Problem of evil

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Problem of evil

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Wed May 15, 2013 2:52 am

I arrived late at the party in the FtB thread, and I did want to share. I haven't heard even an interesting reply yet to this one. Let me copy-paste it here.

To a christian: Question 1: Are you infallible? Question 2: Do you agree that there is some set of circumstances whereby you could be convinced that you were talking to the christian god? Question 3: If the christian god commanded you to rape a child and said it was purely for the christian god's own amusement, would you? You can't say it's impossible because you just said you could be convinced that you're talking to the christian god, and you are not infallible. The entire thrust of your argument is that you are imperfect, that your knowledge of good and evil is imperfect, and the christian god knows better than you. So, it follows that you could be wrong in this case, and you ought to do what your christian god says and rape the child for your christian god's amusement.

I don't see any way out of that.

Even if they say that they have received personal direct communication from the christian god before, holy spirit, angel, or whatever, it still goes back to the "Are you infallible?" question. You could have misunderstood the christian god's instructions last time, so this time it's clarifying.

Intellectually, I know that this isn't convincing to some people, but it should be. It's not convincing that there is no god, but it should be convincing to tell that god to fuck off if it ever did such a thing, leading to the conclusion that you can be a better moral judge than god.

The only coherent reply I've heard is the one said by horrid people like William Lane Craig. Craig has said that the christian god can do whatever it wants with people, aka saying that the christian god is not bound by any rules of conduct, aka saying the christian god is not bound to be good. It's what a slave would say. No god is my slave-master, and definitely not voluntarily. I am no one's slave. "Give me liberty or give me death." Jaffa: "I die free." It is also not good to want to be a slave. It does not lead to happiness or the other values of humanism.

For the straightforward reply that the christian god can do what it wants, and for the equivalent reply that they would rape the child for its amusement, the conversation is usually over with me. That's one of my internal "victory" conditions. I see no reason to continue it further, and hopefully I've set up enough cognitive dissonance that they may see reason some day. I can only hope.
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby lucas11 » Fri May 17, 2013 2:47 pm

Playing devil's advocate: being conviced that you are talking to the christian god is mutually exclusive with that being telling you to rape a child for its own amusement.

I recognise that I am fallible and therefore there are circumstances where I could be convinced that I am talking to the christian god. However, if that entity then says/commands things that I associate as being opposed to the christian god (e.g. the resurrection was a myth, rape a child for pleasure) then I would no longer be convinced that I was talking to the christian god, although it could still be some other god or the devil or something.

Even if the situation occurred that I actually was talking to the christian god and he really did command me to rape a child for pleasure, I am still fallible/imperfect and this would be shown by my refusal to continue to accept that I was talking to the christian god. Therefore I would end up ignoring an actual divine command.

Regading the "god can do what he wants" argument, ultimately I am inclined to agree with it. The most powerful being in the universe which can't be challenged by any other group or being can't be made to follow any rules or be obligated to be good. Whether what it does is actually good or evil is an entirely separate matter.
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby dobbie » Fri May 17, 2013 5:45 pm

lucas11 wrote: The most powerful being in the universe which can't be challenged by any other group or being can't be made to follow any rules or be obligated to be good. Whether what it does is actually good or evil is an entirely separate matter.


I think I get your basic idea, yes, but according to the Bible, God is in fact challenged by human free will (disobedience), Satan, and God's own impatience.

God destroys humankind--and animals--with a Flood because the world has gone wrong, God changes his commandments when they don't work well, and Satan leads people astray. So God starts over, fails again to make humans behave, and starts over again like a potter remaking the pot on the wheel. The Bible says these things.

God orders a prophet, Ezekiel, to bear the sins of the people on himself: to lie on his side for at least a year, to be tied in ropes for forty days, use human excrement to cook his food (then, because the prophet objects, God changes his mind! and says use cow dung instead), and half starves the city. And that list is found in just one chapter, Ezekiel 4!

Can God take pleasure in making bad things happen? (Deuteronomy 28:16) "Just as it pleased the Lord to prosper you and make you increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you."

