Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is God Good?, Part I by Peter Hurford

Is God Good?, Part I:
Follow up to: The Meaning of Morality; The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time; The Biblical God is a Malevolent Bully, Part II; The Great Problem of Evil, Part III; and God, Babies, Hell, and Justice

Most religious people suggest that the God they worship is not only a pretty good guy, but ultimately benevolent, all-loving, and morally perfect — a being capable of doing no wrong to anyone. Some of these people suggest that this God is so benevolent and perfect that he actually is the very moral standard by which benevolence and moral perfection is measured — that our idea of moral goodness comes from this god.

I don’t think either of these claims work — based on what we know about God’s character from observing the world, we know he cannot be good, and because of this and several other reasons, we definitely don’t get our morality from God. In this essay, I explain what all the previous essays on God’s malevolence have been pointing to, and once and for all make the case that God is decidedly malevolent, and thus not worth worship, with the inevitable conclusion that many religions are false.

What Does It Mean to Be Good?

So when we’re saying God is “good”, what is it that we’re actually saying? As I wrote in “The Meaning of Morality”, there are a variety of possible claims — we could be saying that God is good because he follows God’s commands, that God is good because our culture approves of him, that God is good because he always acts to maximize the well-being of conscious creatures, that God is good because he follows his rational duty, that God is good because he does what people would agree to if signing a hypothetical social contract, that God is good because he is of virtuous character, etc. The possibilities are endless.

However, I prefer to use a specific definition of “good” that works for our purposes: God will never allow any needless suffering. Why use this definition instead of another one? As I point out in “The Folly of Debating Definitions”, it ultimately doesn’t matter, as long as this definition works. And it is the one that matters, if God is making people suffer pointlessly, he is worthy of condemnation — he is cruel and malevolent, and fundamentally opposed to love and compassion.

Some people might ask why we should care about whether God is compassionate, as long as he is right by some other definition. But I think this is a connotation that is being smuggled, that we should care about this other definition if it results in needless suffering. Needless suffering is just that — something that we are just better off without.

Can We Judge God?

This actually gives us a basis to judge God — we can see if God causes any needless suffering, and if he does, then we judge him to not be good. Some people will find this objectionable in itself, though — why are we allowed to judge God?

Judging is matching something to an external standard, and seeing if it meets that standard. This type of judging is the same kind of thing as judging Hulk Hogan to be strong or judging Michael Jordan to be tall. And taking any kind of stance to these questions — is Hulk Hogan strong? is God good? — must involve judging, since we are describing God according to a definition, which is a standard that is either met or not met.

Thus it is impossible not to judge God, since saying God has any characteristic means we’re judging him. If we say God is good, we are judging that God meets the minimal defining characteristics of goodness. If we say God is worth worshipping, we are saying he meets our standards for what we want to worship.

If we say God is all-powerful, we say that God meets the standard of being capable of doing anything that is logically possible. And the final clincher: even if we say that God cannot be judged, we are judging God to be the kind of thing that meets the characteristics of something that cannot be judged!

Saying that God meets a certain definition is hardly heresy, it is something completely unavoidable. Thus not only can we judge God, we must judge God, and we have a basis to do so. God either allows needless suffering to happen or he does not, and the answer to this question has implications. So how is this question answered?

Why We’re Forced to Appeal to Mystery

Here is where things get a bit awkward, though — when we actually look at the state of the world and the beliefs of Christianity, things don’t look so good. There seems to be an awful lot of needless suffering, which I’ve argued for in other essays:

  • In “The Great Problem of Evil”, I point to birth defects that lead to the suffering and death of babies, deaths from preventable diseases like smallpox and malaria, and deaths from institutionalized cruelty like the Holocaust.
  • Another instance of needless suffering I didn’t mention, but want to include now, is that of animal suffering prior to the arise of humans — see John Loftus’s “The Darwinian Problem of Evil” for the really short version and Paul Draper’s “Natural Selection and the Problem of Evil” for the really long version.
  • In “The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time”, I point to the Devil, and the fact that God allows the Devil to continue to cause suffering, and the fact that God has still not brought his perfect kingdom to Earth.
  • In “The Biblical God is a Malevolent Bully” I point to the massive amount of suffering God commands in the Bible, including outright genocide and infanticide, and the rape and murder of women, all culminating in the punishing of Job for what God himself admits to be without reason.
  • Lastly, in “God, Babies, Hell, and Justice”, I point to the unnecessarily harsh punishment of Hell, which constitutes infinite punishment for finite sins.

