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Mrsham
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Sat 12th May '07 6:01PM
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Mrsham was bold enough to comment:
I think empirical reasoning has played a part in my acceptance of the existence of God, depending on what you're prepared to accept as empirical evidence! It's personal experience and thus not part of the scientific corpus (etc etc)

General was bold enough to comment:
Could you elaborate on that?
I don't think that is what I would really call Empirical evidence as I tend to think of any thing Empirical as somthing you could reproducably test with some kind of experiment.



In which case the kind of thing I'm talking about is not empirical evidence And I'd agree with you then that my belief in God has very little to do with empirical/experimental reasoning- faith is definitely not science - although I maintain that for me it's not a leap out of nowhere, or a purely abstract affair. I guess I was reading "empirical evidence" more loosely (and probably unhelpfully, thinking about it a bit more) as any sort of real-world observable phenomenon. And if we take "empirical" as "experimental" Malcolm and Feign's debate way up the thread makes a lot more sense to me. Excellent!

I should also say at this point, and as an aside, that like Gertrude while I've had what I would from a position of faith consider as personally important encounters with a God who intervenes, I don't consider this necessary for faith, or that faith in the absence of such encounters is less well-founded. Indeed the reverse has been argued. And of course it may just mean that I am a fruitloop.

I don't think I'm going to get away with this kind of talk without giving an example of what the blazes I'm going on about... Note I'm only relating it for clarification because I think it raises a couple of useful issues about religious experience and I don't expect or intend it to be convincing. To cut an extremely long story short, I was at a Christian meeting, and the preacher interrupted his address to describe my emotional state ("there's someone in the room who...") and (apparently) respond instantaneously to an extremely angry and confused prayer I had just silently thrown into the ether from the back of a darkened room. The response wasn't specific enough to cast all doubts aside, but the timing, the fact that he derailed his sermon, and the essential appropriateness and of what followed was such that it was an extremely large coincidence (and indeed it's not impossible that that's all it was). On a more long-term view, his words, and the bizarre little acting out of a psalm that he got us all to do (Christians are weird) were extremely helpful in getting me through my teenage years, even if it was in a delusional state

On reflection this is definitely not empirical in any of the usual senses, in that for it to make sense you have to factor in my internal state which is non-observable other than to myself, so I was just frankly talking rubbish on that point and you rightly called me out for it General - evidence can't be both personal and empirical!

The reason I've related is both to show the sort of first-hand personal evidence that some people who have faith would appeal to (I've heard other people recount similar stories), and because I think it illustrates something the thread's been kicking around already. This kind of thing is how I believe God acts - he/she only intervenes in particular circumstances (and indeed perhaps only can intervene in such circumstances), and in response to particular needs. This makes it non-repeatable, confusing, ambiguous, and raises lots of uncomfortable questions. And that, I guess, is where the leap of faith comes in; all I can say is, if something like this happens to you, it's difficult to treat it dispassionately, and I've chosen to play the hand I've been dealt!
 

General*
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Mrsham was bold enough to comment:

faith is definitely not science - although I maintain that for me it's not a leap out of nowhere, or a purely abstract affair.



I don't want to give the impression that by saying that belief requires a "leap of faith" that I am belittling it in any way. In fact I believe that ultimately my own status as a Bright is based on an equally great leap of faith that just happens to be in the other direction.

The term "leap of faith" does make some Christians that i have met uncomfortable, but that's nothing to most of the Atheists I talk to who hate the idea that their decision that god does not exist is based on anything other than good sound logical reasoning!

