Is the idea of God incoherent?

M C Escher's Relativity

In philosophy, an idea is incoherent if it is self contradictory, and cannot even be properly defined.

There are many things about the idea of God that some atheists think are incoherent. Here is a brief summary and comment on seven arguments, all of which I have seen presented, sometimes by philosophers, as serious and telling objections to the idea and existence of God.

Incoherent?

It is impossible for God to be all-knowing (including knowing the future) and all-powerful. Either he knows the future, in which case he cannot change it, or he can change the future, in which case he cannot know it.
Christians believe God is outside time, so there is no such thing as foreknowledge with him. His knowledge of all things accompanies his actions, and neither prevents the other.

It is impossible for God to be perfect and yet know everything. If he is perfect then he cannot know what it is like to sin, but then he doesn’t know everything.
Just because God doesn’t experience sin doesn’t mean he doesn’t know about it – he observes it all the time and understands it better than we do.

Can God make a rock so heavy he cannot lift it? Whether the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, he mustn’t be all-powerful.
Philosophers generally define God’s omnipotence in terms of his being able to do anything that is logically sensible. I doubt many believers would be worried that God couldn’t make a rock so big he couldn’t lift it!

It is impossible for God to be perfect and to have created the universe. If God is perfect he has no needs, so didn’t need to create, and a perfect God wouldn’t have created such an imperfect universe.
Christians believe that God didn’t create the universe out of need, but out of love, which is giving rather than needing. The problem of God creating a universe that is so imperfect is another form of the argument from evil and suffering, discussed here, and this is an admittedly strong argument.

It is impossible for God to live ‘outside’ time and to have created the universe. To create, God must exist before the universe, but there is no time for him to exist in. Without time, nothing can happen.
We can have no idea how timelessness (eternity) works. Scientists and mathematicians can analyse the possiblity of backwards time, which seems nonsensical, so there is no reason to suppose we can rule out timelessness.

It is impossible for God to be both non-physical and personal. The idea of a bodiless person is inconsistent.
How do we know the idea of a bodiless person is inconsistent? We may not be able to imagine or understand it, but that doesn’t make it inconsistent.

It is impossible for God to be both just and merciful. Justice requires that every person be treated exactly as they deserve, whereas mercy requires that people be treated more favourably than they deserve. The two are incompatible.
A person can have two characteristics that can sometimes conflict, and they have to balance the two. God could balance justice and mercy perfectly.

Assessment

I find it hard to take these objections seriously. It seems to me that they can all be answered fairly simply and very few of them challenge the idea of God that most christians believe in.

Besides, the aspects of God used in the arguments are only human descriptors of a reality that is far beyond our thinking. Define them slightly differently and the problems can disappear. At most, these arguments don’t disprove God, merely show that we cannot fully express God’s character in human definitions – something few christians would disagree with.

Read the whole series

This post is part of a series on Training disciples to stand. Check out all the topics here.

Picture of M C Escher’s Relativity from Wikipedia.

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37 thoughts on “Is the idea of God incoherent?

  1. It’s a nice run down of some of the objections, but your answer is a case-study in equivocation. The prospect of redefining the terms puts us all back at square one, not merely the atheists who raise these objections. It’s an interesting hedge to say that God’s character cannot be fully expressed in human definitions, but those are the definitions Theists use themselves. And if those definitions are faulty, then the fault certainly counts against the claims of Theists using them.

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  2. Daniel,

    My comment on definitions came after my brief discussion so I don’t think they invalidate the brief “answers” I gave. Even without that comment, I think the directions summarised in my responses adequately answer the original arguments.

    Theists may use definitions, but few would claim or pretend that we can really define God accurately and exhaustively.If the atheist arguments depend on precise definitions, then no-one who takes a transcendent God seriously is going to be bothered by them.

    But thanks for your comment, I will consider amending the post to make it more complete.

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  3. G’day Larry

    Thanks for visiting and taking the trouble to comment. I appreciate all comments, even if negative.

    But do you not find any worth in any of the answers? For example, do you have any reasons that show that a bodiless person is an incoherent idea?

    Best wishes.

