God & Sandy Hook

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, speak...

. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The murders at Sandy Hook Elementary school brought the problem of evil once again into the media spotlight. While the specifics of the matter change with each horrible incident, the basic question remains the same: why does God allow evil to occur? I have considered this matter in various other essays, but here I will take a look at what two prominent members of America’s religious right have said about the matter.

Former governor and one time presidential contender Michael Huckabee said “We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability.”

While Huckabee’s remark has been taken as claiming that God allowed the massacre because American public schools do not religious activities (such as prayer) and religious education (as opposed to teaching about religion), it can also be taken as expressing a slightly different view. Rather than claiming that God is being spiteful and allowing children to be slaughtered because He is experiencing a divine anger, Huckabee could be taken as asserting that the killings at schools occur because people do not have the proper religious education in public schools. Presumably Huckabee believes that if people received the correct religious education in public schools, then such killings would be less likely to occur.

The idea that the correct moral education will result in better behavior is an old one and was developed extensive in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics—although I am sure that Huckabee and Aristotle would disagree about the specifics of the education since Aristotle was not a Christian. As such, if Huckabee is simply claiming that the killings at schools are caused by a failure of moral education, then his claim has some degree of plausibility. Of course, whether or not bringing Christianity back into public schools would reduce the chances of violence in America is another matter. One interesting point worth considering is that as people like Huckabee claim that society has grown worse as it has allegedly “removed God”, Steven Pinker argued in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature that violence has been on the decline. While correlation is not proof of causation, this is a matter worth thinking about especially since Thomas Hobbes noted that one major cause of violence is disputes over religion.

Turning back to the problem of evil, Huckabee’s explanation does not really address this concern effectively. While it might explain why people do bad things in terms of a lack of proper education, this does not explain why God would allow the children and the faculty of Sandy Hook to be slaughtered. Bryan Fischer does, however, take this matter on directly.

Speaking about Sandy Hook, Bryan Fischer said “And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentlemen.”

Fischer’s explanation is very straightforward: God is too polite to go where he is not invited and hence He allowed the slaughter of children. This seems problematic, to say the least.

On the face of it, Fischer seems to be claiming that God’s sense of etiquette trumps His morality. That is, He would permit slaughter to occur rather than act in a way that might be regarded is impolite. This certainly seems to be an implausible claim. After all, consider the following analogy. Suppose I was accustomed to stopping by a friend’s house to get a drink from his garden hose while on my long summer runs. But then he got divorced and his wife got the house. While she does not dislike me, she asks me to no longer stop by to use the hose. Now, imagine that I am running by one day and she and her daughter are being attacked in her backyard. While I could easily defeat the attacker and save the two, I just run on by because I am no longer invited there. Intuitively, that would be morally wrong of me—even if I elected not to engage the attacker, I should at least do something. Also, if my reason is that I am not invited, then there are two obvious responses. First, it seems intuitively plausible to hold that my moral duty to help people in danger outweighs my moral duty to not be impolite. Second, it seems reasonable to think that my friend’s ex-wife and daughter would be happy to invite me to help them in their time of need. Obviously, since I am a decent person I would rush to help the two people in danger. If God is at least as good as me, He would presumably do the same. Also, God has nothing to worry about—the attacker would pose no threat to Him.

Another point of interest is that Fischer certainly seems to indicate that God would be glad to protect children if he were invited back. If he were right about this, this would seem to indicate that God would protect children in such circumstances. However, he seems to be exceptionally wrong about this. After all, God has allowed people of faith to die. He even has allowed children to be murdered in His churches. As such, the idea that God would protect children if we only asked him seems to be absurd. People have obviously asked and God has done nothing.

Of course, it could be countered that people have failed to properly invite God—that is, God would have helped if they had asked in the right way. Going back to the analogy given above, this would be like me running past by friend’s ex-wife and daughter and refusing to stop because their cries for help were not worded properly or otherwise defective. However, I would obviously help them regardless of how they requested aid—that is what a decent person would do. As noted above, presumably God is at least as good as I am, so if I would help regardless of the wording of the invite, so would God.

Overall, Huckabee and Fischer do not give an adequate response to the question of why God allowed the slaughter to occur. To be fair to them, no one ever has and probably no one ever will.

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31 Comments.

  1. But did not the Greek philosophers say that the only way to get men to modify behavior was through obedience to the gods.

    I think Huckabee was partly correct.

    Belief and religious belief modify human behavior more than any other way that has been mentioned, so far, I believe. (Could not resist that last comment),

    Timrford

  2. Tim R Ford,

    Some thought that, but not all-especially those that did not believe in the Greek gods.

    I do wonder how much religious belief affects behavior. The easy answer is that it varies. After all, I have known many people who profess religious belief but act in ways that contradict their professed beliefs. I have, of course, known some folks who do follow their beliefs and act upon them. I’ve also known many agnostics and atheists who are morally upright. I’ve known others who have been as bad as the bad faithful.