Generally when faced with someone who causes suffering, like shooting a woman in the chest, we look for some justification that would explain why this person did such a thing. For instance, we recognize that people are allowed to shoot woman who attempt to shoot them first, or put them in grave danger. God, who is accused of causing suffering, can get the same excuses — simply name a reason that God allowed the suffering that we would recognize as “worth it”.

However, we do not have those reasons. All of these essays meticulously rebut any possible excuse that justifies the kind of suffering that God permits or directly causes, so at the end of the day we’re left with only one kind of appeal — that while we have no idea why God is allowing needless suffering, it doesn’t make him uncompassionate. We’re ultimately forced to appeal to mystery to defend God’s goodness because we have no other out since all actual justifications fail.

However, these appeals to mystery fail as well, so we’re left with the Problem of Evil, and the inevitable conclusion that God is not good, and thus many religions are false.

The Unknowable Purpose is Unreasonable

One common explanation for why God is good despite all the apparent suffering in the world is that this suffering isn’t needless, but rather God has a grand purpose for this suffering, and that this purpose would completely justify anything God has done and makes him out to be the perfectly compassionate guy he is said to be, if only we knew what the purpose was. And that’s just it… we don’t know what the purpose is. That’s why they call it the Unknown Purpose Defense.

This sounds suspicious, of course. Isn’t it convenient that God has an unknown purpose that we just don’t know about? And isn’t not having a justification in itself a problem? Why would an all-powerful God not be able to give us a justification, and why would an all-good God not want to? So then we have to find a justification for why God is keeping his purpose hidden from us (or why he doesn’t reveal himself at all). And then we would need a justification for why the justification for why God is keeping his purpose hidden is itself being hidden. And so on, infinitely.

Imagine if the same justification was extended to beings other than God, such as any criminal. Imagine that same guy accused of shooting the woman in the chest — he doesn’t offer any excuse of self-defense or any other justifying circumstances, but instead says “Oh, I have a purpose for my shooting that justifies it, you just don’t know what it is.” Sure, it’s possible, but we would hardly take it on face value. If we wouldn’t accept the unknown purpose from the shooter on trial, we shouldn’t accept it in defense of God.

Lastly, there’s another reason we can’t accept an unknown purpose defense though, and that’s because we could use it to defend anything as true. Can zebras fly? It seems like they cannot — we have never observed a zebra who is capable of flight and we know of no method that could allow a zebra to fly. But a ha! What if there is an unknown reason why zebras can fly, and it is simply unknown to us. Until you can disprove the existence of this unknown reason, I’m justified in thinking that zebras can fly!

Just like in the case of the shooter and in the case of the zebra flying hypothesis, the mere possibility of an unknown reason should not be enough to say that God is good. And we should be immensely surprised that a God who can do anything is so limited that not only is he forced to make people suffer horribly, he cannot tell us why he does so. So the unknown purpose defense is unreasonable for multiple reasons.

The Circular Nature of God

Another common justification for God is that we know he is obviously good based on his perfect nature, so we needn’t let all the suffering and problems bother us. Instead, we can just be reassured by God’s all-good nature that all the suffering is for the best, all part of his perfect plan.

This sounds tempting because it puts us at ease and we want to believe it. We want to think that everything will be ok, so we don’t have to worry. However, just because we want to believe it doesn’t make it true. And here, there is a clear problem: this defense of God is circular. We can’t use God’s all-good nature to defend against accusations that he might not have an all-good nature, that’s claiming that we can know God is good because God is good.

The goodness of God is exactly what is in question by the Problem of Evil, so it makes no sense to dismiss the Problem of Evil by asserting the goodness of God. Additionally, it makes no sense to appeal to what the Bible says about God’s nature as a defense against the Problem of Evil, because that’s the same circularity one-step removed. How do we know to trust the Bible’s description of God’s nature, unless God is good? And why doesn’t the Bible explain what God’s purpose is behind all of the suffering he allows or is directly responsible for?