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  4. Some of these objections are just silly to be honest and not even worth your time. But I do wonder how you can claim to know so much (wrote the bible, made the universe, is all loving, omnipotent,…) about god and yet play the human ignorance card. Surely not knowing implies you do not give an answer ?

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  5. Ian, we are discussing whether the idea of the christian God is incoherent, and those things are part of that idea. If God is indeed an incoherent idea we don’t need to go any further, but if that case cannot be proved (as I suggest it cannot), then we get onto whether the God of that idea actually exists.

    As for human knowledge and ignorance, it is obvious that we have both about all manner of subjects, including science and history. So even more will our knowledge of God be incomplete. So I go with what I think can be known and remain uncertain about the things that cannot. Surely that is reasonable?

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  6. Hello unklee. I found you via imbrocata.

    You said:

    “For example, do you have any reasons that show that a bodiless person is an incoherent idea?”

    For me, it is not that I find the idea incoherent – I don’t know what “bodiless person” means. I do find the idea of a God who is infinite, yet personal, to be inconsistent though.

    The same thing can be said of “It is impossible for God to be perfect and yet…” It is not that I find the ideas inconsistent, rather, I don’t even know what “Perfect” means in this context. I think the idea of a perfect being is by itself internally inconsistent.

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  7. G’day HeIsSailing

    I’m glad you found your way here.

    A bodiless person is a disembodied mind and I think that is quite understandable (the words are meaningful), even if we don’t necessarily know of any. It isn’t very different from saying the universe is infinite – we know what the word means so we understand the concept, even if we can’t fully get our minds around it, or may not even believe it.

    I’m not sure who says God is infinite, nor what they mean by this, but it can’t be physically infinite because God is not physical.

    Perfect means without fault. We can understand what a perfect day is (one in which everything goes right) or a perfect exam paper is (one in which there are no mistakes), so I don’t see what the difficulty is in saying God is perfect (he does everything right). Can you explain your difficulty a little more? Why should it be inconsistent to say God is a perfect being?

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  8. Unklee, I cannot write much since I have to get ready for work.

    Many Christians I know say that God is infinite. He is infinitely wise, infinitely good, and infinitely benevolent. He has infinite power, infinite knowledge, and infinite presence. He is unlimited. Yes, I think this is internally incoherent.

    A disembodied mind makes no sense to me. I do not understand how thoughts arise without a mechanism through which those thoughts are produced. Do emotions, which are the product of a living being, exist when there is nothing there to produce them? Does something like Love exist on a lifeless world like Mars? I don’t see how. A disembodied mind makes as much sense to me as music without musical instruments. I don’t understand how one can exist without the other. So Unklee, no, I do not understand the concept. I understand the words you are using, but they don’t make much sense to me in the way you are using them.

    I would type more.. but duty calls…

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  9. HeIsSailing,

    I think there is some confusion here. I didn’t use the word ‘infinite’ in my post, and I already said I wasn’t sure about the use of this term. The usual thing is to say God is all-knowing (omniscient), all powerful (omnipotent), etc, not ‘infinite’.

    If people use this term, I think they mean the same as the above – infinite knowledge really means ‘knowing everything there is to know’ (which makes sense), not knowing an infinite number of facts (which may not). So I think your problem here is that you (and anyone else who uses the term) are not using the standard term.

    When you say “Do emotions, which are the product of a living being, exist when there is nothing there to produce them? Does something like Love exist on a lifeless world like Mars? I don’t see how.”, I think you are confusing ‘without a body’ with ‘nothing’. A quantum field may have no matter, but it is certainly not ‘nothing’.

    So God exists, he isn’t nothing, he is just not material. We struggle to understand that because we haven’t experienced life without a material body, but there is nothing intrinsically impossible about the idea. But scientists can mathematically consider the idea of time going in reverse, of the universe being composed of 12 spatial dimensions instead of 3, of quantum action at a distance, etc, even though we cannot visualise these things. So I think you are confusing your inability to visualise something with it being incoherent.

    Incoherent is a defined philosophical concept. If someone says the idea of God is incoherent, it is up to them to demonstrate it. I don’t think any of them have demonstrated it, only pointed out a few things they cannot understand, which is not at all the same. Neither is your or my inability to visualise a demonstration of incoherence.

    I hope that helps. Thanks for your comments.

