Does God Care?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Does God Care?

I was with a small group of Ratio Christi leaders the other day, talking about the problem of pain and suffering. It wasn’t just on a philosophical level, such as, “How could an all-good, all-powerful God exist when there’s pain and suffering in the world?” It was about the other kind of pain and suffering question: “Does God care? And how am I going to keep going?”

It wasn’t just theoretical, either. It was about my life, and my family’s. We’ve been through a near-constant stream of major challenges for about seven months now.

Some of you are going through pain considerably greater than mine, yet what I’m talking about are not small matters. They range from my daughter totaling her car in an icy-road accident, to a 2:00 am emergency room visit for me, to a very unwelcome April 15 surprise (that means tax-related, for non-U.S. readers), to two family members losing jobs for reasons I will only describe as “irregular.”

Ratio Christi’s first president resigned unexpectedly early in January, which was both a personal loss to me and an organizational crisis. There was a frightening health situation in our extended family last December. I won’t even mention how much travel I’ve needed to during this time.

I can count about fifteen events of this sort since around last August or September. I’ve spoken here about some of them along the way.

Maybe you’re wondering when I’ll quit dwelling on it. I’ve been wondering when it would stop.

Maybe it has. Yesterday was literally the first day in seven months that I wasn’t on the road, had no major deadline looming on me, and had no work or family crisis to handle. All I had to face was foot pain that kept me awake for hours last night. (It hits hardest at when I’m trying to sleep.)

Does God Care?

I have a Facebook friend who has been suffering one lengthy, ongoing, painful and sometimes dangerous medical condition for several months. He prayed. He prayed a lot. What he heard was silence. He has decided to walk away from Christianity.

I’ve prayed, too. I’ve been reading the Psalms lately, in the range from about Psalm 60 to Psalm 80. They’re filled with cries to God: “When are you going to do for us what you did for others? When are you going to come through for me? I need your help! When will it come?”

Some of their questions were answered, but I’m not so sure all of them were.

How long will all of you attack a man to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

(Psalm 62:3; using ESV here and below.)

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
(Psalm 69:1-4)

I don’t know how these situations came out in the writers’ lives. They are psalms “of David,” but biblical scholars say we don’t know whether that meant David was the author, or whether they were in the style of David, were written under David’s mentorship, or had some other connection to him. If David was the author, then for the most part yes, his enemies were vanquished, but we don’t know how long that was after he wrote these prayers.

So these are prayers of pain and wondering. Does God really care? The Expositor’s Bible Commentary titles Psalm 60, “Has God Forgotten Us?”

It’s a good question. It’s real-life question. I’ve wrestled hard with it. I’m praying things like, “God, if this is part of your training for me, I’m getting weary of all these unannounced midterm exams. Can we call an end to the semester and have a bit of spring break?”

Praise Anyway

Still I’m siding with the psalmists’ faith. They never let go of their trust in God. I quoted from Psalm 62 earlier. Here are the first two verses, which are essential for context:

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Psalm 69, from which I also quoted above, ends with,

I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.

But How?

How can a person praise God when things are going wrong? I could address that question on a philosophical/apologetic level: “Is it rationally possible to believe God cares?” Or I could address it on a psychological/spiritual/pastoral level: “Is it real-life possible to believe he cares?”

I will look at it both ways, for the answers exist, they are real, and they are good. For now, though, I’ve said enough. I’ll continue with this topic over the next few days.

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Comments

  1. John D. Ferrer

    Thank you for sharing. The broader problem of pain easily penetrates philosophical abstraction and presses our worldview the point of breaking. You and I probably agree that there are answers, there’s reason to hope, and reality favors the faithful. But none of that makes it easy.

    I’ve found a great deal of encouragement by considering the alternatives. In St. Peter’s words, reported in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (ESV). The faithful trod a hard path, but it’s a good path made worthwhile only through it’s destination. Meanwhile, as we struggle through our present pains we are ever pressed to abandon the faith, take a different road effectively back away before it hurts us worse.

    If it were just a matter of “backing away from the faith” then we might think that any change would be for the better. But since we are never backing away from something without backing into something else, we must consider what the alternatives are. Here I personally transition into polemics, attacking the conceptual and practical problems in alternative worldviews. For example, atheism is a wasteland. It’s negated the singlemost important grounding for any and all meaningfulness. Not even “minds” make sense, much less moral values, meaningful language, or subjective value to life and existence. Nature is a huge deadly mechanical beast that devours everything living or dead without even a shrug of concern. All the mediating constructs meant to make atheism look practically competitive with theistic worldviews, they all dissolve in acidic nihilism when people finally look down empty well in their heart, to see an infinite void inside. If there is no God to fill it, then we are but deluded ephemoral sprites dancing down the abyss. The wasteland of atheism has no strong or ultimately coherent account for life, meaning, existence, morality, or the human experience. The only way that wasteland can sustain life is by smuggling in goods from theism.

    Maybe I’m just weird but I’m actually encouraged to thank God when I see what’s left without him. It doesn’t make my own struggles much easier, but it helps me see a light at the end of the tunnel and feel a bit invigorated to keep walking.

    Regardless, please know that I’m praying for you. If you want to talk to someone but don’t want them to be a heresy hunter critiquing your screams from the rack please call me. I’ll turn off my apologetics mode and just listen.

  2. d

    The only group of people who have arrived at a nearly unilateral consensus that atheism necessitates some kind of pessimistic nihilism… are theists… selling their religion.

    Otherwise, there’s quite a wide range of differing arguments and beliefs to explore, and you might find yourself surprised at the strength of many of those arguments. Either way, to the extent that theists ignore that world and pretend all arguments are over already, they do so only at their own peril.

  3. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Tim, if you’re hoping to get email notifications of posts on this thread, please check your email address. I’m getting “undeliverable” notifications for your subscription.

  4. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    d,
    Your warning is well spoken. Be careful, though: it might double back on you, as I’ll explain in a moment.

    For my part, I do not ignore that world.

    When I was in college, before I chose to follow Jesus Christ, one of my key questions was whether there was any moral framework that stood solid and firm without a deity. I studied ethics specifically to discover whether there was any such thing. That’s not ignoring. I’ve been looking at ethical systems ever since. That’s not ignoring, either.

    I haven’t asked him since we’ve only met recently and had one meal together (Hi, John!). Knowing him as much as I do, though, I suspect John hasn’t ignored that world, either.

    When atheists assume that theists who speak of atheist nihilism have ignored their world, they should consider whether ignoring is the right term. It could be that we’ve carefully considered your version(s) of the world, and concluded that its ethical options are consistently wrong, incoherent, or otherwise inadequate.

    (It certainly isn’t that we think arguments are “over.” We’re not oblivious that way.)

    For you to suggest or imply without knowledge that we’ve simply ignored your world is to ignore ours. It’s stereotyping. And it’s not a good reflection on your ethics.

  5. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Further:

    The only group of people who have arrived at a nearly unilateral consensus that atheism necessitates some kind of pessimistic nihilism… are theists… selling their religion.

