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"Functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years."

That's literally true if the function in question doesn't have a "t" term (or derivatives thereof) in it.

And otherwise, it's an overtly stupid perspective to take...on, anything, really.


Note: self: read rest of post before replying even when math jokes leap to mind. >.>


It seems to me that the problem with the logic, as it were, begins precisely with the assignment of personality to nature.

This makes for great myth. It creates interesting metaphor. But when we take myths and metaphor - which are intended to be instructive - and infer literal meaning from them, the instruction becomes a command devoid of reason.

To take a religious example: The Ten Commandments could be seen as instructions to ponder, warnings to consider carefully. Interpreting them as the Law of God instead of facts of life turns them into a cult of control which operates at its convenience, and at the behest of whoever happens to be in control.

If God were a personality, then it wouldn't need anyone to speak for it. Since so many are speaking for it, then it is just as evil as those who act on the speech.


I just like to add that I don't understand that with quotes like this, it's the atheists who get accused of a nihilistic world view:

functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years.


I think the argument falls apart right at the beginning with the assumptions made. With your analogy you put us on the same level as plants and weeds. Plants (Israelites) being beautiful things worthy of gods love and weeds (Canaanites) being horrible pests that need to be destroyed. In other words, in order for gods actions to be justified you have to make the Canaanites something sub-human. This is exactly what is done in most genocides. The people that commit these atrocities don't see the people they are killing as humans, they see them as pests that need to be destroyed. We are all human. In my opinion all humans have equal rights to exist. No human is better than another.
You also argue that God is not subject to the same morals as we are. Why wouldn't he be? He supposedly invented morality and thought is was a good thing. Why not practice what you preach? If he doesn't even follow his own rules, how can he expect others to? Especially a flawed race like the humans. We expect our earthly leaders to obey the laws of the country we live in. If they don't it means we live in an oppressive system. Something I think we all agree is repulsive.

Daniel Schealler


Geez Greta.

If you're going to cry havoc and unleash the dogs of reason in order to take a break yourself, then you could at the very least have left a little bit of meat on the bones for the rest of us.

All that's left is marrow.


Ah well. Beggars can't be choosers.

Woof-woof, salivate, bark, etc.

Daniel Schealler


Rather than just echo Greta's points, I'd like to investigate just one passage a little bit more deeply.

so this leads us to the morality of the action. i picture god as a gardener and this earth as a garden. all the peoples of the earth are plants in this garden. by comparison, in the gardens that we till here on earth, the gardener exercises judgement over life and death frequently. he decides which plants to prune, which weeds to pull, which bugs to attracted for pollination and which to kill as pests. the garden is just as valuable to the weed's continued existence as the flowers and the aphid is just as hungry as the bee. so why does the gardener get to decide what lives and what dies in his garden? shouldn't he preserve all life unmolested in his garden?

There is a deep problem with this metap

Sorry. My cat just took over the keyboard and I couldn't bring myself to delete her contribution.


There is a deep problem with this metaphor.

We need to find a link that joins 'human as gardener of vegetables' with 'God as gardener of humans'.

That link must take the form of a premise such that, if we were to accept it to be true, it would apply equally well to each half of the equation and justify both in the same way.

I've gone over your passage several times - and can only find one concept that fits the bill.

A) 'Higher' beings may indiscriminately kill or nurture 'lower' beings at a whim, to achieve their stated goals - dismissing whatever goals or views that the 'lower' beings may hold regarding themselves as inferior and therefore negligible.

Again - I'm trying to be fare. But A) is the only possible link I can see that can join the two concepts of 'human as gardener of plants' and 'God as gardener of humans' in a meaningful way that would support the rest of your argument - if, of course, we granted it to be true.

Which is a problem for your argument.

Because I think this implied, unstated premise is false.

I disagree with A very strongly, and Greta has asked us to be civil. So note that I'm criticizing this idea, not yourself.

I'm also going to take a deep breath and count to ten before I get to the next bit. I want to be very careful so I don't overstate this.



Statement A) is the most abjectly evil failure of moral reasoning ever imagined, and may actually have flowed directly from the pen of the devil himself.

Of course, like all good little atheist boys and girls I don't think the devil actually exists - but you get my drift.

The reason I think this is an abject failure of moral reasoning is because it is more concerned with the rights of the aggressor than it is with the rights of the victims.

Which is entirely ass-about-face. The victims' rights must be considered first.

In the case of a human gardener tending a garden of vegetables - vegetables aren't sentient beings. They don't have the capacity for suffering, love, friends, family, culture, civilization... They grow, they reproduce, they die. Sometimes we eat them - but it is of no concern to the vegetables.

We can ask "what is it like to be a bat" but we cannot ask "what is it like to be a carrot". There is nothing it is like to be a carrot.

It is for similar reason that we don't consider ourselves to have moral obligations regarding rocks.

In short - vegetables, all on their own, cannot be considered to hold any rights. What would they do with them? Exercise freedom of speech to protest the introduction of a local salad bar?