But there’s another reason why we shouldn’t use the Bible’s claim that God is good to excuse his behavior: would we use testimony about Hitler’s compassionate character in Mein Kampf to excuse the Holocaust? Hardly, the evil of the Holocaust makes it so we should demand more than just a mere “yeah, I’m a good guy” as an explanation, and we definitely wouldn’t trust the man responsible for the Holocaust to testify himself about his character. Likewise, we shouldn’t use the Bible to justify God’s character.

We cannot use any claim that God is good, even on the authority of the Bible or God himself, to resolve the Problem of Evil — doing so is circular. Instead, we need an actual reason for why God allowed the suffering.


There is a large amount of suffering that God either allows (The Holocaust, Epidermolysis Bullosa, Smallpox, Animal predation prior to humans) or is directly responsible (Hell, Satan, Biblical genocide and rape, the treatment of Job), and it seems highly likely that this suffering is pointless, unjustified by any excuse.

Thus we need to find some sort of reason why God is good despite not having this excuse. But God cannot be justified with an unknowable purpose, nor can he be justified with an appeal to his allegedly good character. So what can God be justified by? This essay is now long enough that I really need to split into multiple parts, so I’m doing so now.

In the next essay, I’ll explain why God can’t be justified by an appeal to his infallibility, why we can’t just appeal to “God works in mysterious ways”, and then explain why we can’t just ignore the problem because of God’s authority, or an alleged right of God to do whatever he wants with his creation. Then I will go on to discuss why God is indeed surely malevolent, then why God cannot be the source of morality, and then explain that despite my constant references to suffering specifically unique to the Christian God, why the Problem of Evil applies to lots of other religions too.

Gigantopithecus and crackpot cryptozoologists by Donald Prothero

Gigantopithecus and crackpot cryptozoologists:

A possible reconstruction of Gigantopithecus.

As Daniel Loxton and I finished our upcoming book on cryptozoology, I needed an image of the famous huge ape fossils from Asia known as Gigantopithecus for the chapter on the Yeti. I emailed my colleague Russ Ciochon at the University of Iowa, who has found many new specimens, and got a rather surprising reply on why he would not share his images with anyone: “Gigantopithecus is not part of cryptozoology. Yet that is the only way anyone hears about Gigantopithecus.” I was rather surprised at his brusque attitude toward a scientific colleague who is on his side, but I can see where he must be fed up with non-stop requests from cryptozoologists who are only interested in his work to support their completely unscientific notions.

The original Gigantopithecus blacki specimens were found in some Chinese cave deposits, first discovered in the 1920s. They include teeth and a complete lower jaw. Unfortunately, there are no other skeletal parts known from this mysterious gigantic ape, despite decades of searching by the large number of Chinese paleontologists who now work on the deposits. More recently, Ciochon has revisited this region, and found more specimens of Gigantopithecus. He did so by shifting his focus to cave deposits in North Vietnam, which are unspoiled by the fossil poachers who robbed the Chinese caves to supply “dragon bones” for apothecaries to grind up into Chinese “medicine”. Still, even after more than 75 years since the first tooth was found, we still have only three lower jaws and about 1300 isolated teeth of this mysterious primate. There is also a second species, Gigantopithecus giganteus, from India, which (despite its name) is about half the size of Gigantopithecus blacki. A third species, Gigantopithecus bilaspurensis, comes from much older beds (6 to 9 million years old) in India, suggesting that the Gigantopithecus line goes back to at least 9 million years ago and the evolutionary radiation of early apes such as the dryopithecines (Ciochon, 1991).

Because we have only the lower jaws to go on, it’s hard to reliably estimate the size of the entire creature. Ciochon et al. (1990a) estimated that it was about 10 feet (3 m) tall and weighed about 1200 pounds. Simons and Ettel (1970) suggest it was proportioned like more like a gorilla, standing about 9 feet tall and weighing about 900 pounds. Either way, it was the largest primate that ever lived, immensely larger than a gorilla (the largest living primate), or even the biggest human giants.

Comparison of an old male jaw (bottom) and a female jaw, showing the extreme robustness and the large thick-enameled molars

What we do have of Gigantopithecus are the heavily built jaws with huge teeth, especially the molars, which have very thick enamel. Both the molars and the cheek teeth in front of them (the premolars) are very broad and low-crowned, often with their entire occlusal surface ground down flat, suggesting that these creatures ate a very tough, gritty diet. Ciochon et al. (1990b) used microscopic analysis of wear facets on the tooth enamel, and the presence of phytolith fossils from plants, showed that the Chinese apes ate mostly bamboo, as does the living giant panda.

