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How do we know there's a God? What is he like?

Consequentialism

Postby Naturally » Tue Aug 28, 2018 11:28 am

Why should we accept the consequentialism that skeptical theism relies upon?

Skeptical theists say that God allows evil because it makes possible outweighing goods. But why accept this sort of consequentialism? Is there really any good great enough that justifies putting people through the Holocaust for example? The irony is that theists are usually the ones who are inclined towards deontology, and avoiding means-to-an-end justifications. Yet God is the ultimate consequentialist. He stands by with folded arms as unspeakable horrors occur, solely in order to attain "outweighing" goods.
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Re: Consequentialism

Postby jimwalton » Tue Aug 28, 2018 11:38 am

The issue is more complex than you are allowing. There are many reasons God can allow evil, and the possibility of good is merely one of them. Other reasons include that God cannot continually and habitually disrupt the cause-and-effect sequence without making science and reason meaningless. God cannot remove evil from our lives without determining every action and every thought, stealing our very humanity from us. A dynamical world is superior to a static and deterministic one for many reasons that also allow science, reason, and our very humanity. Lastly, for this context, free will is essential to our humanity and the capability of reason.

Therefore, we cannot blame God for the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the horrific decision and action of evil people. Our every action is not determined by God and cannot be.

Deontology is more realistic approach to thinking about God's actions in the world as well as our own. Consequentialism is not a moral principle, it's instead the abandonment of morality. The idea that the ends are what make the means right applies to the adoption of means too. So if the end is the greatest happiness for the greatest number, any means you adopt have to be consistent with that. If the ends are maximizing net satisfaction of preferences (and note that this treats racist, sexist, exploitative preferences as on a par with compassionate and loving ones) the means can't be inconsistent with that. They have to pass the test too. Therefore God is not the ultimate consequentialist. He cannot be. You accuse him of "stand[ing] by with folded arms as unspeakable horrors occur, solely in order to attain 'outweighing' goods," but this is clearly a reductionist argument. You err in thinking that God is responsible for everything that happens on the planet, which is clearly not a teaching of the Bible or a rational evaluation of God.

If a person considers himself to be ethical, then he should be ethical at all times without exceptions. This is what the Bible reveals to us about God. It is very strange for someone who claims to have high moral standards and strict ethical rules to engage in what can be considered to be dubious behavior in order to achieve a greater good, as you have accused. They are more likely to look for other solutions to the issue that don’t conflict with their value system.

It is very hard to justify an unethical act by stating that the goodness of the outcome outweighs any wrongdoing. No excuse can make a morally wrong decision a right one. Taking an unethical step to solve a problem makes a person just as guilty and immoral as the original wrongdoer.

Therefore I think both your premise and your reasoning are flawed.
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Re: Consequentialism

Postby Sills and Doors » Tue Aug 28, 2018 1:14 pm

> God cannot remove evil from our lives without determining every action and every thought, stealing our very humanity from us.

(I'm not the OP but...) I'm not sure I agree with this. Is every action and thought a person takes evil? If not, then I don't see why it's not possible for God to stop the evil thoughts and actions (or even just one or a few evil thoughts and actions) and still not stop, alter, or otherwise change all other thoughts and actions by a person.

Take the Holocaust example. Was the Holocaust every thought and action the Nazis were ever involved in within their lives, or was it only a very small percentage of the thoughts and actions the Nazis performed within their lives? (This isn't to trivialize or say it wasn't that bad. I'm saying the Nazis performed other thoughts and actions than just this one event. Surely every single thought and/or action of the Nazis wasn't evil to the core.)

If it was not the sum total of thoughts and actions within their lives, then the thoughts and actions strictly pertaining to the Holocaust could have been prevented without preventing the totality of the other thoughts and actions of the Nazis.
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Re: Consequentialism

Postby jimwalton » Tue Aug 28, 2018 1:21 pm

Glad to talk.

