Two atheist arguments that cancel each other out

I was thinking about something completely unrelated the other day, when this mini-revelation popped into my head. I think we’ve all probably heard the atheist arguments that: 1) If God exists and he loves us, he would show himself to us in a way that is completely undeniable…which he doesn’t, therefore he doesn’t exist. And 2) Heaven is illogical because we either have no free will in Heaven to accept or reject God, therefore we’re robots…or if we do have free will in Heaven to reject God, then sin must exist there and Heaven is no different from Earth.

What I realized (and you already have as well from the title of this post) is that these two propositions, which seem devastating in isolation, actually reinforce the existence of God and the perfect logic of Heaven when considered together.

Christians believe that our time on Earth is the opportunity we’re given to accept God’s love through Jesus Christ, or reject it. It’s our free will time-period. In order to fully exercise our free will in regards to our relationship with God, we must have some evidence of his existence and love to consider, but at the same time we can’t be forced to choose either option. We do have evidence in the beauty of creation, in our love for each other, in the natural law we feel in our hearts, and of course in Christ himself. However, if God were to “show himself” to us completely, we would be forced to know him without our free consent and would have no choice but to love him.

Consider what it would mean for God to completely reveal himself, in all his glory. That’s what the Catholic Church calls the Beatific Vision. It’s the soul coming face to face with God as he truly exists. Even the Old Testament prophets never saw God’s true form and Christ told his followers “…nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). Christ is the channel through which God has chosen to “show himself”…a method that preserves our free will. If God split open the fabric of our reality tomorrow and poured himself into our souls, then of course we would believe and love him. But it wouldn’t be our free choice…we would be over-powered by his perfect love. Besides, if forced love was what God wanted, he could have just created us inside Heaven from the beginning.

Now looking at the second argument, we can ask: Doesn’t Heaven strip away our free will in exactly the same way? Practically, I believe that’s how it would appear to us. It may be more accurate to say that Heaven restores our fallen nature to it’s original goodness so that we learn to use our free will correctly…but only after we’ve been given the opportunity to choose between God and ourselves in this life. Heaven just “locks in” the choice we’ve already freely made.

So without our Earthly life…where God does hold back his full glory, Heaven wouldn’t be fair - we’d be robots. And without Heaven, where the Beatific Vision does cement the final choice we’ve made here on Earth and renders our current, flawed free will “obsolete”…Earth would be a cruel tease, because we have an idea of God’s love and a vague sense of his glory, but we don’t have the power on our own to “lock in” that choice. We’re always tempted to make the wrong choice, until we die and God gives us our just reward or punishment.

This synthesis argument has probably been around for a long time, but it was enough to leave me speechless for a while when I “discovered” it.

Athiestic arguements are hard to refute because their covered in multitudes of different temptations, and evils. Where their is no God, Their is only evil.

:thumbsup: A very impressive argument! I don’t believe our free will ceases to exist in Heaven because we would become incapable of love. There is also no conceivable reason why we should choose to reject God when we are fully aware of how much He loves us…


Well said. That’s where I was trying to go with it.

It sounds like you’re not seriously considering the atheist position. Its not very hard to see the flaws here. In no particular order:

  1. Lucifer had the Beatific Vision and still rejected God. While Lucifer isn’t human, we must admit that the love must therefore not be completely overpowering.
  2. “Locking in” a choice is still a loss of free will. That you chose to become a robot doesn’t make you any less of a robot.
  3. There is no choice to retain your free will when you die. We are have the free will to chose what sort of robot we will become, but the decision is forced upon us.
  4. There are ways that God could reveal his existence outside of a Beatific Vision. “Beauty” and “feelings in our hearts” are subjective and not universal. He could, for example, answer prayers in a more reliable and tangible fashion.
  5. Adam and Eve had “original goodness” but still managed to sin.

Its not very hard to see the flaws in the sceptic’s position:

  1. Lucifer had the Beatific Vision and still rejected God. While Lucifer isn’t human, we must admit that the love must therefore not be completely overpowering.