    It would make sense that a belief in a punishing and rewarding deity would modify behavior to the extent that a person 1) believes this and 2) has the will to act on this belief. Of course, throwing in a forgiving aspect to the deity does open a door to bad behavior.

  3. Now you are playing with me?

    It isn’t about Greek gods, it is about religious beliefs and the way those beliefs control behavior. Even when religion consisted of gods with various failings, it was recognized that devotion to these gods provided guidance for man. My Christian beliefs control my behavior, when my lower nature wins over them, then I sin, and I lose.

    In my philosophical universe, it is my experience that certain imperfect understandings are little more than precursors of the truth, which are always present. In other words, we do not always understand the import and substance of what we are looking at. Sometimes, truth and wisdom are evident, other times not so much.

    I once read in a philosophy book, that given enough time, and if you, as the observer, do not become part of the problem to be solved, any problem is solvable. I believe they call this the scientific method, which works as long as the philosopher does not become part of the problem.

    As for thinking that atheists are good people, all I can say to you, is that I can list countless Christians who have gone above and beyond to serve their fellow man. I hears allot of what I call saber rattling from my atheist friends, but I wonder what great contributions they have made.

    In the last ten days (or so), I have been inactive because of a comment made by one of the non-armchair philosophers. It was not an offensive comment or a “tweak,” as we sometimes see, but it stirred my interest.

    I made a trek through the historical contributions of Hegel, his pupil Feurebach, and Feuerbach’s pupil Marx.

    I find the study of atheism invigorating, Hitchins and Dawkins are two of my more favored. Locally, before my PTSD flared up, I belonged to a local philosophical group, and actually got along better with the atheistic humanists, than to my fellow believers. I am a Thomist, and do say that what I find within philosophy is a satisfaction that I get nowhere else.

    But while I find philosophy for myself a necessity, I find philosophy in two main veins. One is the public arena, where public opinion matters, and politics reign supreme. This was my experience at UNM. I found their program sterile and without much to recommend it.

    I then entered a Master’s program at a Catholic school, and have been in “hog heaven” since. I believe there is a transcendence to man, and philosophy of man, without addressing the belief systems of mankind is what has reduced modern philosophy to a sterility.

    The funny part seems to me is that everyone seems to recognize there is a problem with philosophy in it’s irrelevancy and applications for modern man. In fact there are a number of books on the subject.

    As for punishment and reward, those are the natural means by which we teach the young and ignorant. Does not a lioness discipline her cub, if it transgress her wishes? Or the human? But having said that, I do think you are partially correct, we are usually better at punishing ourselves. I also think we get the president we deserve. We have the right to choose, although we may have something to answer for in the area of responsibility. Our lives, if there is a God who is truly loving and just, must have a dimension of answering for what we do.

    Philosophy is your profession, for me, since I have retired, and am interested in only learning, philosophy is a search. If I live to be 92, I shall list philosophy as my area of study, not profession. Regardless, philosophy, if it does not help mankind, of what use is it?

    I find philosophy in poetry, literature, economics, etc., etc. Must we say that the only good philosophy comes from Chesterton, Tolstoy, or even Dickens?

    Did you ever consider that philosophical truth is experiential?

    Lest you think I am excoriating all modern philosophy, let me say to you, that I have purchased all your books and essays. Some times I am in 100% agreement, sometimes in 100% disagreement, but mostly in-between. I think that newspapers should run these to stimulate discussion, so people could learn how to think, how to reason.

  4. Thomas Aquinas said God gave us a mind that our hearts might not rule us.

    May I suggest that logic is better than emotion any day?

    :?:

  5. I feel nothing other than pity and sorrow for the insane, abused and misguided boy who performed this deed. The deed itself was, yes, Evil. There can be no other word for it. The deed was. The boy was simply the vessel for the evil at that moment. My condolences to everyone.

  6. I find this a very measured piece and find myself in agreement with most of what Mike has said. I also think that the principal issue here is the nature (and existence) of evil, not justifying God in the face of it (theodicy). Even Huckabee, however, is not immune to doing philosophy–even backhandedly–when dealing with “tragedy”. In any case, the argument from providence is as much pagan (Stoic) as Christian. As for religious belief, I am torn. Pascal said that we never do evil so cheerfully as when we do it from good conscience. And Luther once noted that “All human mischief begins in the name of God.” On the other hand, I’m not aware of any atheists running soup kitchens. To correlate evil and atheism seems a Dostoyevskian stretch. But counterclaims made against religious belief seem equally silly. Slavoj Zizek’s assertion that “Without religion good people would do good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things.” seems ridiculous on the face of it. Good people do evil things all the time, but evil people also do good things. One of the problems I have with Huckabee’s claim is that it is inconsistent. He seems to posit a view (i.e. that virtue can be taught) which runs counter to the Christian view of sin and human nature. In any case, from an Augustinian point of view it is not a question of moral knowledge but of moral inability. I find it curious that Huckabee so quickly abandons his own Christian worldview. Or to quote Homer Simpson: “I’m in no condition to drive…wait! I shouldn’t listen to myself, I’m drunk!”

