The Trouble with Atheists

Two weeks ago, Kristor published “The Archetypal Atheist.”   This post argued that Satan rebelled against God because he believed God was a tyrant in the literal and original sense of usurper. He believed that God had arrogated a divine supremacy to which he was not entitled, and for this reason mounted the rebellion known to Christians as the War in Heaven. In his repudiation of, and rebellion against, God’s proper supremacy, Kristor said that Satan cast the mold for the spiritual type we know as the atheist.

One week later a crew of angry atheists barged in here and set to howling in protest against these “hilarious lies,” which they resented as the grossest calumny. What ensued was a long and at times splenetic thread that grew to more than two hundred comments in only five days. Masochists can read them under the original post.

The angry atheists covered a lot of ground in their hundred or so comments, many of which were prolix, but their basic complaint was twofold. First, they complained that Satan was not an atheist because Satan did not deny the existence of God. Second, they complained that to call an atheist the type of Satan was defamatory, because everyone knows that Satan is one very bad dude. If you are interested in the Orthospherian defense of Kristor’s thesis, I once again refer you to the original thread.

This post will not indulge in l’esprit de l’escalier. So far as I can see, the Orthospherian defense was spirited enough, and parting words after an opponent has parted are pusillanimous and low. What I will do is reflect on the general character of this encounter, and of our recent adversaries. In the course of last week’s exchange, I believe Kristor described them as interlocutors, but in this I think he was overly generous, or perhaps hopeful. Interlocutors discuss a topic, and by discussion help each other to a better understanding of the topic. They are like two men who climb towards the top of the same mountain by pushing and pulling one another from ledge to ledge. Adversaries clash, and in this clash strive to destroy or escape destruction.

Intellectual clashes are dismal affairs because no one emerges the wiser. When they are not boring recitations of arguments that have been made since Methuselah was in knee-breeches, they come down to oaths, grunts, and petulant cries of “that’s not fair.” For the adversaries, an intellectual clash also leaves an foul aftertaste. This need have nothing to do with chagrin or remorse, but is rather the Weltschmerz of Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence.” It is the acedia that comes with the knowledge that this very same clash will happen again, and again, and again.

Intellectual clashes with atheists are especially dismal. They spew Weltschmerz like a squid; they belch acedia like a bonfire of old tires. A couple of years ago I was in a public toilet in Budapest, unaware that I needed to give the attendant five forints for the privilege. I had with me only euros and dollars, neither of which the attendant (a crazed woman) would accept, even in a quantity equal to 100 forints. She locked the door and shouted in Hungarian (which is unintelligible to me). I waived my euros and answered in English (which was unintelligible to her) and my German (which is unintelligible to anybody). Last week’s exchange with the angry atheists was a lot like that—roaring in a subterranean toilet with no hope of communication.

I am not impartial, but I believe most of last week’s roaring came from the angry atheists. No doubt there are roaring Christians in this world, but they prefer busy street-corners to obscure web sites. But who knows, that Hungarian washroom attendant (who got her forints in the end) may to this day remember me as bellicose and loud.

I must say that these angry atheists were a dauntless bunch, as angry atheists often are. Perhaps it is only because the timid atheists tremble with rage in silence, but in my experience atheists are assertive. They are confident that their beliefs are true, their arguments are unanswerable, and their adversaries are fools. This gives them an initial berserker advantage, but it also leads to rashness and comeuppance. We might call them rash rationalists since, however clever they are, they seem always to overestimate their cleverness.

Atheists have crashed this web site before. I mean crash in the sense of party-crashers, not computer meltdowns. I remember first seeing this years ago at the web site of First Things, when I thought the behavior very odd. Do gangs of angry or proselyting Christians “crash” atheist web sites? Perhaps they do, but if so, it would strike me as a uniquely futile (and Weltschmerz inducing) way to spend one’s time.

I must also say that these angry atheists are dogged. They wrote thousands upon thousands of words, each hefty comment thudding like a not-very-formidable battering ram against our fairly well-barred gate. They really, really tried to persuade us they were correct, perhaps even force an apostasy. They were not particularly skillful; but I have to give them an A+ for effort. I am ashamed to say it, but I wouldn’t send a tweet to save their souls. Atheists have what Christians used to know as zeal, and we should admire this in them.

Then why, you may ask, did I wade into this fray. I did it, alas, simply for fun; even though I knew I’d end up with this hangover of Weltschmerz and acedia. These angry atheists didn’t seem to be having much fun. It’s another thing I’ve noticed about atheists in general—they take their atheism very seriously. They may be jolly as Santa’s elves in other circumstances, but when it comes to clashing with Christians, they are as grim as men shoveling gravel. They are full of taunts but empty of jests. They sound like a man who has his fingers round your throat and is talking through clenched teeth.

It must be said that party-crashing atheists tend to be louts—louts who expect hospitality from those whose party they crash. They are like terrible guest who won’t go home at 2:00 a.m., but nevertheless complain that the drinks are running low, the snacks are cold, and the music is not to their liking. They rationalize this by claiming to be the true victims, arguing that they hold a license to loutishness that was purchased with the blood of martyrs. Because, once upon a time, people like us strapped people like them to stakes, and set torch to the faggots beneath their feet, they say they are entitled to plant their muddy boots on the table in our house.

So what is the trouble with atheists? Well they tend to incite clashes that leave me in a quagmire of Weltschmerz, for one thing. Not shaken or scared, just sad (but not for them, I’m afraid). And although they are brave and dogged, they are also some of the greatest bores and louts on God’s green earth. I say this as a man with a record of achievement in the higher reaches of both of these activities.

183 thoughts on “The Trouble with Atheists

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  3. Atheists CANNOT CONCEIVE of objective Supremacy. Period. So their basic objection should be duly noted and all should proceed to understand how this stunting of an atheist’s conceptual capacity “evolved” and for what purpose?

  4. Atheists simply cannot understand intuition or faith, both of which they reject completely. So arguing with them is a bit like arguing with a blind man about light. How can you convince someone of something they have closed their minds to? It’s best not to try, I think. Just confirm the reality of God and let them fume and fret. Also point out that atheism is a matter of will not intellect since there is plenty of evidence for God if one knows how to look.

    Of course, the history of religion gives them a certain amount of ammunition, but how man has reacted to the revelation and reality of divine truth is immaterial to the fact of that truth.

  5. God you have your head up your fucking ass. No atheist would ever say that Satan wasn’t an atheist. That would imply that Satan was real, and he’s not. Straw man fallacy.

    The only thing wrong with atheists is that they are so often progressive. Since progressivism is fake Christianity anyway, this can be rephrased as saying that the only thing wrong with atheists is that they are not fully atheists, that they retain some Christian BULLSHIT in the form of progressivism, communism, or some other transcendental ideology. They keep believing in some form of salvation of the political rather than religious variety. The second will always give birth to the first. That is, the Christian disease is the origin of the progressive disease.

    The only thing humans need saving from is Christians and other religious freaks and their secular / communistic / progressive cousins. Fuck all of you. Just die already.

    http://theanti-puritan.blogspot.com/

    • As I said, atheists tend to be louts. And not very bright. Mr. Mckibbin’s quarrel is with the last bunch of atheists to ride through these parts, who argued with considerable warmth that Satan was not the archetype of the atheist, which is entirely consistent with his not being real.

  6. I just wish to point out that not all atheists are like that Mr Mckibbin. I think in particular of Nat Hentoff, a self-described “stubborn Jewish atheist” on the one hand, but a gallant campaigner against abortion and euthanasia on the other.

  7. First, they complained that Satan was not an atheist because Satan did not deny the existence of God.

    Again, wrong. You just love misrepresenting people, don’t you?

    There is no “deny the existence” of in atheism. A-theism is the absence of belief. There is no positive statement. It is content free. Read that again: it is content free. I know, I know, this contradicts your pantomime reality, but as the wonderful Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine so eloquently put it:

    “Facts are facts. They are enormously discourteous.”

    • Change “deny” to “lack,” it comes to the same thing. And even semi-sentient cretins can see that Zande and Co. defend their lack of belief in the existence of God by claiming to have a better grip on “reality.” If you were, as you wish us to believe, merely the equivalent of blind men traduced and aggrieved by the statement that blind men deny the visible world, you would not have made the arguments you have.

      In any case, we have shown that your claims about the meaning of the word “atheist” are false, etymologically and historically. A man who lacks a sense of morality is not, for instance, amoral: he is unmoral. Amoral means without moral salience. Here is the definition of atheism given in what I believe is the first modern book dedicated to refutation of atheism, John Dove’s Confutation of Atheism (1605). He writes that an atheists “hold there is no God” and goes on to divide them into four classes: (1) those “saith in broad terms without blushing, Non est Deus“, (2) those who “scoff at God,” (3) those who “profess the religion which is professed in the place where they dwell, so far as laws may not take hold of them, but are otherwise of all religions which may bring them profit, and are of no religion farther than to serve their turn,” (4) those who “taking upon them to be great politicians of the world, and account all men fools besides themselves . . . . hold that scripture were devised by men, only for policy sake, to maintain peace in states and kingdoms, to keep subjects in obedience to laws.” (pp. 4-5).

      You can disagree with Dove, but clearly the meaning of the word is not, and has not been, limited in the way you would like it to be. Thems the facts, my friend!

      • Professor Smith was actually being quite precise, but you missed it. He wrote that to deny the existence of God and to lack belief in his existence *come to* the same thing, not that they *mean* the same thing.

        It is obvious that two completely different things can come to – can arrive at, result in, generate, amount to, etc. – the same thing. The Missouri and Mississippi are two different rivers. They come to the Mississippi, and then to the Gulf of Mexico, which is a different thing than the Atlantic, but comes to it. The snow on the Grand Tetons is not the snow in Cincinnati, nor are either of them the same thing as the Atlantic. But those snows do come to the same thing as the Atlantic.

        A sane man who honestly denies the existence of God will naturally come to a lack of belief that God exists. A sane man who does not deny that God might exist, but honestly can’t see any reason to believe that he does exist, will also naturally come to a lack of belief that God exists. A sane man who does not understand what “God” means will also naturally come to a lack of belief that God exists. The three men are different, but they all have come to the same lack of belief that God exists.

      • All baptized Christians are members of a royal priesthood, yes: they are ordained to the Order of Melchizedek, Priest King of Salem, which long predates Israel. I did not however mean to deploy the first person plural as a sign of my royal office, but rather because I happen to know that other readers of your comments think many of your conclusions are unwarranted. “We” referred to all of us who think so.

      • I didn’t claim omniscience. That would be blasphemy, just as deleterious for my fortunes as a profession of atheism.

        But I do know more than you about the thoughts of the other Orthosphereans.

    • @Zande Can you act on beliefs you don’t hold? Atheism is a positive belief, a denial of a concept. The only way your definition works is if you were to lack a concept of God which you clearly don’t since you’re obsessed with Him.

      A quote comes to mind: “An atheist is a man who can never forgive God for not existing.”

      • No, A-theism is the default. Children are born A-theist. Theism is new information superimposed over the default: a-theism. If you can’t understand that then there’s really no helping you.

      • No one said anything about “defaults” or infant psychology, so don’t change the subject. The question is proper usage of the word “atheist.” For what it is worth, the psychology of infants is the default for infants. They are not the default for human beings. We grow up, you know.

      • Grow up to have information superimposed over the default position, which is, in this case, a-theism. No theism. Theism is learnt. Period. A-theism is content free.

      • I thought you guys had been insisting that “atheism” is “the lack of belief in the existence of gods.” That’s not free of content. The following definition of “atheism” is free of content: “‘Atheism’ means ‘ ‘.”

      • Insults. The last rhetorical redoubt of the man who has no substantive arguments that have not been demolished. How deeply pathetic.

      • JZ@
        Baby boys are godless in precisely the same way they are beardless. Left to their own devices, most will develop a sense of the supernatural, and if they are philosophers, this will naturally resolve into the notion of a supreme being. This does not prove that such a being exists, only that belief in such a being is natural to humans. Saying it is natural does not imply that it is universal—some men cannot grow a beard.

        This substrate of natural theology obviously diversifies owing to contingencies of the local environment and history, as well as geographic isolation. If there were a divine revelation, that would also account for variation, but that needn’t enter into the point I am making here. Eating is natural, but different cultures have different diets. Building shelters is natural, although it doesn’t occur to an infant and shows great variety from culture to culture.

        As it happens, I am a Professor of Geography at Texas A&M University, a Research 1 institution. I don’t announce this fact because I don’t think credentials should matter in intellectual exchanges; I don’t hide it because I’m a tenured full professor and I stand behind my words. When it comes to theology, I am an amateur; but I do have some expertise in the history of religion and culture. None of this should lend weight to my words, as they must stand or fall on their own merit.

      • I’m sorry, but I don’t see any JM Smith listed in the faculty there. An Allison Glass-Smith, yes, but no JM.

        This does not prove that such a being exists, only that belief in such a being is natural to humans.

        I would suggest you read up on current literature. What is natural (if we may use that word) is humans finding agency in nature. From an evolutionary perspective, this is highly advantageous at a time not that very long ago when even the strongest of us were counted as snack items. . A breeze bending blades of grass could easily be attributed (albeit in this instance incorrectly) to a stalking lioness and all the dangers that it implied. Danger is bad, and to get ahead of it we, as a species, played it safe and erred on the side of caution. We learnt to jump before (possible) peril arrived. The causal associations made between the unpredictable movement of grasses and the presence of danger (to use this example) was a good thing, a promotable skill, a biologically useful adaption that was slowly but surely etched into our genome. To put it simply, our evolutionary path rewarded the lesser of two evils whereby the cost of paranoia was deemed lower than the cost of scepticism which, if wrong, extracts a painfully high price: namely death. The sceptical hominid might see the bending grass but take a moment to then survey surrounding trees and see if they too were bending. If they were then the probability of wind causing the movement of the grass increased but did not necessarily rule out the presence of a hungry lioness. Wrongly attributing the bending grass to an approaching lioness ninety-nine times out of a hundred was, it appears, far less costly than being wrong once. The paranoid lived on to practice (or fend off) increasingly bad pick-up lines whereas the brazen sceptic tired of jumping at the slightest rustle met a less than pleasant demise.

        In a sentence, nature beatified the neurotic. A tendency to make quick albeit mostly false associations was deemed more evolutionarily beneficial than more reliable but equally more time-consuming rational scepticism. To get from this to a fully formed belief in deities is absurd.

        From Banerjee, K., and P. Bloom. 2013

        “Drawing on evidence from developmental psychology, we argue here that the answer is no: children lack spontaneous theistic views and the emergence of religion is crucially dependent on culture…. However, there is no evidence that children spontaneously come to believe in one or more divine creators. It is one thing, after all, to think about natural entities as intentionally designed artifacts of a sort; it is quite another to generate an enduring belief in invisible agents who have created these artifacts.

        Indeed, other studies find that young children are not committed creationists; they are equally likely to provide explanations of species origins that involve spontaneous generation

        “Older children, by contrast, do exclusively endorse creationist explanations. This shift to a robust creation is preference arises in part because older children are more adept at grasping the existential themes invoked by the question of species origins (e.g., existence and final cause) and also because the notion of a divine creator of nature meshes well with their early-emerging teleological biases. However, these older children do not spontaneously propose novel divine creators. Instead, they adopt the particular creationist account that their culture supplies.”

