Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hell and Justice, Redux

I have time for just a few brief comments tonight. First, as our family is traveling for the next week, I may not have opportunities to post much here. Second, I wanted to answer, briefly, Ernie's questions from his most recent post.

Ernie asks:

I have one (hopefully) simple question for Alan. Do you believe:

a. the natural world is similarly unfair, in that it also impose irreversible consequences on people despite imperfect information; or

b. the natural world is fair, because the relevant information is in fact discoverable

In other words, is this primarily:

a. an ethical argument about the absence of justice; or

b. an epistemological argument about the absence of information?

I would agree that there are irreversible natural consequences for our actions. We certainly have imperfect information, and sometimes we must make decisions based on that information, and those decisions have (sometimes irreversible) consequences. But to say that nature imposes consequences is a bit too anthropomorphic for me. Consequences happen, but they are not imposed. I do not ascribe a personality or will to nature, and neither are natural consequences eternal in character, so to call the natural world "similarly unfair" to a god that imposes eternal punishment is not quite right.

Regarding answer (b) to the first question, I guess I would say that the natural world is not fair, and that not all information is discoverable, but there is not necessarily a logical or causal connection between those two. That is, the source of natural unfairness is not primarily in lack of information.

With regard to the second formulation of the question, I am not entirely sure how to categorize this argument. It is an ethical argument about the absence of justice that rests on an epistemological argument about absence of information. And it is not that I demand that "reality" must be just; in fact, I think it is often unjust. Rather, I think injustice is incompatible with the supposed character of God. I suppose another approximation of the argument would be:

a. God is unjust if he imposes eternal punishment for the actions/beliefs of limited people operating on limited information in limited time. God is also unjust if he imposes punishment for someone's innate nature.

b. People are limited, and have limited information and limited time

c. God is just.

d. God imposes eternal punishment on people for their innate (sinful) nature and/or their actions/beliefs.

These four statements are together contradictory. I think (b) is obviously true. For me, (a) follows almost directly from how I define the word "just". That leaves either (c) or (d) to be false, so either way, Christianity is wrong about something. If (c) is false, we may very well be in trouble. Maybe God is evil and he tortures people for fun. If so, I have no intention of worshipping or following such a god. The final alternative is that (d) is false. This relates directly to some of the questions for which I am awaiting answers.

I do not know if you would consider that an ethical argument or an epistemological one, or something else. Does my elaboration help clarify my approach?

Beyond this argument, I have other reasons for distrusting the Bible and much of what orthodox Christianity holds to be true. But this argument, in the context of a number of other things going on at the time, was an important factor in my decision to abandon Christianity, and I have not yet found a satisfactory resolution offered for this problem. (I have found a number of unsatisfactory ones. We may get to those sometime.) So I am curious about how Ernie will answer.


Dad of Many said...

Bucky, been reading and realizing that my take on the whole discussion is layers lighter and less deep than where you guys have taken it. There are terms being thrown back and forth that are beyond me and that is okay with me. Never was the brightest bulb in the pack.. But, I wonder, after reading one of my favored writers on one of my favored sites, I wonder if you would pose your question to him.

I assume/hope he might have worked through some of these very issues and might enjoy the dialog with you.

Enjoy your vacation!

Alan Lund said...

I read the article you referenced, as well as skimming over his blog. I am not impressed. I'll stick with Ernie for awhile.

In fact, before I was sidetracked into this long (and good) discussion with Ernie, I was about to address something that Vox Day mentions: "soon those who doubt the historical existence of a rich and powerful Davidic kingdom of Israel will be embarrassed as well." This is an interesting assertion. I wonder why he feels he can make a claim like that?