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  10. I agree with UnkleE on the above except on the meaning of “infinite” which, as far as I know, generally means “not finite” or “not ending”. Whether actual infinites exist is of course a very different matter, on which religious people can sensibly differ as it is not a dogmatic issue; Cantor thought God was the Actual Infinite.

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  11. unklee:
    I think there is some confusion here. I didn’t use the word ‘infinite’ in my post, and I already said I wasn’t sure about the use of this term. The usual thing is to say God is all-knowing (omniscient), all powerful (omnipotent), etc, not ‘infinite’.

    You are correct. You did not use the work ‘infinite’, I did. I have heard “omni-whathaveyou” to describe your deity, but I have also heard him described as “infinitely powerful”, “infinitely beneficent”, etc. I did not mean to put words into your mouth.

    unklee:
    So I think your problem here is that you (and anyone else who uses the term) are not using the standard term.

    Is this terminology standardized?

    unklee:
    I think you are confusing ‘without a body’ with ‘nothing’. A quantum field may have no matter, but it is certainly not ‘nothing’.
    So God exists, he isn’t nothing, he is just not material. We struggle to understand that because we haven’t experienced life without a material body, but there is nothing intrinsically impossible about the idea. But scientists can mathematically consider the idea of time going in reverse, of the universe being composed of 12 spatial dimensions instead of 3, of quantum action at a distance, etc, even though we cannot visualise these things.

    I beg to differ. I do not think I am confusing ‘without a body’ as ‘nothing’. Technically, field is defined in physics as containing matter. For instance, an electromagnetic field is composed of charge carriers, ie electrons. As for the other things you mention that scientists can consider, none of them are actually proven to be reality. Spatial dimensions that are curled upon each other at the quantum level, tachyons, time reversal, etc, have never, to my knowledge, been demonstrated to exist. So you are drawing an analogy of a mind without matter to things that have not been demonstrated to exist.

    And to a certain extent, that is kind of my point. True, nobody has “experienced life without a material body”, but I think that just contemplating non-material life requires us to redefine what ‘life’ means. You are asking me to consider life that is non-organic, does not reproduce, does not adapt to its surroundings, … After you remove all that stuff, what do you have left that you can call ‘alive’ with any meaning?

    I think what this boils down to is defining your terms. A mind cannot exist without a thinking brain. A mind without that brain makes no sense. It makes as much sense as claiming the color RED exists without electromagnetic energy, that acoustic sound exists in a vacuum, or as I stated earlier, that emotions like love, laughter and joy exist on the surface of Mars. If you tell me that they do you have to redefine color, sound and emotion. Similarly, if you are claiming that mind can exist immaterially, without a brain to produce it, you have to redefine what ‘mind’ means.

    So choose your term – incoherent, inconsistent, or whatever. My point is that these concepts like ‘mind’ don’t have any meaning because you are removing the very thing about them that gives them meaning. I am afraid I do not know what ‘disembodied thought’ means without redefining terms, or a mechanism by which thought can operate independent of a brain that generates it.

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  12. Hello again HeIsSailing,

    “Is this terminology standardized?”
    I tried to speak briefly. I don’t think “standardised” is probably the correct word. But I do think that most definitions say that God is omni-xxxxxx rather than infinitely xxxxx, and I think there is good reason for it. if nothing else, it removes some of the problems you originally raised. So I feel justified in not accepting the “infinite” definition.

    “A mind cannot exist without a thinking brain.”
    I think this is where we disagree, if by ‘brain’ you mean a physical brain. The fact is that we don’t know that, we just don’t have scientific evidence of minds without brains.

    Can we approach it this way. Whoever makes the statement, or makes the argument, has to justify their conclusion. When I say I believe God exists, I am willing to provide the argument and evidence that support that conclusion. But in this case we are looking at arguments against the idea of God, that the idea is incoherent, and so it is the sceptics who need to justify their conclusion. And on the matter (pun!?) of non-material minds, they cannot do so – they can only say that they don’t know of any examples. So they may be justified in thinking it is unlikely, but that is a long way short of showing that the idea is incoherent.

    The key here is that there are statements of belief, statements of disbelief, and a lot of grey area in between. I suggest this question lies in the grey area, and so the incoherence argument fails.