      • Keep it up. You do more to ruin your particular flavour of religion then I ever could.

        I’m sure that’s true. You seem to have no very accurate notion of Christianity. Such ignorant criticisms as yours could hardly touch it.

      • A-theism is the default. Children are born A-theist.

        That’s interesting. Is there research that backs it up? Whether or not there is, how would chthonic atheism be dispositive of anything? Children are born lacking all sorts of things; the ability to speak, walk, reproduce, etc. That infants cannot walk does not mean that walking is not the default for humans.

        Conceptually, atheism derives from theism, just as any lack derives from some completion. You can’t define “atheism” except by means of an invocation of the definition of “theism.” In other words, you can’t define “atheism” as “lack of belief in ‘ ‘.” The definition of “theism,” per contra, does not require the invocation of the definition of “atheism.”

      • Is there research that backs it up?

        Has a child ever been born replete with, for example, Zoroastrian beliefs? Has any single religion ever emerged independently anywhere on the planet twice?

        Conceptually, atheism derives from theism

        A-theism only becomes something once theism is imposed. Without theism there is simply the default: no theism.

        Is that seriously such a tremendously difficult thing for you to understand?

      • No, I get it, it’s just that I think it’s false. So I naturally come to lack belief in its truth. Look at what you just wrote:

        Without theism there is simply the default: no theism.

        Had you not noticed that this definition of the default *invokes theism*?

        Has a child ever been born replete with, for example, Zoroastrian beliefs?

        No; but no child has ever been born replete with language, either. That doesn’t signify that the development of language is not a default procedure for humans.

        Has any single religion ever emerged independently anywhere on the planet twice?

        No; religions all seem to emerge within a pre-existing religious context.

        The interesting thing is that primitive religions all seem to share a sort of “deep grammar,” to utilize the same basic concepts, and they all seem to converge on monotheism, somehow or other.

        But the real question is this: if it is natural for humans to be irreligious, then how did *any* religion develop? *Every* human society so far has been predominantly religious (ostensibly atheist societies such as the USSR were always chock-a-block with believers). Religion would seem to be the default mode for humanity.

      • I didn’t make any claim that even remotely said it was natural for humans to be irreligious. To be clear, though, anthropomorphic theism is about as natural as tennis rackets, ice cream cones and bikinis. It is neither automatic nor inevitable. No religion has emerged twice anywhere on the planet, no single deity has been envisaged by two populations separated by time and geography, and not a solitary person in history has arrived independently at Mithraism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Scientology or Judaism without it first being taught to them. That is an inalienable, unarguable truth. Theism (the progeny of far older generations of pantheism, Totemism, paganism, animism and the oldest of them all, ancestor cults) is nothing but the latest imaginative appendage to have grown out from (culturally-centric) superstition; itself nothing but the elaborately dressed-up residue cast off from blunders in causation and correlation. That’s all superstition is; irrational mistakes in cognition where we observe one event (B) happening after another event (A) and assume A is responsible for B. Like theism, superstition is however also not natural. It will not rise instinctively like hunger, and no two populations will arrive at the same irrational fears. A monstrous, head-exploding, palm tree bending sneeze on the Banks Islands of Polynesia is cause for serious concern as someone is certainly talking badly of you, but for the Maoris in nearby New Zealand the same roof-lifting nose orgasm is reason to celebrate because someone fun is surely about to visit. The tripwire for superstition is cultural, it’s anthropological, but this is not however to say there isn’t a physiological trigger buried deep inside the genome that kicks the door open to culturally-centric superstition and through that paves the way for its uglier but more organised cousin, religion. There is, and it’s spelt P A R A N O I A…. a byproduct of a giant brain capable of complex and predictive thought.

      • I was responding to your suggestion that atheism is the default position for human children. It may be; I am certainly open to the suggestion, so I am genuinely interested to hear of any research that supports the notion.

        But like I said, even it were true, that would not signify. Tennis rackets, ice cream and bikinis – artifice in general, and all its products – are quite natural to humans. If they were not, we couldn’t produce them. As you go on to say, religion is pretty much ubiquitous among humans, like bipedalism, technology, language, and so forth. Superstition, too, seems as you suggest to be natural for us all. But contra what you have concluded, the ubiquity among humans of language, bipedalism, technology, religion, and so forth would seem to indicate that they are indeed the default condition of humanity, whether they are somehow natural or essential to us, or whether we are all educated into them by circumstances (wild and cultured) of our youth, or both.

        Notice that from the fact that a man has arrived at a belief from paranoia (or education, or his essential nature, or his happenstantial circumstances), it does not follow that his belief is false. To think it did would be to commit the genetic fallacy. Falsity must be ascertained otherwise.

        In the case of theism, for example, ascertainment of its falsity would require a logical demonstration that the Eternal One is impossible, or adduction of an empirical fact that incontrovertibly contradicts his reality.

        … not a solitary person in history has arrived independently at Mithraism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Scientology or Judaism without it first being taught to them …

        No one has ever arrived at *anything* independently. *All* human activities are socially mediated, “cooked.” So this objection doesn’t tell. If it did, we’d be forced to conclude by the same token that *everything mediated by language* is unnatural to humans.

        … no single deity has been envisaged by two populations separated by time and geography …

        This isn’t true, as it turns out. When Europeans first encountered the remote Karen of Burma, they were flabbergasted to find that the Karen had for generations immemorial been expecting the arrival of a white man with a book written by Y’wa, the Supreme God. Some lines from their hymns:

        Y’wa is eternal, his life is long.
        He is perfect in meritorious attributes.

        Y’wa created the world in the beginning.
        Y’wa appointed everything.
        Y’wa is unsearchable.

        The omnipotent is Y’wa …
        Y’wa created men anciently.
        He has a perfect knowledge of all things.

        Y’wa formed the world originally.
        He appointed the ‘fruit of trial.’
        He gave detailed orders.
        Mu-kaw-lee deceived two persons.
        He caused them to eat the fruit of the tree of trial.
        They obeyed not; they believed not Y’wa …
        When they ate the fruit of trial,
        They became subject to sickness, aging, and death …

        Y’wa in heaven looks down upon us.
        And if we do not love each other,
        It is the same as if we do not love Y’wa.

        If we repent of our sins,
        And cease to do evil, restraining our passions,
        And pray to Y’wa, he will have mercy upon us again.
        If Y’wa does not have mercy on us, there is no other one who can.
        He who saves us is the only one – Y’wa.

        The Karen are not unique in this. Remote tribes all over the world have similar beliefs. Google “Shang di” and you’ll learn all sorts of interesting stuff about the ancient Chinese worship of a being just like El Elyon, God the Father Almighty of YHWH the Eternal Tao.

        Now, to be sure, humans disagree about the details of religious doctrine. But then, humans disagree about the details of all sorts of things. The proper interpretation of QM is still hotly disputed. So again, this objection doesn’t really tell. That there are different interpretations of QM does not mean that QM is just false. Nor likewise do the differences of religious doctrine mean that religion is false per se.

      • Y’wa to Yhwh? LOL. That’s priceless! You are aware of what a tetragrammaton is, aren’t you? And who wrote down this “hymn”? Could it have been the Baptists themselves, perhaps?

        Oh, you’ve just made my day. That is simply brilliant!

      • Hey, glad you enjoyed it! Learning stuff is indeed fun, even when – perhaps especially when – it involves transcending an old paradigm and ascending into another that is more adequate and spacious.

        I am indeed familiar with the Tetragrammaton.

        The Karen are the only tribe I have read about whose name for the Eternal One is so like it. The Mbaka of the Central African Republic call him Koro. The Gedeo of Ethiopia call him Magano. The Inca called him Viracocha.

      • As it happens, I recently learned a lot about the Cargo Cults, and published a post about them. Among other things, it said:

        I adduce the palmary rites of the Californians and of the Church because in their intentions they differ radically from those of the cargo cults and the liberals. The former reiterate and uphold tradition; the latter destroy it. The former seek to join with the divine in the maintenance of cosmic order; the latter seek by Pelagian operations magically to push the onset of the eschaton, and so to realize for themselves, now, the Resurrection to everlasting life. They seek the end of this world as a solution to their own practical problems. This they do by living now as if the tikkun olam had been accomplished already for them, so that the rules of this world no longer applied to them; and so that they may, and indeed should, destroy all the traditional forms that had perennially furnished social coherence and survival.

        Cargo cults are Gnostic. Traditional religions such as those of the Karen, the Gedeo, the Mbaka, and so forth, generally are not.

      • Because you say so, huh? Very persuasive.

        So, how many missionaries and Englishmen did the Karen encounter before the Baptists arrived in 1912 and were “flabbergasted”? Let’s see, nearly 100 years of contact (it was a British colony, after all), and you, seriously, want to argue this line?

        Honestly, that is truly hilarious. Almost as humorous (and quite frankly, sad) as a Cargo Cult itself.

        Like I said earlier: keep it up. You’re doing a wonderful job.

      • They encountered two people from outside Burma before the missionaries arrived: an English diplomat whom they joyfully accosted, but who (for political reasons having to do with Britain’s imperial designs on Burma) said he knew nothing about this mysterious white man the Karens expected would give them a book that would liberate them from all their oppressors (his Burmese “guide” was nervous about that); and a Muslim, who gave them the only religious book he had on him, which turned out to be the Book of Common Prayer. The Karen could not read it, of course. But they reverently preserved it.

        The Karen may indeed have been “infected” by Nestorian missionaries who penetrated the Burmese outback from their mission in China, 1400 years ago. But it seems pretty unlikely.

        There is in any event massive evidence from all over the world of primitive monotheism. You are free to interpret that evidence so as to bolster the notion that monotheism is some sort of artificial accretion on what is natural to man. But that would seem to be a counterintuitive move. The ancient ubiquity of a human trait would seem rather to be evidence of its organic integrity with human nature, as with language, arts, the family, and so forth.

        Do you always sneer at new information that challenges your understanding? It seems such an incurious act, the reflexive jerk of a closed mind.

      • That’s interesting. Where did you read that? According to Wikipedia, the Roman Catholic mission to Burma began in 1722. But even if the Karen turn out to have been “infected” by earlier missionaries – a notion I am totally prepared to accept, as Christian missionaries (particularly the Nestorians) did amazing things – that would not gainsay the larger point that there is massive worldwide evidence of ancient monotheism.

        Even if we suppose that ancient monotheism first arose among the original human population, and that this accounted for its wide dispersion wherever Cro Magnon man went, so that you were absolutely correct that no subsequent religion ever arose unconditioned by prior religion, that would not gainsay my point that everything human arose from humans conditioned by prior humans. Nor would it gainsay the point that this ancient religion did at some time arise in the original human population, as a novelty. Nor would it gainsay Dr. Smith’s point that religion varies among peoples just like everything else does – language, cuisine, costume, custom – while yet every culture has language, cuisine, costume, custom and religion. And even if religion first arose as an adaptive response to danger, it would not tell against religion. To suppose that it did would, again, to be to indulge in the genetic fallacy.

        Cargo cult.

        Doesn’t follow. Irrelevant. Do *you* know anything about cargo cults? So far there is no evidence that you do.

      • There are actually a few dates given in various sites.

        The Growth of Christianity in Myanmar says Roman Catholics arrived in 1544, but then later notes their work beginning in 1599.

        http://htoigintawng.over-blog.com/article-the-growth-of-christianity-in-the-myanmar-50861672.html

        Then there is this Catholic News Agency article “Myanmar celebrates 500 years of Catholicism with music, art”

        “It is true that the arrival of the first Catholics into Myanmar was in 1510, so in reality it is 504 years of the arrival of Catholics in Myanmar and we should have celebrated in the year 2010,” Fr. Mang said.

        http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/myanmar-celebrates-500-years-of-catholicism-with-music-art-89347/

        Whatever the case is, Catholic missionaries were at work for perhaps as much as 300+ years before the Baptists arrived and were “flabbergasted.” This is a classic Cargo Cult case, which explains why I’ve never heard of the Karen and this “miracle” before. Let Us Reason Ministries (whatever that is) has quite a detailed series of essays on the whole matter and spends an amount of time pointing out the absurdity of the claims you’re making here.

        To the larger point: Cultures devising monotheistic beliefs systems is not unusual, and I have no idea why you’re now trying to say it is, or even shifting the conversation that way. Zoroastrians landed at the idea millennia before the Jews. The Yoruba people had Olódùmarè long, long before Judean priests usurped the Canaanite pantheon. It’s a pretty natural extension of the supernal family concept. This, however, contradicts your earlier claims/beliefs of a pantheon arrangement (El, not Yhwh, at the head), so I’m baffled as to why you’re now changing your position.

        To tell you the truth, though, I’m really not that interested. Theism is the product of evolutionary triggers, not least among them, a giant brain capable of predictive thought. It’s really not that difficult to explain. But don’t get me wrong, I can fully appreciate (and in many ways, respect) the power and utility of belief. It’s a potent deflection, a powerful anesthetic for sane but otherwise deeply frightened individuals.

      • Primitive religion will always be somewhat conjectural, since artifacts are at most suggestive and surviving tribal peoples are not truly primitive. There are arguments for primitive monotheism that was later corrupted, and for primitive atheism that was later resolved into the notion of a supreme being. I incline to the later, but have no grounds for dogmatism on the point.

        I have no special knowledge of the Karen, but their case appears to be more interesting than you allow it to be. Syncretism normally adds superficial elements of the new religion to an enduring core of the old. It’s relatively easy for missionaries to get the natives to light candles or sing hymns; changing their deep metaphysics is hard. I’m sure you see the same process in reverse among atheists who apostatize from Christianity. They can shed the discipline much faster than the doctrine, especially the core doctrine.

        Your last paragraph is a textbook example of begging the question. It is true if what it assumes to be true is true.

      • To the larger point: Cultures devising monotheistic beliefs systems is not unusual, and I have no idea why you’re now trying to say it is …

        I’m saying the opposite.

        This, however, contradicts your earlier claims/beliefs of a pantheon arrangement (El, not Yhwh, at the head), so I’m baffled as to why you’re now changing your position.

        I’m not. There’s no contradiction between an ultimate Creator God and a pantheon of lesser divinities who – however powerful they may be – are like us his creatures. This arrangement appears to be an aspect of the deep grammar of human religion, “written in our hearts.”

        Theism is the product of evolutionary triggers, not least among them, a giant brain capable of predictive thought.

        Again, this is the genetic fallacy. We can say the same thing about *everything human,* including science and skepticism. That a notion is a product of evolutionary triggers – this is almost like explaining its origin by saying that it is something that happened – does not mean it is false. If anything, its passage of the test of natural selection would seem to indicate that, more likely than not, there might be something to it.

        Whether there is must be ascertained by other methods, such as logic. E.g., skepticism refutes itself, so it can’t be true. Ditto for scientism and positivism, for their first epistemological principles are the very sort of metaphysical propositions that they explicitly reject. And so forth.

      • We can say the same thing about *everything human,* including science and skepticism.

        Well, yes. And one would be correct in saying so. Do you know of anything outside the evolutionary paradigm?