Gigantopithecus had lived in Asia since at least the middle Miocene, about 9 million years ago, and were found mostly in eastern Asia during the Ice Ages. Careful dating of cave deposits in Vietnam which yield both Gigantopithecus and Homo erectus showed that early humans invaded China about 800,000 years ago, and that Gigantopithecus died out about half a million years later, around 300,000 years ago (Ciochon et al., 1996). Although this certainly disproves the idea that Homo erectus immediately killed off its distant cousin, there are also other possible factors, including competition with giant pandas which competed for bamboo, and also the fact that bamboo suffers from huge die-offs every 20-60 years, which may have stressed the ape population and made them more vulnerable to competition from pandas or people.

Or did they die out? As Brian Regal points out (Regal, 2011), back in the 1950s and 1960s some anthropologists like Carleton Coon made the inference that the Yeti was a relict population of Gigantopithecus. At that time, many anthropologists embraced the “multi-regional hypothesis,” which argued that Homo sapiens had evolved separately over a million years ago from different stocks of primates in different regions. Asians were descendants of Peking Man, Neanderthals descendants of some early European Homo fossils, Africans were descendants of African Homo erectus, and so on. Although there are still a few holdouts who still support a version of the multiregional model (like Milford Wolpoff at University of Michigan), genetic evidence that amassed since the 1980s has overwhelmingly demonstrated that it is false. Instead, the human genome shows that modern Homo sapiens are all descended from African ancestors that spread across the Old World about 60,000 years ago, displacing any older populations of Homo (such as “Peking man” or “Java man”) that might still have been living there. And the fossils plus the dating showed that this “out of Africa” model occurred more than once, since Homo erectus appears to have originated in Africa and then spread around the Old World (China, Java, and many other places) about 1.85 million years ago. However, even more recent work in genetics (Wells, 2002) shows that some populations (like Neanderthals) interbred with Homo sapiens, so when the invaders from Africa arrived, they did interbreed with the locals and incorporated the regional genome into theirs. Nonetheless, the archaic idea of multi-regionalism and independent, isolated parallel evolution of humans from local Homo erectus populations as advocated by Coon in the 1950s (with its racist overtones) has long been discredited by anthropologists. So Gigantopithecus is no longer viewed as connected to the Yeti, or in any way relevant to this debate.

Not surprisingly, cryptozoologists like Heuvelmans in 1952 and later many others also made suggestions that the Yeti (and later, Bigfoot) were surviving descendants of Gigantopithecus. If you read the cryptozoological literature, it is full of bizarre unsupported speculations about how these immense apes spread all over Asia and North America from different primate stocks, and Bigfoot and Yeti are their relicts. None of this amateur speculation bears any relation to what anthropologists know about the real history of hominid fossils and human evolution. This demonstrates once again that amateurs are out of their depth and use outdated concepts of human evolution when they propose their wild ideas. Nevertheless, there are many strong lines of argument against the idea that either the Yeti or Bigfoot is a surviving Gigantopithecus:

For one thing, Gigantopithecus was a giant relative of the orangutan, not a close relative of humans. Although we don’t have much evidence of its skeleton, it is reasonable to assume that its feet would be arranged like that of an orangutan or other great ape, not like that of a human with its reduced big toe and inability to grasp with its foot. Thus, its footprints should resemble ape footprints, not the human-like footprints allegedly produced by the Yeti or Bigfoot. And it should show the same stooped knuckle-walking gait of the orangutan, gorilla, and all other great apes, not the human-like bipedal walking posture allegedly shown by the Yeti and Bigfoot. (Indeed, one of the biggest problems with the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film is that the walking posture is almost completely human, not ape-like in the least). Any time you read about cryptozoologists trying to connect Gigantopithecusto Yeti or Bigfoot, it shows they know almost nothing about fossil and living primates.

