The Enlightenment Vision of Science and Religion #24: Hume, Skepticism, and Religion

The Enlightenment Vision of Science and Religion #24: Hume, Skepticism, and Religion

God has conferred upon and added to man a distinctive power — the faculty of intellectual investigation into the secrets of creation, the acquisition of higher knowledge — the greatest virtue of which is scientific enlightenment.


Apr 22, 2013. According to the `Abdu’l-Bahá – the son and successor of the prophet-founder of the Bahá’í Faith – there are four accepted methods of comprehension. These are sense-perception, reason, tradition, and intuition. None of them is sufficient as a basis for certain knowledge:

[A] man is not justified in saying, “I know because I perceive through my senses,” or “I know because it is proved through my faculty of reason,” or “I know because it is according to tradition and interpretation of the Holy Book,” or “I know because I am inspired.” All human standards of judgment are faulty, finite. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 20).

david-hume-philosopher-high-resolution-portraitDavid Hume (1711-1776, also see Hume in Wikipedia), sometimes called the “most important philosopher ever to write in English,” would have agreed.

Famously skeptical, he viewed philosophical metaphysics and the continental European celebration of reason and rational thought as entirely unfounded.

He was a thorough-going empiricist. Like Locke and Berkeley before him, he believed that knowledge comes only through sense experience. But such knowledge was neither certain nor beyond question. Cynically (or perhaps not, the case is hard to tell) he viewed human conviction as ruled by passion. Human morality – he believed – was founded on a self-interest that colored all attempts at certainty.

Hume had little love for religion, no regard for tradition, and no regard for intuition. Here is how he summarized his case against the three in The Natural History of Religion:

Survey most nations and most ages. Examine the religious principles, which have, in fact, prevailed in the world. You will scarcely be persuaded, that they are any thing but sick men’s dreams: Or perhaps will regard them more as the playsome whimsies of monkies in human shape, than the serious, positive, dogmatical asseverations of a being, who dignifies himself with the name of rational.

(Understandably, this view won him a formidable reputation as an atheist).

Yet Hume is one of the most delightfully readable of the philosophers, and his philosophical preoccupations have proven very influential, not only in utilitarianism, logical positivism, philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, the economics and political philosophy of his friend Adam Smith, but in science as well, where he is regarded as one of the founding fathers of cognitive science.

Hume on Religion

Given the wide range of Hume’s thought, it perhaps best to consider his philosophical perspectives as they relate to religion – our topic. This is an arena where his skepticism seems to have had a powerful impact on the world.

Hume seems to have been an entirely irreligious man. Apparently, he held religion to be entirely based on human needs. Roy Porter, writing in The Creation of the Modern World, his history of the British enlightenment, characterizes Hume’s aforementioned The Natural History of Religion thus:

Hume trained his scepticism against … the Deists, reasoning that their much-vaunted pristine monotheism or natural religion was but wish fulfilment. In reality, all religion had its origins in fear and ignorance, and the first faiths had been crude and polytheistic.

In time, the progress of the mind drew monotheism out of polytheism, clarity out of confusion. Monotheism, however, in its turn bred enthusiasm, defined in Johnson’s Dictionary as ‘a vain belief of private revelation, a vain confidence of divine favour or communication’. … Hume’s strategic distinction between enthusiasm – fanatically intolerant but driving men to assert their liberties – and the superstition which made men law-abiding through cowed objection – was to prove highly influential, notably in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.

Thus Hume sabotaged Christianity by advancing a naturalistic account of the religious impulse, while equally discrediting the Deist myth of prehistoric monotheism.

Wikipedia – less fervently – summarizes the text as follows:

In this essay, Hume pioneers a naturalist account of the causes, effects, and historical development of religious belief. Hume locates the origins of religion in emotion, particularly fear and the desire to control the future. He further argues that monotheism arises from competition between religions, as believers seek to distinguish their deities as superior to all rivals. The monotheist drive [is] to dominate other beliefs, and to burnish the primitive, emotional core of religion under a veneer of theology. Hume concludes that this yields intolerance, intellectual dishonesty, and unnatural moral doctrines.

Personally, I find it hard to square Hume’s highly speculative causal argument with his views on empiricism, the importance of avoiding fallacious and simplistic metaphysical arguments, and his skeptical insights. His arguments don’t stand up to his own standards of proof.

It doesn’t seem that Hume trained his brilliantly skeptical mind in the methods of self-aware self-examination that a truly scientific methodology requires. But it wouldn’t be the first time that a skeptic viewed his own reasonings as beyond skeptical reproach.

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Hume delayed publication of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion until after he died. It is a delightful read. Presented as a dialogue between Cleanthes, Philo, and Demea, it explores the prevailing philosophical views about proof of the existence of God, presenting arguments for and against them. Many of the points Hume made are highly regarded even to this day and continue to provide ammunition for those who hold to the view that belief in God is inconsistent with modern reason.

One of the most important points Hume makes is that the idea of God is – using the modern way of talking about it – contentless. Hume, like Hobbes before him, thinks that human reason cannot comprehend God. Because – Hume believes – all of our ideas are derived from sensory experience (either directly or built up from them) there is no way that we can get real-life empirical proof of the existence of God. And true to his empiricist convictions, he can’t believe in the power of reason to point towards causal proofs.

Hume also attacks the cosmological argument, which in the 18th century was based on two ideas that happen to feature strongly in the writings of `Abdu’l-Baha. This is the idea that “nothing can come from nothing” and that therefore the universe must have a first cause (i.e., God). The grounds supporting this view are two maxims:

  • Whatever exists must have a cause or ground for its existence.
  • No cause can produce or give rise to perfections or excellences that it does not itself possess.

Hume attacks this position by claiming that the necessary causality hasn’t been proven to hold.  From his point of view, the maxim’s are metaphysical assumptions – and it is entirely possible that something can come from nothing. (Note that this is a conclusion that is inconsistent with scientific accounts of the university which hold that there are laws of nature that hold everything in a kind of cosmic causal thrall.)

The Argument from Design

Closely related is the argument from design, which holds that the universe has perfections that show that it must be designed by an intelligence similar to that of a human mind. Hume puts the following argument into the mouth of Cleanthes:

Look around the world: Contemplate the whole and every part of it: You will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines… All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy, which ravishes into admiration all men, who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, exceeds the productions of human contrivance; of human design, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man; though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work, which he has executed.

This can’t hold true, Hume argues, as the relationship between human and machines is far different from that between the author of the universe and nature. You can’t extend the analogy. Hume has his mouthpiece Philo say:

In a word, Cleanthes, a man who follows your hypothesis is able, perhaps, to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something like design: But beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance, and is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology, by the utmost license of fancy and hypothesis.

This, of course, is recourse to empiricism. Nobody has seen the world arising from design, so the evidence is lacking.

Nor can one claim perfection for the world – because it contains evil, it is imperfect. Hume has Philo suggest that the world “is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard … [created by] some infant Deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance … [or] the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated Deity.”

The Problem of Evil

Hume then brings up the problem of evil. As summarized on the Stanford Internet article on Hume and Religion, the problem can be put as questions:

Is God willing to prevent evil but unable to do so? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is God able to prevent evil but unwilling to do so? Then he is malevolent (or at least less than perfectly good).

If God is both willing and able to prevent evil then why is there evil in the world?

Hume denies that bad things that happen in this world are compensated for in the next, the usual answer to this problem. Again, its empiricism. We don’t have any way of measuring it and thus proving it, therefore we have to just accept the idea that the world is imperfect. Therefore, we cannot infer that God is perfect.

Of course, the belief in miracles and the existence of the soul are all met with similar fates. We can not attain true knowledge about God or religion – Hume claims – from these approaches.

A Conclusion

Putting aside Hume’s unreasoned hostility to religion – clearly, not liking it is in his DNA and he has a hard time not thinking of anyone who likes it as a fool – its amazing how strong the correspondence of his thought is with`Abdu’l-Bahá’s analysis of the failure of the four ways of knowing. As far as I can tell, Hume is in total agreement with `Abdu’l-Bahá’s points that sense-impression, reason, tradition, and intuition don’t lead to reliable knowledge.

`Abdu’l-Bahá concludes with a statement about how reliable knowledge is to be found.

Briefly, the point is that in the human material world of phenomena these four are the only existing criteria or avenues of knowledge, and all of them are faulty and unreliable.

What then remains? How shall we attain the reality of knowledge? By the breaths and promptings of the Holy Spirit, which is light and knowledge itself. Through it the human mind is quickened and fortified into true conclusions and perfect knowledge. This is conclusive argument showing that all available human criteria are erroneous and defective, but the divine standard of knowledge is infallible.

I wonder what Hume would say?

Next Time

Next week, we study Rousseau.


This is the 24th in a series of blogs on the Enlightenment Vision of Science and Religion. The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked at NTT in Japan before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.

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35 thoughts on “The Enlightenment Vision of Science and Religion #24: Hume, Skepticism, and Religion

  1. Various religions have had different answers to the problem of evil. Below is info gotten from Wikipedia.

    Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt
    The problem of evil takes at least four formulations in ancient Mesopotamian religious thought, as in the extant manuscripts of Ludlul bēl nēmeqi (I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom), Erra and Ishum, The Babylonian Theodicy, and The Dialogue of Pessimism.[51] In this type of polytheistic context, the chaotic nature of the world implies multiple gods battling for control.
    In ancient Egypt, it was thought the problem takes at least two formulations, as in the extant manuscripts of Dialogue of a Man with His Ba and The Eloquent Peasant. Due to the conception of Egyptian gods as being far removed, these two formulations of the problem focus heavily on the relation between evil and people; that is, moral evil.[52]
    [edit]The Hebrew Bible
    A verse in the Book of Isaiah is interpreted in the King James Bible as “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”[53] The Hebrew word is רע Ra`, which occurs over 600 times[54] in the Hebrew Bible. It is a generalized term for something considered bad, not held to mean specifically wickedness or injustice in this context,[55] but to mean calamity,[56] or bad times,[57] or disaster.[58]
    The Book of Job is one of the most widely known formulations in Western thought questioning why suffering exists. Originally written in Hebrew as an epic poem, the story centers on Job, a perfectly just and righteous person. He makes no serious errors in life and strives to do nothing wrong; as a result he is very successful. A character described only as the ‘Accuser’ challenges God, claiming that Job is only righteous because God has rewarded him with a good life. The Accuser proposes that if God were to allow everything Job loved to be destroyed, Job would then cease to be righteous. God allows the Accuser to destroy Job’s wealth and children, and to strike him with sickness and boils. Job discusses his condition with three friends. His three friends insist that God never allows bad things to happen to good people, and assert that Job must have done something to deserve his punishment. Job responds that is not the case and that he would be willing to defend himself to God. A fourth friend, Elihu, arrives and criticizes all of them. Elihu states that God is perfectly just and good. God then responds to Job in a speech delivered from “out of a whirlwind”, explaining the universe from the scope of God’s perspective and demonstrating that the workings of the world are beyond human understanding. In the end God states that the three friends were incorrect, and that Job was incorrect for assuming he could question God. God more than restores Job’s prior health, wealth, and gives him new children, as though he has been awakened from a nightmare into a new awareness of spiritual reality. The ultimate purpose of the story is a matter of much debate.
    Professor of Religious Studies Bart D. Ehrman argues that different parts of the Bible give different answers. One example is evil as punishment for sin or as a consequence of sin. Ehrman writes that this seems to be based on some notion of free will although this argument is never explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Another argument is that suffering ultimately achieves a greater good, possibly for persons other than the sufferer, that would not have been possible otherwise. The Book of Job offers two answers: suffering is a test, and you will be rewarded later for passing it; another that God is not held accountable to human conceptions of morality. Ecclesiastes sees suffering as beyond human abilities to comprehend.[59]
    [edit]Later Jewish interpretations
    See also: Holocaust theology
    An oral tradition exists in Judaism that God determined the time of the Messiah’s coming by erecting a great set of scales. On one side, God placed the captive Messiah with the souls of dead laymen. On the other side, God placed sorrow, tears, and the souls of righteous martyrs. God then declared that the Messiah would appear on earth when the scale was balanced. According to this tradition, then, evil is necessary in the bringing of the world’s redemption, as sufferings reside on the scale.[citation needed]
    Tzimtzum in Kabbalistic thought holds that God has withdrawn himself so that creation could exist, but that this withdrawal means that creation lacks full exposure to God’s all-good nature.[citation needed]
    Bart D. Ehrman argues that apocalyptic parts of the Bible, including the New Testament, see suffering as due to cosmic evil forces, that God for mysterious reasons has given power over the world, but which will soon be defeated and things will be set right.[59]
    Gnosticism refers to several beliefs seeing evil as due to the world being created by an imperfect God, the demiurge and is contrasted with a superior entity. However, this by itself does not answer the problem of evil if the superior entity is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. Different gnostic beliefs may give varying answers, like Manichaeism, which adopts dualism, in opposition to the doctrine of omnipotence.
    [edit]Irenaean theodicy
    Irenaean theodicy, posited by Irenaeus (2nd century AD–c. 202), has been reformulated by John Hick. It holds that one cannot achieve moral goodness or love for God if there is no evil and suffering in the world. Evil is soul-making and leads one to be truly moral and close to God. God created an epistemic distance (such that God is not immediately knowable) so that we may strive to know him and by doing so become truly good. Evil is a means to good for 3 main reasons:
    Means of knowledge Hunger leads to pain, and causes a desire to feed. Knowledge of pain prompts humans to seek to help others in pain.
    Character Building Evil offers the opportunity to grow morally. “We would never learn the art of goodness in a world designed as a hedonistic paradise” (Richard Swinburne)
    Predictable Environment The world runs to a series of natural laws. These are independent of any inhabitants of the universe. Natural Evil only occurs when these natural laws conflict with our own perceived needs. This is not immoral in any way
    The consequences of the original sin were debated by Pelagius and Augustine of Hippo. Pelagius argues on behalf of original innocence, while Augustine indicts Eve and Adam for original sin. Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint all of humanity and that mortal free will is capable of choosing good or evil without divine aid. Augustine’s position, and subsequently that of much of Christianity, was that Adam and Eve had the power to topple God’s perfect order, thus changing nature by bringing sin into the world, but that the advent of sin then limited mankind’s power thereafter to evade the consequences without divine aid.[60] Eastern Orthodox theology holds that one inherits the nature of sinfulness but not Adam and Eve’s guilt for their sin which resulted in the fall.[61]
    [edit]Augustinian Theodicy