Humans, however, are not so limited.

The worth of human beings lies in all of these things and more; our capacity to suffer, to experience joy, to experience. To have friends and family and loves and lovers and culture and cuisine and literature and art and trade.

Now - that 'greater' beings than us may exist out there somewhere in the cosmos?

Well... First of all, I dispute the notion as I don't think a hierarchy can reasonably apply in this kind of situation as the assignment of value in this manner is inherently subjective.

But putting that aside, let's just grant it as true for the purpose of this argument.

Let's say that, out there in the cosmos, these 'greater' beings (aliens, Gods, technological hyper-intelligent computer-analogues, whatever) than us can be said to exist.

I propose that the only morally consistent outlook would be that, in their dealings with us, they should appropriately be held to the exact same moral standards as we are when we deal with one another.

Because our worth as human beings is not reduced just because something bigger and better than us comes along and wants to play with us like rag dolls.

The moral rights of an entity do not change just because the actor imposing upon that entity changes.

The reverse is true. The moral rights of an entity are consistent regardless of the actor. Otherwise, they're not really moral rights and it all just boils down to force majeure (thank you Mr T. H. White).

It should also be pointed out that the whole 'the greater beings have carte blanche power over lesser beings' is an idea that sits at the heart of the greatest abuses of privilege in our history - every form of racism, sexism, class-ism, all the greatest abuses of the under-privileged by the privileged, has always rested upon the notion that 'we' are greater beings than 'them', so 'we' can do to them as we please.

I don't want to go into details of the above because I'm borderline Godwinning you here, and I don't want to inadvertently play that card.

However, it's still worth noting on grounds of explaining exactly how wrong A) is.

Now - I refer to A) as an unstated premise because you didn't say it explicitly. So yes - I know you didn't say it explicitly. I am acknowledging the fact that you didn't say it explicitly. That's why I'm calling it an implied unstated premise. By the way - if any interested reader has gotten this far into my comment and has chosen to leave a reply, please include the word zebra-fish at the end of your comment to prove that you actually got here.

In fact - given that I've stated A) as baldly as I have, I have no doubt in my mind that you would disagree with it every bit as strongly as I do.

The problem is that, to my fairest and most open-minded reading, I can't make your metaphor of God-as-gardener work without the implied assumption of A).

And given that I think that A) is a wrong... No, I'll go one better.

And given that I think that A) is a false moral premise, that undoes the metaphor that acts as the foundation of your entire argument.

Which then makes your entire argument crumble right at the gates.

To sum up:

If God really did exist, and he really did act towards humans the same way that humans act towards vegetables?

That isn't a morally justified outlook for God to take towards humanity.

To the contrary. It would make God an evil entity according to any reasonable code of ethics.

And we can't be having that now, can we?


As a side issue, this is one of the things about allegedly-moderate religious/spiritual rhetoric that annoys the crap out of me. So much of it is delivered in euphemisms that don't even come close to directly saying what they mean.

But when you tease out the meaning behind the euphemism and put it in clear and precise language, the person who stated it oh-so-confidently only a moment ago recoils and calls it a straw-man.

To which I reply: Fine. State it yourself clearly and precisely in another form of your own choosing... Only to be met with another, different euphemism.

Rinse, lather, cry, weep, rage, beg, plead, walk away, repeat.


I've been very strong here, and I've put up a bit of a wall of text: Sorry if this provokes a TL;DR response.

But either way - I very much await your response. I hope to hear from you Aaron.

Any other interested reader would also be welcome to respond.

Jenny Wren

Maybe Aaron should locate his Shift key before he engages in philosophical debate. You gotta walk before you can run.

Jenny Wren

Ah, I didn't read the debate rules.


I agree with you completely, Daniel. Often times I've been engaged in conversation with people online, and when I respond with a paraphrase of what I understand them to mean, they criticize me for attacking a strawman, as opposed to what they actually "mean."

The only way Aaron's "god as gardener" analogy works, as you said, is if there is a premise that so-called higher beings can do what they like with lesser beings without a moral element entering the picture. A premise I deny vigorously.

Zebra fish.


To: zebra-fish (aka Daniel Schealler)
Well put.

It is astonishing how religionists think they are constructing solid arguments to support their acceptance of a god and its actions when they are only concocting "just so" stories that fill their own cognitive spandrels with emotionally satisfying but intellectually indefensible notions.


Zebra Fish.

Regarding the "God as Gardner" metaphor, with Daniel's help, I now see Aaron's vision of God as very similar to the vision of the "machines" in the Matrix movies. With very few exceptions, I think we'd all agree that anything harvesting humans, choosing who gets to live or die, is evil. Therefore Aaron has made an excellent case that God is evil.