I was very interested in your description of the events that cemented your faith.
For a long time I would have identified myself as an Agnostic. My knowledge of science suggested that we don't need god to explain our existence, but I found the idea that we were alone in a godless universe where life had no purpose and death was the end a deeply troubling concept.
I actively sought out god I spoke to a lot of people about their beliefs and read as much philosophy and theology as I could. Some people said they had always had faith because they had been brought up within a faith which I found unsatisfying, but the people who spoke about god in the most affecting way was those who came to god via some event or period in their life which caused them to question the way they looked at the world. I've always been seeking that moment and questioning the world.
My own moment of clarity came after having a bit of an intense philosophy period reading Kierkegaard (who is credited with identifying the leap of faith concept) and Bertrand Russel this made me feel that though I would still like to have some kind of cosmic big brother and see my lost loved ones again I could be satisfied that a life without god could have meaning. Later while in a science phase reading Deep Simplicity and Feynman something clicked in my mind that made me come to realize that with all the mechanical wonder of the universe it spoiled it for me to bring god into the equation. To me the underlying mechanisms of existence have a kind of beauty and purity that I find inspiring and give me a feeling which is the closest thing I could relate to the feeling of god as people have described to me. The idea that an interventionist god could be tweaking the variables seemed like an idea that didn't fit into my head.
Again thousands of people have read these texts and been unmoved by them or jumped in the other direction, but some kind of unmeasurable mental jump pushed me inescapably to that conclusion.
    

Mrsham
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Sun 13th May '07 3:58PM
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General was bold enough to comment:
I don't want to give the impression that by saying that belief requires a "leap of faith" that I am belittling it in any way.


Don't worry, I hadn't got that impression! If I appear on the defensive write it down to reading too much Dawkins Having said that I think exposing ones belief system to fierce criticism is a good idea once in a while (maybe I'm just a masochist)



General was also bold enough to comment:
To me the underlying mechanisms of existence have a kind of beauty and purity that I find inspiring


I find myself most at home with Dawkins when he gets all poetical about this. I'm reaching the conclusion that to bring God into the scientific worldview generally does more harm than good. I'd agree with the usual line: that in the scientific framework the simplest explanation is the best, and that the development of the universe from simple beginnings to the complexity we now see is entirely explicable, and thus best explained, without recourse to divine intervention and "messing with the variables" in that way. To try and find God a home in that process generally leads to God being forced out when our understanding develops, so really people of faith are shooting themselves in the foot when they put forward God of the gaps theories.

(As an aside: the sort of intervention I think God involves himself in is on the relational and human level, rather than a tinkering to keep the whole shebang running. The whole idea of an interventionist God is hugely problematic of course, and I wouldn't want to argue otherwise!)

Polkinghorne (sorry, him again) argues for a "many windows" approach for understanding the universe; so the science window is one very good way of looking at the universe, and for explaining it's inner workings, depth, grandeur and so on, and makes sense entirely in its own terms and frame of reference. But there are other windows you can look through when you are asking different questions.
 

General*
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Sun 16th Dec '07 12:16AM
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I've just re-read this thread, and what an excellent thread it is.

Recently I've been analysing and adjusting my beliefs somewhat (which you will possibly hear more about when I'm done) and as a result I have been reading (and rereading) a lot of Bertrand Russell including this thought provoking essay which it occurs to me that TDDO members might enjoy http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell0.htm

I've also been reading http://www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com/ though I haven't made enough progress with it to formulate much of an opinion just yet.
    

Mrsham
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Tue 18th Dec '07 6:10PM
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General was bold enough to comment:
I've just re-read this thread, and what an excellent thread it is.

Recently I've been analysing and adjusting my beliefs somewhat (which you will possibly hear more about when I'm done)



Me too, I've been intending a bottom up think through the whole kit and caboodle since Lent, have made something of a start this Advent but am going to use my imminent holiday to read up on some philosophy (about which I currently know little). In doing so I'll be as radically open minded as I can, which I'm finding quite exciting. Anything could happen in the next fortnight As an aside I'm finding being able to debate with Brights (you know who you are ) really helpful in knocking the bullshit off my faith. I'm hoping there'll be something there beneath it!

In the mean time, I'd like to post up some thoughts on the essays you linked to General, but at the same time don't want to take the thread off-topic, as I'd be posting about scripture, fundamentalism and so on, and would be keeping within the (pretty wide) scope of Christianity that the articles address. I may start a new thread when I have a bit more time on my hands to try a decent OP (my past efforts have been not so good!)
 

General*
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Tue 18th Dec '07 9:05PM
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Mrsham was bold enough to comment:

Me too, I've been intending a bottom up think through the whole kit and caboodle since Lent, have made something of a start this Advent but am going to use my imminent holiday to read up on some philosophy (about which I currently know little). In doing so I'll be as radically open minded as I can, which I'm finding quite exciting.



