Thursday, October 20, 2011

Infant circumcision: a grotesque practice that needs to stop

This is my article that ran in the October 20th issue of The Advocate.

While female circumcision is rightly considered by Americans to be an inhumane practice, male circumcision, a practice performed on more than 1 million American infants each year, is usually shrugged off by the public as benign.

I’d like to suggest that it is actually far from benign, but in fact, is a rather awful thing someone would feel obligated to do to their child.

First, let’s identify what circumcision actually is. Circumcision is the removal, sometimes surgically, sometimes not, of the foreskin of (usually an infant’s) penis.  It’s mutilation. If you were forced to explain this to someone who had never heard of circumcision and revealed that you were part of a society that practiced that, I imagine they would run away from you as fast as possible.

The most common arguments put forward in favor of infant male circumcision include “It looks better that way” (aesthetic), “It’s more hygienic” (hygiene), “It’s better that a boy looks like his father/everyone else” (conformity), “It lowers your risk of STDs” (disease), and “It’s my religious freedom to circumcise my son” (religious).

None of these arguments hold up, and while the default position should be “leave children’s body parts alone unless medically necessary,” it evidently isn’t, so I’m going to hopefully show why these reasons simply aren’t persuasive.

Let’s look at the aesthetic and hygiene arguments. These are two that pretty much all men should find insulting. Think about this: what if you lived in a society that instead of circumcising newborn boys, gave all of the newborn girls breast implants? Most people who are attracted to women would probably find that more aesthetically appealing once the girl becomes mature, so it makes just as much sense, right? Most people should find that disturbing and feel insulted that someone would use that as an excuse to do something like that to an infant.

As far as the hygiene argument is concerned, if there is indeed a reason to think that foreskin makes it less sanitary, then ideally we should be reminding boys to be thorough when washing themselves. It’s offensive to me as a male for people to think that men are somehow incapable of sufficiently washing themselves so much that the proper course of action is to cut off a piece of their body.

If we applied this line of thinking consistently, we would almost certainly feel perfectly okay cutting off the tips of infants’ fingers because sometimes it’s hard to clean under their nails. Clearly, this is not ideal.
Next, there is the conformity argument, which has a component of parental sentimentality to it, which I find understandable, however misplaced it may presently be. Still, there is a much simpler solution to this problem than an uncalled-for surgical procedure.

What parents really should do if the subject comes up is communicate to their children that you cared enough about them to not unnecessarily remove a part of their body; they are fine just the way they are, and that there’s no reason to feel different or ashamed whatsoever. It needn’t be so drastic of a conversation that it needs to be pre-empted by surgery.

The disease argument is slightly more complicated in that there is some evidence that if you’re circumcised you have a reduced risk of contracting HIV. However, this is only true if you live in a country that is extremely high risk for AIDS, and you have no plans on using a condom.

Condoms are significantly more effective at preventing STDs than circumcision, and even if circumcision was better at preventing STDs, that doesn’t mean kids should be circumcised when they are infants and have no possible way of contributing to the decision.

Any potential benefits gained from the operation only mean something once a person is sexually active, which means there is plenty of time to wait so that whoever is potentially having part of their body removed can be asked if they want to do it first.

Even after all of those, the least defensible argument still, is the religious argument. As far as the United States goes, your freedom to practice your religion ends at your causing harm to other individuals.  This should include medically unnecessary (not to mention potentially dangerous) operations to highly sensitive organs, or medically unnecessary operations, period.  We don’t allow people to bring harm to their children due to practicing their religion in any other case, so why does circumcision get a free pass?

It’s 2011. When are we going to realize these kinds of effectively barbaric practices shouldn’t be defended anymore? We stopped letting people sacrifice each other, now it’s time to stop letting them maim each other as well.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Refutation of Kant's "On God and Morality"

I wrote this for one of my philosophy classes and thought I would post it on here since I haven't done anything with the blog for a few weeks. Hope you enjoy.

Immanuel Kant, having written a full refutation of the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God, thought providing logical proofs for God’s existence were (becoming) an exercise in futility; most arguments can’t prove the existence of any god, and those that at least get you reasonably close, don’t prove the specific god you want. Given that, Kant tried to find an alternative reason for believing in God, while not really demonstrating that the deity exists.
His reason is, rather, a pragmatic one. Essentially, what his argument comes down to is this: 1) As rational beings, we have no reason to act morally unless our good deeds get rewarded and evil deeds get punished. 2) Since we don’t see that happening in this life, it is necessary to assume the existence of a god that will make up for the lack of justice we currently face.

The argument is simple enough, but under further analysis, I don’t think it stands up. First of all, excluding the idea that we don’t have a good reason to think a God exists, if injustice is all around us, and God can’t (or won’t) seem to do anything about it while we’re here on Earth, what gives anyone the idea, that he would want to make up for the lack of justice, or even be capable of doing it after we die? So far the evidence seems to be against the concept of a god that has some sort of concern for the state of justice in the world. If I can quote Bertrand Russell, "Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue, ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would say, ‘Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment’”.

The other objection I will raise is that the argument advanced by Kant precludes the idea that the reasons to act morally could come from within life itself.  It shouldn’t seem unreasonable to anyone (I would think) that purpose for morality can come from the simple fact that there are multiple conscious beings that have to share a living space, at the very least. We can learn to care about each other and desire to get along based on our own shared circumstances, without having to believe something that isn’t supported.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dispelling the myth of calorie-free energy drinks

This is my article that ran in the September 22nd edition of The Advocate:

Many people believe that energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster and the 5 Hour Energy shot are special concoctions that “have a lot of energy in them.”  To most people this usually amounts to thinking about how much caffeine it has, while not really understanding what it means for a drink to have energy.

In addition to that, more and more people are looking for ways to maintain their energy level to keep up with their busy schedules and at the same time keep their calories low for fear of putting on weight.

Lucky for them, it just so happens that many of these brands’ products are sugar/calorie-free or produce a version that is sugar/calorie-free. But does this really do anything for them? Many people argue “yes” simply based off of feeling more energized after drinking one, but this becomes problematic when you actually look at what calories are.

Simply put, calories are the energy that is found in food. If you don’t have calories, there is no sense whatsoever in calling it an energy drink. This is true for zero-to-low calorie energy drinks, but even energy drinks with a normal amount of calories don’t provide much more than you would find in an equivalent amount of your average soft drink.

At this point you may be thinking to yourself, “There’s other stuff in there besides the caloric content, doesn’t that do anything?” So let’s take a look at the more commonly found ingredients in these drinks.

