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HolyGround >> Reconciling the OT and NT Biblical God's character


3/10/11 3:57 AM
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Ridgeback
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LoveToChoke - Ridgeback,
I'm unsure as to your first point - can please explain again?

I agree with your last statements you've made around materialism. However, those are not laws, or a code of ethics or pointed to as the way we should live. They are the way the world is, and people are attempting to change those things.

 What I mean is that we can't assume that if we were raised in the exact same way that any of the ancient Hebrews were we would be morally better persons.  If you approach the Bible with that assumption you will consider yourself too superior to even enter the narrative on any kind of meaningful level.  Reading any book with the assumption that you are a better person than the author or the characters in the narrative will rob you of truly understanding that narrative and make all your interpretations suspect.

Actually I would argue that materialism is very much touted as a virtue in Western culture and people who choose more children over possessions are often castigated.  Not to mention the American notion that the rich must be more virtuous or they wouldn't have so much wealth.  I think it is harder to see from inside, but it is clearly there.  I think you are focusing on the good parts of our culture, choosing to emphasize the small minority that is actually saying materialism is destructive to the soul.

I take it for granted that many of the OT proscriptions were part of a covenenant that were not meant to be permanent or meant to convey moral ideals.  War time rules for soldiers don't convey some kind of universal and ideal set of rules that all people should follow, but they can help soldiers in war time stay alive and more likely to win the war.  Or look at the laws of the Old West.  Stealing a horse was a serious crime worthy of hanging because depriving a man of his horse in open country was akin to killing him.  That doesn't mean it should be a universal principle that horse thiefs should all be hanged.  

And if you look at how the early Christians interpreted the OT, they didn't commit genocide or kill anybody for working on the sabbath or any of those other things atheists try to pin on Christians as if they had a long history of blindly following the OT books like they were a literal set of instructions.  The early Christians understood that to see Christ in the OT one had to reinterpret many parts of it, but they were convinced their reading was the more significant one and that God was most clearly seen in the life of Christ.  So the "reconciliation" is not nearly as problematic as people make it out to be.   I would say that if there appears to be a difference between the OT God and Jesus then a person should go with Jesus, but I disagree that there is actually a difference when one allows for context and perspective and the notion that God's revelation is an unfolding process.  Certainly the notion of a jubilee is not in any way contradictory to Jesus' teachings on money and the wealthy as just one example.
3/10/11 8:13 AM
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dabigchet
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i think there is some confusion in this thread when we talk about the morality of ancient people. when we say that our morality is superior, we aren't saying that as individuals we would act more morally by todays standards if we were born 4000 years ago in the desert. we are saying that our collective contemporary understanding of what is moral is superior to what the ancient hebrews understood. surely we can agree that not treating people as property is more moral than treating them as property. surely we can that including innocents in group punishments to the death is less moral than meting out punishment to those individuals who deserve it.

what is unclear to me is why god would be limited by the moral understanding of the time. just because the hebrews saw nothing wrong with corporate punishment doesn't mean that god needed to afflict famine and plague on the children of the wicked, as he very clearly did in jeremiah.

if the answer is that it was the punishment they would understand, then you absolutely HAVE to afford the possibility that god very well may be including innocents in punishments today. that it is entirely possible that, for example, pat robertson was right about the haiti earthquake or fred phelps is right about american military deaths.
3/10/11 12:26 PM
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inlikeflynn
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I think the point that's trying to be made is that much of the apparent "moral progress" is a more a function of our circumstances rather than an advance in moral thought.

Take the killing of innocents in war for example. Prof pointed out that now we recognize that this is a bad thing and try to avoid it. How do we try to avoid it? With technology, e.g. smart bombs. However, we still make decisions to kill innocents. At the beginning of the Iraq war, we recieved intel that Sadaam was meeting with top advisors in some neigborhood house. We sent a Tomahawk missile that leveled a couple of blocks in that neighborhood, killing quite a few innocents. Why, if we now know this is an immoral act? I assume that it was reasoned if Sadaam was taken out, the war would end quicker and fewer people would die/suffer in the long run. Now, what if that technology was not available? Would we have scrapped that reasoning or would we have carpet bombed a larger area with a B-52, as we did in WWII?

Now, can't we afford that same reasoning to the ancient Hebrews, who were not in the same dominant position of power that we are now (and didn't have the technology), and were fighting for their very survival?
3/10/11 4:59 PM
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Grakman
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Who is the 'we' that is more morally advanced than the ancient Hebrews? Western civilization? Where we consider a child in the womb to be a clump of cells that we can eliminate from the body on a whim because it's inconvenient? We still have capital punishment and limited access to healthcare. I personally don't have a problem with those things but one can't hoist the Hebrews on the canard of immorality while saying at the same time we are more moral than they.

As far as the rest of the world's morals... eh, not so much. There are still honor killings in the Middle East, infanticide in China, slavery, indentured servitude, humanity is doing great! I find it disingenuous to see an argument made about the immorality of God / the Bible while at the same time pushing Humanism or self-determined morals as somehow superior. We obviously aren't getting it right, either by constructing them on our own or by saying we are following the morals of Jesus.

There is no way I can improve on the argument of Free Will made by StewedOwl. The only thing I might add thereto is that God gave the Earth to man; WE are supposed to be the stewards and caretakers of this planet and each other. We are the ones that have messed everything up, not God. All the griping and philosophizing about morals and God are,  in my opinion, just man not wanting to take responsibility for the mess he has made. The Christian accepts that we have fouled things up and admits that we need God and a Savior to help us correct and fix things.