Good stuff my man.
I'm well up for some banter and debate in these matters if you are game.
If you want to learn about philosophy buy The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. I'm re-reading it at the moment. It really is quite staggering that someone could write a complete history of Philosophical thought from the ancient Greeks to the mid 20th century and make it both easy to understand and a pleasure to read.



In the mean time, I'd like to post up some thoughts on the essays you linked to General, but at the same time don't want to take the thread off-topic.



Do it fella, create a new thread if you are worried about derailing.
    

Emo Squid
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Wed 19th Dec '07 3:03PM
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General was bold enough to comment:

"Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. ... If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. ... If, as they say, God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?" (Epicurus, as quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief)



Iím going to assume that this refers to the Abrahamic God.

I do not believe in God, that is, I do not believe there is any kind of Supreme Being or deity who has the power to influence any course of events beyond the fundamental properties that ultimately govern the outcome of those events. Basically, I do not believe in divine intervention or omniscient beings. That is not to say I deny the existence of such things, Iím merely stating that they do not fit in with my system of beliefs. This is in spite of things that have happened to me that, for whatever reason, I choose to put down to inexplicable favorable coincidence(TM) rather than any supernatural design or intervention. Similarly, there have been times in my life (I was a regular church-goer to the age of 14) when I have had to look beyond what I held to be true in order to make sense of what was going on around me.
My beliefs are (as everybodyís are) something very personal to me. Iím really not sure what the point of an analytical debate about something so personal is because all belief systems are grounded in faith that what you are doing is right. However, Iíve decided to chuck my two penneth on the table about the Epicurus 'evil argument' above because I find it, well, with respect, a bit dumb.

Why would God want to abolish evil? Is it not the doing of evil, or transgression of a given moral code, that dictates who is Ďwrongí or who is Ďbadí within the binds of that moral code?
According Isaiah, God is the creator of evil. http://bible.cc/isaiah/45-7.htm
Does this make God wicked?
What if God decided to rid the world of all evil tomorrow? Where would He start? How does one pre-empt evil Ė by false accusation? Is that not regarded as an evil itself?

Surely the existence or non-existence of God is dependent on much more that whether or not there is evil in the world. I fail to see how Epicurusí argument, or indeed any argument that states Ďevil in the world = no god/bad godí, is a valid one because we are all capable of evil. God very kindly pointed out what He thinks is evil to Moses in the form of ten statements. It seems logical to me that God is well aware of the human capacity for evil and in these statements he is providing us with a simple moral code.
Or something like that.

General*
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Emo Squid was bold enough to comment:

Surely the existence or non-existence of God is dependent on much more that whether or not there is evil in the world.

I fail to see how Epicurusí argument, or indeed any argument that states Ďevil in the world = no god/bad godí, is a valid one because we are all capable of evil.



The problem of evil can't prove or disprove the existence of god, but it can come to some conclusions about a possible god.

A perfectly good and omnipotent god could and would fix evil. The fact that evil exists therefore implies that either there is no god, or that god is not good in the human sense.

Personally I find it slightly odd that people would consider god to be good in the way we might consider a person to be good as the bible consistently features god doing things that would seem fairly evil if people did them.

Like these:


Of course you can say either good and evil does not apply to god in which case morality is not absolute and it implies that there must be a god of god (by the principle that laws require a law giver)
    

Diziet
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Wed 19th Dec '07 10:22PM
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nice pissing contest.

edit: just so we're clear, i'm only talking about Senor Squid and Commodore General.

Emo Squid
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Diziet was bold enough to comment:
nice pissing contest.

edit: just so we're clear, i'm only talking about Senor Squid and Commodore General.



???

Diziet
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Emo Squid was bold enough to comment:


Diziet was bold enough to comment:
nice pissing contest.

edit: just so we're clear, i'm only talking about Senor Squid and Commodore General.



???



ahh, drunken posting. i think what i was trying to say was 'nice debate'.


Spanners*
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I really liked Bertrand Russel's way of putting it. He said that if there was an true 'creator of everything' god then he must also have invented the concepts of good and evil and therefore they are meaningless when applied to him. Therefore he's either not the all-powerful creator or he's not good.
    