> Is every action and thought a person takes evil?

Of course not. But what I'm saying is this: If God is going to stop bad things from happening to you, He has to micro-control your environment so that the baseball coming towards you veers off course, the bottle of milk you drop goes crooked as it falls to the floor so it doesn't hit your foot, and the guy about to miss a red light and careen through the intersection magically stops his car anyway. You are contending God needs not only to control your environment (you never lose electric power, tornadoes are sent off course or lifted over your house, it never snows too much, and the snow in people's driveways clears itself away so there are no heart attacks), but He also needs to control other people so they don't do anything to hurt you. God needs to control machines, trees, winds, rain and snow. God needs to take control of your body so you don't whack your leg on the corner of the table while walking past, stub your toe on that raised piece of sidewalk and trip to your own injury, slip in the shower, or walk into that half-open door. Ultimately God has to take control of the weather, our whole environment, other people’s bodies, and our bodies if He’s going to stop all bad things from happening. This hypothetical scenario is stealing away any and every sense of science, reason, cause and effect, and personality. It would deprive us of science, because cause and effect would be unrelated to reality and therefore nonexistent, of reason because it would be impossible to think things through to a predictable conclusion since nothing would be predictable, and of personality, because we would no longer have the qualities essential for personality but rather just a robot initiatives and responses.

This is not the full extent of the problems with this approach, though; we would have to take it further. People say things that hurt us, and so God would have to control their minds and their tongues. People use body language that hurts us, so God would have to take control of everything they think, say, and do. And sometimes people say innocent things and we take it wrongly and feel hurt, so He again would have to take control of our minds. At this point it is certain we are no longer human. I would lack the qualities and attributes that define me as a human being: thinking, feeling, and acting. If God were going to make sure nothing bad happens to me, I become a robotic nothing. I don't think for myself, I don't speak for myself, and I don't act on my own.

I can no longer love, because if I tell somebody I love him or her, they'll know I did'’t mean it because God made me say it. But their feelings can’t be hurt by it, so God has to make it so they don't care. This is all getting quite ridiculous. If God made sure to intervene so that bad things didn't happen to people, there would be no love, no joy in life, no happiness of any kind, no forgiveness, or anything. There wouldn't even be any goodness, because I'm just being made to do everything. By removing evil you have removed much of what makes life what it is. All that's left is robots and absurdities.

Let's assume God created a world in which there would never be any pain of any kind, any suffering of any kind, any evil—in short, nothing negative at all. The artificiality of happiness and kindness in a world where nothing else was known or even possible is not true happiness, fulfillment, or kindness. It's only a false, superficial, and self-contradictory world without love, and, ultimately, without will. If I am not making true and real choices, I am nothing more than a machine. For example, in "The Truman Show" (Paramount Pictures, 1998), even though Truman had a free will, it was a false world. When he discovered the ruse he felt empty and that life had lost its meaning. He felt like ultimately he had no authentic choices but was just a spectacle in a false world. In real life, if God insured that there were no pain or suffering, it would be even more so an empty and meaningless existence. And if I am but a machine, love and will, happiness, fulfillment, and kindness are all delusions. It's just not possible for God to intervene so that bad things never happen to people.
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Re: Consequentialism

Postby Sills and Doors » Tue Aug 28, 2018 2:49 pm

> But what I'm saying is this: If God is going to stop bad things from happening to you, He has to micro-control your environment so that the baseball coming towards you veers off course, the bottle of milk you drop goes crooked as it falls to the floor so it doesn't hit your foot, and the guy about to miss a red light and careen through the intersection magically stops his car anyway.

Preventing humans from performing evil acts and preventing any and all unfortunate events is two different things.

None of your examples here are pertaining to humans performing evil acts, which is what I was addressing originally. They are unfortunate accidents.