  7. Guys – However distasteful you might find Huckabee’s comments, it’s not okay to call him a “scumbag”, “piece of shit” or anything else like here. There are plenty of other places on the internet that welcome that sort of talk.

  8. Tim R Ford

    I’ll go with logic for problem solving, but emotions do have their moments. Much like bacon.

  9. D.G. Geis,

    Good pints.

    Maybe Huckabee accepts St. Thomas Aquinas’ moral theory?

  10. Yes, I was kind of startled to see Huckabee mention that one of the societal problems was “dismissing the notion of natural law”. He very well could accept Thomist moral theory. I never quite know where folks are going when they talk about natural law. It’s a notoriously elastic concept. However many Protestants–especially Reformed (Calvinist)thinkers–have a well developed view of natural law. I don’t know enough about Huckabee’s theology–i.e. whether he is a Reformed Baptist–to make much of a judgement. But some Evangelicals like Norman Geisler are professed devotees of Aquinas. Off the cuff, I think for Protestants the concept of natural law may function more proscriptively than prescriptively. Although natural theology is making something of a theological comeback with Protestants, I don’t think he believes in a general revelation of moral law’ just a general theistic revelation. For evangelicals like Huckabee, I’m guessing that he means something closer to an internalized moral standard against which actions should be objectively judged, maybe something closer to a collective conscience. This is probably closer to the standard Protestant take on Romans 2 in the NT. I suppose he could believe there are 2 parallel moral laws, one revealed and the other “natural”. He could also mean natural law in the sense the Stoics did, though I doubt it. But he got my attention too when he mentioned natural law, if only because I remain puzzled by what he meant. I would love to ask him.

  11. Ah, Bacon, in the afterlife.

    However bacon and eggs are my favorite way of addressing cholesterol shortages in my arteries. Anger is an emotion, neither good nor bad, but it sure gets me into hot water…….

  12. Fischer is a loose cannon. He is implying the shooters motivation is to act as an angel of God to wreak havoc on the godless sinners of elementary schools. Such an approach can only make matters worse. Even Huckabee says one should not use that type of causality. I disagree that godlessness has been the cause of violence against innocent children.

    Bryan Fischer’s language is different than most of the commentators in the philosophy blog. There is a meaning for God, or prayer, or religious teaching. The words do not need further definition, and the words themselves are not harmful. What some atheists and theists have in common is an underlying desire for violent destruction. Whether an atheist wants to kill all the genetically inferior people who do not measure up to their standard of evolutionary perfection, or a theist wants to wreak havoc on the godless sinners, the ultimate result is still the same.

  13. More bacon means less anger. Or at least a circulatory system that blows up when the anger gets to be too much.

  14. An idea for discussion: So the question that is being asked addressed “Why did God allow evil to occur?”, which in this case is asking, “Why did God allow 26 people to be murdered?”. What is at the root of this question?
    Would the world be in the same state of shock if the number of killed was less, let’s say what if one person was murdered? I think not. It is the quantity of evil (death in this case) that is shocking to us. Where does one draw the line concerning the justice of God in allowing death to occur? If only 13 people died would God be just? 10? 5? 1? Should no one die? I think this is getting to the root of the question. Why does God not only allow death, but He put it into effect, making man mortal. Why has God made us all to perish? The implication in asking God “Why have you allowed this” is that He should not have allowed it, that He was wrong in doing so.
    And this is where we turn to the declaration of Jesus. Jesus “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” In doing so Jesus declared the righteousness (the right-ness or justice) (Rom 3) of Yahweh’s judgment, in doing so Jesus was granted eternal life. This is the lesson that comes from the book of Job, while Job found himself in a similar position that we find ourselves. In one of suffering and affliction that he did not understand asking the same question “Why are you allowing this??”, and God says “Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?” The converse of this would be “Will we condemn ourselves that
    God may be justified” This is the beginning to understanding why God allows suffering, there is much more to be said on the subject.

  15. I would like to see what you hold as evil, what do you mean by evil?

    Many people either say God punished is responsible for this, which seems to be without merit.

    Free will, means we have a choice, means we can freely make choices that have varying outcomes. Our free choice may be freely made, but is not free from personal responsibility.

    Although God is unbound by any dimension (even time), He (although having no gender), knows everything in the immediate.

    My answer therefore, God did allow free will to be used, God is never obligated to intervene in any negative choice that mankind makes,

    Do you think this is the first time innocents have been killed? Hiroshima? Nagasaki? They did not lose 26 people, but much much more. Those were intentional by the controllers of the military complex, not some mentally ill boy.

    Unless the outcry was for vengeance was so great, it would have been difficult to execute this mentally ill boy.

    We control our destiny. Our choices seem to dictate what we get. So maybe the better question should be, what did the village do to raise this idiot? Why should God be responsible for our poor choices?