      • This is, once again, begging the question, since it presupposes that I know I am inside the evolutionary paradigm. Another way to put this is to say that a Darwinian explanation of belief cannot make an unprincipled exception for Darwinism. Arguments for cultural relativism run into the same problem since they must, if consistent, imply that the truth of cultural relativism is itself relative to culture. The bottom line on this is that genetic and functional explanations of a belief are epistemologically neutral. Many true beliefs originate for bad reasons. Many false beliefs originally had good grounds. Functional beliefs can be true or false. If the proposition of a supreme being is false, we can explain its genesis and persistence with genetic and functional explanations. But the the existence of such explanations does not have any bearing on its epistemic status.

      • Yeah, the necessary is outside it.

        But my point was that the fact that religion is the product of evolution does not tell us anything about its truth value. It is neither here nor there.

        “Religion is the product of a large, complex, fearful brain.”

        “So what?”

      • The necessary truths; the things that must be if anything is to be. These never change, and everything expresses them. You can’t know anything at all without them; every act of knowing involves them.

      • OK, I’ll spell it out for you a bit. The truths of math, logic, metaphysics, etc., are all necessary. This gets down into the truths of game theory, music theory, statistics, etc. These truths are not true on account of something else; they are not contingent; they never came to be true, but have always and everywhere been, and will be, true.

        Then there are the values that things can have, the properties that can be proper to beings. Mass, for example, or velocity, or triangularity, and so on.

        Then there are the specifications of things that can possibly come to pass, given the necessary truths and the potential properties. Borges called it the Library of the Possible. Possibilities are necessary: they may never be actualized concretely, but they are necessarily possible in some world or other.

        Stuff like that.

      • All the things you have described are valid (contingent) within this particular universe. They are within the evolutionary paradigm of this universe. Another universe might have different sets. You have demonstrated nothing. You have said, nothing.

        So, again: Do you know of anything outside the evolutionary paradigm?

      • Outside the evolutionary paradigm of this universe, you mean? Sure: all the things that must be true in all possible worlds, and all those other possible worlds that have been actualized.

        The necessary truths are not true only within this world. They are *not contingent.* That’s what necessary means. They are true in every conceivable state of affairs. This world happens in the milieu of the necessary.

      • All possible worlds? You think ontological corollaries are meaningful? You think they carry weight? Prove this wrong, then:

        1. It is possible that a maximally wicked being exists.
        2. If it is possible that a maximally wicked being exists, then a maximally wicked being exists in some possible world.
        3. If a maximally wicked being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
        4. If a maximally wicked being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
        5. Therefore, a maximally wicked being exists in the actual world.
        6. Therefore, a maximally wicked being exists.
        7. Therefore, the Omnimalevolent Creator exists.

      • That a thing is necessarily actualizable does not entail that it is necessarily actualized. If you could write your first premise as “It is necessary that a maximally wicked being exists,” why then you’d have a shot at a formidable argument there. But you can’t, unless you can first demonstrate that a maximally wicked being is necessary. And that will be tough, because “maximally wicked being” is an incoherent notion. Incoherent notions *cannot* be actualized in any possible world.

        You also have a contradiction in terms in your conclusion: “Omnimalevolent Creator.” Creation is a good. The fact that its conclusion is a contradiction in terms is a very good sign that an argument is whacked to begin with. Reductio ad absurdum, you see. It’s a killer.

        By the way, I recognize your gloss on Plantinga’s Ontological Argument. I’ve never set great store in it. I like Anselm’s better.

      • That a thing is necessarily actualizable does not entail that it is necessarily actualized.

        Well, perhaps you should point that out to William Lane Craig. That is his ontological argument, word for word…. All I did was change the name. I’m sure he’d be thrilled to hear your opinion, especially considering he thinks this is the strongest possible argument for the existence of a god.

        Creation is good

        My, that’s quite a lavish proclamation. Upon what juvenile grounds are you making such a proclamation?

        “A bee amongst the flowers in spring is one of the most cheerful objects that can be looked upon. Its life appears to be all enjoyment; so busy, and so pleased.” (Paley, William, 1802, Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Forgotten Books pp. 253)

        Under the microscope, the bee’s outer body is found to be infested with the ferocious varroa mite, their airways riddled with impatiently greedy acarine (tracheal) mites, their intestines ravaged by the veracious nosema apis, and their hives, where some degree of safety should at least be expected, is instead crowded with gluttonous bacillus larvae and the hideous Brood Disease. These are the realities of the natural world: uncensored, untwisted, uncorrupted. As the uniquely qualified evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington, David Barash noted:

        “Although the natural world can be marvellous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering is built into the nature of things.”

        To repeat: that suffering is built into the nature of things.

      • It’s Plantinga’s argument. Craig may of course have improved it, by his own lights. Craig is a formidable philosopher, so that would not surprise me.

        Nevertheless it remains the case that “maximally wicked being” is a different way of saying “being that, as not expressing any good, including the good of existence, cannot possibly exist.”

        Yeah, suffering is ubiquitous (under the evolutionary paradigm of our world). But that does not mean creation is not a good. Suffering is a privation of good. Actual good is the forecondition of evil: no creation, no good, no privation of good. And the good of creation is not *necessarily* privated. Its privation in our world continges upon the creaturely acts thereof.

      • You’re assuming a maximally wicked being would also be maximally selfish, a brutish force of incalculable hostility, incapable of restraint, and despite possessing infinite capacity for creativity would be destined to defile itself and whatever it imagined into being. This would be a staggering mistake. Indeed, such a belief would be as the uncommonly insightful Jeremy Bentham would have said, “Nonsense on stilts;” a cartoon which purposefully ignores the self-evident fact that a world driven only by impetuous brutality would resemble more an ephemeral house-fire than an enduring, vibrant, profitable, marketplace desired by a Creator whose central ambition is to maximise His pleasure over time.

        His pleasure.

        There are no two more important words in all of Creation.

        His pleasure.

        Evil is not the privation of good. The Problem of Good is not a problem, unlike the Problem of Evil. Good fosters greater evil. Consider medicine in its broadest possible context. Through observation and stubborn ingenuity men have learned how to care for and repair broken bodies and treat certain diseases. Resultantly, child mortality rates have in the most recent handful of decades decreased dramatically across the globe, while average lifespans, especially those in industrialised nations, have stretched to lengths unimaginable to those who first dreamed of the modern health revolution. By this achievement man may briefly, and deservedly, celebrate his apparent mastery over the naturally corrosive effects of life itself.

        Consider then the truth: More bodies doing more things over a longer time can only be scored as a breathtaking augmentation of resources.

        A general population dying at 35 cannot, by and large, produce the same quantity or quality of suffering generated through the extended life of a general population dying at age 80 or 90. Here man has added 30 years—an entire generation—to the duration of his potential suffering, which in the eyes of a debased being is to be applauded as not only a marvel of market optimisation, but an almost miraculous, self-inflicted diversification in the greater portfolio of potential pain.

        By permitting the development and maturation of innovative methods and practices which abet bodily longevity the Omnimalevolent Creator has positioned Himself to reap 20, 30, or even 40 years more pleasure from His game; drinking in the pang of creeping irrelevance, the pain of crippling arthritis, the emotional distress of immobility, mental degradation, senility, the anguish of seeing friends and loved ones die early, the anxiety of financial and perhaps political insecurity, and the hopelessness of a life bookmarked by death and conscious annihilation. In no uncertain terms, ruinous ageing is an abhorrent stain on even the most spectacular of lives lived, often robbing an individual of their most prized possession, their dignity, and this gradual drip of irreversible decay and the misery born of it can only be seen as a boon for a being who thrives on tapping into increasingly complex veins of suffering.

      • An extremely well-written comment, Mr. Zande. Darksome, too; dreadful. Believe me when I say that I do not at all mean to trivialize the evil of this world. That would be rather … unChristian of me. Irreligious, in fact.

        Nevertheless, the logic of the concepts is what it is, and bears no gainsayment. So then …

        I’m not assuming a maximally wicked being would be anything. In fact, I’m asserting that a maximally wicked being could not be anything at all. It could not be good in *any way.* It could not have the good of actually existing.

        Lucifer, e.g., is infinitely far from being a maximally wicked being. He is a *seraph.* A corrupted seraph, but still a seraph, with powers we can scarcely imagine. *All those seraphic properties he still has are good.* So is his existence, without which he could not possess any of those good properties, or do anything at all, either for good or ill.

        So likewise for wicked men, albeit to a vastly lesser degree.

        A maximally wicked being would not be good in any way. And this is just to say that it would not be, at all.

        I should clarify what I mean by “wicked.” Etymologically, “wicked” is “weakened” (so is “vicious” – “vice” and “weak” are the same word). The maximum of weakness is complete ontological vacuity: nonexistence.

      • Lucifer, e.g., is infinitely far from being a maximally wicked being.

        Who’s talking about Lucifer? We are talking here about the Creator of this world. Some have named a lesser species of this being the Devil, others The Deceiver, Ahriman, Abaddon, Mara, Baphomet, Apollyon, Iblis, Beast, Angra Mainyu, Yama, Moloch, The Father of Lies, The Author of Sin, Druj, Samnu, Mammon, and The Great Spoiler, yet these characters of human literature and tradition do not begin to approach the nature and scope of this entity who may be identified as simply, The Owner of All Infernal Names: a being who does not share His creation with any other comparable spirit, does not seek to be known to or worshipped by that which He has created (or has allowed to be created), and whose greatest proof of existence is that there is no conspicuous proof of His existence—just teleological birthmarks that can be isolated and examined as testimony—for He understands that the trinkets of His greatest amusement, arousal and nutritional satisfaction must be blind to the nature of the world they inhabit so they may act freely, and suffer genuinely.

      • OK, whatever. Knock yourself out with this. It remains the case that the maximum of evil is the utter privation of all good – namely, nonbeing – so that the maximally wicked being cannot possibly exist.

      • It remains the case? LOL! I’ll give you ten points for sheer arrogance. Zero, I’m afraid, for intellectual capacity.

        You see, your problem here is threefold:

        First, you are trapped inside a world where you are dedicated to inventing elaborate excuses (theodicies) for why things are not as they should be if matter had been persuaded to behave by a benevolent hand, rather than seeking a coherent explanation for why things are as they are in the unignorable presence of a Creator.

        Second, for emotional reasons (which I can appreciate) you’ve stunted yourself intellectually by limiting yourself to flawed human definitions for good and evil.

        Third, you are assuming that this world (this particular contrivance) represents the All. This world, Kristor, is but one of perhaps trillions in-use, entirely given over to discharging those things He, the Creator, finds most thrilling, most stimulating, most exciting. You must view Creation (this particular world) for what it is: a monumental pleasure generating mechanism; an entanglement apparatus, or as Philosopher and Evolutionary Biologist, Kelly Smith so accurately called it, a complexity machine. This machine exists as it does to give pleasure to its Creator. By simple but persuasive design, the old and the ordinary yield to the new and the exciting, and with the new comes more energetic and capable families of physiological, emotional, and psychological pain. This is Creation’s impulse, its bedrock personality. It spills out from a state of ancestral simplicity to contemporary complexity where the greater talents awarded to each succeeding generation have always produced evil proportionate to the extent of their powers. This is fact, and we can demonstrate this process through this world’s 13.8 billion year history.

        We have awakened, uninvited, inside a game… A timed game.

        Now, consider this simple fact: Good does not exist. Good has never existed, not as something distasteful or hurtful to the Creator. Good is not a wave of dissent, a rebellion growing inside Creation like some determined cancer, a tumour. Good is neither a disease nor a corruption, for good is not the equal and opposite of evil. Good is not evil’s privation, that which exists in its absence, but rather an evil unto itself. It is a flavour of evil, a dialect, or perhaps more accurately, a variation in temperature there to be experienced in those moments when there appears to be a temporary reduction of perceptible suffering. Just as matter and energy are different forms of the same thing, interchangeable as E=mc2, so too is good and evil.

        Good is a mechanism, and as a mechanism it can be shown in quantifiable terms to be a means to greater evil, more adept evil, more capable evil. What appears superficially advantageous, miraculous even, can be demonstrated to be nothing but deceptively packaged passages and pathways to greater depths of pain; agonies brought to bear as Creation—in all its manifest wonder—does the one thing the Creator designed it to do: to diversify and specialise, to change and to mix, to experiment, augment, mutate, embellish, develop, and to perfect before changing again. You see, evil does not seek to destroy life, but rather encourage it. True evil promotes, defends, and even admires life in its struggle to persist and self-adorn. True evil urges life to grow more complex, more bold, more adventurous and more expressive, for only then is it at its most vulnerable.

        Dreams, after all, must be erected before they can razed. Prospects and aspirations and expectations must be birthed and floated before they can be overwhelmed and drowned. Optimism must be established, plans mapped out, investments made and ambitious journeys launched before a thousand and one profitable little deaths can be delivered. A population must be fattened before it can be starved. One and a half billion people must be fed and protected to some degree of satisfaction so the six and half billion thirsty, starving, sick, war-torn, homeless, and displaced can recognise and appreciate their sorrowful lot. Impossibly courageous adventures must have, at the very least, some scent of imaginable success or else the adventurer would never unfurl his incomplete map and wonder, what if…

        None of these little thrills would be possible without this thing called “good.”

        Here, I will give you an example of how good is in fact evil: Take the automobile and all those abstractions connected to this mechanised horse. What was the end of the world for stable hands and buggy drivers was the beginning of prosperity for automobile manufacturers and oil refiners. The old gives way to the new, and with the new comes more vibrant families of pain. In 1889 a total of 26 road deaths were recorded in the United States. By 2013 that number had exploded to approximately 35,500. Globally, that number stands at 1.24 million and the World Health Organisation predicts the body of carnage will grow to 1.9 million by 2020.

        Alone, the automobile has been an indisputable boon for suffering with deaths scattered across roads the world over, leaving physical, emotional and financial ruin in these little disasters wake. Safety innovations, however, such as airbags and seatbelts and better constructed cars and roads have seen many, many more bodies surviving these localised, personalised disasters. The result: in 2010, in the U.S. alone, 2,239,000 human bodies were shattered in road accidents, yet to the certain delight of the Creator, survived. In the final tally, instead of one dead motorist in 1990, there exists a living quadriplegic in 2016, forced to spend the rest of his life—decades—in a wheeled chair, unable to find work, and dependent on others for his very survival. In the mind of the Omnimalevolent Creator a cash cow has been created; a vigorous, energetic, sincere and dynamic product that will faithfully discharge all that which the Creator finds delicious, arousing, entertaining and, ultimately, fulfilling.

        In the final analysis, for the perversely minded, simply killing the trinkets of your greatest amusement and stimulatory satisfaction produces at best only temporary elation, a dazzling sensation that is over in a flash, but to permit your prey to fear calamity and to live through catastrophes large and small, to hope and to weep and to lament, to feel anguish over things lost, to regret things found, and to suffer with physical discomfort, emotional injuries and psychological lesions is the wellhead of enduring pleasure. Suffering, therefore, is not merely the abrupt delivery of violence and death. Its greatest and most valuable expression is in dashed hopes, ruined dreams, perennial pain, torment, confusion, misunderstanding, prolonged anxiety, recovery, repair, exhaustion, and, eventually, full bodily capitulation in a drama where warm survivors, not cold victims, are more valuable to the Omnimalevolent Creator.

      • First, you are trapped inside a world where you are dedicated to inventing elaborate excuses (theodicies) for why things are not as they should be if matter had been persuaded to behave by a benevolent hand, rather than seeking a coherent explanation for why things are as they are in the unignorable presence of a Creator.

