Monday, May 21, 2012

What Craig said... (II)

Thinking a bit more...

I suspect a real problem question for a Craig type Christian is, if the atheist knows God exists, and knows the penalty for denying God exists is infinite punishment, and the reward for acknowledging belief is infinite bliss, why does the atheist "suppress" their knowledge of, and deny, God's  existence?

Motive?

Sure, Craig thinks the atheist's denial is born of "wickedness". But that's not a motive. A wickedly selfish and self-serving person, when given an "offer they can't refuse" by a mafia boss, will take the offer, not refuse it.

Craig's God gives us atheists a choice - admit what we clearly see and know to be true, and get a pass to heaven, or deny what we know, and receive infinite torment.

Why do we freely and knowingly choose that latter? How does Craig make sense of that choice? Surely,  a selfish, self-serving person would choose the former?

I'm genuinely interested.... when it comes to my freely choosing infinite torment, what do I think is in it for me?

32 comments:

Mark Jones said...

I suspect the theist might see their own position as one of delayed gratification, while the 'selfish' atheist demands jam today. So, they see the ascetic lifestyle demanded by many religions as a self-denial that will be rewarded in the afterlife, and they expect atheists' denial of the afterlife to be reflected in a more hedonistic lifestyle. Note that theists are often quite puzzled when atheists behave just as well as theists (maybe they consider that more evidence that atheists 'know' there's a god!). Studies have shown, I believe, that children who are better at delaying gratification become wealthier adults, so perhaps this intuition is being misapplied in this case.

So the theist thinks, perhaps, that the atheist is behaving like the spoilt child at Easter who, even though she knows rationing her chocolate egg consumption will leave some to be enjoyed during the following days, scoffs the lot in one sitting and is sick.

Tris Stock said...

Indeed. Whither free will?

Carbon Dated said...

I raised this issue in the first post on Craig. An atheist has no motive to pretend to disbelieve, whereas a theist would have all kinds of motives for pretending to believe. Not that I would ever accuse Craig of such a pretense, but you must admit he has quite a living out of being a professional Christian.

sam said...

It’s not an accident that these appeals to authority require selective editing. Ending the quotation at Rom 1 verse 21 conveniently removes to whom Paul is referring as ‘godless’: emperor & pagan god worshippers (verse 23). Self-professed atheists were unheard of in ancient Rome. Even Epicureans believed in the pagan gods, though they believed they were material.

The invisible qualities of the pagan gods would have been plain & clearly seen in the world by the pagans. Pagans would have used images & idols to physically represent these gods. To suggest that Paul was so incredibly stupid & unaware of his cultural context that he didn’t actually realize that pagan idols were viewed merely as representations & not the actual gods worshipped by pagans is simply not credible.

Paul is also not trying to argue that there exists some feature in the observable world & nature that makes the existence of the christian god particularly obvious, because 1) no such feature exists & 2) he is trying to misrepresent his argument as one against “godlessness” (vs. 18). If observation of nature made the existence of the xian god obvious, then evangelism would be pointless: “How can they believe in the one whom they have not heard?” (Rom 10:14).

Together, it’s clear that Paul is simply engaged in empty sophistry, the only thing that Paul knows how to do (except perhaps work with leather). Paul is writing as a xian, to xians, about xianity. He isn’t trying to demonstrate the nonexistence of the pagan gods to pagans; he is simply asserting the nonexistence of the pagan gods to the Roman choir to whom he is preaching.

While Paul thought pagan idol worshippers who observe nature are without excuse, the author of Luke-Acts believed that idol worship & ignorance of the xian god was excusable in the past (Acts 17:30). The author of Hebrews seems to think faith, not reason, gives us understanding that the world was created by the xian god (11:3 GNT).

