Does Atheism Assume We Should All Be Teletubbies?

According to the argument from evil, the existence of evil/suffering means the Christian God could not possibly exist. But imagine what human beings would be like if there was no evil/suffering.

It’s hard to visualize such creatures as human beings. Without evil/suffering in the world, there would be no need for such traits as empathy or courage. In addition to lacking courage and empathy, it would seem such creatures would never be sad or depressed. Also, I’m not sure such creatures would experience forbearance or have any wants. What’s more, just how intelligent would they be? Much of our intelligence is connected to problem solving and most of that problem solving is connected to preventing or alleviating suffering, personal and for others.

So what would these creatures look like? Perhaps something like Teletubbies. It would seem to me the atheists are arguing that if God did exist, the world should look like this:

I suppose that means if God existed, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens should have been Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po. But since Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po don’t exist, God cannot exist.

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26 Responses to Does Atheism Assume We Should All Be Teletubbies?

  1. Kain says:

    According to the argument from evil, the existence of evil/suffering means the Christian God could not possibly exist.

    That is an oversimplification. Most philosophical debate here is focussed on whether or not there exists evil / suffering that is gratuitous in nature (i.e. not necessary in order to achieve a greater good) – with most theist philosophers conceding that God would not allow gratuitous evil / suffering.

    So what would these creatures look like? Perhaps something like Teletubbies.

    I´m not disputing that but I´ll point out that this leaves only two possible options for what the Christian heaven, if it exists, would be like:
    1. There would be evil / suffering in heaven.
    2. There wouldn´t be evil / suffering in heaven, and people in heaven would be “something like Teletubbies”.
    Which one do you believe in?

  2. Michael says:

    That is an oversimplification. Most philosophical debate here is focussed on whether or not there exists evil / suffering that is gratuitous in nature (i.e. not necessary in order to achieve a greater good) – with most theist philosophers conceding that God would not allow gratuitous evil / suffering.

    I see. So evil/suffering are not incompatible with God’s existence. That’s a huge concession. What’s left is to categorize evil/suffering into different types and insist there is a special type that is incompatible, but the other types are compatible. Is there an objective way of measuring whether or not evil/suffering is gratuitous?

    So what would these creatures look like? Perhaps something like Teletubbies.

    I´m not disputing that

    That’s significant. So I am left wondering if a Teletubbie world is indeed better than a human world.

    but I´ll point out that this leaves only two possible options for what the Christian heaven, if it exists, would be like:

    1. There would be evil / suffering in heaven.
    2. There wouldn´t be evil / suffering in heaven, and people in heaven would be “something like Teletubbies”.
    Which one do you believe in?

    There are 3 options.

    1. Beings who continuously experience evil/suffering.
    2. Beings who have never experienced evil/suffering.
    3. Beings who once experienced evil/suffering.

  3. Kain says:

    Is there an objective way of measuring whether or not evil/suffering is gratuitous?

    Of course. If x entails some evil / suffering and either a) doesn´t serve to advance any good at all or b) advances a good that could also have been advanced without or with less evil / suffering or c) advances a good that does not outweigh the evil / suffering. For all cases a-c, x would entail some evil / suffering that is, by definition, “gratuitous”.

    There are 3 options.

    1. Beings who continuously experience evil/suffering.
    2. Beings who have never experienced evil/suffering.
    3. Beings who once experienced evil/suffering.

    So which of those options do you think describes the Christian heaven? If it is 3 – would this mean that heaven is a teletubby world with the sole difference that the teletubbies that live there have experienced evil and suffering in a past live?

  4. Doug says:

    Talk of “teletubbies that … have experienced evil and suffering” is too much like talk of “paramecium that have composed sonnets” – not particularly coherent.

    The problem with your a-c is that those definitions cannot be measured (i.e., they are not objective) — unless, I suppose, you are God. So unless you claim to be God, we can agree that the elements in the set of all x for which a, b, or c hold are simply a matter of opinion, feeling, and emotion.