Second, although Gigantopithecus fossils are rare, something that large would still be expected to be fossilized at least a few times if they had survived anywhere in the world after 300,000 years ago. For example, one Bigfoot website claims that ”No research group has ever made an attempt to look for Giganto bones in North America, so no one should be surprised that Giganto remains have never been identified in North America. Ironically, the most vocal skeptics and scientists who rhetorically ask why no bones have been located and identified on this continent are the last people who would ever make an effort to look for them.” This claim is patently false, and shows how completely ignorant this writer is about paleontology and the fossil record. Paleontologists do not go out specifically to look for a particular fossil, but they collect any and all deposits that yield decent fossils. For deposits of the last 300,000 years (middle and late Pleistocene), we have an extraordinarily good fossil record in both China (where hundreds of Chinese paleontologists have been working for many decades) and especially North America, where we have excellent fossil records (especially of larger mammals, and especially from cave deposits) in every state in the United States and most Canadian provinces (Kurten and Anderson, 1980). Hundreds of paleontologists have collected these fossils for over a century and documented them in excruciating detail. Many extremely rare species are known, including an American cheetah and a camel that is built like a mountain goat, among others. Yet not once has anything resembling Gigantopithecus ever been found—not even the smallest tooth fragment (which could be easily recognized by its thick enamel and distinct low-crowned cusps). Contrary to the conspiratorial thinking of cryptozoologists, paleontologists would be overjoyed to find such a fossil and announce it with great fanfare if they had one, because such a discovery could make your reputation. They have no reason to hide such a fossil in hopes that it won’t give comfort to cryptozoologists. In fact, most paleontologists don’t even know or care about cryptozoology at all, so they are not worried about whether cryptozoologists might be affected. Instead, this statement shows that cryptozoologists such as this writer have no clue about fossils, and are using their ignorance to support their fantasies about fossils.

Finally, the best reason of all to dismiss the idea that Gigantopithecus survives today: all the evidence (and lack of evidence) that shows that neither the Yeti or Bigfoot is likely to exist, but the product of bad observations and bad science and lots of wishful thinking. Our upcoming book will discuss this evidence in detail.


  • Ciochon, R. 1991. The ape that was. Natural History November: 54-62.

  • Ciochon, Russel L., John Olsen, and Jamie James, 1990a. Other Origins: The Search for the Giant Ape in Human Prehistory. New York: Bantam Books.

  • Ciochon, Russell L., Dolores R. Piperno, and Robert G. Thompson, 1990b. Opal phytoliths found on the teeth of the extinct ape Gigantopithecus blacki: Implications for paleodietary studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 87: 8120-8124.

  • Ciochon, R.; et al. 1996.”Dated Co-Occurrence of Homo erectus and Gigantopithecus from Tham Khuyen Cave, Vietnam” . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 93 (7): 3016–3020.

  • KurtĂ©n, B., and E. Anderson, 1980. Pleistocene Mammals of North America. Columbia University Press, New York.

  • Regal, B. 2011. Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

  • Simons, Elwyn L., and Peter C. Ettel 1970. Gigantopithecus. Scientific American, January, 1970: 77-85.

  • Wells, S. 2002. The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time by Peter Hurford

The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time:
Welcome to yet another essay where I pile on even more reasons to find Christianity false. For those keeping score at home, I’ve previously exposed Christianity for contradicting the evidence by getting the order of creation hopelessly wrong in Genesis. I’ve also busted Christianity for prayer being false and contradictory, having a doctrine of Hell that is clearly unjust, and for the actions of God in the Bible being clearly malevolent.

And don’t forget that God both endorses a great deal of suffering in our world and is a total uninvolved no show. At this point I am genuinely surprised there are those who intellectually justify the literal truth of Christianity, but I have even more to say.

Specifically, I’d like to talk about this guy Satan. In the comments section of “Proving God Through Cosmology”, I got into a small conversation about Satan, or the Devil. This lead to the obvious question: Why Doesn’t God just kill Satan right now?

It seems like a complete no-brainer: the Bible talks about Satan being the source of tons of evil, and being a major reason why people are tempted into sin. While there is a lot of disagreement over the nature of Satan, it does seem that people acknowledge that the Devil is not someone we want to keep around, if possible.

And God is without excuse, as the standard Problem of Evil applies: God is benevolent and thus wants to eliminate anything evil, God is omnipotent and thus quite capable of eliminating Satan on the tiniest whim, and God certainly knows about Satan. It seems inescapably obvious that God and Satan should not be able to coexist.

And to make matters more interesting, the Bible specifically says that God will remove Satan at some point:

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. — Revelation 20: 7-10

What is Going On?