I noticed that no one has bothered to answer the question I posed in the Innocents in Ancient Warfare thread. I don't know if the question is not that compelling or if no one has an answer yet. But I would like to know how those who condemn the Hebrews for their 'total war' strategy in ancient times would have handled massive numbers of prisoners of war in a day and time of limited resources.
3/10/11 9:27 PM
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Ridgeback
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 The assumption of occupying a floating moral island above the fray of humanity will necessarily result in blindness about the faults of one's own times.  Couple this with the theoretical framework of logical positivism (an outdated mode of thought still embraced by many atheists untrained in philosophy) and you wind up with a person who will not see the faults of his own time as comparable to other times in history.  That would go against the Progress myth many of these people live by.  
3/11/11 1:05 AM
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RoidsGracie
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Kinda off topic, but wasn't it Judaism/Christianity that popularized in the west the idea of a humanity progressing towards a more perfect state of being? It seems like to me, that ancient people prior to that seemed to have a more cyclical view of humanity and the universe.
3/11/11 2:12 AM
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Ridgeback
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RoidsGracie - Kinda off topic, but wasn't it Judaism/Christianity that popularized in the west the idea of a humanity progressing towards a more perfect state of being? It seems like to me, that ancient people prior to that seemed to have a more cyclical view of humanity and the universe.

 Yes, Christianity most certainly inaugurated an eschatological view of time (directed toward a culmination), but never without the transformative power of Christ changing humans internally and bringing the world to an end to usher in the New Heavens and New Earth.  So when people in the West started rejecting some parts of Christianity, they nevertheless embraced things like a future paradise, with the difference that they believed humans could usher it in with the right actions, laws, economic systems, education, etc. etc.  Obviously this failed utterly in the 20th century.   Atheist writer John Gray has pointed out the tendency of secular humanists to selectively embrace the morality and eschatology of Christianity while rejecting its ontological underpinnings.  Hence the line in the U2 song "they say they want the Kingdom, but they don't want God in it."  That is a perfect description of all the utopia movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.  
3/11/11 8:32 AM
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dabigchet
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Grakman - Who is the 'we' that is more morally advanced than the ancient Hebrews? Western civilization? Where we consider a child in the womb to be a clump of cells that we can eliminate from the body on a whim because it's inconvenient? We still have capital punishment and limited access to healthcare. I personally don't have a problem with those things but one can't hoist the Hebrews on the canard of immorality while saying at the same time we are more moral than they.


RB likes to argue about morality in this way also. "bad things still happen, ergo, our collective morality is no better than any other time or people in history". look at the examples you offered, in this country of 300 million people, we executed 46 last year and you cite it as an example of our morality being no more advanced than ancient people? seriously? access to healthcare is greater than any time in history, especially to the old and poor, and it is an example of our morality being UNEVOLVED beccause it is still "limited"? c'mon.

yes, obviously western civilization is more morally evolved than desert people from 4000 years ago who owned other humans, executed others for minor crimes, slaughtered entire races claiming divine authority to do so. to claim otherwise is laughable. this is not to say that we are perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

As far as the rest of the world's morals...

there is no such thing as a single world morality now, or 4000 years ago.

There is no way I can improve on the argument of Free Will made by StewedOwl. The only thing I might add thereto is that God gave the Earth to man; WE are supposed to be the stewards and caretakers of this planet and each other. We are the ones that have messed everything up, not God. All the griping and philosophizing about morals and God are,  in my opinion, just man not wanting to take responsibility for the mess he has made. The Christian accepts that we have fouled things up and admits that we need God and a Savior to help us correct and fix things.


don't see how this is relevant to the discussion.

I noticed that no one has bothered to answer the question I posed in the Innocents in Ancient Warfare thread. I don't know if the question is not that compelling or if no one has an answer yet. But I would like to know how those who condemn the Hebrews for their 'total war' strategy in ancient times would have handled massive numbers of prisoners of war in a day and time of limited resources.

i'm not condemning the hebrews, so i don't believe this question applies to me.
3/11/11 10:13 AM
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RoidsGracie
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Edited: 03/11/11 10:14 AM
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Ridgeback - 
RoidsGracie - Kinda off topic, but wasn't it Judaism/Christianity that popularized in the west the idea of a humanity progressing towards a more perfect state of being? It seems like to me, that ancient people prior to that seemed to have a more cyclical view of humanity and the universe.

 Yes, Christianity most certainly inaugurated an eschatological view of time (directed toward a culmination), but never without the transformative power of Christ changing humans internally and bringing the world to an end to usher in the New Heavens and New Earth.  So when people in the West started rejecting some parts of Christianity, they nevertheless embraced things like a future paradise, with the difference that they believed humans could usher it in with the right actions, laws, economic systems, education, etc. etc.  Obviously this failed utterly in the 20th century.   Atheist writer John Gray has pointed out the tendency of secular humanists to selectively embrace the morality and eschatology of Christianity while rejecting its ontological underpinnings.  Hence the line in the U2 song "they say they want the Kingdom, but they don't want God in it."  That is a perfect description of all the utopia movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.  
I've read some secular humanist writings in which they attempt to spell out guidelines for what the moral viewpoint of humanity should be and I couldn't help to think that pre-Christian Western societies would have found a lot of the ideas espoused to be laughable; especially the parts about equality and promoting egalitarianism and care of the weak and downtrodden.  When Nietzsche was attacking the moral foundations of Christianity and talking about slave vs. master morality I couldn't help but think that he could have just as easily been talking about the moral standards we have in modern 21th century secular society. That's when I started to realize how much influence Christianity has had in the moral outlook of Western society since it's inception.

Then I started to think about how much of our individual moral outlook is shaped and molded by the culture around us and the religious, social, and philosophical ideas that shape the culture. The frightening thing was when i started to think about how our perceptions of morality seems to ultimately to be decided by  what society had the firepower to defend their vision of it. The reason we can sit here today in our nice homes and talk about the inherent value of human life, human rights and the importance of equality between races, gender, etc. is because the liberal democracies are the societies that ultimately won. I wonder what would our moral outlooks be like if instead Nazi Germany had ultimately triumphed. We might be thinking that it's immoral to allow  "damaged" human beings to live out a full life. Individualism and the liberty associated might be seen as selfish when compared to the needs of the state or volk/race.

