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Original Sin

[This was originally part of a comment on a post about original sin at The Slapdash Godliness of a Good Girl.]

We can blame Augustine of Hippo for the idea of original sin. As such, it is one of the most hellish inventions of mankind.

Let me recap. God wanted to show everyone how infinitely loving he is, so he created Adam and Eve and put them in a paradisaical garden knowing that they would break his rule about eating of the fruit one particular tree. When they broke his rule (just like he knew they would), he cast them out of paradise into a torture chamber inhabited by a malicious demon he refuses to rein in. Adam and Eve and all of their children suffer at this demon’s hands. He creates earthquakes, floods, plagues, famines, pestilences, and all manner of suffering to punish Adam and Eve’s family for the time back in paradise when their first parents dared to eat that fruit that God tempted them with. Before the demon can do this, however, he must get God’s approval to make sure that no one who believes in God’s love suffers more than necessary, such are the protocols of the heavenly bureaucracy. Satan is on God’s payroll, doing all the dirty work God doesn’t care to do.

Millions upon millions upon billions of people are tortured and killed in this torture chamber with God’s approval. God’s sense of justice demands that God punish all of humanity for Adam and Eve’s sin of which they had no part and for choosing evil themselves, just as he created them to do. He couldn’t show his love if people didn’t suffer, so his plan from the beginning was to create humanity in such a way that they would certainly sin, torture humanity when they sinned according to his plan, and come to their rescue.

Seeing his plan was going well (what with all the suffering and dying going on), it was time for God to show his love, so he took on a mortal body. After being tortured for a day or two, he gave up and died. (Or even worse, he tortured and killed his own Son to make up for his own actions.) This made God feel better about the suffering of all the billions of people who he’s banished to his torture chamber.

If God let all those tortured souls live forever in paradise, it would probably make up for all his hellish sadism. Yet he still put a condition on humanity’s relief from suffering. They had no choice to come to this nightmare chamber in the first place. He never asked them their preference beforehand, yet they bear the final responsibility for getting themselves out. They must first believe—while still being tortured—that he loves them. Not only that, they must love him in return. Anyone who can’t muster the credulity necessary to believe that, anyone who doubts his love in the face of all his sadism, anyone who doesn’t thank him for the chance to suffer and die at his behest will go on suffering forever in an even worse torture chamber reserved for the skeptical and the ignorant.

God sounds like one hell of a cult leader.

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The Mind’s I

I recently finished reading The Mind’s I by Douglas R. Hofstadter, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, and Daniel C. Dennett, the Santa Claus-like patron saint of the recent publicly resurgent atheism. Sometimes books come into your life at the precise moment when they will have maximal impact. That happened for me with this book.

It is a collection of writings from authors such as Alan Turing, Richard Dawkins, John Searle, StanisÅ‚aw Lem, and Jorge Borges on the subject of mind, consciousness, and artificial intelligence. That’s exactly what I’ve been pondering lately. The authors present conflicting viewpoints (they promise to make everyone think) and then present their responses to the essay. A simple, very effective format.

The authors delivered on their promise. The book caused me to take a long look at what exactly it means to be a conscious, intelligent being. What is the self? Is there a soul? Can consciousness be explained reductively by interactions of neurons? What gives rise to our experience of consciousness? Many were the thought provoking moments that I spent with this book.

By the way, this is the book that I was reading in that Indian bistro a while ago.

An excellent read.

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All Things Denote That There Is No God

Several people (no, it’s not just you) within metaphorical earshot of me have tried recently to demonstrate God’s existence through a variation on the theme of Alma 30:44: the world itself demonstrates that there is a God. I’ve diplomatically refused to engage in discussions because I sense that a discussion is not what they really wanted. This is how I imagine a face-to-face discussion would play out:

[two friends are deep in discussion over a pot of tea]

Christy: All things denote that there is a God.

Me: What? I don’t really follow your reasoning.

Christy: Look around us. We live in a world full of wonder and beauty. How did all this get here if there is no God?

Me: I have some ideas, but I don’t know exactly.

Christy: See. It must have been created by God.

Me: Just because we don’t know how something happened isn’t a good reason to jump to the conclusion that God did it. If we always used that kind of reasoning, we would have never cured smallpox or figured out what kept the planets in orbit around the sun. We would be stuck in the dark ages.

Christy: Then how do you explain the world’s existence?

Me: Like I said, I don’t really know how, but from what I’ve seen, I imagine that it has arisen from the operation of natural laws.

Christy: But who created those laws?

Me: Wait, you’re assuming that the laws had to be created by someone. You’re begging the question a bit, don’t you think?

Christy: Okay, so where did the laws come from?

Me: I don’t know that either, but I suppose you’re going to tell me God created them.

Christy: Well, yes.

Me: We seem to be back to where we started. Let me ask a question. Where did God come from?

Christy: God is the Unmoved Mover, the First Cause. He is uncreated by definition.

Me: How is that different than if I said that the natural laws were uncaused? Saying that God is uncreated doesn’t really help explain anything, it’s just an attempt to salvage your belief in God.


[they are joined by a third friend]

Christy: Hey Molly!

Me: Hi Molly. Sit down. Would you like some tea?

Molly: No, thank you. Against my religion and all that.

Me: I know. [smiles] Christy is trying to convince me that God exists, and we were just discussing where he came from. Christy was just going to tell me how God being uncreated is any more reasonable than natural laws being uncreated.