But let me help you out, Aaron, and change your metaphor to one that would be more challenging for many of us. Rather than God as gardener, what about God as livestock farmer? We (as a society) regularly raise animals with brains and nervous systems, that feel pain (and probably much more) for the sole purpose of killing them and consuming their flesh. We can do this because of our superiority over them, and we feel no moral qualms about it. (OK, most of us don't. Vegetarians most certainly take issue with it, for arguably good reasons). So, you could make the argument that God is like a pig farmer, and people are like pigs. God chooses which one goes to the great slaughterhouse in the sky.

But I'm afraid I've set you up. For if pigs were capable of forming this level of thought, they would definitely regard humans as evil. And from their perspective I would agree (while munching some nice crispy bacon). So if we're evil in pig's eyes for killing them as WE choose, why isn't God evil for killing us as He chooses?


The gardener analogy is deeply flawed... and built on a false assumption.
Most religions assert that God created Man and that there is a fundamental relationship between them. What sort of relationship and what the rules are has not been established with clarity by anyone.
A gardener has not *created* the plants s/he tends: there is no creator / being relationship between a gardener and plants.
Further, plants do not possess "eternal souls" as humans are purported to do.
If we posit - as do many religions - that God is a moral being and that God therefore has some sort of moral responsibility toward his created beings, the analogy cannot hold because the gardener has no moral obligation to his non-created plants, nor does the gardener have moral purpose for the existence of the plants.


I remember being suspicious of the “mysterious ways” argument as far back as my childhood being instructed in catechism classes. Even back then when my child’s mind didn’t really comprehend the dismissive non-conclusion that it was, I still couldn’t help but notice how perfectly interchangeable “mysterious” was with “bad”. The only time the term “mysterious ways” popped up was to explain how something horrible could have happened.

Of course, I grew up and realized that saying that God has mysterious ways says nothing. It does not speak of intentions or offer anything meaningful in the way of knowledge; like a more cosmic-scale version of “because I said so”, and is just as unfulfilling and unenlightening.

Humans are very lucky in that we have reached a point of consciousness where we can parse out the beauties and joys of life because, otherwise, life on the whole is staggeringly cruel at every level. Whether it’s cancer or paper cuts, droughts or hurricanes, flesh-eating viruses or the eat-or-be-eaten way in which nature unfolds, life is harsh and destructive upon itself from the microbial level, right up to the guy that packs a rental van full of fertilizer and parks it in a building full of people and preps it for a fireworks display.

And I have people telling me that there’s a higher authority that knows better than I could of what’s right and wrong – what’s good and evil – because this authority actually created these concepts. This same authority happened to create life as we know it in all of its horrific and brutish glory by the way - but this authority isn’t evil… because He says so, and He decides what is evil and what is not.

Logical fallacies aside, this dogma insists that my limited mind couldn’t grasp the concept of a perfect system full of pain and suffering and heartache even though that’s exactly what we’ve supposedly got. My mind is filled with such imperfect notions like “the ends can’t justify the means”. It’s blasphemous for me to consider the methods employed when measuring the outcomes achieved. Even if we reached the end and decided that things ultimately worked out smashingly, we would be wrong to consider the gazillions of atrocities, both major and minor, upon which it was all built when deciding its perfection.

Is it silly of me to think that a being that is both perfect and benevolent should be able to create a system that is perfect and benevolent? After all, I suppose it’s possible as long as that same being also decides what “perfect” and “benevolent” mean.


So this person's argument is that god uses evolution manually as a tool to make the human species better? That's just plain damned weird. Especially given that the ones killed are often beautiful flowers and the weeds never go away.....



Phwoo, man. That was some crazy Zebra fish. I kinda want to respond, but I'm not sure there's much left to be said. Greta hit most of the points, and your take down above was great.

I will say this, though. Greta spoke to it, but the concept that life is eternal as an axiom? That's just really, really confusing.

Like Daniel's point, you didn't come right out and say it, but that's essentially what you mean. Actually, even less so, it's posited not just as an axiom but just incontrovertible. "We are eternal" is just kind of tossed out there. What gives you the authority to say that? I can understand if you were to say "lets take this concept and run with it", though you'd still run into the problem of your conclusions having no basis. But at least you'd be agreeing that one can disagree with you meaningfully.

I guess my problem is this: it is a breech of good faith in debating to posit arguments like this. It's like I walked into a bar and said "So, some of you may disagree, but people who drink are all idiots". Not only is it just directly counter to the stated ideals of the one you're debating with, but it gives no option for debate. It's not "I think x" or even "i feel x", it's just "X is, take it or leave it". And, I gotta say, I'm going to have to leave it.

Eric Cake

Thanks alot, Now I'm gonna have Zebra fish stuck in my head all day (i hope its not a sales pitch, but it would be pretty ingenious). Another problem with the analogy of the gardener is that a gardener doesn't plant the weeds in his garden to be plucked. They wouldn't throw out weed seeds to be grown in with there plants. An all knowing god would be doing just that. Planting weeds for the sole purpose to pull them out later. Now you can say the 'Weeds' have free will to be flowers or vegtables but thats just not so under an all knowing god. He who knows the past present and future.


