Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Evil and the Atheism of the Gaps

A redated post.

Anonymous wrote:
First off, I think you're right when you say that you're at a disadvantage when you, as a theist, must first set out your proofs for god and how they square everyone's observations of the natural world. It's not an unfair disadvantage, though; it's perfectly fair and right that things are tougher for you than for the atheist, because you're making the positive claim ("God Exists"). If you want that claim to have any weight, you must present the positive arguement and then let others attack the logical edifice to see if it holds together. What you're doing right now is just avoiding your responsibility at a theistic philosopher, trying to get the athiests to do your work for you. I can understand why you want your opponents to play the besieged party (it's easier to be on the attack, sure), but just because you don't want to do the work of establishing your premise doesn't mean you can assume it's true and rest on your laurels.

There are some mistakes in this discussion that need to be addressed. First of all, I am not at all sure that "making the positive claim" places a burden of proof on the theist. Until somebody converts me to classical foundationalism my view of burdens of proof is that the burden of proof falls on someone trying to get someone else to change his or her mind. We have the right, as rational persons, to believe what we already do believe, unless we receive evidence against what we believe. Someone claiming that the external world exists is making a positive claim, so by the above logic he or she should have to prove to a skeptic that the external world exists in order to be rational in believing it.

Second, I have myself defended theism with arguments. So that isn't my problem.

My problem is this. The argument from evil is the attempt to shoulder a burden of proof on behalf of atheism. It is, after all an argument for atheism. It as attempt to argue that God does not exist. It is an argument against theism. For it to be successful, we need to see how it works, what moral principles are invoked, and what factual claims are being made, to see if the argument is a good one.

What I am objecting to is what I will call atheism-of-the-gaps. Theists are rightly criticized when they take a gap in the naturalistic understanding of the world as automatically proving that God must exist, so that the gap can be filled. A gap in our scientific understanding of the world might be as a result of the limitations of our present understanding rather than providing a foundation for world-view change. But when they come to the evil in the world, they point to some evil and say "Explain this, otherwise, you're being irrataional." This in spite of the fact that the omnipotence of God and the teaching of Scripture strongly predict that there will be gaps in our understanding of evil.

Now we need something more than the contention that we have a gap here.

200 comments:

The Discomfiter said...

http://notmanywise.blogspot.com/2006/07/argument-from-reason.html

a critique of reppert's argument from reason

Duke York said...

I hope I don't register as anonymous anymore ^_^. I was on my way to work when I did the post, and I didn't realize I was still under that when I posted.

the burden of proof falls on someone trying to get someone else to change his or her mind

Well, I guess I agree with the basic statement here, but I'm not trying to "convert" you to atheism. Believe in the Christian god, if you want; sure. Believe in Shiva. Believe in the Tooth Fairy. All I'm doing is pointing out that those three beliefs are equally irrational.

Now, it may seem to you that my saying you're irrational is an attack, but it's not, really. Believe in craziness. Go ahead. Until it breaks my leg or picks my pocket, you can be as nutball as you want.

And of course, this is an un-level playing field. As the particular kind of atheist I am, I don't have to make converts, but (if you're a Christian or a Muslim) you do, and the only means you have left at your disposal (now that we've outlawed the sword and the auto de fe) is "reason", which doesn't support your side that well.

Second, I have myself defended theism with arguments. So that isn't my problem.

Props to the discomfiter for posting a link explaining the arguements.

Well, there are two sorts of theistic arguments, and you've managed to re-discover the first. It goes like this:

1) The world can't have this particular property (movement, reason, morals) on its own.

2) God can have this property.

3) The world does have this property.

4) Therefore, God exists.

Do you see how everything gets tripped up on number 2 there? Why can god have the property you're trying to use to prove its existence?

Because he's defined that way.

Why can't the universe as a whole be defined that way?

Because that would undercut the argument.

Now, like I said, if you want to believe that's a good argument, go ahead. I won't try to stop you. It's just not convincing to anyone who doesn't already agree with you.

(And what's the second type of argument for the existence of god? The Argument for Design. That's why presuppositionalism and the TAG and everything else comes and goes, and why the evolution debate remains; the hard-core theists know that if they surrender the lifeboat of Design, they're lost.)

The argument from evil is the attempt to shoulder a burden of proof on behalf of atheism.

You need to clear up your terms here. The argument from evil only runs counter to some limited forms of Abrahamic monotheisms. If you confront a Wiccan or a Pagan (both, you must admit, are theists) with a tsunami, the correct response is "Well, I guess Neptune was more powerful than Gaia that day: we must have been lax in our appeasement". If you confront a Calvinist or other predeterminist, the correct response is "Well, that's just what was supposed to happen, and there's nothing anyone -- not even God -- could do to change it." If you were to confront one of the more vicisous adherents (Phelps, for example, although they were much more common in the past) they would say "Well, god had to kill a heretic, and that was they way he choose; the collateral damage proves we have to root out the evil among us".

The Problem of Evil is only a problem for the rational converter, the Abrahamic monotheist who can no longer skin people alive until the whole village converts to Christianity/Islam/Judaism. The rational converters have made a huge, infinitely powerful god who is all loving and wants to have a personal relationship with you (While you give ten percent of your to converter. Go figure.)

Against the rosy-cheeked Santa Claus of a god that the rational converter needs, then the argument for evil becomes a potent force. No longer can the converter claim that there is a god who is temporarly more powerful. No longer can the converter claim that god was punishing sin and some people got in the way. Both of those would keep people from coming to the rational converter's god (and keep them from kicking in their ten percent).

So what does the rational converter do? First off, split evil into two parts, Human and natural. Human evil is fine -- the free will defense to covers why god doesn't stop pedophiles and the like.

Natural evil is the problem, the things that supposedly come from god when they're good (rain, fecundity, and so on). Why can't god give us rains and not floods? Why can't it let our crops grow, but not the plague?

Regardless of the exact technique, the rational converter uses the same theme to plug this hole in is ten percent coffer; there is no natural evil.

First, they may claim that all "natural" evil is, in fact, human evil because of "original sin" or "The Fall". I'm sure we all know the holes in that argument, and it is too specific to one particular religion to be interesting.

The more interesting way to prove there is no natural evil is to say that we just don't have the right perspective to see why that "evil" is actually "good".

The way I framed the Argument from Evil all hinges around the "perspective" in that above sentence. Since (from the rational converter's point of view) there is no evil, why did god make us with brains capable of misperceiving "good" as "evil"?

The Santa Clause god of the rational converter (if it actually existed) could have handled this problem in any one of a dozen ways. The most obvious is just to stop the physical events we call "natural evil". This wouldn't even require miracles; no one expected the Boxing Day tsunami, so no one would have called its absence a miracle.

The more potent argument against the Santa-god is that it made our perceptions. It could have expanded our awareness, giving us the bigger picture so we could see why 19 million dead from the flu is a good thing, or it could have reduced our perspective so we weren't aware of the large scale evils. Or, and this is the kicker, it could have made us so we could successfully distinguish between human evil (which we can fight against) and natural evil (Close your eyes and think of England.)

I realize I've used a whole pile of words to address a fairly minor problem, but that's because the problem of evil is really straining at gnats. It's not generally applicable to the vast majority of gods people have (and still do) believe in. It's not even applicable to the god of the bible (Jericho and Sodom, anyone?)

And I don't expect this to convince you or convert you. I'm just saying what I think is rational. If you choose to agree with me, go ahead. If not, more power too you.

Duke York

exbeliever said...

I am not at all sure that "making the positive claim" places a burden of proof on the theist. Until somebody converts me to classical foundationalism my view of burdens of proof is that the burden of proof falls on someone trying to get someone else to change his or her mind.

I do not hold to the proposition, "A god or gods exist," nor do I hold to the proposition, "No god or gods exist." I do not hold to the first proposition because I see no reason to believe in such an entity. I do not hold the second proposition because it seems to me that it would be impossible to support. The universe is a rather large place, and I don't think I know enough of it to make some kind of sweeping claim that there is nothing in this universe (or beyond) that cannot be called a "god." I suspect that there is no god anywhere, but I feel it is too big of a statement to say that it is impossible that something that could be called a "god" does not exist.

If I wanted to "change your mind" about belief in god, what burden could I bear? I simply said that I disbelieve because I have no reason to believe. My claim is personal. I guess I could review all of the arguments that I've seen for the Christian God and point out their inadequacies (which is the point of my blog, but you may have actually seen god or heard him speak. All of my demonstrations of the inadequacy of arguments for the Christian God would be wasted on you because you have a piece of evidence that I don't have (a sight or sound from God). Of course, that evidence wouldn't be convincing to me (I would probably assume you were dreaming or hallucinating), but that evidence would, obviously, be convincing to you because you experienced it.

Because of the nature of my position, in order to "change your mind" about your theism, I would need your cooperation. I would start by asking if we could agree that it is a generally sound position to take, that when someone claims that a being outside of our experience exists, we should take a skeptical stance towards that claim (e.g. if someone were to walk up to you and say, "Leprechauns exist on one of the moons around Uranus," the default position would be skepticism because Leprechauns are outside of our common experience). If we both agreed that this is a reasonable position to take towards existence claims that are outside of our common experience, then we could proceed in the argument. If, on the other hand, you stated, "No, I believe that we should accept every existence claim of beings outside of our experience uncritically and then only stop holding them after we have proved them false," I don't think I would pursue the conversation.

If we agreed that this is a generally sound position and we could establish that a "god" is, in fact, outside of our experience (e.g. he thinks without a brain, is omnipresent, etc.), then we would have somewhere to start, skepticism.

Still needing your cooperation, I would ask, "What reasons do you have for believing a god or gods exist?" We could, then, analyze those reasons together and decide if those reasons warrant the conclusion that a god or gods exist. If those reasons do, in fact, warrant belief, you will have (1) justified your belief, and (2) probably one a convert to your belief that a god or gods exist (though I probably would not become a worshipper of your god(s) (unless she was cool), I would, at least, admit that your god(s) existed).

The claim I am making is that I have seen no convincing reason to believe a god or gods exist. I can accept my burden to justify that claim. I can list the arguments I've seen and point out their inadequacies. I can't, however, convince someone else that they should follow me in my skepticism without their cooperation in explaining the reasons they believe.

We have the right, as rational persons, to believe what we already do believe, unless we receive evidence against what we believe.

This is a page about Plantinga's book. You have these "properly basic beliefs" (e.g. the existence of a god, heaven, etc.) that you are as justified in holding as anyone else is in holding beliefs like "other minds exist" and "the external world exists" without evidence. [Interestingly enough, this idea of "properly basic beliefs" relies on the classical foundationalism that you distanced yourself from above.]

Even given your idea that "We have the right, as rational persons, to believe what we already do believe, unless we receive evidence against what we believe," the conclusion would only be that you are not "irrational" for holding a certain belief, not that that belief is "true." But, so what? Whether or not you are rational for believing a god or gods exist is not the question. The question is whether or not there is any reason to believe a god or gods exist.

Second, I have myself defended theism with arguments. So that isn't my problem.

I skimmed Carrier's response to your arguments from reason after I wrote my own. The way he presented your arguments, they are only negative arguments against materialism. Your article that I responded to, attempted to derive the conclusion from your arguments against materialism that theism is preferable to atheism. That is the portion of your argument that I am interested in.

I know that I would like to see your arguments from reason laid out with numbered premises and clear conclusions. Any chance of seeing those without buying your book (I'm a starving philosophy grad student)?

You asked for constructions of the argument from evil, and I obliged in the best way I could. I would appreciate it if you could point me to some clear statements of your pro-theism arguments in return.