        Trapped? I find theodicy rather easy. It’s the most telling challenge to theism, to be sure. But there just is no logical Problem of Evil. In a nutshell: finities are inherently prone to err, ergo to suffer. Google the string “Kristor Orthosphere Problem of Evil” to get the details.

        Second, for emotional reasons (which I can appreciate) you’ve stunted yourself intellectually by limiting yourself to flawed human definitions for good and evil.

        Not at all. One of the first things apologists learn about is the difference between the applications of terms to human life and to God. The oldest book in the Bible – Job – concerns this very topic.

        Third, you are assuming that this world (this particular contrivance) represents the All.

        Hah! No. A silly notion. How can you think this, when we have just been discussing all possible worlds? How can you think this of a philosophical theist?

        Theism *entails* the notion that this world is not the All. That’s Theism 101. “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

        This world, Kristor, is but one of perhaps trillions in-use, entirely given over to discharging those things He, the Creator, finds most thrilling, most stimulating, most exciting.

        Here you betray your utter incomprehension of the theist concept of God. The Infinite Good stands in no need of a marginal tickle of titillation. He is in himself and by himself the perfection of delectation, whether or not any worlds result therefrom. His creative act is kenotic, supererogatory, a mere side effect of his act of being, the outworking of his inward apprehension of himself.

        You are stuck on a notion of God as a much bigger more powerful version of the sort of thing you are. It is the same error that in The Archetypal Atheist I suggested Lucifer has made. It is a fundamental category error. Until you correct it, you will not begin talking about the same sort of thing as the theists are talking about, and whom they worship.

        Now, consider this simple fact: Good does not exist.

        Then there can be no such thing as evil, or a fortiori as an omnimalevolence. If there is no good, then how is it evil to wreck things and cause pain? If there is no good, what else is there, than wreckage and pain? The notion of evil is vacuous if there is no such thing as good. If it isn’t possible to get things right in the first place, there can be no such thing as a mistake.

        Dreams, after all, must be erected before they can razed. Prospects and aspirations and expectations must be birthed and floated before they can be overwhelmed and drowned. Optimism must be established, plans mapped out, investments made and ambitious journeys launched before a thousand and one profitable little deaths can be delivered. A population must be fattened before it can be starved. One and a half billion people must be fed and protected to some degree of satisfaction so the six and half billion thirsty, starving, sick, war-torn, homeless, and displaced can recognise and appreciate their sorrowful lot. Impossibly courageous adventures must have, at the very least, some scent of imaginable success or else the adventurer would never unfurl his incomplete map and wonder, what if…

        None of these little thrills would be possible without this thing called “good.”

        Like I said, evil is the privation of a prior good. You’ve expressed the notion very well.

        John, if you really think that everything we are accustomed to call good is in fact evil, then why are you not dead yet? If your existence is evil through and through, why do you keep on?

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        PS: Having written the last sentence above, I now realize it is a type of the first sentence of my post The Archetypal Atheist: Why doesn’t Satan throw in the towel?

      • Kristor, I appreciate your comment, but your thinking is tremendously limited.

        ”Here you betray your utter incomprehension of the theist concept of God.”

        And here you betray your painfully stunted capacity to think outside your particular worldview. I’m not talking about your concept of God. Yours is a pantomime, a dream erected on a historical cartoon, and it requires elaborate excuses just to be marginally viable, although still utterly unconvincing. You see, Kristor, through your forced and laboured apologetics you are merely trying to rescue an incompetent spirit who has, for one imaginative reason or another, lost total control of his Creation.

        It’s an absurd proposition. God, by definition, is maximally competent. God, by definition, is maximally efficient. There are no mistakes. There can be no mistakes, no missteps, no lapses or miscalculations. What exists, exists because it was envisaged by the Catalogue of Catalogues that is the mind of God. Evil exists because it is meant to exist, and to even suggest it is the result of some personal ineptitude or blunder in the design is athletically preposterous.

        Are you truly comfortable in calling your Creator incompetent?

        Now, without need for an alibi, scapegoat, hastily arranged apology or laboured advocacy, the gospel of the malevolent hand stands unchaste, uncontaminated, and inviolable as the only rational explanation for the world that has been, is, and will be. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are made clear without a cover story or inventive pretext.

        Tell me, which thesis is stronger: the one that requires an excuse just to be remotely plausible, or the one that doesn’t?

        ”The notion of evil is vacuous if there is no such thing as good.”

        Not at all, as I have already detailed, good and evil are not separate things. One is not the privation of the other. They are interchangeable, just as matter and energy are interchangeable.

        You do understand that concept, don’t you?

        Meditate on that revelation.

        Here, let me detail this a little clearer. Like Plantinga noted, the amount and variety of evil in our world perplexes believers in God. Why, though, should it? Is there any credible reason for the confusion? Is there any defendable justification or compelling information to rationally explain the befuddlement? Does it perplex observers that water runs downhill? Does it confound the onlooker to see smoke rise? Is it at all mystifying that fire burns flesh?

        God exists. Evil (the ways and means by which suffering can be delivered and experienced) not only exists, but its capacity, variety, and potency is increasing as God’s Creation faithfully fulfils its elemental instruction: to diversify and specialise and grow more complex over time. Hydrogen fuses to the heavier and more complex helium, helium fuses into the heavier and more complex carbon, single compounds bind to make double compounds, simple molecules marry to create amino acids, amino acids come together to model proteins and enzymes, proteins and enzymes experiment to prototype self-replicating systems where, according to the accepted paradigm of evolutionary biology, there is a continuum from simple to more complex organisms. The natural world witnessed prokaryotes before eukaryotes, primitive action potentials before antique nerve nets, bilateral nervous systems before central nervous systems, talons and incisors before arrow tips and hydrogen bombs, hunter-gatherers before gunsmiths and engineers, corporeal barter systems before ethereal derivative trading.

        From heat and protons, to hearts, central nervous systems, minds and cluster bombs, this is Creation’s single compulsion, its one and only passion; a relentless passage from a state of ancestral simplicity to contemporary complexity, where complexity—and the specialisation it affords—parents a wretched and forever diversifying family of more devoted fears and faithful anxieties, more pervasive ailments and skilful parasites, more virulent toxins, more capable diseases, and more affectionate expressions of pain, ruin, psychosis and loss.

        This is a hard observational fact, a Truth, and this shift from the ordinary to the extraordinary is not a mistake. It is not an accident. The pattern repeats with a ruthless faithfulness, and where pattern is found one may deduce design and intent. Indeed, as William Paley so accurately observed: “Contrivance proves design, and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer.” Is it not then the case that the volume and variety of evil in this world baffles only because it contradicts the things Plantinga’s believers want to believe? Is it not the case that Creation is simply running contrary to how Plantinga’s believers think Creation should run? If the truly impartial observer of this world steps outside that contradiction and surveys the nature of the contrivance with a genuinely neutral eye then there is no puzzle and what once bewildered simply vanishes like steam.

        The pain and anxiety and suffering and fear which saturates Creation is there for a purpose, and if it is there for a purpose, there by design, then that evil exists because the designer of this world is what a limited terrestrial mind would consider evil.

        Now, pay attention here Kristor.

        This does not, however, necessarily mean the Creator is, in fact, evil. Not in actuality. Not in the only reality that matters, that of the Creator’s opinion of Himself and His pallet, but the impression is cogent and immediate to all things outside the mind of God. An opinion, after all, is all that stands between pragmatism and hostility. A sentiment is all that differentiates entertainment from cruelty. An impression is the only thing that separates the stimulating from the terrifying, and a judgment, truly, is the only thing that disentangles the appalling from the delicious.

        Indeed, who is man to even question the diet of another? If it could contemplate such things, would not cyanobacteria consider man’s consumption of oxygen disgusting? How else, after all, would one organism consider the dietary practices of another organism who feasts on its waste, its faeces? Does this unsavoury fact alter man’s appreciation of, or need for, oxygen? No, and if in the future man reaches out into the stars and sets himself to create another earth-like environment by terraforming some lifeless rocky exoplanet, he will, as a matter of simple necessity, erect that dream upon first creating an oxygen-rich atmosphere in which colonists could thrive. Long before the surveyors and architects even arrive, exobiologists will seed the planet with bacteria, never once considering the fact that they are filling this new world with delicious excrement.

        The same practical, pragmatic orientation to His world, this machine of His design, may be said of the Creator. Like man terraforming with intent, the Creator has fashioned this world with a similar business-like eye to efficiency and purpose: to produce delicious excrement.

        Kristor, are you aware of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness? Published on the 7th of July, 2012, this astonishing document firmly asserts that the absence of a neocortex does not preclude non-human animals from experiencing genuine suffering. Indeed, the signatories to the declaration stressed that the required neurological apparatus for total awareness of pain—and the emotional states allied to that—arose in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod molluscs, such as octopus, Nautilus, and cuttlefish.

        Based on the overwhelming and universal acceptance among neurologists of the Cambridge Declaration, and drawn from the conclusions of over 2,500 independent studies, Professor Marc Bekoff has since proposed an even broader declaration, a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience, where sentience—and by extension a total awareness of suffering—is defined as the “ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to experience subjectivity.” It is a definition that would reach out to include the modest protozoa.

        It is clear, therefore, that suffering is very nearly omnipresent. If, however, neuroscientists Giulio Tononi and Christof Koch’s Integrated Information Theory is correct, and it’s certainly reasonable, then suffering is, in fact, omnipresent. It is built into the very nature of all things, present and acting against even the shallowest expressions of what may be considered ‘happiness’ for billions of years before the first empathic thought was ever teased loose.

        What does this tell you of this world and the agency behind it?

        What does this tell you of a world that contradicts every sweet smelling theological opinion ever forwarded by intrinsically blinded commentators? Again, do not look for excuses for why things are not as they should be if matter had been persuaded to behave by a benevolent hand, rather pursue a coherent, excuse-free explanation for why things are as they are in the unignorable presence of a Creator.

        A genuine truth, Kristor, does not tolerate excuses. A truth that requires annotation is not a truth, but a fabrication.

      • Most eloquent.

        Not at all, as I have already detailed, good and evil are not separate things. One is not the privation of the other. They are interchangeable, just as matter and energy are interchangeable.

        You do understand that concept, don’t you?

        Why, yes, I do; so well that I can easily see that it is false. Good and evil do not bear the same relation to each other as matter and energy. They bear the same relation to each other as order and disorder, information and noise.

        You seem stuck on the notion that God’s omnipotence must entail his complete determination of everything that happens (so that he intends creaturely suffering, etc.). While this is to be sure a doctrine of omnipotence held by a few theists, it has the problem that it collapses instantly into pantheism and then into acosmism, and thus contradicts experience per se, so that it can’t be true. Theists therefore mostly reject it.

        I am panpsychist, so your catalog of the ubiquity of creaturely suffering is no challenge to my view of things. You might have saved yourself a lot of time if you had stopped with this:

        Like Plantinga noted, the amount and variety of evil in our world perplexes believers in God.

        That sums it up.

        Why, though, should it? Is there any credible reason for the confusion? Is there any defendable justification or compelling information to rationally explain the befuddlement? Does it perplex observers that water runs downhill? Does it confound the onlooker to see smoke rise? Is it at all mystifying that fire burns flesh?

        No; of course not. Nor however are any excuses needed to get God off the hook. It turns out to be a metaphysical impossibility to create finite creatures that cannot err, and in so doing injure each other. The possibility of disorder is implicit in order. The only way to foreclose all risk that the possibility of disorder will at some point be realized by otherwise perfectly ordered creatures is to prevent their doing anything at all. But this would be to prevent them being anything at all, apart from their creator. And that would be to prevent creaturely order as such; it would prevent any Many from arising out of the One.

        The questions you list, which many believers do indeed ask, are therefore inapposite to reality. There is no reason for believers to be perplexed about evil in the creation of a good omnipotent God. That does not of course mean they have no reason to be distressed about evil. They do.

      • ”John, if you really think that everything we are accustomed to call good is in fact evil, then why are you not dead yet? If your existence is evil through and through, why do you keep on?”

        Your question is an important one, so I’ll address it separately.

        To paraphrase, what you’re asking is this: Would sentient, attentive, self-respecting life choose to live in a world underwritten by evil? Could self-aware life endure a thoroughly hopeless reality?

        At face value such a question requires very little deliberation. The only reasonable, rational, possible answer is, No. Sentient life would not, could not, accept such an appalling arrangement. If sentient life recognised the futility of its existence, if it recognised that it had been born on the line and was eternally bonded to the perverted servitude of another who does not—and will never—hold council to discuss emancipation, then it is inevitable that birth rates among all self-aware creatures would plummet as reproduction itself would be viewed as an unconscionable and outrageous act of unforgivable selfishness. Being freely acting, morally autonomous, and presented with an insufferable reality, complex conscious life would find no option but to rebel, and to rebel completely by deploying the only weapon it had against the architect of its unforgiving world: a massive denial of service; self-administered, intentional extinction.

        Revolutionary suicide.

        Clearly, an insurgency of such revengeful scale and determined personal ruin would be an untenable situation for the Omnimalevolent Creator: a being dedicated to maximising His own pleasure over time through the increasingly complex, increasingly diverse suffering of those things driven, without invitation, into existence. Any movement, however, from ancestral simplicity to contemporary complexity would be impossible if that which was being asked to move refused to do so, and refused en masse. What conceivable motivation could a single organism have to willingly throw itself forward into the future—to struggle and to persist in the face of deplorable cruelty—if it recognised that all possible futures were not only ultimately futile, but that all action served a being whom that organism could not help but detest?

        To ensure, therefore, that the stream of misery flows uninterrupted, to guarantee Creation is free to unfold in forever more expressive, self-complicating and creative ways, for it to self-enrich free of any unnecessary suspicion while maintaining the careful anonymity the Creator so clearly desires, there can be no evidence. There can be nothing to blame, nothing to indict, and the trick, if one can even call it that, appears to be devastatingly simple: misdirection.

        The most effective way to make something disappear, to make something truly vanish, is to place that thing where everyone can see it. That is to say, to outwit both the permanently and periodically suspicious eye, to overwhelm and daze the incredulous, that which would surely spark the rebellion is placed in plain sight.

        Here, ubiquity is the master pacifier, a potent anaesthetic and persuasive desensitiser, and through the universality of His works—where both predator and prey, wicked and good suffer enormously without favouritism or bias in a universe whose laws know no sympathy—the wicked architect has ensured the curious and the distrusting will seek out any alternative explanation for that which they do not wish to recognise, or better still, not see the depravity at all.

        What is there to be prosecuted, after all, when both the innocent and the guilty suffer in equal measure? What is there to blame and accuse of injustice when both the hunter and the hunted inhabit the same appallingly violent, unforgiving space?

        Diseases do not discriminate, parasites know no bigotry, wild fires hold no opinion on what or who they incinerate, and a river will just as soon swallow up a fawn as it will drag down and drown the lioness chasing it. An avalanche does not single out which trees to level, what village to erase, or which body to mangle and bury. A drought disperses its ruin without care or concern for which organism in its terrible wake has been kind, or which has been unnecessarily cruel. The steady decay of old age has no regard for even the most spectacular life lived, defiling the incorrigible and the obedient with a horrendous and dispassionate efficiency. There is no creativity in the trajectory of volcanic bombs, and life-suffocating ash plumes will move carelessly with the careless winds. Death, be it swift and charitable, or protracted and hard, belongs to all, and here you see the conspicuous genius underwriting that which has been created:

        There is no lie.