So to re-cap: here we have the Devil, the very personification of evil. According to Christianity, he exists and goes around deceiving us and tempting us into doing terrible things. God clearly wants to kill him someday, and the Bible declares that he will do so. Yet he hasn’t done so, yet. This certainly does seem puzzling. What is stopping an omnipotent God?

Remember here that God is omniscient and can see the future. God knew ahead of time what Satan would do the moment he created Satan — the moment he created a being so crazy, malevolent, and irrational that he thought it would be a good idea to rise up and rebel against the most powerful and most good thing in the universe. (Does Satan know something we don’t? If God is perfect, why would people rebel against him?) Thus God intentionally set up all this evil.

As always, the standard excuses don’t apply:

“Satan cannot be killed.” Oddly enough, this argument actually has been advanced, and appeals to the fact that Satan has a soul, and souls are eternal. However, there still seems to be no reason why God can’t end a soul, or at least imprison it somewhere (Hell) where the soul can do no more harm, so the excuse at best just changes the question to “Why doesn’t God just send Satan to Hell right now?”. Additionally, God, knowing everything that would happen, could have just not created God in the first place. Or he could have created a type of Satan that could be killed.

“Satan is necessary to test us via temptation.” This doesn’t square with God’s omniscience, since God can automatically and infallibly predict what it is that we would do in response to any scenario without needing the scenario played out in real life (given that God “knows people’s hearts”, and thus can gauge all of their intentions). Also, it’s not as if an omnipotent being is so short on time that he requires a middleman (the Devil) to accomplish his objectives.

“God must respect Satan’s free will.” This does sound initially plausible, but respecting free will doesn’t explain why you can’t intervene. Would it be the violation of a murderer’s free will to kill them before they manage to kill other people? Hardly, and Satan is no different. God can give people the choice to commit evil acts and still stop them from actually harming people — including Satan.

“God needs Satan to show us what evil looks like.” So God is so terrible that we can only recognize his goodness when comparing him to the most malevolent entity ever? Makes sense to me, but I’m not sure that’s what you would want to endorse. We recognize what evil looks like in our every day lives from observing murders and hurricanes. I certainly don’t know what the Devil adds to that, given that we never get to meet the guy or see him in person. (Funny that everything the Devil does is so indirect as to be untestable…)

“God needs to have an adversary.” A perfect being doesn’t need anything, and creating your own villan just so you can fight it is so hopelessly contrived and arbitrary, especially when other people are forced to suffer just so you can play out the hero role. If this excuse is truly the reason why God made and allows Satan, he is a tragic character worthy of pity, not worship.

“It’s the fault of sinners that Satan can do evil anyway.” Right, if only we could resist his temptations! I’m not sure what it is that Satan does to tempt us, whether it is mind manipulation or more subtle deception, but he still would be guilty of aiding and abetting under any court system. The fact that people can be deceived does not excuse deception. For the same reason that people leaving their stuff unsecured does not excuse thievery and people dressing in revealing clothing does not excuse rape, people being open to deception does not excuse the Devil.

“Satan was necessary for The Fall.” This excuse is so bad I will need an entire paragraph to eviscerate it and demolish more of Christianity along the way. See below.

Was Satan Needed for The Fall?

First off, the Fall as a story is incredibly silly. We have two people, Adam and Eve… now of course, they didn’t literally exist, so why we would also need a literal Devil to allow for a metaphorical fall is beyond me. But roll with it.

Two people, Adam and Eve. And they have no knowledge of good or evil, yet God tells them that they must obey him and not eat from a certain tree… that it would be evil of them not to. And then God places the tree right within their reach, and best of all allows the serpent (who could or could not be the Devil, depending on who you ask) into the garden and let’s him deceive Eve into eating the apple.

And of course, God knew all of this would happen ahead of time, being omniscient. Thus the Garden of Eden Fall story is as ridiculous as how God wouldn’t allow people to build a Tower of Babel of a specific height because they might reach heaven, yet allows us nowadays to have a space program. Maybe God relocated Heaven to a safer distance?

Why Would God Want a Fall?