    This is simply false. Shall I list them for you–atheists who have arrived at nihilistic conclusions? Surely you could do it yourself.

    Not only that, but it ends with a snarky swipe that’s also empirically unsupportable. How hard do you think it would be to find non-proselytizing ethical analyses by theists? How carefully have you surveyed the field to reach the conclusion that a statement like yours is true, rather than a nasty sort of stereotype?

    Finally, tell me, what ethical system do you subscribe to that supports that kind of carelessness about the truth, and about other people? Does it have a name? Could you defend it for us here?

  6. GrahamH

    “That kind of carelessness about the truth…”. I don’t see much care for the truth in some of the comments. The first comment simply gives an argument from consequences. The truth is evidence points to it being most likely there is no God. Theistic evidence suffers greatly. I admire you Tom for your valiant apologetics, but it is indeed the hard road. Why is it so hard? Shouldn’t it be easier?

    Yes someone’s personal tastes and subjective opinions might deem that it is a wasteland with no God, and horrible, nihilistic, etc. But if it is the truth, you can either deal with it; or believe it is not the truth. The truth does not “care” a drott what anyone believes, nor conforms to ones beliefs. But anyone is welcome to knock themselves out – believe what you want.

    But I admit atheism does not offer much of a comfort blanket, if you have strong needs for such comfort. However, knowing we are extraordinarily fortunate to be here and alive, and that being no afterlife, we have to make the best of it while we can (and leave a legacy for our descendants). Nothing wrong with that.

    Contrast this with the thought we are born sick and sinners. Apparently we all have sinned and that the penalty for sin is eternal death. However, God by his grace has provided a way for sin to be forgiven, hell avoided and heaven gained in the afterlife. I can not think of a notion more obviously man-made, and plagiarised amongst religions. I guess it is an effective marketing strategy.

    PS. “Not even “minds” make sense” under atheism (presumably referring to naturalism)? Minds only make sense under naturalism. Minds are an effect of matter (the brain). No matter, no minds. Show me a mind with no matter.

  7. Kristie

    Wow! Your post really helped me see that I am not alone in my suffering and my struggles. Our family too is going through very difficult times and we are doing our best to stand on God’s promises. Thank you for sharing something so personal!

  8. Ray Ingles

    Tom, hope things get better for you soon.

    John, I haven’t found atheism to fit your description. Nor my heart, for that matter.

  9. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    GrahamH, you ask, “Why is it so hard? Shouldn’t it be easier?”

    I don’t know why it should be. Do you?

    Your second-to-last paragraph makes me wonder where you came up with the idea that Christianity was plagiarized from ancient religions, or how you think it’s obviously man-made. Christianity is utterly unique among religions in multiple ways: its placement in actual history and not just philosophy, its offer of free grace apart from works, the unique character of Jesus Christ, the very un-Jewish idea of a physical resurrection before the eschaton, and much more. If you’re thinking of something like Frazer’s Golden Bough you’re something like a full hundred years behind responsible scholarship on the topic.

    So as I said, I’m wondering where your thought came from.

  10. BillT

    The only group of people who have arrived at a nearly unilateral consensus that atheism necessitates some kind of pessimistic nihilism… are theists…

    Unless, of course, you count virtually all of the major existentialists thinkers and a large number of New Atheists as well. Other than that, you’re spot on.

  11. Michael

    Thank you for sharing your situation. It may seem trite but please know that you have prayer partners out here in the world. My wife and I work as missionary pilots. Our devotional time requires some meat. Study is often inspired by your blog and has led to some significant lessons.

    Your story reminded me of Ezekiel 47. As he walks out into the water of the Life-giving river, it is shallow, eventually, with distance, it is too deep to cross on foot. I think it is only when we can no longer touch bottom and rely on our own strength and balance that we can be upheld (floated) and carried by the river. We literally need to be swept off our feet. May the challenges that you face, allow the life-giver to carry you and your family.

  12. Post
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  13. DJC

    Whether God exists or not, studies show that you and I will learn to cope with whatever comes our way and return to our baseline happiness. I think we can all take comfort in that.

    The landmark Brickman study interviewed 22 lottery winners and 29 paraplegics in order to determine their change in happiness levels due to their given event (winning lottery or becoming paralyzed). The group of lottery winners reported years after winning the lottery, participants were no happier than before they won. …. Similarly, they found that a few years after the accident, the paraplegics reported similar levels of happiness in life to before the accident (i.e. they were no less happy with their lives than they were before the accident). One must note that the paraplegics did have an initial decrease in life happiness, but the key to their findings is that they eventually returned to their baseline in time.

    From wikipedia

  14. BullT

    DJC

    So your point is what exactly? Nothing matters? Paraplegic, lottery winner it’s all the same? Happy, sad, rich, poor it’s all the same? We’ll all be fine no matter what comes along? Maybe you can tell that to the abused women or abused children or the sex slaves or those tortured by sadists or the Christians executed by Muslim extremists or rape victims or the people in North Korea or the million or so Armenians slaughters by the Turks or the 50 million slaughtered by Stalin or the 75 million slaughtered by Mao. You think they “…will learn to cope with whatever comes our way and return to their (our) baseline happiness? I pray none of that “baseline happiness” ever comes your way.

  15. scbrownlhrm

    BillT,

    The studies diverged and conflicted and sum to sort of a bell curve over all. Like bicep strength or IQ or what have you.

    Bell Curve descriptives are how the Naturalists (incoherently) claim to ground morality. Because they have to.

    They’re stuck with such.

    Besides, what makes some men happy/happiness has Bell Curves too. Hence sex slavery. Baseline happiness.

    Did you really expect a different *reach* in this or any other arena by the Naturalist other than bell curves?

  16. scbrownlhrm

    Studies showed that over time abducted girls developed feelings of obligation (etc.) towards their abductors/owners.

    Baseline happiness.

    Naturalism has nothing more to say.

    Yet there are higher ends still ahead.

    When we pray God carry us, we pray towards such ends. We are sure of His love for us – just as we are sure of such ends.

  17. scbrownlhrm

    None of us do well with pain.

    Chronic pain is a thief.

    And the world is full of it.

    Paradoxically C.S. Lewis asserts that Joy is the serious business of Heaven.

    And he is correct.

    When we pray for rest – for calm – we ask God for something very different from – and higher than – that misleading baseline happiness of those unfortunate girls (comment #17).

    In this peculiar world we can ask Him in confidence for Joy – knowing that He in fact *has* such ends for us and that the ends He has for us are *Good*. Sometimes our feelings agree – at times they do not. Genuine strength is needed when our feelings disagree.

    Hope sums to strength. Hope is of a peculiar substance. Grounds for hope more so.

    The sureness of His Face – of His Word – is timeless – always present and – in part – carries us through.

  18. scbrownlhrm

    We refuse to leave those girls, long ago abducted, long ago submerged, now 20 and “happy”, in their (misleading) baseline happiness because final causes are – viz. God – the actual state of affairs.

    Unlike philosophical naturalism we find in Christ love’s categorical imperative there at the end of the line necessarily obligating reason to chase after said final causes. Therefore we do not offer them Atheism’s mere comfort-blanket of trading out one Con for another, one delusion for another, one SSSD (satisfying serotonin standard deviation) for another SSSD.