    My belief is that this issue is so complicated, that we will never understand it due to our mind, yet good can come from this tragedy.

  16. Mike LaB starts his piece “the basic question remains the same: why does God allow evil to occur?” I would suggest it’s bound to be downhill from there. Not one, but two contentious notions – ‘god’ and ‘evil’ – logically linked and extrapolated to comprise a “basic” question. I think not.

    It’s for the professional theologians, and for ‘civilians’ of a theological bent, to argue around the conceptual difficulties inherent in their position. There’s less than no point in trying to make ‘sense’ of a dreadful situation like a school massacre when starting out with such a world view.

    What never ceases to amaze me is that religionists routinely claim that their version of god is unknowable, all powerful and/or all knowing, beyond our comprehension, the ultimate mystery, the creator etc etc. And yet, they claim very detailed knowledge of what that deity requires by way of forms of worship, diet, family structure, clothing, medical practises, sexual behaviour (especially sexual behaviour!) and more. And imparting (I would say indoctrinating) the young in these details is regarded as essential moral education. Without it we have moral anarchy, Huckabee et al claim.

    So the smarter religionists (e.g. Aquinas) long since argued that free will was the logically coherent get-out, let-out of bemoaning their god’s evident lack of control over small details like the slaughter of the innocents (be it the Sandy Hook of the US, or the Galilee of Herod … similar outcomes). According to this view, it’s the price that the deity chose for us to pay (collectively in cases like Sandy Hook) in order to allow us to be free (individually, in cases like Sandy Hook) to chose the righteous path, or not. It then becomes a bit more convoluted for some religionists, depending on their take on the status of evil (i.e. Evil). Was that free will or was it Lucifer running who was determining our ‘choices’? And that’s just to look at it in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic theological straightjacket. Additional religions are available!

    It remains astounding that the doomed efforts to interpret the events of the world in religious terms are so deeply indoctrinated that they withstand events such as Sandy Hook. It goes to show just how constrained one’s thinking can be that believers only rarely take these awful events as a trigger for a fundamental reexamination of the world view they had drilled in to them as impressionable youngsters. That one can continue to believe such things despite all the conflicting evidence around only reinforces that the very notion of free will is not as self-evidently correct as many believe. Sam Harris’ recent excursion into that question is a valuable primer on the topic.

  17. Jason,

    The shock people feel towards death seems to avoid various factors, such as the number, the emotional proximity, and what sort of people are killed. In this case, the murders at Sandy Hook overshadowed (in the US) the deaths of many more people by violence in Syria and other places. There is no doubt a lot that psychologists could say about our reaction to deaths.

    It is not so much that God allows death (that is, we are mortal) but that God allows murder and untimely death. Of course, it is well worth considering why God did not make us better-why should we be so vulnerable to pain, disease and so on if we are crafted by a omnipotent and loving God?

    Naturally, there is the stock answer that we get an afterlife that is double awesome (or better) if we are Good. Which just raises the stock concern as to why not just create better people and put them in Heaven from day one?

  18. Dr. Caffeine,

    As a general rule, if something involves me, then the trip is downhill.

  19. As one with a background in dogmatic theology, moral theology, and mystical and ascetical theology, I see the massive problems that secular philosophers face in dealing with the philosophical implication of a Deity.
    It has been written about many times before, but I will quote from Vincent Micelli’s, Gods of Atheism.
    “A problem is a mental investigation undertaken with respect to an object. A problem bears on something completely outside the investigator….Objectified thought solves problems.
    However, when man is dealing with realities which cannot be objectified, he cannot use effectively, the problematic approach to these realities in a valid understanding of them……because such realities involve the knower as object.”
    Although my contention is that using philosophy, one can come to the knowledge that God exists, but after that more data is needed, since observable data is so lacking. Using traditional philosophical tools will not get one much farther. In fact, it is necessary to have some form of revelation to educate and explain concepts that are beyond the human mind and ability. Such concepts, when they are reasonable and comprehensible add to the knowledge and understanding of man.
    I do not think it possible, for example to read Thomas of Aquinas, Summa Theologica, and not gain in understanding of the Deity and man’s relation to Him. I read atheistic thought, unconcerned that I will be “converted,” as being a believer or non-believer is a choice, one that I freely made, and accept the responsibility for. Never end a sentence with a preposition.

  20. Perhaps it is important to define (since definitions are so close to a philosopher’s heart — between his heart and gizzard}.

    A good general definition of evil is found online at New Advent, “Evil, in a large sense, may be described as the sum of the opposition, which experience shows to exist in the universe, to the desires and needs of individuals; whence arises, among humans beings at least, the sufferings in which life abounds.” It goes on to note three kinds of recognizable evil, and discussed what other philosophers and religions teach about evil.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05649a.htm–if you are interested in a philosophic treatment that is Christian in nature.