JD Walters said...

This is all really sophomoric. I keep looking for intelligent atheistic defenses which at least give me food for thought or challenge my (presumed) complacency. So far on these posts I have found nothing of the sort, only the same old rehashed grade-school levels complaints against God, or absurd comparisons of belief in God with the Tooth Fairy.

I used to think that the problem of evil was a major stumbling block to theism. Now I see that that perception is due mostly to atheists shouting loudly that yes, it is actually a problem. They haven't convinced me that it even challenges the concept of God in any meaningful way.

I just want to make a brief comment on the distinction between God having a particular characteristic and the Universe having a particular characteristic. A typical critique of something like the "first cause" argument goes like this: even if we do admit that the Universe had a first cause, appealing to God as a first cause only pushes the problem back a step, because then we would have to explain what caused God. And if the theist replies that God can exist uncaused or self-caused, then why shouldn't the universe simply be taken as uncaused or self-caused? But this is really a category mistake: who on Earth thinks that a being like God and a being like the Universe are in the same metaphysical categories? By any standard definition of classical theism, God is the sort of being we would expect to have such properties as being self-caused(or non-contingent), everlasting, omnipotent, etc. But by what we know of the Universe, who would attribute these qualities to it? You cannot just get off the hook by claiming that the Universe can be self-caused if God can be, any more than a two-year old can complain that if his dad can drive a car, then so can he. God and the universe are NOT equivalent. That is the whole point of theism. It is legitimate to attribute non-contingency to God because, by definition, that is the sort of being God is. But it is not legitimate to attribute these qualities to the universe, which does not have a will of its own, or omnipotence, or any personal qualities for that matter.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I agree that the argument from evil isn't knock-down, on it's own, but it is also a very good argument.

It isn't knock-down, though, as theists are in the enviable position of having the ultimate free parameter in their theory, where logical possibility is the only constraint. However, when these mere logical possibilities ultimately undermine the unequivocal judgments of our moral faculties, you are on treachorously thin ice. Logically safe, but in practice very weakened, especially to those who aren't already invested in the conclusions you argue for.

As for the argument from ignorance analogy, I think it is weak: Science has independent explanatory successes it can point to that aren't available to the theist: without this, nobody would listen to the pretensions of science. In science there are tons of uncontested examples of things we were ignorant of giving way to understanding. Also, I don't claim ignorance, but to know that it is immoral (or amoral) to have the power to stop X, but not stop it. You would need to show, in a non question-begging way, that this apparent knowledge is illusory.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

I am glad to see you brought up the foundationalism issue. Those who do the whole "the burden of proof is on you for positive claim" thing seem to forget that their skepticism is as radical as those skeptics of Descartes time. Of course it is wonderfully selective.

JD Walters said...

BDK,

What is this 'free parameter' you keep referring to? I've certainly never heard of it. What makes you think God is a free parameter, as if whatever is logically possible is supposed to be in fact real? The Christian God is certainly NOT a free parameter. He is who he is, has a certain nature which, although we as limited mortals can only discern it faintly, through a glass darkly, nevertheless is well-defined. If you want to know what the Christian God is supposed to be like, look to the Bible, the Church Fathers, theologians, etc.

I don't know where you got this silly idea that theists make God into anything they want Him to be. The whole idea of theism is that God reveals Himself to us, on His own terms. If He did not do so we would be incapable of experiencing Him, either directly or indirectly through the various proofs. God may be a free parameter in the sense that He is not, in C.S. Lewis' words, "a tame lion", not at our beck and call, but He is not arbitrary and it is certainly not up to us to determine God's nature.

Anthony Fleming said...

As a Christian, the problem of evil has never really been a problem for me. We would not have the Christian faith if it were not for the problem of evil. In the Christian story we see that Jesus died a horrible and unjust death. Yet, somehow, that was still part of God's foreseeable will to provide the greatest potential blessing for all of mankind.

Karl Grant said...

I'm with Dr. Reppert with the burden of proof, if you stake a position in an debate you better provide some persuaive evidence and arguments if you want to persuade people. Simply claiming the other guy has to do the hard work and you get a free ride does not cut it. But that has been my experince when people bring up the burden of proof in a debate; it's always an attempt to win the argument by default, to force the other guy on the defensive and allow you to get some cheap shots on his arguments and at the same time offer nothing of substance as a counter-argument. Not impressive or persuaive in the least.

B. Prokop said...

I agree with Anthony. At least for me, the "Problem of Evil" has always seemed a problem for atheists and not for believers (or at least not for Christians). Christianity has an explanation for the existence of evil - where is atheism's? There should be no evil in a purely materialistic world, since everything is "as it should be". There is no mechanism for deviating from absolute conformity to the predetermined. And how can what is necessary be evil?

Matt DeStefano said...

"Now we need something more than the contention that we have a gap here."

Rightly so, and there have been several variants of the PoE that do much more than contend we "have a gap". I personally favor Rowe's evidential PoE (an outline can be found here:http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-evi/#H2), and I don't think any theist has given a remotely plausible answer.

"As a Christian, the problem of evil has never really been a problem for me. We would not have the Christian faith if it were not for the problem of evil."

This shows a serious misunderstanding of what is meant by "Problem of Evil". It's not that the evil in the world is a problem, but rather that the existence of suffering is a problem (read: contradiction) for an omni-God.

"Christianity has an explanation for the existence of evil - where is atheism's? There should be no evil in a purely materialistic world, since everything is "as it should be". There is no mechanism for deviating from absolute conformity to the predetermined. And how can what is necessary be evil?"

An explanation of "evil" or suffering, in modern variants, is readily available upon a materialist worldview. (See Rowe's argument above.) In a materialist world, everything is not "how it should be" (there is no normativity given to us by the Universe) but rather "how it is". Moreover, suffering by sentient beings is readily understood under the auspices of biological evolution. Also, I don't see why there is a contradiction between "necessary" and "evil". We use that phrase all the time to denote things like death, and taxes.

It's much more difficult to ascertain why an omni-God would choose such a messy and violent path for His creatures. Theists have offered a great deal of theodicies (Plantinga's FWD, van Inwagen's Skeptical Theism, soul-building, etc), but I don't find any of them even remotely convincing, and I think Skeptical Theism actually forces a theist into a much broader moral skepticism.

Shackleman said...

Given materialism/naturalism, the word "evil" is *utterly* meaningless.

Given materialism/naturalism, Hitler was no more "evil" than Mother Theresa. Their brains were both at the utter mercy of the laws of nature acting upon the atoms and molecules in their heads.

Given materialism/naturalism, there is *utterly* no moral difference between torturing babies for fun and helping old ladies across the street.

B. Prokop said...

"It's much more difficult to ascertain why an omni-God would choose such a messy and violent path for His creatures."

Matt,

there's a Baptist church not far from where I live, where the pastor has one of those signs out front where he can post pithy little sayings each week. Your comment reminds me of what he posted last week: "Most people are eager to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity".

rank sophist said...

Matt,

The problem of evil is no problem at all. The first mistake is to take a hedonistic conception of good and evil: good-feeling is the ultimate good, suffering the ultimate evil. Yet, if these are your standards, you're left with the kind of utilitarianism that leads to Swift's infamous child-eating proposal.

Traditional Christian ethics, on the other hand, make no such claims about good-feeling and suffering. Neither is inherently good or evil. On the contrary, good-feeling is often considered evil, and suffering considered good. Moral good is the human decision to act in a way that is closest to perfection (in the traditional sense); moral evil is the decision to act contrary to perfection. In this sense, evil is a "privation": it is merely a lack of goodness, rather than something in its own right.

The result of this is that evil is something that only humans can perform, since it requires a type of agency that animals do not possess. "Animal evil" is therefore an incoherent idea, and "animal suffering", while regrettable from our perspective, is neither good nor evil. Now, if your remaining question is why humans were given the ability to perform evil, I'm sure you're familiar with the standard response to that.

B. Prokop said...

The elephant in the room is that, even if one were to concede to the atheists' argument that evil makes God impossible, then what is the alternative?

By doing so, you have not decreased suffering or evil by the tiniest bit. You still have abused children, natural disasters, war and mayhem. You've accomplished nothing, except... well, here's that huge except. Now you have the exact same suffering as before, but without any hope whatsoever of finding the least purpose to it, of any meaning or significance whatsoever.

That's possibly what Dante meant by inscribing over the Gate of Hell, "Abandon every hope, all ye that enter here". The pain and torment beyond that gate were real enough, but utterly without purpose.

There's a reason why Hope is one of the three Theological Virtues.

Matt DeStefano said...

"there's a Baptist church not far from where I live, where the pastor has one of those signs out front where he can post pithy little sayings each week. Your comment reminds me of what he posted last week: "Most people are eager to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity"."

I've never been a fan of catchy one-liners, myself, as they tend to perpetuate stupidity and ignorance. This is a prime example. There's a serious question to be asked about why an all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnibenevolent God would use a natural mechanism which requires excessive amounts of suffering, pain, and death to create human beings.

What's is your response? Some banal cliche about wanting to play God. I don't think such a being exists, I'm simply criticizing an integral part of the God-story - specifically that he would use such a crude and inexact method for creation when surely he has a more efficient and productive means at his disposal.

Given materialism/naturalism, there is *utterly* no moral difference between torturing babies for fun and helping old ladies across the street.

Shackleman, I disagree entirely. I'm not sure where your contention lies, but if you're willing to expand it - I'd be happy to respond.

In the meanwhile, I'd suggest this debate between Shelly Kagan and William Lane Craig. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiJnCQuPiuo)

The problem of evil is no problem at all. The first mistake is to take a hedonistic conception of good and evil: good-feeling is the ultimate good, suffering the ultimate evil. Yet, if these are your standards, you're left with the kind of utilitarianism that leads to Swift's infamous child-eating proposal.

rank sophist,

In philosophical and theological arguments, it's generally well accepted that there are moral evils and natural evils. Here's the most recent reiteration of Rowe's argument (ripped from IEP):

(1)There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

(2)An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

(3) (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

Most theists have traditionally found (2) to be non-controversial and have either argued against (1) or the jump from "there appear to me to be instances of suffering.." to "there are instances of suffering..". But, and correct me if I'm wrong, you seem to be denying that (2) is even the case? That "suffering" - if not caused by direct human action - is not an evil that God has any duty to permit?

More on point to your definition: nobody is arguing that all instances of "suffering" are evil, nor are all instances of "good-feeling" good. After all, suffering that introduces a greater good (lifting weights at the gym, getting a vaccination, having surgery, etc.) is quite widely accepted as beneficial. Instances of "good-feeling" which succumb to greater evils (a drug-user who abuses and steals from their family, etc.) are clearly not.

But imagine two possible worlds with a fawn (Bambi) in a forest. In one, the fawn is brutally burned to death by a wildfire and suffers for days before finally passing on. In the other possible world, there is no fire and the fawn doesn't suffer this excruciating death. It seems obvious that we should (and an omni-being should) prefer the latter given that there is no greater good being preserved, or greater evil being prevented, by Bambi dying an excruciating and painful death.

Matt DeStefano said...

Oops, spotted a typo - it should be "God has any duty to prevent" rather than permit.

rank sophist said...

Matt,

Thanks for the serious and civilized response. It's an unfortunate rarity in philosophy-related comboxes. Anyway, let's get down to business.

Most theists have traditionally found (2) to be non-controversial and have either argued against (1) or the jump from "there appear to me to be instances of suffering.." to "there are instances of suffering..". But, and correct me if I'm wrong, you seem to be denying that (2) is even the case? That "suffering" - if not caused by direct human action - is not an evil that God has any duty to prevent?