Finally, if Paul strikes you as a competent natural theologian, then it ought to be painfully obvious to you that nature (phusis) itself also teaches that long hair on a man is dishonorable (contra Num 6:5 & Judges 13:5), but a glory on women. (Sorry Prof. Law, but your sin has not only prevented you from acknowledging the blindingly obvious reality of the holy trinity, but it has prevented you from making honorable fashion choices). Find yourself a Delilah, pronto!

Anonymous said...

Why do we freely and knowingly choose that latter?
Motive:
Might it be that the “knowing” atheist is intent on proving how great god really is. Making use of a talent that deity gifted them (free will). Because merely doing what was in their own interests and mind, could disprove god capable of creating free will and creatures able to make use of it. Such as Craig. Who is burying that and yet another talent (intellect), by not attempting to out-think god.
What a waste…

Angra Mainyu said...

I agree that Craig's position is untenable. And just to add some more examples of the problem for such a position, we may consider:


1) Buddhist monks who go through all sorts of extremes of rejecting pleasure, and so on, but do not believe that God exists.

2) Atheists dying of painful illnesses who remain atheists to the last moment.

3) Atheists who ask for assisted suicide. What are they doing? Begging to be "mercifully" sent from this realm where they're suffering so much, to a realm where they will suffer far more, and forever? Seriously?

4) Atheists who actually commit suicide because they can't bear their suffering any longer. What are they doing, again?

Stephen Law said...

excellent point Angra. I'm making notes...

Paul Jenkins said...

Dr. Law's point is a valid one, but it relies on an assumption that Craig really does believe what he says. If Craig does believe that atheists are knowingly forgoing eternal bliss, then he probably hasn't thought through the implications of this particular belief.

But it's also possible that some cognitive dissonance is accounting for his assertion. Perhaps he wonders how anyone can possibly hold beliefs so fundamentally contrary to his own — and to ease this annoying inexplicability he concludes that in fact atheists don't actually hold the beliefs they profess. (I realise I'm doing something similar here.)

I've noticed that those of a religious mindset (not all, but many) really don't like not knowing. An open question is anathema to them, and they seem to prefer a speculative answer that fits the data (even with zero supporting evidence) rather than admit that the answer is moot.

wombat said...

"stubborn resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing that person to a knowledge of God."

What about all of those who have very little will power to resist such things?

So the "Holy Spirit" is somehow a lesser influence than that cream cake or a packet of cigarettes or just one more go on the Playstation? Less persuasive than a digestive biscuit?

This is supposed to be the marketing arm of an omnipotent being?

Steven Carr said...

Craig also argues that his god could have made the world where Stephen Law freely chose to be saved, but his god decided not to create that particular world, because it would not be the world that maximised the number of saved people.

(Presumably if Stephen Law accepted his Saviour, then two other people would choose evil to replace him)

More details on this at He sovereignly chooses a world

So Stephen Law is laying down his soul so that others could go to Heaven.

Surely God must look favourably on such self-sacrifice!


I should warn you that Craig goes into realms of nuttery in that article 'Paradoxically, being a Nazi may have been the best thing that happened to Heinrich, since it led to his salvation. Of course, one may wonder about those poor people who suffered in the death camps because of Heinrich. But God has a plan for their lives, too, that includes their salvation and He accords them, like Heinrich, sufficient grace for salvation.'

The article is just bonkers!

Rabbie said...

Angra Mainyu said "Buddhist monks who go through all sorts of extremes of rejecting pleasure, and so on, but do not believe that God exists".

Certainly - do you recall the photograph of the Buddhist monk who immolated himself as a protest against the Vietnam war? I believe similar protests have taken place in occupied Tibet. No better refutation of Craig's odious eschatology could be imagined than this, for what would such a person have to fear in the flames of hell? The more sophisticated Christians might say that these flames are metaphors for the agony of the soul eternally separated from Jesus, but it is difficult to see how such a separation would be overtly troubling for a Tibetan Buddhist.

Doesn't Augustine say somewhere that one of the joys of heaven consists of being able to watch the sufferings of the damned (as detailed in Luke's story of the rich man and Lazarus)?