> You are contending God needs not only to control your environment (you never lose electric power, tornadoes are sent off course or lifted over your house, it never snows too much, and the snow in people's driveways clears itself away so there are no heart attacks), but He also needs to control other people so they don't do anything to hurt you.

I was only contending the second premise, and then only the protection of intentional attempts to harm.

> God needs to control machines, trees, winds, rain and snow. God needs to take control of your body so you don't whack your leg on the corner of the table while walking past, stub your toe on that raised piece of sidewalk and trip to your own injury, slip in the shower, or walk into that half-open door.

In no way did I contend or assume that within my post. You are adding on layers and concepts. I was merely speaking of the ability of God to prevent evil actions of humans.

> and of personality, because we would no longer have the qualities essential for personality but rather just a robot initiatives and responses.

One can have a personality without being able to perform evil thoughts or actions. One can be shy or bold without evil coming in to the picture. One can be patient or less so without evil coming into the picture, etc.

> This is not the full extent of the problems with this approach, though; we would have to take it further. People say things that hurt us, and so God would have to control their minds and their tongues. People use body language that hurts us, so God would have to take control of everything they think, say, and do. And sometimes people say innocent things and we take it wrongly and feel hurt, so He again would have to take control of our minds. At this point it is certain we are no longer human. I would lack the qualities and attributes that define me as a human being: thinking, feeling, and acting. If God were going to make sure nothing bad happens to me, I become a robotic nothing. I don't think for myself, I don't speak for myself, and I don't act on my own.

Saying things that hurt another's feelings may or may not be evil depending upon the context, so again I think you're adding concepts that I didn't state or comment about.

> I can no longer love, because if I tell somebody I love him or her, they'll know I did'’t mean it because God made me say it.

I don't agree that God would have to control every thing just to prevent evil acts from being performed, but even if i did, who's to say we would even know that this is the case? God could prevent whatever he wanted and we would not necessarily know any difference or that anything was done at all.

> But their feelings can’t be hurt by it, so God has to make it so they don't care. This is all getting quite ridiculous.

These are assumptions you've made and that I don't necessarily agree with and never stated.

> If God made sure to intervene so that bad things didn't happen to people, there would be no love, no joy in life, no happiness of any kind, no forgiveness, or anything.

I don't agree because I feel love, joy, happiness, forgiveness can all be present with or without evil acts/bad things. Also, I never advocated for the prevention of "bad things" necessarily, only evil acts performed specifically by humans. Nature would be free to act as it may. Animals would act as they may. The environment would act as it may.

> There wouldn't even be any goodness, because I'm just being made to do everything.

If a man without free will donates to charity or helps an old lady across the street, is that no longer a good act? I would say the results are beneficial or good whether it is freely willed or not.

> Let's assume God created a world in which there would never be any pain of any kind, any suffering of any kind, any evil—in short, nothing negative at all.

I'm fine with assuming that for the sake of argument but that wasn't what I was getting at with my comment.

> The artificiality of happiness and kindness in a world where nothing else was known or even possible is not true happiness, fulfillment, or kindness. It's only a false, superficial, and self-contradictory world without love, and, ultimately, without will.

Love to me is an emotional state of the brain. This can be achieved with or without free will as far as I'm concerned. Happiness and fulfillment are the same way. Kindness can be exhibited freely or non freely I can only assume.

> For example, in "The Truman Show" (Paramount Pictures, 1998), even though Truman had a free will, it was a false world. When he discovered the ruse he felt empty and that life had lost its meaning. He felt like ultimately he had no authentic choices but was just a spectacle in a false world.

And if he never found out it was a false world, he would have acted as he did and not have done any differently. He would never have felt that it was all a sham because he wouldn't have known any better.

> In real life, if God insured that there were no pain or suffering, it would be even more so an empty and meaningless existence.

And we would possibly be none the wiser.

> And if I am but a machine, love and will, happiness, fulfillment, and kindness are all delusions.