You're right that I deny both (1) and (2). In fact, I also deny that God has any duty to prevent suffering caused by direct human action. If any such suffering is prevented, for any reason at all, then it should be considered a gift or privilege rather than a right.

There are several reasons for this. First, I hold a position along the lines of what Edward Feser calls "classical theism"--the traditional understanding of God from the BC era onward until very recently. It views God as something that did not merely create reality, but sustains it at all times. All change, existence and so forth are the direct, constant work of God. With this in mind, life itself is a privilege that can never be questioned. Thinking of our existence as a neutral right, and then expecting God to prevent all "unnecessary suffering" on top of that, is therefore quite ridiculous under this view.

Second, classical theism does not think of God as an infinitely powerful human-like consciousness. This is one of the core mistakes that makes the problem of evil seem bigger than it is. Rather, God is something that cannot be described except by dodgy analogy--a thing that is probably something like a consciousness, but which is decidedly not a consciousness at all. As a result, God is impossible to understand through comparisons to human agency. An "obligation" to do good along the lines of what we conceive could never be applied to God.

Third, the "goodness" of the classical God does not refer to some kind of human desire for good. As I've said above, that is incoherent under this conception of deity. Rather, the classical God is the sum of all perfections, a bit like the One from Neo-Platonism. Everything good (i.e. near to perfection) in our reality is merely a participant in a perfection beyond any imagination. Evil is anything that willfully acts against this perfection.

The picture, then, is that everything is constantly sustained in being by something that has no obligation to do so. This thing does not possess human desires for goodness--rather, it is goodness, and it is the source of all goodness that we perceive. The only evil is a willful non-participation in this goodness. Suffering, pain and death are neither good nor evil on their own; they're just part of living in this world.

rank sophist said...

More on point to your definition: nobody is arguing that all instances of "suffering" are evil, nor are all instances of "good-feeling" good. After all, suffering that introduces a greater good (lifting weights at the gym, getting a vaccination, having surgery, etc.) is quite widely accepted as beneficial. Instances of "good-feeling" which succumb to greater evils (a drug-user who abuses and steals from their family, etc.) are clearly not.

This is true. However, notice that you're still using what I termed a "hedonistic conception of good and evil". In other words, good-feeling and suffering are to be avoided or endured if the end result will be greater suffering or greater good-feeling, respectively. Again, this leads you straight into utilitarianism, in which the ideal goal is to act toward the most good-feeling for the most people. But, as before, following this out to its logical conclusion results in the kind of absurdity Jonathan Swift presented in his essay A Modest Proposal, in which he uses flawless utilitarian reasoning to deduce that poor Irish children should be used as food.

By comparison, traditional Christian ethics are basically virtue ethics--something absolutely divorced from hedonistic ideas of good and evil. This post is massive, so I won't go into the details, but I recommend that you read about them. Virtue ethics are descended from the ancient Greeks, and were heavily developed in the 20th century by people like Elizabeth Anscombe (notably in her landmark paper Modern Moral Philosophy) and Philippa Foot. Whether or not you're a theist, the system is far more fulfilling than consequentialist or deontological ethics.

But imagine two possible worlds with a fawn (Bambi) in a forest. In one, the fawn is brutally burned to death by a wildfire and suffers for days before finally passing on. In the other possible world, there is no fire and the fawn doesn't suffer this excruciating death. It seems obvious that we should (and an omni-being should) prefer the latter given that there is no greater good being preserved, or greater evil being prevented, by Bambi dying an excruciating and painful death.

This would indeed be tragic in our view, but, again, I ascribe no good or evil to the above scenario. In addition, I do not believe that God has any obligation to prevent suffering of any kind. To us, the animal's death was unfortunate and unnecessary; but, in the bigger picture, it is merely an example of nature operating as nature should operate. I would give you the same response if you replaced the fawn with a human, or even if you changed the scenario to be about a human getting eaten alive by wolves. That last example brings to mind a quote from an old noir film I saw, in which a nun, warned by a detective that praying won't keep her safe from the villains, responds by saying, "People don't pray to keep from dying. They pray to keep from being disappointed when they do." In other words, avoidance of suffering is not at all the point.

Walter said...

This would indeed be tragic in our view, but, again, I ascribe no good or evil to the above scenario. In addition, I do not believe that God has any obligation to prevent suffering of any kind. To us, the animal's death was unfortunate and unnecessary; but, in the bigger picture, it is merely an example of nature operating as nature should operate.

Do you, as a Christian, believe that you will be resurrected to a world where fawns or humans occasionally will still be burned alive because that is the way nature is supposed to work, or do you believe that you will go to a place where these things no longer happen? If you believe the latter then does that not imply that there is something wrong with this world that you feel will be corrected in the next? And when I speak of something being wrong, I am not speaking about moral evil but instead about natural evils that have predated the arrival and subsequent "fall" of man by millions of years.

In other words, do you believe that you might possibly be resurrected to a new life where human pain and physical suffering still exist, but you won't actually die or be permanently injured by anything? I guess the question is this: if natural evil is a buit-in feature of a universe that God declares to be good, then why should you not expect more of the same in your next life?

B. Prokop said...

Walter,

Your question calls to mind Saint Paul's comment on this subject:

Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now.
(Romans 8:21-22)

As well as this:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Or, if you don't care for Paul, there's this from C.S. Lewis:

If all Hell's miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into that Great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific itself is only a molecule. (The Great Divorce)

Shackleman said...

--Given materialism/naturalism, there is *utterly* no moral difference between torturing babies for fun and helping old ladies across the street.

----Shackleman, I disagree entirely. I'm not sure where your contention lies, but if you're willing to expand it - I'd be happy to respond.


Given materialism/naturalism, there is no quantifiably relevant difference between a rock and a brain. The former is merely a complex clump of carbon and other elements. The latter, likewise, is merely a complex clump of carbon and other elements, albeit immeasurably more complex than the rock.

If just the right physics are imparted against a rock perched on the edge of a hill, it will begin to roll down it.

Similarly, if just the right physics are imparted against a brain, it will begin to torture babies for fun. Different physics acting on it and you get an act of altruism instead.

1) Materialism/naturalism posits that there exists only matter and the laws of physics which govern it.

2) There is no law of physics which governs morality

3) Therefore morality doesn't exist.

Can you show otherwise?

cl said...

Honestly this so-called "reasoning" drives me nuts. Atheists need to grow some cajones, use their brains, and realize that they, too, endorse positive claims. The atheist endorses the positive claim, "only the natural exists."

So why, time and time and time and time and time and time again, do the ALWAYS put the burden on the theist? Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly fine being the positive claimant, but it annoys the hell out of me when these atheists hide behind a glass window and act like they have nothing to prove.

cl said...

Shackelman! Hello there, sir. Talk about synchronicity! Last night I wrote almost the exact same comment as yours at May 18, 2012 8:11 AM, to a bright guy named Peter Hurford who's a regular at my blog. Check it out, I'm sure you'll appreciate it, as I appreciate yours.

It's important to emphasize the double-standards most atheists hold when it comes to morality, materialism and physics.

B. Prokop said...

CL,

Judging from comments on this website, atheists as a rule also love the "argument from definition", i.e., they define a term in such a manner that the conclusion is preordained, regardless of what argument is used.

Example:

Miracles are defined as an impossible occurrence.

Argument: Who cares? We already know the conclusion!

Conclusion: Miracles do not occur, because they're impossible.

cl said...

B. Proskop,

Oh, for sure! That's not just here, but everywhere atheists can be found! Consider the tried-and-true "natural / supernatural" dichotomy they're so fond of constructing:

Atheist: "Nothing exists but the natural."

Theist: "Okay, what do you mean by natural?"

Atheist: "That which can be verified by science."

Theist: "Okay, but isn't science the study of the natural by default?"

Atheist: "No! Science could, in principle, discover supernatural things."

Theist: "But you just said that if science can verify it, then it's natural."

Atheist: "Hey, don't shift the burden of proof, if supernatural things exist then you need to bring the scientific evidence."

Wash, rinse, repeat, all while feigning some pretense of intellectual sophistication.

All the while, these "enlightened" atheists apparently remain in darkness concerning the scope of science and the "argument by definition" they make. It's like an odd form of psychological insulation against their worldview crashing down around them, asking the theist to provide a square circle.

It'd be laughable if the stakes weren't so high.

rank sophist said...

Do you, as a Christian, believe that you will be resurrected to a world where fawns or humans occasionally will still be burned alive because that is the way nature is supposed to work, or do you believe that you will go to a place where these things no longer happen? If you believe the latter then does that not imply that there is something wrong with this world that you feel will be corrected in the next? And when I speak of something being wrong, I am not speaking about moral evil but instead about natural evils that have predated the arrival and subsequent "fall" of man by millions of years.

First, there are no such things as "natural evils". In fact, from my perspective, this is an oxymoron. Pain and suffering in nature merely exist. I don't believe that it would be out of line to call them imperfections, but they're only imperfect in the sense that a physical tree cannot be the "ideal" tree, or a physical dog the "ideal" dog. Nothing in our reality, in other words, can be without some kind of imperfection. It's traditionally understood that heaven consists of something very much like what Catholics call the Beatific Vision, in which direct contact with God--something greater than the sum of all perfections--is achieved. The idea of imperfections such as pain and suffering remaining in such a state is therefore impossible.

In other words, do you believe that you might possibly be resurrected to a new life where human pain and physical suffering still exist, but you won't actually die or be permanently injured by anything? I guess the question is this: if natural evil is a built-in feature of a universe that God declares to be good, then why should you not expect more of the same in your next life?

As the next life consists of complete perfection, those things would not exist. Critically, this does not contradict the Biblical statement that the created world was "very good". Even in a pre-fall state, Aquinas wrote, man did not have the kind of imperfection-annihilating experience that is the Beatific Vision: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1094.htm#article1. Yet, this was the same world that was considered "very good". So, clearly, "very good" does not mean "the ideal vision of perfection".

cl said...

Matt DeStefano,

"Rightly so, and there have been several variants of the PoE that do much more than contend we "have a gap". I personally favor Rowe's evidential PoE, and I don't think any theist has given a remotely plausible answer."

Sigh... really? Still persuaded by arguments from incredulity? I realize you've probably "burnt out" on dialog with me, but I've thrashed the POE to bits several times over. All it takes is a higher good, and that's exactly what God promises. All this suffering will be a drop in the bucket compared to an eternity of sinless creation. Doesn't it say something that Peter Hurford is constantly "refining" his essays on the POE in response to my arguments?

Not trying to be arrogant, just saying... that which you claim does not exist, exists.

cl said...

B. Proskop,

"At least for me, the "Problem of Evil" has always seemed a problem for atheists and not for believers (or at least not for Christians). Christianity has an explanation for the existence of evil - where is atheism's? There should be no evil in a purely materialistic world, since everything is "as it should be". There is no mechanism for deviating from absolute conformity to the predetermined. And how can what is necessary be evil?"

Nail. On. The. Head.

The very tenacity with which atheists wage POE undercuts their own beliefs. Atheists *REALLY BELIEVE* that evil exists, and they are severely traumatized by it (and rightly so). This suggests that they don't really believe in the atheism they espouse.

This point needs to be made louder.

cl said...

Matt DeStefano,

" In one, the fawn is brutally burned to death by a wildfire and suffers for days before finally passing on."

If you don't mind a little friendly jesting, yada yada yada... appeals to emotion, stock and trade for atheists waging POE. Let's use reason, shall we?