Angra Mainyu said...

@Stephen Law,

Thanks. :)

Since it's always possible to come up with massively implausible motivations that are logically compatible with the observations, I suppose Craig probably would do that if he cares to reply to your arguments. But then again, his claims would still be massively implausible.

Angra Mainyu said...

Rabbie said "Certainly - do you recall the photograph of the Buddhist monk who immolated himself as a protest against the Vietnam war? I believe similar protests have taken place in occupied Tibet. No better refutation of Craig's odious eschatology could be imagined than this, for what would such a person have to fear in the flames of hell? The more sophisticated Christians might say that these flames are metaphors for the agony of the soul eternally separated from Jesus, but it is difficult to see how such a separation would be overtly troubling for a Tibetan Buddhist"

I suppose in that case, Craig might say that they do know God exists, but reject him because they're too proud to fear Hell. But they'll know better when they find their torment much worse than it is in this life.

In the case of dying atheists, he might say that they're angry at the Christian creator (he wouldn't say 'the Christian creator', of course).

None of the above is believable, of course, but when has that stopped Craig from making absurd statements?

In the case of assisted suicide, etc., I don't know what Craig might say, but he'd have some absurd reply his followers would buy.

The existence of people to whom the Gospel has not been revealed might require even more mental gymnastics on his part, since libertarian free will isn't compatible with his claim that God knew what they would do.

Rabbie said "Doesn't Augustine say somewhere that one of the joys of heaven consists of being able to watch the sufferings of the damned (as detailed in Luke's story of the rich man and Lazarus)?"

I'm not sure if he meant exactly that, but if he didn't, at least it seems close.
In this passage he seems to indicate knowledge, rather than actual watching. But I'm not familiar with Augustine, so there may be a more direct passage that I'm not aware of.

On the other hand, I can tell that Aquinas was quite direct. He said "Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned".

(source: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5094.htm ).

Paul P. Mealing said...

As Angra Mainyu pointed out (previous post), there have been countless generations of tribes of people with absolutely no knowledge of the Biblical God, nevertheless, many of them, if not most, had religious beliefs.

But Craig is right to the extent that all Western educated individuals have a choice. But I would contend that to choose not to believe, let alone worship, a genocidal God who sends everyone to hell, irrespective of what good they have done in their lives, is actually a morally righteous choice.

Regards, Paul.

Sketch Sepahi said...

The standard answer Christians have given me to the "what's in it for atheists?" question is that we're atheists (or we dishonestly claim to be) merely because we like to sin. In our hubris we've set ourselves above God and his law in order to replace it with our own, which - say the Christians - is really just a self-issued license to revel in immorality and hedonism.

They genuinely equate God with morality and so therefore also equate the denial of God with a self-serving denial of the imperative for moral conduct. This is why so often you'll hear them say that if there is no God what's to stop you from murdering and raping? This is also why that recent psychological study found that if you remind people of the existence of police, it reduces their distrust in atheists. If you find atheists untrustworthy due to equating God with morality, it's no great leap to also suspect people of being atheists because of their selfish desires to be immoral.

This also explains why theists are so frequently baffled by the failure of Pacal's Wager to dissuade us from our wicked ways. "But...but...I made a case for God based by appeal to the atheist's self-interest! Surely that should have worked!"

Of course, I can't be sure that Craig is of this school of thought, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he were. In any case I suppose Craig would at minimum have to claim that atheists are irrational decision makes. Our motive for denying what we know in our hearts to be true despite also knowing the eternal negative consequences thereof must be that we're akin to children unable to delay gratification.

wombat said...

@Sketch
"... our hubris we've set ourselves above God"

Well to do that you have to actually be theist. There has to be a God to set yourself above. What is the point of proclaiming yourself the king of a non-existent hill?

Notice also that the atheist sets everyone (believers and non-believers alike) in this same position. Hardly prideful.

Sketch Sepahi said...