  5. Kain says:

    Talk of “teletubbies that … have experienced evil and suffering” is too much like talk of “paramecium that have composed sonnets”

    Not really, it´s more like a normal human being lobotomized to turn him into something that is not a threat to anyone, including him- or herself.

    The problem with your a-c is that those definitions cannot be measured (i.e., they are not objective) — unless, I suppose, you are God. So unless you claim to be God, we can agree that the elements in the set of all x for which a, b, or c hold are simply a matter of opinion, feeling, and emotion.

    Cool, then lets apply that consistently and conclude that you can´t really say anything about whether the actions of Jesus according to the NT were good or evil unless you yourself are God – it´s just a matter of your opinions, feelings and emotions if you think Jesus’ actions were good instead of evil.

  6. TFBW says:

    Kain said:

    If x entails some evil / suffering and either a) doesn´t serve to advance any good at all or b) advances a good that could also have been advanced without or with less evil / suffering or c) advances a good that does not outweigh the evil / suffering. For all cases a-c, x would entail some evil / suffering that is, by definition, “gratuitous”.

    Is this “gratuitous suffering” something which can be determined by looking at the suffering itself, in isolation, or is it a combination of the suffering and the actions of the being who suffers? That is, can the same kind of suffering be either gratuitous or non-gratuitous, depending upon how the sufferer deals with the situation?

  7. John says:

    ”So which of those options do you think describes the Christian heaven? If it is 3 – would this mean that heaven is a teletubby world with the sole difference that the teletubbies that live there have experienced evil and suffering in a past live?”

    Except that it wouldn’t be like a past life.The memories would still exist.

    The creatures in the ”teletubby world” would know what suffering is,and their behaviour would be more aware of such suffering and they would have more ”human” behaviour akin to ours.

  8. Kain says:

    @John,

    Except that it wouldn’t be like a past life.The memories would still exist.

    The creatures in the ”teletubby world” would know what suffering is,and their behaviour would be more aware of such suffering and they would have more ”human” behaviour akin to ours.

    What do you mean by “would have more ”human” behaviour akin to ours”? In what sense exactly would the teletubbies that know what suffering is have more “”human” behaviour akin to ours” compared to the teletubbies that never experienced suffering?

  9. Kain says:

    @TFBW

    Is this “gratuitous suffering” something which can be determined by looking at the suffering itself, in isolation, or is it a combination of the suffering and the actions of the being who suffers? That is, can the same kind of suffering be either gratuitous or non-gratuitous, depending upon how the sufferer deals with the situation?

    That depends. Suffering can be a good teacher in some contexts, not so in others. For the suffering caused by, say, a baby being born with anencephaly for example – there is nothing the people that suffer could do that would turn this suffering into something that isn´t gratuitous.

  10. Michael says:

    Of course. If x entails some evil / suffering and either a) doesn´t serve to advance any good at all or b) advances a good that could also have been advanced without or with less evil / suffering or c) advances a good that does not outweigh the evil / suffering. For all cases a-c, x would entail some evil / suffering that is, by definition, “gratuitous”.

    Yes, that’s how we would define it. But the issue is how we would detect it to know that it exists. It would seem to me that such detection is deeply subjective – “it looks like that example of suffering is a (or b) (or c).” And if we could detect it, we should be able to determine what % of suffering is gratuitous. So what % of suffering is gratuitous?

    So which of those options do you think describes the Christian heaven? If it is 3 – would this mean that heaven is a teletubby world with the sole difference that the teletubbies that live there have experienced evil and suffering in a past live?

    That “sole difference” means there would be no teletubbies. For our past shapes who were are. It is our history of experiences, choices, and memories that define who we are today. A teletubbie would be a creature that had no such experiences or memories and no choices were ever made in the context of others suffering.

    Look, you admitted that your atheism insists that we all be teletubbies. But since we are not teletubbies, you think there is no God. Pray tell, do you want to be a teletubbie?

