Omniscient and Omnipotent Dragons that Obsessively Hoard Precious Metals

dragonThere’s a crappy Christian webcomic that I keep running into, which tends to utilize worn-out apologetics fallacies while failing to actually answer the questions. For example, I just saw this one in which he attempts to tackle the problem of evil, but instead ends up writing a bunch of nonsense that only adds to his problems.

Let’s rewrite the dialogue with an analogy to see how it holds up. Instead of god, we’re going to hypothesize the existence of omniscient and omnipotent dragons that obsessively hoard precious metals. The greatest desire of these dragons is to obtain all precious metals, and since they are omniscient and omnipotent it is impossible to hide any precious metal from them or stop them from taking it. In this analogy, the dragons represent the Christian god, precious metals represent evil, and the dragons’ obsession with obtaining all precious metals represents god’s obsession with destroying evil.

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Adragonist: “One of the reasons I cannot believe in omniscient and omnipotent dragons that obsessively hoard precious metals is because of all the precious metals we have.”

Dragon Believer: “That statement is paradoxical. You say the dragons don’t exist because of precious metals, but to claim dragons don’t exist is to throw out any real basis for calling precious metals ‘precious’.”

Adragonist: “Do you ever go to jewelry stores? Do you see the jewelry people wear? How could those dragons really exist when precious metals like gold and platinum can be found all over the planet?”

Dragon Believer: “But dragons are the only possible source of objective preciousness. If there are no dragons then what we know as ‘preciousness’ is nothing but a biological adaptation aiding us in our struggle for survival. It has no foundation; it’s an entirely subjective product of evolution with no meaning whatsoever beyond storing wealth. If there are no dragons, there is no such thing as real preciousness, because there is no standard by which we can call any metal objectively precious. If we are just carbon blobs meandering through an accidental and utterly meaningless existence, then preciousness is just a set of opinions people impose on certain metals. So to say you don’t believe in dragons because of all the precious metals in the world, you’re using preciousness as a justification for adopting a worldview in which preciousness itself does not actually exist, and for rejecting the only worldview in which it can exist.”

Adragonist: “So all the precious metals on earth don’t make you question the existence of omniscient and omnipotent dragons that obsessively hoard all precious metals?”

Dragon Believer: “Quite the opposite. I believe that precious metals are actually, objectively precious. So I must believe in omniscient and omnipotent dragons that obsessively hoard precious metals because of all the precious metals we have.”

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Where did the dragon believer go wrong? His argument utterly fails to address the problem–if omniscient and omnipotent dragons that obsessively hoard precious metals actually exist, they would have taken away all our precious metals. Instead, he dumps out a smelly bucket of red herring bullshit about the definition of ‘precious’, attempting to push off his own logical failure onto his challenger.

Whether you think good and evil are an objective standard (which is impossible) or an expression of how humans experience the world (which is precisely what they are), the fact still remains that evil is rampant and no god has stepped up to stop it. Which means one of the following statements must be true:

  • God exists but is unable to stop evil
  • God exists but is unwilling to stop evil
  • God exists but has no knowledge of evil
  • There is no god

If a god is knowledgeable of evil, and both able and willing to stop it, then there would be no evil. If he is unable to stop it, he is weak and deserves no respect. If he is unwilling, he is evil himself and deserves no respect. If he has no knowledge of it, he is ignorant and irrelevant. All of that is accurate even if there is a god and even if he defines good and evil. It is accurate whether evil is objective or subjective.

The argument in the comic is a common and tiresome attempt to sweep the problem of evil under the rug by playing a game of semantics. And even if you go along with the misdirection, it still fails because it appeals to the opinions or nature of a sentient being (god) as the foundation for good and evil. Which, as I’ve written before, is a totally subjective standard. In most cases it’s also a form of moral relativism, which I reject but many Christians inexplicably embrace.

So now he faces two problems: the problem of evil, and the problem of defining evil objectively. I’ve never seen a Christian present a logical solution to either.

Image: Suwalls.com

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10 thoughts on “Omniscient and Omnipotent Dragons that Obsessively Hoard Precious Metals

  1. I’m sure psychological science has helped many people; I also know it’s harmed a lot of people. But that’s probably beside the point, anyway.

    There’s more to the word “wrong” than just “we don’t like it.” We make a distinction between things we merely don’t like–such as colors that clash, weird food combinations, and the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard–and things we consider wrong, like torturing babies.