    In Christ we find that peculiar brand of Hope such that in pain and in happiness we can and do find His Sureness giving shape to all such contours.

  19. scbrownlhrm

    Tom,

    For what it’s worth, our baseline happiness can mislead us regarding the nature of reality. Clearly it doesn’t always lead us to misread reality – but it can and it on occasion does.

    If that is true of happiness then it is certainly true of pain.

    Think what such makes of the litany of *conclusions* which Man has made about reality viz. man’s pain.

    So be careful how you read things – reality – in any given moment. It’s not easy – pain that is. And it’s a thief for the most part. We pray for you and yours – for wholeness here and now – and always.

  20. JAD

    DJC @ #14,

    Whether God exists or not, studies show that you and I will learn to cope with whatever comes our way and return to our baseline happiness. I think we can all take comfort in that.

    Learning to cope is not the same as having hope. The apostle Paul talks about hope, not just how to cope, in his epistle to the Romans.

    “Therefore, having been justified by faith, [a]we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and [b]we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5, NASB)

    If God exists, and there is more than enough evidence to believe that He does, then we truly have reason to hope.

  21. DJC

    BullT,

    We’ll all be fine no matter what comes along? Maybe you can tell that to the abused women …

    Whoa there, big fella, there’s quite a bit more to research on happiness than I summarized above. Baseline happiness can only occur once negative events stop happening and a resilience period has elapsed (which is probably different for each person). Check out Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom for a good overview of the science of happiness.

    scbrownlhrm,

    Studies showed that over time abducted girls developed feelings of obligation (etc.) towards their abductors/owners.

    Yes, Stockhold Syndrome is a real thing. But I don’t know what that has to do with happiness or naturalism, you’ll have to spell out your claim in less esoteric terms if you want me to get your point.

    JAD,

    Learning to cope is not the same as having hope.

    True, but learning to cope is the first step on the way to hope. Hope is not exclusively the domain of the believer unless you define it such. In general I find hope to be a belief that there is value in something to discovered and experienced ahead, and I certainly have that belief.

  22. scbrownlhrm

    So we see the game going as it typically goes.

    Happiness can’t come until the negative goes away and a period of….

    Well not really…. except in our abducted girls years later – still submerged – still happy. Even un-happy at the “intrusion” of “rescue”.

    Except in…..

    And except for…..

    Such hedging, equivocation, re-defining, and – eventually – a bit of borrowing in order to present some portion of some bell curve somewhere as (somehow) “prescriptive” is – so far – right in step with a philosophical naturalist’s typical constructs.

    A complete misunderstanding of Christianity’s paradigmatic truth predicates on prayer, happiness, and hope.

    And then we’ll be challenged to “solve” some sort of “problem” based entirely in *Non-Christian* (paradigmatic) terms and definitions.

  23. BillT

    In general I find hope to be a belief that there is value in something to discovered and experienced ahead, and I certainly have that belief.

    So in a finite life, on a finite planet, in a finite solar system, in a finite galaxy, in a finite universe there is “…something to discovered and experienced ahead…” Hmmm… Whatever it is it’s an infinitesiby brief moment in the midst of a vast nothingness all of of which will eventually turn to dust. Makes any belief in God look positively puny in comparison. And yet you think we base our beliefs on inadequate evidence. Yikes!

  24. scbrownlhrm

    DJC,

    When the Christian speaks to one who is suffering – and speaks of offering prayer for him – and of strength in hope – for someone to then come in and assert an identity claim and equate “that” with a proposed mechanistic return to baseline happiness which abducted girls undergo years into their (obscene) submersion is either done in ignorance and is therefore simply, and entirely, misguided, or, the false identity claim inferred is done with awareness by one who has in the past demonstrated a working knowledge of Christian semantics. If the former, well, there is always studying up, and if the later then we already have our answer.

    Happiness and Pain can and do mislead (though not always) as final causes emerge. Bell Curves fail to show us such final causes.

    So the question for you is what is it that you think the Christian speaks of when he prays for Tom or another person in his pain and asks for, speaks of, happiness in the midst of said pain, and hope, and so on?

    Are such means and ends found on your Bell Curve? On the abducted girl’s Bell Curve in the midst of their steady-state SSSD years out?

    There seems to be no connection between said steady-state SSSD and said prayers.

    You’ll have to explain why anything you’ve said is relevant at all to the Christian statement on Pain/Happiness given that the means and ends of philosophical naturalism – of eliminative materialism there inside our skulls – fail to demonstrate the necessary reach to thusly prescribe.

    The Christian is not obligated to stop at your proposed stopping points there in the stuff of happiness distributions, though you are obligated to stop at the ends of such means – even if you don’t want to.

  25. Ray Ingles

    BillT – I’m a human. I don’t live on a universal scale. I’m not worried about infinity. I’m not even worried about Graham’s Number – what would a human do with Graham’s Number of years?

    If you can’t recognize anything besides infinity, zero, and negative infinity, that’s your lookout. But some of us can see finer gradations than that, and find 100 to be noticeably bigger than 10, for example.

  26. BillT

    Ray,

    It has nothing to do with not being able to “..recognize anything besides infinity, zero, and negative infinity…” The statement was about having hope in “..something to (be?) discovered and experienced ahead…” Just why is there hope in something “ahead” if there isn’t that same hope today? Or, more to the point, if there isn’t that hope today (as was implied) what makes “ahead” a better destination? Ahead is only a better destination of there is something there that isn’t here today. What would that be in the finite life, world and universe that the atheist, by definition, must live in?

  27. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Just why is there hope in something “ahead” if there isn’t that same hope today? Ahead is only a better destination of there is something there that isn’t here today. What would that be in the finite life, world and universe that the atheist, by definition, must live in?

    That’s not how I read what he wrote. He was defining hope as “a belief that there is value in something to [be] discovered and experienced ahead”. I can think of lots of things in the future that I value, and want to discover and experience.

    My wife and I have our 18th anniversary coming up. Mother’s Day, in fact, which is also something to look forward to. A few weeks after that, my son’s Cub Scout group is going to spend the night on a WWII submarine – he’s gonna love that. And so on – holidays, family birthdays, camping trips, graduations, all kinds of good stuff. Longer term, there’s weddings and grandkids, even more kinds of good stuff. And that’s just my immediate family. I have friends and cousins and co-workers. And then, there will be new scientific discoveries, medical advances, new technology to play with, etc. etc. Heck, they may even come up with life-prolonging treatments before I die. How cool would that be?

    Maybe my kids and my wife aren’t as awesome as an omnipotent Ground Of All Being. So what? I, at least, think they’re still pretty darn cool and I have a lot to hope for with and for them.

  28. BillT

    Ray,

    That isn’t “a belief that there is value in something to [be] discovered and experienced ahead”. That’s stuff that’s already here. Stuff you already know about. It may not have all happened yet but it doesn’t offer any more hope than what you know already exists as you so well described. Our hope is for true justice, unending joy, eternal friendships, complete forgiveness. Hope so great it transforms our lives and the people that we are.

