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Ask a Theologian III

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Nov 7, 2009.

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  1. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003
    This thread is a continuation of the original and the sequel. If you have a question it might be a good idea to look through that thread or this one to see if it's already been addressed.

    In the next couple of posts I shall give links to sections of the earlier threads where many things have already been discussed, so please check there to see if your question has already been asked (especially if you want to know whether I believe in God or what I think of Kierkegaard).

    I should make it clear that there are basically two meanings of “theologian”. The first is someone who thinks or speculates about God etc and writes what they think. Such a person is actually religious and tries to describe God (or whatever) as they think he really is. It was in this sense that Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth-century theologian, commented that theologians pray truly and that, if you pray truly, you are a theologian.

    The second meaning of “theologian” is the academic sense and it basically means someone who studies theologians in the former sense. For example, my old tutor is an expert in Duns Scotus, which means he studies Scotus, writes about him, and tries to establish what he believed and why – exactly as a historical philosopher might study Plato or Descartes. But that doesn’t mean he actually agrees with Scotus on anything. Theology in this sense has considerable overlap with history, literary criticism, anthropology, and so on, especially since the people or groups under consideration could be contemporary as well as historical. Clearly you don’t need to have any religious faith at all to do this, any more than you have to be French to study Balzac. In fact I think that modern academic theologians probably divide roughly equally between those who are religious and those who are not. Perhaps there are more of the former than of the latter, but it would probably depend to a great extent on where you are.

    So I’m a theologian in the latter sense. I’m not religious and I don’t expect to become religious, at least not through studying theology.

    I have a BA in Philosophy and Theology, an M Phil in Theology, and a PhD in Philosophy. So professionally speaking I am more of a philosopher than a theologian. Most of my academic research has been in philosophy. However, I have written quite a few books for a general readership on historical theology and church history. I have also worked in what might be called either philosophy of religion or philosophical theology, which is the study of theological doctrines using the tools of modern analytic philosophy.

    I should also specify that I mostly know about Christianity. I don’t know much about other religions.

    So feel free to ask anything that relates to any of this. If I don’t know the answer I might at least know where you should go to find it...

    Directory to earlier threads

    This thread is now in its third version, and we've had a lot of questions already. Also, certain questions keep cropping up. So before asking, please have a look to see if your question has already been asked. I've made this as easy as possible by compiling a list of all the questions that have already been asked. Click the links to find the discussion. The links take you to the question rather than to the answer. Bear in mind that sometimes the answer took a while to appear, so you may need to scroll down before you get to it. Some of the questions sparked quite long discussions, which may contain further information related to that topic. Also, in these links I have paraphrased most of the questions. Some were not even in question form originally, but I have phrased them as if they were for the sake of consistency, and included them here since they led to (hopefully enlightening) discussions.

    Again, if you have a question, please look through here first and see if it has been answered. If something like it has been asked before but your precise point hasn't been raised, or if you're not happy with the answer or the discussion, then feel free to ask again and refer back to earlier discussions.

    I have organised the questions under different topics, which are themselves organised into broad categories. Within each topic, the questions are listed in chronological order. Be aware that the categorisation is a bit vague and that there is overlap between some of the topics. For example, there are questions about the writing of the Bible under the topic "The New Testament, and the church in the first century" as well as under the topics that are more explicitly about the Bible. And there are questions about Jesus under the topic "The doctrine of the incarnation" as well as under "Jesus". So check carefully to see if your question or a question like it has been asked.

    In the remainder of this post, I list the categories and the topics. See the following posts for the links to questions.

    Theology and academia

    Academia and writing
    Theology as a discipline
    Theology and other areas of life


    The nature of religion
    The nature of doctrine


    Beliefs about God
    God’s power
    God and time
    Proofs of God’s existence/non-existence
    The problem of evil
    Free will, determinism, and divine foreknowledge

    The Bible and Jesus

    The Bible – general
    The Bible – different translations
    The Bible – its reliability/truth
    The Bible – how the books that it contains were chosen
    The Bible – the Old Testament
    The Gospels and our sources for Jesus

    The history of Christianity

    Church history (general)
    Influences between Christianity and other religions/movements
    Antiquity in general
    The New Testament, and the church in the first century
    The church in later antiquity
    The Middle Ages
    From the Renaissance to modern times
    Modern movements in Christianity

    Issues to do with Christianity

    Faith and reason
    Science and religion
    Philosophy of religion
    Christian attitudes to other religions
    God, sin, and salvation
    Ethics and morality
    Different Christian churches
    The Pope

    Christian doctrines

    The history and development of doctrines
    The doctrine of creation
    The doctrine of the Trinity
    The doctrine of the incarnation
    The doctrine of atonement
    The Virgin Mary
    The Eucharist
    Adam and Eve, the Fall, and original sin
    Heaven, the soul, and life after death
    Hell and damnation
    The devil

    Other things

    Modern people
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003
    Theology and academia

    Academia and writing

    How do you go about doing academic research?

    How do you go about writing books?

    Theology as a discipline

    Isn't theology all pointless and irrational?

    Can there be theology without metaphysics?

    What can you do with a degree in theology?

    Which theology is the oddest?

    Is it better for a theologian to be agnostic, to be more objective?

    How does one become a theologian, and what job prospects are there?

    Is theology basically about deriving conclusions from arbitrary presuppositions?

    What are the dangers of reading earlier authors in the light of later ones?

    What’s the difference between philosophy of religion and theology?

    Is theology just the study of fantasy?

    Is theology really just about competing opinions, or are there solid arguments as well?

    What is the difference between “revealed” and “natural” theology?

    Theology and other areas of life

    Are there big differences between the ways that philosophers, theologians, and historians deal with religion?

    Has the relevance of theology to humanity changed over time?

    Has theology ever been a common topic of normal conversation, and why isn’t it now?

    Are there any primarily literary works which have influenced theology?


    What proportion of theologians are religious?

    Who is the most under-rated theologian in history?

    Have there been any sexy female theologians?

    Does being a theologian make you a hit with the ladies?

    Who was the most evil theologian ever?

    Have there been any fun theologians?

    Who was the fattest theologian ever?


    The nature of religion

    If religion is about peace, why has it caused so many wars?

    What do you think of the concept of “religion as a set of memes”?

    Why are religious beliefs so deeply held?

    Are there general trends in religion, or is just one damn divinity after another?

    What do you think of Rudolf Otto’s idea of the nature of religious experience?

    What is religion?

    Is it plausible to think that in the future there will be a rational utopia without any religion?

    What do you think of the idea that religions are so closely tied to their particular cultures that they can only address problems that arise from their own cultures - to the extent that it makes no sense for people from one culture to convert to a religion from another?

    The nature of doctrine

    What does it mean for a doctrine to be “orthodox”?

    Are most of the disagreements in religion just a failure to realise that the doctrines are all metaphorical?
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003

    Beliefs about God

    Why should the Christian God be worshipped at all?

    Is Christianity really monotheistic at all?

    Why is God “he”?

    If God is omniscient, what is the point of prayer?

    What’s the weirdest conception of God?

    What’s the definition of a god?