Molly: Well that’s easy. God was created. God was once mortal like we are and progressed to become a God, just like we can.

Me: So he lived like us and had his own God like us and his own savior like Jesus.

Molly: Well, its not official doctrine, but yeah that’s what I’ve always thought.

Me: Have you ever asked where God’s God came from?

Molly: Of course. God’s God became a god through the same process. The same with God’s God’s God, and God’s God’s God’s God before Him.

Me: But where does it stop? How did the first God become a god.

Molly: The line of gods doesn’t stop. It keeps going on forever.

Me: To be honest, it doesn’t sound like any of us have any better idea of how things came to be here. All of us end up waving our hands and saying “It’s been that way forever” whether we’re talking about God, natural laws, or the infinite line of gods. God or Gods don’t help to explain how everything came to be here any better than natural laws. But to believe in supernatural beings requires a lot more imagination.

Christy: What about how beatiful and nourishing the world is. It’s perfectly suited for us. Don’t you see God’s loving hand behind everything?

Me: Not really, no.

Christy: But we live on an Earth that is perfect for our survival. If any detail was different, we couldn’t live here.

Me: That’s true of course, but it doesn’t mean that there’s a God behind the scenes making the Earth perfect for us. It’s not too hard to demonstrate that our species evolved to thrive in the conditions here. I think it was Douglas Adams who said that your argument is like a puddle thanking God that its hole was exactly the right shape for it to fit in.

Christy: Look at all of the barren worlds in our solar system. Life didn’t evolve there. The chance that life would just happen due to random chance must be astronomically small.

Me: That’s an oxymoron isn’t it? [smiles] Even given a very small probability of life occurring on any single planet, if you remember that there is a tremendous number of planets in the universe there is still a good chance that it would happen at least once. And the only place someone would be sitting with their friends talking about it would be on that one planet where it happened. So here we are.

Molly: What about the stars, flowers, newborn babies, mountains, and streams? Doesn’t all this beauty show you that there is a loving God?

Me: Sorry to be a killjoy, but what about the Ebola virus, wars, tsunamis, earthquakes, and child molesters? By your reasoning, don’t they show that there is a wicked, vicious God?

Christy: We create a lot of those evils. God has no control over our free will.

Me: So you’re saying that God is not all-powerful, that the world isn’t under his control?

Christy: No, just that He chose to give us free will so that we could worship Him freely.

Me: Couldn’t he have created us so that we we would want to worship him of our own free will? Why did he give us the desire to do evil?

Christy: We couldn’t have free will without the temptation to do evil. We need a chance to choose between good and evil.

Me: So God couldn’t create us with every opportunity to do evil but without the disposition to do evil?

Christy: That wouldn’t be true free will.

Me: Then God isn’t absolutely omnipotent. Or if he could create us with no disposition to do evil, but he chose not to, then he is evil himself because he caused the evil.

Molly: God couldn’t create us that way because part of us is uncreated and eternal. We always existed as something called an intelligence. God had to work with this preexisting intelligence in order to create our soul. He didn’t create us in the strictest sense of the word.

Me: So God isn’t omnipotent?

Molly: I guess not. He has limits and rules that He has to obey.

Me: So why should we worship him if he’s not all-powerful?

Molly: Because He is morally perfect, omniscient, and our only hope of becoming gods someday.

Me: Without going off on a tangent about the definition of perfection and omniscience, that seems fairly reasonable. What about all the evil in the world that doesn’t come from our own actions? What about disease and natural disasters? What do those things say about God?

Christy: What do you mean?

Me: I mean, why did God put us here in such a miserable position? Innocent children die painful, gruesome, lonely deaths. Tsunamis kill hundreds of thousands of people. The world is full of suffering. All religions admit that this is so. This doesn’t tell me that there is a loving God.

Christy: All of God’s children will receive justice and love in the afterlife.

Me: You’re begging the question again. You can’t use the supposed fact of God’s love as part of an argument that there is a loving God.

Christy: God put us in this world to learn from our experiences of evil. God uses evil to teach us to be good.

Me: So God created evil? He used the Shoah for his own purposes? Child molesters are doing God’s work? Satan is really on God’s payroll? Doesn’t that make God evil?

Me: Listen. We could go round and round about this all day, but for the sake of discussion, let’s take that the world must have come about because of some supernatural entity. Why should I believe that your God created it? Nothing that I see tells me that יהוה, one of the gods of the Iron Age Canaanite pantheon, created the universe. The fingerprint of יהוה isn’t all over creation that I can see. Couldn’t we use the same reasoning to justify a belief in any creator-god?

Christy: That’s a whole different topic.

Me: I suppose it is, but you do see why I don’t look at the world and say “Wow! A loving God must have done that.” You see why it’s not an obvious conclusion for me to make. Right?

Christy: I guess so.

Me: I think you’re going out trying to find a reason to justify your preexisting belief in God. You’re looking for evidence to confirm your beliefs but ignoring the evidence that contradicts your beliefs. You see kittens and puppies and butterflies but ignore malaria and cancer and cystic fibrosis. You want to believe in God so you create these elaborate justifications for his existence instead of making natural conclusions. The most obvious conclusion to make based on all of the evidence taken together is that the universe is amoral: neither good nor evil. I see no evidence in the world to believe in your God. This method of trying to prove God is actually pretty weak. I remain unconvinced.

Me: Molly, would you like some tea?

Molly: No, thanks. Against my religion.

Me: I know. [smiles]

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