How can we ultimately declare that slavery or killing another person is wrong? I know there's a lot of people out there that are reading this and will say "Well duh it's just wrong" but that's because we live in modern liberal democratic societies and have been influenced since birth to think of that sort of actions as hideous and inhuman. We just assume it's wrong because it has been ingrained into us. I also have no idea how we could use science and emperical experimentation; which are supposed to be our best methods for deriving knowledge about the universe in order to solve problems of this nature.

I'm kind of rambling in this post but the question of how we can ultimately produce moral guidelines and rules that can be used to determine if action A is better then action B has been something that's been bugging me for a long time (and I'm sure it has done the same to many millions of people before me). It seems in this thread everyone already has their own guidelines of what is right/better and that's how they are able to make judgements about what actions are morally superior and which are inferior. How do we ultimately know who is using the best standards?

I don't really have an answer (big surprise). It seems to me these sort of questions along with pretty much every big question in life like "Does God exist?" or "What is the meaning of life?" ultimately comes down to making a leap of faith.
 
3/11/11 3:05 PM
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prof
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Ridgeback - Prof,

Being a person somewhat wrapped up in literary theory, I find it revolting for anybody to approach any narrative with the a priori assumption that he is morally superior both to the author and the characters. There is simply no way to enter a story when one does that.


It doesn't speak to the benefits of being "wrapped up in literary theory" if it leads you to such absurd arguments.

Ridgeback, we ALL bring our morality to literature, to fiction, to non-fiction, to movies, to plays, to opera..you name it. I notice you didn't answer the relevant questions from my previous posts which makes that point.

When you walk out of Star Wars, or The Wizard Of Oz, or read Silence Of The Lambs, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, The Call of Cthulhu, Othello, etc...
if someone asks "Who are the bad guys, who are the good guys?" do you stammer....
"Uhm, sorry I can't really say. To make that evaluation would be to bring my own Moral Superiority (TM) to the story."

Obviously not. Or, if you would, you'd look like a fool.

You know we all bring our morality to literature. The authors typically EXPECT us to, which is why they make villains and good guys. Your harping on me for making moral conclusions on reading the bible is both hypocritical and special pleading.

It goes for non-fiction as well. If we read a book purporting to describe the actions of Pol Pot, Hitler, or Genghis Khan, you don't think we ought to be able to bring our own theories of morality to bear to say : Those were BAD people?

Similarly, if someone comes to me with a book purportedly describing the acts and ethics of a certain Being...be it Zeus, or Satan, or Yahweh, you can not demand I withhold moral scrutiny. You don't get to excuse your book, just because YOU think it's special, from the standard process of evaluating the moral standing of characters in a book.

And it's not like I blindly wade in to my evaluation. I used to accept Christianity
and the bible, at first, when I went to church. But I gradually became exposed to more information, and re-evaluated. I come to the bible being VERY FAMILIAR with how Christians approach the book, and very familiar with the moral interpretations of the text and the defenses of those interpretations. I come to the bible after studying philosophy and moral philosophy, both some religious versions and secular.

If you don't think it legitimate that I bring what I've learned in evaluating the morality
of the bible (and that includes examining the text as explicated by Christians like yourself), then your words aren't worth taking seriously at all. It would be too naive and hypocritical.

Note that I don't stop at my own interpretation of the bible either. I look at various Christian interpretations, including your own, to evaluate if they make moral sense.
I say: Ok...what's YOUR interpretation and how does this all come out nice in the wash?

But when you guys finally put up it's clear you don't have good answers either.

Here's what you don't seem to get no matter how many times I explain it:

1. It's not like I say I am morally superior in every way to every character described in the bible. Some characters do show good morals, and also are described doing braver things than I could likely ever do in service of those morals. (That's typical of most stories that feature heros).

And of course I'm not arguing that we are now somehow born more morally enlightened. The fact you think you have to point out we'd likely be slave owners in an ancient time, as if I would dispute that, shows how addicted to straw men and misreading you seem to be (and this continued misreading and misrepresentation of what I write casts some doubt on your claims that you read literature more carefully than others).

2. That you can point to anything immoral you or I might do, or any ills still befalling society's behavior, does not undermine my point. It is given that none of us do, or ever have, behaved in total conformity with what we think is right. It's not strictly about behavior per se. It's about WHAT WE THINK IS RIGHT. Our current moral theories, not necessarily whether we think we live up to them all the time.

Take Ted and Bob. Both once owned human slaves earlier in their lives, and the slaves are now dead. We ask Bob if his owning slaves was wrong he says "No, of course not. Black people shouldn't have the same rights as us and were meant to be our slaves."

You ask Ted and he says: "Yes, my owning slaves was wrong. I now understand that
we ought to treat other humans with compassion and respect individual freedom to the extent possible. Black people are no less deserving of dignity, freedom and person rights as I am. I regret and am sorry for having ever made someone my slave."

Both men performed the exact same action of owning a slave, which we'd consider immoral. Yet we'd consider one of them, Ted, to have become morally enlightened - he has at least graduated to what we'd consider a better moral theory.

Or..are you going to refrain from joining the rest of us in condemning black slavery?

So if you then start on with "But look at our society...we still have slavery in X form, or sweat shops, and we still kill people with missiles..." then to the extent we agree those are bad things THAT IS THE POINT. It's not whether society has miraculously all behaved perfectly morally...it's whether we RECOGNIZE these things as morally undesirable states of affairs!

And if we say now "Yes, slavery is morally wrong" then if we have that premise, if we look at a character in a book who does not recognize slavery is morally wrong, then if follows that character is not morally enlightened on the issue. (Or, are you a pure cultural relativist? If so, that would certainly seem at odds with Christianity and The Bible. But since you are unlikely to be a cultural relativist, then my argument follows).