General*
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Betrand Russell is great!
That's got my big rambly post condensed to a couple of lines.
    

Emo Squid
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I still don't get it.

Surely good and evil were created so that God can work out who gets to mack-it-up in heaven and who gets the pleasure of eternal damnation in the sulphurous pits of hell.

Dregan
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Emo Squid was bold enough to comment:
I still don't get it.



basically god has infinite get out of jail free cards

but doesn't need to use them
    

Malcolm*
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Wed 13th Feb '08 9:13AM
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I've found the answer! Belief in God Breath Spray:



(from http://www.blueq.com/shop/item/114-productId.125837321_114-catId.117440520.html )
   

Agentgonzo
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I generally stay out of religious debates deliberately because they never come to any sensible conclusion and are largely a waste of time. However, I thought I'd chip in here and now because I saw a debate (dated an avid Christian for a month) about the existence of God (it's interesting that I just paused there to wonder whether or not to capitalise the 'G'). I'd just like to point out that I'm an atheist. Actually, I'd say that I'm a devout Scientist. I don't believe in a God because there's no decent evidence that there is one (Celestial Teapot example), but I am happy to be proved wrong if at some point, some compelling evidence comes to light. Here's where I run into problems.

As a good scientist, if someone believes in something that is wrong, you need to refute all their reasons for thinking that it's true. As such, if you believe there isn't a God, then you have to refute all the arguments that religious people (religeons?) give you for the existence of a God. Moving specifically into Christianity now, if you believe that there isn't a God (different from not believing there is a God) then you need to refute all the arguments that there is, specifically in this case, the resurrection of Christ.

Now this is where I'm running into trouble. I'm no historian, so I have to rely on the credentials of other historians and their investigation into it. However, pretty much most of what I have read and heard is that the new Testament is a very reliable and accurate historical document. The resurrection of Christ has been corroborated by many sources (moving of the rock, Roman soldiers, over 500 witnesses to Christ, changes in the behaviour of the disciples etc), including those that were opposed to Christ and would not benefit from the proof of his supernaturalism (Jews and Romans I think, though can't remember the details well). As such, the views of well researched individuals that I have read on this have come to the conclusion that either the resurrection was the most perfect hoax conducted on mankind, or that Jesus's resurrection from the dead is a historical fact. No evidence has been discovered to point that it was a hoax is evident and whilst this does not necessarily follow that Christ was resurrected, it's a good argument for it.

If you then take the fact that Christ was resurrected, it does not necessarily follow that there is a God - it could be a lot of other things (aliens etc), but at this point, they all semantically become the same thing - something that is more powerful than us that we can't directly see performed resurrected Christ from the dead and these can all be lumped together under the term 'God'.

I could do with some sources that can reliably and positively refute the resurrection of Christ so that I can go back to the warm comfy confines of my atheism.
  

Malcolm*
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Interesting thoughts, Gonzo. (and I meant that genuinely, not as a veiled insult or anything...!) I can see your reasoning, certainly. A couple of things, though - I'm not sure the burden of proof ever requires that somebody prove that something doesn't exist. Isn't it more the other way round - that you have to demonstrate that something does exist before it be taken seriously?

Obviously this brings us onto your main point -



Agentgonzo was bold enough to comment:

pretty much most of what I have read and heard is that the new Testament is a very reliable and accurate historical document.




This is what grabbed my attention, as I'd always been under the opposite impression. Sadly I can't remember a single specific reference for this (so to be honest I don't expect to persuade anybody here!) but I've listened to and read many scholars who would say the exact opposite. I know Christopher Hitchens has a lot to say on that point, so I'd recommend a look at his work if you're interested.

People have looked into the so-termed "historical Jesus" many times, but interestingly they've always been fairly constrained by the social etiquette that dictates that you have to start from the assumption that Jesus did, in fact, exist. Evidence is far from convincing, and frequently manufactured (the Turin shroud etc). If you take this assumption as your starting point, obviously there's only a limited range of possible answers you might find. However, there's an international project underway that is doing away with that and starting from the beginning - have a look at www.jesus-project.com . (Kelly and I saw the director of this project talk at a conference a few months ago.)