  11. Kain says:

    @Michael

    And if we could detect it, we should be able to determine what % of suffering is gratuitous.

    Not necessarily, because comparing suffering x to suffering y can be and most often will be comparing apples to oranges. Example: anencephaly demonstrably exists and cheating demonstrably exists – but you can´t just count the instances of the former and the latter and use that to asses the “% of suffering” they represent because a) they represent completely different kinds of suffering and b) are not always alike (cheating for example can lead to plenty of suffering or very little, it depends on the context).

    That “sole difference” means there would be no teletubbies. For our past shapes who were are. It is our history of experiences, choices, and memories that define who we are today. A teletubbie would be a creature that had no such experiences or memories and no choices were ever made in the context of others suffering.

    So unless you have experiences, choices and memories in the context of your own suffering and the suffering of others, you´d necessarily be a teletubbie like being in a world where there is no evil / suffering – which would mean that a newborn that dies and goes to heaven would necessarily be and stay a teletubbie like creature.
    Wanna try again?

    Look, you admitted that your atheism insists that we all be teletubbies.

    Erm, no – I neither said nor implied any such thing anywhere.

    But since we are not teletubbies, you think there is no God.

    Again, I neither said nor implied any such thing.

  12. TFBW says:

    Kain said:

    For the suffering caused by, say, a baby being born with anencephaly for example – there is nothing the people that suffer could do that would turn this suffering into something that isn´t gratuitous.

    I’m a little wary of examples presented in the absence of a stated criterion which the example satisfies. I take it that you are claiming there are forms of suffering which could never, no matter what, provide a benefit, and that this is such an example. Do you have some sort of proof that your example satisfies this criterion, or is it supposed to be plainly obvious?

  13. Kain says:

    @TFBW

    I take it that you are claiming there are forms of suffering which could never, no matter what, provide a benefit…

    Yes. That or a benefit that could have been achieved with less evil / suffering, or a benefit that doesn´t outweigh the evil / suffering.

    Do you have some sort of proof that your example satisfies this criterion, or is it supposed to be plainly obvious?

    It´s supposed to be plainly obvious.

  14. TFBW says:

    Kain said:

    It´s supposed to be plainly obvious.

    Additionally, do you have a means to quantify evil/suffering and possible benefits, so that you can demonstrate an imbalance mathematically, or is it a non-numeric subjective judgement call?

  15. Kain says:

    @TFBW

    Additionally, do you have a means to quantify evil/suffering and possible benefits, so that you can demonstrate an imbalance mathematically, or is it a non-numeric subjective judgement call?

    Can you please give me two numbers x and y, with x being a numerical measurement of how evil the holocaust was and y being a numerical measurement of how evil it is if a little girl would steal something from a cookie jar, together with a method to derive those numbers that is not thoroughly arbitrary. If you cannot, would you then agree that it is completely subjective to say that the holocaust was a bigger evil than a little girl stealing something from a cookie jar? Or would you rather point out that “either it´s quantifiable or it´s completely subjective” is a false dichotomy?

  16. TFBW says:

    @Kain:
    I take it from your response that you are appealing to some kind of objective reality, but you lack the proper science to deal with it using measurements and a mathematical model. That is, a statement like “suffering X does not justify benefit Y” is the kind of statement which refers to things in the real world, and is true or false depending on the actual state of the world. It’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of fact: if one person says that the statement is true, and another says it is false, then one will be right and the other wrong. In the absence of measurements and an agreed-upon model, however there’s no objective way to determine who is right and who is wrong. You can appeal to obviousness, but if what’s obvious to you doesn’t happen to be obvious to me, then all you can do is gesticulate wildly and reiterate how obvious it is, since we have nothing to measure and compute. Not much point going down that path.

    What’s perhaps more interesting at this juncture is the idea that statements involving suffering/benefit trade-offs are statements about objective reality. They seem particularly detached from physical reality, in the sense that physics as we know it has no concept of “suffering” or “benefit”. Do you subscribe to some non-physical reference frame for this ethical reality, or can it be reduced, in principle at least, to physics?