First off there’s the vitamin content. On the face of it, this may seem beneficial for a drink to be loaded with vitamins, but the reality is that these don’t actually do anything for the amount of energy you have, and unless you have a pre-existing vitamin deficiency, it’s probably just going to make you go to the bathroom more.

Taurine is another ingredient often touted by energy drink companies as having some sort of impact on “energy and performance.” This doesn’t actually amount to much for most people because if you consume meat, taurine is already plentiful in your diet. Even with that fact in hand, there is no evidence that taurine provides anything as far as energy goes, though it does play an important role as far as nutrition is concerned.

This brings us to the kicker: caffeine. Caffeine certainly does have a number of physiological effects, but it’s still widely debated as to whether or not it actually does anything to increase awareness and cognitive function. Even if awareness was increased by caffeine, it’s something entirely separate from energy, so it’s still not relevant to the whole “energy drink” issue.

Essentially, what you’re doing if you buy a zero-to-low calorie energy drink is paying for a canned placebo, and regular energy drinks don’t have anything over most soft drinks that deem them worthy of the special “energy” title.

Maybe what we should do instead of forking over cash to a company willing to sell you a placebo every time we feel tired is just to pretend we’re having one or, better yet, have some food with a sufficient number of calories that is actually healthy.

There’s an idea.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Running over "The Chicken Crossing the Road"

Imagine you're driving on your normal route to work and you see a certain chicken crossing the road (why it's crossing I'll leave up to you). It's a one way street with two lanes and you happen to be in the right one, while the chicken is still in the left. It's not in your way, and there's no need to run it over, so you let it cross, letting it go unscathed.

Now again imagine you're driving to work, but this time the chicken is already in the right lane while you're driving in the right lane as well. Any cars that would be behind you are halted at a stoplight, so you are more than free to change lanes and avoid her- but you don't. You decide it would be too inconvenient for you to change lanes, even though it really wouldn't take any effort, even at the expense of the chicken. You get to work safely and don't think about the chicken ever again.

Was it necessary to kill the chicken in the second case?

This is akin to the issue of eating animals for food, because many people cite that it would be too inconvenient to stop eating meat, or simply just don't want to, even though they can meet all of their nutritional requirements with a diet that doesn't require them to kill conscious creatures. I draw the analogy because I think it really illustrates the point that in cases where it is not required to kill an animal but do anyway, it is regarded as cruel, perhaps even monstrous, but for some reason when it comes to food, there is an exemption made. We should all think about what it means to kill another being that is conscious, and whether that is the type of thing we want to continue doing, even when (at least in developed nations) there really isn't any necessity behind it. Essentially what we're doing as a society is putting animals on the road specifically to run over, even though under normal circumstances the route to work doesn't have any animals on it, and we should ask ourselves if we can live with that if we continue to do so.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Offended and I Didn't Even Bring It Up

Last weekend I went over to my girlfriend's parents' house to celebrate her dad's birthday with a barbecue, and being vegetarians we had to bring over our own meatless patties, which wasn't a problem whatsoever. After getting settled in, some of my girlfriend's aunts and uncles started asking questions, some that had us give legitimate responses (Are you guys vegans?) and some that were just to give us shit (Oh you guys are just eating grass, now?).

There was one thing, however, that I didn't really expect in them asking questions, considering we were both just answering the questions they asked us, without attitude or even a hint of the stereotypical "How could you eat meat?" attitude. One of her uncles, who is a nice guy, who I already knew was a hunter, but even if you had never met him you could probably tell (big beard, camouflage, etc.), said "So you'll kill a potato but you won't kill an animal." There was a little chuckle in his voice but you could tell the reason he brought it up was because just the presence of vegetarians, even if we weren't criticizing him, implicitly makes him think that someone believes something he does (hunting) and gets a lot of meaning from, is morally wrong, and that makes him feel bad. When he said that I could tell he was trying to "get" me, as if I hadn't thought about it very hard, so I just said "Yep, potatoes aren't conscious," with a chuckle and then walked away. Later on when we were wrangling one of their dogs that ran down the block he walked passed me and said that he would have just shot the dang thing. I'm sure he was being honest and would have told that to anyone, but he had to tell it to me. Awesome.

I'm sure you can imagine the weird tension that this provided, even if this was only one person in a family, but it is almost a guarantee to happen in families where people live in more rural areas and are more old-fashioned/religious, which reinforces and adds another problem to the issue in my last post, just replace vegetarianism with atheism.

Hope you're having as nice of weather wherever you are as I am in North Dakota (peculiar, I know). Talk to you soon!

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Religious Mother's Wishes

I've been an atheist for over four years and my mom has known about my atheism for around three. Up to this point it hasn't really caused a problem, mostly because we really don't talk about it, probably because it keeps the peace, which in general I'm fine with. Most of the time it just never gets brought up unless she tells me as a mere statement of fact that she went to church earlier in the day or something and it's relevant to the story as a whole.

I don't really have plans of getting married in the near future, but I have been dating my girlfriend, who is also an atheist, for over three years so it's not like the subject has never come up. With respect to marriage, you could probably infer from my previous posts that I would want a marriage ceremony completely devoid of any religious references, and given how it's seemed to be a non-issue with my mom over the past few years, I wasn't concerned that she would care either way if I had a religious wedding... that was until last week.

Over the weekend I was going to attend my first secular wedding (I couldn't actually end up attending because of car issues), and about two or three days beforehand my mom asked, "What kind of church is [he] getting married in?" which was a particularly awkward question for me, because as far as I know, this friend was the first atheist I ever knew. The most awkward part of it though, the part that gave me pause, was the way she said it. I could tell by the way she said it that she was trying to figure out if I was the only one of my friends who didn't believe, and whether they play Christian for their parents when they get married, and from that I could kind of gather that she had a twinge of hope that I would do just that. Fat chance.

I don't mean to be so glib about it, but for something that's so personal I'm not going to sacrifice my identity for someone who's not even part of the contract that is being celebrated. The person I would take longer to consider "faking it" for would be my grandmother. This is because she is so much more serious about her religious belief, e.g. believes in hell for nonbelievers, and I can tell if I ever confront her on the issue of the existence of God, while I love her to death and she shows me great compassion, she can also be incredibly stern (I hate to invoke stereotypes, but we're of German heritage) and I know she would get very defensive about it. If and when the time comes where I need to bring this issue up with her, which I imagine it will (she was only 50 when I was born, making her 70 now), I will just try to let her know that I have been this way for longer than she realizes and that I have been the same well-behaved, loving grandson she's known for this whole time. I'd hope that her believing I was going to hell didn't hurt her so much that it strained our relationship, or even worse, emotionally damaged her in some way.