    I would take this a step farther. Aristotle noted two kinds of virtues, the first is intellectual, and the second is moral. Those who develop the moral virtues, which are developed by habit, can come to the conclusion, that since all things happen of God’s Will, either his Ordaining Will or His Permitting Will, both are aspect of the same Will, and are not divisible from each other. Just receive everything with joyful resignation.

    Evil need not be the paralyzing and fearful boogeyman people think.

  21. Merry Christmas, Mike. And a Happy New Year. Keep up the interesting writing. May some of it fall off your table.

    There is a Lot in the U.S.A. that is a pretty awful Job: the gun insanity, drug trade (or drug war in Mexico where some 60,000 plus have been killed, way more than the number of NATO soldiers in Afghanistan by the way) to keep America high, social and racial disparities in education, health care, equal protection under the law, blah, blah. There is much for your style of applied philosophy.

    As for God-bashing, let it go. As Socrates says, dying is not the worse thing that can happen to a man. (He says ‘man’ not ‘person’ because the Greeks would be offended to be in a group that includes women). Besides, divine justice is different from what you imagine.

    The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16)
    19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house– 28 for I have five brothers–so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

    Not even a dead Socrates.

  22. @Boreas

    Nobody, but nobody rises from the dead. If anyone really did, we would know about it and take it as routine, unremarkable and universally acknowledged. And I mean “know”. If the Lazarus phenomenon was real, I would be convinced without the need to hear any particular set of ‘prophets’.

    How smart of that politically astute throw-together that is the New Testament to pop in Doubting Thomas. This is a handy get-out and confounder to deflect the lack of compelling evidence. ‘Compelling’ evidence is witness-independent. Claiming testimony as evidence always leaves religionists open to the unanswerable criticism that there is no shortage of contradictory testament, often from within their own ranks. If logic is to be sustained, testimony cannot all be correct . To espouse the illogical and irrational is not a route anyone should encourage given that humanity is so obviously predisposed to a well-crafted story. The only sensible ‘bet’ is to assume it’s all wrong and truth (i.e. understanding) lies elsewhere.

    The great triumph of the rationalist, empirical, scientific approach is precisely that it is independent of the witness offering the testament; it works for all folk, at all times and in all locations. And no spookiness invoked or involved.

    At best we might hope that, like Socrates, our thoughts and imaginings might live on in other’s minds. Disappointed? You might argue “it’s life Scotty, but not as we know it” perhaps? That’s the most life-after-death that we can be certain is on offer.

    But those of our ideas and actions that can be construed as evil can also live on in that way too – in the memories, minds and lives of others.

    Putting up the god-concept is the archetypal ‘reification of process’. That was the reason for my criticism of Mike LaB starting his piece by questioning ‘why God permitted the evil [of Sandy Hook} to occur’. Once one has accepted that the human behaviour involved here finds ‘explanation’ in the reified notions ‘God’ and ‘evil’ you will end up pondering angels on pinheads. And much of this thread has served only to prove my point.

  23. ((Nobody, but nobody rises from the dead)). Really, what incredible arrogance! You are simply saying this because it is a guess or you have proved it? What is your proof? Perhaps you wanted the scientific method applied 5 thousand years ago, because if you are the genius you believe yourself to be, and the scientific method was not important to anyone, or they would have used it. (I do believe it is important).

    (( If anyone really did, we would know about it and take it as routine, unremarkable and universally acknowledged. And I mean “know”. If the Lazarus phenomenon was real, I would be convinced without the need to hear any particular set of ‘prophets’.)) Really, and since you have no faith in the witness of any human, why should I have any faith in your “witness” to these unfounded secular humanist/atheist claims. Which of you was there? Hitchens ,,Dawkins, Marx? You, or are you just spouting a party line?
    ((To espouse the illogical and irrational is not a route anyone should encourage given that humanity is so obviously predisposed to a well-crafted story)). Really, if you had ever taken the time to study the writings, they are not particularly well written, there are explainable contradictions. I find it hard to believe such an educated person as yourself would think that a group of fisherman could achieve such high praise as authors.
    ((The only sensible ‘bet’ is to assume it’s all wrong and truth (i.e. understanding) lies elsewhere.)) This response typifies the problems with philosophy in the modern era. It is why the common man (the vulgar, those concerned with reputation, and those concerned with doing good) has no such practical use for philosophy any more, even the scientific community looks upon philosophy as an outdated field of study.
    ((The great triumph of the rationalist, empirical, scientific approach is precisely that it is independent of the witness offering the testament; it works for all folk, at all times and in all locations. And no spookiness invoked or involved.)) Not true at all, the spookiness is when the so-called elite and enlightened deny the transcendence of man, and become their own gods.
    ((At best we might hope that, like Socrates, our thoughts and imaginings might live on in other’s minds. Disappointed? You might argue “it’s life Scotty, but not as we know it” perhaps? That’s the most life-after-death that we can be certain is on offer.)) Now I see, you are one who wishes not ever to answer for his choices, but I would ask you to PROVE what you say, although I know you cannot. You make a poor guess, and mock mankinds’ beliefs, making yourself a deity.
    ((Putting up the god-concept is the archetypal ‘reification of process’. That was the reason for my criticism of Mike LaB starting his piece by questioning ‘why God permitted the evil [of Sandy Hook} to occur’. Once one has accepted that the human behaviour involved here finds ‘explanation’ in the reified notions ‘God’ and ‘evil’ you will end up pondering angels on pinheads. And much of this thread has served only to prove my point.)) Actually what you have done is make allegations, unproven, and demonstrated your lack of understanding.
    Some time ago, I verified that there were 700,000 degrees in philosophy held by believers. I never heard any of my professors attack of the beliefs of the secular humanists. Do you know what is worse than being attacked? Being laughed at.
    I can show you more atheistic and pagan philosophers who became believers, than who ever left the faith. Want to look at which humans practiced the virtues to the highest degree for the good of their fellow man? Do you really think that fraternite, egalite, et liberte ever fulfilled that void in the mind and soul of man?
    You laugh at truth, wanting proof, but you offer none that is verifiable. If you were a student submitting a paper, I would find you paper unacceptable, not because of your position, but rather because you offered nothing but Impious platitudes.