    How can Christians reconcile faith in God’s goodness with his behaviour in the Bible?

    Where did monotheism come from?

    Does God ever change his mind?

    What do you think of “open theism”?

    What exactly is the difference between pantheism and panentheism?

    How does Process Theology view God and the universe?

    Since there are many views about the existence or nature of God, does this mean that each of these views is very unlikely to be true?

    What can you say about the doctrine of divine simplicity?

    Do Christians think that there could only have been one God, or is it just a contingent fact?

    Can you be a theist without believing in the supernatural?

    Are human beings programmed to believe in God?

    Why do some people think that there are some things that God wouldn't know, because they have no truth value? Don't even counter-factuals have truth values which we can pretty much know?

    Why do some people write "G-d"?

    God’s power

    Can God create a rock he can’t lift?

    Why do most monotheists think God must be omnipotent?

    Why must a theist suppose God to be omnipotent or morally perfect?

    Did human beings just invent God, as a more powerful version of themselves, to explain things they didn’t understand?

    God and time

    What does it mean to say that God is outside time?

    If God created the universe, there must have been time (because there was a time before the universe existed). But how could an infinite God have existed inside time?

    If God is outside time, would he need to be caused by anything else at all?

    If God is outside time, how could he love something which is temporal, such as the universe?


    What's the history of atheism?

    How did atheism come to be such an anti-religious movement?

    When did atheism first appear?

    Why have atheists always been a minority throughout history? In fact, have they been?

    Can some atheists be called “militant”?

    Proofs of God’s existence/non-existence

    Has anyone tried to show that no proof of God’s existence is possible?

    If God revealed himself to everyone, would that count as a “proof” of his existence?

    Is it theoretically possible to prove God’s existence?

    Have you seen any argument for or against God’s existence that no-one could answer?

    Why is it wrong to think that the burden of proof is always on the theist?

    Do you agree that modern science suggests that the complexity of the universe and especially of life is hard to explain without appealing to an intelligence behind it all?

    Is the fine-tuning argument just another flawed argument from analogy?

    Is the existence of an intelligent creator a reasonable explanation for the existence of life?

    What do you think of Pascal's Wager?

    The problem of evil

    What different responses to the problem of evil are there?

    Is evil an inevitable consequence of free will?

    What’s the history of the free will defence?

    Why does God allow suffering?

    Free will, determinism, and divine foreknowledge

    Could God create a universe where everyone has free will but never does evil?

    What is determinism?

    Which makes more sense, predestination or free will, and what is the history of these doctrines?

    Is belief in free will incompatible with Christianity, and where did this belief come from?

    Can anyone believe in a loving God, determinism, and hell?

    If determinism were true, would it mean we have no choice about anything – and what is the difference between determinism and fatalism?

    Is free will compatible with divine omniscience?

    If someone believes in predestination, do they have any motive to try not to sin?

    Does it make sense to think of God’s plan for the world as a series of conditional propositions, so that he alters his actions depending on how people behave?

    What do you think of the idea of compatibilist free will?

    Did discussion of free will only come about because of theology? And was this a distortion of ancient concepts of liberty?

    Does God act justly in condemning people for not believing in them, since they choose not to believe in him out of their own free will?

    What about free will in heaven?

    If God knows what we're going to do, does that in itself mean that we have no choice over the matter?
  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003
    The Bible and Jesus

    The Bible – general

    What did Spinoza say about biblical interpretation?

    What parts of the Bible would you recommend to people who haven’t read much of it?

    Is biblical literalism a modern heresy?

    Why isn’t there any divine knowledge in the Bible beyond what people of the time would have known anyway?

    What are the earliest and latest verses of the Bible?

    What ten books of the Bible should someone read who doesn’t want to read the whole thing?

    Was the Bible written by con artists?

    What do you think of this documentary about the Bible?

    Where did the idea come from that the Bible is the infallible word of God?

    Are there many references to alchemy in the Bible?

    The Bible – different translations

    What is the most accurate version of the Bible?

    Which is the best version of the Bible?

    How do the RSV and the NRSV differ, and which is better?

    The Bible – its reliability/truth

    Are the prophecies in the Bible reliable?

    What criteria might we use to tell if the Bible is true or not?

    Does the fact that the books of the Bible were originally copied by hand mean that they must be full of transmission errors?

    Have the study of history and archaeology really proved the Bible to be true and reliable?

    Is there any evidence that the stories in Genesis are true?

    The Bible – how the books that it contains were chosen

    Why did some books not get included in the Bible?

    Is it true that the books of the Bible were chosen at the Council of Nicaea?

    Should the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient texts have been included in the Bible?

    Why didn't the Protestant churches disagree with the Catholics over the canon of the Bible more than they actually did?

    Why did some books make it into the New Testament, and not others?

    The Bible – the Old Testament

    Where did the stories in Genesis come from?

    Why are the Ten Commandments considered more important than all the other commandments in the Old Testament?

    What about the distinction between the civil, the moral, and the ritual parts of the Old Testament law?

    Does the Old Testament forbid murder, or just killing?

    Are the laws in Leviticus given by God directly or by people inspired by him?

    Where can I find out about theories concerning the authorship of the Old Testament?

    Are the silver scrolls still the oldest bits of Tanakh text extant?

    Who was Jezebel?

    Does the book of Genesis say that human beings have mastery over animals?

    Does the Genesis account of creation really talk about “gods” in the plural?

    What does the story of Aaron's staff budding mean?

    Did Moses receive the "oral law"?

    What does the Bible say about the world before the Flood?

    The Gospels and our sources for Jesus

    What evidence is there that Jesus existed?

    Are there any sources for the historical Jesus outside the New Testament?

    Is it possible that the Gospels were really written by Jesus’ disciples?

    Who really wrote the Gospels?

    What historical records are there about Jesus?

    Were lots of details of Jesus’ life invented to fit the prophecies?

    Do the stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke contradict each other?

    Can we know anything about what Jesus was really like?

    Was the text of the Gospels tampered with for doctrinal reasons?

    Does Matthew contradict the other Gospels by saying that the stone outside Jesus’ tomb was moved by an earthquake?

    If Jesus didn’t really claim to be divine, why did the authors of the Gospels insert such claims into their writing?

    Why is the Gospel of John commonly regarded as less historical than the others?

    Why is Mark’s Gospel generally thought to be older than Matthew’s?

    Were many of the supposed sayings of Jesus actually written centuries later by monks?

    Is John’s Gospel based on any of the others?

    Are there any accounts of Jesus' resurrection apart from the Bible?

    Who were the different Gospels written for?

    What would most historians of the period say to the claim that the historical evidence supports, or is consistent with, the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead?

    What can you tell us about the Gospel of the Hebrews?

    What is the origin of the non-canonical Gospels, such as the Nag Hammadi texts, and do they corroborate the evidence of the canonical Gospels for the life of Jesus?


    Was Jesus a Jew or a Christian, and what is the definition of Christianity and Judaism anyway?

    What about the Messianic Secret?

    Are there other Jews in history who claimed to be the son of God?

    Did Jesus teach that everyone is equal?

    What’s the relationship between the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings?

