Martin Adams,, CC0 Licensing
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The other day, Rizdek made some fascinating comments that aligned typical theistic epistemology with what can then be applied to nontheistic claims.

His comments were as follows:

It seems either that something came literally from nothing/nothingness or that something exists eternally. I understand the theist believes that something which exists eternally, in a timeless state, is God. I think that something that exists eternally is a phase/arrangement/state of the natural world.

That thing which exists eternally but that has the potential to act, must be able to act without “time in which to act” at least without time in the same sense that we normally think of how events happen in sequential time frames. So, whether that “thing that exists eternally” is a God or some unknown state of the natural world, it faces the same conundrum, how to do things with no time in which to do them. If we’re talking about a God, then this God must be able to somehow think…plan, design, communicate, feel emotions, ponder morality and judge and create (a universe with space and time) with no time in which to do those things…ie it seems to me they can’t be sequential events like we customarily think of sequential events in our temporal existence. In that case, both the theist and I agree, it must be logically possible for things to happen in timeless states unless the theist is contending that God is doing what is logically impossible.

If it’s not logically impossible, then that seems to mean it is logically possible that something is able to exist in a timeless state where things can still happen. In which case, it seems one could contend that an arrangement/state of nature is, or can be, timeless and still be able to somehow act, to “cause” something like a temporal spatial universe. At least that’s where I am now in my thinking.

Of course, he is absolutely right. I can see no issue with the analogising of the epistemology even if the justification for the claim would be prima facie weak.

Essentially, however, the justification for the theistic claims of an afterlife are, on close inspection, weak. Very weak. They came from a position of functional necessity in terms of what certain believers at certain times psychologically needed. As I have mentioned before, the evolution of the Christian ideas of heaven and hell was clear to see – they stole the ideas off the Greeks in order to answer the question of why bad things were happening to good (chosen) people. Persecution of a particular people at a particular moment in time meant that there had to be some justification or reason as to why suffering happened, and what God was doing to balance the scales.

Enter stage right heaven and stage left hell.

There was no belief in the Old Testament of heaven or hell or a vehicle (the soul) that could allow the agent to move into the afterlife.

Put in simple speak, the believers at the time pulled the idea out of their arses to plug a theological hole.

The question is, why can’t we do that?

Well, we could, but we (nonbelievers, rationalists etc.) give ourselves a higher threshold, a higher rational benchmark for thinking, it is often claimed. We don’t really like the idea of believing something just because it  makes us feel better. But it would put us on an epistemological par with believers.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...