    This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (April 2013)
    St Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) in his Augustinian theodicy focuses on the Genesis story that essentially dictates that God created the world and that it was good; evil is merely a consequence of the fall of man (The story of the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve disobeyed God and caused inherent sin for man). Augustine stated that natural evil (evil present in the natural world such as natural disasters etc.) is caused by fallen angels, whereas moral evil (evil caused by the will of human beings) is as a result of man having become estranged from God and choosing to deviate from his chosen path. Augustine argued that God could not have created evil in the world, as it was created good, and that all notions of evil are simply a deviation or privation of goodness. Evil cannot be a separate and unique substance. For example, Blindness is not a separate entity, but is merely a lack or privation of sight. Thus the Augustinian theodicist would argue that the problem of evil and suffering is void because God did not create evil; it was man who chose to deviate from the path of perfect goodness.
    This, however, poses a number of questions involving genetics: if evil is merely a consequence of our choosing to deviate from God’s desired goodness, then genetic disposition of ‘evil’ must surely be in God’s plan and desire and thus cannot be blamed on Man.[citation needed]
    [edit]St. Thomas Aquinas
    Saint Thomas systematized the Augustinian conception of evil, supplementing it with his own musings. Evil, according to St. Thomas, is a privation, or the absence of some good which belongs properly to the nature of the creature.[62] There is therefore no positive source of evil, corresponding to the greater good, which is God;[63] evil being not real but rational—i.e. it exists not as an objective fact, but as a subjective conception; things are evil not in themselves, but by reason of their relation to other things or persons. All realities are in themselves good; they produce bad results only incidentally; and consequently the ultimate cause of evil is fundamentally good, as well as the objects in which evil is found.[64]
    [edit]Catholic Encyclopedia
    Evil is threefold, viz., metaphysical evil, moral, and physical, the retributive consequence of moral guilt. Its existence subserves the perfection of the whole; the universe would be less perfect if it contained no evil. Thus fire could not exist without the corruption of what it consumes; the lion must slay the ass in order to live, and if there were no wrong doing, there would be no sphere for patience and justice. God is said (as in Isaiah 45) to be the author of evil in the sense that the corruption of material objects in nature is ordained by Him, as a means for carrying out the design of the universe; and on the other hand, the evil which exists as a consequence of the breach of Divine laws is in the same sense due to Divine appointment; the universe would be less perfect if its laws could be broken with impunity. Thus evil, in one aspect, i.e. as counter-balancing the deordination of sin, has the nature of good. But the evil of sin, though permitted by God, is in no sense due to him; denying the Divine omnipotence, that another equally perfect universe could not be created in which evil would have no place.[65]
    [edit]Luther and Calvin
    Both Luther and Calvin explained evil as a consequence of the fall of man and the original sin. However, due to the belief in predestination and omnipotence, the fall is part of God’s plan. Ultimately humans may not be able to understand and explain this plan.[66]
    [edit]Christian Science
    See also: Christian Science#Evil
    Christian Science views evil as having no reality and as due to false beliefs. Evils such as illness and death may be banished by correct understanding. This view has been questioned, aside from the general criticisms of the concept of evil as an illusion discussed earlier, since the presumably correct understanding by Christian Science members, including the founder, has not prevented illness and death.[41] However, Christian Scientists believe that the many instances of spiritual healing (as recounted e.g. in the Christian Science periodicals and in the textbook Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy) are anecdotal evidence of the correctness of the teaching of the unreality of evil.[67]
    [edit]Jehovah’s Witnesses
    Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Satan is the original cause of evil.[68] Though once a perfect angel, Satan developed feelings of self-importance and craved worship, and eventually challenged God’s right to rule. Satan caused Adam and Eve to disobey God, and humanity subsequently became participants in a challenge involving the competing claims of Jehovah and Satan to universal sovereignty.[69] Other angels who sided with Satan became demons.
    God’s subsequent tolerance of evil is explained in part by the value of free will. But Jehovah’s Witnesses also hold that this period of suffering is one of non-interference from God, which serves to demonstrate that Jehovah’s “right to rule” is both correct and in the best interests of all intelligent beings, settling the “issue of universal sovereignty”. Further, it gives individual humans the opportunity to show their willingness to submit to God’s rulership.
    At some future time known to him, God will consider his right to universal sovereignty to have been settled for all time. The reconciliation of “faithful” humankind will have been accomplished through Christ, and nonconforming humans and demons will have been destroyed. Thereafter, evil (any failure to submit to God’s rulership) will be summarily executed.[70]
    Islamic scholar Sherman Jackson states that the Mu’tazila school emphasized God’s omnibenevolence. Evil arises not from God but from the actions of his creations who create their own actions independent of God. The Ash’ari school instead emphasized God’s omnipotence. God is not restricted to follow some objective moral system centered on humans but has the power do whatever he wants with his world. The Maturidi school argued that evil arises from God but that evil in the end has a wiser purpose as a whole and for the future. Some theologians have viewed God as all-powerful and human life as being between the hope that God will be merciful and the fear that he will not.[71]
    Main article: Problem of evil in Hinduism
    Hinduism is a complex religion with many different currents or schools. As such the problem of evil in Hinduism is answered in several different ways such as by the concept of karma.
    In Buddhism, the problem of evil, or the related problem of dukkha, is one argument against a benevolent, omnipotent creator god, identifying such a notion as attachment to a false concept.[72]

  2. I forgot to put more info on the Hindu answer to the problem of evil. Evil is an illusion.

    Hindu answers to the problem of evil are different from most answers offered in Western philosophy, partly because the problem of evil within Hindu thought is differently structured than Western traditions, mainly Abrahamic traditions.

    In the Hindu tradition the problem of evil is phrased as the Problem of Injustice. This problem can be considered in the following manner:

    God is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Just. Yet injustice is observed to persist in the world. How is this possible?
    In the Advaita school of Vedanta, this problem is dealt with in detail by Sankara in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras, 2.1.34-36:
    Brahma Sutra 2.1.34: “No partiality and cruelty (can be charged against God) because of (His) taking other factors into consideration.”
    Sankara’s commentary explains that God cannot be charged with partiality or cruelty (i.e. injustice) on account of his taking the factors of virtuous and vicious actions (Karma) performed by an individual in previous lives. If an individual experiences pleasure or pain in this life, it is due to virtuous or vicious action (Karma) done by that individual in a past life.
    Brahma Sutra 2.1.35: “If it be argued that it is not possible (to take Karma into consideration in the beginning), since the fruits of work remain still undifferentiated, then we say, no, since the transmigratory state has no beginning.”
    The opponent now argues that there could have been no “previous birth” at the very beginning of creation, before which Karma could not have existed. Sankara replies that it is not so, for the number of creation cycles is beginningless, vide the next verse:
    Brahma Sutra 2.1.36: “Moreover, this is logical, and (so) it is met with (in the scriptures).”
    Sankara provides references from the Vedas concerning the beginninglessness of Creation: “The Ordainer created the sun and moon like those of previous cycles” (Rig Veda 10.190.3). This shows the existence of earlier cycles of creation, and hence the number of creation cycles is beginningless.
    Thus Sankara’s resolution to the Problem of Injustice is that the existence of injustice in the world is only apparent, for one merely reaps the results of one’s moral actions sown in a past life, which is compatible with the Justness of an Omniscient and Omnipotent God.
    On the higher level of Existence, however, there is no evil or good, since these are dependent mainly on temporal circumstances. Hence a jnani, one who has realized his true nature, is beyond such dualistic notions.
    Sankara used this as an argument for the existence of God. He argued that the original karmic actions themselves cannot bring about the proper results at some future time; neither can super sensuous, non-intelligent qualities like adrsta—an unseen force being the metaphysical link between work and its result—by themselves mediate the appropriate, justly deserved pleasure and pain. The fruits, according to him, then, must be administered through the action of a conscious agent, namely, a supreme being (Ishvara).[1]
    Another view is that the problem of evil is present but does not exist per se as souls are eternal and not directly created by God. In Dvaita (dual) philosophy, jivas (souls) are eternally existent and hence not a creation of God ex nihilo (out of nothing). The souls are bound by beginningless avidya (ignorance) that causes a misidentification with products of nature (body, wealth, power) and hence suffering. In effect, Hinduism identifies avidya (ignorance) as the cause of evil, and this ignorance itself is uncaused. Suffering from natural causes is explained as a natural karmic result of previous births. See also Karma in Hinduism.[citation needed]
    Moreover, even within the realm of avidya, good and evil are an individual’s deeds, and God dispenses the results of an individual’s actions but has the power to mitigate suffering.[citation needed] Advaita (non-dual) mysticism maintains that every seemingly separate person is in fact a thought, dream, or experience of God; God creates and becomes / experiences each creation, deliberately limiting it to a specific identity in space and time to undergo a particular life experience. In Advaita, it is God who experiences every pain, suffers every indignity, dies every death, and experiences the illusion of being each separate individual.[citation needed]
    A human’s karmic acts result in merits and demerits. Since unconscious things generally do not move except when caused by an agent (for example, the ax moves only when swung by an agent), and since the law of karma is an unintelligent and unconscious law, Sankara argues there must be a conscious supreme Being who knows the merits and demerits which persons have earned by their actions, and who functions as an instrumental cause in helping individuals reap their appropriate fruits.[2] Thus, God affects the person’s environment, even to its atoms, and for those souls who reincarnate, produces the appropriate rebirth body, all in order that the person might have the karmically appropriate experiences.[3] Thus, there must be a theistic administrator or supervisor for karma, i.e., God.
    The Nyaya school, one of six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, states that one of the proofs of the existence of God is karma;[4] It is seen that some people in this world are happy, some are in misery. Some are rich and some poor. The Naiyanikas explain this by the concept of karma and reincarnation. The fruit of an individual’s actions does not always lie within the reach of the individual who is the agent; there ought to be, therefore, a dispenser of the fruits of actions, and this supreme dispenser is God.[4] This belief of Nyaya, accordingly, is the same as that of Vedanta.[4]