    “if you are claiming that mind can exist immaterially, without a brain to produce it, you have to redefine what ‘mind’ means”
    Mind = something that thinks rationally.

    “I am afraid I do not know what ‘disembodied thought’ means without redefining terms”
    But as I keep saying, not understanding something is not an argument. Who can understand quantum physics?

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  13. Unklee:
    I think this is where we disagree, if by ‘brain’ you mean a physical brain.

    Yes, this is exactly what I mean. A mind is the product of a physical brain, like that which is lodged inside your skull.

    The fact is that we don’t know that, we just don’t have scientific evidence of minds without brains.

    If we don’t have evidence of minds without brains then how can we say that, by merely positing that such things into existence, they become coherent ideas?

    You are arguing that a faith position, something for which there is no evidence, is reasonable and coherent given a certain set of premises. These premises are often claimed to be reasonable. But often the premises themselves require a Faith position. Take your earlier comments to me:

    A bodiless person is a disembodied mind and I think that is quite understandable (the words are meaningful), even if we don’t necessarily know of any.

    and

    For example, do you have any reasons that show that a bodiless person is an incoherent idea? .

    You believe that a person who has no physical body is a coherent idea, without any evidence that such a person has ever existed. Your only justification is that this is true is that the words are meaningful. A bodiless person, and a mind that exists independent of a brain can only be believed to exist as a matter of Faith. You are making an argument for the coherence of certain attributes of your deity, which are based exclusively on Faith, and the premises for your arguments are themselves based exclusively on Faith. Unklee, this is where I believe so much of religious apologetics goes wrong. None of this is evidence for anything. It is merely the stringing together words that by themselves have meaning, but when put together are meaningless. Again, I can claim that Joy exists on the surface of Mars. I know what the words mean. But my claim is meaningless. Just because the words make sense does not make the statement true. Emotions like Joy cannot exist on a dead planet, no matter if the words themselves make sense, and no matter how coherent I can claim it is.

    But as I keep saying, not understanding something is not an argument. Who can understand quantum physics?

    Sorry Unklee, I really have to take exception here too. In the last comment you told me that, “not understanding something is not an argument”, and to draw an analogy you compared the incomprehensibility of a bodiless mind to hypothetical, non-proven scientific hypotheses like time reversal and 12 spatial dimensions. You want us to believe something exists by drawing analogies to things that have never been demonstrated to exist. So you try again and compare understanding a disembodied mind to understanding the mysteries of quantum physics. We know quantum physics exists and who can understand that?

    I don’t know what your background is, Unklee, so I hope I am not going to sound dismissive. That is not my intent. But sorry, lots of people understand quantum physics. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time learning the math, reading the papers, and working in the lab to understand it. But it is comprehensible to those of us who have put out the effort to understand it. I work very hard to make quantum physics understandable to students and those who want to learn. My livelihood depends on understanding principles of quantum physics. Every single one of your modern electronic marvels, including the keypad you type your blog posts on, would not be possible if lots and lots of scientists, technicians and engineers did not understand or know how to exploit quantum physics.

    Unklee, concepts like quantum physics may be difficult to understand, but they are not impossible to understand. And that is the difference between quantum physics and something like a disembodied mind. A disembodied mind is impossible to understand. It is completely unknowable. Nothing can be said about it outside of philosophizing, the imagination, redefining words, and claiming private revelation. The only way one can claim to know about a disembodied mind is by relying on Faith.

    I don’t want this to drag on forever and a day – I have given my take on your article, so this will be my last comment. Take care.

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  14. Thanks for your comments. Yes, I think we have both said enough. I think the problem between us is the difference between:

    1. disbelieving something and the idea being incoherent – for example, I don’t believe there are green aliens on Mars, but the idea isn’t incoherent; and

    2. understanding something and being able to work with it (I cannot fully understand how there can be a disembodied mind, but I don’t expect to be able to understand God by definition, the idea isn’t incoherent and I can work with it).

    Finally, re quantum physics, I was thinking of Feynman’s remark that he could work with quantum physics but couldn’t really understand it. I am impressed that you teach it, but do you really understand why ‘action at a distance’ and quantum entanglement occurs, why there are 17 fundamental particles and not some other number, why all electrons have exactly the same mass, etc? This is a trivial point for our discussion, but interesting.