As the basic logical arguments have been made already, I would like to suggest a way to re-frame the "mysterious ways" argument.

As has been noted, claiming that a god or gods "work in mysterious ways" is essentially just stating that they themselves and their motives are so far beyond our comprehension that we can not understand them - whether because they are simply so far above our level that they are to us as a human is to plants (in Aaron's example) or because they see the vastness of the universe in a way that we can not and therefore have a different perspective in which our pain and suffering is either necessary or insignificant.

This has long been a position in theology in attempting to explain away the Problem of Evil. But if one thinks about it for a minute, it is well and truly horrifying, it fills the trope of High-Octane Nightmare Fuel. This point has not been lost on horror writers. Just as a theologian will make a "mysterious ways" argument to try to absolve their deity of guilt, authors from H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King have used the same concept to create a sense of truly cosmic terror. The notion that there are beings capable of wiping out huge chunks, if not all of, humanity, and who are so far beyond our comprehension that their motives and actions are mysterious to us is not a comforting thought if truly followed through to its logical conclusion. If their motives and perspective are so alien to us that we can not comprehend them, then we have no reason to think of them as loving any more than as moral. It doesn't mean that we live in the protection of a loving being, but that we live with a sword of Damocles constant hovering by a horse's hair above us. We never know if the beings above us will bring us fortune, terror, or simply leave us alone.

People can only cling to the notion of a loving deity and one that works mysteriously by compartamentalizing the two ideas and never really being consistent in their thoughts.


My first thought on reading this was to note that some humans garden to grow food.  So therefore, God the gardener...


When you hear hooffin-beats, think horse-fish, not zebra-fish.

My first thought on reading this was to note that some humans garden to grow food. So therefore, God the gardener...
Yeah, I have similar problems with the "God as shepherd" metaphor. I mean, sheep get _shorn_. And has nobody heard of mutton?



First, I thank you for presenting your ideas in a respectful and honest manner.

My problem is not with the garden analogy itself, as analogies can never match perfectly with the situation being discussed. My problem is that I think you take the wrong perspective. If went over to the God suburbs and asked other Gods about God's garden, they probably would not have a moral problem with his little garden. But why should we accept the moral views of the residents of God Park as our own? If we are harmed by God's plan, or disagree with his goals for the garden, why would it be wrong to oppose it?

I can see one explanation being that He owns the garden, but the concept of ownership would only have meaning among other gods, not among the actual objects that are owned. Ex: My neighbor has an obligation not to steal my dog, but my dog hasn't stolen from me if he runs away.

So, while other Gods would be obligated to acknowledge a God's ownership and authority over the garden, the plants of the garden are able to oppose that authority by whatever agency available to them, without being immoral.

In the case of God committing genocide against populations of people, other Gods may view this with general indifference, encouragement, or even opposition, but that does not and should not have any moral relevance to what our judgments and our reactions are.


If looking at it with respect to God's purposes leads to justification of genocide, this does not suggest to me that genocide is acceptable. Rather, it suggests to me that God's purposes are unacceptable.

I also missed the part where Aaron explained the mechanism by which genocide makes us into our best selves.

John the Drunkard

So much to answer... So much already answered by Greta Christina!

How is god's 'gardening' in Canaan, via the swords of the Israelites, different from Hitler's 'gardening' the population of Germany and Eastern Europe (remember that Hitler declared that his policies were 'god's work') or Stalin's 'gardening' of the Ukraine, or Pol Pot's 'gardening' of Cambodia?

Come to think of it, Brigham Young did some--rather more discreet--'gardening' in Utah; not only green-lighting Mountain Meadows, but sending his Danite hit-men to harvest the goods of wealthy travellers unlucky enought to draw his attention.

Almost every line includes assumptions worthy of as much reply as the gardening image:
'we existed before we came to this earth. we will exist long after we pass through death'
This particular notion is one of the more heretical notions that LDS includes, it is part of the logic that suggest polygamous breeding of enormous patriarchal families so that Dad can be promoted to godship of his own planet. How many defenders of this notion can be found in any legitimate Abrahamic religion?


"there are times where god as the creator and owner of both the earth and its inhabitants (ie. the garden) exercises authority over the life and death of those that dwell there. "

How do we differentiate "god exercising authority" from a psycho with a gun and voices in his head?

"god's purpose of making every inhabitant, both the committer of the genocide and the and the victim of it, into their best selves is fulfilled the same way as the gardener in the analogy."

So if god commands a day-care employee to kill all the babies in their charge, the day-care worker is "fulfilled" into their best self? Really? God couldn't do better?

"we are eternal beings."
Please clarify "eternal" and "beings". Also, how do you know this?

"we existed before we came to this earth."
How do you know this? If you have no memory from before you were born and could not learn or act on anything that happened in the "before" what difference does it make?

"we will exist long after we pass through death."
How do you know this?