        The world is presented as it is. Nothing is concealed, except for perhaps the identity of the Creator, which is not so much a lie as it is a reasonable omission. No view is, however, disguised. No composition of the natural landscape is purposefully twisted or deformed so as to deliberately deceive, and no function of the natural world is dressed in sweet deception. No scream is muffled, no laceration sanitised, and the pain of hunger and thirst are naked for all to see and be sickened by. Diseases of every ghastly flavour are on loathsome display, the blights of parasitism are laid bare, and the crippling agonies of old age are public property. The terror of predation is revealed in every anguished look, the fear of infanticide written on every mother’s face, and the misery of earthquakes, landslides, cyclones, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, droughts, heat waves, and wild fires conferred uncensored upon stunned and appropriately intimidated audiences.

        Nature itself, after all, reveals nothing to the curious, or more dangerously, the distrusting. Despite ancient suspicions, nature is on inspection neither kind nor unkind. It is neither caring nor uncaring. It is not, under even the closest audit, either interested or disinterested. It is merciless, cruel, and stunningly violent, but it is also mindless and without vengeance or hate or malice. It is, from every perspective, a contrivance of dead matter simply being moved—chemically or mechanically—by the unthinking, enormously discourteous laws of the universe.

        Nature is also largely self-organising and therefore free of any observable—culpable—supernatural mark. It does not have to be organised as it organises itself, and this leaves nothing to be blamed, and therefore nothing to rebel against.

        Equally nameless and blameless, there is no divine spark or apparent motive for life that can be fingered by even the most determined prosecutor. All life on earth is powered by chemiosmosis, where the rechargeable chemical battery for life, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), is first broken down and then re-formed during respiration to release energy used to drive every living reaction. Life in turn organises itself along deep, observable tendrils that do not speak of discrete, careful, artistic intervention, rather scream of haphazard chance and the emergency of survival. Unquestionably, the natural world is smeared with such spectacularly peculiar design that it belies even the most juvenile notion of a mindful designer, and therein lays one of the most pronounced aspects of the design’s wicked inventiveness: Absurdity.

        Would a conscientious designer—a technician with all great powers at his disposal—have shaped, for example, the spider’s ludicrous reproduction ordeal where the male first deposits his sperm into a web, then siphons it up with a different appendage which he then uses to inseminate his mate? Would a diligent craftsman—an artist obsessed with perfection and incapable of madness or mistake—have included entirely superfluous vestigial structures, like a tail bone, appendix and wisdom teeth in humans, or the stumps of hind legs in baleen whales that exist without present-day meaning? Would a careful, maximally equipped artisan mindful of precision and excellence be satisfied with junk DNA? How then would such a master builder consider the amoeba proteus: a gelatinous, microscopic, single-celled blob of primitive organics that boasts a staggering 670 billion base pairs in its genome, whereas a 5 trillion-celled human being has only 2.9 billion base pairs? Such wasted—junk—DNA speaks only to accidents, not navigation.

        The daringly explicit absurdity of the evolutionary process—its unstoppable, messy, painful, indifferent knocking on random doors—is, arguably, precisely how a malevolent architect devoted to maintaining His anonymity would go about His business, painting Creation with impenetrable naturalism.

        Nature remains blameless.

        There is no crime, and no apparent delinquency.

        There are no stains, no unexplainable blemishes or things out of order, and there is nothing—no wizard—standing behind the curtain for the simple reason that there is no curtain for a wizard to hide behind. What is, is, and here, Kristor, you may begin to recognise the calculating ingenuity in having men, above all other creatures, so carefully maimed, so blind, that they do not even know how to put a measure to their blindness.

      • OK. But you’ve managed to suss out the true predicament of all creatures, and can clearly see that it is both totally cruel and utterly hopeless. So you have not been taken in by the Cosmic Misdirection. Why then have you not effected revolutionary suicide?

        Let’s be clear: I don’t want you to do so. I think your weltanschauung is nuts – so is any that would incline men to suicide, or even to the sort of disinterest in reproduction which now plagues the secular West, and is spreading to the Second World, and even the Third. Your weltanschauung is clearly lethal to its host. If everyone shared it, and followed through on it, the species would end, and with it your weltanschauung. The world is ordered to its destruction. So likewise is it ordered to the destruction of all error and falsehood, which are inherently vicious and self-destructive. The nature of things urges us to reject your weltanschauung as false to fact, and I wish that you would join us in that rejection.

        But the question remains: since you do have the weltanschauung that you in fact have, why have you so far failed to follow through on its imperative?

        Smells like unprincipled exception. Smells like repressed hope, and faith.

      • The nature of things urges us to reject your weltanschauung as false to fact

        First, you can’t have a false fact. You just have facts or fictions, and the naturally self-complicating nature of this world is a hard fact. And second, you’re right, things persist, life crawls forward. Why? Because of that derivative of good, “hope.”

        Hope, observed Nietzsche in a moment of scandalous clarity, is the greatest of evils for it lengthens the ordeal of man. More important, however, than its contribution to quantity, hope—a producer of both natural and moral good—is that essential element in focusing and personalising the quality of suffering, complicating existence in astonishing and oftentimes gorgeous ways. Indeed, above all other things, hope is that stimulative breath that inspires within those organisms capable of being inspired investment in a future sensed but not seen.

        It is, in simple expression, a self-authored contract to complication.

        Where hope exists so too does activity, and from the enormous perspective of the Creator, hope is to be favoured over ruin, dreams preferred over nightmares, for in the larger narrative—the only narrative that truly matters—it is hope and pleasant forecasts that is the surest possible path to the greatest possible harvest. Where hope is fertile the trinkets of the Creator’s amusement are compelled forward, and they move not because they are being instructed to move, but rather because they perceive from where they stand a degree of safety, security, and predictability ahead. Whether real or simply anticipated, safety and stability stirs in the more forward thinking of individuals thoughts of greater investments in future enterprises. Larger, bolder, longer-term investments are made (families, cultural infrastructure, exploration, empire building) and this appropriately services the Omnimalevolent Creator’s hunger to see the fields over which He will take his profit ripen and diversify in new and fascinating ways.

      • Not “false fact,” but “false to fact,” as in, “counterfactual.”

        So, you’ve punched through the façade of hope. Perhaps then the reason that you have not followed through on your nihilism and killed yourself is that, despite your knowledge that hope is evil, or tends to evil, you feel it nonetheless. Perhaps this is something like the lust that a man cannot but feel for a woman not his wife, despite his knowledge that it is wrong. You see through the veil of creation, but you are stuck in creaturity, and some ineradicable visceral hope comes along with it as part of the package.

      • Indeed. As I have already pointed out, hope is to be favoured over ruin, dreams (especially religions with all their creative excuses and ethereal promises) over nightmares. A ship, after all, has to be floated and launched before it can be drowned and sunk.

      • Comments awaiting “moderation”….

        Do you not value the free and timely exchange of ideas?

        What are you afraid of?

        Comments awaiting “moderation”….

      • We’ve already explained about this. The more you harp on about it, the less likely we are to turn off moderation. Such relentless harping about a reader’s idiosyncratic agenda is the reason we turned it on in the first place.

      • John, you think that good is evil. You think *everything* is bad. What difference could it make whether or not we try to be good to you?

      • Who said I think everything is bad? I am merely presenting an excuse-free explanation for this world… an explanation that answers (without need for a creative theodicy) Plantinga’s confusion as to amount and variety of evil in this world.

      • Comments still being held in moderation….

        Don’t let the outside world see what has been posted. Must think of response first. Must fashion a reply to keep face…

        OK, “Approve” the comment in your own sweet time…. when you’re ready

      • John, for Pete’s sake. I was just changing the sheets on the bed with my wife, and changing a light bulb. I like you and all, but you are not first on my list …

      • But my point was that the fact that religion is the product of evolution does not tell us anything about its truth value.

        Utter nonsense.

        Peel away the colourful ritualistic outer layers, bypass the oral traditions and the always cryptic books, navigate around the creative hermeneutics, over the various strains of inventive apologetics, philosophies and elaborate theodicies, and press on through the charismatic mind-sets to the core within and the Impartial Observer records that anyone curious enough to look will find that there are but two ostensible, universal truths pervading all faith-based religious beliefs:

        1) They all claim to be true.
        2) Not one has ever emerged twice on the planet.

        That is all there is. There is nothing lurking any deeper than these two truisms, and as the second maxim annihilates the first claim the genuinely impartial observer swiftly determines that there is no need to even litigate the petitions forwarded by any single religion as it is already perfectly clear that any allusion to authenticity is entirely groundless.

        If this were not the case, if any single religion were in fact true, the observer would have—indeed should have—already seen that religion emerge naturally and entirely unassisted wherever human beings were found, regardless of their isolation or epoch. Its deity (or deities) would wear a single hat, carry a single name and speak a single language audible to the deaf, coherent to infants, understood by the demented, and intelligible to the senile. Its dramas and narratives would be recognised and repeated by cloistered populations in every corner of the planet, and its edicts would have penetrated all tribal, domestic and international legal code mindless of earthly or socioeconomic borders. If any single religion were true a single and unchangeable objective moral writ would underwrite all human populations, dietary conventions would be unchaste by oceans, and norms of etiquette, civility and protocol would not deviate with geography or era.

        No religion has however emerged twice anywhere on the planet, no single deity has been envisaged by two populations separated by time and geography, and not a solitary person in history has arrived independently at Mithraism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Scientology or Judaism without it first being taught to them. Captain Cook did not find Aborigines swallowing back Christian communion wafers at Botany Bay, Columbus was not confronted by a wall of Arawak backsides pointed away from Mecca at sunrise on the beaches of Santa María de la Concepción, and Pedro Álvares Cabral did not uncover tribes of Aimoré Indians auditing their Thetans with Mark Super VII Quantum Electropsychometers.

        That is a fixed, unarguable truth, and it is a point worth repeating. If any given mythology were even remotely accurate (the claim made by all) then that cult, its gods, its rituals, behavioural codes and canons should have emerged unsupervised at least twice on the planet. Its truth would in fact be demonstrable in this supernatural event.

        This has never happened, nor should anyone anticipate it ever happening. No indication has been spied in any pursuit, inquiry or process of discovery that might even suggest it ever happening, and it is a point compounded by the fact that no religion has ever successfully resisted the terrestrial stresses which pervade all things and by doing so triumphantly maintained a thriving orderly form against a sea of perpetual change and transformation.

        Although practiced primarily in just one Indian state (Assam) Ekasarana Dharma is split into four competing theological sects: Brahma sanghati, Purusha sanghati, Nika sanghati and Kala sanghati. Zoroastrianism is first divided into Iranian and Indian schools, then according to secondary migration patterns is further subdivided into Parsees, Gabars, and Iranis, inside of which are theological wings including the Zurvanites, Mazdakites, Khurramites, and Behafaridites. There are seventy-three distinct chapters in Islam starting with the main tributaries of Sunni and Shia down to distant subgroups from the Hanafiyah, who believe their God—the God of Abraham—might have had a beginning, to the unfathomably specific Amriyah’s who reject the legal testimony of anyone whose ancestors took part in the Battle of Camel, Basra, 656 C.E. Judaism is fissured predominantly into nine antagonistic movements, and Christianity has no less than 42,000 competing sects ranging from the liberal anti-Trinitarian churches to the violent right-wing fundamentalism of the Reconstructionists.

        If any religion were true it would exhibit no such chain of secession. It would not support or nourish splinter movements, nor yield to external stresses. It would not be susceptible to—or tolerant of—variations in interpretation as no interpretation should be required. Homogeneity would be king, and the simple fact that it is not is proof that all expressions of human-written theism are false.

      • Every culture has had its “science,” meaning its method to produce knowledge (science means knowledge). This is because the human desire for knowledge is natural. Yet science did not spring from the mind of man everywhere the same, and as it happens only one of those “sciences” actually works. Why didn’t scientific method wear what you call a “single hat”? Why didn’t the hypothetico-deductive model occur to Aztecs, Bushmen and Eskimos? I believe the answer will have something to do with the difference between the potential and the actual. Language is natural to humans, meaning healthy humans are born with the potential to speak. But no human is born in possession of an actual language. In the same way, healthy humans are born with the potential to believe the sorts of things religions propose, but no human is born in possession of an actual religion.

        I don’t know how you came up with these a priori properties of a “true religion.” A true religion is distinguished by only one property, its truth. Why should “homogeneity be king” in this realm, when it is not king in any other aspect of human life. Consider science (Western Science), again. Although the data and theory is arguably better than that given to theology, we nevertheless still find disagreement, splinter movements, sudden changes in “consensus.” And Western Science has been in existence for less than four hundred years, about as long as the Christian Church had been in existence when they wrote down the Nicene Creed. Does disagreement among climate scientists “prove” that all climate science is false?

      • They cannot discover different (in the sense of contradictory) sciences that both work, but one or both of them can discover a false science. After all, the history of science takes in failed science. We have here, as in so many instances, subtitles of language. Science can mean (a) what is known, (b) the approved method to produce knowledge, (c) efforts (successful and unsuccessful) to produce knowledge. It is perfectly correct to speak of the science of a people or an age (sense c) without meaning that it is part of science (sense a or b). It is precisely the same with religion. The big difference is that when science (a & b) comes into contact with another form of science (sense c), it tends to supplant it rather quickly (homogeneity, as you say, becomes king). Religion does not work in precisely the same way, but higher religions do tend to supplant lower religions, and this isn’t always coercive.

        I’m going off-line for a few days to spend some time with my family. Kristor can approve comments if he likes, or not. As has been said before, you are a guest here, not a customer or a partner. We have tried to treat you courteously, but as a guest the only right you have is the right to leave.

      • Ah, I see how that works. So, we can tell that atheism is true because everyone’s an atheist. Simple!

        Man, this will make philosophy so much easier!

        I can settle any philosophical question using a simple formula: f(p) → p, where p is the proposition under question and f(p) is “everyone believes that p.”

      • Yes. There’s nothing in it to believe. But as you’ve shown, because everyone believes it, it must be true.

        1. f( ) → ( )
        2. f( )
        3. ( )

      • You keep editing what you’ve written. Is there a reason for this? Should I go back and check everything, just in case you’ve altered conversations?

      • No, I just like to tighten up the writing when I see a way to do it. Sometimes also I have an additional little thought that I meant to put in, which I then forgot as I actually wrote. So I go back in later and add it, more so that I don’t forget it myself than because I think anyone else will ever read it.

        But I don’t change the actual *argument* of a comment.

        PS: case in point: I just edited this very comment after posting. In the second sentence, I changed “that I meant to put in, but that I then” to “that I meant to put in, which I then.” Just a wee bit of tightening.

      • …Or more accurately, scan comments from a safe place where no one can view them, consider response, write draft 1, send it off for review, re-write draft response, permit comment to be seen, send reply.

      • Don’t kid yourself. It’s not about you. If your stuff was hard to bat down, I’d tell you. Until 10 minutes ago, all my responses this afternoon were written and posted from the checkout line at the grocery store.