    Anyway, thanks for joining in. Best wishes.

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  15. I get what you’re discussing unklee. The point remains : Some of these objections aren’t worth your time. I don’t see why you would disagree with this since well you said it yourself: you find it hard to tell them seriously. I’d merely go one step further and say : well pick a decent fight. Onto the second point : you have abstracted it to the point where indeed it sounds reasonable.

    “How do we know the idea of a bodiless person is inconsistent? We may not be able to imagine or understand it, but that doesn’t make it inconsistent.”

    This is ironic. Because this is the “common sense” argument you’re using here :P Sure we have our understanding is flawed, but you can’t just say well our understanding is flawed, just because it feels inconsistent doesn’t mean it is. Well yeah, but you have to argue for it. You have to prove your common sense, your understanding is flawed in this situation. Which you haven’t done. I just feel like you’re setting the bar to low for yourself.

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  16. Ian,

    We seem to be agreed about some things. But I disagree about setting the bar too low. This is part of a series of posts on arguments used by unbelievers. This one is specifically based on the philosophical concept of incoherence, and on that, I set the bar quite high. If someone claims the concept of God is incoherent, they have to show not just that the concept is against the evidence in their view, but that it doesn’t make sense. This is a tough ask – many things may be untrue but still not incoherent. I suspect I didn’t explain clearly enough the meaning of ‘incoherent’ in philosophy (assuming I know it well enough myself!).

    Thanks for your comment.

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  17. Hmmm I think I get where you’re coming from. I’m trying to say that you have to argue something is coherent if you want to convince anybody but you’re just trying to give insight into why you don’t think it is, without really going as far as trying to convince people. Is this correct ?

    Arguing here is quite problematic because well how do we know logic is correct when you can’t test it. The only thing you have is the cognitive dissonance or the lack of it concerning some statements. But then can you trust the way your brain responds to some arguments? How do you know you aren’t experiencing massive cognitive dissonance over a statement which is true and consistent ? Or the other way around ?

    The problem is you can’t really use this argument for practical reasons in this scenario. Because if you do, you have no way of gaining knowledge. You just have to trust your brains on this one because you don’t have any other option. So my argument is; if something feels inconsistent then we must assume it is. Because even if there is uncertainty, we have no other option.

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  18. It seems best to me to assume beliefs are coherent unless they demonstrably aren’t, say innocent until “proven” guilty. It is easy for us to “feel” something is incoherent because of inculcated biases, so it doesn’t seem to be a very useful mechanism for either finding truth or avoiding error as you stated. The other option, permitting beliefs felt to be dissonant rather than excluding them, seems more likely to find truth and to avoid error. Because the number of cases in which we know combinations of beliefs are coherent are relatively low, we would otherwise be in danger of opening an enormous can of worms.

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  19. Sir Ian

    Thank you for persisting with this and trying to understand – I really appreciate your honesty and open-mindedness.

    “Hmmm I think I get where you’re coming from. I’m trying to say that you have to argue something is coherent if you want to convince anybody but you’re just trying to give insight into why you don’t think it is, without really going as far as trying to convince people. Is this correct ?”

    Yes. I am writing a series of posts on christian apologetics. In some, I present reasons why I think christianity is true, but in others I look at arguments for atheism and show (with a few exceptions) why I think they don’t stand up. This post is the latter, and I’m not trying to prove anything, just show some arguments that I think are unconvincing.

    “Arguing here is quite problematic because well how do we know logic is correct when you can’t test it. ….. How do you know you aren’t experiencing massive cognitive dissonance over a statement which is true and consistent ? “

    I think logic and mathematics are just about the only things we can be sure of, but arguments are not just about logic, but also evidence for the premises, so we can never know for sure I guess. But because in this case we are dealing with a clear concept (coherence), the onus is on the one claiming incoherence, and the default position must be (as ignorantianescia says) that a viewpoint can only be considered incoherent if we demonstrate it or it is patently obvious.

    “So my argument is; if something feels inconsistent then we must assume it is.”