Ridgeback -
I would agree that it is better to not own slaves (seems to be easily summed up in "do unto others") but that is different from the real world of human moral systems and actions.


Right. So apply what I've written above, and see if you understand now what I'm writing. Do we think it's "true" that people ought not own slaves or not? If we do, then it follows anyone in times past who thought it was ok to own slaves was not as morally enlightened on the subject of slavery, as we are.

As always I suggest you spend less time mischaracterizing me, and instead engage the logic of my actual arguments.

Ridgeback - As TheStewedOwl pointed out on the other thread, you play this game whereby God is just a human character in the narrative rather than the actual creator and sustainer of the universe.


I produce arguments for why we have no rational choice but to judge any claims for a God by the same rules we judge other persons. Instead of actually rebutting the argument, showing it faulty, you ignore and proclaim me wrong and naive.
That doesn't wash. Show how I'm wrong.

If you say that God being the creator and sustainer of the universe makes God an exception....SHOW YOUR REASONING. GIVE AN ARGUMENT for why I ought to accept that conclusion. Don't just say it and claim I won't consider it.

As it happens, plenty of Christians have made exactly that claim. I have considered the reasoning they offer (including from you in the past). I've offered arguments against it. You refuse to engage them.

Prof.
3/11/11 3:06 PM
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prof
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Ridgeback -
For all you know, you would have been a monster in OT times, sacrificing your children on the altar of Baal to please him.


Yup. And if I were born in ancient times, along with such immoral beliefs, I'd also be ignorant of the fact that microorganisms and viruses cause disease. I'd have all sorts of false beliefs about the human body, about what causes earthquakes, about
the earth's position in the solar system, and on and on.

But we know BETTER know. THAT'S THE POINT.

Ridgeback -
Couple this with what I pointed out early in this thread about the Hebrews writing within their own language, cultural assumptions, and experience and that leaves a lot of room to say that the God of the Bible that the Hebrews experienced in OT narratives is also the God that became Incarnated in Jesus Christ.


Uhm...contained in the Bible is supposed to be the wisdom of an All Knowing, Eternal God. Not simply the cultural biases and assumptions of an ancient tribe.
If you want to say the bible represents the latter, then I'm right there with you. That IS what the bible represents. But no, the Christian wants to say the Bible contains within it contact with, and the message and wisdom of a God...whose morality is not supposed to be constrained by the ignorance or constraints of some ancient culture. (That wouldn't be much of a God).


Ridgeback -

This is further confirmed when one actually reads the OT (rather than taking select passages off of atheist websites) and sees a pervasive concern with righteousness, the care of the poor and powerless, and the insistence on becoming far more than a life spent simply living for animal instincts would lead us to. It is not as if traditional Christians pull out an OT and try to take one small part of a narrative and use it as a code to live by. It is understood that many of the proscriptions of the OT have to do with time and place and are not general commandments like "do unto others" and "forgive your enemies" and "true religion is caring for widows and the homeless" etc. etc. <br type="_moz" />


Which is not an excuse given the Bible purports to record the wisdom of an ETERNAL ALL KNOWING ALL GOOD God. So these appeals to cultural relativism
and ancient situations flounder hopelessly.

Even IF some commands were meant only for people at a certain time that doesn't mean they weren't immoral. If I lived in 300 AD and commanded : You shall incarcerate and torture the innocent for the crimes of the guilty" it doesn't matter a damn if someone says "Oh, he only meant it for the people back then. He doesn't mean it to apply now." It's an immoral injunction back then as it is now.

The OT has God giving commands, and giving the reasoning for the commands, and they are immoral..flat out...and "He just meant it for the ancient Jews" doesn't remotely address this fact.

Example:

When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.  If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.  (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

So you can own another human being, and if they do not do as you wish you can beat her within an inch of her life...she can even DIE from your beating as long as she lingers a couple days...but you would not be deserving of condemnation. Why? Oh...BECAUSE that person is YOUR PROPERTY.

You know very well someone advocating that moral reasoning today would be seen as immoral by most civilized people like you and me. And yet this is purportedly GOD's morality on display. To say "Well, that's how things were back then" hardly excuses a God whose objective moral wisdom is supposed to transcend time. To say it was ok then, but not now, is to engage in moral relativism - ironically the horror of moral relativism is exactly what so many Christians attempt to decry, attributing it to a secular world view.

Now, are you going to claim the passage is wrong? God never made such commands? Then you are going to run into accusations of cherry-picking, assuming the biblical claims are reliable when you like them, unreliable when you don't.

Are you going to say instead: "But really, if you just understand the CONTEXT those commands are moral."

Really? Go ahead. Give me the context and lets see if things come out clean in the wash as you might claim.

Is it metaphor? Well, someone could also claim that to read Mein Kampf and to infer Hitler was anti-Semitic is a misreading. If you look in context, and take the proper passages as metaphor, you can see he was quite a fan of the Jews.

Except that making the claim is on thing; showing such an interpretation actually makes sense is another thing.

Likewise, you may claim your interpretation of the bible solves the charges of immorality, special pleading and inconsistency. But actually providing a good argument to accept your claim is another thing. A step you often seem eager to ignore. And every Christian sect thinks they have the right interpretation, despite that those interpretations conflict.


Prof.
3/11/11 3:24 PM
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prof
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To others: Regarding our judging biblical stories like God ordering the killing of the Amalekites.

Christians will often say "Look, they were stuck in certain circumstances. They HAD to kill all the Amalekites. And don't be so quick to be a judge, Mr. Moral-pants. After all even in the 20th Century America dropped Atomic bombs on Japan, knowing full well innocent people would be killed."

These objections miss an obvious crucial element: God.

We humans suffer from great limitations in our powers. We haven't the ability to, for instance, wage wars were our weapons only ever kill the "guilty" or combatants. Our limitations make interaction necessarily messy.