Please notice that my previous questions used the word "know" not "believe". You make these statements with factual certainty much like "the sun will rise tomorrow". But I suspect you don't really have a body of evidence to make these factual claims or predictions.

"functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years."
I'll absolutely disagree with you here. The length of your life has an enormous _functional_ difference on those around you and on your own experience of it.

"life on earth is just one part of the entire spectrum of our existence." Again, how do you know this? So far, life on earth is the only part of our existence we all share and can reliably make predictions about, and have consistent experiences in. The other parts of your spectrum are, at best conjecture.


Most of the major points have already been dealt with (like a zebra stomping on fish), so I'd just like to elaborate on a minor one.

God's actions, in the gardener analogy, you say to be moral because they further his purpose. And yet, if my purpose was the extinction of human life, that would not make it a good thing (from the perspective of the rest of humankind) for me to unleash nuclear war. The general point being, a purpose has to be in alignment with good, for actions fulfilling that purpose to also be good.

In your analogy, God's idea of good is the perfect garden. And yet the human idea of good says that genocide is bad. From which follows God-good is not the same thing as human-good. Greta implies that this would make the concept of good and evil meaningless, though I would not say so. I would say, though, that when humans speak of "good", we mean human-good. If God-good is different, then God is not good (which, being humans, we use to mean human-good).

God's goal of having a perfect garden is at odds with our goal of not killing. Even when we can admit that killing is sometimes justified (to prevent greater loss of life, for example), God evidently does not share those standards. He commands his plants to slaughter the weeds, rather than removing them himself in the manner less harmful (or not planting them in the first place, which is another objection that has already been raised). Which is to say, outside the analogy, that God orders genocide rather than letting the Canaanites die of painless natural death, or create them in such a way that they are not opposite his purpose, or any other better way of dealing with it, which should be limitless to an omnipotent being.

So I say again. God fulfils his own purposes, which are not those of humankind. There are weeds in the garden of God, which to him is evil, and he removes them without care for them, which to us is evil. So God-good is not human-good, which in humanspeak is equivalent to saying that God is evil.


This reminds me of something I just read from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). In one of his stories he has a few friends in a medieval village, run across an angel (as a joke he makes him a second cousin to Satan, but one that hasn't fallen). To not know good and evil, and thus to be sinless, this angel proves completely arbitrary in its actions. It doesn't, for example, improve the lot of the village, give them knowledge, show them right and wrong (which it lacks comprehension of itself), it simply changes a few circumstances. Because he likes the small group of friends, he is willing to have an old lady die as a witch, rather than starve the rest of her life, to arrange another old man to go insane, so he would be happy, after putting him through hell over money that just happened to "drop from the sky" into his lap, and the accusations of an astrologer that it was stolen. At the last minute, he saves the family that got the money, yet intentionally drives the man mad, lest he spend the rest of his life unhappy.

As the main character puts it, the angel seems incapable of coming up with any solution that, while its net result is some improvement in either current, or some distant future, lives, is caused by injury or death to someone to gain it. In one case a delay of a few minutes results in two children dying, why? Because they where better off both dying early, rather than the one living, and the other catching a disease that would leave them in pain and suffering for years, as a direct consequence of that boys rescue of the other child from drowning. But, you are left asking, "Then why not have him show up a hair early, so that the one child was never in danger, and the other would never catch the disease?"

There was little morality involved in the matter, and it was all from the human "pet" that begged for the betterment of those around him. In the end, the angel goes off to do other things, and leaves the poor fool, who spent so much time worrying about others, and trying to make their lot better, with the statement that he is nothing but a passing dream, a fancy, a random thought in the mind of something bigger. As evidence, how could he be otherwise, in a world where angels acted like gardeners, but only knew how to pull weeds (to use the above emails concept), and god, the one in charge of it all, often seemed to prefer the unjust and evil, placing them in better positions, power, and well being, over those that where simply trying to survive the mess they got born into? The only answer, according to this sinless cousin of Satan was - you are of no more real importance to us than an ant is to the average human, but since I sort of like you, I will weed the garden a bit more here. Once the plant (the villager the angel took and interest in) was at its own death, there was no more interest in it either.


Also, the following premise seems like a flat self-contradiction:

functionally there is no difference whether we live on this earth for hours, like some babies that die at birth, or live to see our twilight years.

Then why does your God care one way or the other?

Clearly you assume that killing people does affect something he cares about, namely making people "their best selves". Yet apparently you want to say that living longer (or at all, in the case of slaughtered children) would have had no good effect for the victims of genocide. At best you deny them human agency. You'd have to say that a super-intelligence, who bears a suspicious resemblance to a propagandist for a small tribe of humans, knew that if these other people lived and loved and tried to improve themselves in the usual human ways, none of that would have really improved a single one of them. Otherwise the quote above seems like a flat lie, or at least tells us that genocide brought no 'real' benefit either.