    Which is more likely – Jesus was a trickster, or he was nothing special and the stories just got exaggerated?

    What does Jesus’ saying about “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” mean?

    Was Jesus really good at carpentry?

    If David Blaine were to go back to Jesus’ time, would people think he was doing miracles? And if Jesus were to come to our time, would people think he was just a conjuror?

    How likely is any of that Baigent “bloodline of Jesus” stuff to be true?

    What was Jesus’ attitude to the religious authorities of his time?

    Did Jesus advocate taking revenge?

    Did Jesus support slavery?

    Did Jesus claim to be divine, and would such a claim have been regarded as blasphemous by most Jews at the time?

    Did Jesus have any brothers or sisters?

    What was Jesus’ attitude to the Jewish law?

    What did Jesus mean when he prayed to God to forgive the people who were crucifying him?

    Did Jesus really not claim to be divine?

    If Jesus didn’t say anything more extreme or offensive than most teachers of the law did at the time, why did he get crucified?

    What did Jesus mean for the validity of the Old Testament?

    Seriously, did Jesus really not claim to be divine?

    Why didn't Jesus throw the first stone at the adulteress?

    To what extent was Jesus a pacifist?

    Why do people think it's so important to stress that Jesus was Jewish?

    Who were the most important followers of Jesus in his lifetime?
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003
    The history of Christianity

    Church history (general)

    What have been the most important points of influence between the church and secular politics?

    How far back does the reform movement go?

    Has the church ever tried to rename the planets?

    How did a carpenter’s son become one of the major world deities?

    What forms of Christianity have set up a certain ruler as Messiah or God?

    Was the spread of Christianity inevitable, so it would have happened even without Constantine and the other Christian emperors?

    Would Christianity, or something very like it, have happened even if Jesus had never existed?

    Are there any known instances of Christian belief forming spontaneously without contact from missionaries?

    What's the history of asceticism in Christianity?

    Influences between Christianity and other religions/movements

    Who is more important to Christianity, Plato or Aristotle?

    Has Islam influenced Christianity?

    What was Mithraism like, and was it similar to Christianity?

    How have traditional African beliefs influenced African Christianity?

    What elements of pre-Christian piety made their way into Christianity?

    What influence did Zoroastrianism have on Christianity?

    Were the Christian rites copied from Mithraist ones?

    Is Satanism a cyclical historical fad?

    Have you written about the influence of Stoicism upon Christianity?

    Is it really true that many of the things that are believed about Jesus were originally believed about Horus?

    Were lots of beliefs about Jesus really taken from earlier pagan religions?

    Why are there such similarities between deities or messiahs in different religions?

    Did Mithraism have lots in common with Christianity?

    What influence did Zoroastrianism have on Christianity?

    Did Christianity take lots of its claims about Jesus from earlier religions?

    Are Christianity and Platonism really so compatible with each other?

    Antiquity in general

    What do you think of Marcus Aurelius?

    What would the ancient ideal of passionlessness really be like?

    What do you think about Plotinus?

    What about Josephus?

    What is the relationship between Mithraism and Zoroastrianism?

    In Jesus’ day, how many Romans believed in the traditional Roman religion?

    Was there much opposition to Roman rule in Palestine in Jesus’ day?

    Were there any satirical religions in antiquity?

    Can you recommend any books on Neoplatonism?

    The New Testament, and the church in the first century

    Was Paul the only person to distinguish between his “own” views and those that were “divinely inspired”?

    What is the meaning of 1 Corinthians 6:9?

    Was Paul a bad writer?

    What is the difference between the Logos in Plato and the Logos in John’s Gospel?

    What were the relations between Christianity and Judaism in the early years?

    Did many Jews listen to the words of Jesus and the first disciples and become converted?

    Did Peter and Paul really exist?

    What do you think of the miracle stories in the New Testament?

    Did Paul invent the idea of preaching to gentiles?

    Did most of the twelve apostles really exist?

    Is 666 a reference to the emperor Nero?

    Which letters in the New Testament were not written by the person they claim to be written by?

    Are there any apostles whose historicity is fairly sure?

    Are the early popes historical?

    Were the early Christians vegetarians?

    Which books of the New Testament are “forgeries”?

    Was Peter really the first pope?

    When Paul appeals to the fact that there were witnesses of the risen Christ still living, does that strengthen the case for saying that the resurrection really happened?

    When did the Christian church become distinct from Judaism?

    Was Paul’s decision to preach to gentiles a major turning point in the history of the church, and did the other apostles disagree with it?

    How do we know that the apostles were killed for their faith?

    The church in later antiquity

    What about Pelagius?

    Why was Augustine fascinated by farting?

    Why did ancient theologians say that some emotions are “unreasonable”?

    Did Catholicism triumph over rival churches and heresies just by luck, or was there something about it that made it intrinsically more likely to survive?

    What about Jovinian?

    What were the political factors involved in the rise of Christianity?

    Was the church organised by political powers in order to manipulate people?

    How influential were pagan neoplatonism and magic upon early Christianity?

    What were the regional differences in early Christianity?

    How did Manichaeism die out?

    What was the role of anti-semitism in early Christianity?

    What is “gnosis”?

    Is there any truth to the bit in Dan Brown where he says the emperor decided that Jesus was divine?

    Is there any theological strength to Arianism?

    Were any ancient Greeks monotheists?

    Was Arius trying to return Christianity to its Jewish roots?

    When did the symbol of the cross lose its infamy?

    What can you tell us about Eusebius and Irenaeus?

    What sort of proofs and arguments did early Christian theologians use?

    What can you tell us about the “Three chapters” controversy, and how Chalcedonianism sought to find a “middle way” between Monophysitism and Nestorianism?

    Did Christians after Constantine regard the emperor as the head of the church?

    Was Jacob Baradaeus as important to the Monophysite movement as is often claimed?

    Did Constantine convert to Christianity just for political reasons?

    To what extent were Augustine’s views influenced by Manichaeism?

    Was Constantius II an Arian?

    Was Christianity so absurd to the ancient mind that no-one could have believed it without being divinely inspired to do so?

    Was the date of Christmas really chosen to be a sort of alternative to the celebration of the solstice?

    Were the early Christians really all pacifists?

    Why was Augustine so widely read?

    Was there an Egyptian Christian patriarch who was forced to worship the god Serapis?

    The Middle Ages

    Are quodlibets zen?

    What do you think of Boethius?

    Where did anchorites come from?

    What was the justification for the practice of indulgences?

    Did the Catholic and Orthodox churches schism because of a disagreement about St Peter?

    Is Aquinas’ notion of human flourishing the same as Aristotle’s?

    What are the links between the Manichaeans and the Bogomils?

    Did the Orthodox split from the Catholics, or the other way around?

    Is there any link between asceticism and the trial by ordeal?

    Were the Middle Ages a time of evil intellectual oppression and witch hunts?

    Who were the Waldenses, and why were they declared heretical?

    What made the Cathars heretical?

    What were the theological justifications for the Albigensian crusade?

    Are there any cool medieval texts on monasticism?

    How did pacifism decline in Christianity, and were there any medieval pacifist Christians?