  3. Arguments for God need to be listed as a reference point.

    Empirical arguments
    [edit]Aquinas’ Five Ways
    Main article: Quinque viae
    For in depth analysis of the individual arguments, see unmoved mover, first cause, argument from contingency, argument from degree, or teleological argument.
    In the first part of his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas developed his five arguments for God’s existence. These arguments are grounded in an Aristotelian ontology and make use of the infinite regression argument.[18][19] Aquinas did not intend to fully prove the existence of God as he is orthodoxly conceived (with all of his traditional attributes), but proposed his Five Ways as a first stage, which he built upon later in his work.[20] Aquinas’ Five Ways argued from the unmoved mover, first cause, necessary being, argument from degree, and the teleological argument.
    The unmoved mover argument asserts that, from our experience of motion in the universe (motion being the transition from potentiality to actuality) we can see that there must have been an initial mover. Aquinas argued that whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another thing, so there must be an unmoved mover.[18]
    Aquinas’ argument from first cause started with the premise that it is impossible for a being to cause itself (because it would have to exist before it caused itself) and that it is impossible for there to be an infinite chain of causes, which would result in infinite regress. Therefore, there must be a first cause, itself uncaused.[18]
    The argument from necessary being asserts that all beings are contingent, meaning that it is possible for them not to exist. Aquinas argued that if everything can possibly not exist, there must have been a time when nothing existed; as things exist now, there must exist a being with necessary existence, regarded as God.[18]
    Aquinas argued from degree, considering the occurrence of degrees of goodness. He believed that things which are called good, must be called good in relation to a standard of good – a maximum. There must be a maximum goodness that which causes all goodness.[18]
    The teleological argument asserts the view that things without intelligence are ordered towards a purpose. Aquinas argued that unintelligent objects cannot be ordered unless they are done so by an intelligent being, which means that there must be an intelligent being to move objects to their ends: God.[18]
    [edit]Deductive arguments
    [edit]Ontological argument
    Main article: Ontological argument
    The ontological argument has been formulated by philosophers including St. Anselm and René Descartes. The argument proposes that God’s existence is self-evident. The logic, depending on the formulation, reads roughly as follows:[21]
    God is the greatest conceivable being.
    It is greater to exist than not to exist.
    Therefore, God exists.[21]
    Thomas Aquinas criticized the argument for proposing a definition of God which, if God is transcendent, should be impossible for humans.[22] Immanuel Kant criticized the proof from a logical standpoint: he stated that the term ‘God’ really signifies two different terms: both idea of God, and God. Kant concluded that the proof is equivocation, based on the ambiguity of the word God.[23] Kant also challenged the argument’s assumption that existence is a predicate (or perfection) because it does not add anything to the essence of a being. If existence is not a predicate, then it is not necessarily true that the greatest possible being exists.[24] A common rebuttal to Kant’s critique is that, although ‘existence’ does add something to both the concept and the reality of God, the concept would be vastly different if its referent was an unreal Being. Another response to Kant’s is attributed to Alvin Plantinga who explains that even if one were to grant Kant that ‘existence’ is not a real predicate, ‘Necessary Existence’, which is the correct formulation of an understanding of God, is a real predicate, thus Kant’s argument is refuted.[25]
    [edit]Inductive arguments
    Inductive arguments argue their conclusions through inductive reasoning.
    Another class of philosophers asserts that the proofs for the existence of God present a fairly large probability though not absolute certainty. A number of obscure points, they say, always remain; an act of faith is required to dismiss these difficulties. This view is maintained, among others, by the Scottish statesman Arthur Balfour in his book The Foundations of Belief (1895). The opinions set forth in this work were adopted in France by Ferdinand Brunetière, the editor of the Revue des deux Mondes. Many orthodox Protestants express themselves in the same manner, as, for instance, Dr. E. Dennert, President of the Kepler Society, in his work Ist Gott tot?[26]
    [edit]Other arguments

    This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (August 2012)
    The will to believe doctrine was pragmatist philosopher William James’ attempt to prove God by showing that the adoption of theism as a hypothesis “works” in a believer’s life. This doctrine depended heavily on James’ pragmatic theory of truth where beliefs are proven by how they work when adopted rather than by proofs before they are believed (a form of the hypothetico-deductive method).
    The argument from reason holds that if, as thoroughgoing naturalism entails, all human thoughts are the effect of a physical cause, then there is no reason for assuming that they are also the consequent of a reasonable ground. Knowledge, however, is apprehended by reasoning from ground to consequent. Therefore, if naturalism were true, there would be no way of knowing it—or anything else not the direct result of a physical cause—and one could not even suppose it, except by a fluke.
    The anthropic argument suggests that basic facts, such as humanity’s existence, are best explained by the existence of God.
    Qualia-based arguments: Some philosophers see the existence of Qualia (or the hard problem of consciousness) as strong arguments against materialism and therefore for the existence of material and immaterial entities.
    The teleological argument argues that the universe’s order and complexity are best explained by reference to a creator God. It starts with a rather more complicated claim about the world, i.e. that it exhibits order and design. This argument has two versions: One based on the analogy of design and designer, the other arguing that goals can only occur in minds.
    The hypothesis of Intelligent design proposes that certain features of the universe and of living things are the product of an intelligent cause.[27] Its proponents are mainly Christians.[28]
    Arguments that a non-physical quality observed in the universe is of fundamental importance and not an epiphenomenon, such as Morality (Argument from morality), Beauty (Argument from beauty), Love (Argument from love), or religious experience (Argument from religious experience), are arguments for theism as against materialism.
    The transcendental argument suggests that logic, science, ethics, and other serious matters do not make sense in the absence of God, and that atheistic arguments must ultimately refute themselves if pressed with rigorous consistency.[citation needed]
    The argument from degree, a version of the transcendental argument posited by Aquinas, states that there must exist a being which possesses all properties to the maximum possible degree in order for such properties to be coherent.
    Argument from belief in God being properly basic as presented by Alvin Plantinga.[29]
    Argument from the confluence of proper function and reliability and the evolutionary argument against naturalism, which demonstrate how naturalism is incapable of providing humans with the cognitive aparatus necessary for their knowledge to have positive epistemic status.[30]
    Argument from Personal Identity.[31]
    Argument from Meaning.
    Argument from Ethics, being one type of view by ontologically considered intelligence.
    Argument from the “divine attributes of scientific law.”[32]
    [edit]Subjective arguments
    [edit]Arguments from historical events or personages
    Christianity and Judaism assert that God intervened in key specific moments in history, especially at the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments in front of all the tribes of Israel, positing an argument from empirical evidence stemming from sheer number of witnesses, thus demonstrating his existence.
    The argument from the Resurrection of Jesus. This asserts that there is sufficient historical evidence for Jesus’s resurrection to support his claim to be the son of God and indicates, a fortiori, God’s existence.[33] This is one of several arguments known as the Christological argument.
    Islam asserts that the revelation of its holy book, the Qur’an, vindicates its divine authorship, and thus the existence of God.
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormonism, similarly asserts that the miraculous appearance of God, Jesus Christ and angels to Joseph Smith and others and subsequent finding and translation of the Book of Mormon establishes the existence of God. The whole Latter Day Saint movement makes the same claim for example Community of Christ, Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), etc.
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), similarly asserts that the finding and translation of the Plates of Laban, also known as the Brass Plates, into the Book of the Law of the Lord and Voree plates by James Strang, One Mighty and Strong, establishes the existence of God.
    Various sects that have broken from the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) (such as Church of Christ “With the Elijah Message” and Church of Christ (Assured Way)) claim that the message brought by John the Baptist, One Mighty and Strong, to Otto Fetting and W. A. Draves in The Word of the Lord Brought to Mankind by an Angel establishes the existence of God.
    [edit]Arguments from testimony
    Arguments from testimony rely on the testimony or experience of witnesses, possibly embodying the propositions of a specific revealed religion. Swinburne argues that it is a principle of rationality that one should accept testimony unless there are strong reasons for not doing so.[34]
    The witness argument gives credibility to personal witnesses, contemporary and throughout the ages. A variation of this is the argument from miracles which relies on testimony of supernatural events to establish the existence of God.
    The majority argument argues that the theism of people throughout most of recorded history and in many different places provides prima facie demonstration of God’s existence.
    [edit]Arguments grounded in personal experiences
    See also: Anecdotal evidence
    An argument for God is often made from an unlikely complete reversal in lifestyle by an individual towards God. Paul of Tarsus, a persecutor of the early Church, became a pillar of the Church after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Modern day examples in Evangelical Protestantism are sometimes called “Born-Again Christians”.
    The Scottish School of Common Sense led by Thomas Reid taught that the fact of the existence of God is accepted by people without knowledge of reasons but simply by a natural impulse. That God exists, this school said, is one of the chief metaphysical principles that people accept not because they are evident in themselves or because they can be proved, but because common sense obliges people to accept them.
    The Argument from a Proper Basis argues that belief in God is “properly basic”; that it is similar to statements like “I see a chair” or “I feel pain”. Such beliefs are non-falsifiable and, thus, neither provable nor disprovable; they concern perceptual beliefs or indisputable mental states.
    In Germany, the School of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi taught that human reason is able to perceive the suprasensible. Jacobi distinguished three faculties: sense, reason, and understanding. Just as sense has immediate perception of the material so has reason immediate perception of the immaterial, while the understanding brings these perceptions to a person’s consciousness and unites them to one another.[35] God’s existence, then, cannot be proven (Jacobi, like Immanuel Kant, rejected the absolute value of the principle of causality), it must be felt by the mind.
    In Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that when a person’s understanding ponders over the existence of God it encounters nothing but contradictions; the impulses of people’s hearts, however, are of more value than the understanding, and these proclaim clearly the truths of natural religion, namely, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.
    The same theory was advocated in Germany by Friedrich Schleiermacher, who assumed an inner religious sense by means of which people feel religious truths. According to Schleiermacher, religion consists solely in this inner perception, and dogmatic doctrines are inessential.[36]
    Many modern Protestant theologians follow in Schleiermacher’s footsteps, and teach that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated; certainty as to this truth is only furnished to people by inner experience, feeling, and perception.
    Modernist Christianity also denies the demonstrability of the existence of God. According to them, one can only know something of God by means of the vital immanence, that is, under favorable circumstances the need of the divine dormant in one’s subconsciousness becomes conscious and arouses that religious feeling or experience in which God reveals himself. In condemnation of this view the Oath Against Modernism formulated by Pius X, a Pope of the Catholic Church, says: “Deum … naturali rationis lumine per ea quae facta sunt, hoc est per visibilia creationis opera, tanquam causam per effectus certo cognosci adeoque demostrari etiam posse, profiteor.” (“I declare that by the natural light of reason, God can be certainly known and therefore his existence demonstrated through the things that are made, i.e., through the visible works of creation, as the cause is known through its effects.”)
    Brahma Kumaris religion was established in 1936, when God was said to enter the body of diamond merchant Lekhraj Kripalani (1876–1969) in Hyderabad, Sindh and started to speak through him.[37][38]
    [edit]Hindu arguments
    Most schools of Hindu philosophy accept the existence of a creator god (Brahma), while some do not. The school of Vedanta argues that one of the proofs of the existence of God is the law of karma. In a commentary to Brahma Sutras (III, 2, 38, and 41), a Vedantic text, Adi Sankara, an Indian philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, a sub-school of Vedanta, argues that the original karmic actions themselves cannot bring about the proper results at some future time; neither can super sensuous, non-intelligent qualities like adrsta—an unseen force being the metaphysical link between work and its result—by themselves mediate the appropriate, justly deserved pleasure and pain. The fruits, according to him, then, must be administered through the action of a conscious agent, namely, a supreme being (Ishvara).[39]
    A human’s karmic acts result in merits and demerits. Since unconscious things generally do not move except when caused by an agent (for example, the axe moves only when swung by an agent), and since the law of karma is an unintelligent and unconscious law, Sankara argues there must be a conscious supreme Being who knows the merits and demerits which persons have earned by their actions, and who functions as an instrumental cause in helping individuals reap their appropriate fruits.[40] Thus, God affects the person’s environment, even to its atoms, and for those souls who reincarnate, produces the appropriate rebirth body, all in order that the person might have the karmically appropriate experiences.[41] Thus, there must be a theistic administrator or supervisor for karma, i.e., God.
    The Nyaya school, one of six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, states that one of the proofs of the existence of God is karma;[42] it is seen that some people in this world are happy, some are in misery. Some are rich and some are poor. The Naiyanikas explain this by the concept of karma and reincarnation. The fruit of an individual’s actions does not always lie within the reach of the individual who is the agent; there ought to be, therefore, a dispenser of the fruits of actions, and this supreme dispenser is God.[42] This belief of Nyaya, accordingly, is the same as that of Vedanta.[42]