    If “unpleasant” and “wrong” meant the same thing, we wouldn’t have both words /and/ use them in quite different contexts. Unpleasant is getting stuck in the rain, eating food cold when it’s supposed to be hot, a paper cut, or losing something you need when you’re running late. Those are all undesirable experiences, but we don’t use the word wrong. We do use it for things like hurting someone, whether physically or verbally, or for things like laziness, gluttony, or dishonesty, which may or may not hurt others.

    The idea that we weren’t meant to live this way isn’t unique to Christianity. Most people /don’t/ believe that the world started out perfect and that we messed it up by our own sin. Most belief systems gloss over how all this “being messed up’ got started. And yet they still strive for something better. It’s not even unique to religion. Science and politics are also striving for something better, something different.

    Anyway, if everything is just a biological accident, why haven’t we evolved out of these destructive desires? Aren’t we supposed to end up with the traits most conducive to survival? How is that we managed to evolve out of mere animal instinct and get some real intelligence, but we didn’t evolve traits that enable us to automatically control the desire to do things that harm ourselves and others?

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    • “Those are all undesirable experiences, but we don’t use the word wrong.”

      Yes, because “wrong” in the sense you’re using it now only applies to actions performed by sentient beings that understand morality. Rain doesn’t understand morality, so you don’t get angry at it for falling on you. Other people understand morality, and you know that, which is why you call the harmful things they do “wrong”.

      How hard is this to understand? Intelligent social animals like us understand that 1) every other member of our species feels pain and emotions like we do, and 2) there are things we consider undesirable. So “wrong” in the sense of morality refers to actions performed by moral agents that cause harm to sentient beings…and harmful things are undesirable. Of course there are all sorts of little things that annoy us; things we consider unpleasant range from barely noticeable to agony. Everyone has a different threshold. Some things are undesirable without being harmful. It’s just a spectrum.

      Laziness and gluttony (at some level) are harmful to the individual and may often have negative effects on the people around them. But there’s a reason we aren’t usually as strict about things that only harm the person performing the action…we understand that the perpetrator and the victim are the same person, so in the interests of personal freedom we consider some things to be within their rights. Of course, everyone has different opinions about what those things are.

      Almost like morality is constructed from our own minds and experiences.

      Every response you give me seems to be disconnected from what you said earlier. Instead of understanding the basic parameters of the discussion, you respond with analogies that don’t work, and I have to repeat things I’ve already said because you’re addressing one particular concept divorced from all context. I say we define wrong as that which is undesirable, and then you point out the difference between undesirable things caused by actions of people, and those caused by random natural events, and say “we don’t consider it a moral issue when it’s random”. Well duh. Morality is about whether the actions performed by a human cause undesirable or desirable outcomes.

      “Anyway, if everything is just a biological accident, why haven’t we evolved out of these destructive desires? Aren’t we supposed to end up with the traits most conducive to survival?”

      Not everything is biological and not everything is an “accident”, so not everything is a biological accident…

      Technology is evolving way faster than we are, and changing our way of life within single generations. Less than the average lifespan of a human passed between the first powered flight and landing men on the moon. How do you expect to biologically mutate and adapt to an environment that can change dramatically in less than ten years? Did you think about this question before you asked it?

      There have been several mass extinction events throughout history. We’re in the middle of one right now. In the past 100 years our culture and environment and way of life have changed in such fundamental and dramatic ways that traits which were very useful merely a few hundred years ago are now threatening our extinction. This happens all the time. It’s normal. It’s why some species go extinct and others thrive. Survival of the fittest…which doesn’t mean strongest, but rather the organism that is best suited to its environment. Rapid change frequently destroys species that aren’t already able to survive in the new environment.

      We strive for something better because we find our current situation undesirable in some aspects and can imagine ways to improve it.

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  2. So I read every article you wrote that was tagged under morality. Or I tried to anyway. I may have missed some. I’m replying to this one because (I think) it’s your last one, but I’m really thinking of all them. No easy task, by the way. I copy-pasted all your morality posts into a Word document and read them back to back from oldest you newest. Well, I kind of skimmed the one on statistics, but I read the others.

    A lot of your posts are specifically about whether the God of the Bible is truly moral. I want to get to that eventually, but I think the more foundational issue is whether the existence of morality has any bearing on the existence of God.

    You’ve frequently criticized the common theistic argument that God must exist because without Him there would be no objective morality. You even have an article titled “Objective Morality Doesn’t Exist.” As I understand, you appeal to empathy. You say empathy isn’t objective, but it’s universal, and it’s sufficient for making moral judgements; you further assert that the people who appeal to God for morality are hopelessly inconsistent, and you backed up that assertion with various quotes and exchanges you’ve had.