      • And can you please turn off the Moderation? It’s frightfully frustrating and merely casts you all as fearful censors, desperate to filter (and sometimes change altogether) comments. Permitting the real-time flow and exchange of ideas is gentlemanly. Not allowing that is a sign of weakness.

      • Maybe later. It’s not that we’re afraid, but that we want to maintain a certain tone and focus. If we don’t exercise editorial control, that is less likely to happen.

        But we do go back and forth about it. Moderating is a chore, and 99.99% of the time we approve comments anyway.

      • Wow you’ve convinced me. Let’s now spend all our time defending our non-belief and valiantly fight for our sole right to define all words regardless of etymology, common usage, and reason!

        OK let’s grant that the type of atheism you spoke of exists and infants will grow up without any religious beliefs if they never hear of them (never mind no society on earth like this exists). That still does not mean that that’s your situation since you have heard of God and are at pains to deny Him. You are no longer at the position you yourself define as the default.

      • Evil is defined as a depravity. Saying “maximally wicked” is like saying “the maximal amount of nothing.”

      • Yes. Existence being the forecondition of all good, and thus itself the most basic good, it is necessarily true that a maximally wicked being cannot exist.

    • I’m sorry, but I don’t see any JM Smith listed in the faculty there. An Allison Glass-Smith, yes, but no JM.

      Perhaps that’s because you’re searching Texas State University, where Ms. Glass-Smith, who is not a member of the faculty but a graduate staff advisor, works, and not Texas A&M, where Prof. J.M. Smith works (http://geography.tamu.edu/people/faculty/smithjonathan.html)?

      Given that you’ve made such an elementary error of reading comprehension here, do you think it might be possible that you’ve made other similar errors throughout the discussion?

  8. That still does not mean that that’s your situation since you have heard of God and are at pains to deny Him.

    LOL. Yep, and there it is, the pantomime reality.

    You’re just not worth the time… and I should bow out before one of you alters my comment, re-writing it like you’ve done in the past. Classy.

  9. Godel’s theorem proves that any mathematical system, except the most simple, contains propositions or statements that cannot be explained by the axioms contained within it. This applies to the entire physical universe, by definition the largest mathematical set known. It also applies to the speculated, though entirely evidence-free, multiverse. Godel himself, brought up as he was in an atheist family milieu, was impelled by his mathematics to become a Lutheran Christian. He knew that his theorem made a difficult to resist case that the physical, hence mathematical, universe is necessarily transcended by something non-physical.

    Godel, Einstein and Lemaitre were arguably the three greatest minds of the twentieth century and none were atheists. I’m content to be on their side versus the overwhelming scientistic and positivistic consensus, a consensus which despite its enormous dominance remains extremely insecure, and strangely reliant on assertion and insult.

    • Hmmm I’m surprised you didn’t add in Newton, who was a Christian but didn’t agree with other Christians. Einstein was at best a deist, who didn’t believe in a personal god at all. Godel was some type of Christian (evidently some variant on Lutheranism) but didn’t go to church, which I do believe that Jesus and Paul said was important, and believed in a afterlife and a personal god, but had no evidence for it at all. I’m assuming you mean Georges Lemaitre, who was a Catholic priest. Now, we have three guys who don’t agree at all about what a god is, what it wants or what one is supposed to do to be “saved”. There is no “side” because these men did not agree and you falsely try to claim that they did. It’s always so curious that theists must try to claim that everyone agrees with them, when the most causual reading about these men show that this is not true at all.

  10. John Z,

    You made reference to “anthropomorphic theism”. What does that mean? What religions fall under that category? It seems to me that, at the very least, all humans, past, present, and probably future all hold to the belief that humans are not meat machines, that we are spiritual beings. That, is the “default” view of mankind.

    • I think he was trying to repeat Feuerbach’s inversion of Christianity’s claim that Man is made in the image of God: namely that God is only Man’s projection of his hopes onto the universe. But who knows with this guy?

      • No, I was not. I’m sorry, but your particular religion just isn’t that special. Anthropomorphic theism is simply that: casting the deity with human attributes, distinct from animism, totemism, pantheism, or in most cases, deism.

      • Maybe the third time will be a charm. Or you may actually learn something.

        So in other words, yeah that’s what you are trying to do. I should have known better than to expect you to know where your ideas come from.

        The problem is Christianity doesn’t describe God in that way. God is “wholly other” and humans have difficulty grasping His nature. What you seem to be describing is ancient Greek religion (and similar naturally emerging pagan religions), or at least a popular conception of it. But even in the Hellenes’ case if you remove the veil from the Olympian gods, you find evidence of the numinous, the sheer strangeness and oppressive majesty of the divine (see Otto’s book in the resources). God’s so-called anthropomorphic attributes are only so because we have no proper reference for describing and grasping them fully and often resort to analogy and poetry when speaking of them.

      • I would suggest Assmann’s book The Price of Monotheism for a discussion of the essential difference between primary (natural) religion and the revealed universal monotheisms of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Even the most developed theology of natural religions, e.g. Neoplatonism, or Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta), are developments of earlier religious practices and beliefs, superseding but not rejecting them. Our best surviving example is the Vedic tradition in India. The earliest strata of the Vedas, the Samhita and the Brahmana, show us a religion in which the Aryan gods (Indra, Agni, Varuna, etc.) exchange goods and services for animal sacrifice. As the nomadic Aryans became settled, their religion became more strictly spiritual. We see this in the next stratum of the Veda, the Aranyaka, which describes Vedic sacrifice as symbolic of spiritual realities, most famously the Brhadaranyaka, the meditation on the Ashvamedha, the horse sacrifice. Finally we have the Upanishad in which we find meditations on the divine (some monistic, some theistic) separated from the earlier sacrificial system. It must be remembered that in India, all these strata are Veda and hence absolutely true for the traditional Brahman.

        This must be distinguished from Buddhist revelation. Regardless of how similar the concepts of Buddha and Brahman may be, Buddhist revelation rejected the entirety of the Brahmanic sacrificial system, allowing Buddhism to be universal in a way that Hinduism could never be.
        The same thing occurs in the Mediterranean basin with the coming of Christianity. Even though the Platonic philosophers developed a highly spiritual concept of the divine, Christian revelation is an absolute break with all sacrificial religious systems of the Roman world, even the Jewish. What man can know of the Divine by unaided human reason is necessarily limited and distorted; the full knowledge of the divine divine depends on it revealing itself as a person or a text, or, most importantly, as both.

  11. This is becoming a little boring. I’d rather have Kristor and Dr. Smith work on new articles than go over 3000 years of philosophy with an unbalanced obsessive-compulsive who writes terribly prolix responses due to apparently unlimited free time.

    • Then i would suggest you and your little gang not write articles titled: “The Trouble with Atheists.”

      And if you don’t like hosting a public blog where ideas can be free exchanged in real-time, then I would further suggest you turn this site to Private. If it’s an echo chamber you want, then have an echo chamber.

      • Comment all you want. I was just suggesting they begin ignoring you, since the conversation has gone nowhere and you’re just going to repeat your talking points and go on weird, idiosyncratic tangents for as long as you get attention. You’re boring the readers with your overly long pseudointellectual ramblings. It’s why the moderation was turned on in the first place.

      • By looking at some of your articles it really doesn’t appear that you have any readers. I mean, Kristor was so impressed he got 200 comments on the atheist thread that he boasted about it in this post. I get 200+ comments on a silly meme.

        If you want readers, and readers to engage, I’d suggest you lose the attitude. It’s not appealing.

      • John, I checked out your site. I saw you have a book and you are still looking for someone to refute your thesis that God is a big jerk. So you’re a theist?

      • I might be willing to engage you more and invest in refuting your published arguments if you answer my question. Are you a theist, or something similar? I am confused by your site and your arguments.

        I think the Creator is a jerk because we are too sensitive.

      • Am I an apologist for The Owner of All Infernal Names? Yes. Absolutely.

        ”I think the Creator is a jerk because we are too sensitive.”

        Well, that would be your opinion, and an opinion (a sentiment) is all that differentiates entertainment from cruelty. Just because something is enormously distasteful does not mean it is not the demonstrable Truth.

      • You are an apologist for a god which you call infernal? Strange religion. I’m trying to get a grip on it.

        Has he hurt you or someone you know? Or have your fellow theists hurt you in his name? Or both? Whats going on here?

      • Can someone explain this guy’s philosophy or religion to me? He’s being evasive—is he just another post-modernist then?

      • Earl, I don’t believe Mr. Zande intends any evasion. Having I think interacted with him more than anyone else at the Orthosphere, it seems to me rather that he has thought a very great deal about his position, so much so that certain aspects of it which seem quite odd and counterintuitive to those who are unfamiliar with them seem to him quite obvious and unremarkable. He does not then notice that he has not explained them to a given audience, who are therefore not unlikely to find themselves perplexed at his statements.

        From what I have been able to gather, Mr. Zande thinks that the creator of this universe is omnimalevolent, rather than omnibenevolent. He’s like a Gnostic in that respect, although it is not clear to me whether, like the Gnostics, he believes also in a One who stands behind the demiurge. He concludes to this notion of omnimalevolence from the observation that everything that actually exists in this world tends to suffering and destruction, to ugliness, pain, death, dissolution, and so forth. He takes this tendency then as indicative of the essential final cause or telos of worldly things, and concludes via something like Paley’s Argument from Design that the telos of a created thing indicates the intent of its creator, so that the universally observed tendency of worldly things to suffering and dissolution indicates the creator’s intention to implement pain for his own enjoyment.

        I think this is a fair summary. It certainly intends to be.

      • Nicely said, Kristor. On the whole, not a bad summary. I would add that although terms such as omnimalevolent are used, they are used mostly for distinction purposes. The Creator is not, as I pointed out to you earlier, necessarily “evil,” merely thoroughly pragmatic. A part of that pragmatic approach to His Creation is a desire for anonymity, which is something traditional theists cannot satisfactorily explain.

      • I see. It struck me as odd that he links to his blog that is about atheism, yet apparently zealously preaches a deity, albeit a malevolent one. I guess he thinks he’s some kind of Stephen Colbert of atheism? He reminds me of a friend who told me he’s an atheist, and presented his “best argument nobody’s ever refuted” to me. It went like this: “If there was a God then when you met him in the afterlife why should you care, because he’s [been a big jerk].”

        He was blown away when I pointed out that this is not an argument for atheism, but is in fact an argument for theism, Satan’s own argument. You may not like God, but that doesn’t make him not-God. When you meet God, you’re not going to ask him why your mommy died in a car accident or why you got shafted with multiple sclerosis, and then throw a temper tantrum at him—unless you’re an immature little fool.

      • ”He was blown away when I pointed out that this is not an argument for atheism, but is in fact an argument for theism, Satan’s own argument.”

        Well done. You’ve just contradicted Kristor’s claim that Satan was an atheist.

        Regarding my thesis, Stephen Law (who is using my thesis in his course work and has tweeted quite a lot about it) has presented the Evil God Challenge. If it helps you, you can consider my thesis as just that: a challenge.

        Up to you if you want to engage it or not. If Kristor likes, I’d be happy to participate in a new post, headed by an Introduction to the Argument. If not, I can just post it here and we can go from there.

      • If there was a God then when you met him in the afterlife why should you care, because he’s [been a big jerk].”

        He was blown away when I pointed out that this is not an argument for atheism, but is in fact an argument for theism, Satan’s own argument. You may not like God, but that doesn’t make him not-God.

        This doesn’t refute the notion that Lucifer thinks God is not God – that, as Nilakantha says, he is not truly providential, but rather merely one angel among many, who has unjustly arrogated cosmic kingship to himself. One can’t think God is a big jerk without radically misconstruing God, construing him as something categorically less than he is.

        Lucifer’s blindness to the infinite abyss that yawns between God and all creaturity is so complete that – like Earl’s atheist interlocutor – he cannot even see that his argument that God has been a big jerk is actually an argument that God is, not just an angel, but God – and, ergo, as ultimate and absolute, by definition not a jerk.

        Lucifer thinks YHWH is a big jerk. But YHWH could not have the power to jerk Lucifer around if he were merely a seraph like Lucifer. He can have the power to jerk Lucifer around only if he is God.

        But Lucifer has missed this, because he has deleted the Category of the Ultimate from his conceptual toolkit. He can’t see that there is such a thing as God. All he can see is YHWH the seraph, acting like a big jerk. Like Earl’s atheist friend, he can’t see that an argument that YHWH is a big jerk to the other seraphim is actually an argument that YHWH is God.

        None of this touches the question whether YHWH is omnimalevolent. That notion is problematic for other reasons. The first is that “totally evil” means “totally inactual.” A perfectly evil being is a contradiction in terms, for the perfection of evil in a thing is its complete nonbeing. The second is that, God being ultimate, then no notion of good or evil other than his can be coherently conceivable. To think God’s idea of good and evil mistaken is to misconstrue good, or God, or both.

      • ”None of this touches the question whether YHWH is omnimalevolent. That notion is problematic for other reasons. The first is that “totally evil” means “totally inactual.” A perfectly evil being is a contradiction in terms, for the perfection of evil in a thing is its complete nonbeing. The second is that, God being ultimate, then no notion of good or evil other than his can be coherently conceivable. To think God’s idea of good and evil mistaken is to misconstrue good, or God, or both.”

        I’ve already explained that to call our Creator “evil” is a mistake in definition. Human definitions based on a dualistic notion of the world just don’t work. For good and evil to be meaningful you must assume this world is not performing as the Creator intended. You must assume things have gone terribly, terribly wrong, and this means the Creator has lost control of his Creation. That’s an absurd proposition, and I reject that outright. The reach and diversity of evil (here defined as the ways and means by which suffering can be experienced and delivered) is growing more complex over time because the reach and diversity of evil is meant to grow more complex over time.

        The machine has not malfunctioned.

        The program is running precisely as designed.

        Creation is unfurling exactly as desired by the mistake-free Creator.

        “Good” and “evil” (by human approximations) do not exist. What exists is suffering. Also, you are, once again, ignoring the fact that this world exists to give pleasure to its Creator. It knows no other state of employment. To repeat what I said earlier: If the operations of this world were underwritten by nothing but an outwardly reckless policy of uncapped mayhem and runaway decay, if all life defiled itself without rule or regulation, if all things knew only rot and atrophy, then it would very quickly bring about a reduction in suffering, not enhancement, as continuously savaged systems (organic and inorganic) would never be afforded the necessary time, space, and security to mature and internally enrich, and without self-enrichment, without diversification and specialisation, the Creator’s harvests would be increasingly anaemic over time, and this would represent a failed, bankrupted Creation.

      • I’ve already explained that to call our Creator “evil” is a mistake in definition.

        Right, good, we agree about this. Then to characterize God as willing evil is just inept.

        Human definitions based on a dualistic notion of the world just don’t work.

        If that’s true simpliciter, then “bene” – good – and “male” – evil – are devoid of meaning. We can use the terms (whether of God or of anything else), but they are empty noise, signifying nothing. Suffering in that case is not evil or bad. It just is, and there is no point worrying about it or, certainly, trying to avoid it. Nor is there any sense then in talking about what is or is not “justified,” for the whole discourse of justice and justification is then meaningless nonsense. Politics, law, morality, aesthetics then are all noise, through and through; so is all talk of avoidance or approach, attraction or repulsion, so that cybernetics, chaos theory, psychology, biology, indeed even physics are rendered all meaningless, inapt to things as they are.

