to God. Theologians take this route, and say that God is good. Right and wrong have independence from God’s opinion. God didn’t decree morals into existence, but even God follows the moral code, which has always existed, just as God has always existed.
Some people argue that God must exist, or else there would be no morals. I think you can now see the flaw in that entire line of thinking. We can easily discard God, and still have morals. If morals exist in any worthwhile sense, then they are independent of God. Anyways, back to our initial problem.
If God is the author of morals, then he is basically throwing a bunch of made up rules at us, and getting his kicks watching us all fail. All the punishment, all the bad things we go through, and all the mess of the universe, I suppose we could say God is responsible for most of it. He made up the concept of Sin, knew beforehand we would fail, went through with it all anyways, and watches us suffer. Some misery is admittedly created by us, but a lot of things (sickness, hunger, disease, death, etc) is God, and are still the main causes of unhappiness in existence.
If we say God is not the author of morals, then the issue gets more complicated. God is using his wisdom to do what is best for us. If we take this line of argument, we’re left arguing whether or not God’s ways, found in books such as the Bible, and other religious texts, are the best ways, and have produced the best human society when followed.
I heard Bertrand Russell discard this whole affair as the wrong way of looking at it. He gave this example, found in ‘Why I Am Not A Christian’ – The Arguement For the Remedying of Injustice:
“Then there is another very curious form of moral argument, which is this: they say that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of these is the more annoying; but if you are going to have justice in the universe as a whole you have to suppose a future life to redress the balance of life here on earth. So they say that there must be a God, and there must be heaven and hell in order that in the long run there may be justice. That is a very curious argument. If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, ‘After all, I know only this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.’ Suppose you got a crate of oranges that you opened, you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would say, ‘Probably the whole lot of is a bad consignment’; and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say, ‘Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supporting that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one.'”
Russell is being a good scientist, and that is the correct way of interpreting the situation via the empiricistic scientific viewpoint. The problem with science, however, is how much you can rely on a probability is based on how much data went into the computation of the probability. To me, Russell’s solution is not perfect, yet it is the best that I know of.
What’s wrong with it? There is no perfect solution to a lack of knowledge. His statement about the orange crate consignment is not entirely convicing to me, though I do find it powerful. Say someone lived along the beach, and had seen very little of the world, took a sample of the nearby ocean there, and said to himself, “Hmm, this water is salty.” If he was to follow this same line of logic, he’d be left saying, “It’s likely that all bodies of water on Earth are salty.” Mathematically “likely” I suppose.
Scientifically he has reason to believe that all bodies of water MAY also be salty, and no reason to believe otherwise, but how much weight we should give to that statement is based on how many experiences that judgement is based off of. If he hasn’t seen much of the Earth, judging the entire contents on his experience with a very small area of its surface and only one single body of water doesn’t seem to be an entirely wise judgement. It’s the best he can do, initially anyways, but I’d still give it little credence until I did furthur research. Sure, it seems fine to suppose that in the future the next body of water I examine will also be salty, but if I’d barely examined any of the water sources on the planet, I wouldn’t be surprised if I examined the next water hole and found it to be fresh water.
So we can see, this line of thinking is prone to error depending on what data you use in your sample. Water is not always salty on the Earth. In fact, there’s a whole lot of water that’s not salty, above ground, and below.
Along the same lines, we’ve barely seen any of the known universe. How in the world are we going to make such claims that God doesn’t exist, and that there’s misery among all other life in the universe, just like we’re experiencing here on Earth? It could well be that we’re the only beings who can’t get our act together. Until we’ve flown space-craft around the entire edges of the universe, and well documented all life everywhere, in full detail, I say we need to sit back and be a little more conservative toward such wide sweeping judgments.
However, we’d be wise not to discredit Russell so quickly. His arguement is actually much more powerful than that, and I fully understand why he argued what he did. Let’s examine exactly what he said a little more closely. I’ll capitalize the keywords to take notice of:
“‘After all, I KNOW ONLY THIS WORLD. I DO NOT KNOW ABOUT THE REST OF THE UNIVERSE, BUT SO FAR AS ONE CAN ARGUE AT ALL ON PROBABILITIES one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.’
His main keypoint: SO FAR AS ONE CAN ARGUE AT ALL. That’s the most powerful line of his statement, and in this sense, I agree with him one hundred percent. He didn’t claim to be certain, as you can see in ‘I DO NOT KNOW ABOUT THE REST OF THE UNIVERSE’.