    Why do you like Aquinas?

    From the Renaissance to modern times

    Is John Locke a good theologian?

    Was there some particular reason why the Reformation happened when it did?

    What about Berkeley?

    What about Spinoza?

    What did Nietzsche mean by “God is dead”?

    What are Jesuits?

    What happened when native Americans combined Christianity with their own traditional beliefs?

    How did the US end up becoming more religious than Europe?

    What can you tell us about Pietism?

    Was Bartolomé de Las Casas a bad man?

    What do you think of Kierkegaard?

    What really happened with Galileo and the church?

    Again, what do you think of Kierkegaard?

    Have the crusades been officially called off?

    When Voltaire criticised Leibniz, did he know what he was talking about?

    More importantly, what do you think of Kierkegaard?

    When did the church start allowing Europeans to engage in usury?

    What happened to the different sects of Lutherans that split apart from each other in the early Reformation?

    Did Kierkegaard turn theology into the objective study of religion from the outside, and make it useless as a tool used by religion itself?

    Did Berkeley have unusual views about transubstantiation?

    Did Berkeley's The analyst initiate a debate about deism?

    How could anyone have been attracted to Calvinism?

    Why do you like Bonhoeffer?

    Modern movements in Christianity

    What about liberation theology?

    What about Catholic theology?

    What are the main achievements of the ecumenical movement?

    What’s wrong with conservative evangelicalism?

    What about the doctrine that Christians are still bound by the Old Testament law?

    Do any monastic orders allow marriage?

    What’s the KJV-only movement all about?

    What are some good resources on Christian existentialism?

    What do you think of Yonggi Cho and the Yoido Full Gospel Church?

    Is modern religion doing anything other than retreating in the face of secularism and science, and if so, does it have a future at all?

    How can Christian humanists claim to believe in God if they don't believe that God exists?
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003
    Issues to do with Christianity

    Faith and reason

    Is faith in God rational?

    Which ancient authors should I read on the subject of faith?

    If someone believes something just because they have faith, is that irrational?

    Where did the rise of rationalism in early modern times come from?

    What is the relation between knowledge and belief?

    Is Christianity wilfully illogical in saying that you have to believe things “by faith”?

    Was Nietzsche right to say that Christianity was set up to stop people thinking?

    Isn’t Christianity fundamentally at odds with rationality and science?

    Science and religion

    Does the scientific method undermine belief in God?

    Why is Richard Dawkins wrong?

    Was Kant the first person to try to combine traditional Christian metaphysics with the modern scientific worldview?

    What about the “anthropic principle” and evidence for a fine-tuned universe?

    Why do people think that science and religion are incompatible?

    What do you think about this documentary, which argues that Christianity is completely compatible with the theory of evolution?

    Does Hume's problem of induction offer a way to reconcile science and religion?

    Philosophy of religion

    What do you think of Alvin Plantinga’s argument against naturalism?

    What do you think of Anthony Flew and his conversion to theism?

    What do you think of William Lane Craig?

    What do you think of Richard Swinburne?

    Christian attitudes to other religions

    What do Christians think about other religions?

    Does the Catholic Church think that other religions can offer routes to heaven?

    Did the discovery of the New World cause anyone to change their views about the salvation of non-Christians?

    What do you think of this depressingly unedifying bit of bickering on Oprah on the subject of religious pluralism?

    If the Bible says that Jesus is the only way to salvation, how is it fair that people’s salvation can depend on where or when they were born?

    Most religions say you will go to hell if you believe in the wrong god, but how can anyone know which is the right one?

    Do Christians believe that adherents of non-Abrahamic religions must be going to hell?

    God, sin, and salvation

    Is there any proof that God can forgive sins?

    Why do Christians believe that God has to sacrifice someone before he can forgive people’s sins?

    Do Christians believe that sin required a “blood sacrifice” to expiate?

    How do Christians who think that everyone will be saved understand the role of Christ?

    What’s the whole “faith” and “works” disagreement about, between Catholics and Protestants? When Catholics talk about “works”, is that just code for “giving money to the church”?

    If Jesus’ purpose was to get crucified, why did the people crucifying him need to be forgiven at all?

    Why have theologians generally accepted the claim that there is no salvation outside the church?

    Is the idea that you can sin just by thinking unique to Jewish/Christian culture?

    Do most Christians think that “sin” is synonymous with “evil”?

    Again, aren't there good reasons for thinking that sin and evil are not the same thing?

    Does the ransom theory of atonement compromise divine omnipotence?

    Is it possible to deny Jesus' divinity and still be saved, according to the orthodox or canonical view?

    Ethics and morality

    Why does Christianity have such a thing about sexuality?

    Do all religions have the same moral standards?

    What is the Christian teaching on Just War Theory, and what is its history?

    Why does Christianity have a thing about homosexuality?

    What does the Bible say about sex outside marriage?

    What is the biblical view of marriage?

    What’s the hoo-hah about gay priests and bishops?

    How essential is pacifism to Christianity?

    What did Augustine think were the criteria for a “just war”?

    What is honour?

    What is marriage?

    What is the church’s answer to the Euthyphro problem?

    What do you think of the claim that, without God, life is necessarily amoral?

    Have any theologians written about phronesis (practical wisdom)?

    How can people call themselves Christians while ignoring the instruction not to kill?

    What’s the origin of the Seven Deadly Sins?

    Can we infer from the odd stories about women in the Bible that Jewish/Christian culture had a weird thing about female sexuality?

    How did the church react to the re-introduction of the death penalty in England in 1120?

    If a couple have got married in a purely civil ceremony, does the church regard them as married at all?

    How did the church change from teaching extreme pacifism to setting out the circumstances under which a war could be just?

    Does the condemnation of homosexuality by Deuteronomy/Paul refer only to penetrative acts?

    What does “casuistry” mean in a theological context?

    Different Christian churches

    Is the Catholic Church the oldest Christian denomination?

    Which Christian denomination is most similar to the seven churches of Asia (from Revelation)?

    What are the proportions of the different churches in Europe?

    Why do different Christian denominations have different views on baptism?

    Which Christian sect is closest to the teaching of Jesus?

    Which denomination is closest to the truth?

    Does the Catholic Church today vie for political power to try to save souls?

    Why does the Orthodox Church have a different style of cross?

    Which denomination has the most reasonable view of the scriptures?

    Do Catholics produce as much polemical literature against the Orthodox as the Orthodox do against the Catholics?

    Why did Protestantism go against monasticism?

    The Pope

    What is Papal infallibility all about?

    What can you tell us about the doctrine of papal infallibility?

    What exactly is the Pope supposed to be and do?
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003
    Christian doctrines

    The history and development of doctrines

    What’s the Holy Spirit all about?

    How much does Catholic teaching change?

    Has Christian theology generally just been an expression of the church’s political concerns?

    Have there been big methodological shifts in how theology is done?

    On the assumption that Jesus wasn’t really divine, what is the best explanation for the growth of Christianity and its belief that he was?

    What is “actual grace”?

    What is the beatific vision?

    Who on earth were the Craspanians?