  4. Arguments against God also listed as a reference.

    Each of the following arguments aims at showing either that a particular subset of gods do not exist (by showing them as inherently meaningless, contradictory, or at odds with known scientific or historical facts) or that there is insufficient reason to believe in them. Some[which?] of these arguments suggest that there is evidence of absence of a god.
    [edit]Empirical arguments
    Empirical arguments depend on empirical data in order to prove their conclusions.
    The argument from inconsistent revelations contests the existence of the deity called God as described in scriptures—such as the Jewish Tanakh, the Christian Bible, the Muslim Qur’an, Hindu Vedas, the Book of Mormon or the Baha’i Aqdas—by identifying apparent contradictions between different scriptures, within a single scripture, or between scripture and known facts. To be effective this argument requires the other side to hold that its scriptural record is inerrant, or at least to assert that a proper understanding of scripture gives rise to knowledge of God’s existence.
    The problem of evil contests the existence of a god who is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent by arguing that such a god should not permit the existence of evil or suffering. The theist responses are called theodicies.
    The destiny of the unevangelized, by which persons who have never even heard of a particular revelation might be harshly punished for not following its dictates.
    The argument from poor design contests the idea that God created life on the basis that lifeforms, including humans, seem to exhibit poor design.
    The argument from nonbelief contests the existence of an omnipotent God who wants humans to believe in him by arguing that such a god would do a better job of gathering believers.
    The argument from parsimony (using Occam’s razor) contends that since natural (non-supernatural) theories adequately explain the development of religion and belief in gods,[43] the actual existence of such supernatural agents is superfluous and may be dismissed unless otherwise proven to be required to explain the phenomenon.
    The analogy of Russell’s teapot argues that the burden of proof for the existence of God lies with the theist rather than the atheist. The Russell’s teapot analogy can be considered an extension of Occam’s Razor.
    Stephen Hawking and co-author Leonard Mlodinow state in their book, ‘The Grand Design’, that it is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe, but if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God. In this view, it is accepted that some entity exists that needs no creator, and that entity is called God. This is known as the first-cause argument for the existence of God. Both authors claim however, that it is possible to answer these questions purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings.[44]
    [edit]Deductive arguments
    Deductive arguments attempt to prove their conclusions by deductive reasoning from true premises.
    The Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit is a counter-argument to the argument from design. The argument from design claims that a complex or ordered structure must be designed. However, a god that is responsible for the creation of a universe would be at least as complicated as the universe that it creates. Therefore, it too must require a designer. And its designer would require a designer also, ad infinitum. The argument for the existence of god is then a logical fallacy with or without the use of special pleading. The Ultimate 747 gambit states that God does not provide an origin of complexity, it simply assumes that complexity always existed. It also states that design fails to account for complexity, which natural selection can explain.
    The omnipotence paradox suggests that the concept of an omnipotent entity is logically contradictory, from considering a question like: “Can God create a rock so big that He cannot move it?” or “If God is all powerful, could God create a being more powerful than Himself?”.
    The Omniscience paradox shows a different angle of the omnipotence paradox. “If God is omnipotent, then he should be able to change the future to an “alternate future” that is unknown to him, conflicting with his omniscience” Similarly, an omniscient god would know the position of all atoms in the universe over its ~14 billion-year history as well as its infinite future. To know that, god’s memory needs to be bigger than the infinite set of possible states in the current universe.
    The problem of hell is the idea that eternal damnation for actions committed in a finite existence contradicts God’s omnibenevolence or omnipresence.
    The argument from free will contests the existence of an omniscient god who has free will—or has allotted the same freedom to his creations—by arguing that the two properties are contradictory. According to the argument, if God already knows the future, then humanity is destined to corroborate with his knowledge of the future and not have true free will to deviate from it. Therefore our free will contradicts an omniscient god. Another argument attacks the existence of an omniscient god who has free will directly in arguing that the will of God himself would be bound to follow whatever God foreknows himself doing throughout eternity.
    A counter-argument against the Cosmological argument (“chicken or the egg”) takes its assumption that things cannot exist without creators and applies it to God, setting up an infinite regress. This attacks the premise that the universe is the second cause (after God, who is claimed to be the first cause).
    Theological noncognitivism, as used in literature, usually seeks to disprove the god-concept by showing that it is unverifiable by scientific tests.
    The anthropic argument states that if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect, He would have created other morally perfect beings instead of imperfect humans.
    [edit]Inductive arguments
    Inductive arguments argue their conclusions through inductive reasoning.
    The atheist-existentialist argument for the non-existence of a perfect sentient being states that if existence precedes essence, it follows from the meaning of the term sentient that a sentient being cannot be complete or perfect. It is touched upon by Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness. Sartre’s phrasing is that God would be a pour-soi [a being-for-itself; a consciousness] who is also an en-soi [a being-in-itself; a thing]: which is a contradiction in terms. The argument is echoed thus in Salman Rushdie’s novel Grimus: “That which is complete is also dead.”
    The “no reason” argument tries to show that an omnipotent and omniscient being would not have any reason to act in any way, specifically by creating the universe, because it would have no needs, wants, or desires since these very concepts are subjectively human. Since the universe exists, there is a contradiction, and therefore, an omnipotent god cannot exist. This argument is expounded upon by Scott Adams in the book God’s Debris, which puts forward a form of Pandeism as its fundamental theological model. A similar argument is put forward in Ludwig von Mises’s “Human Action.” He referred to it as the “praxeological argument” and claimed that a perfect being would have long ago satisfied all its wants and desires and would no longer be able to take action in the present without proving that it had been unable to achieve its wants faster—showing it imperfect.
    The “historical induction” argument concludes that since most theistic religions throughout history (e.g. ancient Egyptian religion, ancient Greek religion) and their gods ultimately come to be regarded as untrue or incorrect, all theistic religions, including contemporary ones, are therefore most likely untrue/incorrect by induction. It is implied as part of Stephen F. Roberts’ popular quotation:
    “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
    [edit]Subjective arguments
    See also: Anecdotal evidence
    Similar to the subjective arguments for the existence of God, subjective arguments against the supernatural mainly rely on the testimony or experience of witnesses, or the propositions of a revealed religion in general.
    The witness argument gives credibility to personal witnesses, contemporary and from the past, who disbelieve or strongly doubt the existence of God.
    The conflicted religions argument notes that many religions give differing accounts as to what God is and what God wants; since all the contradictory accounts cannot be correct, many if not all religions must be incorrect.
    The disappointment argument claims that if, when asked for, there is no visible help from God, there is no reason to believe that there is a God.
    [edit]Hindu arguments
    Atheistic Hindu doctrines cite various arguments for rejecting a creator-God or Ishvara. The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra of the Samkhya school states that there is no philosophical place for a creationist God in this system. It is also argued in this text that the existence of Ishvara (God) cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist.[45] Classical Samkhya argues against the existence of God on metaphysical grounds. For instance, Samkhya argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world. It says God was a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances.[46] The Sutras of Samkhya endeavour to prove that the idea of God is inconceivable and self-contradictory, and some[which?] commentaries speak plainly on this subject. The Sankhya- tattva-kaumudi, commenting on Karika 57, argues that a perfect God can have no need to create a world, and if God’s motive is kindness, Samkhya questions whether it is reasonable to call into existence beings who while non-existent had no suffering. Samkhya postulates that a benevolent deity ought to create only happy creatures, not an imperfect world like the real world.[47]
    Proponents of the school of Mimamsa, which is based on rituals and orthopraxy, decided that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God was insufficient. They argue that there was no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there was no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a God to validate the rituals.[48] Mimamsa argues that the Gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. In that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of Gods.[49]

    1. Not sure why you are posting “what Baha’is believe” articles and comments (from wikipedia, apparently) to a Baha’i site, unless you are inviting us to confirm or deny. 🙂

      I have already alluded to the fact that you had a misunderstanding of the Baha’i concept of progressive revelation, but I will comment on this: “The argument from inconsistent revelations contests the existence of the deity called God as described in scriptures—such as the Jewish Tanakh, the Christian Bible, the Muslim Qur’an, Hindu Vedas, the Book of Mormon or the Baha’i Aqdas—by identifying apparent contradictions between different scriptures, within a single scripture, or between scripture and known facts. To be effective this argument requires the other side to hold that its scriptural record is inerrant, or at least to assert that a proper understanding of scripture gives rise to knowledge of God’s existence.”

      I’ve read this excerpt elsewhere, by the way. I frequently discourse with atheists and I’ve been through many of the referenced scriptures. The only contradictions that I’ve seen stem from OUR understanding of what they are saying. Contextually, they are not in contradiction on any key points and where they differ, it is on application. Let us take the idea of God being a “person”. I could say He is not a person and my colleague Stephen say that He is and we could both be right. We can both be right because of what elements of personhood we are basing that assessment on. If I think of a person as someone with a body and Stephen views a person as someone with an intellect, then by his definition, I am wrong. My response to this can be 1) to see that there really is no disagreement in substance, but that we are merely using the same word for different things; 2) to decide I am wrong and he is right and to change my own perception of the meaning of the word “person”; 3) to decide Stephen is wrong in defining “person” in this way.

      Option 3 is off the table because it would cause needless and stupid conflict. So, I’d go with 1 because it gives me a starting place to speak to both my Christian and Buddhist friends about God.

      “The problem of evil contests the existence of a god who is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent by arguing that such a god should not permit the existence of evil or suffering. The theist responses are called theodicies.”

      I have long puzzled about this “Problem of Evil”, er, theodicy. What problem with evil? This is a plane of choice. One can choose to do good or to do ill. The results of that action (karma, or as the Bible notes “as ye sow, so shall ye reap”) and its interaction with the thoughts, words, actions of others is what causes evil. There is a difference, too, between difficulties and natural disasters and evil. When a hurricane strikes Florida, that can cause difficulties, and can rise to disaster. When human beings, seeing that disaster, price gouge for food, water, gasoline, and rent THAT is a tragedy and rises to evil.

      The why is there suffering argument is exceptionally weak, in my opinion. Surely, they can do better than that.

      “The destiny of the unevangelized, by which persons who have never even heard of a particular revelation might be harshly punished for not following its dictates.”

      There are several things off about this assertion.

      1) The destiny of the unevangelized (even as a terminology) only pertains to a subset of Christian belief systems. It is by no means something common to all religion. Most Muslims (except for the most radical) don’t view Jews and Christians as infidels, but just as “People of the Book” who haven’t accepted God’s latest revelation. The Qur’an is quite clear that God’s faith has been progressively revealed through a series of Prophets including Abraham, Moses, Christ, etc. So imputing this idea of unbelievers go to hell to all religion is literally nonsensical.

      2) Hell is a manmade concept based less on scriptural authority than tradition and, well, a human need to quantify and formulate spiritual concepts and boil them down to physical analogues. Look at Christianity, for example. The churches I went to as a child taught a physical Hell, though they were very unclear on what it was like. They talked about fire a lot. The Catholic Church taught a fiery pit of physical torture for some time, but I often wonder if that wasn’t the fault of artists who tried to depict it in prose and paint. When Jesus speaks of what has come to be called Hell, He uses a variety of images: Gehenna (the trash dump outside the gates of Jerusalem), being shut out in the darkness and cold. In fact, where translators have placed the word “hell”, Jesus used the word “Gehenna”. He also used the Hellenic term “Hades”, with whatever imagery that brought with it. He uses this term in His parable of the poor man and Lazarus (the point of which is that God has sent the Prophets to teach you, and you don’t believe, and wouldn’t believe even if God raised someone from the dead). But Hades and Gehenna are not the same thing. Gehenna is where Jesus speaks of throwing the body, and of Hades, He speaks only figuratively, not as a place that sinners go.