        This approach verges steeply toward absurdity. It cannot therefore be correct. There must be such things really as goods, and as defects thereof.

        On the other hand, it is trivially true, and has been recognized for almost 4,000 years by the religion of Israel and all its near relatives, that it does not quite work to say of God that he is good in the same way as creatures are good. But that whole discourse on the proper use of human terms in talk of the Absolute might not perhaps interest you much. That does not mean it is not important, just that you seem not to have taken into account the fact that theists have perennially taken this difficulty into account.

        For good and evil to be meaningful you must assume this world is not performing as the Creator intended. You must assume things have gone terribly, terribly wrong, and this means the Creator has lost control of his Creation. That’s an absurd proposition, and I reject that outright.

        If so, then you are simply not arguing against the God of the Bible, of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam – or of philosophical theism, properly so called. You are, rather, arguing against a pantheistic God who is coterminous with the universe, and who does everything that is done, whatsoever. But if creatures themselves exert no causal effect – if, that is to say, they do not act – that is as much as to say that they do not actually exist. But this contradicts experience per se. So pantheism is false.

        Your notion that God can’t lose control of his universe is false because it is premised on an incoherent idea of omnipotence (there are some problems with your notion of control, too, but I won’t get into that; suffice to say that Providence is not control). Divine omnipotence does not mean that God controls everything, for in that case we would not exist to have the experiences we do have. It means rather that he can do everything that is logically coherent – that can at all, i.e., possibly be done in the first place. Creating actual creatures that cannot actually act – and, as finite, err – turns out to be one of those logically incoherent things that cannot possibly be done by any being (like squaring a circle or making 2 = 3).

        The reach and diversity of evil (here defined as the ways and means by which suffering can be experienced and delivered) is growing more complex over time because the reach and diversity of evil is meant to grow more complex over time.

        It just isn’t true that order is increasing. It is decreasing. And disorder is conserved. From an initial state of complete orderliness, the cosmos is steadily disordering. If your theory were correct, this could not be so. Your theory is false to empirical fact.

      • “Right, good, we agree about this. Then to characterize God as willing evil is just inept.”

        Kristor, you have a strikingly odd habit of making grand statements without offering any evidence to support them.

        Consider the definition of evil: the ways and means by which suffering can be experienced and delivered.

        ”Suffering in that case is not evil or bad. It just is, and there is no point worrying about it or, certainly, trying to avoid it.”

        Indeed, suffering is simply an energetic discharge, and by Creation’s orientation towards amplifying those discharges over time we must conclude that this energy stimulates our Creator. How this functions to fulfil the Creator, we can only speculate, perhaps it is nothing more than simple entertainment, an orgasm, but it can be said with a tremendous degree of confidence that the experience of suffering is exceedingly more faithful and enormously more incorruptible than that of love or kindness. Unlike affection, suffering cannot simulated, faked or forged. It is pure and reaches indiscriminately across all life, from the simplest and most austere, to the most dazzling and self-adorned. Although not cognitively aware of the sensation of pain, protozoa, unlike a stone or a lake of clay, can skirmish with that which threatens it, resisting organised and not-so organised assaults launched against its existence. By this fact alone—by this animated attitude towards a menacing world—the observer sees that this primordial expression of life knows it is suffering, yet it is simply incapable of any reaction that may be mistaken for love or altruism.

        Climb then above this first chorus of pain-aware life and the experience of physical and emotional torment only deepens with each ascending rung.

        I’ve already explained to you the implications of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, but are you aware, Kristor, that plants suffer? Like algae and fungi, they are stained with a gentle but persuasive insanity known to all life, and can suffer in a form of chemical panic if starved of (or saturated by) water, nutrients and sunlight, if strip-barked, infested with parasites, or over-grazed. Plants also fear pain. Located deep inside the plant genome, isolated within the first intron MPK4, lay three ancient genes (PR1, PR2, PR5) that have revealed to researchers that MPK4 is devoted to negative regulation of the PR gene expression. What this means is that plants not only experience suffering, they live in fear of it. This gene expression is anticipatory. It is what humans would identify with as a deep-rooted paranoia, a most ancient anxiety.

        Now, as mentioned earlier, if Integrated Information Theory is true, then suffering is, in fact, omnipresent… evident in atoms, struggling to maintain their peculiar understanding of dear life.

        Do you remember what I wrote about delicious excrement?

        On a personal level, you can try not to worry about it, but confounding any effort is a thing called nociception. You have a pain receptors (complex actions potentials) networked to a central nervous system connected to a giant brain. That giant brain is capable of predictive thought, and that capacity invites fear and anxiety.

        It’s just biology.

        “On the other hand, it is trivially true, and has been recognized for almost 4,000 years by the religion of Israel and all its near relatives, that it does not quite work to say of God that he is good in the same way as creatures are good.”

        I have been at pains to tell you that traditional (human) notions of good and evil simply don’t apply. John Fiske observed,

        “A scheme which permits thousands of generations to live and die in wretchedness cannot be absolved from the charge of awkwardness or malevolence. It is impossible to call that being Good who, existing prior to the phenomenal universe, and creating it out of the plenitude of infinite power and foreknowledge, endowed it with such properties that its material and moral development must inevitably be attended by the misery of untold millions of sentient creatures for whose existence their creator is ultimately alone responsible.”

        While Fiske is essentially correct, he is scoring Creation with a foot on the platform of traditional theism. I do not stand on that platform. Regardless of how bitter or uncomfortable or ill-fitting an answer may be, irrespective of its hazard or grotesqueness, the impartial observer’s only duty is to open the shutter and let the photons pour in: uncensored.

        “If so, then you are simply not arguing against the God of the Bible, of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.”

        How many times would you like me to repeat this? I am not, and never was, arguing against any human religion. Your’s is a pantomime built upon a historical cartoon. It is riddled with excuses, and as monstrously appealing and emotionally satisfying as these stories might be to people who want to believe all is in fact well in the universe, the very concept of a loving personal creator was only ever a secondary invention, a grinning wicker man thrown together in antiquity and stood in place as a chimerical response to a world whose everyday works betray the fantasy in every possible way.

        ”Divine omnipotence does not mean that God controls everything, for in that case we would not exist to have the experiences we do have.”

        God does not interfere. I never said He did. I did explain, did I not, that this world is painted with impenetrable naturalism, and the greatest proof for the existence of our Omnimalevolent Creator is that there is no conspicuous proof of our Omnimalevolent Creator’s existence, just teleological birthmarks that can be isolated and studied as testimony.

        As written earlier:

        Despite ancient suspicions, nature is on inspection neither kind nor unkind. It is neither caring nor uncaring. It is not, under even the closest audit, either interested or disinterested. It is merciless, cruel, and stunningly violent, but it is also mindless and without vengeance or hate or malice. It is, from every perspective, a contrivance of dead matter simply being moved—chemically or mechanically—by the unthinking, enormously discourteous laws of the universe.

        There is nothing to blame… Nothing to accuse of injustice. Since the cardinal cycles of this universe were spun-up and set loose, the urge of all that which moves and interacts has consulted the future with a stubborn enthusiasm, cascading naturally forward, spilling out from the simplest and lightest towards the heaviest and most complicated. Whether they know it and like it or not, it is a contract to which all contingent things are hopelessly but faithfully dedicated. Creation has, after all, but one state of employment conferred to all but the Creator Himself. It is an industry that has birthed, and will continue to birth, increasingly fantastic product lines and services whose central ambition is wholly devoted to producing even more fantastic products and services; generations stacked one on top of the other with each new contrivance—or variation on an existing contrivance—more adept, more skilled and more talented than the last at experiencing and distributing suffering.

        “It just isn’t true that order is increasing. It is decreasing. And disorder is conserved. From an initial state of complete orderliness, the cosmos is steadily disordering. If your theory were correct, this could not be so.”

        Is not life an organised response to disorder? It struggles to maintain itself, and by doing so it enters the evolutionary paradigm.

        But I was not talking about ordered and disordered energy states, rather, complexity; complexity is increasing, and has been for 13.8 billion years. This universe is a complexity machine.

        That is simply a fact.

        Insistent but thoroughly careless affinities were written into the most ancient recesses of existence, and these attractions can no sooner be circumvented than they can be persuaded to act in any way other than that in which they were instructed to act. Cooled gases become liquids, cooled liquids become solids, and solids arrange themselves into increasingly complex, ultimately self-replicating patterns, no driver required. As the strikingly impressive 19th Century historian and philosopher, John Fiske, so prudently observed:

        “As soon as it became cool enough for oxygen and hydrogen to unite into a stable compound, they did unite to form vapour of water. As soon as it became cool enough for double salts to exist, then the mutual affinities of simple binary compounds and single salts, variously brought into juxtaposition sufficed to produce double salts. And so on throughout the inorganic world … Here we obtain a hint as to the origin of organic life upon the earth’s surface. In accordance with the modern dynamic theory of life, we are bound to admit that the higher and less stable aggregations of molecules which constitute protoplasm were built up in just the same way in which the lower and more stable aggregations of molecules which constitute a single or a double salt were built up. Dynamically, the only difference between carbonate of ammonia and protoplasm which can be called fundamental is the greater molecular complexity and consequent instability of the latter.”

        Astonishing, certainly, but the interplay of chemistry and the production of microbial life is, as Fiske points to, factually unremarkable. Give any chemically rich system enough time, with enough free energy, and something unusual, but ultimately predictable, will eventually occur. Indeed, on no less than 24 separate occasions the earth has witnessed the simplest of single-celled life leap from its primal state to that of multi-cellular activity, marking this transition to organic complexity as something fundamentally pedestrian, if not entirely unavoidable, preordained.

        To repeat what was already written:

        Hydrogen fuses to the heavier and more complex helium, helium fuses into the heavier and more complex carbon, single compounds bind to make double compounds, simple molecules marry to create amino acids, amino acids come together to model proteins and enzymes, proteins and enzymes experiment to prototype self-replicating systems where, according to the accepted paradigm of evolutionary biology, there is a continuum from simple to more complex organisms. The natural world witnessed prokaryotes before eukaryotes, primitive action potentials before antique nerve nets, bilateral nervous systems before central nervous systems, talons and incisors before arrow tips and hydrogen bombs, hunter-gatherers before gunsmiths and engineers, corporeal barter systems before ethereal derivative trading.

        Now, regarding Creation’s natural bias to complexity, consider the ancient, yet modestly appointed Narcomedusae jellyfish with all of its 800 central nervous system neurons busily firing off, constantly trying to determine which way is up and what is, and what’s not, food. As wondrous as the Narcomedusae might be when compared to some inorganic amalgam of rock, it is impossible for such an elementary expression of life to conceive of the mosaic of anxieties—both real and imagined—lived by the more recently evolved field mouse with its 70 million neurons so acutely tuned to the constant needs of its warm body, and the danger which inhabits its tiny, tiny world. In a preferentially-scored portfolio of pain, the apprehensive field mouse is a far superior product than the Narcomedusae whose most complex possible torment is limited to, at best, a caustic allergy to light. Now consider the Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer: a simple human clansman boasting the same number of neurons as his modern counterpart, 100 billion, but whose possessions never exceeded that which he could carry and run with. For such an unembellished creature with his pocket-sized mobile culture it is impossible to comprehend the anguish of losing a home, for example, to bankruptcy and foreclosure. Although not entirely beyond his comprehension, the concepts of home and debt and repossession, and all the little anxieties so intimately bound to these abstractions, are not within his purview of total understanding, which is to say the experience is simply not available in the antediluvian world in which he inhabits. In a word, the primitive clansman is wholly immune to the robust grief known to, or at the very least available to, the more culturally entangled homeowner thousands of generations later.

        Creation expands along biological, cognitive, emotional, cultural, economic, and technological lines, and what suffering already existed is augmented, amplified, fine-tuned, and enhanced.

        Demonstrably, pain finds new and more innovative ways to dress and express itself.

        It is true, however, that in one fashion of another, this universe will end. That is guaranteed. Perhaps it will be a hot death in some great crush when all matter is recalled, or perhaps it will be a cold death when all the hydrogen that ever existed is eventually spent (as one day it will surely be) and the last stars extinguish for what the human mind perceives as forever. At that time, this once vibrant and vast cosmic sheet will conceivably be tossed aside, flung onto a pile where perhaps millions or even billions of other discarded, empty, now cold and dark universes lie in an appalling Godly midden… a supernal mound of cosmic refuse.

        This is a timed game. It has a beginning and an end, and just to stimulate you a little more, my thesis proposes (with justification) that the Creator purposefully degrades Himself, suspending His omniscience for some of, or even the entire duration of the game. By denying Himself information—by purposefully starving Himself of foreknowledge—the Creator has made it so most, if not all future events are a mystery, and by doing so He maximises His debased harvest by riding a wave of mounting anticipation which surely must add unimaginable value to His vast and forever expanding, forever diversifying portfolio.

        It is a stroke of compounding brilliance. Mystery is the aggravating property in the pleasure-taking, pleasure-maximising equation; a cost-free injection of pure adrenalin into the heart of Creation. Surprise magnifies and exaggerates the core pleasure derived from calamities large and small, each and every little war, plague, earthquake and miserable life twist now a delightful, thrilling, unexpected windfall.

      • Going back to Plato’s discussion of atheism in The Laws, we know that atheism has traditionally had at least three related meanings: 1. not believing in the existence of the Divine, 2. the belief that the Divine is not provident and 3. the belief that the Divine is venal. Therefore, it is perfectly possible for Satan or John to believe in the existence of the Divine and still be classed as atheists because they reject its providence.

      • “Well done. You’ve just contradicted Kristor’s claim that Satan was an atheist.”

        But my friend is an atheist. At the same time, he’s mad at God for multiple sclerosis. Fortunately, I know the thing, since I used to be an atheist—mad at God because he didn’t make the world the way I thought he ought to have. Atheists like this live and speak as though there is no God, often telling themselves there is no God, yet they live their life constantly catalyzed by their relationship with God. Just like you. You live your life catalyzed by God. He saturates everything you do, think, and say.

      • ”But my friend is an atheist. At the same time, he’s mad at God for multiple sclerosis.”

        Well, quite clearly your friend is not an atheist, just a simpleton.

        And I’m afraid you’re quite mistaken. Unjustified religious (in most cases, evangelical Christian) interference in the operation of our secular societies occupies some my attention.


      • What’s all this about “unjustified . . . interference” from a man who tells us “the machine has not malfunctioned”? In the face of evil, you tell us to adopt a stance of stoic quietism; in the face of political opposition, you rage and complain just like anyone else. Your “secular society” is an ideal, not reality; your “unjustified . . . interference” is a “malfunction” in the operation of this society.

      • I don’t believe it is a secular society. It is shot through with transcendental notions, only some of which are Christian. But enough about me; let’s talk about you. How can there be “unjustified . . . interference” if “the machine has not malfunctioned”? What grounds do you have to complain about anything, if evil is conserved?

      • ”I don’t believe it is a secular society.”

        Well, Young Earth Creationists don’t believe in Evolution. That doesn’t render Evolution any less real, does it?

        ”How can there be “unjustified . . . interference” if “the machine has not malfunctioned”? What grounds do you have to complain about anything, if evil is conserved?”