The very fact that dropping the atomic bombs would kill so many innocent people made it a moral problem of the time. And it has become if anything even more under moral scrutiny and consternation since then.

If there had been a choice between dropping an atom bomb (or just waging military war) on Japan to stop their attack, or
having a magic method of stopping the war without ANY such casualties, who in the world would say we should have chosen to drop the bomb?

Nobody. At least nobody who wouldn't come under moral condemnation from most civilized people.

And yet God, who obviously had the power to stop the conflict and save innocent lives, didn't choose that option but instead ordered specifically that every non-combatant - women, children and animal, be slaughtered.

It is inconsistent, incoherent special pleading to call God moral when we would judge any other personal agent immoral for doing so.

Prof.

3/11/11 5:41 PM
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Grakman
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 prof,
I have a question for you. This is not a lead-in for an opportunity for me to deliver an argument of my own, I'm genuninely interested in how you would answer this question. It's a bit of a thought experiment on your part I hope you don't mind.

In this thought exeriment, given 1) a God who is who God accodring to the definitions we've used in these threads; and 2) the desire of this God to create man with free will -

- how would you see something like that occurring? Is it possible to to create man with free will while at the same time giving him 100% certainty that God exists?

Again, I don't have a pat answer ready to reply  My imagination isn't what it used to be so I am probably missing an answer that is right under my nose. Would you care to explain or offer an answer?
3/11/11 5:51 PM
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prof
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Grakman - 

- how would you see something like that occurring? Is it possible to to create man with free will while at the same time giving him 100% certainty that God exists?



The answer is trivially easy:

I have no doubt my wife exists.

Yet this does not limit my having free will.

Why you'd think it is different in the case of God is frankly baffling.

When I look into the offerings at a Sushi bar, I see a variety of options for me - tuna roll? Salmon? Unagi? - and I am not experiencing any doubt the exist.

Yet this does not limit my ability to choose between them.

In fact KNOWING they exist GIVES me the choice I would not otherwise have. If I didn't know the choices exist, I couldn't make them. Or, if I were making choices about things that didn't exist, I wouldn't be rational.

That's why knowledge is actually important in making free willed choices more robust and rational.

Christians have it perversely the wrong way around when they imagine that God giving us firmer knowledge of His existence, and of our choices, would somehow remove our free will.

Prof.
3/11/11 9:11 PM
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Ridgeback
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 Prof.  

With your own children, do you accept progression rather than perfection?  You may have a goal in mind, but you know they won't reach that goal and trying to force them to that goal would actually destroy their ability to progress from where they are.  Is that not the case?

I find that atheists tend to be obsessed with morality more than Christians ever are and I almost never see atheists dealing with the fact that humans are morally aware of what they ought to do 9 times out of 10 and then use their free will to do something less than that.  So when the entire world of humans is doing things far less than the potential of what they inherently know, do you think it is helpful to up the ante to express the distance in what they are and what they ought to be?  

It is weird that you actually think that the OT is supposed to be about God giving a universal moral code to a group of people who can't even live up to their local codes of decency.  If you were God you would yell at your baby lying on his back for failing to walk when he isn't even able to crawl.  And when someone points out that maybe just lifting his head up and laying on his belly would be a start, you point out that doing that is hardly like walking and a real father would expect nothing less than a walking baby.  


As far as your last post, you just proved that you tend to conceive of God as another human walking around on the earth.  Which is ironic considering the Incarnation, but of course you mean he would have to be like your wife, but be in every time and place present to every human being in that same way.  Nothing dishonest about that. 

I believe more and more that atheism is simply an orientation of the will.
3/11/11 10:43 PM
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prof
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Edited: 03/11/11 10:51 PM
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Ridgeback,

Regarding parenting children:

What you are doing is the typical move of ignoring specific cases to appeal to abstractions. Essentially appealing to something like "But don't decent parents allow their children to make mistakes?" The problem is, such appeals simply don't provide cover for specific, troubling details.

Example: Sue has come under fire for the manner in which she has disciplined her child. She appeals to a principle: "But isn't it the case we agree good parents use discipline?
You discipline and punish your children on occasion? Doesn't disciplining mean a better outcome for the child in the long run? Therefore, how can you criticize me?"

Sounds reasonable huh?

But what if we actually learn the details of the case. Turns out Sue's manner of "disciplining" her child was to take her 3 year old, who spilled her milk, and hold the child's arms in a fire until it had 3rd degree burns. Or...Sue chained the child to a searing hot radiator for several days?

NOW would it do to accept what she did was ok by appealing to the principle "Hey, Parents have a right to discipline their children!"

Of course not. The severity, the consequences, meted out by Sue crosses any moral, wise, compassionate, decent line.

The same goes for God. What kind of suffering and horror is your principle "Parents ought to allow their children to progress" covering for?

It turns out it's covering for virtually every type of suffering, every evil. All the worst POSSIBLE evils and suffering that go on, which make Sue look as bad as Mr. Dressup.

Would we, for instance, allow a child to be kidnapped, serially raped and tortured on the grounds "Hey..a kid's gotta learn? I would have intervened, but that would risk destroying the child's 'progress.'"

No.

Millions of Jews burn in ovens so...we could learn? Hitler could progress? It's abominable.

If you could have stopped the recent Tsunami with the press of a button would you? Or would you have chosen to allow the death and destruction on the grounds "Don't wanna stop progress!"

See, the actual details that you have to deal with just aren't dealt with by appealing to abstractions.

As for judging God like a human being, you keep saying it's invalid but you have yet to engage the logic I've laid out as to why we have no rational choice but to apply similar principles. Why won't you actually show the flaw in my line of reasoning, instead of simply proclaiming the conclusion to be wrong?

Tell me: How would we rationally conclude any particular being is "good" or Omnipotent or All Powerful...by appeal to some criteria outside human understanding? That's virtually impossible by definition!

