Iron Age thought crime

July 22, 2010

Pharyngula being on strike due to website squabbles (edit: PZ is back on the blog), I got this idea from Rational Skepticism today. With typical modesty it is said that William Lane Craig has dispatched the problem of evil; that by merely proposing that their god-concept could have a good reason for some apparently gratutitous evil, the problem is therefore resolved. They don’t bother to explain what this reason is, of course, but invoke transcendence or god’s mysterious ways and so on. And that is pretty much what I find here.

The theist will readily admit that much of the evil we observe in the world appears to be pointless and unnecessary and, hence, gratuitous.  But he will challenge the objector’s inference from the appearance of gratuitous evil to the reality of gratuitous evil.  Here much of what has already been said with respect to the probabilistic internal problem of evil will be relevant.  For example, the objector must assume that if we do not discern God’s morally sufficient reason for allowing certain evils to occur, then it is probable that there is no such reason, that is to say, that such evils are gratuitous.  But we have already seen how uncertain and tenuous such probability judgements on our part are.  Our failure to discern the morally justifying reason for the occurrence of various evils gives very little ground for thinking that God – especially a God equipped with middle knowledge – could not have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils we observe in the world.

This idea of ‘middle knowledge’ goes back to an earlier portion of the article:an unfathomable series of contingent effects leading to the supposed ‘greater good.’

The brutal murder of an innocent man or a child’s dying of leukemia could send a ripple effect through history so that God’s morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later or perhaps in another country.  Our discussion of divine middle knowledge (chapter 26) stressed that only an omniscient mind could grasp the complexities of directing a world of free creatures toward one’s pre-visioned goals. One has only to think of the innumerable, incalculable contingencies involved in arriving at a single historical event, say, the Allied victory at D‑day.

It’s evident that he has already assumed the ‘free will defense’ here, but it begs the question of why these ‘incalculable contingencies’ — which their god is nevertheless said to have calculated — couldn’t be tweaked to avoid a murder here, a tragic death from disease there. Or even the particularly gratuitous notion of animals dying in a forest fire, going completely unnoticed by humanity. How does this fit into the calculation? It’s just assumed that it does, somewhere, somehow.

It’s just one big whopping assumption, unfortunately. That it all ‘works out,’ as they say. And so the unwarranted assumption, the god-concept itself, is buttressed in its flaws by…another unwarranted assumption. It is a tribute to the unpleasant notion of meaninglessness that this sort of religious nonsense is so compelling to people.

It impresses me that these philosopher apologetic-writers find any resolution in this. It reminds me of the sig-quote of a fellow skeptic from RS, which amuses me every time I see it, because it’s so true.

There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it. — Cicero

How did I get from this to thought-crime? Well, WLC is an apologist for old-timey biblical atrocities. In his belief system, if the god says do it, then it is good and you do it. If that means dashing babies’ heads against rocks, raping women, whatever, it is by definition good and you had better do it. I figure the only thing stopping him from going on a psychotic rampage is that he hasn’t gotten the kill code from his imaginary friend…yet.

For this, some skeptics like myself find him a despicable human being. And some others would rather defend his right to say such things, and question whether he is that bad at all — after all, he hasn’t done anything, he just talks. It would be thought-crime if anyone busted WLC on anything.

But who was the pioneer when it came to thought-crime? How about Jesus?

21(Z)You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘(AA)YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be [b]liable to (AB)the court.’22“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before (AC)the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘[c]You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before [d](AD)the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the [e](AE)fiery hell.

What’s the sin worthy of hell here? Anger. An insult. Not an act — a thought. There’s more.

27(AJ)You have heard that it was said, ‘(AK)YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’;

28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman (AL)with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

29(AM)If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into (AN)hell.

30(AO)If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into (AP)hell.

Sin for nerds, eh? That was my thought as I reread this part. I mean, if looking is the same as adultery, why not go ahead with the adultery? Might as well, you’re screwed anyway. (bad, bad pun) Everyone else likes to chuckle over the implied castration message here, and that’s as may be; but I can’t help but feel pity for the shy, awkward types who wouldn’t muster up the nerve, yet who are just as hell-bound as Bill Clinton with a fresh crop of interns and a cheap cigar.

Anyway, the notion of defending the thought police in chief — xians — from accusations of the same greatly amused me today. Though I realize, the joke may be a bit too complex. It’s not much of a punchline.


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