    The doctrine of creation

    Why did God create anything at all?

    Why would God create a universe so vast that we will never see most of it?

    When did God create the universe?

    Why did God create the universe at all?

    Why do people think Genesis says God created the universe out of nothing, when it doesn't?

    The doctrine of the Trinity

    Where did the doctrine of the Trinity come from?

    What is your favourite solution to the problem of the Trinity?

    What was the motive for the development of the doctrine of the Trinity?

    What do you think of relative identity approaches to the Trinity?

    Would the doctrine of the Trinity be absurd without the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity?

    What is the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to that of the incarnation?

    How have Christians reconciled the doctrine of the Trinity with monotheism?

    The doctrine of the incarnation

    What is the doctrine of the hypostatic union?

    Since Christians believe that Jesus was God and God is perfect, do they believe that Jesus was incredibly good-looking and that he was the world champion at everything?

    How have theologians tried to reconcile Jesus’ being God and his being human at the same time?

    If Jesus was God, how could he have not known something?

    Did the doctrine of the incarnation develop as a result of Christian beliefs about salvation?

    When do Christians think Jesus came into being – from the start of creation, or just later, when God realised he needed to save people?

    Why is Jesus given the title “Son” if he is supposed to be equal to the Father?

    How could Jesus pray to God if he was God?

    What are the “substances”, “wills”, and “energies” of Jesus, and why did it matter?

    Why didn’t Jesus teach people useful scientific insights that they didn’t already know?

    If Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, where would the other half of his genes come from?

    If someone is fully human, doesn’t that preclude them from being God as well?

    If Jesus could be God, could other humans also be God?

    Was C.S. Lewis right to argue that if Jesus wasn’t insane, he must have been God?

    Would Christ have to be divine in order to save humanity?

    The Virgin Mary

    Catholics believe that Mary is the mother of God, but how can any human being be the mother of God?

    If Jesus had siblings, how can the Catholic Church teach that Mary remained a virgin all her life?

    What is the connection between the doctrine of the virgin birth and the doctrines of Jesus’ divinity and his descent from David?


    Some Christians claim to venerate Mary and the saints, but not worship them - can this distinction really make sense?

    Have there been any Christian groups who worshipped saints?

    The Eucharist

    Why do Catholics believe in transubstantiation?

    Do Lutherans believe in transubstantiation?

    Why aren’t Christians bothered by the fact that the Eucharist is so like human sacrifice?

    Adam and Eve, the Fall, and original sin

    Are Mormons the only ones who think that the Fall was a good thing?

    How could the actions of Adam and Eve affect other people?

    Is Augustine’s view of original sin the same as Paul’s?

    Is Christianity committed to the view that Adam and Eve really existed? And since they almost certainly didn’t, isn’t that an argument against the truth of Christianity?

    Why did God not want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge?

    Is the story of Adam and Eve an allegory?

    How does the church reconcile the fact that Adam and Eve’s children must have had to marry each other with its prohibition on incest?

    Is the doctrine of original sin incompatible with the doctrine of theosis (the divinisation of human beings)?

    When did sin first take place - when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, when God found out what had happened, or when they decided to eat the fruit?

    Heaven, the soul, and life after death

    Where does the doctrine of purgatory come from?

    What about pagan beliefs about enlightenment and heaven?

    Do Christians consider the soul to be divine?

    Do all dogs go to heaven?

    Where do Christians think the soul comes from?

    What is the most common religious definition of death?

    Where are heaven and hell – outside time and space? How could that work?

    What are Christian beliefs about the resurrection of the dead, and how come you don’t hear about this much in modern Christianity?

    Can you be a Christian without believing in heaven or hell?

    If you believed that good people will go to heaven when they die, why would it be wrong to go around killing them to send them there more quickly?

    What arguments are there for the existence of the soul?

    What do you think of Aristotle's arguments for the soul?

    Are there arguments against the existence of the soul?

    Do all Christian theologians think the mind is the same thing as the soul?

    Hell and damnation

    Where does the doctrine of hell come from?

    Why is “hell” a swear word?

    What were early Christian beliefs about hell?

    If you believe in purgatory, what’s the purpose of hell?

    Do Christians think that you have to repent your sins to avoid going to hell? And what is repentance?

    Suppose there were someone who believed in God, but hated him, and spent his whole life trying to help other people. Would God send that person to heaven or hell?

    Isn’t a God who sends people to hell unworthy of worship?

    Why do some theologians think that no-one will be damned at all?

    Do Christians have to believe in hell?

    What do you think of Alexandre Kalomiros' River of fire sermon about God's goodness and hell?

    The devil

    Where did belief in the devil come from?

    What views are there on the devil and hell, and how powerful is the devil supposed to be?

    Is there any explanation of why the devil went bad?

    What do Mormons believe about the origin of evil?

    Do Christians really believe that an "antichrist" is coming?

    Did the idea of the devil develop from contact with Zoroastrianism during the exilic period?

    Where does the name "Lucifer" come from?

    Is Lucifer similar to Prometheus, and if so, why is one seen as bad and the other as good?
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003
    Other things


    What was marriage like for Jews in antiquity?

    Are there Jews who take the Old Testament literally?

    Why did Ethiopian Jews stop performing animal sacrifices?

    Would ordinary Jews in Jesus’ time have belonged to parties like the Pharisees and Sadducees, or were they just for the elite?

    Were the Maccabees really descended from Aaron?

    What influence did Zoroastrianism have on Judaism?

    What was Judaism like before the Babylonian captivity?

    Was Yahweh based on earlier “dragon gods”?

    Are Jews now – or were they in the time of Jesus – waiting for a Messiah?

    How was ancient Judaism more diverse than modern Judaism?

    Did Moses really believe God was speaking to him, or did he make it all up to gain authority over the Israelites?

    Could a first-century Jew have claimed to be God?

    Was Yahweh based on earlier "donkey gods"?


    What is the point of philosophy?

    What is philosophy?

    Can there be mind-body dualism other than substance dualism?

    Isn’t philosophy of mind part of neuroscience?

    Does it make sense to talk of two situations that are different yet observationally identical?

    Is philosophical methodology now the best it’s ever been?

    Where would one start to find out about scholastic logic?

    Should we try to stick to ancient definitions of words when we do philosophy?

    What do you think of Schroedinger’s Cat?

    Is there a role for satire in rational debate?

    Do we perceive the real world, or just our own ideas and mistake them for the real world?

    Is philosophy a good minor for a college student?

    Which are the best philosophy departments in the United States?

    Modern people

    How good or bad is Bertrand Russell’s discussion of “Catholic philosophy”?

    What do you think of Thomas Morris?

    What do you think of Bart Ehrman?

    What do you think of Richard Dawkins?


    Why aren't you a Christian?

    What do you believe?

    What got you into theology?

    What’s your favourite sub-topic in theology?

    How do you go about working?

    What denomination would you be, if you were a Christian?

    If you had to read only one theologian for ever, which one would it be?

    Are all theologians as clever as you?

    Why did you choose to study philosophy and religion?

    Do you teach theology, and what is it like?

    How do you earn money?

    How popular are your books?