If you have come out to a grandparent, which is probably harder than a parent (for me it probably will be), I would I would love to hear your advice as far as how to break it most gently. I don't plan on doing it soon, but it would be great to know for future reference.

Tomorrow is my 21st birthday (and Peter Singer's 65th)! I'm going to the Winnipeg Zoo and the day after I'm going to see my favorite band, Tegan and Sara! Yay!

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why Suffering is a Bad Thing

If you know me really well in person you probably know that the suffering of conscious beings is the criterion I take most seriously in determining the moral worth of an action. I am a consequentialist in the way that I think people need to think out the types of consequences that will stem from a particular action before they decide to carry it out. I think it’s probable that a large portion of people would agree with me, at least in a broad sense, that suffering is a bad thing that needs to be avoided. However, what about suffering is it that makes it worthy of being prevented?

This question led me to start thinking about how I would describe suffering to a being that is incapable of feeling emotions or bodily pleasure and pain, and hopefully that would give me some sort of insight in to what exactly is bad about suffering. All I could really think of was try to convey the concepts of good and bad and somehow relay it to sensations, otherwise all I could really think to do is describe analogous feelings: agony, horror, distress, fear, etc. (which I think is a testament to David Hume’s Dependency Thesis), but using feelings to describe feelings wouldn't really do any good to a being that can't feel anything. After this I realized the idea that trying to convey this idea to being like that is ridiculous for a couple of reasons: one, a being like that could never survive natural selection because it wouldn’t have anything driving them to survive (our reasons for not wanting to die are almost entirely, if not entirely, emotional), and for two, they would have nothing to say on the matter of morality, because they probably wouldn’t need it. They may have things that would threaten their existence, but they have no experiences otherwise to attempt to stay away from because there is no reason to.

I’d probably need to think about it more, but given this information, I think it’s quite possible that suffering is a bad thing for merely subjective, self-evident reasons (though suffering to a large degree is a mental cue that something that could end/seriously impair your existence is happening to you, but I think the sensation alone is enough to avoid it). This is not to say that it should have less consideration with respect to morality, and it doesn’t mean that ethics then just becomes a free-for-all and we can do whatever we feel like. What it is though, is a matter of acknowledging that that is indeed the reason, and perhaps the only reason. I think it’s probably “just obvious” to people that they’d rather enjoy themselves than experience pain (though to some people experiencing pain is enjoying themselves, but I won’t get in to that). The types of experiences that are coupled with suffering are inseparable from our concepts of “terrible” and, really “avoid at almost all costs”. We know internally that those experiences are the kind which we wish not to have and thus create dread within us (which is really to say “to think about suffering is to suffer somewhat itself), and since we have this knowledge already in us, at some point, usually early in our lives, we can recognize that it is just as bad to cause that sort of experience within another person.

Note: The suffering I’m talking about in this post is suffering inflicted by one agent to another, intentionally, and without a reason by which it was necessary. Some suffering is necessary to lead to good consequences, or to learn some life lessons, but these are rare instances. What I'm referring to is the malicious, certainly gratuitous type of suffering that can be avoided.

Additionally, there is non-agent-caused suffering (people starving in third world countries), that most people, while not intentionally inflicting it upon other people, passively allow it exist, even in spite of knowledge of its existence. This, I think, can and should be included in the type of suffering that people are in some sense responsible for, because they could certainly help end it, at not much cost to themselves. I have post relevant to this that you can find here.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Email to Petco Concerning Homeopathy

I just sent this email to the people at Petco after finding out last week that they send homeopathy, which hopefully people are figuring out is bullshit medicine. Hopefully I get a response. I'll post more if I do, and make a bigger fuss if I don't.

Dear Petco Management,

Last week, my girlfriend and I were shopping for supplies for our cat at your store in Fargo, and I noticed you had a homeopathic remedy for the treatment of worms for sale on your shelves.  Usually I think your store is a great place to shop for pet supplies as I’ve never run in to a problem such as this before, but this was incredibly frustrating for me as someone who both cares about animals and knows about homeopathy. I would think as the operators of store (a very widely used store at that) which is there to help promote the overall welfare of people’s pets, you would have done the research to know that there is no good scientific evidence to indicate that homeopathy works as a medication for anything. At most, it can be connected to the placebo effect but in humans only. Animals do not have the capability of understanding that they are even being treated for a disease, so they can’t even trick themselves in to feeling better. Even with that being said, feeling better is not getting better.  All studies done in an effort to test the efficacy of homeopathy have come nowhere near standing up to legitimate, rigorous scientific scrutiny. Most, if not all, had one, if not several, significant methodological flaws such as: no control group, being single blind, small sample sizes, in addition to not testing the actual effectiveness of the drug e.g., they simply ask the patient “How satisfied do you feel with this product? Rate from 0-10.” That’s not how you test medicine, that’s how you fill out a comment card. If you wish to be responsible vendors of products for pet owners, you should know about the medical trials that a medicine has gone through before you decide whether or not to sell it.

Even more than frustrating, it is saddening, because I know there will be people out there who won’t know what homeopathy is and assume it is an actual, effective medicine that has gone through and passed the necessary clinical trials in order to be sold on the shelves. They’ll go ahead and purchase the homeopathic treatment and give it to their pets, allowing their worms to go untreated, while thinking they are. I’m sure you all know that delaying real treatment for disease, whether you’re human, dog, cat, etc., is a bad approach to getting better. This makes homeopathy more than simply ineffective, it makes it outright dangerous.

The majority of people who are just going about their daily lives don’t have the time, desire, or even know how to go about researching whether or not a medicine sold at their local pet store is approved for use by a legitimate, reputable scientific journal. Your customers trust you to provide them with treatments that are demonstrably effective and when you put something on your shelves like homeopathy right next to real medicine, you legitimize the fake medicine in the unknowing customer’s eye, which is outrageously negligent.

Please, if you are a company that truly cares about the wellbeing of people and their pets, you will do the responsible and morally correct thing and stop offering this phony medicine.