Evidently the biblical fact is that virtually nobody can be spared from God's ways, either, not when all humans are so potentially unrighteous, so God will get them! (Romans 3:10-18) “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Thus goes the Bible God (thus the Christian God), now God is a good guy, now a bad guy, for whatever reason it pleases God and his plans. And all the while God is challenged by Satan and humans, and as a result, God makes new plans. Or have I got it all wrong?
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Fri May 17, 2013 9:39 pm

@lucas11
So, are you a christian? Do you give thanks and fealty to the christian god? So, there are some moral positions that the christian god could never convince you of. My question then is, if you know that much morality without dealing with the christian god, why deal with it at all? I think you have more than enough to construct a mostly complete morality according to the values of humanism which you seem to accept. It seems including ancient scripture doesn't help you in any way, and can only hurt, given the plethora of horrible things that are in the christian bible.
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby dobbie » Fri May 17, 2013 11:03 pm

EnlightenmentLiberal wrote: To a christian: Question 1: Are you infallible?


Me, if I were a Christian (I adopted my responses from web responses by Christians): The answer is already apparent. Of course a Christian isn't infallible.

Question 2: Do you agree that there is some set of circumstances whereby you could be convinced that you were talking to the christian god?
Me: Yes, a Christian can have an (fallible) experience to convince the Christian that God has communicated to him/her. The deal is, the Christian will say that the experience can be so personally uplifting or religiously influential, that something can be said for it in a positive or purposeful way. Thus the Christian isn't about to dismiss the experience anytime soon.

Question 3: If the christian god commanded you to rape a child and said it was purely for the christian god's own amusement, would you? You can't say it's impossible because you just said you could be convinced that you're talking to the christian god, and you are not infallible.

Me: The Christian can in fact say it's impossible, because the Christian can say the command came from a false god. The Christian may be wrong about the source of the command, but the Christian can conclude it was an evil command from an evil god (Satan). So it doesn't really matter that the Christian is infallible. Or to look at it another way, let's count how many times Christians have received God's command to rape, and go on with the topic from there. Something tells me, however, that the topic won't go very far from there, because of too few samples. On the other hand, if the topic's purpose is to test the Christian perspective only and hypothetically, Christians will, of course, respond in one of two ways--one way says "No, I wouldn't do it"; and one way says "Yes, I would do it." Thus, the responses aren't uniform, putting Christians in different boats.

I've responded to the question in that way, in hopes that atheists (like me) are more careful not to ask Christians loaded or one-sided questions.

By the way, once a Christian debater asked Dan Barker (ex-preacher) such a question, too: "If space aliens told you, Dan, to rape a little girl to save the whole human race from them, would you do it?"

Dan Barker answered "Yes."

"Okay, Dan, if the same space aliens commanded you to rape ten little girls to save the whole human race from them, would you do it?"

Dan Barker answered "Yes."

Of course no space aliens will ever put Dan Barker on the spot, in that way. But if the space aliens commanded me to do it, I would answer "No. Sorry human race, but you're fresh out of luck."

Thus, responses among Christians, and atheists, come in opposites when confronted with an extreme question, such as that one. In a sense, it's a good question, but I myself don't prefer to corner the Christian to respond to it just in my way. Or am I full of beans?

And by the way again, one response was: "Then He would cease to be God."

Sources:
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120730104900AACoTTl

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20121211175519AA1jVUm
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Sat May 18, 2013 12:11 am

I think you entirely miss the point of this exercise.

The aliens example is addressing a completely separate discussion. While superficially similar, it's a complete non-sequitir. The aliens example asks us to weigh some harm vs some good, and ask us to figure out which is more important. The aliens example presupposes that we care about (human) suffering, the well-being of conscious creatures, and the other values of humanism.

My question is intended to point out that humanism is not something taken for granted in these discussions. It is not a given that we should act to promote freedom, happiness, well-being, to act to decrease suffering, and to promote the other values of humanism. In fact, this is the central problem IMHO for some people. Some people, like Craig, say that the christian god is not necessarily acting to promote those values of humanism, sometimes actually working against them, and it is not "wrong" for it to act as such. I am asking them, if it could be demonstrated that the christian god sometimes acts against the values of humanism, are you going to side with your god, or the values of humanism? Which is right? Doing what your god says? Or promoting well-being?

