Is God Evil? My debates today on BBC Radio with Rev David McIlveen and theologian Vince Vitale

I took part in two radio debates today on BBC Radio Ulster, responding to Stephen Fry’s description of the Christian God as evil on the RTE Programme The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne.

The first was a short five-minute exchange with Presbyterian Minister Rev David McIlveen on Good Morning Ulster.

The second was a longer debate with theologian Vince Vitale of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, with phone-in calls from listeners, on Talkback hosted by William Crawley. This is a half-hour of extracts from a longer discussion.

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  1. The problem with mysticism which all religions deal in is that it begins with mist and ends in schism.

    First you have the shit and then you have those shoveling it.

    Michael Nugent is exalted amongst atheists in Ireland. Is he a good guy?

    I don’t know.

    I agree with him on atheism. From what I have heard from him I would endorse him as somebody I probably would like to have a pint or two with.

    He has been fair to me on his own personal site whereas I have see how the likes of PZ per dicta summarily dismiss those not in concordance.

    But to get to the point, the discussion is bullshit.

    What the fuck is evil? Define it. It is a null word, and it has been condemned to meaninglessness through overuse, hyperbole and prejudice.

    We all know what pain is don’t we?

    Well do we really, because there is next to no research that would allow us to to be able to compare any pain which Michael could feel with regard to the same pain I would feel if it it occurred in me.

    How do we compare pain felt by Michael to pain felt by me?

    Now I think that pain would be a less abstract term than “evil” however if the concept of pain is essentially meaningless then the concept of “evil” is a black gaping hole of decrepitude.

  2. “Evil” may be provisionally defined as “actions which are consciously aimed at causing a reduction in the well-being of sentient creatures”.

  3. @Michael Kingsford Gray #2

    Under those conditions the surgeon opening me up to conduct two spine operations would be evil.

    He most certainly reduced my well-being by causing me to lose consciousness and then cut into me.

    You should maybe work on that.

  4. Michael #3

    I’m not sure what definition I would use.

    What if we were to revise Michael K’s provisional definition into something like “actions which are consciously aimed at causing an overall reduction in the combined well-being of all sentient creatures, which would include deprivation of future wellbeing”.

  5. I had given thought to including the caveat “overall long-term” well-being, with the surgeon’s knife as an example.
    I had thought it too obvious to include, and potentially insulting to the non-pedantic adult reader, but alas this does not seem to be the case.

    It is plain to any social creature that some immediate pain must be endured to ensure a longer-term gain.
    Such as learning to read, surgery, even wiping one’s arse.

    As Sam Harris notes, the definition of “life” is impossible to elucidate without any exceptions.
    The same is the case with “well-being”.
    But that does not mean that we all know what represent the extrema of both spectrums.

    We know when something is clearly alive, and when it is clearly dead.
    We also know when well-being is maximised, and when it is minismised.

    Faux arguments about nit-picking obscure technical corner-cases say more about the arguer than the argument.

  6. “Evil” may be provisionally defined as “actions which are consciously aimed at causing a reduction in the well-being of sentient creatures”.

    Not sure about that. I doubt Stalin was ‘consciously causing a reduction in the well-being of sentient creatures.’ Mao didn’t see himself as a villain, nor did Hitler, Pol Pot, or any of the endless line of tyrants who thought they were building a future for their class or race.

    Morality should include treating individuals as an end in themselves rather than a means to an end. Oppression of individuals in the present in the name of some future utopia isn’t really distinguishable from persecuting people just for the hell of it since that future can be endlessly deferred.

    But that’s nothing like a surgeon operating on a patient. In most cases the patient gives informed consent; in emergencies the operation is still being carried out for the benefit of that individual.

  7. If we dropped the “consciously” qualifier and added the “overall” qualifier, I think we have a pretty good working definition. I agree with Gray and Harris that we don’t need absolute precision in order to get started.

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