    Do you ever think, “How could anyone believe this?

    Have you memorised parts of the Bible?

    Do you keep up with current church events?

    Are you bothered by the pointlessness of being a theologian?

    Seriously, are you an atheist, deist, theist, or what?

    Does the fact that you are not a Christian help or hinder you as a theologian?

    How do you manage to do all this and also play/mod Civ?

    No, really, what religion are you?

    Do you know relatively little about other religions just because of time constraints, or are you genuinely not interested?

    Have you studied Muslim philosophers and theologians much?

    What is your favourite religion-related film?

    Why don’t you believe in God?

    Once again, what do you believe?

    Can you separate your analysis of a religion from your own beliefs?

    Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?

    Just tell us! Do you believe in God?

    What church do you belong to?

    Do you have any philosophical or theological views which are contrary to the generally accepted view?

    Can I cite what you say here as a source in my paper?


    What does “Judeo-Christian” mean?

    What about the Gospel of the Nazarenes?

    Are there some things that all Christians must believe to count as Christian at all?

    What does it mean to say that the Holy Spirit sanctifies the faithful?

    What would the love of God be like?

    Who defines the church?

    What influence has the Bible had on the blues?

    Is Christianity overall good or bad for people?

    Can we make sense of a “spirit of Christianity”, which lets us say that some teachings in the Bible are more important than others or even override them?

    Why do Christians and others consider wine to be sacred?

    If aliens appeared, and they were not Christians, how would this affect Christianity?

    What does the word “Calvary” mean?

    What does “speaking in tongues” mean?

    Is it possible to love without there being something that you love?

    How would you define “religiosity”, “non-religiosity”, “atheism”, and “spirituality”?

    Do Christians think that lucid dreaming is wrong?

    What do you think of the Brick Testament?

    Are there any Christian writers who think human beings could become literally divine?

    What is “constant prayer”?

    What would the faithful do if they knew the true history of their church?

    Should history be written without reference to the divine – and if so, how would one go about this?

    If you make a promise to God in a dream, are you obliged to keep it?

    Does the church have a specific doctrine about trying to convert children?

    What is it that makes someone a Christian?

    Can you love without there being a thing that you love?

    What do you think of the Theopedia site?

    What do you think of Joseph Campbell?

    Are purveyors of bad Europop gods?

    Do Wiccans think that human beings are more divine than other things?

    What's the relation between Tolkien's work and Christian mythology?

    What do you think of this online edition of early Christian texts?

    What do you think of the film "Zeitgeist"?
  9. Elta

    Elta 我不会把这种

    Oct 24, 2005
    North Vegas
    In general, do you think Philosophy makes a good minor for a college student?

    Does it really apply itself to everything you intellectually do as the professors here claim?

    Question 2 - What state (public) University in the U.S. has the best Philosophy department?
  10. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

    Feb 14, 2007
    Kael's head
    Wouldn't it be more useful if the opening pages of this thread links to where the questions were answered rather than where they were asked?

    I'm sure most of us know your dislike of using wikipedia for knowledge on Theology. What is you opinion of http://www.theopedia.com ?
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003
    I can't really answer that because I don't know much about the major/minor system in America or what doing a minor involves. I think Philosophy is a good subject to do, but it depends on the person. If you don't "get" it then there's not much point doing it. I would say that if someone is interested in it then it is well worth doing.

    Philosophy is a way of thinking. If you study it then it trains your mind to think critically and carefully, and that is a valuable thing in all areas of life. So yes, it does apply to everything - at least if you let it. Like most subjects, you would get as much out of it as you put in.

    Any answer to that question will be somewhat subjective, since how do you measure the "best"? One widely accepted (if entirely unofficial) ranking system is the Philosophical Gourmet Report. You can see its overall rankings here. Bear in mind that this is compiled mainly with graduate students in mind, so in theory it shows the best places to do a graduate degree in philosophy - and it works this out on the basis of how eminent it thinks the faculty are. That doesn't necessarily mean these places offer the best teaching, although obviously these things tend to correlate.

    I thought it would be more useful this way since some of the questions lead to long debates or discussions, so it's not clear where the question gets answered (if it ever does). It's better to link to the start of the discussion so people can follow it more fully, I think.

    I hadn't seen this before, so thanks for the link. It's obviously a very conservative evangelical site, as is clear from its statement of faith. Its coverage of issues unrelated to the concerns of modern conservative evangelicals seems extremely sketchy. The article on Origen, for example, offers only a brief biography and nothing about what he actually said. There isn't an article on Gregory of Nyssa. Even the articles on the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are basically stubs (the latter giving only information on the Great Schism). Even the articles on topics that you'd expect them to be more interested in, such as John Calvin, are very brief. Some of the articles, such as those on evolution or theological liberalism, are obviously pretty biased. So I'd say that overall the site doesn't seem enormously useful. It doesn't provide nearly enough information to be helpful, and at least some of what it does provide is rather suspicious or at least one-sided. But then it's obviously intended to be that way.
  12. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Retired Moderator Supporter

    Dec 24, 2001
    Albuquerque, NM
    I'm sure you know that this question and answer format and the discussions that have followed could make an excellent book.


    "Answers to religious questions that Atheist need to know"

    "Why Christianity is the way it is"

    "Why is Christianity so stupid? Real answers to silly questions"

    "Can God make a rock too heavy for him to lift?"

    "Fifty answers to the most asked questions about Christianity"
  13. useless

    useless Social Justice Rogue

    Dec 4, 2003
    On the internet
    If God is so loving, why does he allow truely terrible events to occur? And why does he allow suffering? I'm pretty sure, that those AIDs infected or parentless African Orphhans didn't deserve the suffering they're currently enduring, but yet Christians refer to God as being merciful and loving. Doesn't seem so, to me.
  14. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

    May 1, 2002
    More of a comment, but just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoy these threads (even if I disagree with you sometimes ;)) So thank you for taking the time to keep answering all of the questions!
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

    Nov 14, 2003
    You could be right! In fact I did write a book entitled The big questions along those lines, although it wasn't really a question-and-answer format (the chapter titles were in the forms of questions but that's all).

    Of course much Christian theological or philosophical literature had its origins in real question-and-answer sessions of this kind. Probably the most obvious example would be a great deal of medieval philosophy and theology. People like Aquinas and Scotus wrote their works in the form of quaestiones, or "questions", because that is how they taught: the master would ask a question, the students would debate it, and a final answer would be thrashed out. You can see this still at work in the form of a book such as Aquinas' Summa theologiae, which is divided in questions, complete with many arguments for and against, and a final solution from Aquinas himself.

    I suppose that the closest to these threads from that era would be the "quodlibet", or "whatever", a session where students would ask the master questions on any topic they wanted and he would do his best to answer. Some of the scholastic theologians wrote down their "quodlibetal questions". I said more about these here.