  29. DJC

    BillT,

    So in a finite life, on a finite planet, in a finite solar system, in a finite galaxy, in a finite universe there is “…something to discovered and experienced ahead…” Hmmm… Whatever it is it’s an infinitesiby brief moment in the midst of a vast nothingness all of of which will eventually turn to dust. Makes any belief in God look positively puny in comparison. And yet you think we base our beliefs on inadequate evidence. Yikes!

    I’m having trouble with your definition of hope. A belief in an infinite loving God should do much more than inspire hope, it should inspire a calm certainty stronger than hope: the secure knowledge that one has an everlasting life that will be eventually free from pain and full of everything positive.

    Hope has an uncertain component. I freely admit that I do not have any kind of certainty in the future. Anything could happen and an everlasting life free from pain is not high on my list of probable outcomes. Yet I do have a hope that there is more to be discovered and experienced as time goes on. With that hope, I can go on and I am as sincerely happy and cheerful as any Christian appears to be.

    Frankly I think I’m happier than many Christians when I occasionally get an honest glimpse past the “Church Facade” into inner turmoil.

  30. DJC

    scbrownlhrm,

    When the Christian speaks to one who is suffering – and speaks of offering prayer for him – and of strength in hope – for someone to then come in and assert an identity claim and equate “that” with a proposed mechanistic return to baseline happiness …

    You’re mistaken. The first comment above (“wasteland of atheism”) sparked the majority of the ensuing discussion and my comment. This is no longer just about the OP.

    … a proposed mechanistic return to baseline happiness which abducted girls undergo years into their (obscene) submersion

    That’s neither here nor there. Surely you must find it a blessing from God that the mind curiously finds a way to suffer less over time, given the inevitability of suffering. I have no quarrel with you attributing that to God’s design but you seem loathe to look for common ground that is right there for the taking.

    So the question for you is what is it that you think the Christian speaks of when he prays for Tom or another person in his pain and asks for, speaks of, happiness in the midst of said pain, and hope, and so on?

    It speaks of empathy, shared suffering, and the shared hope (or perhaps in the Christian’s case “certainty” is a better word than “hope”) that a much brighter future will erase all painful memories.

    You’ll have to explain why anything you’ve said is relevant at all to the Christian statement on Pain/Happiness given that the means and ends of philosophical naturalism – of eliminative materialism there inside our skulls – fail to demonstrate the necessary reach to thusly prescribe.

    Briefly, there is nothing in eliminative materialism that eliminates the value and importance of being.

  31. scbrownlhrm

    DJC,

    The fact that you equate the ends which the Christian is speaking of when the Christian speaks to someone who is suffering with the ends found in some portion of some bell curve of steady-state SSSD (satisfying serotonin standard deviation) amid the mechanistic return to that satisfying baseline happiness which abducted girls undergo years into their obscene submersion is informative in that it shows us – again – that nothing you’ve described thus far is relevant at all to the Christian statement on either pain or happiness. It is also evidence that you are unaware that some portion of some bell curve somewhere amid some foci somewhere of a steady-state SSSD fails to subsume the Christian’s prayers, meanings, and ends when he speaks to a person in his suffering of happiness in the midst of said pain, and hope, and strength in said hope, and so on. The inescapable indifference housed in the (misleading) felt-meaningfulness truly felt by our abducted girls in their (misleading) return of said satisfying baseline happiness is – as you state – not changed by eliminative materialism. But that too shows us – again – that nothing you’ve described thus far is relevant to the Christian statement on either pain or happiness. Rather, it only speaks of the start/stop points of some bizarrely indifferent SSSD-saturated bell curve which actually contradicts the Christian’s hopes, prayers, and statements on both pain and happiness as the Christian speaks to those who are suffering.

  32. BillT

    A belief in an infinite loving God should do much more than inspire hope, it should inspire a calm certainty stronger than hope: the secure knowledge that one has an everlasting life that will be eventually free from pain and full of everything positive.

    DJC,

    Hate to just cut and paste what I said above.

    Our hope is for true justice, unending joy, eternal friendships, complete forgiveness. Hope so great it transforms our lives and the people that we are.

  33. scbrownlhrm

    BillT,

    Be careful about the means and ends DJC is confined to.

    When he states, “Frankly I think I’m happier than many Christians when I occasionally get an honest glimpse past the “Church Facade” into inner turmoil” he appeals to his SSSD-saturated bell curve as that is all he has.

    The sex slave who has satisfying feelings of happiness is closer to the meaning of all things than is her former owner who now in his new found faith is ever somber and pensive as he wrestles with his past sins, current appetites, the state of things – or what have you. Being unhappy – even irritable as he wrestles – is to be far from the meaning of all things – unlike when he was still the girl’s owner and happy.

    The bell curve there simply cannot do any more work – because there is nothing else other than its SSSD-saturated arch.

    Hence the (naturalist’s) false identity claims and conflations elsewhere.

    Since he addressed you with the straw man of “the most happiness” (etc….) it seemed better to point this thought in your direction.

  34. BillT

    scbrownlhrm,

    Yes, but he’s also, to some extent, probably right about about what he sees in churches. Remember, churches are hospitals for sinners, not a museums for saints.

  35. G. Rodrigues

    Maybe my kids and my wife aren’t as awesome as an omnipotent Ground Of All Being. So what?

    It is for saying idiotic things like this that atheists are not to be taken seriously.

  36. Ray Ingles

    Ah, and here’s G. Rodrigues –

    It is for saying idiotic things like this that atheists are not to be taken seriously.

    And, yet again, you demonstrate why I can’t take you seriously. Not merely smug, but snide assertions that someone is not merely wrong, but “idiotic” – yet, never accompanied by an actual account of why that’s so. Assertion, certainly – explanation, not so much.

    BillT – Christians hope for a lot, sure. But atheists don’t hope for nothing. And not one of the things I’ve listed have, y’know, actually happened yet. But if you want hope in the unknown – recall my pointing out all the things that science has found that we not only didn’t know, but didn’t know we didn’t know. I see no reason to suppose that process has stopped.

  37. BillT

    But atheists don’t hope for nothing.

    Never said you did Ray. But they’re just not the same as the kind of things we hope for.

  38. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    Not merely smug, but snide assertions that someone is not merely wrong, but “idiotic” – yet, never accompanied by an actual account of why that’s so.

    A neophyte could reasonably and justifiably say that, you cannot — that ship sailed a long time ago.

    Scratch that, not even a neophyte has such an excuse. To, starting from an ad hoc, arbitrary list of finite goods, acknowledge that neither of them singly nor their totality is the Infinite Good that the “omnipotent Ground Of All Being” is and then smugly retort “So what?” is self-evidently a very idiotic thing to say. There are other problematic aspects to the response, but one might as well conjure a cow and have it say “Well, you talk about Shakespeare and Quantum Electrodynamics, but I can graze and ruminate all day and even get to swat flies with my tail, so what?” or to vary the retort, “You talk about Love and other such illusions, but I can have all the sexual congress I need, so what?”.