To show that homeopathy has no active ingredients, many organizations have conducted mass overdoses of homeopathic remedies, which are, in fact, water on sugar pills. You can find videos like this all over YouTube, made in an effort to to expose this fraudulent nonsense.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why I'll Probably Never Vote for a Republican

There are many reasons why I will never vote for a member of the Republican party (as long as it stays in the state that it is now), but if you watch the entire video, you will see why this reason is by far the primary reason why I could never allow myself to vote for one. These are all the current Republican candidates for President, and frankly, I'm fucking disgusted.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I May Have Found an Argument for Eating Meat

As stated in a previous post, I am a vegetarian, primarily for the purpose of reducing unnecessary suffering in the world. I don't think we can really justify killing a being that has an interest in remaining alive, especially when its existence poses no threat to our own survival (we don't need meat to nourish ourselves). I think at the very least we definitely can't justify the modern way we treat animals harvested for their meat, but that's not really the point I want to bring up today.

As we have learned through evolutionary biology and medical science, the appendix is far-removed from its original function. So far removed it's to the point where its pretty much useless, and a threat to our health. Due to this threat, about 1 in 100,000 people are now being born without appendixes, and we know that all of this change in the form and function of the organ is due to the change in our diet from what it used to be. So as the functionality of the appendix no longer affected our survival rate, it was no longer necessary for people to be born with appendixes that functioned correctly; as long as they didn't kill you, they could sit in your torso and do nothing and it wouldn't matter, though, obviously, some of them do kill people.

Why do I bring all of this up? Let's say we have pretty much a thorough dietary revolution, and nearly everyone on the planet stops eating meat (except in extremely rare circumstances). At this point, we have to ask, do we run the risk of developing more vestigial baggage like what's become of the appendix? I'm not a dietary expert and I don't have an advanced knowledge of how the digestive system works, but I can't help but wonder if this could potentially be the case.

I don't think this could be used to support the amount of meat currently eaten world wide (particularly in America), but I think if it is indeed true that we seriously risk acquiring harmful evolutionary baggage we would then have a reason to permit some amount of meat in the diet of the general population, but still significantly less than what we do now.

I'm interested in any thoughts or information on the issue so any comments are more than encouraged.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

The Ontological Argument

The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God is quite an old argument, devised by St. Anselm around 1077 C.E. (revised in the 17th century by René Descartes; recently by Alvin Plantinga), that makes an attempt to prove the existence of God by making it inconceivable/logically impossible for such a being not to exist. This essentially is an effort to define God in to existence, which I think is deceptive and intellectually dishonest. I'm going to post more of the correspondence between me and Marc from Bad Catholic, because he seems to find the Ontological Argument particularly convincing. To be honest with you, I had no idea people even still used this argument. To me it seemed to be the most obviously flawed argument for the existence of God that I just figured everyone stopped using it, because I had never actually seen/heard anyone employ it until now. I may create a post that consists simply of my criticisms of it some time, but for now, I guess just enjoy the debate. Same colors as last time.

Note: This part of our conversation is still ongoing, so it may seem like it just stops at the end. I'll add more to this if we continue to discuss this subject.

I believe in God for the following reason, first posited by St. Anselm:

(1) God is that than which no greater can be conceived.
(2) If God is that than which no greater can be conceived then there is nothing greater than God that can be imagined.
(3) There is nothing greater than God that can be imagined.
(4) If God does not exist then there is something greater than God that can be imagined. (God who does exist)
(5) God exists.

I can't help but enjoy the logic every time I get to thinking about it. 

As far as I’m concerned, Anselm’s Ontological argument (not much different than Descartes’) is basically just a case of defining God in to existence, which, I think you would agree, is fallacious. This argument does a few things wrong and I’d like to point them out. One, the word “God” can be literally any god or being you desire e.g. Vishnu, Thor, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a Unicorn, and the argument would prove the existence of that deity as well; just replace the word and you’ve done it. As long as you define God/Vishnu/whatever as that than which no greater can be conceived, you can prove its existence with this. Part of the reason this is the case is because the argument leaves existence up to the (failings of) human imagination. I can imagine really, really great things, but that doesn’t mean that they exist, or that they are intelligent. I’d like to provide you an example:

P1: A world without suffering is a world that no greater can be conceived.

P2:  If a world without suffering is that than which no greater can be conceived then there is nothing greater than a world without suffering that can be imagined.

.˙.   There is nothing greater than a world without suffering that can be imagined

P3:  If a world without suffering does not exist then there is something greater than a world without suffering that can be imagined.

.˙.   A world without suffering exists.

This is an argument that would be based on my idea of the word great (another problem with the argument; great can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people). Hopefully this brings some of the problems of the argument to light.

Now then, I believe you're quite wrong in your points against the ontological argument, though they are certainly reasonable. First of all, you cannot substitute God with anything else. Thor is not the greatest that can be thought, he has all sorts of faults and failings (especially in the latest really-bad movie). Much greater can be thought than a Unicorn, and Vishnu is one of many incarnations of God, so God still remains the greatest that can be thought. 

But the crux of your argument seems to rest on the idea that we just 'made up' the fact that God is the greatest that can be thought, that it is some sort of vague OMG HE'S SOO AWESOME that we throw up to make the proof work. We didn't, and he isn't. It is a definition.

This greatness (which I can see why you would think it could mean many things to many people) is not relative. It is based on the following claim: That every qualitative measure comes from nature, and God is supernatural. If someone is of great size, than it is a matter of atoms, of mass of width and height and all manner of natural measurements. If a thing is of great intelligence, than its intelligence is part of its relation to the natural world. If a thing is old, then it is a matter of time as a dimension of the natural universe etc. etc. etc. 

But God is outside of nature - because the universe contains all nature and he is the creator of the universe - and thus is called supernatural. He is outside of time and thus infinite. He - therefore - infinitely transcends every natural qualitative and quantitative quality that we - natural beings - can think of. (This is only sensible, for as natural human beings our minds are constrained by the limits of nature.) So God is the greatest that can be thought, simply because we don't have the capacity to imagine something greater than infinity. Something more powerful than INFINITE power. Something more intelligent than INFINITE intelligence. Do you understand? GREAT in this context is no adjective, it is the definition of that which is outside of nature. I'll save you some time and tell you; the only way to defeat the ontological argument is to think of something more infinite than the infinite, and it simply can't be done.

A world without suffering - though it could be, with a little tweaking, an interesting proof for the existence of heaven - doesn't work in this case, because it is not a world infinite in all respects. If it was, it would be heaven, and though it exists, it exists dependently of God, and thus a greater can be thought. Any, any, any replacement for God in the ontological argument will lead back to the simple fact, a being infinite in all respects is greater than ________ and thus________ does not necessarily exist. 