From the website of the organisation that's running the project:
Our ambitious aim is to submit to scrutiny every scrap of evidence bearing on the question of the historical Jesus-we regard the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth existed as testable, and The Jesus Project is determined to test it to the full extent possible.

NB I'm well aware that I've made my feelings on religion and other supernaturalism quite clear on these pages before now - but I think the Jesus case is quite an interesting one because, whatever your religion or lack thereof, it's perfectly plausible that the notion of Jesus is based on a person who did exist at some point. It's also plausible that it's not. Either way, it is in principle testable, as stated above -and it's going to be interesting to see what happens.
   

Agentgonzo
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This is what grabbed my attention, as I'd always been under the opposite impression.


The problem with this topic is that so much of the information is from a prejudiced background (either trying to prove or disprove it) and does not state the prejudice (or hides it), thus making it unreliable. The thing that I noticed was that in the debate that I watched, the believer stated that it is taken to have almost certainly be fact (which took me by surprise - I believe that Jesus was a man who lived a long time ago, but do not believe that he was the son of God or had any supernatural powers) and the unbeliever did not refute this. This got me to reading a few things about it. Among some of the things that I read was this article which made for a good read. Then again, I may have just read all the pro-God articles about it. Looking up the term Historical Jesus and following some leads from that now, I have found a lot that refute it. The wikipedia article on Historical Jesus is quite a good summation.

Edit: This is quite a good rebuttal.
  

General*
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I think The God Delusion and Derin Browns Tricks of the Mind both have sections on how the bible isn't history.
As far as I remember the new testament wasn't written until quite some time after his death and also at various points had big sections added and removed.
    

Spanners*
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The resurrection of Christ has been corroborated by many sources (moving of the rock, Roman soldiers, over 500 witnesses to Christ, changes in the behaviour of the disciples etc), including those that were opposed to Christ and would not benefit from the proof of his supernaturalism (Jews and Romans I think, though can't remember the details well). As such, the views of well researched individuals that I have read on this have come to the conclusion that either the resurrection was the most perfect hoax conducted on mankind, or that Jesus's resurrection from the dead is a historical fact. No evidence has been discovered to point that it was a hoax is evident and whilst this does not necessarily follow that Christ was resurrected, it's a good argument for it.



I think it's fair to say that there was a guy called Jesus back in the day that did some preaching - everything else aside he's mentioned so often in so many places that historically it's doubtful that he's entirely ficticious. But as for this (really not meaning to sound flippant) maybe he was just ill. What I mean to say is that stories get incredibly twisted over the years, particularly when there was no decent written record for a good few hundred years after he lived and also when those telling the stories want to believe the guy had supernatural powers. It seems very likely to me that the resurrection is just a corrupted tale of him getting very ill or badly wounded by the Romans and then recovering against the odds. Likewise the loaves and fishes thing could well be that he just saved up some cash and treated his followers to a buffet.
    

Malcolm*
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The thing is, though, all these "different sources" mostly just use each other as evidence. There's a fair bit of evidence, for example, that many of the gospels were written just using each other as sources. It's like the old philosophical saying that if you print 10,000 copies of a newspaper, it doesn't make something printed in there 10,000 times as reliable.

The illness idea is intriguing though! It reminds me of some research I was reading recently about a particular kind of epilepsy that stimulates the brain in such a way as to cause us to be convinced that there's another person in the room with us - a "sensed presence". The effect can be (and has been) replicated by generating a certain frequency of sound waves. It was postulated - in some cases very convincingly - as an explanation for why some people are convinced that there are ghosts in the room with them and so on, and also why saints of centuries ago were convinced that they suddenly felt the presence of a god. One of those scenarios whereby the interpretation we place upon it is dependent on the cultural context in which we live.
edit: found quite a good article on this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2003/godonbrain.shtml . (Don't be put off by the picture of Richard Dawkins at the top - it's not his research (or his article); he was just one of the people who was examined in the programme.)

Anyway, that's rather a random tangent from the discussion - just thought it was interesting!
   

Xander
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This was a great thread you had going here thought Iíd add my ten pence worth and see if I could reignite the thread. To get back to what General originally aimed the thread at Iím going to write about the problem of evil.