Sure, some christians might say that it's an impossibility for their christian god to act against the values of humanism, and the christian god has a longer time window than we have, hence the "works in mysterious ways". That's a morally acceptable answer, or at least moreso than the answer that they think it's "just" or "moral" for the christian god to rape and torture purely for its own pleasure.

However, they are implicitly admitting that the values of humanism are the right way to go. That's a great start. With that, it ought to be straightforward to demonstrate that the christian god as depicted in the bible doesn't give a rat's ass about the values of humanism - it even out and out says so many, many times. With that demonstrated, there's a huge naked contradiction. Again, obey your christian god, or further the values of humanism?

The "hard" part is showing the contradictions between the christian god and the values of humanism. However, I think that so so many examples abound in the christian bible that any honest open person cannot deny them. Time and time again, the christian god acts otherwise, and even explicitly states otherwise. The difficulty is because of this deeply seeded belief in the christian that the christian god is moral. I don't know what else to do besides highlight that there can be this contradiction, the contradiction exists, and hope to promote some cognitive dissonance, so eventually they may see reason.

PS:
And by the way again, one response was: "Then He would cease to be God."

And my immediate question would be "Given you already know all you need to know about morality, and you know better than the christian god, then why bother listening to what it says at all - or at least any more than any other person?".
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Sat May 18, 2013 12:23 am

Hell is my favorite example. We already know that the christian god can raise people from the dead. He did so for Jesus and Lazarus. So, why doesn't he raise everyone from the dead who would go to hell, and put them on a separate planet, Earth 2, and repeat this process ad nauseum? The answers I've heard are so disheartening. The more coherent replies I've heard rest on a retributive theory of justice and punishment. Basically, if the christian god did what I suggested, then evil wouldn't be punished, and justice requires evil be punished.

There was a time when I didn't know better, when I didn't think it through, and thought that retributive theories of justice were plausible. I know better now. All retributive theories of justice are abhorrent. Why would you ever punish someone as its own end? That's not justice. That's sadism. Acceptable reasons for punishment include confinement for other people's safety, and punishment as a deterrence effect, but never this evil evil idea that it's just to punish evildoers.

They've asked me, "Would you this for Hitler? You wouldn't punish Hitler at all?" Damn right I wouldn't. Apart from deterrence and confinement for the safety of others, I would never punish him, and if it were free for me to do so, I would even try to make his life better. Assuming it's perfectly free and perfectly safe to keep Hitler in a celestial jail cell for eternity, and assuming there are no possible deterrence benefits, I see no reason why we should make his existence miserable, and every reason to make his life comfortable and enjoyable. Again, anything else is sadism. He hurt people so you want to hurt him? Horrible, horrible reasoning.

I am for making people free, happy, and the other values of humanism. Punishing someone purely as a response to past wrongs has nothing to do with that, and is actually directly at odds with making people free, happy, and the other values of humanism.

The entire christian doctrine is abhorrent. The core christian doctrine of sin and redemption relies on retributive theories of justice, which are on their face immoral, sadistic, and evil. I'm pretty sure there's no way around this. Simply put, retributive theories of justice are incompatible with humanism.

PS: I don't mean to dismiss other theories of justice, like restorative justice, or utilitarian justice. I just mean to attack very specifically retributive justice. So, for example, I might be for punishment of Hitler if I thought that very specific tailored punishment could make him into a happier member of society, just like a parent does with their children. I would need to very narrowly tailor when this is acceptable, of course.
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby dobbie » Sat May 18, 2013 1:16 am

EL wrote: The aliens example asks us to weigh some harm vs some good, and ask us to figure out which is more important.