B. Prokop said...

CL,

I appreciate your comments, but where are you getting the extraneous "S" in my name from?

cl said...

B. Prokop,

Honestly I think it was because of the similarity between your last name and that of a certain person I know with "Roskopp."

Mistake corrected, sorry 'bout that!

rank sophist said...

If you don't mind a little friendly jesting, yada yada yada... appeals to emotion, stock and trade for atheists waging POE. Let's use reason, shall we?

That's uncalled for. Matt asked a legitimate question that deserves a legitimate answer. Writing off examples of pain just because they take place in emotionally charged situations doesn't help your argument in the slightest. Scenarios like the one he presented occur in the real world, and any argument against the POE is going to have to address them directly.

While I don't agree with Matt that the counterarguments of contemporary theists like Craig and Platinga are "[not] even remotely convincing", I will readily admit that they're unsatisfactory. They start with wrong-headed assumptions about deity and then proceed to construct limiting and just-so stories to explain pain. Watching Craig struggle to justify animal suffering in his debate with Stephen Law--resorting to talk about brain structure to explain how their suffering was "less bad" than ours--was painful. I can understand why someone wouldn't be convinced, even though I personally think that Craig's flawed position is in every way preferable to Law's.

Matt DeStefano said...

Shackleman,

"Given materialism/naturalism, there is no quantifiably relevant difference between a rock and a brain. The former is merely a complex clump of carbon and other elements. The latter, likewise, is merely a complex clump of carbon and other elements, albeit immeasurably more complex than the rock. "

This is a huge straw-man. The difference in complexity is not only quantifiably relevant, but it is immensely so. Rocks are not the type of thing that have neural networks, the type of thing that have sentience, etc.


"1) Materialism/naturalism posits that there exists only matter and the laws of physics which govern it.

2) There is no law of physics which governs morality

3) Therefore morality doesn't exist. "


I hate to be that guy , but you're going to have to substantiate #2 for me. I think the laws of physics "govern" morality in the sense that I think the laws of physics dictate the mechanisms of harm/help.

cl,

Sigh... really? Still persuaded by arguments from incredulity? I realize you've probably "burnt out" on dialog with me, but I've thrashed the POE to bits several times over. All it takes is a higher good, and that's exactly what God promises. All this suffering will be a drop in the bucket compared to an eternity of sinless creation. Doesn't it say something that Peter Hurford is constantly "refining" his essays on the POE in response to my arguments?

It's not an argument from incredulity (the SEP has a good article explaining the logic behind the inductive PoE here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/#IndLogEviArgEvi), and I can't speak for Peter's version of the PoE because it's not one that I would have argued for myself.

I also think that Hick's soul-building theodicy (which isn't exactly what you are proposing here but quite related) fails miserably, and I can go through those reasons if you want to discuss further.

I'm not yet burnt out on you, cl, but I was a bit put off by your staunch defense of Creationism and sometimes your anti-science diatribes simply wear on me.

B. Prokop said...

Rank Sophist,

See my "Elephant in the Room" posting above. I get the feeling that atheists who use the PoE as an argument against God think they're accomplishing something by this. But it solves nothing. You still have to acknowledge the existence of pain, with or without God. In fact, you're in an even worse situation in a materialistic universe, because there is zero hope for all that pain to ever have any sort of meaning. As a believer, one is able to say, "I may not know why, but I at least know there is a why".

And on a purely intellectual level, stripped of all emotion and personal involvement, the atheist position is incoherent. In a world where there exists nothing but purely material things, in which all event are predetermined by physical states and forces, and there is no free will, no choice, everything is of necessity exactly what it is supposed to be. There can be no "evil" when there is no volition. There can't even be pain, since one should expect each object within a volitionless universe to be perfectly in sync with the one and only possible state of affairs. A machine does what it is supposed to do. It doesn't wish things were otherwise. In a world without free will, I should reasonably have no expectations other than what is, and nothing should be painful.

Matt DeStefano said...

rank,

No problem, I enjoy courteous and honest discussion with anyone willing to engage. If you don't mind, I'm going to skip down to your response to Walter, as he brought up the most prominent issue I was going to discuss. Let me preface by saying I think that the God of classical theism is very similar to the God of what Trakakis calls "orthodox theism" in his article and the God which the PoE is aimed at. (There's a list of characteristics found here [http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-evi/#SH1a], which I think is pretty accurate.)


First, there are no such things as "natural evils". In fact, from my perspective, this is an oxymoron. Pain and suffering in nature merely exist. I don't believe that it would be out of line to call them imperfections, but they're only imperfect in the sense that a physical tree cannot be the "ideal" tree, or a physical dog the "ideal" dog. Nothing in our reality, in other words, can be without some kind of imperfection. It's traditionally understood that heaven consists of something very much like what Catholics call the Beatific Vision, in which direct contact with God--something greater than the sum of all perfections--is achieved. The idea of imperfections such as pain and suffering remaining in such a state is therefore impossible.

If, as you say, pain and suffering are imperfections, why should God have created the conditions in which they would appear? This is essentially, as far as I can tell, what the PoE is driving at. God can instantiate any possible world he chooses (that is logically possible), and if he can choose one that is perfect (akin to the Beatific Vision if I'm understanding the term correctly) over one that is imperfect, why would he choose the latter? Assuming that God is an omni-God with those traits listed previously, it seems that He would "prefer" the perfect world to the imperfect one.

Matt DeStefano said...

B Prokop,

See my "Elephant in the Room" posting above. I get the feeling that atheists who use the PoE as an argument against God think they're accomplishing something by this. But it solves nothing. You still have to acknowledge the existence of pain, with or without God. In fact, you're in an even worse situation in a materialistic universe, because there is zero hope for all that pain to ever have any sort of meaning. As a believer, one is able to say, "I may not know why, but I at least know there is a why".

It's not meant to solve anything. The "Problem of Evil" refers to the proposed incompatibility between the existence of evil (natural and moral) with a perfect God. Of course, we have different discussions all the time about reducing the suffering of sentient creatures in a myriad of ways, but that has nothing to do with what is referred to as the "Problem of Evil" in this context.

rank sophist said...

B. Prokop,

I agree. I merely took offense at cl's flippancy.

Matt,

No problem, I enjoy courteous and honest discussion with anyone willing to engage. If you don't mind, I'm going to skip down to your response to Walter, as he brought up the most prominent issue I was going to discuss. Let me preface by saying I think that the God of classical theism is very similar to the God of what Trakakis calls "orthodox theism" in his article and the God which the PoE is aimed at. (There's a list of characteristics found here [http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-evi/#SH1a], which I think is pretty accurate.)

That is reasonably accurate. It has a few problems, though. They relate to the issue of "person-hood" that I raised. For example, classical theism does not consider God to be "a non-physical spirit [that] is capable of affecting physical things." Rather, God is, in technical terms, "being itself". It's a bit like panentheism, but with a real ontological separation between creator and creation. All things that exist merely participate in God's being, and, without it, they lose their existence. Hinduism seems to have a better grasp of this concept than most of contemporary Christianity, for some reason.

There's a bigger problem with the list, though--one that undermines it. It states, "God is the source of moral norms (as in divine command ethics) or always acts in complete accordance with moral norms." This is fundamentally not true. God is indeed the source of morality, but it's not any kind of "moral norm". If you're familiar at all with Aristotle's teleology and the natural law morality that arises from it, then you'll know that, on this model, the natural world comes with a pre-built set of rationally identifiable moral facts. They result directly from man's telos, and from the telos of each of his powers. The telos of speech, for example, is to transmit true information; so lying, being a complete frustration of this telos, is always and inherently immoral.

Because following a telos is a move toward perfection, and because God is both the sum of all perfections and the creator/sustainer of all telos, one could describe God as good. However, there is no aspect of divine command theory in this. The system was created by a pagan, and his foundation remains largely intact to this day. All of these moral truths are knowable through reason alone.

Most importantly, in no sense could God be said to "act for the good" or "desire the good", as I wrote before. He is the good. Any human action toward perfection (i.e. following a telos) is a participation in God's perfection. Any human action against perfection is, in that sense, opposite to God. The result of this is that it's absolutely impossible to describe God in terms of human action, and therefore impossible to say that he should "act" one way rather than another.

rank sophist said...

If, as you say, pain and suffering are imperfections, why should God have created the conditions in which they would appear? This is essentially, as far as I can tell, what the PoE is driving at. God can instantiate any possible world he chooses (that is logically possible), and if he can choose one that is perfect (akin to the Beatific Vision if I'm understanding the term correctly) over one that is imperfect, why would he choose the latter? Assuming that God is an omni-God with those traits listed previously, it seems that He would "prefer" the perfect world to the imperfect one.

The key issue is what I outlined above. God could not be expected to prefer any type of universe over any other type, contra Leibniz. Our universe is not of necessity the "best of all possible universes", and God has no obligation to create such a universe.

To return to what I wrote earlier, "Even in a pre-fall state, Aquinas wrote, man did not have the kind of imperfection-annihilating experience that is the Beatific Vision: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1094.htm#article1." In other words, even the Bible does not contain the suggestion that God would create something free from imperfections if he had another option. Our universe simply is what it is.

Walter said...

If I am understanding this correctly it seems that classical theists defeat the POE by claiming that God is not omnibenevolent in the sense that he would or should create worlds that are all hugs and kisses. It suggests that God's goodness is significantly *different* from human notions of goodness -- since a good person would attempt to eliminate as much pain and suffering as possible in animals as well as fellow humans. The God of CT has no such desire.

rank sophist said...

Walter,

This is more-or-less accurate. It's important to keep in mind, though, that the classical theist also sees existence as an unnecessary privilege that is in a constant state of being granted to us. We're being allowed to exist at every moment, and whatever happiness we experience, and whatever pain we avoid, is in the same boat. Same goes for promises of the Beatific Vision. So, clearly, classical theism's ideally perfect God has an interest in us, and, for whatever reason, thinks that we're worth all this trouble. In that sense, God can be described as unimaginably loving, generous and so forth. In the last few centuries, these words have been twisted into some kind of inane, God-as-your-buddy wishful thinking that has damaged Christianity heavily.

Papalinton said...

The problem of evil has never been a problem for the religiose. It has always been blithely waved away simply as 'mysterious' workings of a spectral numen with a grand purpose in mind. Many of the comments in this thread clearly demonstrate this indifference.
Of course, the more enlightened ones among us now know this predilection to be a function of the teleological intentionality that predisposes our evolutionary genetic makeup to extrapolate the possibility of being inadvertently killed had we not heeded even the slightest of warnings of the ubiquitous 'inexplicable' rustling of the bushes near us and not made quick haste away from prospective danger. And to lessen the existential fear of our own mortality and inevitable demise, the weaker among us look to religion to mitigate that fear. Therefore evil is not a problem when one is cloaked with the placebo effect of 'everlasting life in heaven'.

If one was killed by a leopard, we waved it away as just another mysterious reason for god's plan that he allowed that person to be killed. If a good, decent person was killed by another tribe member, the death of the victim was seen as a part of the unknowable manner of god's big plan. Equally, if a bad person was killed, it was read as god taking just and appropriate action in his grand plan. One cannot help but arrive at the conclusion that such scramblings at an attempt for explanations is pretty silly and explains nothing, All it does is mask the nature of the natural world. It provides a false front, a concealment, against those elements of the natural world for which there was no form of logical or suitable explanation.

