Lessons from the 28th Silver Bullet

So, after talking about his 28th Silver Bullet (that I covered last week), Bob Seidensticker decided to put up some philosophical lessons that followed from it.  So let me look at them here.

The first is that a God that would do this or set this situation up clashes with our ideas of a perfectly moral or loving God (Seidensticker insists on saying that God is immoral and God doesn’t exist and there’s a contradiction in the Bible, which can’t all be meaningfully true).

Let’s start by agreeing that morality is a good thing. (It may seem odd that we must back up this far, but you’ll soon see that we must in this “up is down and eternal torment is good” environment.) Our best examples within society of honesty, compassion, selflessness, or any other moral trait are examples that are often highlighted for us to emulate. It’s not that we don’t know what is morally good. We do know; our problem is our inability to consistently strive for moral goodness.

Remember, Seidensticker is a moral relativist, so it seems odd for him to argue that we can know what is morally good when that would imply knowing that objectively, which we deny that we can know.  This is also problematic because it would suggest that the moral crimes of the past — slavery being the big one — are things that we do indeed just knew was morally wrong and we failed to strive for moral goodness, despite all the arguments made at the time that it was indeed really at least not morally wrong and even that it was morally obligated.  That’s a pretty brave statement to make and runs right into the same issues as “Atheists really know that God exists and are just rejecting it!”.  It’s never a good move to declare for no reason that you know people’s internal mental states better than they do, and especially bad to do so just to score an argumentative point against them.  His claim here is unevidenced and a pretty bad one given his own moral positions.  That shouldn’t engender confidence in his moral analysis.

Take a step back to the foundational idea of Christian salvation. Count the ways it offends our moral instincts.

  1. It’s a human sacrifice
  2. needed to satisfy God’s justifiable rage
  3. at humans being imperfectly moral despite the fact that he made them that way
  4. when he could just forgive any sin, like we do (and like he has done himself).

Now add:

  1. hell as eternal torment for our finite crimes.

For 1), it’s Jesus willingly sacrificing Himself for us, which is something that we tend to consider morally admirable.  For 2), it’s actually to pay off our sins from the claimed just consequences God has given us.  For 3), that we are morally imperfect doesn’t mean that we have to act immorally.  For 4), Seidensticker and many atheists constantly insist that God couldn’t simply forgive some people their sins — like Hitler — without there being some penance, so on the one hand they criticize God simply forgiving sins while here the argument is that He just should do so.  And 5) is the argument from last time:  the claim that no one deserves to go to Hell, which Seidensticker and others had considered long before this specific argument, so we aren’t really learning anything new here, are we?

Now, for most of this I don’t hold to the standard view that my previous paragraph uses as a defense.  I see Jesus as moral exemplar, making the ultimate sacrifice simply because it is right tying into our moral evolution from people who blindly follow moral laws to avoid punishment into people who do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do regardless of the consequences.  I also do lean more towards Hell as containing people for eternity because those who end up there will never repent no matter what, not as a sentence even for those who would or do repent.  So there are other ways to get around Seidensticker’s big issue here that don’t work out the way Seidensticker insists it would have to.  For a lesson from a Silver Bullet, things still seem remarkably open.

This justification for hell doesn’t just seem crazy, it is crazy. A savage because-I-said-so god might have worked for an Iron Age tribe, but today the flaws are too glaring. When Christians also insist that their brutal god is love, the delusion breaks. God can’t be both loving and the author of hell; therefore, he doesn’t exist.

(The Christian response will be, “But you haven’t proven that these are incompatible.” That’s true, but the burden of proof is not mine. An open-minded person, like I try to be, can evaluate Christianity’s claims, but when they don’t satisfy the burden of proof, we’re obliged to reject them.)

If you’re going to claim that there is a contradiction and that because of that contradiction you can say that God doesn’t exist, then the burden of proof is indeed yours.  You really do need to be able to demonstrate that incompatibility.  Especially if you want to insist that these are Silver Bullet arguments that everyone should accept proves God doesn’t exist on the pain of a charge of irrationality.  Seidensticker is making a common atheist “weasel” move of insisting that God doesn’t exist but when challenged on that claim retreating to “I don’t have to prove that!” and then immediately returning to insisting that they know that God doesn’t exist because of their great and wonderful arguments that, nevertheless, don’t actually meet the burden of proof to show that God doesn’t exist.

When I say that human morality is the standard, that’s simply because “moral” and “immoral” are words with definitions. If God’s actions match up with what passes for human morality, then he’s moral. If instead God’s actions would be called immoral if a human did them, then God is immoral.

Well, first, what human morality?  Seidensticker is a relativist, and even taking God out of the picture it is clear that Seidensticker and myself would have radically different secular moralities.  How can he use a relativistic morality to insist that God is immoral?  Especially since some theists would insist that what God does is moral just because it’s what God says is moral.  But if we accept that we humans are bound by some kind of human morality, why would God, not being human, be bound by that morality?  So Seidensticker either needs to talk about an objective morality or say that with Christianity our human morality is the same morality as God uses by definition (again accepting that there is only one morality).  But then it is clear that if God exists He knows what that morality is better than we do, and so using our intuitions to judge His actions seems a bit presumptuous.  So if God as we conceive Him exists, then this is morally right and we are just wrong about that, and if He doesn’t exist as we conceive Him then this is the least of the problems Christians would face.

So many of Seidensticker’s Silver Bullets hit this problem.  A Silver Bullet should be an argument that makes us give up looking for God at all and attempting to prove that He exists, because the argument so strongly establishes that God doesn’t exist.  But like this one, many of them would fall apart if someone could prove that God exists.  So all they should do is encourage people to prove that God exists, as that’s a way to kill the argument completely.  Seidensticker might say he welcomes such attempts, but there is no mistaking the fact that someone doing so would overturn a lot of Seidensticker’s notions and kill almost all of his arguments.  If I can still prove that God exists notwithstanding his Silver Bullets, the Silver Bullets aren’t as Silver Bullety as he thinks.

The second is about us having to not feel compassion for those in Hell while in Heaven, but of course my response showed that all you have to do is understand what is actually deserved and tailor your emotions to that.  If your emotions get in the way of that understanding, then as a Stoic I’m not all that concerned about losing them.

The third is that God suppresses free will:

God is hidden, which is odd because we’re told that he longs for a deep relationship with each of us. Christians rationalize this by saying that God making his existence plain would step on our free will. (No one else’s existence seems to offend our free will, but let’s ignore that.) We must freely give our love to God. But what kind of champion of free will is God if he must override your honest response to hell?

The answer is, of course, in line with my own response that He just needs to perfect you as a moral person, like He is, so you can understand morality properly.  So that’s not overriding a reasonable response to Hell at all.

And the last is a comment that Christians need to reconsider Christianity in light of arguments like his.  However, most of those arguments aren’t that strong and a lot of Christians have and come up with responses to them.  Seidensticker only rejects the idea that Christians already do that because he thinks that the only rational answer is to reject Christianity, but as someone who rejects having to prove his claims he really can’t insist on that.  I am only compelled to come to the same conclusion as he does if his arguments are indeed compelling, meaning that they demonstrate that God doesn’t exist.  That he refuses to accept that burden speaks volumes about his arguments and whether we really need to reconsider our position and align it with his.


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