    I am thinking you should get some cheese to go with your wines. You bring to mind the image of a blind man who wears glasses. :razz:

  24. @DrCaffeine,
    Well, okay… sort of. I happen to believe that we don’t have to choose between science and religion. If the rationalist, empirical, scientific approach can prevent another Sandy Hook or stop the beheadings and other slaughters of the Mexican drug war, go for it. I’ll say a prayer for your work.

  25. Raising from the dead does not seem impossible. Laying aside the supernatural stuff, a body could probably be restored to life with some sort of mad science.

  26. Working in the medical field for 40 plus years, I have seen many things with medicine, and many unexplained phenomena.

    What is amazing to me is how we require the testimony of eyewitnesses to verify the miraculous, yet when the miraculous is encountered, since we cannot explain it with science, we use euphemistic terms, like mass hysteria in an effort to not face it.

    My thought is that if you can’t prove it wasn’t a miracle, then don’t as me to prove it was, The old statement that for the non-believer, no explanation of a miraculous nature is sufficient, while for a believer, none is necessary.

    It is okay to tell me you do not believe resurrection to be true, that I am an idiot for believing in it, but my comment is that if you want to run your mouth and say it is false, prove it. Aquinas says we can know of something by examining the effects. There are enough eyewitnesses for many occurrences of the dead being raised.

    I believe that “The One whom no one can conceive of being greater” (God) can manipulate natural law, since it comes from Him. I always felt that a miracle, like the raising of the dead, was a natural happening occurring at an unnatural time.

    I have no problem putting every claim to the test as the Catholic Church does. Very few claims get authenticated, as a matter of fact, as opposed to the faith-healers on tv.

  27. @Tim R Ford

    Well Tim, I’m flattered that you took time to pick over the points I made. It wouldn’t be right to take too much more of Mike LaB’s space to thrash through all that you wrote, so I’ll just take your criticism of my first point as an example of how I interpret your remarks.

    You wrote: “((Nobody, but nobody rises from the dead)). Really, what incredible arrogance! You are simply saying this because it is a guess or you have proved it? What is your proof? Perhaps you wanted the scientific method applied 5 thousand years ago, because if you are the genius you believe yourself to be, and the scientific method was not important to anyone, or they would have used it. (I do believe it is important).”

    Excuse me if I ignore the personality attack that runs through your response (‘think myself an arrogant genius’ etc). How do you contradict the perfectly reasonable assertion that nobody rises from the dead? Your ‘contradiction’ is merely the accusation of my alleged ‘arrogance’? (I could be both arrogant and right, but let’s not go there). I was using a standard logical approach by requiring that ‘exceptional claims require exceptional evidence’. To assert the veracity of claims of the raising of the dead, you can surely agree that it is not sufficient to quote a witness statement (the very most that the Lazarus case might be). In fact, the Lazarus case is at best ‘hearsay’, as the law would have it, since none of the gospels is even claimed to be first-hand reporting. (And I’m confident that you, Tim, will be aware that only one gospel choses to mention Lazarus and the resurrection incident – so it is, at best, a single witness statement).

    Consider a case of murder. A single witness, or even the ‘confession’ of the (alleged) perpetrator alone, wouldn’t stand up in court (in an enlightened ‘western’ court anyway). The law requires corroboration. These days, even witness corroboration (‘testimony’) is rightly doubted (but not ignored). We try hard to use any objective evidence (the fingerprints, the blood, the DNA) or detached evidence (motive). And that’s just for an all-too-everyday act like murder.

    Now what evidence is there, even at this basic legalistic level, for an extraordinary claim like raising the dead? I think it is not “arrogant” to point out that we lack any such evidence.