And as one commenter noted, there would be no Christian faith "if it were not for the problem of evil." I say, precisely. The christian faith is the response of the ancients to make sense of their world, their environment, at a time when ignorance and illiteracy and superstition were the principal determinants of the explanatory process.
Religion is the last remaining vestigial link with the past for which ignorance and superstition and lower literacy levels remain a significant driver in its promulgation, most notably through early bouts of inculcation and indoctrination while the child's mind is at the climacteric stage of formation before it adequately forms to mechanisms to distinguish fact from fantasy.

The process to a post-religious society is a slow evolutionary one.

cl said...

rank sophist,

"That's uncalled for."

Who the hell made you the arbiter of what's called for or not? Oh yeah, nobody. Listen, Matt and I have a history together, it's a mostly positive history with a small blemish. If I want to jest with the lad that's my prerogative and you should just mind your own damn business. Matt's a big boy. He knows I've got nothing but love for him despite said blemish.

"any argument against the POE is going to have to address them directly."

Yes, I agree, and as I've now explained to you, I *HAVE* addressed these "problems" directly. That's why I don't think it's very fair for Matt to sit there and say he's never seen any theist offer an even remotely plausible answer. Hell, you've offered plausible answers in this very thread.

I, too, find a significant amount of Craig's arguments unconvincing. By the way, I appreciate your commentary. Just don't jump into my business and we'll probably get along just fine from here on out.

cl said...

Matt,

"It's not an argument from incredulity"

It is. It goes, "I can't conceive of a possible higher good, therefore it's likely none exists." Your link, with all it's fancy talk, just camouflages the incredulity (bold mine):

If there is an omnipotent and omniscient being, then there are specific cases of such a being's intentionally allowing animals to die agonizing deaths in forest fires, and children to undergo lingering suffering and eventual death due to cancer, that have wrongmaking properties such that there are no rightmaking characteristics that we are aware of that both apply to the cases in question,

See? Besides the fact that these "wrongmaking" properties are merely asserted (as other commenters have tried to point out to you), your "argument" goes, "On no's, all this painful suffering, OMG it's so horrible, I can't possibly see how a higher good can come of this, God doesn't exist." Demonstrate otherwise.

Besides, I've already taken great lengths to explain the higher good and defang the POE without appeals to skeptical theism. If and when you muster a legitimate response to that essay, that's the day I'll grant your "argument" some respect again.

"I'm not yet burnt out on you, cl, but I was a bit put off by your staunch defense of Creationism and sometimes your anti-science diatribes simply wear on me."

Hey, if you wish to ignore everything I've written about that and continue to see what YOU want to see, I can't do anything about that. All I can do is lead you to water. I can't make you drink. I explained that whole debacle in full detail, here. You and Andrés freaked out over nothing. Notice how Daniel stayed calm and was able to focus on the matter at hand. Now, for the last time, quit accusing me of defending Creationism when I make no claims whatsoever as to how many calendar years have passed since God created everything. You talk of "strawmen" elsewhere on this thread, and here you are making false accusations against me. Seriously man, you need to dead that.

As for the anti-science bit, please, provide some evidence for your claim, else, it's actually *YOU* who's being anti-scientific here (by exalting your own assertions to the level of truth without giving objective readers a chance to investigate the truth of the matter themselves). I criticize scientism, no doubt, but that is not anti-science. I'm just not like you and most other atheists: I don't worship and/or overly esteem science.

Don't take cards from Loftus' playbook. Seriously bud. You sound just like Loftus with his lame accusations of Vic.

Now, where do we go from here?

grodrigues said...

@Walter:

"It suggests that God's goodness is significantly *different* from human notions of goodness -- since a good person would attempt to eliminate as much pain and suffering as possible in animals as well as fellow humans. The God of CT has no such desire."

First, it is not coherent to say that God has a desire, because desire is always a desire for something that is lacking and God lacks nothing. As rank sophist remarked there are at least two major problems that fatally undermine the PoE from a classical theist's pov:

1. Leibniz's idea of best worlds is incoherent -- see for example The Best of All Possible Worlds. One way to understand this is to note that the gift of being is an incommensurate good because its contrary is to not be, that is, it is nothing. Thus presumably, this world with an extra being on it is a better world than the actual world, but then it makes no sense to excoriate God for not making this world a better world, because given any possible world there is always a possible better one. Now suppose said being is a human, but now dying of a horrible disease. Name him after your worst enemy and laugh the evil maniac laugh. Is this world better or worse than the preceding possible and the actual world? This question once again does not make much sense, because the evil itself, the horrible disease, *presupposes* an incommensurate good, that of being.

2. There are senses in which we can predicate of God that He is supremely good (e.g. as the source of all being), but not *morally* good. For what does it mean to say that someone is morally good? That he lives up to some standard of behavior, that he is well-behaved, etc. But what standard of behavior is the source of all being supposed to conform to? He freely sustains the world in being, and in doing so he establishes the conditions which enable us to make moral judgments, but what ought is there that could bind Him or what standard to evaluate His actions?

Another way to see this is to realize that what is good for us is dictated by our natures, and thus morality is rooted in our nature qua human beings, its ultimate source being God as creator of said natures. But in God, essence and existence are indistinct, so what sense can we make of what is good for Him? In other words, what sense can be made of such and such action as morally good and morally binding for God?

Yet another way to look at this: the creative act of God was an act of Free Will so it was possible that there was no creaturely order at all. But in that situation, what does it mean to say that God ought to do this or that given the doctrine of impassibility and that there is naught besides Him? Given that evil is a privation and parasitical on being, there would be no evil, and thus no PoE, if there were no creaturely order to begin with. But then, what sense is there to say that He should do this or that towards the creaturely order that He not only brought into, but sustains in being by His freely willed creative fiat?

One could try to argue along the lines that God, as creator, bears a responsibility for His creations, in much the same way as a father bears a responsibility towards his children. But this hinges on an equivocal comparison between God and us as His creation and human fathers and their children. At this point, I will leave to the interested reader the untying of this knot as an exercise.

The only coherent sense I can make of the suggestion that God is morally blameworthy is to conceive of him equivocally, like ourselves, as a member of a moral community to be judged by the same standards as we are, but that is just another name for idolatry (and bad philosophy).

Walter said...


"First, it is not coherent to say that God has a desire, because desire is always a desire for something that is lacking and God lacks nothing."


Well, I did say that the God of CT has no such desire. :-) Seriously, why did God create if He has no desires? Before you choose to do something you have to desire to do something. If God freely chose to create, then it seems He must have had a desire to do so. Or was creation not something He freely chose to do but something that He *had* to do?

"One way to understand this is to note that the gift of being is an incommensurate good because its contrary is to not be, that is, it is nothing."

I wonder if an African child that is born in squalor, lives a few short years, constantly suffering from the pain of hunger, who then dies from malnutrition or disease would agree with you that it was better to "be" than never to have existed at all? I'm not sure that most Westerners truly grasp the extent to which some unfortunates suffer in this life.

...but then it makes no sense to excoriate God for not making this world a better world, because given any possible world there is always a possible better one.

Will there be a possible world better than the next one (Heaven)? If not, then that means there is at least one possible world that is considered to be ultimate, and the question would remain as to why God did not create the best or ultimate world the first time around.

I believe that classical theism's view of God does defang the POE somewhat but at the cost of raising a few other questions. It also seems to reduce the goodness of God as seen from our human perspective.

B. Prokop said...

"it is not coherent to say that God has a desire"

I disagree:

Luke 13:38 - "How often I have longed gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings."

Luke 22:15 - "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you"

Mark 3:13 - "And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired"

rank sophist said...

grod,

Excellent analysis. I disagree that God lacks all desires, though. While I don't believe that you can speak at all univocally about them, the system he created implies that he "desires" that humans freely come to him.

Walter,

Some of the most religious people are those who experience the most suffering. It gives you an entirely new perspective on life, and every small happiness--and your existence in the first place--takes on a light that most pampered Westerners never understand: a gift beyond measure. The more pain, the more you appreciate what you have. Admittedly, this isn't the case with absolutely everyone (particularly those with a humanized conception of God), but it holds true in a surprising number of cases.

grodrigues said...

@Walter:

You seem to be using the word "desire" as a stand in for "reason" or "motive". You are free to do so, but then, given what God Is, it only bears a thin connection with what the word "desire" usually means for us human beings.

"I'm not sure that most Westerners truly grasp the extent to which some unfortunates suffer in this life."

Maybe so, but it is also irrelevant to what I said. And it also implicitly assumes that "this life" is all the life there is.

"The question would remain as to why God did not create the best or ultimate world the first time around."

The idea of "best or ultimate world" is incoherent, as I already said. Why did God create human beings, with material bodies, instead of as something akin to the angels, enjoying the Beatific Vision right from the start? Maybe because human beings are *not* akin to angels and have material bodies per their essence, so if God had created human beings as angels or semi-angels there would be no human beings to ponder why did God create human beings. Why did God create human beings? Why did God create at all? Those are genuinely difficult questions and I could try to essay some incomplete, very partial answers. But this will inevitably enter in the terrain of revealed doctrine, and it is also where I call a stop as far as my public participation goes.

"It also seems to reduce the goodness of God as seen from our human perspective."

"Seems" and "human perspective" are very apt. Honestly, rooting out error and getting at the Truth, even in the most limited and partial ways available to us, is preferable to whatever equivocal reductions of "the goodness of God" it might entail.

@B. Prokop:

I am not going to enter into the minefield of Biblical exegesis, in part because there are atheists in the audience and I am not going to give them the satisfaction of seeing one of us (or both) get our legs blown off. I will just content myself in pointing out that you surely must know about the incarnation and the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in Jesus.

@rank sophist:

"While I don't believe that you can speak at all univocally about them, the system he created implies that he "desires" that humans freely come to him."

He "desires" in the sense that He wills the good for His creatures, which is, in virtue of their created natures, that they freely choose Him. I suppose you can call this desire, but to me it is stretching the word beyond its ordinary, normal uses. And then again, English is not primary language, so what do I know?

B. Prokop said...

Grodrigues,

(Atheists may skip the following paragraph.)

Appreciate your concerns, but I always feel one is on safe ground when you go straight to Jesus. I read 90% of the Old Testament rather allegorically, and 100% of Revelations, but when it comes to the Gospels, then you are face-to-face with the Word of God Himself. And although we can know almost nothing about God (we being mortal and finite, whilst He is infinite), the best way to know anything about Him is to look at Christ. ("To have seen me is to have seen the Father") I don't think you'll go wrong by assuming that everything you find in the Gospels about Jesus is an attribute of God.

Papalinton said...

I read the OT and the NT in the same way that I read the Egyptian "Book of the Dead", without apportioning any personally contrived perception of distinction between fact and fantasy. I was somewhat amused at the similarity of the stories. The Book of the Dead appears to be a dress rehearsal, an earlier and arguably less refined antecedent of the christian fable, onto which other accretions and borrowings from surrounding Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman beliefs systems found a natural and comfortable fit.

Walter said...

The idea of "best or ultimate world" is incoherent, as I already said.

Most Christians will claim that Heaven *will* be the best possible world, so the idea does not seem all that incoherent after all. Perhaps I am misunderstanding something here?

Classical theists seem willing to admit that our world is imperfect, and this imperfection seems to predate the arrival of mankind, making it difficult to blame the imperfection on human rebellion, so the question is: Why would a perfect Creator create imperfection on purpose?

rank sophist said...

Walter,

Why would a perfect creator do something else instead?

Walter said...

Why would a perfect creator do something else instead?