  17. Kain says:

    @TFBW
    Alright then, so for you it´s either numeric or subjective. Then if you´d say something like for example “Jesus lived a sinless life” or “John Doe didn´t live a sinless life”, I´d reject your claims out of hand by pointing out that you have no mathematical model of “sins” to objectively compute whether it is indeed true that all of Jesus actions add up to a “sin level” = 0.0 or someone else´s “sin level” is > 0.0.

  18. Michael says:

    Not necessarily, because comparing suffering x to suffering y can be and most often will be comparing apples to oranges.

    So how do you detect whether or not suffering is gratuitous? How do you know it exists? Is there anything more than “It looks gratuitous to me?”

    So unless you have experiences, choices and memories in the context of your own suffering and the suffering of others, you´d necessarily be a teletubbie like being in a world where there is no evil / suffering – which would mean that a newborn that dies and goes to heaven would necessarily be and stay a teletubbie like creature.
    Wanna try again?

    No need. It is not only our own personal history, choices, and experiences that make us who we are. Our identity is also tied into our biology. Every newborn is part of the human species and shares a history with all of us – our evolutionary history. A teletubbie creature has no such history, as no teletubbie has ever experienced pain and suffering.

    Erm, no – I neither said nor implied any such thing anywhere.

    My mistake. When I noted, ” So what would these creatures look like? Perhaps something like Teletubbies” you replied, “I´m not disputing that.”
    Do you acknowledge that the Argument From Evil entails that only teletubbie-like creatures would be compatible with the existence of God?

  19. Kain says:

    @Michael

    So how do you detect whether or not suffering is gratuitous? How do you know it exists?

    I know it because some cases are unambiguous – they produce plenty of suffering but nothing good whatsoever, like anencephaly.
    Others are more complex, especially suffering as the consequence of human actions, some apologists might say that human freedom of choice is such a high good that God allows humans to even do something as abominable as the holocaust – but I consider that to be moot for the premise of the evidential argument from evil because there are unambiguous cases of gratuitous evil and the more complex / debatable ones do not change that.

    No need. It is not only our own personal history, choices, and experiences that make us who we are. Our identity is also tied into our biology. Every newborn is part of the human species and shares a history with all of us – our evolutionary history.

    It seems to me that nothing of your original point remains. You said in the OP:
    “It’s hard to visualize such creatures as human beings. Without evil/suffering in the world, there would be no need for such traits as empathy or courage. In addition to lacking courage and empathy, it would seem such creatures would never be sad or depressed. Also, I’m not sure such creatures would experience forbearance or have any wants. What’s more, just how intelligent would they be? Much of our intelligence is connected to problem solving and most of that problem solving is connected to preventing or alleviating suffering, personal and for others.”

    All of this would be true for a newborn that dies and goes to heaven. It biological traits like empathy or courage are useless in heaven. Its capability of experiencing sadness or depression are useless in heaven. Its problem solving skills are useless in heaven.
    Seriously, how is heaven not exactly the teletubbie world you have been speaking of in the OP?

    Do you acknowledge that the Argument From Evil entails that only teletubbie-like creatures would be compatible with the existence of God?

    Nope. Because a world without gratuitous evils wouldn´t be a teletubbie-like world – without gratuitous evils, your wife could still cheat on you for example, but your baby couldn´t be born without a brain due to some unfortunate biochemical accidents during embryonal development.

  20. Allallt says:

    It’s been years since I could take the ‘free will’ defence of human suffering seriously. Human free will doesn’t cause hurricanes or mudslides or tsunamis or ebola or guinea worm or crop failure or drought…

    And Kain has a point: isn’t a world without suffering an explicit promise of Christianity? Is there no free will there?