I still think you have a case of defining your god in to existence. Basically, we make a grievous error when we include existence as part of the definition of a particular thing. I know that directly, that’s not what you’re doing, but the implication through your definitions of ‘great’ and ‘infinity’, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Existence is not something we should be determining via definitions, but rather, it should be determined through experience and evidence. We can’t just say because we can conceive of something (or can’t conceive of something greater than a particular thing) that therefore that thing must exist, regardless of whether it’s inside or outside of nature, otherwise we are free to define things in particular ways and then conclude whether it exists or not without any real verification, including other gods. It doesn’t matter about the limitations of the gods I’ve provided you with examples with, even with your definition of what a god should be like. What’s preventing other people from having a god that is definitionally the same as the one you’ve defined, but be an entirely different entity (multiple gods like the one you believe in)? Because the only difference between these two is that you weren’t the initial person to define it; you inherited the definition from previous generations.

You asked me to explain my belief "that a god exists, the one traditionally spoken about in the Bible". Now the God traditionally spoken about in the Bible has certain characteristics, correct? For instance; he interacts with his people. Thus when I am considering my belief in God, I must consider whether he interacts with me and with the world. I must use the definition you have given. It would be ridiculous if, having been asked the same question by you, I had replied "I believe in God because he's never interacted with me or his people." It would be ridiculous if, having been asked to prove the existence of a blue dog, I presented you with a stellar proof of a red dog. 

So it is with the Ontological Argument. A definition of the God traditionally spoken about in the Bible is given. He is the I AM outside of nature. The implications of that definition are that He exists in reality, as you have seen.  Because you take unbelief as your base, I understand why this seems a logical circle, and thus: I am defining my God into existence. But I hold that it is a logical circle merely because it is true. If the logical progression is that a being of infinite greatness must exist in reality, I am not defining my God into existence, but following the logic of the definition given when you asked me to defend my belief.

After all, if there was a God, and all things came from Him, including our ability to use logic and reason, it would only make sense that we would experience these brain-wrenching paradoxes when we attempt to use logic and reason to discover Him. And it would only make sense that denying his reality would lead to an absurd statement: that the greatest existence does not exist.

As it seems you’ve put so clearly, the only reason it seems “the logical progression is that a being of infinite greatness must exist in reality,” is because it is a logical circle, which nearly hits the nail on the head, because while not really circular reasoning, it is basically a tautology. Saying “An existing pencil must exist,” is tautological, but not proof that my pencil actually exists outside of that statement; tautologies don’t prove anything as they are in reality, they only prove concepts. The way I confirm my pencil exists is through experience, independent confirmation (through my own senses and those of other people) of the qualities of it, if there are any, and the measurable effects it has in reality. It doesn’t require much to confirm it. However when I say “My pencil, of which no pencil that is greater can be imagined, must necessarily exist because no pencil greater can be imagined,” what you’re doing is saying: 1) It is greater to exist than to not exist, which is in fact a judgment call, because I’m sure many people would probably dispute that it's greater to exist than to not. 2) Since nothing is greater than to exist, since no pencil can be imagined to be greater than that pencil, that pencil must exist, for indeed it is the greatest imaginable, and it’s not possible to imagine something greater than an existing thing, which simply isn’t true. Essentially, what the argument comes down to, after it’s simply asserted (not demonstrated) that “something that’s the greatest imaginable must exist” is “My pencil must exist, therefore it must exist.” You may be able to think of a being who has infinite power, intelligence, age, etc., but that doesn’t make it exist. This disregards the fact that it’s not really possible to imagine infinity or something with qualities that are infinite because it’s not a quantity. Infinity is a concept of escaping zero and ever-growing in quantity. You can imagine seemingly really big quantities, but then you’re no closer to infinity than you were when you were at one. An “infinite amount” of intelligence or power is not possible, and it’s certainly not possible to truly conceive of this being, because there isn’t a true way to conceive of infinity, which undercuts the premise “God is the greatest imaginable being”.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Liar, Lunatic, Lord... or Legend?

Many Christians are huge fans of C.S. Lewis’ (Chronicles of Narnia) “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” trilemma as a demonstration of Jesus’ divinity. I’m actually in the middle of an email exchange with Marc from the blog Bad Catholic, who used this to attempt to justify his own belief that Jesus was the son of God and performed miracles, so I’d like to post the excerpt from our conversation that addresses this topic so that you can read it for yourself. The following is taken verbatim from our emails, with the order of arranged so it’s each topic is paired with its response. Marc is in green and I am in red.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God because he said so. In saying so, there were three possibilities. 1. He might have been lying. 2. He might have been crazy. 3. He might have been telling the truth. 

I can tell you’ve read C.S. Lewis because you’ve posed to me the Liar, Lunatic, or Lord trilemma. However, I’d like to suggest a fourth option: Legend. I’m not saying that the story of Jesus is 100% made up, but there is good reason to doubt much of it.

First off, it was not written by anyone who was an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. Paul didn’t write until at least 48 A.D. and never claimed to have met Jesus (excluding his road to Damascus encounter). Mark was written around 70 A.D.; Matthew and Luke around 80-90 A.D.; and John around 90-100 A.D. Given that the average lifespan for common people in this time and place meant you were very old if you got to live to be 40, it seems unlikely that any of the gospels were written by any of Jesus’ disciples, much less anyone who was even alive at the same time as him. Anything written that isn’t included in the Bible was written by someone who was born at the tail end of Jesus’ life or after Jesus was dead, which means there’s no way they could have ever met Jesus either, not to mention the fact that nearly all of them almost exclusively talk about Christians, not Jesus (except for the writings of Josephus, which contains about a paragraph about Jesus, of which the authenticity is very much in doubt; nonetheless Josephus wasn’t born until 37 A.D.)

Essentially what this means is we have to take the word of the four gospels and hope they’re accurate in order to figure out what Jesus said and did, and this gets us in to serious trouble. For one, there are some serious discrepancies between the gospels about events that took place within them and I will give you two examples.

What day was Jesus crucified on?

According to Mark, Jesus was arrested and crucified on the day of the Passover, because the previous day was the Day of Preparation for the Passover (Mark 14:12), which means that night was the Passover meal (According to Jewish tradition a new day starts at sundown). The meal where Jesus famously says, “This is my body… This is my blood,” is referred to as the Passover meal (Mark 14:16). Jesus is arrested and crucified the next morning (still Passover) at about 9:00 am (Mark 15:1-25).

According to John, the meal they eat (The Last Supper) is not described as a Passover meal at all. Jesus never asks them to prepare the Passover meal and never says “This is my body… This is my blood,” but he is betrayed, goes to jail and goes before Pilate the next day. It’s very clear that the day he goes before Pilate (the day he is to be crucified) is the Day of Preparation for the Passover (John 19:14).