It's wild speculation to guess why a deity would do any particular thing over another, so I'll leave it there. I am still curious, though, as to whether the classical theist believes that Heaven -- whether it be in a Platonic realm or on a redeemed earth -- is the best of all possible worlds. If the answer is yes, then the concept of a best possible world is not incoherent. If the answer is no, then this would suggest that Heaven is a little or a lot better than our world but not as good as God could create. That doesn't seem to square too well with Christian theology.

rank sophist said...

Heaven is generally considered more of a state of being than a world comparable to ours. But, yes, perhaps you could describe it as the "best of all possible worlds" if you want to stretch terms. I assume that your next question will be, "Why didn't God just cut straight to Heaven and not bother with our imperfect universe?"

A Thomist answer might go something like this. In experiencing God--who, again, is the summary of all perfections--a human has no ability to choose. While living, we choose between pursuit of one perfection or another; but there is only a single, ultimate perfection present in the Beatific Vision. Therefore, we cannot choose anything. Plus, sin becomes impossible, because no choosing means no ability to make the wrong choice.

This, in turn, means that our ability to freely choose God ceases to exist. If God had created the Beatific Vision and nothing else, then man's purpose--coming to know God through free choice--could never have been fulfilled. So, because of this, it's necessary that something besides the Beatific Vision be created.

Matt DeStefano said...


This, in turn, means that our ability to freely choose God ceases to exist. If God had created the Beatific Vision and nothing else, then man's purpose--coming to know God through free choice--could never have been fulfilled. So, because of this, it's necessary that something besides the Beatific Vision be created.


I think there's two large problems with this:

(1) There's no logical incompatibility with human beings having the freedom of choice and still always choosing moral good. Certainly, there is a possible world in which people have free will and always choose the moral good. It stands to reason why God didn't actualize that world rather than the one we have now.

(2) Not all evil is caused by man's freedom of choice. After all, the vast (read 99.9999999%) of suffering has occurred before man even came onto the scene. Why should God instantiate a world in which there was so much suffering prior to the it's supposed purpose?

rank sophist said...

There's no logical incompatibility with human beings having the freedom of choice and still always choosing moral good. Certainly, there is a possible world in which people have free will and always choose the moral good. It stands to reason why God didn't actualize that world rather than the one we have now.

There is quite an incompatibility there. No one acting against the moral good is tantamount to no one having the ability to act against the moral good. If that was the case, then man would not have free will, and his entire purpose (at least according to Christianity) would go out the window.

Not all evil is caused by man's freedom of choice. After all, the vast (read 99.9999999%) of suffering has occurred before man even came onto the scene. Why should God instantiate a world in which there was so much suffering prior to the it's supposed purpose?

First, you're conflating evil and suffering again. Evil is a very specific thing that only man is capable of performing. Suffering is an imperfection in our world--nothing more, nothing less.

Also, why should God instantiate one world rather than another? If you read any of the discussion above, you would see that it's an incoherent question to ask.

Matt DeStefano said...

There is quite an incompatibility there. No one acting against the moral good is tantamount to no one having the ability to act against the moral good. If that was the case, then man would not have free will, and his entire purpose (at least according to Christianity) would go out the window.

It's a pretty gross error to assert that acting is tantamount to having the capacity to act. Whenever I have the choice between drinking an IPA and a stout, I choose the IPA. This doesn't mean that I don't have the ability to choose the stout - I simply don't act upon that possibility.

There's no logical impossibility here. If God has the choice between two logically possible worlds, why not instantiate the one in which we always choose the good?

Or, why not doctor our desires such that we have very little desire to rape/steal/kill/lie, etc.? Why would God make it so that evil is more attractive to us in some instances?

First, you're conflating evil and suffering again. Evil is a very specific thing that only man is capable of performing. Suffering is an imperfection in our world--nothing more, nothing less.

What I'm asking doesn't depend on this distinction, so I must be failing to show you the connection I'm making. If, as you say, God is the "summary of all perfections" (whatever that means), why would God bother instantiating an imperfect world?

One such story, as we find in the Bible, is that God didn't. Originally, he gave us a world that was absent of suffering/death, and we messed that up - royally. Knowing what we know about evolution, this story no longer lines up. There was plenty of death and suffering before human beings got on the scene.

Of course, perhaps you don't buy the "Fall" story. If the Thomists have a different answer to the question of "Why did God bother creating this world?"

Also, why should God instantiate one world rather than another? If you read any of the discussion above, you would see that it's an incoherent question to ask.

Why should God bother to create at all?

BenYachov said...

>One such story, as we find in the Bible, is that God didn't. Originally, he gave us a world that was absent of suffering/death, and we messed that up - royally.

>Knowing what we know about evolution, this story no longer lines up. There was plenty of death and suffering before human beings got on the scene.

I am sorry but you are 100% Wrong.

Are we back to this "There was no animal suffering before the fall" nonsense? Augustine and Aquinas both taught clearly meat eating animals hunted prey before the fall. The Bible doesn't tell us otherwise.

Anyway rank sophist and grodrigues are correct.

God is not a moral agent or a Theistic Personalist "deity". God is metaphysical and ontologically good not "morally" good in the uneqiovocal way a human happens to be. Also given God's nature as understood in Thomism and Church Dogma. God has no obligations too us and thank God for that.

He can't coherently be thought of as a moral agent.

>Why should God bother to create at all?

Purely as a generous gratuitous act of Good on His part.

Enough of this Theodicy nonsense. Theodicy is for "deities" who are moral agents not the God of Abraham or Aquinas.

People need to read Brian Davies and get over this Theodicy nonsense.

BenYachov said...

Tomorrow night I am going to give this topic the full ben yachov!

rank sophist said...

It's a pretty gross error to assert that acting is tantamount to having the capacity to act. Whenever I have the choice between drinking an IPA and a stout, I choose the IPA. This doesn't mean that I don't have the ability to choose the stout - I simply don't act upon that possibility.

There's no logical impossibility here. If God has the choice between two logically possible worlds, why not instantiate the one in which we always choose the good?

Or, why not doctor our desires such that we have very little desire to rape/steal/kill/lie, etc.? Why would God make it so that evil is more attractive to us in some instances?


If

1. God created a world in which humans never did evil; then

2. evil could not be accomplished; and therefore

3. evil would be impossible.

Anyway, theologically, human evil is a consequence of the Fall. What reason would God have to change any of it? To clean up man's mistake?

What I'm asking doesn't depend on this distinction, so I must be failing to show you the connection I'm making. If, as you say, God is the "summary of all perfections" (whatever that means), why would God bother instantiating an imperfect world?

By "summary of all perfections", I'm referring to the somewhat Neo-Platonistic view that any instantiation of near-perfection (goodness, legitimacy, truth, beauty, etc.) in our world is grounded in a being that contains all of these perfections without multiplicity. (In other words, the many good/true/beautiful things that we know are taking from that which is only one good/true/beautiful thing, which also happens to be greater than even the sum of all good/true/beautiful in our world.)

Anyway, so that I can stop repeating myself with regard to "the best of all possible worlds", I'll just refer you to grodrigues's link: http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/boapw.html

One such story, as we find in the Bible, is that God didn't. Originally, he gave us a world that was absent of suffering/death, and we messed that up - royally. Knowing what we know about evolution, this story no longer lines up. There was plenty of death and suffering before human beings got on the scene.

I was almost positive that you had this wrong, but a quick Google search confirmed it. The idea that death did not exist before the Fall is a YEC myth: http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/death.html

Why should God bother to create at all?

There is no reason anyone can give to explain why God should create something rather than nothing. However, in explaining why God did create something rather than nothing, one might appeal to his will to create man.

rank sophist said...

The above should be, "all that is good/true/beautiful in our world."

Matt DeStefano said...

Are we back to this "There was no animal suffering before the fall" nonsense? Augustine and Aquinas both taught clearly meat eating animals hunted prey before the fall. The Bible doesn't tell us otherwise.

Pinning down Christian theology is like pinning down jello. B Prokop says God has desires, rank says He doesn't. Atheists should really just let you guys pick the God first before we go about trying to make arguments for it's non-existence. Anyway, most Christians seem to take the position I just laid out, using 1 Gen 29-30 for scriptural support. (emphasis mine)

29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

Not only that - but my position isn't just about animals eating other animals - but animals being killed by forest fires, by tornadoes, tsunamis, ice ages, etc. It's also about the humans that died before the Fall (when did that happen, anyway?).

God is not a moral agent or a Theistic Personalist "deity". God is metaphysical and ontologically good not "morally" good in the uneqiovocal way a human happens to be. Also given God's nature as understood in Thomism and Church Dogma. God has no obligations too us and thank God for that.


An impersonal God? Wow, that doesn't sound like the God of the Bible. I'll let you, Plantinga, Craig, van Inwagen and others fight that one out. Your own camp can't even get straight what the proposition is.

Enough of this Theodicy nonsense. Theodicy is for "deities" who are moral agents not the God of Abraham or Aquinas.

If God acts (and I assume you think He does act), then his actions can be either moral or immoral, right?

rank sophist said...

Matt,

That's the very line that my link said was used to support the erroneous views of YEC types.

Also, playing the "even Christians don't agree" card is an old, old debating trick. It doesn't strengthen your argument at all.

Walter said...

As I have stated earlier, classical theism does take a lot of the bite out of the POE, but it does it at the expense of God's reputation among the common folk. CT posits a God who doesn't care whether you suffer or not in this life. The God of CT is doing you a favor just letting you exist in the first place, and if your existence is filled with physical suffering and mental anguish for the majority of your days then you still have to praise God for the blessing of "being" that was bestowed upon you.

BenYachov said...

>Pinning down Christian theology is like pinning down jello. B Prokop says God has desires, rank says He doesn't. Atheists should really just let you guys pick the God first before we go about trying to make arguments for it's non-existence. Anyway, most Christians seem to take the position I just laid out, using 1 Gen 29-30 for scriptural support. (emphasis mine).

Bob isn't using precise or traditional Catholic philosophical terms. I'm sorry but the lame one size fits all contra-religious polemics you learned from Dawkins and the other Gnus isn't rational or profetable.

You have to deal with the God I believe in not the one you wish you believed in to make your anti-fundamentalist polemics less of a non-starter.

>I just laid out, using 1 Gen 29-30 for scriptural support. (emphasis mine)

You think God is talking to the dumb non-souled animals here? Sorry but this verse clearly refers to man alone.

>An impersonal God? Wow, that doesn't sound like the God of the Bible. I'll let you, Plantinga, Craig, van Inwagen and others fight that one out. Your own camp can't even get straight what the proposition is.

Sorry but I never said God is impersonal. I said He is not unequivocally compared to a human person. God is "personal" in the sense he has Will and Intellect. But he is not a human person.

What you never read that verse that said "I am not a man" or "God's ways aren't our ways"? There is more but tonight with my copy of Davies in had I will expand on my themes.

>If God acts (and I assume you think He does act), then his actions can be either moral or immoral, right?

No that is incoherent besides all the Protestant Theists you just named are Theistic Personalist except Craig view of God is a hybrid of CT vs TP.


So many mistakes and stuff you need to unlearn.

Walter has a better idea (but still incomplete).

More later.

BenYachov said...

BTW can't help but notice you have quoted Protestant translations.

the Douay says:

And to all the beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done.

So really enough of this Animals never "suffered" before the fall bullshit.


We are Catholics not YEC prots.

Even our YEC's know better.

grodrigues said...

@Walter:

"CT posits a God who doesn't care whether you suffer or not in this life."

If by this you mean that the God is indifferent to the plight of human beings, then that is positively and outrageously false.

"The God of CT is doing you a favor just letting you exist in the first place"

To "do you a favor", there must be an addressable "you" in the first place, which is precisely what granting being-ness God freely does. But there is a sense that can be made out of this, though, so you are not wrong, just a tad sloppy in the formulation.