@wombat

I agree with you. In case it wasn't as obvious as I thought it was, I was expounding upon what I think the theistic mindset must look like from the inside looking out. That doesn't mean I subscribe to it. On the contrary I'm an atheist.

Anonymous said...

Sketch:
if there is no God what's to stop you from murdering and raping?
Surely anyone who needs to ask that requires help.
How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one. But the light bulb has really got to want to change. To initiate that, it first has to have sufficient cognizance to synthesize the experience known as empathy.
Right. Which individual’s unique personal internal rendition of reality, shall we play in next?

Sketch Sepahi said...

@Anonymous

I've heard the question asked often enough from otherwise reasonable and emotionally balanced people to suspect that whatever is going on in their minds, it's probably nothing to worry about. I mean certainly if belief in God is the only thing stopping someone from committing atrocities, then I'd agree with you that they need help. However, there's nothing to stop the two of us from thinking they're just plain wrong about what they would do if they stopped believing.

wombat said...

@Sketch

Sure - I hope I was just elaborating a bit on the usual Christian position that irrespective of the other stuff killing, stealing etc, they hold that denying God is itself a sin. It's the last card they play when shown that atheists are no more likely to do bad stuff, or that particular atheists lead otherwise blameless lives. At a stretch an atheist can even sign up for the Ten Commandments after all it only says
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me." so whats the problem?

Sketch Sepahi said...

@wombat

It depends, I think, on how closely you scrutinise these commandments. I'm lucky enough to have a girlfriend, who often points out things I've missed, and she brought to my attention the fact that the tenth commandment considers women property. Of course, you're right that there's no conceptual inconsistency in an atheist, who considers women property, but for me, at least, it's a deal-breaker.

Anonymous said...

Sketch:
whatever is going on in their minds,
is surely exactly the same thing that’s going on in almost all of our minds. The mistaking of an internal rendition of reality for the original external reality. All our “realities” differ, yet there is allegedly only a single real one. Which none of us are equipped to experience directly.

there's no conceptual inconsistency in an atheist
Wouldn’t actually knowing that god doesn’t exist, require possession of the all-knowing attribute of a god?

theObserver said...

The standard Christian answer is that atheists are too prideful to recongize their dependancy on God and to subjugate themselves to him.

Stephen Law said...

Thanks theObserver - but that hardly makes sense does it? Atheists regularly willing subject themselves to following the asinine orders of their bullying bosses in return for nothing more than hard cash, but won't follow the orders of a loving God for infinite reward, and instead knowingly plump for infinite torment? And they do this out of *pride*?!

theObserver said...

I think you are underestimating the strong views Christians have on pride.

The issue first arose during the many debates between early christians and various Greek schools of philosophy. The idea of the logos was widely accepted so the debate was around whether the logos became manifested in Jesus and then revealed the gospel. Early Christains like Augustine blamed the philosophers pride in their own abilities as preventing the final leap of faith.

So pride is a very big deal to Christains. Thomas Aquinas defined it as "to be that frame of mind in which a man, through the love of his own worth, aims to withdraw himself from subjection to Almighty God, and sets at naught the commands of superiors". Pride is why Adam took the apple and is why Christains believe we are on this fallen earth.

Sam Norton blamed Anders Behring Breiviks actions in Norway on his pride.

You asked for the motive. Motive can mean 'the cause of an action' or 'the incentive to act in a certain way'. Pride is meant in the former sence, not the latter.

The motive (cause) here is not one of self-interested incentive but a consequence of our cursed nature. Part of this curse is felt when we fail to do what is in our own best self-interest. The strength to act consistently in accordance with nature and reason comes from God rather than the self. Alcoholics and drugs addicts find the strength to break the addiction if they accept God. So talking about self-interest or asking "what do I think is in it for me?" is a bit of a category mistake.

The question Christians tried to answer is : Because God revealed himself through nature and through the gospel, why can't atheists act in accordance with their own self-interest ? The answer is that pride prevents it.