    The sceptical rationalist is fair to point to the clear parallels of such claims that exist across so many religious creeds. (you will be familiar with the list; resurrection, medical miracles, virgin birth, ascension). Thus my remark that the claims of witness (to such improbable events) cannot all be true (unless one trots out the tired claim that god is ‘moving in mysterious ways’) unless he [sic] performs similar miracles to those of every faith. The believers themselves generally assert that god is revealed uniquely within their own faith model and thus deny the miracles claimed by others. All this is within the sociology (if you will) of religious belief.

    But these religiously informed attitudes are real phenomena. They are widespread in current humankind and throughout human history. However, they can be understood as the product of our cultural habits. But by the simply logic that they can’t all be true (i.e. correct and comprehensive) we are right to doubt all their claims to veracity.

    As I say, exceptional claims require exceptional evidence. Please ask yourself why such matters – if truly intended by your preferred version of an Almighty to achieve transcendence for humankind – so consistently fail to satisfy this basic need.

  28. I believe that in today’s society largely in the process of disassembling itself, I agree with you on part of your analysis. However, your use of the court system and witnesses still is a very poor analogy with raising or rising from the dead, as one is the result of trauma and investigation, filled with adversarial emotion, in a venue noted for lies and dirty tricks. In the case of Lazarus, you have a sad but loving situation, so I would have to say the eyewitnesses are highly reliable. The two situations are not congruent in any way that I can see.
    There are many things that are important to man, one of the most being personal integrity. You can take my money, freedom, property, but I am the only one who can surrender my integrity. Simple folk, not even those you might call armchair philosophers understand this. I find nothing that says this Lazarus family had less integrity than others, nor do I have any evidence that Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John were not men of great integrity. If they report it, the early Christians respect and believe it, I find more support to believe the veracity of the account, than say, if OJ Simpson reported the same. All the Apostles, in various times and places were crucified and put to death, further testifying to the veracity of the reporting. Would you die for falsehood?
    Part of my problem with what you said ignores the fact that Christianity spread initially, by the miraculous, notably raising the dead, healing, etc. Who is sick, and doesn’t want to be healed, or raised from the dead? This opens the door for the message to be spread. This was carried past the Christ, to his apostles, and beyond. People were moved greatly by healings of leprosy and other debilitating diseases. It is on-going for thousands of years. And yes, I do get skeptical of many present-day reported claims, although there are some that cannot be explained by the scientific method, many can be. Some are outside the pale.
    Does it make sense to you to claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof on something testified by others thousands of years ago, when the reports of these phenomena by those with highly regarded reputations are so established? Your standard logical approach is lacking. The fact this was reported in one NT writing means nothing, since all four authors reported different things, it isn’t the number of reports that give veracity.
    I suspect the scientific method works only within a certain framework, and it certainly is valid within a clearly defined set of parameters, but not in this instance. Sometimes the physical laws of the universe and our knowledge, do not mesh together.
    Ultimately, you made a claim, saying resurrection cannot be, then “because I said so,” or “everybody who is anybody must only use the standard logical approach, etc.” Unfortunately, this isn’t a universal yardstick that can be applied in this instance.
    Sometimes you do use the eyewitness of others, and given their reputation and respect in the community, to include their willingness to die for their testimony, makes them unimpeachable as witnesses. I love philosophy, unlike Socrates, am unwilling to die for it, but to die for one’s beliefs, is something else entirely.
    I did cross a line, for that I apologize, and I should have taken more care to be clear. Arrogance is a flaw, a deep one that makes communication almost impossible. Who likes anyone who is arrogant? Arrogance follows insecurity. And I have many flaws, arrogance isn’t one of them, you can pretty well pick another one and assign it to me, and you will probably be right.

  29. Hello again Tim. I’ve let a little time pass while I ponder, and re-ponder your points. You’ll have to accept that I try hard to accept ‘where you are coming from’ in the way you approach this discussion. But you still fail to address the core issue; why should anybody take a story (or testimony, if you prefer) such as Luke’s Gospel reporting on Lazarus as in any way compelling? Nobody other than Lazarus was claimed (biblically) to have been raised from the dead by Jesus. You have to agree that it is more than a little odd that none of the other gospels saw fit to mention reports of such a (potentially) spectacular event. If Christianity were (as you claim) to be spread by knowledge of miracles, this is rather a major one for Matthew, Mark and Luke to have overlooked, no? (I believe it was also overlooked by Philip and some of the other gospel writers whose reports didn’t make it into the accepted canon of the New Testament).

    You assert that Christianity spread “initially, by the miraculous, notably raising the dead, healing etc.” You must know that any unbiased observer would regard that as a very partial representation of the facts, even as known and acknowledged by the early fathers of the church as well as dispassionate historians. The conversion of Constantine and the promulgation of Pauline Christianity through the active agency of the Roman Empire might just be regarded as significant here. Amongst other things, as you will also know, it took over 300 years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth for the presently accepted set of gospels (a listing principally according to bishop Eusebius, most would agree) to be accumulated and acknowledged by (most of) the then church.