There is no evidence that Lucifer had the Beatific Vision.

  1. “Locking in” a choice is still a loss of free will. That you chose to become a robot doesn’t make you any less of a robot.

If you abuse the gift of free will you have to accept the consequences.

  1. There is no choice to retain your free will when you die. We are have the free will to chose what sort of robot we will become, but the decision is forced upon us.

Even the eminent atheist Jean Paul Sartre put freedom at the core of his philosophy. It does not imply that reality puts itself under your thumb.

  1. There are ways that God could reveal his existence outside of a Beatific Vision. “Beauty” and “feelings in our hearts” are subjective and not universal. He could, for example, answer prayers in a more reliable and tangible fashion.

So reliable and tangible that we would no longer be free to choose not to believe!

  1. Adam and Eve had “original goodness” but still managed to sin.

They also had what you have - if you’re a rational being who can choose what to believe - : free will… If you’re not your objections can be safely ignored! :wink:

  1. I don’t agree that Lucifer had the Beatific Vision. We believe that angels had their own period of choice as well. Their period of choice is now over, just as ours will end at death. If you have some Church documents that support this idea, I’d be happy to read them.

  2. I think it makes a great deal of difference. And “robot” is an inaccurate way of looking at it. I believe our free will is still functional in Heaven, we just have no reason to reject God at that point. Why didn’t you jump off a bridge this morning? At this point (hopefully) you have no logical reason to do that. In Heaven, all our wishes and needs will be provided (in the form of God Himself) so no rational being would ever choose to leave.

  3. I started to write something different, but I mis-read your statement the first time. So what you’re saying is that God can’t exist because He didn’t ask your opinion on how the “rules” should be laid out? See response 4 below. Also, the way God is and the way Heaven, Hell and all of it work are not choices that God made. All of creation, including Heaven and Hell and this one-time choice we have to make are ultimately reflections of God’s nature. Since God’s nature is unchanging, then there’s no possibility that the “rules” could have worked any other way. It’s like asking whether God could have made something that isn’t true…a contradiction in other words. No, He didn’t create contradictions because they don’t reflect His nature, which is Truth.

  4. Considering our limited level of knowledge and wisdom vs God’s infinite level, I think we could safely conclude that the way He set up “the system” is correct and fair to everyone. What would you say to an amoeba who started arguing with you about how you’re raising your children? Well, saying we’re like amoebas is being infinitely generous when comparing us to God.

  5. Yes, they had original goodness, but not the Beatific Vision. As I said previously, they were not created in Heaven. They had more direct evidence than we do that God exists, but still enough distance from God to allow them to consider rejecting Him. Even when Genesis talks about God “walking” with them or “speaking” to them…it was still limited. They never saw God’s true infinite form in Eden.

Hey I just realized…your questions 4 and 5 actually cancel each other out as well! Adam and Eve had much more direct access to God than we do…but they still sinned. There may be enough material for a book on this cancelling of atheist propositions…

Actually, neither of them seem to be convincing arguments at all. The first one asks why God doesn’t do something. That is like saying “If my girlfriend loves me, why did she not ring me up today and tell me that? Therefore, my girlfriend doesn’t exist,”

It is presuming something about what God should/would/could do, and then, on the basis of this presumption concluding non-existence.

And the one about Heaven- well proving Heaven doesn’t exist is not the same as proving God doesn’t exist. But also, it is assuming that free will is a kind of ultimate good in itself. Why would you want free-will when you have every good? Free will is only a good insofar as it gives the capacity to choose the good.

And the absence of ‘decision making’ does not make people robots. Let’s imagine your’e sitting comfortably, watching your favourite movie, eating pizza, drinking beer (or whatever it would be that would make you happy). Now, if you had no choice about doing this (say it was compulsory for some reason), how would that make you a robot?

This is a really interesting article - I’d look forward to any other philosophical insights you post. :thumbsup:

That isn’t the argument, though. Non-believers aren’t arguing for God’s non-existence when they say this. Rather, they’re arguing against this assertion that God is omni-potent and omni-benevolent (“God Is Love”).