We can certainly imagine an intelligence that prunes the garden of humanity because it only cares about maximizing some feature of reality (traditionally the number of paperclips in existence). But when we look around for evidence of a deity we don't see any maximization. You'd have to assert that the gardener (if intelligent enough to matter) seeks to maximize slood, something we don't even notice when we look for evidence. And yet you also want to say that slood has more effect on our best selves (from a human-compatible perspective, not just in the tautological moral ranking that a slood-maximizer would give it) than any feature of life we recognize and care about. Why should I believe this? Why do you believe it?


A mishmash of thoughts generated by the woo-filled message you received:

This whole schtick about god having this unfathomable plan and we are the game pieces being moved around to suit it makes me think of that immortal line from Blazing Saddles: Mongo only pawn in game of life.

I guess there is no such thing as free will. Now, I have heard many good arguments to the effect that free will is really illusory because we function as products of our genes, evolution, our nurturing, and the chemical processes in our brains. But the religious free-will thing is a little different, and I don't see how you can have it both ways. Either we are pre-determined in our life arc because of the god plan thing, or we are free agents and make our own decisions. And if the former is true, how can we ultimately be held accountable on some future day of cosmic reckoning if we are merely performing our parts as scripted by the judge?

I went to catholic school for 12 looong years. One of their favorite non-explanations for things they just couldn't explain was "It's a matter of faith." In other words, you just have to believe it no matter how batshit it sounds, because we say so. Which is just another take on the "mysterious ways" bs. If you have half a brain, this leaves you a tad intellectually unsatisfied, to say the least. Of course, their comeback for that is that we shouldn't let our intellect get in the way of our faith. How convenient. It's true because we say so. And why do we say so? Because it's true. And it's true because we say so. Can't these people EVER recognize a circular argument when they see one?


Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him god?
- Epicurus

But what if your god is the source of the evil? That by example and supposed instruction, your god tells you that human life is expendable, that life on the planet can be pretty much snuffed out in a fit of pique? (The biblical flood story, for example.) That ultimately your god doesn't give a shit about your suffering or your life, except maybe for some ugly ego-satisfaction or to prove some twisted point(Abraham and Isaac child-sacrifice story, the story of Job)?

I guess even Epicurus didn't want to go there.


It's a swarm of fucking zebra-fish... which might be the first time that's ever been a good thing...

I will admit that I skipped to the end because the original zebra-fish took up all my mental resources, and I couldn't stuff one more bit of data into my brain without risking the loss of my reply...


Any moral framework which has any meaning to humans must begin at the opposite of "Might=Right." It is not what the powerless do that makes them moral or immoral. It is what the powerful do.

Let me say that one more time in bolder type:

It is not what the powerless do that makes them moral or immoral. It is what the powerful do.

The powerless are -- by definition -- incapable of acting morally or immorally. They act as they must.

Those with the power to act are the ones with a moral obligation to those who cannot. For fairness to be achieved -- and isn't the god of the bible all about justice and righteousness, and isn't that a euphemism for fairness?...

Sorry... this has me worked up, and my sentence structure has broken completely...

If this is about fairness, then the ONLY agent bound by an obligation to act morally instead of immorally is the one who has the choice in the first place.

That is the one who has power. Not the powerless one.

We can extend this to humans, of course. In most human interactions, each participant has some kind of power, and they exercise it as best they can. So we are moral agents towards one another. But in the hypothetical Gardener/Plants metaphor, we have no ability to act morally with regard to god because we could cause him no harm if we wanted to. He is beyond our reach, and there is nothing we could do that he couldn't anticipate, prevent, or otherwise alter to satiate his whim.

One who can do no harm cannot act immorally. And that's about it.


Wow. I read some clear, understandable, and intelligent posts on this subject. I'll add my two cents and I hope it makes sense.

I agree god as a gardener analogy is not very convincing. Granted, I come into this discussion with preconceived ideas of what god and religion are; they are definitely much different than Aaron's.

I'm too assume the gardener owns the land or has been requested to tend to this land.As a person who dislikes weeds, I can not go into my neighbors' yards and do my bidding on their property w/o their permission. (I hate yard work anyway!)

As a human, I have no right to exterminate the life of another because I feel like it is my best interest. I do not own that person nor can I claim responsibility for his life. I may want to wee him but my limited ability to reason tells me not to.

Another god analogy that bothers me is god is our father. As a Dad myself, I check on my kids, see if they need help, cook for them, make them laugh, and try to help them realize that life is to be enjoyed. Has anybody seen god lately? Does he come and say, "Hey, children, can I get you anything? How's the water shortage going? Need some more potable water? Let me give you some." If god cared about his children, he would try to ease their suffering.

Every time I garden now, I'll pretend that I'm God killing innocent people. Die weeds! (Does RoundUp use count as genocide?)


So according to his logic. Anyone that "god takes away" is a weed? how does "the gardener" decide what is a weed and what is a flower? Is h trying to say that people that don't believe in the way he does are all weeds? just vermin to be eradicated? That sounds alot like eugenics to me.