An atheist may grudgingly obey a bullying boss out of economic necessity, but Christainty demands both body and soul. That is to say, the Christian God demands genuine obedience in all thoughts and all actions. That genuine obedience can only come from the complete submission of the self to God. It is pride that prevents this complete submission.

Rabbie said...

Thanks for the quotation, Angra Mainyu. I remember coming across it some time ago, and I reread it with the same shudder of disgust.

But what is it that causes me to find this short passage from Aquinas utterly repellent? Ah, it must be my pride which, from my limited human perspective, makes me mistake divine justice for disgusting sadism. If only I humbled myself in utter submission before the wisdom of the Church and the greatness of that God which my emotion-driven unreason cannot hope to comprehend, then would I see the perfect justice of St Thomas and his chums being granted a fireside seat for the eternal torture show wherein the joys of watching, amongst others, Gandhi, Dawkins, the Dalai Lama and Anne Frank writhing on the same spit never pall, not even after the first five hundred million years. Interestingly, the quotation also implies that there is a hierarchy in heaven - this entertainment is plainly only for the saints, the hoi polloi amongst the saved will have to make do with lesser amusements and know their place. I rather like this quotation from the renegade French Catholic Alfred Loisy -"Jesus preached the kingdom, but what arrived was the Church"

What is really problematic about any eschatology concerning a non-empty eternal hell is the extent to which thought becomes darkened by fear and certain terrible actions can be justified by an awful logic. Take the case of Andrea Yates in the US, who murdered her three children to spare them the pains of hell lest they should grow up to be homosexual or unbelieving. Craig has said that the fate of the Canaanite children was a blessing, as they went straight to heaven instead of being brought up in the sinful Canaanite culture and consequently damned.

Agreed, false or exaggerated pride can be harmful - but simple self-respect is a good defence against the tendency to see reality as a cosmic game of snakes and ladders.

Angra Mainyu said
"On the other hand, I can tell that Aquinas was quite direct. He said "Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned".

I wonder if Ed Feser has those words up on his study wall in letters of gold.

Stephen Law said...

Thanks the Observer

You say:

Motive can mean 'the cause of an action' or 'the incentive to act in a certain way'. Pride is meant in the former sence, not the latter.

This is just wrong, surely. A motive is the subject's own reason for acting - for choosing what they do. If I am hypnotized into jumping off a building, being hypnotized is not my motive (I may lack a motive).

A motive is, as you say, the incentive for action, and you seem to be agreeing that the atheist has no incentive, right? It's a motiveless action. They choose infinite torment despite their seeing no advantage to them in making that choice at all.

Even the drug addict who chooses drug over long term flourishing has a motive - they really, really want their fix. The atheist freely chooses an infinitely worse fate, for no personal advantage to themselves.

Your suggestions seems to be they are just caused to make it? But then how can they be held responsible for making it? Why are they culpable? This is all nonsense surely?

But in any case, even if it is pride that causally explains why atheists don't admit to knowing what they do (despite lacking any motive to do so), why is it that Christians who find God often continue to say that they did not previously know that God existed? It cannot be prideful rejection of God as they no longer reject God.

Incidentally, is it your view that atheists such as myself do know God exists, do know Christianity is true, and are therefore so morally depraved that they do deserve infinite torment as a result?

Anonymous said...

Motive:
It may be that the motive for not picking up a snake would be because they have a lethal bite and/or are slimy.
Experience:
Once that inbuilt misconception has been dispelled through a personal encounter, reality displaces rendition. Not all snakes have lethal bites, and none are slimy.
Motive:
A fear of death may instil caution, regarding its nature.
Experience:
Almost drowning gifts an insight, into an amazingly calming acceptance. Not to mention the realisation, that no intolerable memories persist from that state of non being preceding life.

Angra Mainyu said...

@Rabbie,

Good points; I agree.