      Baha’u’llah is clear that there is no physical Hell, that it is a spiritual condition. It is not a destination but a state. He is also clear that there is no formulaic set of acts that will send you to this non place. He refers to the soul experiencing remoteness from God. Sometimes He uses the phrase “fires of remoteness”. When I look at Christ’s use of Hades and Gehenna and the other images He uses to describe that state, I see no conflict. Gehenna is a perfect image of being cast out as something that is used up, worthless, or broken. The gates of God’s city fall shut with the sinner on the outside. This is the same imagery He uses in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The foolish girls do not keep their lamps lit and fall asleep and end up in the dark and cold outside the Lord’s house with the door shut in their faces.

      To me, these both seem perfect analogies for remoteness from God or (as Baha’u’llah also writes) being “kept back as by a veil from Thee”. What all of these have in common is that they are images of remoteness and being separated from the Divine Beloved.

      3) There is an old Christian aphorism that takes on the idea of punishment: “If you find yourself far from God, who moved?”

      Baha’u’llah says that God is closer to us than our life’s vein. We move ourselves in or out of contact with That through the choices we make. If I fail to nurture and reflect the qualities of God–love, compassion, courage, honesty, etc–whose fault is that? It would be an act of abject cowardice to blame God if my inability to obey the laws of Divine Physics results in difficulties. That would be like blaming gravity if I intentionally jumped from a ladder and broke my leg.

      This is already too long. I await your response.

      One last thing: to the new atheist’s insistence that there is no evidence for the existence of God, I submit the human intellect. It’s a matter of albedo and inference, after all.

      1. Ultimately, God is a meaningless word because of lack of a universal definition. You can see below. The Charles Bradlaugh argument of lack of defintion.

        Two new concepts. Apatheism is apathy towards th existence of God. Ignosticism is ignoring the existence of God.

        Also, I’ve read Hindu commentaries on the Bible and various other interrellgious dialogues to know about there being no contradictions in scripture.

        The destiny of the unlearned lists both Christianity and Islam.

        Whoso seeketh as religion other than the Surrender (to Allah) it will not be accepted from him, and he will be a loser in the Hereafter.
        They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. … Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers.

        While this has various interpretations, some do list Jews, Christians, etc. as kafir.

        Also, on a economic note, price gouging is not evil. It’s called supply and demand. I read a really good defense of it in a free market magazine article. I forget which one because I subscribe to several, Reason, The Freeman, Regulation, etc.

        Also, I would say various spiritual worlds are both states of being and metaphysical planes of existence. There was an article on some blog of serial killers and hell, they are in hell as a state of being already, but will go to help as a plane of existence when they die. They will stay there for up to ten to the power of twenty years or so before given another chance.

        There are several spiritual states of being people go through during a lifetime. The predominant state of being in life defines what plane of existence they go after death.

        While the Bible and Quran lack a detailed cosmology, other scriptures do have. The Puranas and Sutras go into extensive details of the 42, 33, or however many planes of existence there are and go into exhaustive detail of what’s its like to live in other planes of existence, how one generates the karma to live there, etc.

        Relgious cosmology, Hindu cosmology, Buddhist cosmology, Jain cosmology, planes (esotericism), naraka, patala, etc. are all good Wikipedia articles of what the study of cosmology is like.

        1. “Also, on a economic note, price gouging is not evil. It’s called supply and demand.”

          No, Stephen, it’s called adding insult to injury. And I would call it rank greed. Seeking economic advantage from the misery of others. And so, I’m positive, would any of the Buddhas.

          To me, this is the sort of moral relativism that is part of what is “eating into the vitals of human society”, as Baha’u’llah would say. We are perfectly happy to follow the Golden Rule (do as you would be done by), as long as it does not hamper our ability to acquire wealth or wield power, or infringe on our personal desires.

          Price gouging of the sort that followed Katrina kept already devastated people from being able to purchase gas to escape the area, feed their families or put a roof over their heads. That is the difference between a disaster and a tragedy. It is indefensible in context with the central teaching of any Manifestation of God you care to name.

          Supply and demand is not a divine concept; it is a purely material one, defended by human beings.

          I agree: God is a meaningless word until we endow it with meaning. It is, after all, a human word for something we comprehend only dimly–and some more dimly than others, which brings me to the “destiny of the unlearned”.

          Imagine that you are sitting in a classroom in high school. You’ve been sitting in classrooms all your life by now and you’ve been told that the information you’re being taught is important. You prefer not to pay attention. But at the end of the term, you are presented with a test by which you are to show what you’ve learned and how well you understand it. You fail. You drop out of school and go out into the world unprepared to do anything useful to yourself or to others. Maybe you end up flipping burgers at McDonald’s. You ignored the teachers you had throughout your time in school, and because of that, you do not know what you need to know to be successful in the material world.

          You are in hell. The teacher did not put you in hell. The school did not put you in hell. You put yourself there because you chose to be one of the unlearned. This is what I believe Christ’s parables speak to. This is what Muhammad’s statement “they shall be a loser in the hereafter” speaks to. If we fail to learn, we lose. And, we have no one to blame but ourselves, I think, when that happens.

          1. Maya, you don’t fully seem to grasp the economic implications of the Golden Rule and Silver Rule. They tell people to treat others in ways they would like to be treated and not treat ways in they would not like to be treated. Platinum Rule aside, this leads to problems because people have different ideas of what is or is not an acceptable way to treat them and hence others.

            I for one don’t inject judgment calls into the cost of prices, goods, services, wages, etc. as long as both sides have mutually agreed upon it.


            The problem of interpretation of the Golden Rule and Silver Rule is based on the difference between socialists and neo-liberals. Each side has mutually contradicting interpretations of the same ethical teachings. Also, they define greed differently as well. Their whole worldviews might as well be some blue and orange alien planet to each other.

        2. By the way, I deleted a couple of your extended quotes from internet sources because of their length, lack of original material (they were pasted from other sources), and because they did not really bear on the post in question.

          However, you did ask a couple of questions at the top of one of them (which actually got taken out by our spam filter) that I wanted to address:

          You ask if I’d read the Bhagavad Gita (among other resources). Stephen, if I had not read the Bhagavad Gita, do you think I would have quoted from it so extensively? Um, are you actually reading my comments?

          I have worn out several Bhagavad Gitas. I have, I believe, five different translations on hand. My favorites are the old Penguin Juan Mascaro translation and the Eknath Easwaran translations because 1) they treat the material as scripture rather than poetry and 2) they do not presume to “steer” the reader by rending terms such as Atman, for example, into English non-equivalents.

          You wrote: “You read the texts in an either or type of way, why can’t both states and palces (sic)?”

          I think we are here stymied by semantics. What I would say is that, in the case, of such spiritual concepts, “state” and “place” may mean the same thing. In the material world we have places; their analogue in the spiritual realm (even while we are having this physical experience) is a state of being. What has happened because of our bias toward interpreting spiritual ideas materially (or materialistically) is that some of us, especially after time has passed since the original revelation and traditions have begun to creep in, begin to take the material metaphors and the idea of “Place” very literally. We cannot imagine what “remoteness from Thee” is like, so we attach a simplified word (hell, or hades or Gehenna) and run with the physical images that evokes. It’s like playing telephone.

          Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha often compare our state here to the state of the baby in the womb of the mother. Its world is cozy and warm; all its needs are met, but in comparison to this world, it is dark and narrow and isolate. It cries when it is first born into this world, and misses the narrow warmth of it past life, but now it understands the need for its eyes and limbs. It sees the sun, its mother, the glorious world and cannot imagine its past existence … or its future one in a different sort of world.

          Abdu’l-Baha writes: “Had the life of a man in his spiritual being been only confined to his life in this world, the creation would have proved useless; the divine qualities would have no result and effect; nay, all things, created beings and the world of creation would have proved abortive. I ask pardon of God for such false imaginations and for such errors! As the usefulness and powers of the life were not seen in that dark and narrow world, but when it is brought into this vast world, all the use of its growth and development becometh manifest and obvious in it, so likewise, reward and punishment, paradise and hell, and the requital of deeds and actions done by it in the present life become manifest and evident when it is transferred to the world to come—which is far from this world! Had the life and growth of the child in the womb been confined to that condition, then the existence of the child in the womb would have proved utterly abortive and unintelligible; as would the life of this world, were its deeds, actions and their results not to appear in the world to come. Therefore, know thou that the True One possesseth invisible worlds which human meditation is unable to comprehend and the intellect of man hath no power to imagine. When thou wilt purify and clarify thy spiritual nostrils from every worldly moisture, then thou wilt inhale the holy fragrances diffusing from the merciful gardens of these worlds.”

          So, yes, hell (and heaven) could be both a state and a place–but not a physical place. The physical is important to us here, just as the umbilical cord was of paramount importance to that baby in the womb. Notice that when we leave the womb, it’s the first thing that goes. 🙂

          1. Maya, I would add I find state of mind to be all the exist, given that I do subscribe to subjective idealism as my basis in metaphysics. I liked studying people like George Berkeley back in high school and in college. To summarize, Platonists, Neoplatonists, Pythagoreans, Neopythagorens, Gnostics, are all people who I have studied.

            I also find heaven and hell to simplistic as well. Heaven usually describes people whose souls are whitest white and Hell, people with souls of blackest black like Hitler. The obvious problem is that the vast majority of people are not in that state, but rather other states. Blue souls, gray souls, red souls, yellow souls, etc.

            This world in summary is like a dream and death waking up from said dream, but the analogy leaves room for various dreams within a dream, so only fully enlightened people really wake up from this dream world.

          2. Abdu’l-Baha has also likened this world to a dream world. It is, above all, I think, a world of choice. Abdu’l-Baha also notes that our thought is our reality; our soul and intellect reflect what we turn them to. Turn them to earth; they reflect the earth (materiality). Turn them to heaven (spiritually speaking); they will reflect the spiritual. Baha’u’llah has referred to death as a “messenger of joy” because at death the soul is released from this world as a bird is released from a broken cage.

            Yes, the concepts of Heaven and Hell ARE simplistic and understandably so. Isn’t that how we teach children–using simplistic devices and adding complexity as the child gains the capacity to comprehend? Again, as Buddha notes, He does not reveal Himself to all alike–He teaches to the capacity of His audience.

            Such graphic labels as heaven and hell are placeholders for far more nuanced realities. Some people will grow into seeing and accepting the nuances and others will cling to the placeholders because the simplicity of binary states (heaven-hell, one-zero) grants a sense of security that changing perceptions do not.

            By the way, since you mentioned studying theosophy, I thought you might be interested in knowing that when He traveled to the West in 1910-12 Abdu’l-Baha spoke at the Theosophical Society in New York, NY. His theme was largely the relationship between God, Manifestation and Man. You might find it of interest–certainly if you wish to understand more of the Baha’i viewpoint.

            Here’s the link:

            He specifically mentions that there have been “many holy Manifestations of God”, by the way. 🙂

          3. Maya, I know of this interesting belief net quiz.


            I’m curious if anyone ever gets 100% on anything. I have tinkered with my answers over time to be able to get 100% on various things various times. It ranks you against everything to give you a whole bunch of scores ranging from 0% to 100%. I will retake it and post my results eventually. I think there are about twenty questions used to extrapolate your percentages.

  5. Hi Stephen:

    A lot of material!

    What would you think of working with me to format it as a backup document that we could reference?

    Also, some of this could be worked up into blogs.



    1. Ok, but which topic should I choose.

      I’m familiar with the Demiurge as an answer to the problem of evil in various traditions: Platonism, Pythagoreanism, Gnosticism, Hinduism, etc.

      In the above traditions God, Form of the Good, Monad, Abrasax, Abraxas, Brahman, Atman, Purusha, Ishvara, Ishwara, Ishvari, Ishwari, Bhagavan, Bhagawan, Bhagavati, Bhagawati, Deva, Devi, etc. is not responsible for evil, but rather a Demiurge figure.

      They agree on this, but even within those traditions their is disagreement on basic metaphysics.

      It was interesting looking up arguments on both sides of the existence of God. It weird one religion, Hinduism, has arguments on both sides. Also, notable is the fact that, various religions don’t require belief in God to be an orthodox member of that religion. Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Bön, Tantra, Shinto, Scientology, etc. are labeled transtheitstic because they transcend atheism and theism because the ultimate reality is neither God nor not God.

      Atheists have broadened atheist to mean anyone who isn’t a classical theist which is rare outside of the Christian and Islamic worlds. Open theism, process theology, pantheism, panentheism, deism, etc. become forms of atheism by said defintion as well as any belief of beliefs outside of classical theism.