It is impossible for Jesus to have been crucified on the Day of Preparation for the Passover and on the Passover itself, so one of them has to be inaccurate. According to a lot of historians, it is very possible that the account in John was altered to make Jesus a “sacrificial lamb” since that day was the day lambs were sacrificed in the temple for Passover. If this is correct, then we have to deal with people who have theological agendas they want to make Jesus fit in to, rather than simply recording history.

When was Jesus born?

According to Matthew, Jesus’ birth occurred during the reign of King Herod, which can be dated to 37-4 B.C. Let’s just say 4 B.C. just so we have a set date.

According to Luke, Jesus’ birth was during the rule of the governor Quirinius. This is dated to 6 or 7 A.D. These two eras did not overlap by approximately ten years. (This is not to mention the census spoken of has no historical evidence, and is a ridiculous way to conduct a census, but I won’t go in to that unless you’d like me to next time)

I think I have established that we have very good reason to doubt the reliability of the gospel accounts, even for mundane things like when Jesus was born or what day was he crucified. If we can’t be sure about the accuracy of those events, how can we be sure about the accuracy of the accounts of miracles?

Even if it was eyewitness testimony and we knew who the authors were, eyewitness testimony isn’t always reliable. If it was we would never need to have a trial for a crime that had at least one witness, but this isn’t the case for many reasons. People can misremember things; misinterpret the initial event, or even lie about what they experienced. The unreliability of a testimony increases the further removed it was from the original event, in this case it is 30-70 years removed, and at least 2 people removed from the people who actually knew Jesus. Think of the children’s game of Telephone. Now imagine that the game was played over the course of 50 years. Do you think it would be likely the final version of the story would be historically reliable? No, probably not. This means that Legend is a perfectly valid option because, like Beowulf, he was quite possibly a historical figure, but over time mythic elements were added to the story for cultural and religious reasons.

I do not believe him to be a liar because he gained absolutely nothing from it, in fact, he was killed for it. No man dies for a lie. Unless he is (2) crazy and honestly believes himself the Son of God, when in fact, he is yer average carpenter. 

Was Jesus a Liar and/or “Crazy”?

You also said that no one would die for a lie, this is also not true. I think you would probably agree that the terrorists who hijacked the planes on 9/11 died for a lie. They probably weren’t crazy, and they probably didn’t just put on a show of belief. I think they sincerely believed that when they died they would greet Allah in Paradise along with 72 virgins. I’m sure you think at least to some degree the doctrines of Islam are false/lies, however these people were willing to die for them. I’m not sure if deluded or just honestly mistaken/mislead falls under any of those categories, but I think it certainly is a valid consideration because these people died for something that most people consider untrue. That being said, I would think it is certainly possible, if the gospel accounts are loosely accurate about the non-miraculous events of Jesus life, then Jesus was raised to believe he was the messiah or the son of God. This kind of reinforcement would allow him (and the people around him) to believe something that was false (a lie), and because he believed it with certainty he was willing to die for it. That also being said there are actually a lot of cases where people will intentionally falsely confess to crimes, including murder (which they could be sentenced to death for), one of the more famous cases of this was with the Lindbergh baby.

But I do not believe the Christ crazy because he is logical, lucid, reasonable and rational - and often genius - throughout the Gospels. There is no suggestion of craziness.

Was Jesus a genius?

I would also like to say that while Jesus said some things that were good, he also said and did some things that seem rather irrational and unwise things. I’ve provided a list of some of the things I think someone who was the son of God probably wouldn’t say:

·         Luke 14:26 – I think regardless of the footnote it’s still a vicious and pretty much selfish thing to say, and I would never expect that from a god.
·         Matthew 12:30; Luke 12:51-53 – These are incredibly divisive and crude things to say if you ask me. I don’t know how a loving god (I always heard God is love when I attended church) would ever say anything that resembled something like that.
·         John 2:14-15 – While I can understand Jesus being upset about the people coming in to the temple to do their business, I think it was a complete overreaction to go and build his own weapon to chase out- and potentially torture- those men. I don’t think the son of God would do that.

I have more qualms with the words and deeds of Jesus but I think a perfect, loving god shouldn’t have even the aforementioned on his record.

And thus I believe his claim to be true. Why do you believe his claim to be false?

However, while all of these I think help my case, they are not the primary reason I don’t accept the claims of miracles made by the Bible. The reason is I don’t think simply testimony is ever good enough evidence to accept that a divine violation of the laws of nature has occurred. I think it is always more likely that those who are reporting to have seen a miracle are either mistaken or lying. Being mistaken doesn’t mean they are stupid, but like I said before, people can misinterpret events, (for example, our brains give us optical illusions) and at this point in time where nearly everyone on the planet is far more educated than any person who lived 2000 years ago ever was, we do not experience miracles. If people tell us they experienced a miracle, most people are skeptical of it, especially if it is of a rival religion. It’s just a matter of fact that the odds that a miracle actually occurred are so heavily stacked against it that we pretty much are never justified in accepting one. (Though I can think of a couple of examples that could conceivably be convincing, I just don’t think written testimony is one of them).

I devoted a full episode of the podcast I help do (the Mental Masturbation Podcast) to the whole issue of whether or not Jesus existed which you can download here, or listen to below.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Conversations with Theists #1

Here's a really old internet conversation I had with a former coworker of mine who is/was a fundamentalist Christian. It's really long but I put it up for those of you who like this kind of thing. I'm the yellowish font and he's the red one. Enjoy.

1) Referring to Deuteronomy 13:6-10, considering the fact that you defended it during our conversation, are you admitting that you think that it was ever okay for someone to kill another person because they didn't worship Yahweh?

To understand why there were rules about killing, like in Deuteronomy 13, you first need to have an understanding of the character of God. God is pure and holy. Going back to Deuteronomy, God wanted to have a relationship with His chosen people, however, God cannot coexist in a relationship where sin is prevalent. [Here is an example that might help. God is light. Sin is darkness. They cannot coexist.] For God to be in communion with man we must rid ourselves of all sin. The standard to have a relationship with God is to have a holy life. So, for the Israelites to have a relationship with God they had to rid themselves of sin, including the worship of pagan gods/idols. The good news is that God has made a way through the death of Jesus so we no longer need sacrifices and purifying rituals. When Jesus died after living a sinless life he made it so we no longer have to try and purify ourselves. Now when we believe in Jesus like Romans 10:9 says that when we believe Jesus rose from the dead we will be saved. When we give our lives to Jesus his victory over sin and death becomes our victory too. We are now free from the power of Satan and can live in a relationship with God through Jesus. 