First off, we wouldn't be but a machine if we didn't have free will (I'm not convinced we do currently have free will yet we aren't machines.) We would biological beings that think and feel regardless.

Also, I don't agree that love, happiness, fulfillment, etc. would be any more of delusions than they are with or without free will. They are all simply brain states.

> It's just not possible for God to intervene so that bad things never happen to people.

Didn't you just outline what exactly would happen yet now you say it's not possible?
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Re: Consequentialism

Postby jimwalton » Tue Aug 28, 2018 2:49 pm

> Preventing humans from performing evil acts and preventing any and all unfortunate events is two different things

They are slightly different things, but there is a majority of overlap since most evil things that seem to happen in the world are caused by people's decisions.

> You are adding on layers and concepts.

Yes, I admit that, because most evil that happens to us is perpetuated by other humans and the choices they make.

> One can have a personality without being able to perform evil thoughts or actions. One can be shy or bold without evil coming in to the picture. One can be patient or less so without evil coming into the picture, etc.

This is true to some extent, but we humans have a knack for mucking things up.

> If a man without free will donates to charity or helps an old lady across the street, is that no longer a good act?

It's a good act if the man chooses it. If he is forced to do it, then it is still helpful, but I'm not sure we can use the term "good" to describe it."

> Love to me is an emotional state of the brain.

Love, to me, is an act of the will where we choose to act sacrificially for the service and benefit of another.

> And if he never found out it was a false world, he would have acted as he did and not have done any differently. He would never have felt that it was all a sham because he wouldn't have known any better.

His ignorance wouldn't make it OK or make it any better. In truth, it was a false and contrived world.

> I don't agree that love, happiness, fulfillment, etc. would be any more of delusions than they are with or without free will. They are all simply brain states.

If they are simply brain states they are meaningless. I think it's reductionistic to say they are just that since they are the qualities that give us character and define our humanity. So I just strongly disagree with you here.

> Didn't you just outline what exactly would happen yet now you say it's not possible?

Because of my outline, I showed how if God prevented people from performing evil acts, he would also in the process rob us of our humanity, negate science, and remove the capability of reason from our brains. And therefore it is not possible for God to do that.
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Re: Consequentialism

Postby Sills and Doors » Wed Aug 29, 2018 3:14 pm

>They are slightly different things, but there is a majority of overlap since most evil things that seem to happen in the world are caused by people's decisions.

I wouldn't really say that the events you outlined (a baseball possibly hitting someone, a bottle of milk hitting your foot, a guy running a red light) are "evil things". Unfortunate events seems to fit the bill better. What's evil about a bottle hitting your foot?

As for...

> most evil things that seem to happen in the world are caused by people's decisions.

that would still mean that evil things would occur without the human influence. Unfortunate events would still arise if people did not have free will and never committed evil acts.

> Love, to me, is an act of the will where we choose to act sacrificially for the service and benefit of another.

I don't really agree with this definition. A definition I found online is "an intense feeling of deep affection." Can you not love someone while not necessarily sacrificing anything for them? What if you sacrifice for someone only once, does that still mean you love them for a lifetime?

> If they are simply brain states they are meaningless. I think it's reductionistic to say they are just that since they are the qualities that give us character and define our humanity. So I just strongly disagree with you here.

They can both be brain states and also what gives us character and defines our humanity. I'd say one can't prove and/or doesn't have any evidence to say they are any thing more than brain states.

> Because of my outline, I showed how if God prevented people from performing evil acts, he would also in the process rob us of our humanity, negate science, and remove the capability of reason from our brains. And therefore it is not possible for God to do that.

Why is it not possible for God to do those things? Isn't he all powerful? I would presume he is the creator of science (if we grant he exists and is the omnipotent creator), so negating it would be within his realm of power. Removing the capability of reason from our brains doesn't seem that impressive of a feat to me really (considering an all-powerful being).
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Re: Consequentialism

Postby jimwalton » Thu Sep 13, 2018 7:20 am

> What's evil about a bottle hitting your foot?