      Transtheistic is a term coined by philosopher Paul Tillich or Indologist Heinrich Zimmer, referring to a system of thought or religious philosophy which is neither theistic, nor atheistic,[1] but is beyond them.
      Zimmer applies the term to the theological system of Jainism, which is theistic in the limited sense that the gods exist, but become immaterial as they are transcended by moksha (that is, a system which is not non-theistic, but in which the gods are not the highest spiritual instance). Zimmer (1953, p. 182) uses the term to describe the position of the Tirthankaras having passed “beyond the godly governors of the natural order”.
      The term has more recently also been applied to Buddhism,[2] Advaita Vedanta[3] and the Bhakti movement.[4]
      Nathan Katz in Buddhist and Western Philosophy (1981, p. 446) points out that the term “transpolytheistic” would be more accurate, since it entails that the polytheistic gods are not denied or rejected even after the development of a notion of the Absolute that transcends them, but criticizes the classification as characterizing the mainstream by the periphery: “like categorizing Roman Catholicism as a good example of non-Nestorianism”. The term is indeed informed by the fact that the corresponding development in the West, the development of monotheism, did not “transcend” polytheism, but abolish it, while in the mainstream of the Indian religions, the notion of “gods” (deva) was never elevated to the status of Brahman, but adopted roles comparable to Western angels. “Transtheism”, according to the criticism of Katz, is then an artifact of comparative religion.
      Paul Tillich uses transtheistic in The Courage to Be (1952), as an aspect of Stoicism. Tillich stated that Stoicism and Neo-Stoicism
      are the way in which some of the noblest figures in later antiquity and their followers in modern times have answered the problem of existence and conquered the anxieties of fate and death. Stoicism in this sense is a basic religious attitude, whether it appears in theistic, atheistic, or transtheistic forms.[5]
      Like Zimmer trying to express a religious notion that is neither theistic nor atheistic. However, the theism that is being transcended in Stoicism according to Tillich is not polytheism as in Jainism, but monotheism, pursuing an ideal of human courage which has emancipated itself from God.
      The courage to take meaninglessness into itself presupposes a relation to the ground of being which we have called “absolute faith.” It is without a special content, yet it is not without content. The content of absolute faith is the “god above God.” Absolute faith and its consequence, the courage that takes the radical doubt, the doubt about God, into itself, transcends the theistic idea of God.[6]
      Martin Buber criticized Tillich’s “transtheistic position” as a reduction of God to the impersonal “necessary being” of Thomas Aquinas.[7]

      Atheism is often considered acceptable within Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Although atheism is valid in Hinduism, it views the path of the atheist as very difficult to follow in matters of spirituality.[26]
      Among the six fundamental Astika schools of Hindu philosophy, the Samkhya do not accept God and the early Mimamsa also rejected the notion of God.[27] Samkhya lacks the notion of a ‘higher being’ that is the ground of all existence. It proposes a thoroughly dualistic understanding of the cosmos, in which two parallel realities Purusha, the spiritual and Prakriti, the physical coexist and the aim of life is the gaining of liberating Self-knowledge of the Purusha. Here, no God (better stated theos) is present, yet Ultimate Reality in the form of the Purusha exists.
      Cārvāka (also Charvaka) was a materialist and atheist school of thought in India, which is now known principally from fragments cited by its Astika and Buddhist opponents. The proper aim of a Cārvākan, according to these sources, was to live a prosperous, happy, productive life in this world (cf Epicureanism). There is some evidence that the school persisted until at least 1578.
      Jainism believes that the emancipated soul is itself God.[28] Jains do not believe in a creator God, but there is belief in numerous gods within the cosmos.[29] Buddhism is often described as non-theistic, since Buddhist authorities and canonical texts do not affirm, and sometimes deny, the following:
      The existence of a creation, and therefore of a creator deity
      That a god (deva), gods, or other divine beings are the source of moral imperatives. Instead, the Dharma is an attribution of the universe
      That human beings or other creatures are responsible to a god or gods for their actions
      However, all canonical Buddhist texts that mention the subject accept the existence (as distinct from the authority) of a great number of spiritual beings, including the Vedic deities. From the point of view of Western theism, certain concepts of the Buddha found in the Mahayana school of Buddhism, e.g. of Amitabha or the Adibuddha may seem to share characteristics with Western concepts of God, but Shakyamuni Buddha himself denied that he was a god or divine.

      Some forms of Confucianism and Taoism are arguably agnostic in the sense that they do not explicitly affirm, nor are they founded upon a faith in, a higher being or beings. However, Confucian writings do have numerous references to ‘Heaven,’ which denotes a transcendent power, with a personal connotation. Neo-Confucian writings, such as that of Chu Hsi, are vague on whether their conception of the Great Ultimate is like a personal deity or not. Also, although the Western translation of the Tao as ‘god’ in some editions of the Tao te Ching is highly misleading, it is still a matter of debate whether the actual descriptions of the Tao by Laozi has theistic or nontheistic undertones. Religious forms of taoism do believe in a variety of cosmological beings, which are analogies to the cosmic forces within the universe.

      Scientology does not overtly make any claims about the existence of a deity.

  6. Nice Post Stephen Friberg,

    On the topic of Hume, I thought it’s important to mention his problem of induction also is relevant to issues such as the flow and direction of time and causation in decision theory and ethics.

    “Standard decision theory, as it applies both to theories of self-interested rationality and to consequentialist morality, requires agents to be straightforward maximizers. Straightforward maximizers take the best option to be that which maximizes expected utility or expected value, and they are present-directed: they choose the option that is best in the present; that is, at the time of decision. Straightforward maximization is a common assumption for both intuitive and technical treatments of decision making; it strikes many as a paradigm of good sense, and it is a shared feature of causal and evidential decision theory.

    In spite of its popularity, straightforward maximization has a bad practical upshot: there are some situations in which straightforwardly maximizing agents receive bad outcomes that could have been avoided. This is revealed by cases in which an agent’s future choices can be reliably predicted. A prototypical example of such a case can be found in Hume’s discussion of two corn harvesters, which we can call “Hume’s Harvesters.””

    1. Hamid, for example, that’s why I favor using deontological morality and moral absolutism over consequentialism.

      1. That’s interesting, that you would consider consequentialism and moral absolutism as incompatible.

        1. Hamid, by definition they’re incompatible. Moral absolutism excludes any possibility of virtue ethics or consequentialism by definition.

          Moral absolutism is an ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other circumstances such as their consequences or the intentions behind them. Thus stealing, for instance, might be considered to be always immoral, even if done to promote some other good (e.g., stealing food to feed a starving family), and even if it does in the end promote such a good. Moral absolutism stands in contrast to other categories of normative ethical theories such as consequentialism, which holds that the morality (in the wide sense) of an act depends on the consequences or the context of the act.

          Moral absolutism may be understood in a strictly secular context, as in many forms of deontological moral rationalism. However, many religions have morally absolutist positions as well, regarding their system of morality as deriving from divine commands. Therefore, they regard such a moral system as absolute, (usually) perfect, and unchangeable. Many secular philosophies also take a morally absolutist stance, arguing that absolute laws of morality are inherent in the nature of human beings, the nature of life in general, or the universe itself. For example, someone who believes absolutely in nonviolence considers it wrong to use violence even in self-defense.

          For more info on deontological ethics: Kantianism, Kantian ethics, Categorical Imperative, Moral Absoutism, Divine Command Theory, Natural Law, Natural Rights, etc. are all good topics to look up.

        2. Virtues within deontological ethics are seen below.

          Some deontologists are moral absolutists, believing that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of the intentions behind them as well as the consequences. Immanuel Kant, for example, argued that the only absolutely good thing is a good will, and so the single determining factor of whether an action is morally right is the will, or motive of the person doing it. If they are acting on a bad maxim, e.g. “I will lie”, then their action is wrong, even if some good consequences come of it. Non-absolutist deontologists, such as W. D. Ross, hold that the consequences of an action such as lying may sometimes make lying the right thing to do. Jonathan Baron and Mark Spranca use the term “protected values” when referring to values governed by deontological rules.

      2. I think there exists an absolute good, and that it is teleological, so what does that make me?

        “Some ethical theories are teleological – what is right or wrong depends on the end or outcome of an action – for utlitarians, pleasure, happiness or ‘the greatest good’; for Aristotle, ‘Eudaimonia’. Other theories are deontological – doing what is right means doing your duty or following the rules – for Kant, the categorical imperative; in Natural Law, the secondary precepts. It is easy to think of teleological theories as relativist and deontological theories as absolutist, but it it not that simple. Apart from Kantian Ethics (thoroughly absolutist and deontological) and Situation Ethics (clearly relativist and teleological), ethics seems to involve an uneasy mix.

        Aristotle came up with a list of virtues that we need to acquire, through education and habitually, in order to have a ‘Eudaimon’ or happy life.

        Some modern virtue ethicists, such as Martha Nussbaum, describe Aristotle’s theory as absolutist. It is teleological, because it is about the ends or purposes of our actions. However, Aristotle is saying (according to Nussbaum) that certain ends or goals are absolute – it is always good to be honest, kind, courageous etc.”

        1. Hamid, virtue ethics are a third category of normative ethics.

          Virtue ethics emphasizes the role of one’s character and the virtues that one’s character embodies for determining or evaluating ethical behavior. Virtue ethics is one of the three major approaches to normative ethics, often contrasted to deontology which emphasizes duty to rules and consequentialism which derives rightness or wrongness from the outcome of the act itself.

          The difference between these three approaches to morality tends to lie more in the way moral dilemmas are approached than in the moral conclusions reached. For example, a consequentialist may argue that lying is wrong because of the negative consequences produced by lying—though a consequentialist may allow that certain foreseeable consequences might make lying acceptable. A deontologist might argue that lying is always wrong, regardless of any potential “good” that might come from lying. A virtue ethicist, however, would focus less on lying in any particular instance and instead consider what a decision to tell a lie or not tell a lie said about one’s character and moral behavior. As such, lying would be made in a case-by-case basis that would be based on factors such as personal benefit, group benefit, and intentions (as to whether they are benevolent or malevolent).

          Obviously, for the second paragraph, you can tell which forms of normative ethics are better or worse at determining right from wrong.

        2. Protected virtues or rather protected values are explained here.

          Protected values are values that people are unwilling to trade off no matter what the benefits of doing so may be. For example, some people may be unwilling to kill another person, even if it means saving many others individuals. Protected values tend to be overgeneralizations, and most people can in fact imagine a scenario when trading off their most precious values would be necessary.

          From the perspective of utilitarianism, protected values are biases when they prevent utility from being maximized across individuals.

          According to Jonathan Baron and Mark Spranca, protected values arise from norms as described in theories of deontological ethics (the latter often being referred to in context with Immanuel Kant). The protectedness implies that people are concerned with their participation in transactions rather than just the consequences of it.

          Absoluteness has been described as the defining property of protected values The term absolute applies to the fact that such values are considered non-tradable and that people want them to trump any decision involving a conflict between a protected and a compensatory value. (Compensatory values can be defined as part of a pair of values where a change in one value can be compensated by a change in the other value. These values are prevalent in the theories of consequentialism and utilitarianism.)

          Baron and Spranca propose five other concepts as being properties of protected values, due the fact that these values arise from deontological prohibitions:

          Quantity irrelevancy : The quantity of consequences is irrelevant for protected values. For instance, the act of destroying one species is as bad as destroying a hundred.

          Agent relativity: The participation of the decision maker is important, not just the consequences in themselves.

          Moral obligation: The actions required or prohibited by protected values are seen as universal and independent of what people think.

          Denial of trade-offs : People may resist the idea that anything must be sacrificed at all for the sake of their values, denying by wishful thinking the existence of trade-offs and insisting that their values do no harm.

          Anger : Finally, the emotional aspect of anger is relevant. Because people see the violation of a protected value as a moral violation, they tend to get angry when thinking about an action that harms such values.

          1. It’s particularly interesting subject for me as a CTMU researcher since the problem with the notion of absolute moral relativism (aka, the incommensurability of intersubjective psychosocial frames) is also relevant mathematically.

            It’s also interesting how Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is often interpreted by some as basically saying “everything is relative”…in a manner if speaking perhaps, but some have argued that his theory could also have been named the Theory of Invariance or better yet the Theory of General Covariance.