    I hope I’ve at least hit the highlights of what you’re saying. I’m not trying to misunderstand you or misquote you, but alas, like all human beings, I’m afflicted with a trait known as fallibility, so I may have misunderstood you at some point. If I have, please let me know.

    A lot of people who appeal to God for morality probably /are/ hopelessly inconsistent. It seems to be another “being human” thing. I like to think I’m more consistent than most people—although I dare say you would disagree with me there—but I’m quite sure I’m not consistent all the time. Also, a lot of people aren’t very good at expressing their ideas in writing, and so their ideas sound dumber than they are. I can normally express myself in writing pretty well, but I’m not gonna’ lie—this stretches me. So I can only imagine what it must be like for other people. All that to say, I’m not going to argue that point, though I’m not strictly conceding it, either.

    I’m also not going to try to argue for objective morality, though I’m not ready to concede it either. I think our definitions are too different for us to have any sensible conversation on those grounds. In one of your articles you pointed out that theists and atheists have two different ways of defining “objective.” Kind of makes it difficult to discuss.

    The idea I want to play with is empathy. I agree with you that it’s very important. I think if we patterned our lives on that principle, that would take care of most moral questions right there. “Treat people the way you want to be treated; don’t treat people the way you don’t want to be treated.” Simple. And it is intrinsic.

    The question in my mind is, “why then don’t we follow that?” We, as in the human race. Whether we believe in god or not, regardless of which god we believe in, somehow the vast majority of us have this idea that we should follow the Golden Rule, and yet a lot of the time, we don’t. You said humans are complex, and that intrinsically, they aren’t good /or/ bad. It’s true that humans are complex, but is that all you have to say about it? “Every human being knows right and wrong, and sometimes they do wrong because human beings are complex.” Surely there’s more to it than that.

    Why would our complexity cause us to do wrong? I mean, sure, in addition to empathy, we have a strong self-interest. But typically—at least in the long run—things like pride, selfishness, unkindness, and cruelty don’t turn out well for us. And typically things run more smoothly when we’re honest, compassionate, and possess integrity. And yet we still do things we know are wrong.

    To use the terminology from another one of your posts, our conscience tells us that an action is wrong and our reason tells us that doing wrong won’t work out well anyway, and yet we still will to do wrong. Why? Do you have an explanation beyond “we’re complex”?

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    • Of course I have an explanation. Self-interest is beneficial for the survival of the individual, and altruism is beneficial for the group. We evolved with self-interest first, which helped us survive as individuals, and then altruism evolved in groups and helped them survive better than individuals. But we still have that instinct for self-interest so the two often come into conflict. And that’s where the mental construction of right and wrong that we call morality developed.

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    • That could make sense in situations where altruism and self-interest compete. But there are a lot of situations where they don’t, and we still do wrong. For example, bad-mouthing someone else or gossiping about him/her doesn’t usually make us look good, yet we do it anyway. Lying may seem beneficial in the short-term, but most of us know that it works better for us as well as other people if we’re honest, and yet we still lie. And what about things that harm us that don’t necessarily affect others, like being lazy?

      In a lot of situations, it’s not a matter of reason and pragmatism telling us one thing is a good idea, and then our conscience telling us that while [fill in the blank] may be the best thing we could do for ourselves, it could hurt someone else and we shouldn’t do it. A lot of times, both reason /and/ conscience tell us we should do—or not do—something, and yet we self-destructively do the opposite. Again, why?

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    • Desires aren’t ruled by reason. People may do things that they know are bad for them just because they want to.

      I’m not sure why you’re asking these questions because the answers are found in the personal experience of every human. I would think you’ve experienced these things yourself.

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    • I have indeed experienced those things myself. We all have. That’s what makes this conversation a lot easier than the other. We agree on *what* happens because we’re talking about universal human experience.

      But my question isn’t *what*? It’s *why*? Yes, we do things because we want to. But why do we want to do self-destructive things that often hurt both ourselves and others? Why and how would we evolve it? And why does something so disadvantageous seen unique to humans? Animals with mere brute instinct often (note I didn’t say always) do a better job than people do of working together, sacrificing for the group, and being diligent in doing what they need to do to survive and even thrive.

      I seem to recall you saying something about the best explanation (for whatever it is people are trying to explain) being the one is that best fits all the data. So I’m raising the question, does your theory about the origin and source of morality best explain all the data, not just where our sense of morality comes from, but also why we break it? Is there perhaps a better explanation than “we do this because we want to”?