  21. Doug says:

    @Kain,
    It really doesn’t help the “Argument from Evil” particularly to come to the “realization” that all morality is a matter of emotion. Rather, to make the Argument even remotely effective, one needs to establish that the morality of the purported Christian God (rather than that of some random human’s emotion) is incongruous with the world as we know it.
    The fact that the champion of the Argument from Evil typically does not (or will not?) consider the actual parameters of the morality of the Christian God (i.e., by considering the teachings of Jesus, for example) means that they are unable to mount any kind of effective attack. (It is just too easy — and too accurate — to assign their chosen moral parameters to emotion).
    But the attempt to flip the counter doesn’t stick. The fact is that the Christian should consider the actual parameters of the morality of the Christian God. As a result, accusing them of basing their moral intuitions on emotion results in the collective “huh?” you’ve experienced here.

    As for the attempt to paint a Christian heaven as a teletubby world, I’m not buying it. I’ve been divorced and have remarried. I’ve never had anything remotely approaching a fight with my present wife. (We were told before the wedding that we should schedule one, and we often joke that we might do that… some year) Things weren’t nearly so pleasant with my former wife (duh?) But the suffering involved in that previous relationship taught me a great deal. More than that, it makes me appreciate (on an daily, and perhaps hourly, basis) just how wonderful the woman I am now married to is. And it only keeps getting better — no hints of getting bored! Perhaps you are aware that there is a “marriage” metaphor used in scripture for heaven. If heaven is anything at all like my present experience, I’m expecting that the suffering of this present life will 1) teach me things I need to know there & 2) make me appreciate just how wonderful God is. And I expect that it will only keep getting better.

  22. TFBW says:

    Kain said:

    Alright then, so for you it´s either numeric or subjective. Then if you´d say something like for example “Jesus lived a sinless life” or “John Doe didn´t live a sinless life”, I´d reject your claims out of hand by pointing out that you have no mathematical model of “sins” to objectively compute whether it is indeed true that all of Jesus actions add up to a “sin level” = 0.0 or someone else´s “sin level” is > 0.0.

    That’s a very uncharitable interpretation of what I said. My point was that unless you have an agreed model and a way to measure, you can’t make objective decisions about who’s right and who’s wrong. If you claim that a particular form of suffering can never produce benefits sufficient to justify it, and I disagree, then we are at an impasse — a dead end. There’s no rational way to resolve the argument. We would be at a similar impasse if you were to claim that a particular activity Jesus performed was a sin: I’d have no way to prove you wrong; I could only explain my rationale for disagreement.

    I’d still like to hear a response to the other part of my comment. Do you subscribe to some non-physical reference frame for statements of ethical fact, or can such facts be reduced, in principle at least, to physics?

  23. Michael says:

    Nope. Because a world without gratuitous evils wouldn´t be a teletubbie-like world – without gratuitous evils, your wife could still cheat on you for example, but your baby couldn´t be born without a brain due to some unfortunate biochemical accidents during embryonal development.

    It’s interesting that while you have no way of detecting gratuitous suffering, and have no idea what % of suffering is gratuitous, you seem awfully sure that a world where gratuitous evil have never existed wouldn´t be a teletubbie-like world. Yet given the subjective nature of the scoring, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would consider a spouse cheating on them as another example of gratuitous evil. Remember that single examples of gratuitous evil are sufficient (in your mind) to constitute an “evidential” case against the existence of God. So as long as there is a single case of gratuitous evil, your argument would apply. This means that for God to exist, all gratuitous evil must be stripped from our reality (and our history). Not just babies born without brains. But as we have seen in the comments lately, also water buffalo being eaten alive. Also children dying of diarrhea. Also, “hurricanes or mudslides or tsunamis or ebola or guinea worm or crop failure or drought…” And as I am sure you are quite aware, that list could go on for days and days. By the time all that gratuitous evil is stripped away, so that no one ever has to once experience gratuitous suffering, or make choices in the context of it, I’m not sure how you can be so sure that such a reality would not be a teletubbie-like world.