            “General Covariance is all about laws of physics remaining unchanged under an arbitrary but legitimate, transformation of spacetime coordinates.”

            Intersubjective Utility Comparisons:

            “However, since one thing can have utility in more than one frame, intersecting content provides a basis for entanglement of utility functions. For example, if there are two hungry people A and B on a desert island and nothing to eat but one mango hanging from a tree, their individual utility functions both acquire the mango as an argument. Indeed, where teamwork has utility – and this is the rule in human affairs – A and B are acquired by each other’s utility function (e.g., suppose that the only way A or B can reach the mango is to support or be supported by the other from below).

            In a system dominated by competition and cooperation – a system like the real world – this cross-acquisition is a condition of interaction. But given a system with interacting elements, we have a systemic identity, i.e. a distributive self-transformation applying symmetrically to every element (frame) in the system, and this implies the existence of a mutual transformation relating different elements and ultimately rendering them commensurate after all. So “absolute moral relativism” fails in interactive real-world contexts. It’s a logical absurdity.”

            “Why, if there exists a spiritual metalanguage in which to establish the brotherhood of man through the unity of sentience, are men perpetually at each others’ throats? Unfortunately, most human brains, which comprise a particular highly-evolved subset of the set of all reality-subsystems, do not fire in strict S-isomorphism much above the object level. Where we define one aspect of “intelligence” as theamount of global structure functionally represented by a given sÎS, brains of low intelligence are generally out of accord with the global syntax D(S). This limits their capacity to form true representations of S (global reality) by syntactic autology [d(S) Éd d(S)] and make rational ethical calculations. In this sense, the vast majority of men are not well-enough equipped, conceptually speaking, to form perfectly rational worldviews and societies; they are deficient in education and intellect, albeit remediably so in most cases. This is why force has ruled in the world of man…why might has always made right, despite its marked tendency to violate the optimization of global utility derived by summing over the sentient agents of S with respect to space and time.”

            “The above reasoning has important implications. These can be glimpsed by considering that when confronted by paradoxes devolving to a lopsided fixity of the player’s subjective frame, we achieved resolutions by letting each frame vary in terms of the other. The analogy with physics is obvious; when a “motionless” observer O1 perceives another O2 to be moving at constant velocity with respect to him, the “moving” observer can turn the tables, regarding himself as motionless and O1 as moving at constant velocity in the opposite direction. This is called “Galilean Relativity”. But the story does not end there; relating subjective frames in terms of decision-theoretic invariants like the fixed total value |G| of a game, and the 2x-or-x/2 constraint, invokes analogies with a more complex kind of relativity, the “special relativity” of Einstein. The foregoing treatment suggests that value and expectation are relativistic in the full algebraic sense, not mere “absolutes” that can always be adequately characterized in terms of numeric constants.

            Let us expand on this a bit. Economies relate subjective scales of value. People experience need of, and therefore place subjective value on food, shelter, clothing and transportation. Because these goods and services must be gathered, manufactured or performed by specialists, they tend to be concentrated rather than uniformly distributed among the populace. This creates pressure for redistribution, and if redistribution is governed by individual (as opposed to collective) rationality, these items must be exchanged among individuals according to the law of supply and demand. The medium of exchange is called an “economy”. Because individual subjects place different values on different goods and services, values must be defined relative to subjective value scales, and economic transactions translate one subjective value scale into another. The evolution of a consensus regarding the relative values of various goods and services permits the evolution of a convenient universal standard of exchange, “money”, in terms of which this consensus is expressed. Nevertheless, value remains basically subjective in nature, and local deviations from standard valuations thus remain common. Even as an economy freely evolves and economic forces converge, consolidate and split apart, transactions continue to be driven by individual need, and initiated or authorized at the subjective level.

            Bearing this in mind, look at a generic economic transaction in the context of a minimal 2-envelope game in which each envelope is held by a competitive player and the 2x-or-x/2 constraint is absent. In almost all cases, the players in the transaction hold different stakes of which the objective values are probably different; one stake will almost certainly be more valuable than the other. “Win” and “loss” may then be defined in the obvious way, the player emerging with the more valuable stake being the “winner” and the other being the “loser”. And the same basic rationale – “if I lose, I lose just what I have, but if I win, I win more than I have” – applies. The only difference is the kind and amount of information available; players in the envelope game have no specific information about the objective values of their stakes, while those involved in normal economic transactions have at least some information from which the relative values of stakes may be subjectively inferred.

            Were there really such a thing as absolute intrinsic value, the resolutions given for the Kraitchik and 2-envelopes paradoxes would be final. Each player could reason strategically from an elevated multi-frame perspective to avoid the essential fallacy of these paradoxes. Unfortunately, economic uncertainty makes assessments of absolute value all but impossible; the Kraitchik rationale in effect becomes a subjective vote of confidence in one’s own opinions and projections, and all one can hope to do is allow for the dynamics of interacting subjective frames. Although the Kraitchik and 2-envelopes paradoxes deal with games whose rules seem artificial, these rules turn out to be general; interframe differentials in subjective value account for the ubiquity and validity of the Kraitchik rationale in games which locally appear to be 0-sum, but need not be so in the wider contexts to which the players are subjectively linking them…contexts that ultimately merge in the global economy, precipitating cooperation and competition leading to expectative conflicts. Indeed, relativism based on subjective value differentials expressed in a global “spacetime” of transactions or “economic events” is what allows a locally 0-sum game to be globally advantageous, contributing to an overall win-win scenario in which the economy undergoes real expansion.

            Once we suspend the 0-sum criterion that makes the Kraitchik rationale “fallacious”, its status changes from that of a fallacy to that of a true “law of economics”. Being the distributed basis of collective demand-pull and cost-push inflationary scenarios – the former works in specialized subeconomies whose players compete for resources to produce a certain kind of salable item, while the latter pushes the resulting inflation outward across the subeconomic boundary – this law drives inflation; but since the creation of wealth is driven by subjective motivation, it is also what drives legitimate economic expansion. Two real-world conditions, ambiguity of value and value differentials between subjective frames, create relativistic scenarios whose expansive and inflationary effects diffuse throughout the economy via inflationary mechanisms whose subjective basis was previously not well-understood. In self-interestedly betting on themselves and the futures of their local subeconomies, players create the global economy and determine the global parameters of value. Here, the Kraitchik and 2-envelopes paradoxes give way to an economic analogue of paradoxes involving sets that both determine and are determined by their elements, e.g. the paradoxes of Cantor and Russell.

            What, then, are the rules in terms of which frame-invariant economic calculations should be made, and these abstract economic paradoxes resolved in the real-world economy? Unfortunately, the answer – a general theory of economic relativity – will have to be the subject of a future paper.”

          2. Hamid, you forgot to reference the criticisms page.

            Criticisms of absolutist ethics
            Absolutist ethics are inflexible
            It puts rules before people
            Following absolutist rules doesn’t necessarily lead to a better society
            Sometimes the end does justify the means
            It is elitist and intolerant of other cultures and societies
            Criticisms of relativist ethics

            Relativism makes it hard to criticise horrific acts like those of the Nazis
            People need rules and society cannot function without laws
            It is much harder to apply relativist theories
            What do you do if two relativists disagree?
            You may have studied Cultural Relativism. Cultural relativism is a very weak ethical position. It doesn’t really allow ethics to happen, because it claims that the right thing to do is to follow the rules of your society. It also doesn’t acknowledge that any society has a variety of rules that may contradict – which do you follow?

            Someone like MacIntyre recognises that values change from one society to the next, and we have to understand the context of an issue to understand the ethical decisions people make. However, this is not the same as saying that MacIntyre is a cultural relativist. He isn’t saying that something is good simply because it is valued by a society.

            Fletcher is another moral relativist who is a long way from being a cultural relativist. It is important not to merely criticise cultural relativism and presume that you have dealt a heavy blow to Virtue Ethics and Situation Ethics.

            Obviously, I don’t think the criticism of moral absolutism have any weight. Ethics need stability. Rules need to be followed. The end never justifies the means. Ethics should be culture and society neutral rather than accommodating.

          3. I forgot to give a good example.

            The non-aggression principle (NAP)—also called the non-aggression axiom, the zero aggression principle (ZAP), the anti-coercion principle, or the non-initiation of force—is a moral stance which asserts that aggression is inherently illegitimate. NAP and property rights are closely linked, since what aggression is depends on what a person’s rights are. Aggression, for the purposes of NAP, is defined as the initiation or threatening of violence against a person or legitimately owned property of another. Specifically, any unsolicited actions of others that physically affect an individual’s property or person, no matter if the result of those actions is damaging, beneficial, or neutral to the owner, are considered violent or aggressive when they are against the owner’s free will and interfere with his right to self-determination or the principle of self-ownership.

            Supporters of the NAP often appeal to it in order to explain the immorality of theft, vandalism, assault, and fraud. In contrast to nonviolence, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violence used in self-defense or defense of others. Many supporters argue that NAP opposes such policies as victimless crime laws, taxation, and military drafts. NAP is the foundation of most present-day libertarian philosophies.

            The principle has been derived by various philosophical approaches, including:

            Argumentation Ethics: Some modern libertarian thinkers ground the non-aggression principle by an appeal to the necessary praxeological presuppositions of any ethical discourse, an argument pioneered by libertarian scholar Hans Hermann Hoppe. They claim that the act of arguing for the initiation of aggression, as defined by the non-aggression principle is contradictory. Among these are Stephan Kinsella and Murray Rothbard.

            Consequentialism: Some advocates base the non-aggression principle on rule utilitarianism or rule egoism. These approaches hold that though violations of the non-aggression principle cannot be claimed to be objectively immoral, adherence to it almost always leads to the best possible results, and so it should be accepted as a moral rule. These scholars include David Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek. I personally think consequentialism is a bad ground for any form of ethics.

            Natural rights: Some derive the non-aggression principle by appealing to natural rights that are deemed a natural part of man. Such approaches often reference self-ownership, ethical intuitionism, or the right to life. Thinkers in the natural law tradition include John Locke, Lysander Spooner, and Murray Rothbard.

            Social contract: The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding duties to protect themselves and one another from violence and other kinds of harm. Many libertarians, however, reject the “social contract” term as it has been historically used in a non-voluntary fashion. They argue that for a contract to be enforceable it must be voluntarily accepted.
            Social progress: Herbert Spencer, the 19th century polymath, first proposed that aggression either between individuals or the state against the individual inhibits sociocultural evolution. Based on his theory of social evolution (from Lamarckian use-inheritance), he concluded that aggression in all its forms impedes progress by interfering with the individual’s ability to exercise his or her faculties. He wrote, “… when each possesses an active instinct of freedom, together with an active sympathy—then will all the still existing limitations to individuality, be they governmental restraints, or be they the aggressions of men on one another, cease. … Then, for the first time in the history of the world, will there exist beings whose individualities can be expanded to the full in all directions. And thus, as before said, in the ultimate man perfect morality, perfect individuation, and perfect life will be simultaneously realized.”

            Objectivism: Ayn Rand rejected natural or inborn rights theories as well supernatural claims and instead proposed a philosophy based on observable reality along with a corresponding ethics based on the factual requirements of human life in a social context. She stressed that the political principle of non-aggression is not a primary and that it only has validity as a consequence of a more fundamental philosophy. For this reason, many of her conclusions differ from others who hold the NAP as an axiom or arrived at it differently. She proposed that man survives by identifying and using concepts in his rational mind since “no sensations, percepts, urges or instincts can do it; only a mind can.” She wrote, “since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it [i.e. initiatory force or fraud] is the evil.”

          4. Hamid,

            Moral universalism (also called moral objectivism or universal morality) is the meta-ethical position that some system of ethics, or a universal ethic, applies universally, that is, for “all similarly situated individuals”, regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality, or any other distinguishing feature. Moral universalism is opposed to moral nihilism and moral relativism. However, not all forms of moral universalism are absolutist, nor are they necessarily value monist; many forms of universalism, such as utilitarianism, are non-absolutist, and some forms, such as that of Isaiah Berlin, may be value pluralist.
            In addition to the theories of moral realism, moral universalism includes other cognitivist moral theories such as the subjectivist theories Ideal observer theory and the Divine command theory, and also the non-cognitivist moral theory universal prescriptivism.