It’s not our side that insists that God must be all these things, or that God’s existence, omni-benevolence, and omni-potence are all strictly contingent on one another. If anything, we’re simply pointing out that if God did exist, he’d be either be less than all-powerful, apathetic to some degree, wicked to some degree, or some combination of the three.

How do you justify that argument without having any experience of designing or creating a universe?

The same way you justify God’s omni-benevolence and omni-potence without having any experience of designing or creating a Universe.

With the obvious difference that only your side is forced to change the definitions of words like “Love” and “Mercy” when you have to justify his allowing infants to drown helpless in their cribs.

I see you have opted for the most emotionally-charged way to ask “Why do bad things happen to good/innocent people?”

I think the differences of view stems from how Catholics (or believers at large) vs. atheists view mortal life.

To atheists, this life is our only form of existence, and so it is understandable why death and intense/long-term suffering would be such serious and objectionable things.

However, to Catholics, this life is only a tiny blip in a person’s existence, and the rest is fixed and eternal. Therefore it really doesn’t matter if you live one year or a hundred, or if you should live a thousand years in agony, since it will all be extremely insignificant compared to the afterlife. Since we believe God is the lord of our lives, He can choose when to create us and when to end our lives, no matter if it’s bloody or ugly - it really won’t matter on the other side.

Then there is also the factor of death and suffering caused by other people, for which God is blameless because He does not violate our free will.

I hope this helps :slight_smile:

Well, the all-powerful bit is typical of the laudatory language of ancient times. The local King would typically be described as “All-Powerful”.

In fact, what you say reminds me of Sextus Empiricus, who suggests that theist are always guilty of some degree of impiety, by denying either the omnipotence or the omnibenevolence of God. I think that is true of ‘simple’ theists, who regard God as some sort of Zeus, and need to understand him in simple, earthly terms- as if God had some earthly property (such as power) to the nth degree.

Personally, I don’t think powerful people are better than non-powerful people. For this reason, I don’t see ‘omnipotence’ (according to its ‘simple’ understanding) as a perfection- if it were, it would mean that powerful beings were better than non-powerful ones. Maybe the real perfection of power is to have no power at all.

Think about this- ‘infinite in wealth’ means having no limits to wealth. Now, a person who has no wealth at all is ‘infinite in wealth’, since their wealth literally has no limits (how can there be limits on that which does not exist?).

So, I would say God and power are different categories. Therefore, God can be described as “immeasurable in power”, “infinite in power”, etc.

Now, I don’t mean to imply any heresy here- just that nothing which we say about God can be taken literally.

Not really. I wasn’t asking why bad things happen to good people. I’m asking why Christians insist on calling these bad things, for which God holds ultimate responsibility, evidence of his “love” and “mercy.”

On one hand you say that, since our mortal existence is so insignificant compared to eternity, any suffering we endure is also insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I don’t think this meets my objection, really. Suffering is suffering, and some people are profoundly unlucky in this life. All other things being equal, is it really evidence of God’s love and mercy that such people endure so much pain, while others enjoy lives of relative peace and happiness? I wouldn’t ask for Heaven on Earth - intermittent unhappiness, pain, and inconvenience are basically unavoidable, even for the luckiest of us - but I would ask that we use words like Love and Mercy to mean what they’re supposed to mean.

Leading me to your second point, that basically, we are God’s playthings, and he can with us whatever he wishes. I’m happy that you’re happy with this - though, I don’t see why this can’t be true without all the nonsense of pretending that everything God does is consistent with Love. God can have created the Universe, all of us within it, and exercise ultimate authority over what happens to us, and nothing about this need compel us to abuse language every time a child turns up with leukemia or a tsunami wipes out a city before breakfast.

Finally, as long as you’re conceding that, in the Catholic view, this life is only a blip on the eternal radar, do you think it’s possible that Catholics can stop insisting that it’s *they, *not I, who think this life has more value? I could certainly do without hearing this from now on.

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