    My view would be different. I would say if something feels inconsistent then we should withhold judgment, especially if we lack the understanding or knowledge to make a judgment. I think God falls into that category. I can understand why I don’t fully understand God, so not understanding him is hardly unexpected, and not a reason to disbelieve.

    Let’s take two examples. God is supposed to be ‘good’ yet a lot in the world feels ‘bad’, so there is a genuine discontinuity, that makes the argument from evil a powerful one. Likewise we know things don’t happen without a cause, which makes the Cosmological argument a powerful one. But we have no real evidence to say ‘disembodied minds can’t exist’, so that argument is not a powerful one.

    Thanks for the discussion.

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  20. Hmm Interesting reply, I must say I don’t call it the problem of evil because I don’t believe in evil. Using good and evil to me is like trying to describe the himalaya with paraboles and triangles. It just doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean we can’t condemn certain actions, it doesn’t mean suffering isn’t real. I’m only asserting that nothing is inherently evil. Or rather that we do not gain any knowledge by putting our world in a good-evil spectrum.

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  21. Well I think yours is an interesting reply. I’m not sure how you can condemn certain actions unless they are wrong. If you say they cause suffering, then I’d ask is causing suffering wrong? But perhaps that’s for another day. Best wishes.

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  22. Well yes causing suffering is wrong. Because we inherently dislike suffering. This is something common for all human beings, so provoking a situation in which suffering increases or wellbeing decreases is immoral. Now you can say well if you don’t have an objective standard then how can you force this ? Well barring some exceptions (sociopaths who don’t have a capacity for social bonding and thus feel no empathy) there is general consensus that this is what we want to do. The fact that we want to do it is enough for me. We humans don’t really disagree on whether freedom is a good thing. We disagree on how and when we’re going to apply it. Human rights are good, till you run into terrorists because are they people ?
    (This is of course not my opinion, I’m merely trying to point out the fact that we have no trouble with consensus on values, we merely lack the rationality and the tools to transform them into a unified morality.)

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  23. Ian said:

    “I’m only asserting that nothing is inherently evil.”
    “causing suffering is wrong”

    Do you define “wrong” very differently from “evil”, or are these statements inconsistent? Or have I misunderstood you?

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  24. Well yeah, you can say something is wrong in that it shouldn’t be that way. But when you use the world evil you imply malicious intent. To do evil is to deliberately increase suffering for the sake of increasing suffering. Something which I haven’t really seen that much out of comic books. 99% of conflict is caused not because of malicious intent, but because we’re irrational. Because we ,like darwin mentioned , bear within our bodily frame the indelible stamp of our lowly origin. I don’t use evil because there are so little examples where the word would be justified, I can’t even think of one. And in almost all scenarios things are to complex for the term evil to be useful. But even if you would come across an example what would you gain other than condemning it, something which you can do regardless of belief in an inherent property called Evil ? I’d rather understand than condemn to be honest, I think it will bring me much further.

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  25. I might want to add that even if I did see them as the same it might not be a problem because of context. But I think it’s better if I make a post about this on my blog because I plan to do so anyway. Is that ok with you ?

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  26. Sure, go for it!

    The question to answer is what makes something wrong? it is true that we mostly agree on what is right and wrong, but what about when a society as a whole chooses a different way – e.g. slavery in the southern states of the US, Hitler’s Germany, or religious police in Saudi Arabia. Have we got the right to say they are wrong? And if so, on what basis?

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  27. Unklee, I know you agree with me on this one. Just ask yourself : Does slavery enhance the wellbeing of conscious creatures? Does it reduce suffering ?

    I’m going to use an analogy in basic chemistry here. Sulfuric acid is acidic right ? Well yes and no. The acidic properties emerge from the interaction with other molecules. If you put it under the wrong circumstances it will not show it’s acidic behavior. You could say well it’s just resting, it’s not showing it but it’s still there. But I think it is more useful to define what circumstances, what “partners” if you will will make Sulfuric acid go all … acid. What makes it want to donate it’s protons.

    But it gets even worse, if you “judge” sulfuric acid to be an acid you miss all the dimensions. You need to see sulfuric acid as a combination of 2 H atoms, 4 O’s and 1 S. You need to acknowledge that it’s properties “emerge” from these combinations, you start to understand *why* it displays the properties it does, and why it doesn’t. Some reactions will for example not be related to it’s acidic nature but rather will result in oxidation (I hope you can follow, it’s really only important that it’s different).

