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  1. Avatar
    PaulH  April 19, 2012

    I remember growing up in Ireland watching the BBC series”The Word At War”, which was narrated by Lawrence Olivier. I can still remember the Concentration camp episodes. The interviews with the survivors and the guards. Sickening is the best way to describe the footage. Then reading about the Rape of Nanking in China. Kids tied to stakes and used as bayonet practice. Hundreds of thousands raped and murdered. New born babies cut open, raped then bayoneted.

    Christians have told me the holocaust happened because the Jews upset God. Or the Chinese because the worship false idols. I dated a girl who told me the earthquake that killed so many in Haiti was caused by their worship of the devil.

    Yet people talk about God’s plan for them. Their own personal God who answers their own personal prayers. Helping their football teams win. Watching athletes and musicians praise God for their talent and allowing them their success. The reason people get that got promotion. Yet the same person who prayers for help as they’re gang raped receives none. Seriously? It’s insulting to hear. It’s ignorance at it’s highest form. An American W.A.S.P. self absorption and belief that their lives are more important or have greater significance than others. Ignoring all scientific evidence to the contrary. Evolution, natural selection, survival of the fittest. The species with the greatest success reproducing itself.

    My life has never been as good once I accepted there’s no divine creator who made me in it’s image. I still have morals and ethics. I marvel at my randomness and wish I can live forever, but accept I’m no more important than any other human being. And that includes the number of children who starved to death in the time it took me to write this comment.

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    Mikail78  April 19, 2012

    Wow, Bart. Swinburne has hit a new low for Christian apologists in attempting to reconcile the existence of an all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful God with the unfortunate reality of horrible suffering. I try to be charitable towards evangelical/fundamentalist Christian apologists, but so often I see and hear them resort to bullshit explanations like this that it’s hard for me to not lose my patience. I don’t know how you continue to act respectfully towards these people considering their ridiculous arguments that insult our intelligence.

    I must say that I get pleasure from watching you absolutely curbstomp and expose these guys in your debates with them. Keep up the great work and I look forward to reading more blog posts in the future!

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    GeorgeWerkema  April 21, 2012

    As always, Swinburne and, I noted recently, W.Lane Craig in his debate with you, persist in exercising their circular logic. Craig did the same thing in his debate with Sam Harris. These folk must rely on a logic that depends on itself because their starting point, the foundation of their argument, is unsupportable and improbable. One consequence is that one cannot really expect to debate this strategy.

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    john76  April 21, 2012

    Common sense seems to say that factual unmerited suffering invalidates a loving God. For instance, how can there be a good, loving, caring, personal God that watches over us and has a plan for our lives – and at the same time there are four year olds in cancer wards? In my opinion, tragic, unmerited suffering unrelated to social or environmental factors does logically contradict the existence a benevolent loving God. I’ll stick with my example of childhood cancer (there are countless others), and do a thought experiment:

    I can easily imagine an earth identical to ours, without addition or subtraction of content or form, with the sole difference being that it is unlike our earth because it is free from THE COMPLETELY UNNECESARY HORROR of three year olds dying from cancer. God, if ‘He’ exists, can also imagine such a world too, and has the power to create it. From the thought experiment, one of the following is logically necessary (unless God is impotent): Either God (a) doesn’t exist, (b) is indifferent, (c) is insane, (d) is immoral, or (e) is stupid. ‘Benevolent’ or ‘good’ or ‘loving’ are not and cannot be logically possible attributes of God, because all God would have had to have done was do a slightly different job with the genetic code, or cure cancer altogether, and these children would not be suffering and dying. There are countless examples of terrible unnecesary suffering that make the same point. In any case, and this is my point using the example of tragic, unmerited suffering that I did: unless you want to make the intellectually dishonest argument (and that’s really what it is – or else intellectually blind argument) that ‘God gave us cancer so we might one day know the achievement as a race of curing cancer’ (or some equivalent, like blaming demons or the bogey man), then GOD ‘CANNOT’ BE BENEVOLENT OR GOOD. The justification for this conclusion is just what I said: simply that the factual state of human affairs in our human life contradict the possibility of there being a good, almighty, loving God with a plan for our lives. The majority of the species believe in such a being, but He can’t exist.

    So the apologist says:
    omnibenevolent – all-good, in other words Gods actions are motivated by the intention of doing good.

    Sometimes it is necessary to experience temporary suffering for the overall good of a creature. Like when you go to the dentist it can be painful. However the temporary pain is necessary for the overall health of your teeth.
    So why does God allows toothaches suffering in the first place. So that man can learn compassion. Man needs to experience suffering for the sympathy necessary to develop compassion.
    Why does God want man to learn compassion? Because of caring for man, God wants man to be as God is, all good. Compassion is a necessary attribute of a man who is good. God is all powerful and could remove suffering from the world. However if suffering was removed then man could not learn compassion. Therefore the removal of suffering would be evil because then man could not learn compassion and would be missing a necessary element of becoming good.

    I agree that this is the apologetic move. However a God who would torture children to death regularly with disease, accident and malnutrition in order to teach a lesson of compassion that could have been understood regardless, and that few will understand anyhow, strikes me as very far indeed from the supposed promise of “omnibenevolence”.