This question makes it clear that the Fall was all part of God’s plan, and that he specifically created Satan so that the Fall could occur. Now while this does seem an inescapable conclusion based on God’s ability to see the Fall ahead of time and ability to prevent the Fall should he have wanted to do so, it also exposes a really weird flaw in Christianity — God set us Eve up for an inescapable failure, and then blames Eve for it, and then blames Adam for Eve’s mistake, and then blames us today for something that our thousand-of-years-ago not-actually-existing-in-history ancestors did. Wonderful. It’s like God is playing “stop hitting yourself” with us just for kicks.

One might sugget that the Fall was necessary for the whole Jesus thing where God stepped in to save us from our own sins, as if sacrificing an innocent man can make guilty people not guilty. (Try going to court and asking if Jesus can go to jail in your place.) But this would make God into a contrived and arbitrary sham — he decided to sacrifice himself to himself in order to save us from himself. It’s not like our sinful nature was unexpected.

Now that the Fall is Over, Why Do We Still Need Satan?

Even all that aside, though, the Fall is still not an excuse: because now that the Fall is over and the atonement occurred, what more use do we have for the embodiment of evil to still be walking around? Even if the Fall could be considered a reason to create Satan in the first place (albeit a really silly one), why does God not kill Satan?

I’m sure you have an excuse, but you’ll notice that it now (very probably) has nothing to do with the Fall. So we’re off somewhere else.

A Retreat to The Great Unknown

Now we get into some even crazier excuses. They would go something like this:

The Argument from Authority: “God is absolutely sovereign over all of his creation. God’s ways are not our ways, and calling into question God’s plan is to call into question God himself. It is not wise to question his right to do exactly as he pleases. Psalm 18:30 says God is perfect, and you dare criticize perfection? God created us, so he can do whatever he wants with us. If God wants us all tortured severely, he would be in his rights to do so. Our responsibility is to submit to God and do whatever he says, whether we like it or not.”

The Argument from Infallibility: “God is perfect, so whatever God does must be perfect. Whatever plan god has will be the best one possible, resulting in justice being satisfied and righteousness being glorified. Calling into question God’s plan is calling into question perfection, and you cannot challenge perfection — we simply have no basis by which to challenge God. God can simply not be measured by our feeble standards — God cannot do anything wrong, and we must acknowledge this.”

The Argument from Mystery: “God works in mysterious ways, and we shouldn’t expect our fallible and sinful minds to be able to understand divine perfection. God simply must have a reason to allow Satan to continue to exist, even if we do not or cannot know what this reason is.”

These excuses come up so often for so many questions of theology that I’m not going to deal with them here, but rather in my next essay.

God Will Do it All, Eventually

And it’s not just Satan that we’re wondering about. Christianity promises us a second coming of Jesus, when all will be restored in some sort of kingdom of Heaven on Earth, where everyone exists in the best possible world. Such a second coming would be the end of all the problems of needless suffering, of God being hidden, and of religion being confused, since we would now finally have indisputable proof of the one true religion, and be able to talk to God directly and settle all disagreements on his nature or wishes.

It’s odd enough to notice that God isn’t solving these problems, thus providing large amounts of evidence for his unfortunate nonexistence. The excuses then get made for why God wants to stay uninvolved, citing “free will” or “it’s all a test” or something. But these excuses immediately stop when we notice that God will be coming back someday — whether it be a violation of our free will or an end to the tests.

So if God can come back without there being any problems, why does he not do so now? Why are we always waiting for someday in the future, going generation by generation of people who swore Jesus would come back in their generation.

God seems to be taking his sweet time not just with the Devil, but with everything. The only reason this could be true is to be some sort of ad hoc excuse for why a perfect God would create an imperfect world. It will all just get fixed sometime, we just won’t know when.

And if God is both omnipotent and omniscient, then there is no reason why this would be occurring, since God automatically knows what everyone will do and if they will accept or reject Jesus prior to them doing so. If God is a perfect being, he has nothing to wait for, and can do whatever he wants now. And it’s not like he has to worry about sin, since he can just get rid of it. Thus we have a tension between what we know of God’s character and the fact that we clearly don’t see this being displayed.

This contradiction means that the Biblical God cannot exist, and Christianity is false.

Friday, December 9, 2011

There Are No Religious Facts by

"It seems that religious people can never agree on anything.
Well perhaps they all agree on the notion that some sort of God exists, but the moment this God is given a single characteristic, disagreement ensues. For instance, how many gods are there? Many Hindus would say there are a wide variety of gods, many Wiccans would say there are two Gods, and many Christians would say there are only one."
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