April 27, 2009

The Delight of the Saints in the Suffering of the Damned (or: This Is Why I Like Victor Reppert)

Posted in Atheism, The Bible tagged , , , at 12:37 pm by Andrew

I’m not enamored of Victor Reppert’s favorite apologetic argument, the so-called Argument from Reason, but I do appreciate his honesty and his willingness to tackle the strange and the unpalatable within his own belief system.

Today, it’s the long-standing Christian tradition (expressed here by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica and here by Puritan — and all-around jerk — Jonathan Edwards) that those in Heaven will have their eternal enjoyment magnified through the knowledge that the damned are suffering eternal torment in hell. Here’s how Aquinas puts it:

Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.

And here’s Edwards:

When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it! When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the mean time are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!

I know that some Christians try to mitigate the implications of this line of analysis by becoming annihiliationists (which Theopedia describes as heretical), but other than that, I don’t know how Christians can answer the common-sense objection that for many people, it simply wouldn’t be heaven to know that others are suffering for an eternity in Hell.

“Evangelical” Atheism (or: Hey, Steve, You’re Not Helping!)

Posted in Atheism, Personal Experiences, Science, The Universe, Worldview tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:55 am by Andrew

Okay, this one is a real head-scratcher. A self-help guru (“Steve Pavlina,” not that I’ve ever heard of him) has posted his personal guide, “How to Graduate From Christianity.”

Ugh. Hey, Steve: you’re not helping! After the jump, I tackle Steve’s misguided notions of “graduating” from Christianity and defend my own vision of “evangelical” atheism.
Read the rest of this entry »

Questions I Can’t Answer (About the ICR)

Posted in Atheism, Creationism, Law tagged , , , , , , , at 10:07 am by Andrew

In the discussion of the Institute for Creation Research’s (“ICR”) lawsuit against the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board (“THECB”), as well as the ICR’s press release, commenter Quinn asks a question that I (mostly) can’t answer:

Why are these guys in Federal Court? Wouldn’t they be much better off using Texas’s mini-RFRA (http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/76R/billtext/html/SB00138F.htm)?

Great question.

My first impulse (before reading the statute) was to suggest that the Texas RFRA might not provide the ICR with the relief that it wants. But no, a quick look at the statute itself shows that’s not the case:

* Sec. 110.002 provides that the statute applies “to any ordinance, rule, order, decision, practice, or other exercise of governmental authority.” The THECB’s determination not to award a Certificate of Authority to the THECB clearly falls within this section.

* Moreover, sec. 110.005 entitles a plaintiff under the TRFRA to seek, inter alia both injunctive and declaratory relief, which is all the ICR is seeking in its 1983 action.

* As an added bonus, the TRFRA expands upon Supreme Court jurisprudence regarding the free exercise clause, effectively distinguishing the Employment Division v. Smith standard I discussed in my last post on the subject. Specifically, section 110.003(b) places the burden on the government to demonstrate that the action challenged:

(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

[emphasis added]

That’s a huge difference from the Smith standard that applies in 1983 cases, in which all the government need do is show that a law is facially neutral and designed to further a legitimate (not “compelling”) governmental interest.

In sum: Quinn has found a much stronger indictment of the ICR’s incompetence than I raised in my first two posts on the subject. On face, it appears that the TRFRA is a much better vehicle for advancing the ICR’s claims than 42 U.S.C. 1983.

I should add that the TRFRA does not solve many of the initial weaknesses I highlighted in the ICR’s lawsuit; it doesn’t appear to waive the requirement for administrative exhaustion, so that’s still a problem. And it doesn’t solve the massive, open-ended scope of the “injunction” the ICR seeks. But certainly the ICR would have been no worse off (and potentially, much better off) adding a TRFRA claim to their initial complaint.

Finally, I should clarify that ICR could bring a state law claim under the Texas statute in federal court alongside their sec. 1983 claim; that’s called “pendent” jurisdiction, and generally, so long as the claims arise out of the same set of facts, a federal judge will also keep state law claims in federal court so as to avoid having two lawsuits proceeding at the same time in two different jurisdictions. So the dichotomy isn’t quite what Quinn suggests; the ICR could stay in federal court and still bring a complaint alleging both federal and state law claims.

Of course, this only begs yet another question (that I can’t answer) — why does the ICR want to be in federal court in the first place? In general, federal courts are more defense-friendly, they’re more willing to dismiss cases, the judges are smarter, and they’re less likely to entertain nonsense suits. Plus, I’m assuming that Mr. Johnson, J.D.’s family law practice has probably brought him into more contact with the state bar and the judges who sit on the various state District Courts than it has with the federal judges. So I’m left scratching my head as to why the ICR would want to be in federal court at all.

Great question, Quinn. Sorry I can’t answer it!