Frank J. Ranelli, Independent scholar of religious studies

While Greta does an estimable job (and many others), as always, of vivisecting the more specious claims and faulty analogies proffered within the missive from this quotidian believer—and thus exposing them bare of any truth or rational sense; but, rather than argue with the theist on shaky theological grounds, why not simply demonstrate where the fault line begins: The entire argument is an a priori ontological mistake of tautology. In other words, rightly distilling it down to one long, dreary, feeble, unsubstantiated ‘appeal to authority’—yes, naturally, the interlocutor’s authority, in this case, the ancient, fictional Hebrew storm god of the bible, as the immutable source for all morality and truth. When you analytically break down every one of the empty arguments for god’s existence proffered by this religionist, you uncover massive epistemic errors, a myriad—too many to count or catalog—of logical fallacies, and a ceaseless, hackneyed refrain of the ‘god of the gaps’ claim. Essentially, it is a series of glib, hollow, quasi-philosophical arguments to “prove” an a priori argument is “proof” itself of a god. In essence, pure woo, as the supposition presupposed the conclusion. Simply stated, a theist must first provide evidence of a god, before we can enter a discourse of disputation about the nature or actions of an alleged god. The burden of proof is not on the atheist to disprove the non-existent; it is on the theist to prove the extraordinary or the impossible is somehow possible. The physicist Victor Stenger perhaps encapsulates it best, “I show how naturalism, the view that everything is matter and nothing more, is sufficient to explain everything we observe in the universe from the most distant galaxies to the inner workings of the brain that result in the phenomenon of mind. Nowhere is it necessary to introduce God or the supernatural to understand the world.”

Daniel Schealler

@Frank J. Ranelli

fictional Hebrew storm god of the bible...

I'm unfamiliar with identifying YHWH as a storm god - I wouldn't mind reading up on that.

Could I get a reference for that?

To be clear: This isn't the 'ask for a reference to challenge to your credibility' thing.

This is the 'ask for a reference because I'm curious and want to read about it' thing.


Others have already made short work of this argument, Greta and Daniel foremost among them. In particular, I appreciate the notion that "the superior do as they see fit with the inferior" does, in fact, underlie a great deal of apologetics. And rather chillingly, at that; if you posed the notion to most religious believers that "the superior do as they see fit with the inferior", they would object strenuously and call that an immoral argument. And it is!

Yet somehow, they don't see it as immoral to argue that this should hold true for God. Well, because God is good, of course, and thus whatever God does is good. Which leads us right into Greta's point about how this makes "Godly good" and "human good" so disjoint that they may as well be different concepts altogether, and/or makes the notion of good and evil meaningless.

And Daniel is also right that this sounds very, very racist. He was perhaps overly generous to our correspondent in stating that this was merely an unstated implication, not in fact a professed view. Remember, our correspondent Aaron identified as LDS, and the Mormons have long believed that non-white people are darker colored because of the sins of their ancestors, and that non-whites who repent will turn white; look up the phrase "white and delightsome" for some fun reading on that subject.

The whole argument is enough to scare the stripes off a zebra-fish.

Gabrielle Guichard

"we are eternal beings": that's big news. I learnt that only god was eternal, without beginning or end. At the best, his creatures may be immortal.

Ash Bowie

A "gardener" might pull "weeds", but that is not what the Bible tells us what happened. Rather, God had the, uh, carrots rise up and slaughter the weeds rather than do it himself (i.e. killing them on the spot or just making them disappear, which an omnipotent god should be able to do). So, even if we accept the idea that a god exists and that it wanted the Canaanites to be run through with swords, the gardener analogy still fails.

A more accurate analogy is a kid with ant farms. This kid breeds one ant colony, but then he breeds another with stronger ants that are more to his liking. He becomes displeased with the first colony and sics the second one on it because he wants to get rid of them and he likes their farm better and wants it for the favored colony. YHVH's actions are like this little kid's, not like an all-wise, all-benevolent creator of all things.


OK, this has pretty much been hashed out, but I wanted to add a bit, anyway.

You talk about eternal life as if having such would compensate for being violently slaughtered and/or watching your loved ones and babies be run through and "dashed upon the rocks."

But do you really believe that this eternal spiritual existence (which, you no doubt have guessed, I do not believe in) compensates for the physical and emotional pain we endure through our corporeal lives? What would be the purpose of such pain? Will you one day reach heaven and ask god what it was all about and he'll laugh and say, "I was just messin' with you! Here, you can live forever in peace now."

I recently watched a really good talk by Sam Harris on morality. He points out, quite rightly, that when we talk about consequences of our actions, we too often leave out certain types of consequences. Yet, studies show that killing people has detrimental effects on the mental and emotional health of the perpetrators. So, by ordering people to slaughter another group of people, god is not only eradicating an entire society (down to the livestock in some cases), he is also responsible for the suffering of "his children" whom he ordered to commit senseless violence.

Overall, I just can't think of any way to defend god in this situation.