    My imaginary cow, being imaginary, and a cow, that is, a brute with no grasp of abstract concepts, can be forgiven for missing the point. So complain as much as you want about “lack of explanation”, and as with all good hypocrites also about “smugness” or “snide”, but if you do not want the flak, stop saying patently idiotic — yes, *idiotic* — things.

  39. scbrownlhrm

    Ray,

    In hoping to see our wives later – you and I hope for a good — and so on. The Christian does not take that away from you. Or me. Or us. That isn’t the epicenter. You and I hope for the good.

    But hope isn’t the good.

    Nor its fulfillment.

    Reality as a whole is wider than that.

    Even our own little world is wider than that.

    Some people hope for a better price on the girl tonight.

    Hope inside of me and you – “here and now” – doesn’t properly inform us.

    Because it can’t.

    Hope as hope isn’t the locus of the Real – of the Good.

    Else – a lower price tonight grants Hope it’s claim upon the Real – the Good. SSSD-saturated curves.

    But such is not what the Christian speaks of when he speaks of *hope as hope* with those who suffer.

    Isolated fragments of reality untied from the rest of reality are the only method the Atheist has to grant sanity to hope – yet even then the lower price tonight finds sanity – as does my toy’s satisfaction in bringing increase to the “community” she feels meaningful devotion towards – as she too later tonight will find hope fulfilled.

    Feelings of Hope – of Community – of Meaningful SSSD’s – *cannot* do the work the Atheist needs them to do. The chain of IOU’s becomes insolvent.

    None of these artificially isolated and circular conflations – none of these contours and vectors are at all relevant to the Christian’s statement on Hope and Pain as he speaks to those who suffer.

  40. scbrownlhrm

    Ray,

    Apologies for not defining “SSSD’s”. Comment #’s 17, 19, 25, and 33 should fill out that basic frame.

  41. scbrownlhrm

    G. Rodrigues stated this:

    “…….starting from an ad hoc, arbitrary list of finite goods, acknowledge that neither of them singly nor their totality is the Infinite Good that the “omnipotent Ground Of All Being” is and then smugly retort “So what?””

    That’s a helpful summary.

    It is worth pointing out that in order to “land” on Feelings of Community, of Hope, of Meaningful SSSD’s, those various so-what’s of the Atheist will in mid-sentence equivocate – dance – hedge – and conflate. Yet even that dance fails to get the needed work accomplished as all such feelings, all such meaningful community, all such steady-state SSSD’s fail to grant sanity to Hope. Reason can chase after whatever – Hope can chase after whatever. The Naturalist’s insolvent chain of IOU’s is forever unable to grant love’s categorical imperative at the end of the line – and – just as horrific – within said chain we find an uncanny labeling of tonight’s girl – with her meaningful feelings of community – both happy and satisfied at baseline years into her obscene submersion. SSSD’s bell curve inextricably tethering both Hope and Hope’s reach. Because there is nothing else.

    Hope:

    David Bentley Hart approaches G. Rodrigues’s appeal for coherence and touches on reality’s far wider and far more coherent (real) map:

    “…..we….encounter the world….. through our conscious and intentional orientation toward the absolute, in pursuit of a final bliss that beckons to us from within those transcendental desires that constitute the very structure of rational thought, and that open all of reality to us precisely by bearing us on toward ends that lie beyond the totality of physical things. The whole of nature is something prepared for us, composed for us, given to us, delivered into our care by a supernatural dispensation…… [by] God – the infinite wellspring of being, consciousness, and bliss that is the source, order, and end of all reality…..”

  42. Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues – You don’t understand what my point was. The context is there, but you apparently chose not to read it. I’m afraid I can’t be bothered to express that in a snide or insulting manner.

    BillT –

    Never said you did Ray. But they’re just not the same as the kind of things we hope for.

    But they are “…something to discovered and experienced ahead…” Which is what you were asking about.

    It’s like a billionaire looking at a poor kid excited to go to the local carnival, and not being able to comprehend the excitement. “I’m going to Aruba, I got a reservation on Virgin Galactic. How could he care about going on a merry-go-round?”

    (Except that the billionaire isn’t actually a billionaire, he’s got a lottery ticket that he thinks will be worth a few billion, eventually.)

  43. scbrownlhrm

    Ray,

    “Something to be discovered and experienced up ahead”.

    Like a better price on tonight’s (or next week’s) girl.

    Yes.

    You are correct.

    That was Bill T’s epicenter in “hope” because that is the epicenter of the Christian’s paradigm – of the Christian statement on pain and on hope.

    Such a straw-man is easy for the Non-Christian to argue against.

  44. G. Rodrigues

    @Ray Ingles:

    You don’t understand what my point was. The context is there, but you apparently chose not to read it. I’m afraid I can’t be bothered to express that in a snide or insulting manner.

    That is certainly your prerogative.

    At any rate, you are wrong on two counts. Not only I did understood you perfectly well, I did not missed out any context. What I said was, and is, exactly right.

  45. scbrownlhrm

    Ray,

    You may want to try conversing with Bill T about Christianity – rather than about such a straw-man.

    Also you may want to address G.R.’s inference that your “ad hoc” chain of IOU’s fails to grant sanity to hope as it fails to address the meaningful feelings of community which our abducted girl’s brain chemistry produces – yields – years into her obscene submersion.

  46. G. Rodrigues

    @scbrownlhrm:

    Also you may want to address G.R.’s inference that your “ad hoc” chain of IOU’s fails

    Although that is an inference I would make and defend, it is not the inference I did make and defended, so on that score there is no need to address anything.

  47. JAD

    In 1 Corinthians 15:2, Paul wrote, ‘If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”’

    And then in his epistle, James the brother of Jesus, wrote, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14, NIV)

    There is a qualitative difference between hope which is temporal and hope which is eternal. That is not exactly the same as comparing apples and oranges.

  48. scbrownlhrm

    G.R.,

    @ #50

    Granted.

    The “ad hoc” nature of things which you alluded to caught my attention.

    The addition to “that” afterwards with my alluding to brain chemistry was to then give an example (mine…) of that (general) nature – of what it looks like in practical terms for the Atheist to arbitrarily appeal to brain chemistry and then hedge, equivocate, and conflate with that very same brain chemistry.

  49. BillT

    But they are “…something to discovered and experienced ahead…” Which is what you were asking about.

    Ok Ray, that’s true. I’m not here to belittle anyone’s hope but as Christians what we hope in and for is just different. It’s different qualitatively.

    Our hope is for true justice, unending joy, eternal friendships, complete forgiveness. Hope so great it transforms our lives and the people that we are.

    And this made me think a bit about the true justice aspect of this statement. Everyone seems to want true justice, we hear about it all the time. But a universe without a God has no real chance for true justice so why do people have such a strong desire for if if it doesn’t really exist.

    This might be true even more so than the objective morality we claim doesn’t exist without God. At least you can (and you have) made reasonable arguments for objective morality based on a utilitarian, practical or mutually agreed upon basis. But true justice has no parallel. The best we have or can even hope for is retributive. It does nothing for those victimized. Yet people yearn for true justice which without a God that “can make all everything sad become untrue” is somewhere well outside fantasy. Makes you wonder why people desire something so inconceivable?