    I think a lot of people treat God like a nice imaginary friend who follows them around and listens to them and is responsible for the occasional magic trick. It’s nice to believe in a God like that – where all the good things are because of God and all the bad stuff is because of something else and there’s a reward after we die. The belief in a loving, benevolent, good God with a plan for your life is widespread in North America (especially with the pentecostals and ‘Grace’ theology). I think it involves the same psychological mechanisms as someone who is in a romantic relationship with someone who is cheating on them: where all their friends can see how destructive the relationship is, but the person themself is blind and making excuses and completely in love with the cheater. All the bad stuff in the world can be explained away as not being God’s responsibility by the theist because God must be a good, benevolent, and loving as a first principle. But on the other hand, God gets the praise for anything good happening.

    Theology can’t deal with theodicy in an intellectually honest manner if the theologian wants to maintain God is good, loving and benevolent. Theology contradicts the matters of fact on that point. Many people are intellectually blind when it comes to their picture of God. God is Love – sure – God ‘Loves’ to watch kids be born, suffer for three years, and die.

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    FrankB57  April 21, 2012

    Thanks again, Bart. I totally agree . . . suffering serves no great purpose. The same alleged “lessons” can be learned using better and more compassionalte methods. I’m seeing now, a bit late in life, that our attraction to suffering, and rationalizations of it, only confirms the presence of our saddistic or masochistic tendancies. And rather than suppressing awareness of the shadowy side of humanity, we should examine it honestly, and not externalize the agencies of suffering to a diety or any social ideology.

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    johnwgibson  April 21, 2012

    The only explanation of suffering that is compatible with a divine order of things, as far as I can see, is the Eastern one of karma. If we perish after a single lifetime, then suffering is meaningless and an unmitigated misfortune. If we survive and continue to evolve through many lifetimes, then suffering may do us good by freeing us from the effects of our own actions and refining our awareness. So the question comes down to how seriously you want to take reincarnation and karma.

  7. Avatar
    MatthewG  April 22, 2012


    If you decide to review your debate on the resurrection of Jesus Christ with William Lane Craig, I have a number of comments to make with regards to that. You might find them very insightful!


    • Avatar
      JPatton  April 30, 2012

      Bart was only one of 2 people who really clocked WLC. He reduced Craig to using unbelievably useless mathematical “proofs” that Craig himself said he didnt buy (then why bring them up?), and outright avoiding Bart’s questions about biblical errors, quite shamelesly at that. Great job by Bart there, he did what 99% of the many people Craig debated couldnt do. (Including Richard Carrier, I might add)

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2012

        Thanks! I’m glad you thought so. I think that mathematical proof is especially strange….

  8. Avatar
    amorfati  September 12, 2012

    I think William Lane Craig is especially strange… an apologist to the core.

    I find it interesting that William Lane Craig always wants to posit a debate between Christian theism (his own position) and *atheism* proper. Talk about loading the deck. Not only can you not prove that God *doesn’t* exist (while it may seem intuitive to some of us), the real debate is: Can we show that the evidence weighs against the existence of the Judeo-Christian God?

    I think that is a much more interesting debate. If God exists, what is the probability that it is the Judeo-Christian God? I’d like to see William Lane Craig’s mathematical demonstration of *that*…

  9. Avatar
    Cephas_Phileleutherus  November 13, 2012

    I don’t even *begin* to equate my suffering with the holocaust victims, (or anyone else, for that matter), but it’s something I learned to use as a tool to understand there was no God.

    Mum, to this day, finishes every phonecall to me with “I’m praying to God to take away your pain”. It simply hasn’t occurred to her that her prayers not only haven’t been answered in 31 years, but I’m getting worse!

    I tried -once- to point the utter futility and cruelty of her belief to her. I won’t try it again.

    A few months ago, dad had a bunch of heart attacks in a couple of days. He was hurting badly: this hero of a guy, the best, toughest, most laconic man I’ve ever met, was crying with pain, unable to breathe, and couldn’t even take a dozen steps. I got him into hospital and did the little I could to be there for him and mum. I explained what the surgeons were doing, what the tests were for, etc. Being a good son, I guess.

    When, thanks to the truly astounding technological advances we’ve made recently, and thanks to his impressively healthy lifestyle and attitude, he recovered fully (he’s better than ever!), he and I both went out of our way to thank all the staff who kept him alive. It was a delicious feeling, being able to express our appreciation and thanks for their dedication. And my dad was back. Oh, he still has terrible spinal arthritis, as well as arthritis in his knuckles, but he’s out and about, spraying the fruit trees, mowing the lawn, walking the bush.

    Shortly afterwards, during a follow up phonecall, mum went on and on about what a miracle her prayers had achieved for dad. I couldn’t help myself – I asked her right then who she thought was responsible for dad’s heart problems in the first place? If god fixed him, who broke him? Oh, that wasn’t god, it was the devil, she replied. I asked her if she thought her god was all-powerful, and she said of course, he moves the sun and earth and stars. So I asked her why , if her god was so powerful, he couldn’t prevent the devil from giving dad such a terrible few weeks and taking him quite literally to the brink of death, many times? Oh, he could’ve prevented it, she said, it was a lesson. A lesson!

    I couldn’t help myself. “Who was the lesson for, mum? For you? Have you been evil? Was it for dad’s good? And what was the lesson? That we’re mortal? That we can suffer, so he MAKES us suffer? That’s what a kid does with a magnifying glass on an ant’s nest, not what a powerful god does to a man with most of his life behind him, or to his wife! Have a think about the kind of god who needs to break something that’s working perfectly in order to fix it -just so you’ll remember to thank him for his goodness and power.”

    She still tells everyone who’ll listen about the “miracle”, but not in my hearing. Or, interestingly, in dad’s hearing. That’s new -and hopeful.

    You just can’t argue with stupid, with or without maths.

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