"if your existence is filled with physical suffering and mental anguish for the majority of your days then you still have to praise God for the blessing of "being" that was bestowed upon you."

I do not know what we are supposed to make of your putting "" around being. Whatever the amount of suffering, being is being, period. Since to not be is well, nothing, what comparison can be drawn between being and not being? *None* at all. You are simply equivocating. Is being freely given? Yes. Does anyone deserve it? No. And as said above, in one sense, the question does not even make sense, but insofar as God is the source of all creaturely goodness, and all creaturely goodness is a free gift from Him, it can be said that God is freely giving *you* all good things (as the epistle of James so aptly puts it -- too lazy to transcript the exact quote). Is not the usual reaction to free gifts one of thanks and praise? Yes. Does God stand in a direct causal relationship to our "physical suffering and mental anguish"? No. Why? Because "physical suffering and mental anguish" is an imperfection and imperfection is not a something, like trees, rocks, and people are. Imperfection in a thing is the gap between what is and what should or could be given the essence of the thing; it is not a something with attributes that God makes or to which He stands in a direct causal relationship.

Walter said...

Does God stand in a direct causal relationship to our "physical suffering and mental anguish"? No.

All causes trace back to God, so it is cold comfort to tell an individual who is suffering that God is not directly causing your pain.

Walter said...


"CT posits a God who doesn't care whether you suffer or not in this life."

If by this you mean that the God is indifferent to the plight of human beings, then that is positively and outrageously false.


Care to show me that based purely on philosophical arguments? I am not interested in appeals to special revelation.

grodrigues said...

@Walter:

"All causes trace back to God, so it is cold comfort to tell an individual who is suffering that God is not directly causing your pain."

The sentence after the comma does not follow from the one before.

First it was the fact that some westerners do not realize the depths of pain some people in Africa undergo (presumably, you are one of the few that does), now it is the fact the a rigorous argument is only a "cold comfort" (presumably, you have something more comforting to say).

And you *do* realize how a Christian responds to that do you not? With the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is part of *revealed* doctrine, which I did not mentioned because I wanted to stick to natural theology as much as possible. But since you have nothing but cheap rhetorical appeals to emotion, I guess I cannot be faulted by appealing to it.

BenYachov said...

>Care to show me that based purely on philosophical arguments? I am not interested in appeals to special revelation.

Easy we exist.

End of argument.

After all Being/Existence is via the philosophical doctrine of the transcendentals iinterchangeable with goodness.

God has given us good by giving us being then God must care for us in some way.

If God did not care he would not create us or bother to give us being which he does not owe us.

BenYachov said...

Take over from here grodrigues. I got work to do.

BenYachov said...

>All causes trace back to God, so it is cold comfort to tell an individual who is suffering that God is not directly causing your pain.

Bullshit! I have found it an awesome comfort I can't coherently or intellectually blame God for my kids being autistic. Therefore I can't be mad at him.

Thus I am free from the tyranny of making excuses for God's seemingly morally bad behavior with dumb arse Theodicies.

God is simply the Ultimate Metaphysical Good otherwise known as Goodness Itself that can't coherently be called a moral agent anymore then He can be said coherently to have good posture.

What's not to love?

Now I mean it I will wait till later to post.

Walter said...

@grodrigues


And you *do* realize how a Christian responds to that do you not? With the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ

I specifically asked for a philosophical argument, not a tired appeal to Christian dogma. Try again.

Walter said...

"Care to show me that based purely on philosophical arguments? I am not interested in appeals to special revelation."

Easy we exist.

End of argument.


Animals exist. Does God care for the plight of animals? You'll have to do better than that, Ben.

Bullshit! I have found it an awesome comfort I can't coherently or intellectually blame God for my kids being autistic. Therefore I can't be mad at him.

I am glad that God not directly giving your kid's autism is a comfort for you. I am not sure how comforting it would be to me. An atheist could avail of themselves the same comfort, believing that the uncaring universe did not directly target them for pain and suffering. Shit happens, right?

Your belief is that God instantiated a world in which your kids would have autism, but God says "it's nothing personal!"

BenYachov said...

>Animals exist. Does God care for the plight of animals? You'll have to do better than that, Ben.

This response makes no sense? It's emotional not logical. I don't do emotional arguments guy. You should know that by now.

Animals are material beings only without spiritual souls. There is no reason to believe their "suffering" is like ours. If I believe Thomas Nagel I don't know what it's like to be a bat. So how can I know what the "subjective" experience of an animal is when it is hurt?

Rowe's faun doesn't move me till he turns the damn thing into a five year old human child. Then my empathy turns on full power.

>I am glad that God not directly giving your kid's autism is a comfort for you. I am not sure how comforting it would be to me.

Why would it not be comforting to know you can't coherently or logically blame the Pure Actuality who both created you and you love?

>An atheist could avail of themselves the same comfort, believing that the uncaring universe did not directly target them for pain and suffering. Shit happens, right?

Which is what makes Classic Theism so freakin awesome! I have all the benefits of an Atheist who can't coherently morally blame the Universe without the smug self-righteous non-belief.

Besides nature abhors a vacuum. Even the late Carl Sagan had a love for reality and the Cosmos that resembled "worship" to some bystanders.

>Your belief is that God instantiated a world in which your kids would have autism, but God says "it's nothing personal!"

There you go again projecting some Theistic Personalist bullshit on God.

Rather I know God doesn't own me anything. By way of imperfect analogy(since Donald Trump is a moral agent but not every moral agent has every moral burden) Trump doesn't owe me any money. He is not obligated to give me any. If he in an act of gratuitious benificience chooses to pay my morrage but not my property taxes then all he is guilty of is being unneccisarly generious in regards to my morage.

God created me & if he only gave me that good it would be more than he need have ever done for me.

The logic is flawless.

I can logically be nothing but grateful for the good I have since I was not owed it in the first place. I need not have existed.

One you accept this truth the POE dies.

Matt DeStefano said...

rank,

If

1. God created a world in which humans never did evil; then

2. evil could not be accomplished; and therefore

3. evil would be impossible.



You're seriously misunderstanding logical possibility, here. Consider my beer analogy again:

1. God created a world in which Matt always chose IPA over Stout
2. Matt choosing a Stout could never be accomplished
3. Matt choosing a Stout is impossible

This is Logic 101. There's no move that gets you from (1) to (2). The could in (2) will work if you change it to "Matt choosing a Stout [would] never be accomplished", but there is no reason it can't be. You're going to have to give me some reason to accept this rather than just wrongly asserting it, twice.

Anyway, theologically, human evil is a consequence of the Fall. What reason would God have to change any of it? To clean up man's mistake?

By your use of the term "change", I think you are failing to comprehend how modal logic operates. Possible worlds are not actual world segments, and do not refer to "changes" in the actual world. I'm not saying God should "change" anything, but that God, being a perfect being, ought have instantiated the world without imperfection.


By "summary of all perfections", I'm referring to the somewhat Neo-Platonistic view that any instantiation of near-perfection (goodness, legitimacy, truth, beauty, etc.) in our world is grounded in a being that contains all of these perfections without multiplicity. (In other words, the many good/true/beautiful things that we know are taking from that which is only one good/true/beautiful thing, which also happens to be greater than even the sum of all good/true/beautiful in our world.)

Re-read my question. You failed to even remotely answer it.

I was almost positive that you had this wrong, but a quick Google search confirmed it. The idea that death did not exist before the Fall is a YEC myth: http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/death.html

Did you even read this joke of a website? This site disagrees with your own conception of God. Anyway, the reason this site gives for it being a "myth" is so weak and obviously a stretch I couldn't help but post it:

"However, the verse does not say that all animals ate only plants. It merely says that the plants were given as food. Ultimately, all animals rely upon plants for food - even the carnivores. In addition, this decree was never rescinded as it was for humans.7 There is no verse in the Bible stating that animals could, at some point, start eating meat."

So, since there isn't a verse in the Bible saying that animals "could, at some point, start eating meat" we should conclude that they always were allowed to? The last paragraph indicates that the names Adam gives to the creatures indicates their carnivorous activity.

Of course - these are the same names the Hebrew people gave to animals. Are we going to really assert that the first human beings spoke Hebrew? That those were the names that the first human being gave to creatures before the Fall? One who has even a remote education in anthropology should find the serious holes in that.

Matt DeStefano said...

Bob isn't using precise or traditional Catholic philosophical terms. I'm sorry but the lame one size fits all contra-religious polemics you learned from Dawkins and the other Gnus isn't rational or profetable.

You have to deal with the God I believe in not the one you wish you believed in to make your anti-fundamentalist polemics less of a non-starter.


I know, I know. I hear this from every theist. "You're not talking about my God. Here's the problem: there's at least 3 different God's in this thread alone. Your God has a Will, rank's doesn't (it doesn't have desires - which I imagine precludes it having a will), B Prokop and you differ about God having emotions... etc. It's nice to say that us silly atheists are avoiding the "real" God, but when we ask which one that is - we get a million different answers.

Imagine going into a philosophical debate and the proposition you are debating changes between each round. At some point, you're going to get tired of reformulating the argument.

BTW can't help but notice you have quoted Protestant translations.

the Douay says:

And to all the beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done.


Wow, it's pretty blatantly dishonest to use a different translation and leave out the verse that proves my point. Here's the actual Douay Genesis 1: 29-30:

"[29] And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat: [30] And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done. [Genesis 1:29-30] [Latin]"

Notice that verse [30] is an extension of verse [29]. It's meant to extend to: ALL BEASTS OF THE EARTH. To EVERY FOWL OF THE AIR, and TO ALL THAT MOVE UPON THE EARTH. The word games that you guys play to make your beliefs fit are incredible.

rank sophist said...

Walter,

There's a wide gulf between "God isn't obligated to prevent suffering" and "God is indifferent to suffering". The entire Christian position is based, as grodrigues said, on God being incarnated and then dying torturously. Your question presents absolutely no problem in that regard. If we were Jews or Muslims, it might take a bit more effort--but probably not much. If you want a natural-theology response, I recommend Ben's.

grodrigues said...

@Walter:

"I specifically asked for a philosophical argument, not a tired appeal to Christian dogma. Try again."

I could expand on what Ben Yachov said, but why should I? It is not like you have given a single cogent argument or shown a genuine effort in understanding classical theism. And while we as Christians, being fools in our own particular ways, are entreated to suffer the foolishness of others, it breaks all the measures of my patience being treated to arrogant ignorance parading itself as knowledge. But there is another reason and a far more important one, and it is that I am a Christian. It is not like my mind is compartmentalized: a tiny bit for Christianity, another bit for natural theology, and yet another for bashing-irrational-unscientific-traffickers-in-uncaused-events. Truth is One and my answers, as far as I can articulate them, will reflect that unity. What you "specifically asked", what you want, what you find "comforting" or a "tired appeal to Christian dogma" is, quite frankly, irrelevant to me. Why you think I should give in to your demands, irrational at that, is beyond me. Want a philosophical argument? How about reading a book and stop playing the ignoramus? There is only so much of an answer that natural theology can provide, and I can already imagine after giving it being treated to another of your cheap appeals to emotion. So sorry, not this time. Need references? They were provided already. Do not like my answer? Well, I do not like yours either, so there's that.

Walter said...

@grodrigues

Thank you.

I take your screed as a tacit admission that absent appeals to special revelation there is no good argument that God cares about the plight of humans.

grodrigues said...

@Walter:

"I take your screed as a tacit admission that absent appeals to special revelation there is no good argument that God cares about the plight of humans."