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    • You don’t “evolve” every single one of your behaviors. The basic instincts are what evolves, the rest is social influence and life experience. And your desires are usually still driven by self-preservation, in the sense that you’re triggering the same physical reward process in your brain that governs basic survival behaviors like eating and sex. The problem is that in some cases the good feeling you get is deceptive. Habits are pretty powerful, and when something makes you feel good, even temporarily, and even if you know it may be harmful in the long run, you still want to do it. Rational knowledge does not override instinctive desires. Also, there are many psychological issues, with physical causes in the brain, that prompt unusual or destructive desires.

      In short, the “why” is your brain. Because you experience life from your own unique perspective and develop your own unique desires.

      Plenty of animals also engage in harmful activities because they are enjoyable. It’s natural. It’s a consequence of being just “good enough” to survive, not good enough to make the right choice every time. Which you would expect if we were shaped by natural selection. If you can survive and reproduce, your genes make the cut.

      Yes, my concept of morality explains every moral system that exists and is based on physical evidence in the brain and centuries of psychological science.

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    • Don’t get me started on psychological “science.” I’ve taken several psych courses. None of the theories have been scientifically proved, especially when it comes to things going wrong, and none of their explanations and solutions consistently work. Did you know that a committee /votes/ on what it and is not a mental disorder? You can look it up. That’s not science. Nobody votes on how the digestive system works, or whether cancer is real, or on anything concerning real science.

      Don’t get me wrong; we’ve learned a lot about how the brain works. I get that. But there’s a LOT we don’t know. And we might be veering to another topic, but why are things going wrong, anyway? Simplicity which over time becomes more complex and efficient is one thing. But that’s not the same thing as people being messed up, which, basically, all of us are in one way or another. Why is that? What went wrong?

      I guess that’s what I’ve been driving at. I know this doesn’t sound the most intellectual or scientific, but don’t we all have the feeling that /something went wrong/? We all do things that are wrong. We’ve all been wronged against. And many people left to themselves—those who either haven’t been taught to conform to society, or don’t care enough about what other people think to respond appropriately— commit the most unspeakable cruelties. None of us ever have ever known any other world or any other way of living. And yet don’t we all understand deep inside us that it shouldn’t be that way, that we were never /meant/ to live that way?

      And that’s why I keep asking /why/. It’s one thing to say, “the brain does this” or “according to evolution…” but that really doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t explain /us/. It doesn’t explain not only what we and others do, but why we respond in a certain way to what we and others do.

      At the risk of veering to yet another topic, take human suffering that /isn’t/ caused by what people do to one another: children born with cystic fibrosis, adults who develop auto-immune disorders, SIDS, Alzheimer’s, kids born with limbs missing, etc. etc. We don’t just say, “this isn’t pleasant; I don’t like it.” We have this sense that there’s something fundamentally /wrong/ with it, that we were never /meant/ to live this way. Where did we get that idea from?

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    • Psychological science is why I am able to function without constant crippling fear. It has improved the lives of a huge number of people. Many things are known. Many other things are not known. The fact that we don’t know everything about the brain doesn’t change what we do know, which is always increasing.

      Something “went wrong”? Wrongness is a human concept defined by what we consider undesirable. When you say “something went wrong” you’re just saying “I don’t like these things”. And there are good reasons that you don’t like them. They cause pain, both physical and emotional. Most people find pain to be undesirable, so we call it wrong.

      “We have this sense that there’s something fundamentally wrong with it…” Yes, because “wrong” is the word that represents that sense. The sense came first, based on an intuitive ability to distinguish between desirable and undesirable things. When you call something wrong, you are expressing your understanding of what is desirable and what is undesirable.

      “…that we were never meant to live this way. Where did we get that idea from?” I always find it amusing when Christians try to support their argument with their subjective experience of the world, as if I can’t account for how they personally feel about things. I think you got it from believing fairy tales about the earth being perfect at some point and then being damaged somehow by the magical power of sin. You get it from the cognitive dissonance between believing in an all-powerful loving god, and the reality that no god steps in to protect innocent children from enormous amounts of suffering due to storms, floods, famine, disease, and many other features of the natural world he supposedly created.

      On the other hand, all that senseless suffering makes more sense if we were never “meant” to live any specific way. There’s no intention in evolution, it’s just a natural process. It functions by the suffering and death of living things. The concepts of right and wrong are meaningless outside of the context of a sentient mind being affected by the event. Right and wrong are descriptions of how things affect the well-being of a sentient mind.

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