That's what Dan Barker answered, too. But I say he couldn't know whether the space aliens were putting him to a test, either! They might just as easily destroy humankind if he went through with it! It was a crazy question to ask him--one that Dan Barker would never face. Likewise, the Christian doesn't customarily face the question of God's command to rape a kid. So if I'm not addressing this thread in the right way, it's because I dealt with the specific question and provided real Christian answers.

I am asking them, if it could be demonstrated that the christian god sometimes acts against the values of humanism, are you going to side with your god, or the values of humanism? Which is right? Doing what your god says? Or promoting well-being?

Well, now it's about "humanism" and not just about "rape." Okay, but I think the answer from the Christian is, "Yes, the Christian God sometimes acts against the values of humanism." As for what is right about it, the Christian will say that the commandments of God are right. The Christian might not realize that it greatly depends on the way the Christian sees or interprets the commandments of God! So different Christians provide different answers. But we all know that already.

Sure, some christians might say that it's an impossibility for their christian god to act against the values of humanism, and the christian god has a longer time window than we have, hence the "works in mysterious ways". That's a morally acceptable answer, or at least moreso than the answer that they think it's "just" or "moral" for the christian god to rape and torture purely for its own pleasure.
To take you literally as to the words "might say," some Christians do in fact say it's an impossibility for God to command the rape of a kid--as my post had pointed out, since it was taken from actual Christian responses to the hypothetical question of God-commanded rape.

If I may say so, suddenly the discussion is straddling "humanism" and "rape of children." In other words, it straddles a general and a specific at the same time. It's confusing. I addressed the question of the rape only, and not the question of humanism in general. So now, we're no longer talking about the same things, and as a result, we can only talk past each other.

Further, I don't expect the following question to be answered, but where in the Bible, or outside the Bible, does it say that the Christian God commands rape purely for its own pleasure?

The difficulty is because of this deeply seeded belief in the christian that the christian god is moral.
If this statement refers to the hypothetical God command to rape, I already pointed out that one Christian said, "Then He wouldn't be God." In reference to that specific issue, some Christians won't accept a so-called God commandment to rape. That is, they won't all of them be "pigeon holed" into the commandment to rape, even though I might indict them as being willing to do whatever God commands them to do. Again, I'm talking a specific issue here, not the more generalized issue of "humanism."


Me: And by the way again, one response was: "Then He would cease to be God."

And my immediate question would be "Given you already know all you need to know about morality, and you know better than the christian god, then why bother listening to what it says at all - or at least any more than any other person?"

The Christian would say that their answer--about rape--is based on the teachings of their church and the New Testament. They would claim that there are some things the Christian God won't command. Of course, it would have to do with their own biblical interpretations of the Bible. But they wouldn't claim to know better than God. Rather they would claim they know a thing or two about God. I believe that's the kind of Christian response you could expect. Saying "Given you already know all you need to know about morality" assumes that they'll agree with you on that score, while they might say they are guided by God as time goes by. And as for rape of children, they would say they already have their answer.

So if I have "entirely missed the point of this exercise," it's because I addressed the specifically given example, the command to rape.
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Sat May 18, 2013 3:14 am

EDIT: Sorry for the length. It seems that you will have problems if I leave certain elements of the argument as implied and IMHO obvious, so instead I try to spell it all out to a reasonable level of detail.

I understand you're taking a devil's advocate position, and I'm sorry for any thing which I falsely impugn to you which you don't actually hold.

First, I admit fault. There are some similarities between the aliens example and my OP example. (I'll get to details eventually.)

Let's take a rather broad definition of morality as simply what are the desired or ideal ends, and the desired, or ideal, or acceptable means for achieving those ends. (I think this could be equivalently phrased by reformulating the effects of means as impacting ends. I hope this pedantic point will not matter.)

Some moral questions are about which things we (should) value, and some moral questions are verifiable, demonstrable, facts of material reality - namely which plans work at achieving stated ends and which do not. Taking someone off the street and torturing them for a long time clearly violates the values of human happiness, freedom, and the other values of humanism. This is objectively wrong in the sense that it does not achieve the desired ends. It is objectively wrong. It is demonstrably wrong. It is verifiably wrong.