    The other major kind of text that thinkers from the later Middle Ages typically wrote was commentaries on Peter Lombard's Sentences. This was because that was a set text at university level, and to gain a higher degree you had to write a commentary on it - which is why there are so many commentaries. Lombard's Sentences itself is basically a compendium of views on the Bible and theological matters, arranged by topic. It was part of a genre known as "sentence literature" that emerged in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. And this is relevant because one of the factors underlying the development of this genre seems to have been oral discussions. An important early example of the genre, Robert Pullen's Sententiae, consists of a series of questions on all sorts of things and his answers to them. This, again, probably derived from material composed in the course of fielding real questions from people. The same thing is probably true of the "gloss", a sort of running commentary on the biblical text, which many people of this time also wrote; the most famous was that of Anselm of Laon, and it is probable that many of the comments in these glosses had a similar origin.

    There are other examples from Christian history too. An interesting one is the Dialogue with Heraclides by Origen. It's actually a transcript of an event that Origen was involved in: a bishop was thought to be teaching something suspicious, and so a synod was convened in which Origen (although only a presbyter) was invited to question the bishop - Heraclides - and judge whether he was orthodox. Origen pronounced himself satisfied with Heraclides' answers, and then took questions from the assembled bishops on a variety of topics. Most of them seem to have revolved around the nature of the soul. It's quite interesting not only as a glimpse into third-century intellectual life as it was actually lived, but also as an indication of the sorts of things that Middle Eastern bishops of the time worried about.

    Another example is the Erotapokriseis, or Questions and answers, of the seventh-century theologian Anastasius of Sinai, which covers a wide range of topics and again seems to be based on questions that he was really asked.

    The problem of evil is a very big topic, so I'll just try to give a rough overview of the sorts of answers that people have come up with to this question.

    I think they can be divided into two main categories. The first says that God does not want suffering to occur, but for some reason he allows it nevertheless. The second says that God does want suffering to occur.

    God does not want suffering to occur

    Here again we can distinguish between two major divisions of answers that fall into this category.

    Suffering is caused by the misuse of free will

    According to this view, God does not want anyone to suffer. However, he has given human beings free will, which means they are free to do good or ill as they wish. If there is suffering, then, it is caused by human beings misusing their free will. God cannot intervene to prevent this suffering without robbing us of our free will. But having free will is so important that its goodness outweighs the evil of all the suffering it causes.

    This is the famous "free will defence" which is probably the most widely repeated answer to the problem of evil that you hear these days, at least from Christians. I don't think it's a very good answer for a whole host of reasons, some of which I have described here and here.

    There is also the problem that the free will defence may seem plausible when you're talking about suffering caused by wars or human greed or selfishness or all that sort of thing, but is less so when you're talking about suffering caused by disease, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on. Some Christians have argued that these things are also caused by the misuse of creaturely free will. Some, for example, think that the universe as a whole was somehow messed up when human beings sinned, and so even natural disasters are ultimately the fault of human beings. Others think that natural disasters may be caused by demons or other evil spirits, which like human beings have free will but misuse it.

    Obviously neither of these seems very plausible, which is why Christians who use the free will defence typically distinguish between two kinds of suffering. There is "moral evil" - suffering brought about by the misuse of creaturely free will, which is reconciled with God's goodness by using the free will defence - and there is "natural evil" - suffering brought about by natural factors, which must be reconciled with God's goodness some other way.

    Suffering is caused by natural laws which are, on the whole, the best ones

    According to this view, God does not want anyone to suffer. However, he had to choose some set of natural or physical laws for the universe when he created it. As it happens, he chose the best set of laws - laws that would allow for the emergence of stars and galaxies, and planets with the potential for life to develop on them. However, the physical laws that permit this to happen also permit suffering. For example, there are various physical laws that mean water is liquid at certain temperatures. But these physical laws also mean that air-breathing animals may drown in water. Again, the laws of gravity, friction, and so on allow for the formation of life-bearing planets. But they also allow for the occurrence of earthquakes. So the suffering caused by these things is just an unfortunate by-product of the physical laws that God chose to govern the universe. He does not want this suffering, but if he had chosen different physical laws, things would have been worse.

    This goes back to Origen:

    They have been revived by some people in modern times in the light of our increased understanding of physical laws. Arguments of this kind cover natural evil much better than the free will defence does, so that is a strength. They can also cover moral evil: I am able to harm somebody because the physical laws of the universe are such that this is possible. The argument ultimately rests upon the supposition that God is extremely lawful and wishes to preserve order above all else. Let us say, for example, that if someone drowns, that is caused by the operation of certain physical laws that, overall, it is best should operate. Presumably, according to defenders of this argument, God does not want anyone to drown, but if they do it is an unfortunate result of his having chosen these laws of physics. Why, then, doesn't God briefly suspend those laws in order to save the person who is drowning? Why doesn't he make it possible for them to breathe water for a few minutes, or just suspend the law of gravity and lift them out of it? The answer must be that it is so important that the laws of physics always operate in a lawful and orderly way that this trumps God's wish to save the drowning person. He doesn't want the person to drown, but he also doesn't want to interfere with the smooth operation of the universe - and that is more important.

    This seems very implausible to me, and it is hard to see why conserving the orderly and uniform operation of laws of nature should be more important then preventing terrible suffering. Moreover, most theists think that God does sometimes intervene and suspend the normal operation of physical laws. Such events are called miracles. So if God can and does do that sometimes, why not more? Is he allowed to suspend the laws of nature only occasionally, but not more than that? If so, why? Why just that amount and no more? The Muslim theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali pointed out this problem:

    In other words, if you start saying God can do miracles to improve things, then you have to explain why he doesn't do this all the time.

    So it seems to me that defences of the first main category - that God does not want suffering to occur, but permits it anyway - are flawed. The main problem common to both is this. If God wants to prevent suffering, but somehow cannot do so, then it seems that he is not really omnipotent. An omnipotent being can do anything that is logically possible. It is logically possible that no-one suffer. So an omnipotent being can bring this about. If God cannot do this, then he is not omnipotent. Alternatively, if he wants to prevent suffering, but he chooses not to act on this wish because there is something more important (such as preserving free will, or maintaining the order of physical laws), then there is something that is more important to God than preventing all of the terrible suffering we have seen throughout history. It is hard to see how anything could morally trump preventing all human suffering. Proponents of the free will defence think that allowing his creatures to have free will is more important to God than allowing his creatures to live lives that are free of suffering, while proponents of the orderly universe defence think that keeping the laws of nature constant and orderly is more important to God than allowing his creatures to live lives that are free of suffering. Neither of these seems plausible to me, at least not if God always does what is best - and if God does not always do what is best then he is not morally perfect.

    So that takes us to the second main category of defences.

    God does want suffering to occur

    Arguments in this category hold that, although suffering is in itself a bad thing, it actually brings about something that is greater. So the world is actually better with suffering in it, although it may not seem like that.

    Here again I think there are two main divisions.

    Each individual instance of suffering brings about a greater good

    According to this view, every time something bad happens, God has caused this because he knew that if he didn't something worse would happen. This is the argument that Gregory of Nyssa uses in Concerning infants who have died prematurely. He suggests that when a child dies, God causes this because he knows that if the child were to live, something even worse would happen. Perhaps that child would lead a very evil life and bring about greater suffering, or lead a sinful life and end up suffering greatly itself.