        Unjustified (such as Bush banning stem cell research for no rational reason other than it bothered his religious sensibilities, and by doing so setting US science a decade behind the rest of the world) is a measure on an act. Thomas Malthus observed that we should work against evil , and that is what we should indeed do. Good feels real, distinct, because to both the observer and the one directly experiencing the good, it is. It has a presence much like matter and energy have a presence. There is an impression of substance, of form and body because there is form and body. We might not be able to affect the greater narrative, the machine will roll on according to its single impulse, it has done so for 13.82 billion years, but we can work toward reducing suffering in those sentences in-between.

      • My friend is a simpleton? Yes, I have found that many atheists are indeed simpletons. In fact, the distribution curve of atheist IQ shows a heavy left tail, to reference Vox Day.

        http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/01/mailvox-on-distribution-of-atheist.html

        I have no problem putting you under my religious boot, since you would do likewise. You and your readers would put us (theists and “simpletons” alike) under your religious boot: Your gnostic omnimalevolent boot; your “secular” boot- your secularism being full of humanistic moral values and condescending purity attacks against “simpletons.”

        Nice job ripping off Buddhism by crying about suffering. I happen to be a big fan of suffering, and disagree that evil is the ways and means of suffering. Your philosophy makes me suffer, John, therefore you are doing evil. I suppose if you are as honest an atheist as I used to be you already admit that you’re evil—yet here you are, not having put yourself to death as escape—the only solution to the problem of evil. Put yourself to death John.

        I pray you’d be born again in The Spirit, though! God bless you Mr. Stephen Colbert of atheism.

  12. @Jim

    You said: Evil is defined as a depravity. Saying “maximally wicked” is like saying “the maximal amount of nothing.”

    No, that is not the definition of evil. Evil is better defined as the ways and means by which suffering can be delivered and experienced.

    • If you’re going to use ethical, historical and scientific statements, please explain how you overcome the naturalistic fallacy and the problem of induction without any appeal to metaphysical thought.

      • No one is talking ethics, nor am I presenting opinion. As explained above, I, unlike you, am not interested in excuses for why things are not as they should be if matter had been persuaded to behave by a benevolent hand, rather am focused on arriving at a coherent, excuse-free explanation for why things are as they are in the unignorable presence of a Creator. You are dedicated to rescuing an incompetent spirit who has lost total control of his creation. I find that effort patently absurd. To repeat what I said earlier: a genuine truth does not tolerate excuses. A truth that requires annotation is not a truth, but a fabrication, and for this reason there exists just one aspersion-free path down which the truly impartial observer must move to assemble a legitimate and robust explanation of the physical world: the teleological survey; a study of design, of best results, and as such, an exploration of intent. “Contrivance proves design,” accurately observed William Paley, “and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer.” Know then the disposition, revealed as it must be through design, through the architecture, and one may know the designer.

      • @John

        You’ve already committed two informal fallacies. First, your sentence, “Evil is better defined as the ways and means by which suffering can be delivered and experienced” is a prime example of the naturalistic fallacy, while your assertions about my beliefs and my intellectual project are merely ad hominems. If you are able, would you present your purpose for commenting on this site? Do you have an intellectual objection to the philosophical position of metaphysical realism? If so, what is your objection? Or do you merely dislike the Christian formulation of metaphysical realism? If so, which arguments of the Christian philosophers do you find unsound? As we all know, a deductive argument may be unsound on only two grounds, 1.its form is invalid and 2. it contains at least one untrue premise.

      • Naturalistic fallacy? Far from it. As I have already explained to Kristor, traditional theists make a tremendous error is thinking in terms of “good” and “evil” as independent things. They are not. Good and evil are interchangeable just as matter and energy are interchangeable. There is no Problem of Good.

        If I was wrong in assuming you are a Christian apologist, then I apologise. May I ask, are you a contributor to this blog?

        If you are able, would you present your purpose for commenting on this site?

        The subject of this post is why I am here. The discussion has since diverged into matters of the identity, nature, and government of the Creator.

        Do you have an intellectual objection to the philosophical position of metaphysical realism?

        I see no need to complicate the discussion with vaporous nonsense. Let us only deal with hard facts: the world that is, has been, and will be.

      • How do “should be” and “benevolent” have any meaning except in respect to an ontologically real “Good”?

  13. I am not a Christian apologist or even a Christian. I’m usually a silent reader of The Orthosphere but comment occasionally on philosophical issues. Since your arguments about God and His nature are of necessity metaphysical and epistemological, you can’t be let off the hook by dismissing metaphysics and epistemology as “vaporous nonsense”. Your statement “Good and evil are interchangeable just as matter and energy are interchangeable,” to take just one example, can only be read as a metaphysical statement, and one for which you offer no proof. Even your suggestion that we “only deal with hard facts” is so hopelessly sedimented with metaphysical presuppositions that I really can’t believe you wrote it with a straight face. If there is no abstract realm of law underlying the empirical world, you cannot account for the regularity of cause and effect, the central problem recognized by David Hume and now known as the problem of induction. The Naturalistic Fallacy is the fallacy of defining a moral term by an empirical term, e.g. evil is a goose, or, in your example, “Evil is better defined as the ways and means by which suffering can be delivered and experienced.” This is a fallacy because it’s not only wrong, it’s, as Wittgenstein would say, wrongheaded. Concepts exist neither in time nor space, ergo we cannot say that the idea of the number 3 weighs twelve pounds and is only here on Thursdays. Just because something is abstract doesn’t mean it’s subjective or changeable. Study your Plato.

    • Hi Nilakantha,

      thanks for the clarification. You’re not a Christian apologist.

      ”to take just one example, can only be read as a metaphysical statement, and one for which you offer no proof.”

      I can offer libraries of evidence. I didn’t in this most recent comment simply because we haven’t entered into a meaningful dialogue about it yet. I have already given one example (medicine) above to Kristor. Here we see that the seemingly “good” of medicine is in fact a remarkable augmentation of resourced, where a general population dying at 35 cannot, by and large, produce the same quantity or quality of suffering generated through the extended life of a general population dying at age 80 or 90. Another example could be fertilisers. It has been estimated that the German chemist and inventor of synthetic fertilisers, Fritz Haber, is responsible for saving up to 3 billion lives with his work. It is an astonishing figure when first viewed, a seemingly remarkable blow delivered to uncertainty and scarcity, yet it is a number that conceals a darker, more pervasive truth. Like natural good, moral good must also be considered a means to greater evil, and in the larger narrative of a Creation working forever towards higher expressions of misery, Haber’s work has in fact created 3 billion harvestable lives that would otherwise be missing from the Omnimalevolent Creator’s debased ledger. Seen from another perspective, Haber’s extraordinary contribution has added billions, if not trillions of hours a year—created out of virtually nothing—to the Creator’s accounts in which the objects of His greatest stimulation are now naked before the constant ravages of existence, and this opens a new and brilliantly fertile profit stream from which The Owner of All Infernal Names may drink from at his leisure.

      You see, this is why I see no need to cloud this dialogue with ethereal notions and vaporous thought exercises. I don’t mean to sound dismissive, I’m sure you think that type of discussion is meaningful, but those are fictions. I’m not concerned with fictions.

      ”you cannot account for the regularity of cause and effect, the central problem recognized by David Hume and now known as the problem of induction.”

      What a strange statement. I find no problem with cause and effect. The world is painted in impenetrable naturalism, and for a very good reason: the Creator cherishes His anonymity. There are no supernatural stains on Creation, and nothing contravenes the common passage of cause and effect. Indeed, the greatest proof for the existence of our Omnimalevolent Creator is that there is no conspicuous proof for the Omnimalevolent Creator, just teleological birthmarks that can be isolated and studied as testimony. For existential despair to be tamed there can be nothing to blame, nothing to rebel against, and that is why in this world the innocent and guilty suffer in equal measure. This I have also already explained in some detail above. Rather than re-posting it, I suggest you scroll up and read it for yourself.

      The reason for defining “evil” as I have (the ways and means by which suffering can be experienced and delivered) is because human concepts are inherently flawed. The standard definition implies dualism. I reject this, and can demonstrate why. Good does not exist. Good has never existed. Good is nothing but a means to greater suffering. Evil, though, also doesn’t exist. Not by human definitions. What exists is suffering. That is quantifiable. That is measurable, and I can go into great detail here demonstrating the universe (a complexity machine) tumbling forward from a state of ancestral simplicity to contemporary complexity, where complexity births greater and greater expressions of suffering.

      If you are capable of such a thing, please concern yourself only with the world that is, has been, and will be. We have 13.8 billion years of evolutionary history to observe and comment on. We have pattern, and even though the Creator chooses anonymity, we can observe the pattern and by doing so dress that which does not wish to be identified.

  14. “Evil is better defined as the ways and means by which suffering can be delivered and experienced”,

    There are 16 million (the 1% of the dar al Islam, we are told, that are militantly Jihadist) who would enjoy mercilessly slaughtering you, an infidel, John Zande, and slaughtering all those whom you love. Now suppose this multitude of humanity sailed across the sea to accomplish their nefarious deed and a storm, not unlike the one that befell the Spanish Armada, inflicted horrific suffering on each and every one of these depraved individuals. Well, per your definition, that storm, that saved your lives, should be quite a vehicle of evil. I mean the suffering of 16 MILLION compared to the suffering that just you and yours would have undergone. Considering the way you handled vehicle deaths you’d have to call that evil.

    Probably readers of this blog would have the opposite opinion.

    Your definition of Evil, not unlike the vast majority of liberals, neatly omits intention and morality. Relatedly, as Lawrence Auster argued, those that call it ‘the tragedy of 9-11’ (‘focused only on the suffering of the victims), almost as though the result of some random act, should be called liberal liars. A failure to conceive of and declare 9-ll to be a well-deliberated evil act says much about someone… nothing good.

  15. The empirical aspects of the Zande-Law hypothesis are not a challenge to orthodox Christianity, although they are incompatible with post-millennial, modernist Christianity. As orthodox Christians (and philosophical conservatives), we can certainly accept what might be called the doctrine of the conservation of evil in the cosmos. Freud made this point in Civilization and Its Discontents; as does the contemporary conservative writer John Grey; as did the more unbending Calvinists of the seventeenth century. Schopenhauer is my personal favorite in this genre of Pessimism. Differentiation is simply an aspect of temporal reality, so we are not surprised to see the experience of (conserved) evil differentiating along with all other experiences.

    We dissent from the predictive, explanatory, and metaphysical elements of the Zande-Law hypothesis. In our view the conservation of evil will end with a New Creation. Pessimism is essentially Christianity stripped of the Parousia; Christianity is essentially Pessimism with the Parousia added as the means of salvation from the Zande-Law cosmos. Our explanation of evil (and its conservation) will be found in the many, many volumes of Christian theodicy. Personally, I like Richard Swinburne. We will obviously dissent from the notion that good and evil are interchangeable–mere modes of some underlying substance. As Kristor pointed out earlier, the analogy with energy and matter is false. A better analogy would be substance and void.

    I’m going to close this comment thread in a couple of days. So, if you wish to ask a question of Mr. Zande, do so soon.

    • ”We dissent from the predictive, explanatory, and metaphysical elements of the Zande-Law hypothesis. In our view the conservation of evil will end with a New Creation.”

      So, in effect, you’re ignoring reality because of, well, because the daydream is more comfortable than the truth. It begs the question: Why should anyone take you and your opinions seriously then?

      You’re certainly not alone in this organised (sanctioned) self-delusion. For the longest time, agile but fabulously naïve thinkers have looked carelessly at this world, studying its greater forms and lesser functions in meticulous half detail, never once suspecting that they might in fact be little more than the treasured playthings for another’s depraved amusement; trinkets cast across a board and encouraged to meditate (as you are doing) on grand meanings of purpose, and then permitted to broadcast their reliably flawed conclusions back to anxious audiences desperate to hear that—despite all that they saw around them—all was in fact well in the universe.

      “Our explanation of evil (and its conservation) will be found in the many, many volumes of Christian theodicy.”

      Theodicies are not “explanations” rather “excuses;” vain attempts to rescue an incompetent spirit who (you are saying) has lost total control of his creation.

      I reject that proposition outright. God, by definition, is maximally competent. God, by definition, is maximally efficient. There are no mistakes. There can be no mistakes, no missteps, no lapses or miscalculations. The reach and diversity of evil is growing more complex over time because the reach and diversity of evil is meant to grow more complex over time. Suffering is growing more potent and more expressive over time because suffering is meant to grow more potent and more expressive over time. The influence and dexterity and competence of tiny anxieties and paralysing fears are growing more persuasive and personalised over time because the influence and dexterity and competence of tiny anxieties and paralysing fears is meant to grow more persuasive and personalised over time.

      The machine has not malfunctioned.

      What exists, exists because it was envisaged by the Catalogue of Catalogues that is the mind of God. Evil exists because it is meant to exist, and to even suggest it is the result of some personal ineptitude or blunder in the design is preposterous.

      Let it be said, though: the more you invest in these creative excuses, these alibi’s and convenient scapegoats the better it is for the Creator. Religion is a powerful deflection.

      “As Kristor pointed out earlier, the analogy with energy and matter is false. A better analogy would be substance and void.”

      No justification was provided for this opinion, whereas I provided evidence to support my position. I can continue providing evidence, hard case studies, if you like. I’d be more than happy to. Good and evil are interchangeable. Without any prior coaching or instruction, could a child be shown three chambers, the first filled with a liquid, the second a gas, and the third a metal and understand by observation alone that they are all hydrogen, for example, presented at simply different temperatures and pressures? The same may be said of good and evil. They both work toward greater expressions of suffering.

      This is demonstrable.

      Suffering is quantifiable.

      • The Christian revelation is part of “reality.” I have judged it true; you have judged it false. Other than that, we are not in serious disagreement as to the existential facts. Your argument for the interchangeability of good and evil looks to me as if it is simply the law of “unintended consequences,” itself an aspect of the “conservation of evil.” That we cannot reduce the absolute quantity of suffering, but only displace it in time and space, in no way leads to the conclusion that goodness and evil are mere modes of an underlying substance. It leads to the pessimistic conclusion that efforts to reduce the absolute quantity of suffering are bound to fail. In any case, as you well know, orthodox Christianity proposes to redeem suffering, not reduce it.

  16. Allright folks, the bar is closed! I shouted out “last call” yesterday, and now am turning up the lights and blasting Ducks on the Wall through the sound system (this was the song used to clear bars at 2:00 a.m. in my college days). As a courtesy to our guest John Zande, I’ve allowed him to have the last word (or rather 2,297 words). The Orthosphere has now granted him ample space to unfold, detail and defend his position. If you wish to continue this discussion, I invite you to do so at his website, where I’m sure you will enjoy reciprocal hospitality. (Better yet, go and read Schopenhauer’s Essays). Any resumption of this discussion at the Orthosphere will have to be initiated by one of the Orthosphere contributors; and I at least will suppress uninvited attempts to insinuate it into future comment threads. Lest this be seen as a cowardly attempt to shield tender Christian eyes from the Terrifying Truth of Mr. Zande’s dismal vision, I’ll try to acknowledge such suppressions and direct the curious back to this thread. So good night! Go home! Sleep it off! and Be careful on the roads (bad things do happen)!

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