Regarding the justification for any actions and Hell, if we actually knew that Hell existed and that embryos, fetuses or children do not go to Hell but many, perhaps most adults do when they die, then I'd say it would be immoral to reproduce, whereas killing embryos, fetuses, and young children to guarantee that they wouldn't be tortured for eternity would be morally right.

Of course, most Christians will not reach that conclusion, since they believe that the Christian creator is a morally perfect being who commands otherwise and that they ought to obey it.

On a related note, people who believe in the existence of the Christian creator also believe he's morally perfect in at least nearly all cases (I've encountered a liberal Christian who might not believe that the Christian creator is morally perfect, though I'm not sure). When someone comes to the conclusion that he's more evil than, say, Palpatine or Lex Luthor, they tend stop believing that he exists.

Angra Mainyu said...

theObserver said: "
So pride is a very big deal to Christains. Thomas Aquinas defined it as "to be that frame of mind in which a man, through the love of his own worth, aims to withdraw himself from subjection to Almighty God, and sets at naught the commands of superiors"."

Do you have a source for that quotation?

According to this page, Aquinas understands "understands it to be that frame of mind in which a man, through the love of his own worth, aims to withdraw himself from subjection to Almighty God, and sets at naught the commands of superiors", but it's not claimed to be a definition given by Aquinas, and I've not been able to find it.

In any case, there are multiple problems for the 'pride' account. In addition to those already mentioned by Stephen Law, I'll mention a couple of them:

a) Buddhists tend to accept that others are better informed, wiser, etc., than they are (e.g, the Buddha himself), and respect them and their authority.

b) Some people do not deconvert from Christianity, but are always non-theists.
At which point did they aim to withdraw themselves from subjection to an entity whose existence they did not believe in, in the first place?

c) People who live in predominantly non-theistic societies (e.g., Buddhist) nearly always have the
predominant beliefs in their society, as it has historically been the case cross-culturally.
A Christian might claim that they were all too proud, but what's the evidence for that?
In fact, some of those cultures put a lot of weigh in respecting those considered wiser.
So, clearly, those people aren't rejecting the commands of superiors (or whom they believe to be superiors, but the point is the same, psychologically speaking – there is no rebellion on their part).
A far better explanation is simply that people tend to acquire the beliefs they receive.
Further, the very few people (in proportion to total numbers) who do invent new religions aren't going to come up with the same religion other people not connected to them invented already (though they may be similarities, of course), so people who aren't told about Christianity will not come to believe that Christianity is true, or that the Christian god exists, etc., and people in non-Christian societies that have not made contact with Christians will never even have the concept of the Christian trinity.

Anonymous said...

Angra Mainyu said...
people who believe in the existence of the Christian creator also believe he's morally perfect in at least nearly all cases
But perhaps not with respect to having a child with someone who is married, apparently.
Pride:
"to be that frame of mind in which a man, through the love of his own worth,
believes himself branch manager of god’s franchise on Earth?

Buddhists tend to accept that others are better informed
If they lack the knowledge to put that assumption to the test, they are probably right.

Buddhist) nearly always have the predominant beliefs in their society,
A society that can control its numbers, by peacefully removing a section of itself from the gene pool. Or develop an alternative to striking out, by looking in. Has, if the arena in which it exists persists, potentially cracked it.

David Span said...

It seems such a weak (and deceitful) form of argument to simply propose that your opponent KNOWS that he/she is wrong.

Could there be a name for a fallacy which involves 'you know you're wrong'?

But implicit in this approach there seems to be a negation of free will. If we are supposed to respond to this knowledge and threat of punishment, then our ‘will’ is being influenced, hence not unfettered, and hence not free. Free will would mean any choice is as easy as another, no questions asked. But our decision making is obviously not ‘free’. There are constantly decisions which are hard to make, and any number of decisions in which doing X is not the same mental ease as dong something opposite to or contrary to X.

The silliest part of the ‘you know you’re wrong’ ploy is that anyone can play it. Atheists can simply say ‘you know inside there is no god, you just deny that knowledge.’