So, to answer your question, yes, I believe in the Bible and what it says.

I’m sorry [name withheld], but it really makes me lose a lot of respect for you when you tell me you agree that it was ever okay to do what our society has placed the title of ‘murder’ on. Worshiping another god/idol/plant/whatever is not a good enough reason to kill someone. If someone is immediately threatening your life or someone you love or what have you and it is for self-defense, then I can understand killing someone because at that point it becomes a necessity. But the fact of the matter for something like that, it is completely unfair to the person being killed. In addition, the word “holy” when assigned to God, is almost completely arbitrary, and loses all meaning because it is given to a person who condones vile and monstrous things like murder and slavery (Exodus 21:2-21). Even if there was a good reason to think the god of the Bible exists, there is no way I could think he was moral, and I really don’t understand how someone else could, especially someone like you, who for the most part is a decent human being (though you scare me when you agree with stuff like this). 

2) Would you ever kill a person if you believed God told you to?

This is one of those questions I don’t know if I can answer without experiencing it. The best answer I can give is this, I always hope I will listen and obey what God wants me to do. I do not believe He would ever tell me to kill someone. I don’t think I have it in me to just go and kill a person.

I don’t really understand why you don’t think God would ask you to kill someone else, when there are several mandates for it in the Old Testament, and while though that’s a little less personal then talking directly to someone, it’s essentially the same thing. So it makes me wonder, is the reason you don’t think you have it in you to kill someone is because you realize that there’s something fundamentally unjust in violating another person’s right to live, especially if they’re doing something pretty much harmless like worshiping another deity (like said above)?

3) I have included a link to Deuteronomy 21:10-14, and was wondering if you think this was ever okay to do to a woman? This was included in the Mosaic Law which means according to the Bible, that God included this among the rules that Moses was to give to his people.

In this passage the shaving of the head meant mourning or turning back from a lifestyle. Men aren’t to treat women slaves like a piece of meat and just use them as a slave for sexual pleasure. They are to give them dignity to mourn then they can marry them. And if they no longer wanted them for a wife they could not sell them but the women were free.

While I disagree with you that shaving of the head means turning back from a lifestyle, I think that’s partially missing the point of what I’m trying to say (though if it does actually literally mean that, it makes it even worse). You should not just be allowed to take people captive, and then force them to marry you. I don’t care if you let them mourn for a whole ten years, marriage is supposed to be a mutual relationship between two parties and if you force someone in to it you are violating their rights as an individual. It doesn’t even matter if you let them free if they don’t please you because that’s still just as bad because it’s not because they are unhappy, it’s because you aren’t satisfied with them.

4) What reason do you have for believing that God is real, that Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Adam & Eve, or really most of the Biblical characters ever existed, much less performed miracles? I ask this because there is little to no evidence of any of these peoples' existence.

There is evidence for the Biblical account of history. For example, the kingdom of Assyria and the city of Nineveh were for a long time thought to be nonexistent. From what I know up until the mid 1800s the Bible was the only record of the kingdom of Assyria and the city of Nineveh. Then in the mid 1800s Austen Henry Layard and Paul Emile Botta discovered the ancient remains of three Assyrian cites, including Nineveh. So the Bible was proven historically correct even when there was no outside ‘evidence’ to back it up.

[I'm condensing this part down because it's several paragraphs long and all the information can be found here, however he fails to mention that none of those sources are from the time when Jesus is said to have lived, as a point out in my response.]

Kevin, other things are, for one, the evidence of countless changed lives. Many different cultures have similar accounts as the Bible like stories of a flood or creation that we can’t just write off as coincidence. I pray this information has helped.
I apologize for not being more clear in the first message, but what I meant to say, in referring to the accounts of Jesus’ life, is that there are not contemporary, or eyewitness testimonies. There is absolutely, no accounts about Jesus that were written during his lifetime, which makes the stories akin to a game of telephone because what was most likely to have happened was that people heard the stories about a guy name Jesus, regardless of whether he was real or not, and started telling other people about it, the stories changed over time and they got written down by some people and then some people believed them. (I’d also like to mention here that the passage you cited from Josephus here has been known to be a fraud for a long time now, but I won’t get hung up on that.) Don’t you think that if some person had actually been performing miracles, that some person would have written something down about it? Not everyone in the time of Jesus was illiterate so it would have been very likely that at least one person would have written something down who would have actually met Jesus to transcribe the events, but the fact remains that there are no such writings. This doesn’t even address the fact that even if there were, I still would not believe them as true. I would never accept a claim of a miracle as true merely from someone telling me that it had happened, which is ultimately what the Bible is, just a person telling me about it. Why would you? 
Did you know that there are actual accounts of Muhammad’s life from people who lived with him and met him? This is a point in Islam’s favor because their claimed savior has contemporaries, as opposed to Jesus. However, the miracle claims are all anecdotal, so there isn’t a good reason to accept them. When addressing this issue I like to tell this story to illustrate: 
“When I came to work one day I was told by my coworker Paul that a man came running through the parking lot yesterday, jumped, smashed a car, and then flew to the moon. A little later another coworker of mine, Aly, said that Paul was wrong but that the man actually came running through the parking lot, picked up the car, and threw it to the other side of Moorhead.” 
Now, if that were you, would you believe either of them? Even if they had people on both of their sides saying that they saw it too, and that they were telling the truth? I wouldn’t. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence, and someone just claiming something isn’t sufficient for believing that claim. What’s happened here is that you’re committing a fallacy called Special Pleading. This is when you have the same amount of evidence for two different claims of the same type (extraordinary, ordinary, etc.) but you accept one, but not the other. This is a bad employment of logic, and usually leads people to believe things they don’t have a good reason to. I hope you see what I’m getting at.
In regards to what you said about the creation stories and flood stories, they actually can be written off as coincidence. Each culture has a different creation myth, and almost every region on the planet has some area that suffers from flooding. If these stories were true they would have an abundance of geological evidence to support them, but they don’t. Like I said before, claims, especially extraordinary ones, don’t stand as true on their own. There needs to be sufficient justification to back them up, and when it comes to creation myths, flood stories, and miracles, they don’t.
About the evidence of miracles in number four, a miracle is something that I cannot explain to you in scientific terms. In your reply you said "This doesn’t even address the fact that even if there were, I still would not believe them as true. I would never accept a claim of a miracle as true merely from someone telling me that it had happened, which ultimately what the Bible is, a person telling me about it."
So I'm curious to what you're wanting me to say about miracles. I can't prove to you that they happen, so I'm not quite sure what you want me to say.
Well, the reason I say that is because of the fact that they are such extraordinary claims, and yet cannot be demonstrated (at least the ones in the Bible, it is actually possible to demonstrate a miracle), why would you, or anyone else for that matter, believe them? It’s a confusing matter to me because the events of these stories are so completely unsupported.

