Questions for Christians and other theists, part 6: Hell

A question for those of you who believe in an omnibenevolent God but also in hell: How do you reconcile the two?

Some believers invoke the “free will defense”, but this makes no sense to me. It seems that God could easily save everyone, sending no one to hell, without violating anyone’s free will. Here’s how I described it recently:

It’s similar to a technique I’ve described in the past whereby God could have created a perfect world sans evil without violating anyone’s free will.

Here’s how it works:

1. Before creating each soul, God employs his omniscience to look forward in time and see whether that soul, if created, would freely accept him and go to heaven or freely reject him and go to hell.

2. If the former, God goes ahead and creates that soul. If the latter, then he doesn’t, choosing instead to create a different soul that will freely accept him and go to heaven.

Simple, isn’t it? Any omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God could easily come up with something like this or better, rather than sending billions of souls to hell with no chance of a reprieve.

Theists, how do you respond?

Ashley Madison hack

Our default position towards infidelity is that it is Wrong. I’m not here to argue otherwise, but the moral dilemma thrown up by this case is that someone has made it their business to interfere in the lives of strangers in order to promote their own moral stance. This has led to two (unconfirmed) reports of suicide, and the potential damage caused by a discovered affair is enormous. Of course, one can say the cheats should have thought of that in the first place, but we are calculating creatures, and the genuine, if naive, belief is that if the other party does not find out, no harm is caused. If you choose to expose a cheat, you are directly crystallising the potential harm, with no knowledge of individual circumstances.

Real people have real circumstances, and real desires, wants and needs. It is not always a simple black-and-white matter of ‘leave first’. While I don’t condone the actions of marital cheats, I find myself more incensed by the interfering, scattergun actions of these busybodies.

Biblical Problems*: Jesus’ Birth

*Title changed to appease Mung 😉

I’ve not had any refutation / substantive critique from Christians and Sophisticated Theists(c) so I’ll put this here. Are they using ancient words wrong? Is the birth of Jesus story figurative? Does it matter to Christianity if it is not actually true? (I suspect its nearly as important as the resurrection)

Random Genetic Drift: a controversy?

Over my time as a dilettante observer of the science blogging community, I have noticed a certain frisson of controversy over the idea of random genetic drift. Sewall Wright, who with Ronald Fisher and J. B. S. Haldane (Bill Bryson’s observations on Haldane’s research into diving and decompression are entertaining) established the science of population genetics, is credited with coining the phrase in 1929. Thanks to Professor Joe Felsenstein for pointing out his seminal paper. Continue reading

McKinnon’s Paper on Miracles

In the Alastair McKinnon paper (“Miracle” and “Paradox”) I cited in a recent comment, it is argued that miracles of a certain kind are impossible.  The impossible ones are the ones that would provide any evidence of supernatural objects or occurrences.

We can call any of those most wondrous miracles a “miracle1.”  Any other miracle, which would be more in the nature of an amazing coincidence, we can designate as a “miracle2.”  Note that there’s nothing about a coincidence that provides evidence of the supernatural (something beyond nature).  And what does it mean to be “supernatural”?  It means to violate a natural or physical law. Continue reading

Reliance on Testimony to Miracles

  • Humans acquire a vast amount of factual information through testimony, arguably more than they learn through experience.
  • The extensive reliance on testimony is remarkable given that one often cannot verify testimonial information.
  • What makes testimony distinct from storytelling is that it has an implicit or explicit assertion that the telling is true. The literary format and style of the Gospels is that of the ancient biography, a historiographic genre that was widely practiced in the ancient word. Thus, one can regard these accounts as a form of testimony.

A Natural History of Natural Philosophy (pp. 165-172)

Continue reading