    Yet, there is more solid ground that we can stand on. We can say, with great confidence, that none of us would exist in world devoid of gratuitous suffering. Thus, if we are supposed to exist because God wanted us to exist, there is no such thing as gratuitous suffering. All suffering becomes necessary. Not to bring about some “greater good.” But to bring about us.

    Seriously, how is heaven not exactly the teletubbie world you have been speaking of in the OP?

    Because it would be occupied by beings forged by trials and suffering, while the teletubbie world is populated by beings who would have no concept or history of such realities. Look, I don’t know what heaven will be like, although some biblical teachings come to mind. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And ” But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” We can’t really envision it, but it sounds like a “larger” reality has been prepared. So think of cooption in evolution. Feathers appeared for heat regulation and then later were coopted for a completely different level of existence – flight. Perhaps traits such as empathy will likewise take on a new role and facilitate a whole new level of unimagined existence.

  24. FZM says:

    Of course. If x entails some evil / suffering and either a) doesn´t serve to advance any good at all or b) advances a good that could also have been advanced without or with less evil / suffering or c) advances a good that does not outweigh the evil / suffering. For all cases a-c, x would entail some evil / suffering that is, by definition, “gratuitous”.

    I think this involves coming up with some definitions of good and goodness such that you could apply them to nature to work out whether any ‘gratuitous’ suffering does occur.

    In respect of ‘natural’ evil there is the well known example of the faun who is burned to death in a forest fire. This can seem gratuitous; on the other hand it may not seem so depending I think, on how good and goodness is understood. For example, fire manifests its own nature and realises its own particular natural goodness by burning fiercely, the faun would manifest its nature and realise its own goodness by avoiding fires amongst other things, but the fire can only realise its nature and be a ‘good’ fire by depriving the faun of its natural goodness if the two happen to collide. A lot (all?) of ‘natural’ evil seems to be of this type; one part of nature being good in its way means that some other part ends up deprived of its particular goodness. This kind of explanation could apply when good and goodness is understood in terms of being.

    It seems certain questions would follow from this; could the ‘amount’ or kind of goodness represented by fires manifesting their nature and being good fires be realised by something else that lacked fire’s nature? Could the quantity and kind of goodness that arises as fauns manifest their nature be replicated or replaced by things that lacked the faun’s nature and possessed no capacity to suffer? Could God realise these things given the usual limitations on his omnipotence?

  25. FZM says:

    I´m not disputing that but I´ll point out that this leaves only two possible options for what the Christian heaven, if it exists, would be like:
    1. There would be evil / suffering in heaven.
    2. There wouldn´t be evil / suffering in heaven, and people in heaven would be “something like Teletubbies.

    I thought the Christian heaven (at least from what I know of the Catholic and Orthodox ideas of it)was something like knowing and seeing God directly, being in intimate communion with God, being filled with God etc.

    I don’t think a creature like a Teletubby, even though they are unable to experience evil or suffering, is ever envisaged as existing in this sort of state (maybe I missed that episode?).

  26. Ryan Shue says:

    The difference between the teletubby world and heaven is quite dramatic, and I think Michael’s point is correct in the main . “Worthy is the Lamb who was SLAIN, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” -Rev 5:12 It also says that Christ will eternally carry the scars of his victorious battle against death (holes in his hands and side). The fact of Christ suffering for a greater good will be a primary focus in heaven. I can’t imagine teletubbies singing such a song. So, the difference is not primarily that teletubbies have never personally suffered, but rather that their world seems to have no concept of it, which would be our world without evil.

    As to gratuitous suffering, how can one say absolutely that a particular evil has no ultimate good end as Kain has? Until the end of time, there is simply no way for us foolish humans to discover whether or not an evil has some purpose. That is, it is simply impossible for us to determine whether ANY suffering is gratuitous until the end. You can’t say that the filmmaker didn’t tie up all the loose ends until you watch the entire movie. I think that’s pretty basic.

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