Tuesday, October 03, 2006

answer sought

Of course Tyler Cowen is a hero of mine, so I take this type of thing seriously:
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. I'm still at p = .05, if only because I fear such a heavy reliance on the anthropic principle. This book didn't sway me one way or the other. And while I am not religious myself, I am suspicious of anti-religious tracts which do not recognize great profundity in the Bible.
I'm not exactly sure what his comment about the anthropic principle is about. I think he has a problem arguments for God based on the incredible fine tuning of the universe (Anthony Flew, the once prominent atheist philosopher, renounced his atheism because of the fine tuning argument), and is suspicious that there are not other, better arguments, but I could be wrong. Anyway, he seems to really like the bible, it's reasonable to assume that hell should be considered a live possibility. 5% refers to what? Christian God? With or without hell? When declaring religious views I think it should be mandatory to be clear about your views of the afterlife. Many people are undecided about God, or Christianity (for example Jesus may not be the Son of God, but was like, the best person ever) but suppress the fact that they are absolutly certain about hell (they have reasons for this of course, but none that will win over your local evangelist). I think this involves a more committed theological stance than said people are willing to admit. Considering the importance of an afterlife, and the apparently concrete views of most agnostics, I don't really get why attention is so often focused on atheists confidence about the non-existence of God. It seems trivial.

So what is Cowen's 5%?

I know I've written about this before, but I really think its worth thinking seriously about hell. I find it weird that people worry about shark attacks. Sure they're horrible, but they are just so incredibly rare. There are plenty of other horrible things with better claims to our fear. But I have my own irrational fear, being tortured. I don't mean in the way you see on 24, electric shocks or burns, I mean much more exotic things (I'll leave it to you to ponder what I'm talking about). The odds of me being tortured are pretty low, billions to one against probably, but not trillions. I agree it's a weird concern, but not so weird considering how much worse it would be than being attacked by a shark, for example. Say, for example you are ten times more likely to be shark attacked than tortured, if torture is ten times worse it might be rational to fear shark attacks and torture equally.

If the odds were one in a thousand that I would be tortured in my lifetime I would be terrified, I suppose the terror would wear off, but I can?t believe all the anxiety would. How about one in twenty? What would your life be like? Remember some of the people you know will definitely experience it. I don?t think it would be possible to live life in anything like the way we live it now.

I'm no expert on the details of hell, but people spend eternity there, so I think it?s fair to say that hell is worse than any possible torture. So my question is: What makes the suffering in hell different enough from the suffering available in this life to justify the vastly different attitudes?


Tracy Leigh said...

I read Cowen's little blurb about the "God Delusion". It is vague and ambiguous.

The only reasons why I can imagine that people who believe in hell and those that believe that its existence is possible, don't worry about it more is either because they don't have the imagination to really empathise with how bad it is, especially since it's pretty hard to imagine life after death in the first place and 2)in the latter case, they maybe think it is incredibly, incredibly unlikely and then put it out of their mind.

I suppose in my case, since I'm not sure of many things, I could say that there is a possibility that hell exists, but for me to believe in it would be to go against everything else that makes sense to me. That must be a pretty strong feeling because I really wouldn't want to suffer in hell for eternity. The fact that I don't worry about it more, must mean that I think the likelihood is virtually zero in relation to everything else I believe. To me, I'm much more worried about the fact that myself and all my loved ones will be extinguished forever.

cristi said...

I think one of the reasons people don't think much about hell, is because there isn't really a concensus on what it is? Most people only get told the literal story of fire, brimstone, lakes of sulphur etc which does come off as sounding slightly rediculous. other people think hell really stands for "an absence of God", which to a believer would be torture worse than anything you can dish out on earth. Of course if you aren't a believer, you'd say "who cares, God doesn't feature in my life already, what would the difference be".

The only illustration I can think of is Jesus's torture and crusifiction. He endured horrible physical pain, yet the only time he cries out, he doesn't say "ouch that hurt, make it stop!". he cried out because "God had forsaken him ie absence of God, and to him, that was torture worse than physical pain.

stuart said...

?in the latter case, they maybe think it is incredibly, incredibly unlikely and then put it out of their mind.?

I agree. This is a serious theological position. Similar to how atheists feel about the existence of god.

??there isn't really a concensus on what it is?

I was avoiding some waffling; but the argument can also be stated in terms of expected gains. There are some things that I want to happen, like being a top NBA player, great philosopher, editor of the economist etc that I would be willing to go through quite a lot to have happen (with the possible exception of actually working). Heaven (closeness to god) is infinitely more desirable than these things, so why am I not doing my utmost to get there (because I am stupid?). The terror of hell is just more vivid to me.

If atheists don?t experience the torment of gods absence, is it only naughty Christians that experience that hell? And if atheists do experience it, and it is worse than physical pain, then surely my original point stands.

cristi said...

I would agree that your original point stands. I just think that all the different opinions of hell add to the idea that hell is unlikely.

If i could pick a hell, i would go with the progressive jewish understanding, which claims that only the really really evil nasty people (hitler and the likes) make the cut for hell, everyone else can chill. how one picks really evil people from those who just had messed up childhoods, i dont know.