Tom Holle

It seems to me that if there is no god, then there can be no analogy.

Dean Buchanan

I am really glad that I am not god. I kill plants even when I want them to live. They turn black then white then black then white (and etc.) and drown in the water where they then live. They swim around and look like some sort of hoofed, herding, mammal.


@ Aaron: OK, first off: props for acknowledging that genocide is genocide, rather than trying to weasel around the definition. So you get points for honesty there.

That said, I’m afraid your argument does make perfect logical sense… IF you accept the premise that life in this world – everything the human race individually and collectively does, has done, or might ever do – is fundamentally meaningless. I find that notion, frankly, horrific. Even if you believe there is a possibility that there might be a life beyond this one, the idea that an all-knowing, all-powerful god would create this entire reality solely for the purpose of making a majority of “weeds” suffer so that a minority of “flowers” can make it to the next life is appalling on every level. Especially since the all-knowing-all-powerful part renders the whole exercise meaningless at best, unforgivably cruel at worst.

(For me personally, realizing that this deeply nihilistic world view is the only logical outcome of Christian philosophy was the single greatest step on my road to atheism. YMMV, of course.)

Lastly, as others have pointed out, it also means your religion has absolutely nothing to say about what us puny humans should or should not do in this world. As YouTuber Theoretical Bullshit said in closing his Treatise on Morality: “If your moral philosophy is completely divorced from real-world issues of happiness and suffering, if morality for you has nothing to do with the pursuit of maximizing well being, if it truly has no stake whatsoever in actualizing an ideal circumstance in this life or the next…then what fucking good is it?”

Lynn Wilhelm

Greta, Daniel et al. did a fabulous job saying so much more than I was going to say.

I did just run into the human-life-is-like-a-garden-and-the- weeds-need-to-be-removed argument in response to my FB post about how I couldn't celebrate bin Laden's death (relieved, but no joy). Commenter said that OBL was a weed that needed to be removed. I'm a landscape designer and he thought the analogy would ring home with me. It didn't.

Lynn Wilhelm

Oh, and forgot all about zebra fish. Love the little buggers.

Aaron deOliveira

I'm very much looking forward to posting my reply. Lots of great questions. Lots of long answers. I ran out of time tonight. I'll hopefully have a reply to everyone collectively done tomorrow. I'm about 1/3 of the way done as of this stopping point.

this is such a great community for thought and discussion. can't wait to finish and add my two cents.


Not exactly on topic, but it does run into one of the arguments made by some of the sorts of people that defend this kind of nonsense. So.. Earth orbits not *quite* circular. 91.4 million miles, at closest, 94.5 million, at farthest. If you assume the *minimum* amount of the world for life, either the poles, if too close, or the equator, if far away, you can figure an "allowable" range of 50F degrees for "getting too cold", and about the same for too hot. Now, the difference between being 91.4mil and 94.5mil away is about one degree? So, the "habitable zone would be 3.1 million miles * 50F, or 155 million miles that the earth could move in, and still allow "some" life. If you figured for 5F being, "close enough to what we are used to that most of it is still usable", its still 15.5 million miles.

This is apparently the universe that is, "so fine tuned that a few miles difference would burn us to a crisp, or freeze us to death." Must be some of those Biblical "god" miles, sort of like Biblical "god" years. lol

And, this is just pulling numbers out of my backside. No idea what a climate model would say, it might be only 100 million miles, or 400 million, for all I know, and it would change depending on planet size (bigger, with thicker atmosphere would allow a larger range, I think). But, its *definitely* bigger than 3.1 million miles.

But, in any case, logic is never these people's strong suite. They can't even manage theology well, never mind anything else they try to interpret through theology.


After re-reading the original letter and reading through the comments (zebra-fish), I'm going to have to disagree with Greta: Aaron isn't making a "Mysterious Ways" argument, he's simply making a "Might makes right" argument.

Although I suppose the mystery comes in when you try to square "Might makes right" with "God is good", "Morality comes from God" and "Christian morality is the best".


Underlying this is an argument I have heard from various theists which is that "because god created us, he can do what he likes with us". Usually, the analogy the theist gives is with a painter who can destroy her work because she created it. The obvious response is that the painting isn't sentient so that isn't a good analogy.

But what about other creators of sentient beings? Can parents do what they like with their children because they created them? The theist will usually say no because god was the ultimate creator of all sentient beings. But then, is there any other creator of sentient beings to whom the principle that they can do what they like with their creations applies? Answer: (usually) no.

Therefore, the theist has made a principle that only applies to one being, and if a principle only applies to one being then it is no longer a principle. It is an excuse. They may as well have said that god can do what he likes with us because he is god and he can do what he likes.

It is amazing how many times theists will come up with some principle that only applies to god, which, therefore, means that it is not a principle.


False analogy.

Next question!

Gayle Jordan

Aaron -
Good on you for reading Greta's blog and thinking about it.

Just a quick thought: What would an unjust and immoral and malevolent God look like?

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