    Ok -so these are arguments about other witnesses to the process whereby Christianity spread. But it seems you are not impressed that your God (i.e. the Ambrahamic god) is widely reported (some say witnessed) to have visited his last prophet, Mohammed, through one of his preferred messengers (Gabriel) and delivered some more up-to-date (ie c 600AD) information (catalogued as the Koran/Quran). Then there is the even later contact (c 1820) claimed (witnessed?) by Joseph Smith and transcribed as the Book of Mormon.

    This epitomises the problem with ‘credible witnesses’. Why don’t the Jews, (according to themselves the Chosen People of the Abrahamic god), fail to recognise the ‘witness’ to their god offered by Jesus and his followers or Mohammed and his, or Joseph Smith and his? Who are we to believe and why? And this is just a local disagreement over details within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Mormon faiths. As I mentioned two posts back, entirely different religions – each with their own witnesses – are on offer too.

    Once again, I think it only reasonable to accept that it entirely fair to request more compelling evidence for exceptional claims. This explains why I’m still confident that nobody but nobody rises from the dead.

  30. Excuse the egregious typo in my first paragraph above. It’s solely in John’s Gospel (i.e. not Luke’s) that the raising of Lazarus is mentioned (as made clear later in the paragraph).

    (But then again, both John and Mark overlooked the ‘virgin birth’, for example. ‘The whole truth and nothing but the truth’? I still suggest that ‘very dubious’ remains the only fair appraisal of the credibility of these testaments, even in their own terms.)

  31. It’s ok.

    I have re-read your response and my initial response to you. In an effort to not be a d-head again, I think I understand the issue better.
    1. There are simply times when eyewitness accounts are reliable.
    2. When such incidents are reported by people with impeccable credentials, their testimony is given highly regarded reliability. None of them were ever noted for seeking fame and money, or anything but the spreading of the doctrine of love and forgiveness.
    3. The greatest selling book is the Bible, and in my experience, as in the experience of countless other reflecting humans, the wisdom contained within is unlimited is unlimited. Modern secular philosophers – other than Christian philosophers- when they chose to ignore it, or attempt to understand it without the help of those who are wise in these matters, do so at their own peril, for most modern secular philosophers are hopelessly biased in understanding scriptures or faith as a way of truth or wisdom. Perhaps in the way that many are hopelessly biased when addressing scientific issues they have no real training in.
    Now, John’s Gospel is the unique of the four, it is mystical in nature, John is the only one who was not crucified.

    So what do I see as the issue? Modern secular philosophers intentionally put on what I shall call sunglasses (instead of blinders), and chooses to avoid anything that smacks of religion. You likely cannot see the truth, because you prevent yourself from doing so. Religion is basic to the human condition and to not make it part of philosophy of man, is to either intentionally or unintentionally distort truth. In taking time to respond to you, I went back to my basic philosophy books from UNM, and was re-surprised at how blind the different writings of philosophers of the modern era have become. It is no wonder to me, without meaning to be offensive, that modern secular philosophers are no longer highly regarded in society, they become focused on language, avoid the real driving questions of life. Am I wrong in this? Look at what scientists do with philosophers. I am trying to recall if it was Mike LaB (sorry if I am wrong – I just finished a 972 page book of essays he put together), who said there was a philosophical meeting recently, in which only scientists, not philosophers were invited.

    Even rejecting personal bias in the study of philosophy, brings other biases. At UNM, we were asked to reject our training, understanding, and education of life in favor of opening our minds to be objective. The problem is that nature abhors a vacuum, and the great majority of students replaced their previous training with the bias of secular humanism, and secular atheism. Don’t these ideals become the “de facto” gods of belief for the philosopher who now regards himself/herself as the only reasonable replacement for a god? There is no longer any need for the transcendental, for miracles of life, or even in the supremacy of human life. We now have no need for morality, or for standards of conduct. We can now kill the young, old, and anyone else we say can hurt us. There is no longer any adultery, fornication, and we try to make rape acceptable if the woman has been drinking.

    You have said, if I understand you correctly, is that there is only one way you would accept Lazarus, 2000 years afterwards. Problem is that there are many ways to skin a cat, and coming to truth or wisdom is not always through philosophical endeavors. Your method must fail, but instead of looking to other avenues or possibilities, you simply rule things out, which, to my way of thinking, does not serve you well, but is certainly your choice.

    I am not trying to just offer you some alternate thoughts, some possibilities. You must decide what you want to use as a tool, although I think your position valid in many instances, is not useful at all in others.

    I could answer the rest of your observations, as I can easily get sidetracked, so I tried to move from the “species” of the question, to the “genus,” so to speak, to try to isolate the larger problems. I do have a background in Zen, and did spend a year with a Moslem from Saudi, studying the Koran, and it’s teachings. Religions are not equal.

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