Go ahead and try. The problem is you wont' be able to come up with another criteria that doesn't cause epistemological chaos. You try to open the door with an extra-human criteria and you can not help but also validate innumerable absurdities and contradictions.

This is why I keep giving the example of calling myself God.
If you can not evaluate my claim of being All Good by asking for evidence, which necessarily implies a priori criteria we use for other rational agents, then all justification is gone for saying "Yahweh is God, not Prof." Whatever I do I can say "You, mere mortal, are in no position to judge the actions of a Being like myself." If that is not good enough for you, to make you refrain from judging my claim, then you can't say the same logic is good enough to make me refrain from judging YOUR claim that the Bible character is All Good.

But so long as you DO use pre-existing moral criteria to dismiss my claim, it means the same can be applied to your claim that Yahweh is God.

Prof.
3/12/11 12:04 AM
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Ridgeback
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Prof,

Please point out where I wrote the Biblical God is "all good."  This is an odd accusation considering I already pointed out several times that the Biblical God is presented from the perspective of the humans who experienced him working in their lives.  I take it for granted that their perspective will necessarily be limited, and not everything subscribed to God by individual writers of the Bible should be taken as literal truth.  Solomon calls the nature of reality "vanity," meaning he is essentially a nihilist.  Is that how I should view God based on a literal reading of the OT?  You must stop accusing me of fundamentalist approaches.  It is boring, ahistorical, and innacurate.

Then please point out how you would be capable of accurately judging what is all good.  You are taking your position for granted, but lets pretend for a moment that your perspective is limited.  I take it for granted that I don't occupy a moral high ground whereby I can see the whole elephant and criticize the three blind men describing him.  You assume that high ground and base it largely on technological improvements and a hodge podge of Christian and Enlightenment principles that have slowly developed over time and which you have nothing to do with. I simply don't assume that we are better or have the whole picture.  I think we can safely say some things are better, but I am also certain we have gaping moral blind spots where we think we are very good.

Then point out where I have written that judging God as a human being is invalid.  That is simply a misrepresentation.  My point is that you selectively suspend your judgment around the things that would make for a difference.   It would be like comparing an office boss with a general in wartime.  You are ignoring all the wartime parts and the nature of the general's job vs. the office boss.  Then you complain that the general shot one of his soldiers or put him in prison for "missing work."  The issue isn't with comparing God with a good earthly Father, it is with selectively ignoring how a good earthly Father might behave with a God perspective of the world.   I don't pretend to explain all that the Biblical God does.  What I am trying to point out is that based on the evidence of God as a man in Jesus (which Christians have always claimed is the best way for us to understand what God is really like from our own limited perspective) I am willing to suspend judgment on the events of the OT.  Couple that with my view that the events are described from the limitations of the humans who recorded them, and there is no inconsistency like you keep claiming.  

My charge against you is that you, in a priori fashion, simply refuse to use your imagination in a way that would enter the narratives and allow for the moral ambiguity that all sincere readers of the OT point to.  In that respect you are much like the fundamentalist who won't read a Harry Potter novel because it has "witchcraft."   Or you are like a person who claims Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm describe two completely different visions because one is "realistic" and the other is about "talking animals."  Nevermind that they both make the same argument about totalitarianism in different ways, that whole talking animals thing makes it clearly incompatible with 1984 and readers of Orwell who claim otherwise are probably just being dishonest.
3/12/11 12:10 AM
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Ridgeback
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Edited: 03/12/11 12:11 AM
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 The same goes for God. What kind of suffering and horror is your principle "Parents ought to allow their children to progress" covering for?

It turns out it's covering for virtually every type of suffering, every evil. All the worst POSSIBLE evils and suffering that go on,

At no point have I made this claim just to be clear.  You are arguing with three people at once, so you may have read it from Grakman or TheStewedOwl, but not from me.  The best argument against God was made by the Christian writer Dostoyevsky through the atheist character Ivan Karamazov.  At no point in the story does he (the author) try to argue that the torture of one baby to achieve God's plan would be justified.  That is not how he deals with the issue.  I don't do that either.  

The tie in to parenting has nothing to do with excusing abuse. It has to do with the dissonance between what you want for your children as a parent and their free will and limitations.  As a parent you either work with the limitations and get used to dealing with less than your will being the guiding principle, or you become a tyrant and demand things from them they are incapable of achieving, at least until they have developed and progressed more.  

And this notion is very much at work in the Bible as a whole, where Jesus goes from the limitations on revenge in the OT founded on the "eye for an eye" principle to expecting his followers to "love thy enemies."  You are arguing that the "eye for an eye" principle is a poor example of perfect morality from an all good God, and that is like me arguing that allowing your child to crawl around is hardly a replacement for him walking and running.
  
3/12/11 12:16 AM
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Grakman
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 prof,
I should have spelled out perhaps more of what the 'God' we have been discussing is like. I took it for granted that we meant a God that we would know created us and set a moral code for us to live by. Knowing that this God created you and all the universe, and he said 'Do this, not this; don't do this, do that instead, - or else you will reap the consequences.' how much do you think knowing something like that would change how you use your 'free will?'


3/12/11 1:14 AM
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prof
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Ridgeback - Prof,

Please point out where I wrote the Biblical God is "all good."


I said the Bible purportedly REPRESENTS contact with the wisdom of an All Good God.

I explicitly left room, and indicated, that Christians approach that representation in a variety of ways, from literal to interpretive to metaphorical. I already acknowledge you, and certain other Christians, do not believe the bible got everything correct about God. What I pointed out was that even IF you take that approach you are going to run into problems.

So I never for a second indicated you were fundamentalist about the Bible.

So even if you think the experience of God was filtered through the limitations, and possibly distortions, of the biblical authors, do you or do you not consider God Himself to be All Good? (or the pinnacle of possible moral goodness...or the standard...or such thing)?