(Please please please don't say "what about the abuser, doesn't that make him happy?" because I would have to go into a long and thorough definition of terms, in terms of Mill's Harm Principle. When I say "other values of humanism", this should be obvious.)

The most basic moral question you can ask someone is: What ends do you value, and what means do you find acceptable or desired? Perhaps the values conflict, and then the obvious question arises: what do you do in cases of conflicts? I'm not demanding a complete morality. I'm not demanding the theist explain honest corner cases that do not arise. However, I am asking about the starting points of the theist's morality, what do they value, and perhaps some basics in how they resolve conflicts.

IMHO, the aliens example is somewhat unfair because it is demanding a rather obscure conflict resolution. The question has the premise that everyone agrees that rape is bad, and deaths of innocents is bad. It's then asking which is worse. It's unfair because this scenario is expected to be exceedingly rare, and because it's not terribly informative to real world cases.

My OP question does not deal with conflict resolution. It does not deal with obscure scenarios IMHO, whereas everyone agrees the aliens one is pretty obscure.

As a utilitarian, as a follower of Mill's Harm Principle, as a secular humanist, and as a person who values a lot of other values, I have a lot of values. They invariably come into conflict, and thus I have some rules to break conflicts, to figure out which values I value more in which circumstances. I don't have a complete set of rules. My morality is incomplete. I may later change my mind on how I resolved one conflict, but what won't happen is later deciding that human happiness and freedom from pain is a moral bad, and we ought to be promoting sadness and pain to the same extent that I used to promote happiness and freedom from pain.

At first, I want my OP question to elicit what values the theist holds. I want to know whether they value obeying the christian god's commands, whether they value the "nature" of the christian god, and whether they value human happiness, freedom, and the other values of humanism.

This is especially poignant for theists who say that all morality comes from the christian god's nature. This creates a problem. I have a bunch of values which can and do come into conflict. That's because I have multiple starting points, multiple things I value. A theist who says that all morality comes from a single thing cannot have such conflicts, at least not in the same way. A theist cannot say that all morality comes from the christian god's nature, and value human happiness is its own ends. It's logically inconsistent. A theist can say that they value human happiness as a means of achieving their sole ends of the christian god's nature, but necessarily any conflicts that arise must be handled by siding with the christian god's nature against human happiness.

And now we get to the crux of the problem. (One of) the theists you presented has a premise which they are utterly unwilling to question, and another aim of my OP question is to question that premise. The premise is that the christian god's nature includes promoting human happiness. As I explained above, some "moral" questions have objectively right or wrong answers. Whether the christian god actually does promote human happiness and the other values of humanism has an objectively right or wrong answer, just like whether snow is white has an objectively right or wrong answer.

So, the theist wants to assert that the christian god's nature including valuing human happiness, in the exact same sense that the christian god exists, in the exact same sense that the christian god made the earth and the heavens. These are all scientific questions of material fact.

If I grant the premise that the christian god's nature is to promote the values of human happiness, freedom, and the other values of humanism - and nothing more - then I have relatively little objections to the theist asserting that all morality "comes from" the christian god's nature.

The problem is what if the theist is wrong.

The aliens example doesn't include that element, at least not in the same way. It doesn't include a magic eight ball which has been asserted to only give answers that promote human happiness, freedom, and the other values of humanism. At best, it asserts a plot device that the aliens will behave as advertized, even though the problem is analyzable on the proposition that the aliens may be lying.

My OP question is predicated on that question. It's the entire point. I'm asking them what if your magic eight ball gives you objectively, factually wrong policy (in the sense that it will not achieve the stated ends)? The alien question is a completely different beast. The aliens question at face value is asking you to weigh two negatives and determine which is worse, and a "more advanced" version asks you to throw on the probability that the aliens are lying. My OP question is simply different.

Furthermore, the aliens question rests on a seemingly unlikely premise, whereas my OP question rests on what I consider to be a very plausible premise, given the contents of the christian bible.