  50. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    But true justice has no parallel. The best we have or can even hope for is retributive.

    Not really. Even when it comes to punishment, the purpose is deterrence, to discourage people from doing things we’ve concluded they shouldn’t. Nobody has a problem with punishing a pet to housebreak it, even if they’re not considered responsible for their actions.

    Sure, it’s entirely natural to think in terms of revenge and retaliation. It seems to be common to every human culture, though some take it way overboard. Even monkeys have a concept of fairness… and punishing unfairness. Most systems of justice through history have rested on such principles, that the punishing of a crime redresses or pays for a wrong. (Indeed, that’s a common ‘argument’ for the existence of an afterlife: some people might not get fair punishment for their bad deeds if death were The End.)

    In biology, a useful distinction is made between ‘proximate causes’ (sort of like Aristotle’s efficient cause) and ‘ultimate causes’ (sort of like Aristotle’s telos). The proximate cause of a plant growing toward the sun is a set of light-sensitive chemical reactions that alter growth-hormone levels. The ultimate cause is that growing toward sunlight gets the plant the most food. (Unplanned pregnancy is the result of a proximate cause doing a very good job of serving an ultimate cause.)

    That revenge – redressing perceived wrongs – has a powerful deterrent effect is obvious. You have only to ask someone entangled in a culture where revenge is endemic – if they don’t aggressively revenge themselves, they become a target. Calling a truce or ending a feud is nearly impossible. Mercy is risky in such an environment. So it’s not all that hard to see how a sense of revenge could evolve, and even be useful – as one drive among many, not the paramount consideration.

    If our justice system were concerned purely with retribution, for example, then considerations like ignorance (‘I didn’t know she was there when I backed up the van’) or insanity would seem to make no difference. But in practice, people seem to want punishment to be inflicted only in cases where it would reasonably have a deterrent effect. If someone didn’t intend harm, and wasn’t acting with negligence, then most people seem to conclude that there’s no need to file charges. And if on the other hand someone is insane, then punishment is no deterrent and dealing with the insanity is the primary concern, not retribution. (Of course, because of this, there’s motivation for sane malefactors to pretend to be insane to escape consequences, but that’s a separate issue.)

    Makes you wonder why people desire something so inconceivable?

    Lots of people yearn for time travel. Even a three-year-old who toppled Mama’s vase will want to ‘make it didn’t happen’. Therefore, time travel must exist? How many impossible things have you wished for in the last week?

  51. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Not really. Even when it comes to punishment, the purpose is deterrence, to discourage people from doing things we’ve concluded they shouldn’t.

    Actually in a theistic worldview, deterrence is deterrence and justice is justice. They’re not the same thing. Justice is about making things right: delivering a proper, fitting, and (of course) just result in response to morally significant actions.

  52. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    (That’s not to say that the prospect of justice can’t have a deterrent effect. Conceptually they’re not the same thing, even if they might involve the same action.)

  53. SteveK

    Ray disagrees (“not really”) and then goes on to explain that ‘true justice’ is actually utilitarian and/or a principle that is mutually agreed upon by some group – thus making BillT’s point that it’s not the same.

  54. BillT

    Ray,

    I think other have covered this as well as I could but I’d throw in with them. Deterrence isn’t the point of justice. It’s not really even the point of punishments from a legal standpoint. It may or may not work as deterrence but it’s point is punishment as justice, real justice is out of reach. And negligence is dealt with civilly, not criminally so your point there isn’t correct either.

  55. JAD

    Besides the logical categorical difference between hope which is eternal vs. hope which is temporal, there are also existential differences. Christians actually experience and live in the light of hope that they believe is eternal.

    Consider something like this: A Christian businessman picks up his twenty year old daughter from the airport. She has been away touring with a Christian music group for a year. The very afternoon that she arrives home she complains of a head ache. A few hours later she dies of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her father begins to experience some doubts about his faith. If you were a non-believing atheist friend of this man how would you console him? Would you (or should you) tell him the truth about what you believe? Would you tell him that there was no hope of anything beyond this life?

    The example above is based on a real life experience. I describe it in more detail in a comment I posted here back in 2011.

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2011/11/stephen-laws-incoherent-evil-go/#comment-31547

  56. Ray Ingles

    BillT – You said, quote, “The best we have [on this Earth, I presumed from context] or can even hope for is retributive,” and I pointed out that that’s not true of “our [secular] justice system”, which is aimed at deterrence. (And, theoretically, rehabilitation, but not many seem to take that seriously anymore.)

    Perhaps that’s not as good as “true justice”. But it’s better than retribution.

    In other words, I wasn’t making the point that you, SteveK, and Tom thought I was.

  57. scbrownlhrm

    Atheism’s Russell discovers no justified claim on Hope for Man even as Atheism’s Hume finds no justified claim on Goals for Man.

    Hope:

    The Atheist Bertrand Russell comments: “That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; . . . that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

    Goals:

    E. Feser discusses the assertion that the Largest Portion of Man’s Intuitional Bell Curve Makes Right. Such a statistical bell-curve appeal to intuitions as the basis for Naturalism’s Justice and Morality housed in feelings fails for many reasons, many of which are touched on in the linked essay. Reason’s sought-after “proper goals” for Mankind which it (Reason) ought to pursue find Hume (rightly) granting nothing of the kind in Naturalism’s “Human Nature-ism”. Neither Hume nor logic find any such thing as love’s categorical imperative at the end of naturalism’s insolvent chain of IOU’s which obligates reason to chase after her. The phrase “Morally Unreasonable” ends in a comedy’s monologue in that we find Morality chasing Logic and Logic chasing Morality and, either way, we end up with said comedy – one insolvent chain of IOU’s chasing its own tail which happens to be another insolvent chain of IOU’s.

  58. DJC

    scbrownlrhm,

    The sex slave who has satisfying feelings of happiness is closer to the meaning of all things than is her former owner who now in his new found faith is ever somber and pensive as he wrestles with his past sins, current appetites, the state of things – or what have you. Being unhappy – even irritable as he wrestles – is to be far from the meaning of all things – unlike when he was still the girl’s owner and happy.

    I think you’re saying that the ultimate goal under naturalism is human happiness. That’s not the case and the problem can be trivially seen as soon as we follow that claim to its logical conclusion and pump euphoria-inducing drugs into the water supply. People don’t want to be happy for drug-related reasons, they want to be happy because of health, strong relationships, self-fulfilling work, a greater purpose, etc. Therefore, a theory of happiness under naturalism looks to strengthen those causes of happiness, not the brain chemicals, because that is what humans value.

  59. scbrownlhrm

    DJC,

    The variations of desirable there depend on who you ask. Goals are funny things. Nothing you just said unties the observed bell curve of goals from brain chemistry’s observed bell curve. Just as nothing you just said overcomes either Hume or logic in #61’s Feser link. “Morally unreasonable” finds SSSD’s bell curves of brain chemistry as the floor and the ceiling.

    We end where we begin.