My reply was more attuned to pain and suffering in the world, which most people say is "evil" and for which most people mistakenly blame God.

> that would still mean that evil things would occur without the human influence.

Again, some people claim that tornados, volcanoes, and earthquakes are "evil" events caused by God, and therefore God is evil. But I don't consider natural cataclysms to be evil. After all, if no one got hurt when a volcano erupted in the Pacific we wouldn't call it evil. But if happens in Hawaii when people are in the way, then we blame God for being such a monster. I think it's a mistaken line of thought.

> I don't really agree with this definition. A definition I found online is "an intense feeling of deep affection." Can you not love someone while not necessarily sacrificing anything for them? What if you sacrifice for someone only once, does that still mean you love them for a lifetime?

Yeah, I didn't get this definition from the Internet or a dictionary, but my own observations about life and watching people in relationships. Can you love someone without sacrifice? I'm not convinced. By my observations and experience, real love always involves some giving up of yourself. And as far as "once" or "for a lifetime," we all know that there are different kinds of love, different expressions of love, and different nuances of what it really means and involves. Love is a very complex term in our culture, and unfortunately we have most just one term to describe a whole plethora of expressions.

> I'd say one can't prove and/or doesn't have any evidence to say they are any thing more than brain states.

Then you and I disagree. I don't think it's possible to explain or characterize love by physicality and neuronal explanations alone.

> Why is it not possible for God to do those things? Isn't he all powerful?

Because if God does that, he negates creation. Besides, omnipotence doesn’t mean there are no limits to what God can do (Mk. 6.5). It means God is able to do all things that are proper objects of his power. It is no contradiction that God is able to bring about whatever is possible, no matter how many possibilities there are. The omnipotence of God is all-sufficient power. He can never be overwhelmed, exhausted, or contained. He is able to overcome apparently insurmountable problems. He has complete power over nature, though often he lets nature take its course, because that’s what He created it to do. He has power over the course of history, though he chooses to use that power only as he wills. He has the power to change human personality, but only as individuals allow, since He cannot interfere with the freedom of man. He has the power to conquer death and sin, and to save a human soul for eternity. He has power over the spiritual realm.

What all of this means is that God’s will is never frustrated. What he chooses to do, he accomplishes, for he has the ability to do it.

There are, however, certain qualifications of this all-powerful character of God. He cannot arbitrarily do anything whatever we may conceive of in our imagination.

* He can’t do what is logically absurd or contradictory (like make a square circle or a married bachelor)
* He can’t act contrary to his nature. Self-contradiction is not possible. He can only be self-consistent, and not self-contradictory.
* He cannot fail to do what he has promised. That would mean God is flawed.
* He cannot interfere with the freedom of man. If God can override human free will, then we are not free at all.
* He cannot change the past. Time by definition is linear in one direction only.

Leibniz & Ross philosophically state omnipotence in what’s called a “result” theory: theories that analyze omnipotence in terms of the results an omnipotent being would be able to bring about. These results are usually thought of as states of affairs or possible worlds: a way the world could be. A possible world is a maximally consistent state of affairs, a complete way the world could be. The simplest way to state it may be, “for any comprehensive way the world could be, an omnipotent being could bring it about that the world was that way.” Ross formulated it as “Since every state of affairs must either obtain or not, and since two contradictory states of affairs cannot both obtain, an omnipotent being would have to will some maximal consistent set of contingent states of affairs, that is, some one possible world.”

> I would presume he is the creator of science (if we grant he exists and is the omnipotent creator), so negating it would be within his realm of power. Removing the capability of reason from our brains doesn't seem that impressive of a feat to me really (considering an all-powerful being).

Negating science, reason, and the qualities that make us human are not within the capability of God because they would negate his purposes and plan. The Bible guarantees the plan of God with regard to salvation, so it would be self-contradictory of God to negate his own work.


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