The main problems come in if you allow people to make statements they are holding in no evidence. We have no evidence that God exists, at least as a being we can even comprehend or talk about, and we also have no evidence that he’s going to remedy any of the injustices or fix any of the evils we’re experiencing here on Earth.
Some may think the Bible is evidence, or that the various religious texts that supposedly God was behind are evidence. I think you can obviously see the problem behind this. They all say different things about what’s going to happen when we die, what God wants, and God’s overall plan for the future.
“Evidence”, if it is to mean anything worthwhile, has to be something to where one person can be saying this, and another person that, and we can look at this “evidence” which brings our opinions in unison. Religious texts do not do this.
If we allow religious texts into arguments and account them as evidence, the arguing will go on indefinitely.
If someone says God wants his temple here, and another says God doesn’t want this temple at all, how are we to mediate this situation? If a theologian says God is a three part being of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and another says God is all one being, what do we say? If someone says the great Tao force is behind everything, and another says the way to true bliss is to seek Nirvana, what do we say?
You can easily see we can say nothing. You can literally never bring these kinds of discussions to a close, because there is no answer. Some things found in religion don’t even make logical sense, but when people start believing things in blind faith, there’s nothing you can do. This sort of thing causes people to view themselves as different from others, over things they shouldn’t even be divided over.
People are criticized for being racist when they make shallow distinctions on things like skin color, or the fact they have slanted eyes. Sadly, these are better distinctions than most religious labels, as at least race distinction have some grounding in existence. Religion is typically just out in the ether.
Religious distinctions are the most shallow of all distinctions, because they are not rooted in anything. Historically people killed each other over whether or not a baby is “saved” after water is sprinkled on the head. People have sacrificed their children on altars. People have been cut on for weeks because they were believed to be possessed by invisible demons. All for what? Some invisible something that is completely intangible and believed in via blind faith.
That’s why science and reproduceable experiments become the only evidence we can use in arguments, because science, by definition, means that it can be experienced in the same way by more than one observer. If they disagree, you can simply show them the truth of what you’re saying. Science is very effective toward bringing people into agreement. Also, when people disagree, as long as we’re all being scientific, we can show our experiments, data, and testing and argue on our common ground of universal experience – the world we live in.
Bertrand Russell’s conclusion earlier may have sounded shallow to you, but he is forced to this conclusion. It’s one he does not like, as you can read in his other books. What’s so awful about it?
If all things we can argue and believe in must have scientific evidence behind them, then our worldview becomes a very…disappointing picture. According to our present knowledge of physics, the universe is moving toward “the heat death”. All movement, all heat, and all light is slowly fading. The universe is dying. Stars are going to burn up and go out. Eventually all matter will stabilize and stop moving. We’re left, in time, with a completely dark, cold, motionless universe.
On a funny note, Greg bought these immortality rings one time for a joke. They’re these magnets you wear as rings on your fingers, which supposedly block some radiation, which frays our DNA, and causes us to age. Anyways, we had a funny, well, I suppose it wasn’t too funny, discussion as to whether or not it even mattered if you were immortal physically, because you’d be screwed anyways.
Under this scientific worldview, everything we’re doing is pointless. It all amounts to nothing in the grand picture of things. The universe is just going to die in a few billion years anyways. Enjoy it while it’s here.
This picture is too bleak for some, so they resort to religion, but this leads to perpetual fighting and wars. Just read history. Nearly every fight and every war has been due to religion. People hating each other and killing one another over the dumbest things.
Religion has also had many negative consequences on knowledge and progress as well. Just read all the things the Catholic church kept from happening. Nearly every progress of knowledge they attempted to stamp out. They burned down libraries, killed great scientists, and manipulated so many people. It was awful.
In conclusion, on one hand, you have the bleak picture of science. The other, widespread superstition and hatred. Russell, and most all intellectuals choose the one of science, because at least in that reality life can exist peacefully while we’re living. As for what happens afterward, none of us know, but letting people claim they know leads to a whole lot of the problems you’re seeing in the world today.
The Biblical account could be true, but so could what the other religions are saying. There’s no evidence to say it is true, so I suppose if we want to be “reasonable” we have to deny all of it until evidence shows otherwise; and by “evidence” I mean information Which brings our opinions to agreement, not disagreement.