I hate to go all Deep Thought on everyone but I felt no one had really looked at the question. What is exactly is evil?

The definition I offer is that evil has to have a conscious decision behind it. So in that definition only humans are capable of evil. We perpetrate evil acts upon each other so for example: murder, torture, theft, the holocaust and so on. There are of course subtler acts of evil such as complete apathy or complacency to others suffering. I state these just as example I donít want to get too bogged down in an examination of the nature of human evil.

This means that things someone may tag as evil are not for example being struck by lightning. Sure it is a real pisser but not evil just a bi-product of how our world works. So neither clouds rubbing together and generating static electricity are evil. Falling off a cliff is not evil no element in it is evil such as gravity, the ground etc. However, someone pushing someone off a cliff is evil.

So what does this have to do with God and why are we still capable of it? I think itís down to free will. We are capable of good and evil because that is the choice God is capable off and we are unique amongst his creation for sharing that attribute (find me an evil Iguana). Iím sure we can appreciate that evil is the opposite of good and we can chose either. So itís the conscious act we can take a stick and use it as a plough to grow food and likewise we can use it as a weapon to harm or kill so conscious decision. What I am proposing here then is what God requires from his creation is right action. Not sure Iíve made myself clear but I hope everyone gets the idea Iím aiming at.

I know this doesnít really tackle the question of evil if you tag in the problem of suffering. Just to restate what I said above I propose that when suffering is not inflicted by a conscious act its part of how our world works. So an earthquake is plate tectonics even though it causes suffering. We can of course avoid some of these: donít live on a fault line or donít suffer from sunburn by covering up. But again suffering is a bi-product of how the world works.

But why still allow suffering if there is a God? I think it has a lot to do with the point of life, we are a conscious problem solving entity and need struggle to progress. To some extent suffering and pain help define who we are. I canít remember who said it (Mill , Bentham, Shropenhider??) but the saying ďlife without pain has no meaningĒ is useful here for arguing my point. Think my position here is a bit like that proposed by John Paul II how we meet suffering is part of what makes us fully human.

For that matter can we imagine a world without suffering or pain? At the risk of now going a bit Agent Smith I donít think we could have such a world, the program would crash. Falling off a cliff in this perfect world would have no consequence we would just bounce off. We could never suffer from hunger or as self preservation is a basic human need we would never die. In this world would we ever develop any sort of higher consciousness? I highly doubt it.
 

Demian*
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Xander was bold enough to comment:

However, someone pushing someone off a cliff is evil.



I think we're back to the whole 'deontism vs absolutism' debate here - a moral absolutist would agree that it's 'evil' to push someone off a cliff, but others might argue that if you had to push someone off a cliff in order to get past him quick enough to save a busload of people teetering on the same cliff edge a few feet further on, then it could be considered the right thing to do. Or, if the person in question was about to make a phone call which would cause several innocent people to die, then killing him would prevent innocent deaths, and again it becomes hard to call the act inherently 'Evil'.

I'm not sure how many people fall into either category, and it becomes difficult to measure except in the vaguest terms, i.e. can, as Mr. Spock put it - 'The good of the many outweigh the good of the few'? Those who believe it can are deontists, the others absolutists.

My own personal belief is that there is no act which can be considered inherently evil. Even the seemingly most clear-cut cases of one person doing wrong by another almost always has complicating factors - it must do, or the event wouldn't have occured in the first place! In other words, since most human beings lead fairly normal and predictable lives, we generally don't feel the need to kill others. When someone is murdered, the murderer has obviously had a breakdown in the normal course of events which has caused them to see committing that murder as the 'right' or necessary thing to do - be it provocation, mental illness, the fact they're a soldier, or any number of other reasons. Of course, those of us who have not experienced the trigger percieves the murder as 'wrong', but this was obviously not the case when it happened (unless of course we're talking about cartoon evil geniuses who deliberately set out to do evil - and I'm not sure any of these have ever actually existed).

In other words I think that whatever actions people carry out seem like the appropriate to them at the time, otherwise they wouldn't carry them out! And to attempt to pigeonhole each of these into an arbitrary 'right' or 'wrong' distinction seems counterproductive, and doomed to failure.
  

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