    Nowhere in particular.

  60. scbrownlhrm

    DJC,

    As already stated, to appeal to brain chemistry and then do a song and dance about “this but not that” doesn’t free you from said bell curves.

    You want to prescribe – but you can’t. Not with chemistry’s bell curves.

    You’re stuck with the whole curve.

    Isolated fragments of reality untied from the rest of reality are the only method the Atheist has to grant sanity to hope – yet even then the hope of a lower price for tonight’s girl finds sanity – as does that girl’s (abducted long, long ago) satisfaction in bringing increase to the “community” she feels meaningful devotion towards – as she too later tonight will find her hope – goals – fulfilled – her brain’s chemistry having fluxed in said direction years into her obscene submersion.

    Feelings of Hope – of Community – of Meaningful SSSD’s – *cannot* do the work the Atheist needs them to do. The chain of IOU’s becomes insolvent.

    You’ve not untied yourself from your appeal to brain chemistry and its pesky bell curves. Neither semantically nor logically nor in any true ontological sense.

    None of these artificially isolated and circular conflations you’ve presented are at all relevant to the Christian’s statement on Hope and Pain as he speaks to those who suffer.

  61. BillT

    Ray, like I said in my post before your last post “(deterrence is) not really even the point of punishments from a legal (system) standpoint. It may or may not work as deterrence but it’s point is punishment…”

    And you point that people wish for things all the time that don’t exist misses the point as well. Yes, people wish for things all the time that don’t exist but they don’t believe they exist just because the wish for them (e.g. time travel). However, I believe it’s different with justice. People really do believe that true justice exists. Justice is a concept that resonates in our hearts and is part of our human nature. Time travel and self mending vases, not so much.

  62. scbrownlhrm

    DJC,

    BTW – you were the one who brought up the point of noting some unhappy Christians.

    Surely you meant that to mean that the pensive Christian in his interior wrestling match with said past harms to others, current appetites, and so on, is closer to the meaning of all things – there in his pensiveness or what have you.

    Or did you mean the opposite? That any hope which makes us happy is “ontologically equivalent at the end of the day”?

    But if happiness has nothing to do with the meaning of all things – in a world such as this one – then why did you bring it up?

    You said, “With that hope, I can go on and I am as sincerely happy and cheerful as any Christian appears to be. Frankly I think I’m happier than many Christians when I occasionally get an honest glimpse past the “Church Facade” into inner turmoil.”

    So the question for you is – the happy owner – or – the new Christian pensive about his own appetites, past harms to others – and what have you?

    Who is closer to the meaning of all things?

    That is – of course – if you can first coherently identify a proper goal which reason is obligated to chase after – said meaning of all things.

    Once you establish that proper goal which obligates all of Reason…. all the time….. in all people…. to chase after “it” (whatever you peg as “it” to be the meaning of all things) – then – will it be the happy owner or will it be the new Christian in his interior wrestling match who is closer to said meaning of all things?

    If there is no “all the time” and “in all people”, (…. reason …… chase…) well then we are left with our own self-actualization such that the happy owner is well on his way, and so on. Perhaps that is why you brought up pensive Christians there in their Hospital/Church?

    Finally, we get your bell curves within brain chemistry. Any given century’s bell curve and its two standard deviations ever fluxes this way and that way from century to century – equal rights sometimes the flavor of the day – sometimes not – and so on. All such foci are – oddly – ever at fate’s mercy as should one mere generation of cataclysmic darkness steal away all of our gained Knowledge Of Good and Evil we find – then – that evolutionary morality therein ends up neither necessary nor sufficient to do any of the necessary work we are actually demanding from you here. Oh dear. While you seem to appeal to those fluxing bell curve foci maps – you’ve still not shown how you’ve freed yourself from said bell curves of said brain chemistry nor have you shown how you’ve overcome comment #61’s Hume and logic in Feser’s linked essay searching for reason’s categorical imperative, and, also, you’ve still not shown us how any of your stated means/ends are at all relevant to the Christian’s statement on Pain and Hope to those who are suffering.

  63. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    (deterrence is) not really even the point of punishments from a legal (system) standpoint

    There is a paragraph in #54 that begins, “If our justice system were concerned purely with retribution…” I think it argues against your claim rather strongly. I’m afraid that unless you can address it, I’m going to have to disagree.

    People really do believe that true justice exists.

    Um, people hope true justice exists. That’s not the same thing.

    Justice is a concept that resonates in our hearts and is part of our human nature.

    There’s a difference between a concept and a reality. I can’t keep track of which you’re talking about.

  64. Ray Ingles

    JAD –

    If you were a non-believing atheist friend of this man how would you console him?

    Expressing sympathy for his loss, sharing any positive impact her life had had on mine, talking about the good things she’d done and experienced. The kind of stuff you’d find here, more or less.

    Would you (or should you) tell him the truth about what you believe?

    If he asked. Otherwise, it’d be beyond rude. Many Christians look at people who are ill or grieving as a rich opportunity for evangelizing, though.

    Would you tell him that there was no hope of anything beyond this life?

    Well, the rest of the universe will keep going on after I die, and it contains people I care about, so it depends on what exactly is meant by “no hope of anything beyond this life”. But if you mean hope for supernatural resurrection or some such… it’s part of the truth about what I believe that I don’t believe that, so, again, “if he asked”.

  65. scbrownlhrm

    JAD,

    You ask how to respond…..

    Well…..

    It depends……

    The strong moral feelings expressed can go in all directions. The bell curve the Naturalist appeals to permits the many and various statements we find permissible – given there is no should. We believe in justice – but it doesn’t exist – per the Naturalist – and per said bell curves at their stopping points. So too the taking of the life you speak of may – if taken by violence – be spoken of quite differently should such taking been motivated by strong moral feelings of, say, community or devotion or purposeful life-goals in those who took said life by said violence.

    The Naturalist’s landscape is stuck with all such bell curves.

    He pretends *as-if* Ought and Justice and Proper Goals exist which reason ought to chase – but at bottom there are no such things. Only the arbitrary and varying useful fictions which ebb and flow through various submersions casually shaping the brain’s cascades of chemistry.

    And so on.

    So the answer to your question as to a response?

    Well this of course: WHATEVER.

  66. BillT

    Ray,

    As far as your paragraph that begins “If our justice system were concerned purely with retribution,…” you seem to have a poor understanding of criminal law. Intent is what separates criminal from non criminal acts. Acts that have criminal intent are the only types of acts that are punishable by the criminal justice system and where retributive justice is exercised. Acts without that intent (negligence, insanity) are not punishable in that way. It’s not about what kind of punishment “people want” it’s about retributive justice for (intentionally) criminal acts where that kind of punishment is appropriate. Where it isn’t applied is of no relevance to my point.

    And if you think people hope for justice in the same way they hope for time travel or self mending vases (your examples) you have a strange view of humanity.

  67. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Intent is what separates criminal from non criminal acts.