5) I’d like to come back to when we talked about the story of Adam and Eve because I feel like our discussion about it just kind of fizzled out, and I’m not sure I was communicating my thoughts very well so I’d like to address it again. Even if this story were true, I find it highly immoral. For one, Adam and Eve were punished for not knowing what right and wrong were, when the wrong thing in God’s eyes was knowing what right and wrong were. Since Adam and Eve had not eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, there was absolutely no way to know what Good and Evil were. That means it was impossible for them to know whether or not following God’s orders was the right or wrong thing to do, at least before they had eaten from the tree, so why would God punish them for doing what was wrong, when he should have known that they didn’t have the capacity to understand those two concepts, and created them gullible enough to follow the serpent? Most theists like to say that Adam and Eve had free will to choose whether or not to eat the fruit, but I’m sorry, free will is utterly irrelevant in a situation where you don’t have any understanding of what right and wrong is (E.g. A toddler may have some basic form of free will but when they do something that we consider wrong we don’t completely place blame on them because the concepts of right and wrong have not formed in their head yet, equivalent to eating the fruit) and you’re as gullible as they are. God was the one who created them plus he was omniscient, so he couldn’t have been unsure of how gullible they were, or that they didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, yet he condemns them to a life outside of the garden, and increases labor pains in women, how is that fair/just? AND to top it all off, he passes the blame on to all future people because they will be descendants of Adam and Eve, what sense does that make? I am not my father. If he gets convicted of a crime, I don’t go to prison with him, because I didn’t commit the crime. When Adam and Eve committed the “crime” of eating from the tree, God decided to punish everyone else too. Seriously, it doesn’t make any sense! How can you call that character good, fair, and just? It actually makes me very upset that people can read that story, think that it’s true, and the guy with the anger issues was the good character in the story
About your next question, the Adam and Eve one, in your question/argument you use both the term 'right and wrong' and 'good and evil' seemingly interchangeably. In the Bible God commanded them to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, notice it does not say the tree of right and wrong. Nowhere in the Bible can I find a place that says Adam and Eve did not know what right and wrong were before they ate from the tree. I believe that they knew that following God was the right thing to do and disobeying Him was wrong. From what I understand, eating from the tree gave them the knowledge of good and evil. The knowledge opened their eyes to the temptations and horrors of evil and they were able to see what not following God's commands did. Why we are affected today by Adam's decision and in need of redemption is that before they ate the fruit the world was perfect. After they disobeyed God a curse was placed on the world because of their act. (Read Genesis 3).

Here's an analogy that might help. -"Let's say you built a white model of a forest. You start carving people to populate your perfect forest. Then someone paints a black dot on your creation, it is now no longer perfect. You can't just paint over it because underneath the black dot will still be there. You could scrap this model and start over, but you love it so much and want your people carvings to live in your forest, but every time you move the people around they get a little of the black dot on them and are no longer your perfect creation."

This, I feel, is a good illustration of what happened. But the good news is that the story is not done yet.
-"You take out your paint remover and send it to your forest (this represents Jesus coming to earth) you don't force any of the people to wash in the paint remover but it is open to any who will receive it. The people who wash are cleaned and can live now how they were intended to live.

But if God is omnipotent, wouldn’t it be just as much of a breeze to create another perfect, “sinless” world? Why would he need to have his creations live in a world that was no longer perfect? It seems to me that, that would be a weakness of God if he can’t do something as simple (for an omnipotent entity) as to create another perfect forest for someone to live in, especially because they would be possibly subject to a place of eternal torture for not accepting it. Not even to mention that’s it not as simple as a choice, in order to “accept the paint remover”, you have to believe things that in an everyday context are completely absurd and unsupported by evidence.

Plus, wouldn’t you say that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was evil, along with the temptation of eating the fruit? For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right about the distinction between right and wrong and good and evil, (I don’t necessarily think you are, but for the sake of argument I’m accepting it) by the definition of evil you gave, with the temptations and horrors and such, that would classify the serpent who fooled them as evil. Therefore, it would still be unfair to punish Adam and Eve for gaining an understanding of the concepts of good and evil by eating from the tree, because if they would have understood them beforehand, they probably would have been less likely to eat from the tree, because they could have seen that the serpent was evil, and not been tempted by it. And even if they had understood them before, and were still tempted by the serpent, well then that’s God’s fault, for making them so easily tempted. He shouldn’t expect them not to be tempted when he created them to be so easily tempted.

Evil is usually a label we put on people who we’ve classified as doing things that are morally wrong, or the morally wrong actions we consider evil actions, so I think if you were right about them understanding right and wrong before they ate from the tree, then chances are good that they knew good from evil as well, because while they might not technically be exactly the same, they are very related, so much in fact that if you know one, you probably know the other.

Would you consider the actual Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil an evil thing? Because it seems that would fall under the category of one of those temptations (if you look at Genesis 3:6 it's pretty clear that the fruit and the tree was tempting to her) but if she could not understand good from evil, how is she to be responsible for understanding her temptation? She really couldn't have known that it was a bad thing.

Now I'd like to ask you a few questions:
1) What do you believe happens to us after we die?

I don't believe there is an "us" after we die. Our minds’ existences are contingent upon a functioning brain, if our brain gets damaged our mind doesn’t function in the same way it did before. Once we die, our brains cease to function and therefore no longer support our consciousness, and our bodies exist but no longer are able to function. So I believe when we die that's the end of our lives, the natural world continues on but we don’t technically exist. Until evidence is put forth that our minds travel elsewhere, I believe that death is the end.

2) Do you believe that we, as humans, have any purpose to our lives? And if so, how do you support that belief?
I believe we make our own purpose. We don't need a divine being to bestow purpose upon our lives. For example, you and I both enjoy film, and shooting projects gives us a sense of purpose. A lot of people like to play sports, some people really enjoy their careers, in addition to their families, friends, intimate relationships, etc. These all give people enjoyment in their lives and give them a reason to keep living. I wouldn't want a greater power to decide that for me, otherwise what would the point of living be if someone else has already made your goals for you?

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