    Now can you say it’s an acid ? Yes you can, most of the time it’s actually useful to say sulfuric acid is an acid. But it’s necessary to remember that you are in effect simplifying here, you are treating it as if acidity was an inherent property because it ‘s easier most of the time.

    Now why do I tell you this ? Because we humans are far more complex, we emerge from our organs which emerge from our cells which emerge from their organelles which emerge from all the chemicals that are inside (proteins for example which emerge from amino-acids which emerge from … you get the point.)
    I think you will admit that it is highly unlikely that there is a greedy part in our brain. What is more likely is that our brains show certain traits which they themselves classify (we’re pattern seeking mammals) as greedy because it’s easier.

    Similarly just because you say that Evil is just a way of classifying things doesn’t mean you can’t judge stuff. It is most important to all of us that people are happy, and no matter how hard they believe that something will make them happy if it doesn’t it just doesn’t. End of story. I don’t think you can honestly argue that hitler was on his way to increase wellbeing here. We inherently care, and just because it turns out that this has an evolutionary basis doesn’t make it any less noble.

    That would be like saying; oh, now that I know the complex processes from which this flower emerged, now that I know that the experience of beauty simply emerges from the interaction between light, the flower, my eyes and my brains. Well now that I realize that it isn’t beautiful anymore. Just because you know how it came to be doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

    When I say I don’t find anything quite as beautiful as watching reality unfold it is not some ethereal principle that doesn’t have any concrete appliances. I can see the flower and respect it’s beauty and it will be beautiful in a thousand more ways than I could ever have imagined.

    Hope this clears it up a bit, sorry if it gets cheesy.

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  28. Ian, that’s all fine, I actually agree with you that there are not ethical rules, only principles. But it isn’t really the main issue. The question is, when you decide an action is wrong (let’s leave “evil” out of it for the moment) for whatever reason, is it really wrong, or just your idea? if it is really wrong, then you have some right to apply that judgment to other people (e.g by sending them to gaol if they disobey the law), but if it is just your idea then the other person can just as validly say they think its OK.

    It is obvious there are many judgments in the latter category, but are there any in the first category? Have you ever a moral right to apply ethics to someone else?

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  29. Well similarly like the example I gave, the behavior might be ridiculously complex and thus finding the most ethical behaviour might be next to impossible but that doesn’t mean there aren’t clear answer. At the end of the day people will feel better after option A or they won’t. That’s an objective fact. You can’t say oh well my morality doesn’t care about human wellbeing because then you can’t call it morality anymore.

    The problem with the next question is actually hard to solve. Because you’re going to ask this question not when it’s obvious (slavery) but when it isn’t. While the most moral action might exist and be very real, that doesn’t mean we’ll come up with it so it all depends on the situation.

    Science won’t tell you what to do, just like it doesn’t tell you what temperature your NH3 needs to be. It’ll just say ok here’s a graph of the behavior and allow you to look for what you want to accomplish. We know what we want to accomplish : The optimum of wellbeing of conscious creatures.

    Sam harris explains it allot better then I do though, if you ever come across the moral landscape please do buy it. I got it for my Bday several years ago and it’s one of my favorite books.

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  30. Ian, I think we may have reached a dead end in our discussion. I still think you have not explained morality (what we ought to do) in any way that is not subjective. And so I still think there is a disjunct between what you say and logic. But I don’t think w eare going to get much further, do you? Thanks.

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  31. I find the answers to these philosophical conundrums totally unsatisfactory. The concept of a deity is inherently absurd and contradictory. Let us acknowledge that there is no god and live and enjoy our lives accordingly.

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  32. Hi FS, thanks for reading and commenting. But I am struggling to understand what you have written. May I ask you two questions to clarify please?

    1. If you “find the answers to these philosophical conundrums totally unsatisfactory”, how can you then say “The concept of a deity is inherently absurd and contradictory”? That sounds like a “satisfactory” (to you) conclusion to me.

    2. Would you be willing to explain why you conclude “The concept of a deity is inherently absurd and contradictory”?

    Thanks, and best wishes.

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