You know quite well that God being the Ultimate Good is one of the most widely accepted tenets among Christians. (Or are you one of the minority who consider God A-moral?)


Ridgeback -
This is an odd accusation considering I already pointed out several times that the Biblical God is presented from the perspective of the humans who experienced him working in their lives. I take it for granted that their perspective will necessarily be limited, and not everything subscribed to God by individual writers of the Bible should be taken as literal truth. Solomon calls the nature of reality "vanity," meaning he is essentially a nihilist. Is that how I should view God based on a literal reading of the OT? You must stop accusing me of fundamentalist approaches. It is boring, ahistorical, and inaccurate.


Like I said: I had previously acknowledged you take such an approach. When I gave an example of a Biblical injunction about slavery I explicitly asked, if one does not take it literally exactly HOW would you approach it? My examples of possible routes indicated that I know you don't take it literally!

Ridgeback -Then please point out how you would be capable of accurately judging what is all good.


I can't see how I would, necessarily. Which is my whole point.

I could judge a Being "good" from our perspective. I could even infer that it was reasonable to infer a God had access to moral reasons that we don't, and that therefore the best course would be to appeal to the God for moral guidance. But as I said, even making such a conclusion remains provisional. If the God started to act, or make commands, that seem on the balance "evil" then I don't see how we'd rationally continue to infer the God was "good." So our own criteria always lurks in the background.

Of course, this is from the perspective we currently have. It's conceivable that a God could appear and give knowledge directly to our minds that He was All Good. Or that God could give explanations that would change my reasoning on this. Make me aware of some justifications for believing He is All Good that we currently don't know. But as it stands now there's no good argument that this has been already done.

So now will you answer my question?

If I claim to be God, a Being with a perspective vastly beyond your own, how will you evaluate this claim? Do you have any rational process to do so?

Ridgeback -

You are taking your position for granted, but lets pretend for a moment that your perspective is limited. I take it for granted that I don't occupy a moral high ground whereby I can see the whole elephant and criticize the three blind men describing him. You assume that high ground and base it largely on technological improvements and a hodge podge of Christian and Enlightenment principles that have slowly developed over time and which you have nothing to do with. I simply don't assume that we are better or have the whole picture. I think we can safely say some things are better, but I am also certain we have gaping moral blind spots where we think we are very good.


This still fails to engage my argument. You cast aspersions on the conclusion, without showing how the logic is invalid or unsound.

Ridgeback - Then point out where I have written that judging God as a human being is invalid.


It seemed strongly implied here:

Ridgeback - As far as your last post, you just proved that you tend to conceive of God as another human walking around on the earth.


Given it was clearly a criticism of my approach.

So, do you think judging God as we do human beings IS valid? Can you answer directly so there is no confusion?

BTW, remember I have not said that we should judge God as a human being. In fact that is precisely wrong. The differences between God and humans is profound and VERY relevant to any moral judgment. Rather, I have said we need to judge God by the same MORAL PRINCIPLES as we judge any moral agent, human or non human. And we take the abilities of that agent into consideration when we do so.

Ridgeback - That is simply a misrepresentation. My point is that you selectively suspend your judgment around the things that would make for a difference.


That's an accusation that you hurl with regularity, but which you can't back up.

I continually ask you and other Christians to lay out the "things that would make a difference" to examine if, IN FACT, they make a relevant difference that would change the conclusions.
Every time I can get you guys to do so...which with you is almost impossible...it turns out those specific differences do not absolve God.

I've already asked how the fact that God created and sustains our life makes for a relevant difference, in terms of my claims God has acted immorally. Yet you never give an argument to support it. Only keep saying I "ignore it."

It's as if you want to maintain an air of elitism or superiority (over this naive atheist), without doing any work to earn it. At least I do the work.


Ridgeback -
It would be like comparing an office boss with a general in wartime. You are ignoring all the wartime parts and the nature of the general's job vs. the office boss. Then you complain that the general shot one of his soldiers or put him in prison for "missing work." The issue isn't with comparing God with a good earthly Father, it is with selectively ignoring how a good earthly Father might behave with a God perspective of the world.


You are doing it again: Appealing to abstractions, avoiding the messy details.

If you could show how the things you are saying actually resolve any of the apparent immorality of the OT God, that would be a step in the right direction. But you don't do it, so I have no reason to accept that all this "general vs office boss" talk implies there are good answers to the morally troublesome parts of the Biblical God.

Ridgeback - I don't pretend to explain all that the Biblical God does. What I am trying to point out is that based on the evidence of God as a man in Jesus (which Christians have always claimed is the best way for us to understand what God is really like from our own limited perspective) I am willing to suspend judgment on the events of the OT.


Bingo. What I've been saying from the start! So what was all this fuss about?

Prof
3/12/11 1:15 AM
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prof
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Ridgeback -
My charge against you is that you, in a priori fashion, simply refuse to use your imagination in a way that would enter the narratives and allow for the moral ambiguity that all sincere readers of the OT point to.


Yes, and you don't support your charge.

You know that there are many specific, varying ways Christians approach biblical verses. And note that the Bible is not yours, it's not another Christians...it's a piece of literature from an ancient time. What you have is an interpretation of that book and some beliefs. None of that equates to your interpretation being the right one, or that only a Christian can legitimately interpret the Bible. Secular people, including bible scholars, interpret it as purely the work of human beings, not representing a real supernatural reality. Being a Christian does not make your interpretation de facto any more valid, since you could be entirely wrong.

The upshot is you can't expect me to just take your word that your way is THE WAY. You have show why it is more reasonable. That's why I gave you a verse to show how you'd interpret it. But it seems you won't touch it with a 10 foot pole.

It's like we're playing tennis and only one side is willing to commit and swing his racket.