    Exactly… because “people seem to want punishment to be inflicted only in cases where it would reasonably have a deterrent effect.” I’m coming at it from a different direction than you, y’see. Intent makes a difference… because only intent can be affected by deterrent consequences. (Well, okay, negligence can, too, but in a lesser way… and sure enough, lesser penalties apply to negligence.) How does your ‘retribution’ framework make sense of a statute of limitations?

    And if you think people hope for justice in the same way they hope for time travel or self mending vases (your examples) you have a strange view of humanity.

    Those were examples of people demonstrably wanting impossible things. I was establishing the existence thereof, which undermines the idea that the concept existing necessitates it existing in reality.

    People want perfection, too, and it certainly exists as a concept. The perfect marriage, the perfect vacation, even the perfect sandwich. Doesn’t exist so much in reality, but it’s understandable why the concept would exist. “True justice”, in the sense you’re talking about, is “perfect” as applied to “justice”. I don’t see a radical discontinuity there.

  68. BillT

    Ray,

    “people seem to want punishment to be inflicted only in cases where it would reasonably have a deterrent effect.”

    You’re just making this stuff up as you go along aren’t you? It’s pretty good considering that’s all it is.

  69. Ray Ingles

    No, BillT, I’ve thought about this a fair amount, and explained my reasoning in some detail. So yes, I think the ‘deterrent’ model fits what we actually see way better than the ‘retribution’ model, and I’ve given specific examples to bolster that.

    “How does your ‘retribution’ framework make sense of a statute of limitations?”

  70. scbrownlhrm

    “Let the punishment fit the crime” and “Equitable restitution” are *not* all nonsense terms laced throughout the semantics for no reason at all.

    Deterrence and restitution and punishment all seem to be present. Deterrence seems the lesser of the three where goals are concerned – especially in the wording we see in sentencing – but it is certainly present.

    Stat. of limitations and double jeopardy and so on are aimed at preventing abuse of power.

    Who cares.

    Justice is ultimately a useful fiction.

    It’s morally reasonable to shape justice into whatever shape we want.

    Indifference starts and ends all sentences in this comedy (#61’s described comedy).

  71. BillT

    You’re missing the main point about this Ray. The only thing society can do and know it can do is punish people who commit crimes. Whether that works as deterrence is completely arbitrary. It works for some, mostly law abiding citizens, and doesn’t work on others, mostly criminals. Now sometimes the opposite happens and sometimes it doesn’t but the point is the society can’t know on who it will work or whether it will work or when it will work. It can only mete out punishments and let the chips fall where they may. Deterrence can’t be the purpose of legal punishment when it’s effect is almost impossible to determine.

    Statutes of Limitation have nothing to do with it and aren’t related to the subject at hand and for the most serious crimes don’t even exist.

  72. Ray Ingles

    The only thing society can do and know it can do is punish people who commit crimes.

    Well, actually, we can also work on things like restitution, and – as I noted – rehabilitation. (Also, look at Michigan’s Catastrophic Claims Association, a – sadly, nearly unique – attempt to provide just compensation to people injured in automobile accidents.) There’s also carrot rather than stick approaches to discouraging offenses – I’m sure you can think of one or two.

    Deterrence can’t be the purpose of legal punishment when it’s effect is almost impossible to determine.

    Difficult, but not impossible. And consider that a founding principle of British, and thus American, law is Blackstone’s Formulation, which explicitly draws its justification from a deterrent model.

  73. BillT

    Ray,

    The guiding principle in Blackstone’s Formulation is:

    All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer.

    That’s from your link which mentions deterrence exactly zero times.

    So first it’s the statute of limitations question which was irrelevant and now Blackstone’s Formulation which is irrelevant. Nice work Ray. BTW, did you think I’d forgotten Blackstone’s Formulation since my Law School graduation?

  74. Ray Ingles

    You didn’t read on? See James Madison – the guy who drafted the U.S. Constitution – quoting Blackstone and saying:

    “for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world, that all of them cannot be punished…. when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, ‘it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security.’ And if such a sentiment as this were to take hold in the mind of the subject that would be the end of all security whatsoever”

    How is that not consequentialist, concerned with effectiveness of deterrence?

  75. BillT

    That may be Madison’s take but it’s not what Blackstone said or what any of the others quotes there said. And it’s a stretch at that. But if it floats your boat Ray, enjoy.

  76. scbrownlhrm

    Ray,

    Deterrence is present – clearly – but you’re asserting that all sentences rendered in all courts yielding all incarceration are – all – built atop a goal and that *main* goal is not to render equitable punishment in each given case nor to render equitable restitution in each given case – but rather – with all eyes within the Court turned outward to those innocent onlookers – asking, “What can we in this Court do here in this given case with these victims and these offenders to make all those innocent onlookers out there behave?”

    That’s not very apparent. It’s clearly “there” but it certainly isn’t *out-driving” those other two factors.

  77. scbrownlhrm

    That said – I agree with Ray in that Deterrence and Rehabilitation are noble goals. It is to our detriment that we minimize them. As for rehabilitation – well – God’s overwhelmingly affirmative and favorable statement on the topic is this: *Christ*

    Of course there is – then – this added fact:

    Not noble lies – as in Atheism’s *ends*.

    But noble goals – as in essentialism, final causes, and etc. as in God’s necessary ends…….

  78. Ray Ingles

    BillT – Did you notice that that was literally the only rationale for the principle in that article?

    This isn’t invented or made up. “A false positive has been historically considered more costly because it violates the social contract between the state and the individual,[9] erodes the legitimacy of the justice system,[10] undermines the deterrent effect of punishment,[11] and gratuitously imposes the monetary cost of punishment.[12]” If you want to call it a “stretch”, you can, but it’s not clear on what basis you claim it.

  79. BillT

    Ray,

    That notwithstanding it doesn’t address the problem that deterrence is an arbitrary effect that works for some, doesn’t work on others, that the society can’t know on who it will work or whether it will work or when it will work and it’s effect is almost impossible to determine. Other than that it’s just great.

  80. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    deterrence is an arbitrary effect that works for some, doesn’t work on others, that the society can’t know on who it will work or whether it will work

    Same with cancer treatment, so we should shut down cancer treatment centers and cancer research?

    (Talk about the perfect being the enemy of the good… this is apparently a very literal example.)

    it’s effect is almost impossible to determine

    I disputed that in #76, though you may not have noticed.

  81. BillT

    Cancer treatment. Really?

    And as for your “disputation” in #76 a Wiki article that says:

    Despite numerous studies using a variety of data sources, sanctions, crime types, statistical methods and theoretical approaches, there remains little agreement in the scientific literature about whether, how, under what circumstances, to what extent, for which crimes, at what cost, for which individuals, and perhaps most importantly, in which direction do various aspects of contemporary criminal sanctions affect subsequent criminal behavior. There are extensive reviews of this literature with somewhat conflicting assessments. (Thus why I ignored it the first time though it bolsters my argument not yours)

    I rest my case.

  82. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Cancer treatment. Really?

    Sure. We can’t know which cancers are going to respond to it and which won’t. That doesn’t mean we don’t try.

    I rest my case.

    Before you read as far as “The most recent studies into the matter though have found that deterrence does cause a decrease in criminal acts”? Well, okay…

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