    Now that may be rather a repugnant view (and hardly one that you'd use to comfort a grieving mother!) but it is at least possible. The problem, of course, is that we have no way of knowing what would have happened if that child had lived. There is a school of thought that says that even God wouldn't know (because it is a counter-factual conditional, and counter-factual conditionals have no truth value, so even an omniscient being would not know whether they are true or not). Presumably even if that is true God could make a very well-informed guess, but it reduces the plausibility of this defence. Moreover, there are many instances of suffering where it seems implausible to suppose that greater evil would have resulted had the suffering not occurred. If I get a mild but unpleasant headache, I don't change what I do as a result, but I still suffer (to some extent). How is that better than if I hadn't had the headache at all?

    Suffering in general brings about greater good

    According to this view, God created a world in which suffering happens because it brings about more good than there would be in a world that contained no suffering at all. So although suffering is, in itself, bad, the fact that it exists leads to greater good.

    There are various reasons why this might be. One reason that people have suggested is that the existence of suffering adds a sort of pleasant piquancy to life: it makes us appreciate things more when we are not suffering.

    That seems pretty feeble to me, since while it may be true that we wouldn't appreciate the good so much if there were no bad, that wouldn't make it any less good. Moreover, even if this consideration were true, we wouldn't need nearly as much suffering as we actually have. Just a little bit of suffering now and again would be enough to make us appreciate how good things are the rest of the time. The amount that actually occurs is surely excessive for this purpose.

    Another possible reason is that the existence of suffering gives our lives greater moral purpose. According to this view, if there were no suffering, then we might all be happier, but it would be the happiness of the playground. We would not be able to mature as moral beings or make significant choices about life if everything we chose just led to more happiness. If I choose not to harm you, then my choice has meaning only if I really could harm you if I so chose.

    This is often known as the "Irenaean theodicy", since it was first set out by Irenaeus of Lyon in the second century. He wrote:

    Irenaeus thought that the human race started off immature and morally insignificant (so when Adam and Eve sinned, it was a minor fault like that of children who don't really know what they're doing). God created an interesting and often harsh universe to allow human beings to work hard, face difficulties and overcome them, and generally grow up.

    Origen said something similar:

    Here again, we face the same problem as before: surely there is too much suffering in the world to be explained by this. There is also suffering that does not seem to accomplish such a purpose. However, the defender of this argument may say something along these lines. God does not bring about every instance of suffering. And indeed, there may be many instances of suffering that do not achieve some identifiable good (such as my headache, or the death of an innocent in some war). But what God has done is set up a universe with laws - including the physical laws of nature, and the ability of human beings to choose what they want to do - and the operation of these laws often leads to suffering. God has set things up this way because he wants us to be morally significant. God could miraculously intervene every time someone is about suffer and prevent it, but if he were to do that, our choices in life would be meaningless. Only by refraining from acting in this way, and allowing our choices to play out as well or as disastrously as they should, can God let us grow up.

    It seems to me that another problem with this view is that human beings don't seem to be growing up very well; there are just as many wars, and just as much suffering, as ever. So while we may be morally significant creatures as a result of the reality of suffering, is that really so great?

    Finally, a problem that besets all arguments of the "God allows/causes suffering in order to achieve a greater good" kind is that they seem to deny God's omnipotence. An omnipotent being does not need means to achieve his ends. He can simply "make it so" without having to use tools to do so. But these arguments suppose that God actually requires the existence of suffering to bring about a situation that he wants. The Irenaean theodicy, for example, supposes that God creates a world of suffering in order to bring about the moral value and improvement of humanity. But if God is omnipotent he doesn't need to do that. An omnipotent being can bring into existence any logically possible state of affairs. It is logically possible that we all, right now, are completely morally mature, without having to go through any process to reach that stage. So why doesn't God just make it so? Why go through all these tedious business with suffering and pain to get there?

    In the middle of the twentieth century, philosophers reached something of a consensus that the existence of God was actually logically inconsistent with the existence of suffering. They argued something like this:

    (1) If God exists, suffering cannot exist, because God would prevent it.
    (2) Suffering exists.
    (3) Therefore, God does not exist.

    In the last forty years or so, philosophers have come to accept that this doesn't work. The argument may be valid but we cannot know (1) to be true. There could be some reason why God would allow suffering to exist. And indeed, if one has good reasons for think that in fact God does exist, one might argue like this:

    (1) God exists.
    (2) Suffering exists.
    (3) Therefore, it is not the case that if God exists suffering cannot exist.

    Today, philosophers of religion speak not of a logical problem of evil but of an evidential one. Grant that the existence of suffering does not disprove God's existence, because there might be some reason he allows it. But how probable is that? If we look at the world, is it the sort of world we would expect an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being to create and maintain? Most philosophers who are not theists would probably say that it is not, and that while there might be a God nevertheless, the evidence seems to indicate that there isn't. There is simply too much suffering for it to be likely, even if we cannot rule it out. Most philosophers who are theists would probably say that, while the evidence from suffering may point against the existence of God, there is other evidence that points to the existence of God, and so the balance of evidence is for God rather than against him. This being the case, even if we cannot know why God allows suffering, we may still reasonably suppose that he allows suffering and that he has his reasons for doing so.

    Thank you! It often helps me to straighten things out in my mind anyway.
  16. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Deity

    Dec 4, 2006
    It can be said that the concept of an afterlife makes our earthy lives less valuable in a way. If someone believes that god-loving, decent people indeed go to Heaven, and goes around murdering the above people so that they can get to Heaven quicker :)eek:), what arguments can be made to prove that such an action is wrong besides "thou shall not kill" (if you, too, accept Heaven as a fact)?

    Personally, I can come with the following:

    1. If you kill such a "good" person, that person wouldn't be able to provide spiritual guidance and convert other people, thus making their afterlife less pleasant;

    2. The spiritual health of the relatives and friends of such a person will be affected negatively, lowering their chance for a pleasant afterlife.

    3. The murderer in question might misguide people, and qualify someone as "deserving for Heaven", while that someone actually isn't. He'd be better off if he just'd leave the decision of people's deaths to God.

    Were any other arguments to that issue made by the theologians who believe in the afterlife?
  17. Loppan Torkel

    Loppan Torkel Deity

    Feb 21, 2004
    Does Kierkegaards fideism invalidate theology as a religious tool? Was theology more closely tied to the religion at hand before Kierkegaard, but now viewed more as a science and only valuable in describing religion objectively and from the outside?
  18. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

    Feb 14, 2007
    Kael's head
    There are of course many who believe that the soul does not go on to an afterlife immediately, but instead we sleep unconscious in a state of practical non-existence that lasts from death until the mass resurrection in the last days. (Plotinus has already stated that he sees more biblical support for this than the more traditional view, which is largely based on Greek philosophy.) In that view the reasons not to murder Christians are still valid, but the idea that murder could bring them to heaven faster is nonsense.
  19. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Deity

    Dec 4, 2006
    Well, for the murdered it will certainly be subjectively faster, since they don't count time in the state of non-existence.
  20. Gelion

    Gelion Captain

    Jul 25, 2004
    Earth Dome
    What church do you belong to?
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