Prof
3/12/11 1:40 AM
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prof
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Edited: 03/12/11 1:43 AM
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Ridgeback -

At no point have I made this claim just to be clear. You are arguing with three people at once, so you may have read it from Grakman or TheStewedOwl, but not from me. The best argument against God was made by the Christian writer Dostoyevsky through the atheist character Ivan Karamazov. At no point in the story does he (the author) try to argue that the torture of one baby to achieve God's plan would be justified. That is not how he deals with the issue. I don't do that either.

The tie in to parenting has nothing to do with excusing abuse. It has to do with the dissonance between what you want for your children as a parent and their free will and limitations. As a parent you either work with the limitations and get used to dealing with less than your will being the guiding principle, or you become a tyrant and demand things from them they are incapable of achieving, at least until they have developed and progressed more.

And this notion is very much at work in the Bible as a whole, where Jesus goes from the limitations on revenge in the OT founded on the "eye for an eye" principle to expecting his followers to "love thy enemies." You are arguing that the "eye for an eye" principle is a poor example of perfect morality from an all good God, and that is like me arguing that allowing your child to crawl around is hardly a replacement for him walking and running.<br type="_moz" /></span>


But Ridgeback, it IS a case of justifying evil and suffering. You point to the justification yourself: Free Will.

The argument isn't that God desires the evil or suffering we experience (although there is a *different* argument for that). The argument is "What is the reason that God allows evil and suffering? Why did God not make a world without it? And/or why does God not interfere to stop it?" The answer to this is NECESSARILY a justification for the existence of suffering and evil.

Surely you don't deny that God would have the power to, say, stop a rape happening.
Given God could do so, and since we'd normally expect any good person with the power to easily stop a rape would do so, we have to ask why, if God is Good, doesn't God stop the rape? What JUSTIFICATION does God have for not stopping the evil/suffering?

You mentioned the standard Christian response: Free Will.

God desired to make creatures who could FREELY enter into a loving relationship with Him. (Or freely worship him or...phrase it however you would like to). God values free beings which is why we aren't just "robots." And God wants moral beings, and moral beings require true free will and the ability to choose evil; without an actual choice to do evil, we wouldn't be significantly morally free beings, which God desires.

Therefore why doesn't God stop the rapist? The justification appeals to the fact of the rapist (human) free will combined with "limitations." The justification for God not intervening is God doesn't want to interfere in the free willed choices of his creation. As you put it, God doesn't want to be a tyrant...and wants his creation to "progress" on their own.

Hence Christianity posits there is a morally sufficient JUSTIFICATION for why God doesn't intervene to stop human evil. (Different Christian thinkers will put their own spin on the specifics of the justification, but there is ALWAYS a justification).

And ultimately this means that any and all suffering and evil that occur is JUSTIFIED. If it weren't, God couldn't be "good." Someone can take a hammer to a baby's head and the action will be wrong, insofar as God desires we not do so, but ultimately whatever suffering the baby endures is somehow JUSTIFIED by an appeal to the value of free will.

Without such an attempted justification, a God who could have intervened but didn't couldn't be "Good."

Prof.

(BTW, there is nothing so tired and blinkered as the monotonous way Christians hold up a handful of authors, e.g. Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche, as writers who "really" understood atheism and it's logical implications. Which is pure doggy poo-poo).
3/12/11 2:04 AM
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prof
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Grakman - prof,
I should have spelled out perhaps more of what the 'God' we have been discussing is like. I took it for granted that we meant a God that we would know created us and set a moral code for us to live by. Knowing that this God created you and all the universe, and he said 'Do this, not this; don't do this, do that instead, - or else you will reap the consequences.' how much do you think knowing something like that would change how you use your 'free will?'

<br type="_moz" />


Depends on the commands and consequences.

If Jesus came back, showed me and everyone He exists and is God, and gave us unambiguous knowledge of what to do to avoid eternal punishment...I'd be doing it. There is nothing that is possibly worse than eternal punishment.

Now, I'd rather be given good reasons for following God's commands (that is, God explains why his commands are actually "good," and understanding these reasons motivates me to follow them). But failing that, if I had to I'd do it out of fear of eternal punishment.

Now, you might want to say: Well, there you go. If God revealed Himself and told you unequivocally you'd be going to hell if you didn't do good acts, you'd be forced to do them, out of fear. But God doesn't want you to be so coerced...he wants you to figure it out yourself, make an uncoerced choice.

But the problem with that is this: If it's TRUE that I'd be headed for eternal suffering if I make the wrong choice, then it doesn't matter that God desires we make our choice without this knowledge...it would be morally incumbent upon God to give us the unequivocal knowledge.

Imagine you are on a mountain path. You have the free choice to choose whether to continue on the same path, or head back and go home. However, I have knowledge the path leads to a cliff right around the corner, so you'd fall off and die. Would it do for me to withhold this information because I prefer you make a "free willed choice" uncoerced by the terrible consequences if you make a certain choice? (To continue on the path). Surely not. Obviously any person told of the reality of the cliff is likely to choose NOT to go that way. But does that mean we ought not tell people about the danger? No. We make sure people KNOW about the reality of the consequences of their choice, so they can make the most informed decision to achieve their desires.

This is why, as I keep saying, information is key to truly rational, relevant, compassionate free-willed choices.

One other thing: A portion of Christians have decided that God unequivocally exists. And that they KNOW God's will and the correct path to salvation. Essentially, these people are sure in their knowledge.

And yet they do not believe they have been robbed of free will, or the significance of their choice to follow God.

So it makes no sense for Christians to say that if we had our doubts removed about God's existence and knew his will, that it would impede our ability to make free willed choice on the matter.

Prof.


3/12/11 11:15 AM
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Grakman
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Prof,
Thanks for the reply.
3/12/11 1:35 PM
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prof
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Edited: 03/12/11 4:08 PM
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No problem.

Does my answer make sense to you?

Prof.


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