Thursday, April 25, 2013


Goodness and badness or wickedness or whatever are not entirely subjective terms. I mean in the sense of 'the villain is just the hero of the other side' principle, in many senses goodness and badness might take on a relative sense.

Danny the football hero tells me he loves me. I want to believe it, because Danny is a dreamboat. But I'm a fan of evidence based beliefs. Thus as a reasonable person, I test the claim that Danny does in fact love me, by observing his behaviour, and whether it supports his claim.

Why behaviour? because it can be seen. And while there is perhaps no universally agreed upon definition of what it is to love somebody, there are useful, functional ones. One I find serviceable is that you love somebody when the importance of their needs equals or exceeds your own.

Now I'm testing Danny's love for me, not my love for Danny. This is not entrapment, but observation. Does Danny hurt me? emotionally or physically? Is it intentional? Does Danny provide care? Attention? Does Danny know what I do? Who is important to me? Does he misrepresent himself to me? Say he can't make our date thursday night because of training, then I run into him at the local bar? Does he remember my birthday? Is his love exclusive in accordance with my need for security? etc. etc.

Danny may well be convinced on a subjective level that his claim is true. But if he slapped me for talking back to him that time, and cheated on me with that slut Siobahn, if he skipped my birthday to go on a fishing trip with his footy mates, if he dislikes my friends and discourages me from associating with them. I can reasonably conclude that in a very real and practical sense he doesn't love me.

This is the approach of a reasonable person, a reasonable line of enquiry.

You can apply the same approach to claims of goodness, by looking for evidence of altruistic behaviour, similarly to wickedness by looking at selfish acts and malicious behaviours - intentionally harming others.

Claims of goodness and badness, are in other words falsifiable.

So, in one way debates over the existence of gods are both tired and overdone, and also kind of inexhaustibly fascinating. They are tired and overdone because the same arguments are endlessly dealt with again and again and seemingly make no progress.



Above the question 'Why?' this entire post was preamble. It illustrates a reasonable line of enquiry to verify a falsifiable claim. That is a claim that can be proved untrue.

Here is where the idea of a congenial rational debate between reasonable people and religious apologists falls apart in my view.

The religious apologists generally don't believe their personal God to be subject to the tests we applied to Danny's love. In my experience and observations, most religious apologists shake their head in chagrin, because God's benevolence, goodness, greatness etc. is not a claim, but a definition, or perhaps an axiom.

God's behaviour (drawn from scripture etc.) is not admissible evidence, but simply the benchmark of what defines good behaviour.

Thus the reasonable side of the debate takes scripture and starts... well wherever you like, the 10 commandments, Job, the Plagues, Revelations... probably* all scripture of all religions contains behaviours attributable to the deity that falsify claims of benevolence - eg. if we applied the same acts to Danny a mere mortal no matter how good he is at football he would be deemed everything from a war criminal to a petty person.

You end up with a disconnect. On the one hand, the reasoners are using reason to reasonably draw conclusions about God's character. On the other hand the apologists aren't even apologising but the whole line of inquiry is invalid. What God does, is by definition good character, the best character of all. God cannot be judged, He is the judge, who sits in judgement over the people who are but a part of his master plan.

Inscrutibility thus is the suedo-reasonable defence, if I were to command a group of loyal and devoted followers to go out and kill their neighbours in my name because they do not believe in me, I would book myself a cell next to Charles Manson. God though, this is simply the product of his omniscience, knowing that this is the best outcome for a much bigger picture that we don't understand, thus anything that happens good or bad is much as we don't understand it, the most altruistic thing a omnipotent and benevolent entity could do.

Tsunami wipes out 80,000 impoverished people destroys the property and security of many survivors = benevolent. Baby born with Downs Syndrome = benevolent. Ancient civilization destroyed as heretics when Catholic Spain arrives after having no opportunity to discover the true messiah Jesus Christ = benevolent.

There are other defences, like that the Conquistidors were acting in the name of God, but not representing his 'true' will, however allusions to the 'true' spirit of Christianity, or true will of God defeat inscrutibility, so this defence just makes Tsunami deathtolls and congenital conditions not defendable by inscrutibility.

It also indicates that if people can misrespresent the true will of God and the true spirit of scripture etc. that these institutions have no particularly special protection, nor are the scriptures of any particular merit as sources of instruction, against misrepresentation. They are arguments against the efficacy of organised religion.

See, see how wonderous/monstrous reason is.

The debate about the benevolence of any particular personal God could be an interesting debate about the notion of inscrutibility and it's implications. (I would argue, that an inscrutible personal God, invalidates any 'moral authority' to be derived from belief in them, and is functionally no different from an athiestic view of the universe, therefore superfluous, therefore a waste of energy in contemplation.) THAT's interesting.

What you get instead, is people chuckling and smiling, and as Mark Twain would say 'opening their mouths to remove all doubt they are a fool' when God's nature is called into question. Because that question doesn't make sense.

Professor Lennox has debated Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens making the same profession of ignorance twice - to paraphrase - 'I don't believe in created gods... what makes you think the creator was created? ... God is eternal... you demonstrate that you cannot comprehend eternity/eternal etc.'

In isolation, it may be a fair point, except that the point made by Richard Dawkins is that as big and mysterious as the universe is, to explain it's existence as the design of an eternal sentience - God, is introducing a bigger mystery - that is for those seeking explanation - Intelligent design is no explanation at all, both Hitchens and Dawkins make the very valid point in an appeal to reason that if something as mysterious and inscrutible as an eternal creator is sufficient explanation, then there are no mysteries, and no reason to enquire about anything.

It is the equivalent to explaining the emptiness of my 600ml pepsi bottle on my desk as being drunk by an elephant. Because most people would not find this a satisfactory explanation - how did the elephant get into my room? Why did it drink the pepsi, and then leave with no other traces of it's presence? Why didn't anybody in the suburb notice an elephant?

Do you follow? An explanation that raises more questions than it answers is not a servicible explanation. But for Prof. Lennox thanks to the miracle of benchmarking it does. Reasonably, there was no point to discovering anything about the big bang in the first place, if we can be satisfied with an 'eternal creator' as explanation for that event. As Bertrand Russell, a name that Lennox doesn't manage to drop, pointed out an eternal creator is as satisfactory an explanation for the big bang as for the whole of existence being created 5 seconds ago, and we are merely under the illusion that it has been around for trillions of years or whatever.

These debates are not one sided as such, only if you believe as I do, that debating is a domain of reason, and thus beholden to reason. These debates remain irrational.

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