            While consequentialism and utilitarianism are universalist, they aren’t absolutist as explained earlier.

          5. Stephen Kent,

            It’s nice of you to be investing your time and effort writing and posting large swaths of material which nobody may ever care to read of absorb. One can discuss definitions and categories all day long and not really understand what is going on beneath it. I’d be interested in how you would address my point regarding the role of General Covariance in Ethics.


          6. Hamid, it focuses exclusively on ends or utility to the detriment of means, duties, and rights. Like all consequentialist ethics, how you achieve utility is seen as insignificant as long as you achieve it.

            In a world where not everyone is a consequentialist, why speak extensively on utility?

            General Convariance seems to be only relevant to consequentialist ethics and not all ethics.

            To summarize, what if you want people to shirk their duties or ignore people’s rights for the sake of utility?

  7. Maybe, a topic on epistemology would be a good idea.

    How and why is it possible to know anything at all if anything? That is the definition of epistemology.

    Means of knowledge, pramanas in Indian philosophy are:

    Pratyaksha direct sense perception
    Anumana logical inference
    Shabda verbal or written testimony
    Upamana comparison
    Arthapatti postulation or presumption
    Anupalabdi non apprehension or non cognition

    Vasheshika recognizes the first two
    Samkyha recognizes the first three
    Vedanta recognizes the first three or all six
    Nyaya recognizes the first four
    Mimamsa recognizes the first five or all six

    1. I did a series on epistemology some time ago here. It’s entitled, “The Science of Religion” and it begins with this post:

      By the way, I also did a series on the material you posted on the existence of God, the problem of evil, entitled Questions from an Atheist etc. Rather than have me rehash that here, possibly you could find those posts on our blog? It starts with this post:

      These are both multipart series.

  8. The problem with the argument of the problem of evil is that is presupposes God has the attributes philosophers and theologians ascribe to him. Given there is no universal definition of God, this leads to problems affirming or denying God. Complicating matters are those who view God as a metaphor rather than an actually existing being. There is an Abrahamic consensus of Jews, Christians, Muslims, etc. but that’s far from a universal consensus.

    God is often conceived as the supreme being and principal object of faith.[1] In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. In deism, God is the creator (but not the sustainer) of the universe. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. Theologians have ascribed a variety of attributes to the many different conceptions of God. Common among these are omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one God or in the oneness of God. God has also been conceived as being incorporeal (immaterial), a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the “greatest conceivable existent”.[1] Many notable medieval philosophers and modern philosophers have developed arguments for and against the existence of God.[2]
    There are many names for God, and different names are attached to different cultural ideas about who God is and what attributes he possesses. In the Hebrew Bible “I Am that I Am”, and the “Tetragrammaton” YHVH are used as names of God, while Yahweh, and Jehovah are sometimes used in Christianity as vocalizations of YHVH. In Arabic, the name Allah (“the God”) is used, and because of the predominance of Islam among Arab speakers, the name “Allah” has connotations with Islamic faith and culture. Muslims regard a multitude of titular names for God, while in Judaism it is common to refer to God by the titular names Elohim or Adonai. In Hinduism, Brahman is often considered a monistic deity.[3] Other religions have names for God, for instance, Baha in the Bahá’í Faith,[4] Waheguru in Sikhism,[5] and Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism.[6]

    Theologians and philosophers have ascribed a number of attributes to God, including omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, perfect goodness, divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. God has been described as incorporeal, a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the greatest conceivable being existent.[1] These attributes were all claimed to varying degrees by the early Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars, including St Augustine,[30] Al-Ghazali,[57] and Maimonides.[30]
    Many medieval philosophers developed arguments for the existence of God,[2] while attempting to comprehend the precise implications of God’s attributes. Reconciling some of those attributes generated important philosophical problems and debates. For example, God’s omniscience may seem to imply that God knows how free agents will choose to act. If God does know this, their apparent free will might be illusory, or foreknowledge does not imply predestination; and if God does not know it, God may not be omniscient.[58]
    However, if by its essential nature, free will is not predetermined, then the effect of its will can never be perfectly predicted by anyone, regardless of intelligence and knowledge. Although knowledge of the options presented to that will, combined with perfect-infinite intelligence, could be said to provide God with omniscience if omniscience is defined as knowledge or understanding of all that is.
    The last centuries of philosophy have seen vigorous questions regarding the arguments for God’s existence raised by such philosophers as Immanuel Kant, David Hume and Antony Flew, although Kant held that the argument from morality was valid. The theist response has been either to contend, like Alvin Plantinga, that faith is “properly basic”; or to take, like Richard Swinburne, the evidentialist position.[59] Some theists agree that none of the arguments for God’s existence are compelling, but argue that faith is not a product of reason, but requires risk. There would be no risk, they say, if the arguments for God’s existence were as solid as the laws of logic, a position summed up by Pascal as: “The heart has reasons which reason knows not of.”[60]
    Most major religions hold God not as a metaphor, but a being that influences our day-to-day existences. Many believers allow for the existence of other, less powerful spiritual beings, and give them names such as angels, saints, djinns, demons, and devas.[61][62][63][64][65]

    The nineteenth century English atheist Charles Bradlaugh declared that he refused to say “There is no God”, because “the word ‘God’ is to me a sound conveying no clear or distinct affirmation”;[66] he said more specifically that he disbelieved in the Christian God. Stephen Jay Gould proposed an approach dividing the world of philosophy into what he called “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA). In this view, questions of the supernatural, such as those relating to the existence and nature of God, are non-empirical and are the proper domain of theology. The methods of science should then be used to answer any empirical question about the natural world, and theology should be used to answer questions about ultimate meaning and moral value. In this view, the perceived lack of any empirical footprint from the magisterium of the supernatural onto natural events makes science the sole player in the natural world.[67]
    Another view, advanced by Richard Dawkins, is that the existence of God is an empirical question, on the grounds that “a universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, and it would be a scientific difference.”[40] Carl Sagan argued that the doctrine of a Creator of the Universe was difficult to prove or disprove and that the only conceivable scientific discovery that could disprove the existence of a Creator would be the discovery that the universe is infinitely old.[68]

    1. “All the visible universe comes from my invisible Being. All beings have their rest in me, but I have not My rest in them, And in truth they rest not in Me. Consider my sacred mystery: I am the source of all beings, I support them all, but I rest not in them.” — Bhagavad Gita 9:4

      And this makes perfect sense to me. Possibly because I am a writer and therefore I am “in” my books, yet not in my books at the same time. And I am not bound by the laws I created for them, either.

  9. I think the idea is that you’re supposed to come as close as you can to an honest assessment of what you believe and it presumes to tell you what your personal beliefs come closest to. The problem is, that for a Baha’i, at least, many of the stated positions are too limiting or not quite on the money, or use a terminology that’s not applicable. In some cases, more than one answer may apply. My daughter, who is a 19 year old Baha’i took it and it told her she was closest to Reformed Judaism. We both got a kick out of that.

  10. Maya, here’s Judaism. Since, you daughter got Reformed Judaism as a result, her answers probably sounded like the profile.
    Judaism can be divided into Reformed and Orthodox. New Thought is mostly Christian, but some Jews have formed a Jewish Science sect based on Christian Science.

    Reformed Judaism

    Belief in Deity
    Beliefs vary among adherents, including that of nonbelief or questioning belief, and all are welcome and considered personal, but the official stance is that there is one God Almighty–Creator, all-powerful, ever-present, and all knowing–formless, incorporeal spirit.

    • Incarnations
    None, as only God is worshipped. Moses was the greatest of all prophets.

    • Origin of Universe and Life
    Most believe that Genesis is to be understood symbolically. God created and controls all phenomena revealed by modern science.

    • After Death
    Reform Jews believe in the world to come and a messianic age (but no individual Messiah). Personal beliefs in the details of afterlife are diverse, as there is no official position. Some believe in heaven and hell but only as states of consciousness; some believe in reincarnation; some believe God is all-forgiving; and some may not believe in an actual afterlife. Regardless, Judaism generally focuses on living a virtuous life, rather than working toward reward after death.

    • Why Evil?
    No original sin. Most often, Satan is interpreted symbolically to represent selfish desires that are inherent within all. God gave people free will, and people are responsible for their actions.

    • Salvation
    The main emphasis is on living the kind of life that God commands, which will surely be rewarded if there is an afterlife. Most believe God is forgiving of all; there is no hell to which some are condemned. Salvation is achieved through faith and prayer to God, good works, concern for the earth and humanity, and behavior that does no harm to others. The extent to which one follows Jewish Law is an individual decision.

    • Undeserved Suffering
    God gave humans free will to feel pleasure and pain, and his purpose in allowing deep suffering of the innocent must be good even if mysterious. It is generally believed that God suffers along with the sufferer. More important than knowing why God allows suffering is to work to help those in need.

    • Contemporary Issues
    Judaism holds that human life begins upon first breath, and Jewish law requires abortion if necessary to save the mother’s life prior to birth. Most believe potential human life should never be terminated casually, but it is generally regarded as a personal decision, especially within the first 40 days of pregnancy. Homosexuality: Homosexuals are God’s creation, and Jewish instruction is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Reform (and Conservative) Judaism have a long history of support for homosexual rights.

    Orthodox Judaism

    • Belief in Deity
    There exists only one personal God Almighty–creator, all-powerful, ever-present, and all-knowing–formless, incorporeal spirit.

    • Incarnations
    None, as only God is worshipped. Moses was the greatest of all prophets.

    • Origin of Universe and Life
    They hold to the book of Genesis literally, that God created the universe/life from nothing, in less than 7 days, less than 10,000 years ago; Adam and Eve were the first humans. But, some hold that a “day” in the Bible is not defined as 24 hours, and some believe that scientific discoveries don’t contradict but attest to God’s awesome power.

    • After Death
    Traditional Judaism believes in the World to Come, the coming of the messianic age heralded by the messiah, and a resurrection of the dead, but beliefs vary on the details. Some believe souls of the righteous go to heaven, or are reincarnated, while the wicked suffer from a hell of their own making or remain dead. Some believe God will resurrect the righteous to live on earth after the Messiah comes to purify the world. Judaism generally focuses on strictly following God’s commandments rather than on details of afterlife or rewards after death.

    • Why Evil?
    No original sin. Most believe God created Satan as evil inclination, a tendency that lies within everyone. People also have awareness of and inclination toward goodness. Thus, God provides free will as a test of obedience and faith.

    • Salvation
    Salvation is achieved through faith and continual prayer to God, strict adherence to divine commandments (Jewish Law), including dietary restrictions, to give to the poor, “love your neighbor as yourself,” bring God’s message to humanity by example (a responsibility of God’s “chosen people”). Confessions and repentances are expressed through Yom Kippur when one fasts, asks forgiveness from others and from themselves, and commits to do good deeds in the future.

    • Undeserved Suffering
    Sometimes it is believed that suffering is caused by a weakness in one’s devotion to God. Generally, it is believed that God gave humans free will to feel pleasure and pain, and His purpose in allowing deep suffering of the innocent must be good even if mysterious. God suffers along with the sufferer. Some Jews (e.g. the Hasidim) believe that suffering is punishment for past-life sins. Knowing why God allows suffering is not as important as knowing that God will punish the perpetrators.

    • Contemporary Issues
    Judaism holds that human life begins upon first breath, and Jewish law requires abortion if necessary to save the mother’s life prior to birth. Most believe that potential human life should never be terminated casually, but abortion is generally regarded as a personal decision, especially within the first 40 days of pregnancy.

  11. Doesn’t sound as if it was written by a Baha’i. And I can understand how the Belief-o-matic missed if these are their cue cards.

    I wish I had time to deal with the points, but I don’t, so I’d just recommend wider reading of actual Baha’i literature—possibly going to the Baha’i website and reading what’s there if you’re pressed for time, or acquiring books such as The Challenge of Baha’u’llah or He Cometh With Clouds or other introductions to the Faith. Better yet, read Paris Talks or Foundations of World Unity or Promulgation of Universal Peace by Abdu’l-Baha and/or The Kitab-i-Iqan (Book of Certitude), or Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah.

    And for an erudite history of the Faith, God Passes By, by Shoghi Effendi.

    I learned early on to balance information I gleaned from non-Baha’i sources with the actual teachings of the Faith. In that way you protect yourself from assuming someone believes something they do not actually believe.

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