PS: Finally, even though I called the aliens question perhaps unfair, if what it takes to get the christians to answer my OP question is for me to answer theirs, sure I'll answer. After interrogating them to the best of my ability to determine their seriousness, I'd rape the girl to prevent the otherwise needless deaths of billions of people, and fuck if the aliens are doing some sick twisted test.

Furthermore, that's some pretty sick and twisted standard otherwise. I consider most wars in history to be unjust, but I also consider war to be in principle justifiable, and in war, collateral damage happens, far more collateral damage than the rape of a single girl, for far less benefit than preventing the needless deaths of all humans.

Hell, you can pretty easily extend this to just life in general. You might stop the rape of a girl by abridging all US constitution protections, but that's probably going to cause worse damage in other areas, and that's precisely why we support those US constitutional protections.
Last edited by EnlightenmentLiberal on Sat May 18, 2013 3:23 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Sat May 18, 2013 3:17 am

If I grant the premise that the christian god's nature is to promote the values of human happiness, freedom, and the other values of humanism - and nothing more - then I have relatively little objections to the theist asserting that all morality "comes from" the christian god's nature.

The problem is what if the theist is wrong.
Err, to be fair, I would still have problems if the mode of communication is stupidly unreliable and ambiguous, as the christian bible currently is.
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby Lausten » Tue May 28, 2013 9:55 pm

EnlightenedLiberal;
I think I get your point, and the story of Abraham leans heavily in your favor. It is usually interpreted as a story of obedience, no matter what. The twist is, in the end, we find out what God’s intentions were and they were good. I think that is dobbie’s point. And, as you have pointed out, there are those extreme literalists who have read all the nasty parts of the Bible and still believe God is always right. For them, it doesn’t matter how airtight your logic is, you’re not going to get through to them.

There’s a phenomenon at work here, and I’ve tried searching for a name for it, but I can’t find one. When people are searching for a worldview or a philosophy to attach themselves to, they sometimes find God. Some people find exercise, Deepak Chopra, a boyfriend, nature, or something else. The phenomenon is that they stop looking after that. They find such comfort there, even if they find some new information completely independent of God, they attribute God (or whatever) with leading them there. I once heard a guy on the radio say he could relate everything to his stamp collecting hobby.

So they accept they need this great provider of a worldview, i.e. they are fallible, and they relate everything to it, so meeting some supernatural form of it is not a stretch. But that does not imply that they have given up their entire mind and don’t have some ability to think. Only the most extreme would say that and those can’t be reasoned with. The rest can hold on to the idea that their God gives them whatever they need and that includes the ability to determine right and wrong in cases where there isn’t a specific written instruction.

If this weren’t true, then there wouldn’t be a problem of apostasy. People would be indoctrinated into a religion at an early age, or some hippie would lure them off to the wisdom of flower power, and they would never change. Don’t get me wrong, I think the 3 question system is useful. I would tone down question 3 though, unless you are talking to some Fraternity brothers or something. If you go that extreme, people not might not want to engage you seriously.
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby sepia » Wed May 29, 2013 4:38 pm

I still don't understand the problem of evil but I realised, that many objections made by theists are fallicious or ad hoc. So they seem to have a problem, I'm not aware of. My personal objection is, that I don't define God as allgood. This definition seems to be more coherent to ancient religions from which the christian god evolved for me. But I know, that theists often define their god as allgood.

What allgoodness means depends of course on the yardstick of your metaethical system. Since there are different theories about morality I think there are many problems of evil. So I have made a video discussing the problem of evil in 3 different ethical systems. I have kept it short and I don't know, if all 3 situations really raise a problem for the notion of a good god, or not.
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby Lausten » Wed May 29, 2013 7:09 pm

sepia wrote: I don't define God as allgood

I tried this out for a while, seeing God as some sort of entity with which I co-create, or that is not perfect and somehow requires cooperation from humans, or maybe others, but I couldn't get it to work in any meaningful way. It didn't appear to be any different than no God at all.

So, if God is not "allgood", what is it?
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Re: Problem of evil

Postby sepia » Thu May 30, 2013 12:24 pm

Maybe invincible by entities that aren't gods.
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