I suggest you take it with a glass of water and a potent laxative.

Walter said...

grodrigues, if anyone is getting emotional in this thread it is you. I have displayed no overt emotion in this thread and I appreciate civil discussion like I have received from rank sophist.

Cheers.

Walter said...

@Ben

>Your belief is that God instantiated a world in which your kids would have autism, but God says "it's nothing personal!"

There you go again projecting some Theistic Personalist bullshit on God.


Ben, your comfort comes from the fact that you don't believe that God made a personal decision to inflict trials and tribulations on your family. You believe that God set up a system where rain falls on the just and unjust alike. Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good. Any suffering which you endure is not personal. Your comfort comes from your belief in a God who does not engage in meticulous providence--a position that is hotly debated within your own faith tradition. I don't know where your getting that I was projecting Theistic Personalist bullshit? I think that you tend to toss that line out a little too glibly as a canned knee-jerk response to anyone who deviates in the slightest from your viewpoint.

rank sophist said...

Matt,

More incredible is the word game you're playing to justify an anachronistic YEC interpretation of scripture. As Ben wrote, that was not the position even of Aquinas or Augustine, who could never have anticipated evolution. I know that atheists are the ultimate Biblical literalists, but this is pretty bad.

Also, most of the "differences" you're seeing between us are the result of word choice. I agree with both Ben and grodrigues, and I think B. Prokop probably would, too, if we spent enough time explaining the communication error. Plus, as Ben said, those prominent theists you mentioned are all personalists of one stripe or another. The big divide is between the traditional CT understanding and the recently created theistic personalism.

Walter said...

@rank sophist

I am only interested in philosophical arguments because I am a deist, which by definition means that I do not accept revealed theology nor am I interested in what the Bible, Koran, or the Vedas sayon any given subject.

BenYachov said...

@Matt

>Notice that verse [30] is an extension of verse [29]. It's meant to extend to: ALL BEASTS OF THE EARTH. To EVERY FOWL OF THE AIR, and TO ALL THAT MOVE UPON THE EARTH. The word games that you guys play to make your beliefs fit are incredible.

But your basing your claims on the English translations and on a fundamentalist literalism which was unknown among the Fathers & Alien to Catholics.

Augustine read the texts in Greek and Latin you are giving me your English isogesis without any reference to tradition or church authority.

Catholics don't do perspicuity, Private Interpretation or Sola Scriptura.

Besides Augustine & Philo & others noted you can't take both Gen 2:4 and Genesis One literally since Genesis 2:4 seems to place the creation of the Heaven and the Earth at the same time as the creation of Man. Genesis One has the later on the 6th day & the former on the 1st day. Augustine concluded God could & would likely create everything all at once so he took from this the doctrine of instantaneous creation.

Thus Genesis one is an allegory. Other western Fathers would note there was nothing in the text that forbade animals from Eating other animals.

>I know, I know. I hear this from every theist. "You're not talking about my God. Here's the problem: there's at least 3 different God's in this thread alone.

That's not my problem. We have more rational philosophical Atheists like you & we have Paps or BI who aren't very swift on the Philosophical uptake and reject philosophy in favor of science alone. We have dogmatic Fundie Atheist who insist Atheism solely means "Lack of god-belief" and other who say "No I believe there are no gods". Materialism, Naturalism, Metaphysical naturalism, Deism and even Platonic Atheism.

Boo hoo! People are different and what works on some doesn't work on other.

>Imagine going into a philosophical debate and the proposition you are debating changes between each round. At some point, you're going to get tired of reformulating the argument.

Why not simply accept the brute fact there is no such thing as a one size fits all anti-religous polemic?

You don't see me bitching because my anti-materialist polemics don't phase a Platonic Atheist!

That's life son & the POE is different for the Classic Theist and the Classic Theist doesn't presupose a God with any obligations to his creatures. Otherwise it's not God.

Adapt or perish!

rank sophist said...

Walter,

Actually, that's not entirely accurate. As the CT God is the source of all change, being, perfection and directedness at every moment, it could be said that God does engage in "meticulous providence" of a sort. The key difference is that imperfections, being an inherent part of the natural order, occur as a byproduct. As a result, it could be said that, although God created a world in which imperfections can exist, He is not causing them directly at every moment. He merely allows them to happen. So, you're half right--perhaps three-quarters right.

Also, I think grodrigues has been arguing in comboxes for too long. Your comments never struck me as being in bad faith, but he automatically assumed the worst. It's probably a side-effect of debating people like BeingItself.

grodrigues said...

@rank sophist:

"Also, I think grodrigues has been arguing in comboxes for too long. Your comments never struck me as being in bad faith, but he automatically assumed the worst. It's probably a side-effect of debating people like BeingItself."

I genuinely laughed out loud reading this. Probably true, probably true. Polemics is not exactly conducive to forming a sweet temper.

@Walter:

"Cheers."

and cheers to you, my good Sir.

Apologies for my impatient temper.

Matt DeStefano said...

Besides Augustine & Philo & others noted you can't take both Gen 2:4 and Genesis One literally since Genesis 2:4 seems to place the creation of the Heaven and the Earth at the same time as the creation of Man. Genesis One has the later on the 6th day & the former on the 1st day. Augustine concluded God could & would likely create everything all at once so he took from this the doctrine of instantaneous creation.

Boy, you are a skilled bait-and-switch. First, I shouldn't rely on "Protestant" translation and am referred to a Douay translation which you intentionally cut brief in order not to betray your own position. Once I show you that your own translation rules out your original position, now I am referred to "divine revelation" by the powers that be and the words of Aquinas and others.

First you say "Sorry, but this verse clearly refers to man alone." Then, when I show how mistaken you are (by any translation!), you revert back to relying on Aquinas and others. Look, if the people who translated either the Douay / or the "Protestant" KJV are wrong - then show me why instead of saying "you should read Aquinas".

I'm trying not to let my frustration bleed through too much - but I can't help but think you are intentionally obfuscating the issue here.

That's not my problem. We have more rational philosophical Atheists like you & we have Paps or BI who aren't very swift on the Philosophical uptake and reject philosophy in favor of science alone. We have dogmatic Fundie Atheist who insist Atheism solely means "Lack of god-belief" and other who say "No I believe there are no gods". Materialism, Naturalism, Metaphysical naturalism, Deism and even Platonic Atheism.

Lack of god-belief and "No I believe there are no gods" are compatible claims. They may vary in degree, but there's no incompatibility between the two. OTOH - the gods in this thread all have incompatible characteristics. Not only that, but you all disagree with how to even know God's characteristics. B Prokop argues we should go to the words of Jesus in the NT, while you and rank seem to depend on the "Church Fathers" for guidance.

While it's obviously not adequate to dismiss a position simply because it's in opposition with others, you can imagine the frustration a philosophically inclined atheist feels when the goal posts are constantly moving.

More incredible is the word game you're playing to justify an anachronistic YEC interpretation of scripture. As Ben wrote, that was not the position even of Aquinas or Augustine, who could never have anticipated evolution. I know that atheists are the ultimate Biblical literalists, but this is pretty bad.

Is the argument from authority the most powerful case you've got? You've given me no independent reason to take this "those were just allegorical" jargon seriously. It's another case of bait and switch. Your first response to me quoting the verse was to say that I was mis-reading it, and then to link me to a website. I showed the gross errors in critical reasoning in that "God and Science" website, and now it's back to "Well, some old Church Fathers said x, therefore x."

BenYachov said...

>Boy, you are a skilled bait-and-switch. First, I shouldn't rely on "Protestant" translation and am referred to a Douay translation which you intentionally cut brief in order not to betray your own position.
Once I show you that your own translation rules out your original position, now I am referred to "divine revelation" by the powers that be and the words of Aquinas and others.

Clearly you have not shown that since I still see nothing in the text to rule out the existence of carniverous animals. Remember I reject the idea Scripture is plain & I reject it as the sole authority. I read the text with a Catholic mindset not a non-Catholic one.

Your objection is about as meaningful to me as the Baptist who says "Where does the Bible literally say Mary was taken into Heaven with her body?" It's doesn't and it doesn't have too.

>I'm trying not to let my frustration bleed through too much - but I can't help but think you are intentionally obfuscating the issue here.

I don't interpret Scripture or hold the same presupositions about it the way the Protestants you argue with do. Get over it! Accept it! Or any discussion is futile & you are doomed to have discussions with only one narrow species of Christians.

>Lack of god-belief and "No I believe there are no gods" are compatible claims.

But they are not unequivocal. Both an Agnostic & Atheist may "lack god belief" but the Agnostic can't say "there are no gods" without becoming a positive Atheist & former Agnostic.

>B Prokop argues we should go to the words of Jesus in the NT, while you and rank seem to depend on the "Church Fathers" for guidance.

You do realize Bob is a Catholic too and just because he might be emphising one thing doesn't mean he disagrees with us on other things? Right?

>While it's obviously not adequate to dismiss a position simply because it's in opposition with others, you can imagine the frustration a philosophically inclined atheist feels when the goal posts are constantly moving.

Rather said atheists are lazy & anti-intellectual who hold too Dawkins "One size fits all" omni-polemic against religion.

For him Brahman, Pure Actuality/YHWH, Zeus, pink unicorns are the same thing. Well they aren't the same thing. Even in an admitidly godless universe they are not the same thing.

Thus one has to get off one's arse & learn to adapt & one set of polemics for one religion are non-starter objections to another. If you don't learn this then there is no hope for you.

>s the argument from authority the most powerful case you've got?

Catholic believe in Church authority & Tradition with Scripture. That is why we are Catholics and not Baptists. You can't interpret Scripture without authority.

>You've given me no independent reason to take this "those were just allegorical" jargon seriously.

Well you have given me no reason to accept your literalistic interpretation. Since I believe only the Church has authority to interpret the Word listening to your blather is like listening to a non-American telling me what the Constitution really means contrary to American tradition and Supreme Court rullings.

>It's another case of bait and switch. Your first response to me quoting the verse was to say that I was mis-reading it,

Which you where giving me an English translation read appart from Church and Tradition according to cATHOLIC STANDARDS.

Do you get the concept of a non-starter?


>and then to link me to a website. I showed the gross errors in critical reasoning in that "God and Science" website, and now it's back to "Well, some old Church Fathers said x, therefore x."

I'm late to this party I have no idea what you are talking about here?

What "God and Science" website?

grodrigues said...

@Walter:

"I specifically asked for a philosophical argument, not a tired appeal to Christian dogma. Try again."

Ok, I will try again -- but under protest for having to leave my Christianity at the door as it is quite an irrational demand.

Well, in a sense, God *is* indifferent to our plight. Since He is unchangeable, nothing we do or fail to do can have an effect on Him if by effect we imply change. But to say this is not to say much, or rather, we are indulging in a piece of apophatic theology and saying what He is not. To say this, is *not* to say that God is positively indifferent to our plight. For what do we mean when we describe someone as positively indifferent to the plight of others? As an a-moral person, that goes on with his life without the least regard for other people. But to say this of God is clearly nonsense; He freely wills every human being in existence into existence and sustains them in being in the here and now, so if indifference is construed as the same as doing nothing then it is positively and outrageously false.

Maybe He is indifferent in the sense that He has allowed certain privations or did not brought into being certain goods for certain people. But this is just the suggestion that God ought to have created the best of all worlds in a different guise, which is an incoherent suggestion.

Maybe He is indifferent, because evil suffered seems to happen randomly, with no rhyme or reason that we can tell. Even if we buy the "no rhyme or reason" line, once again, this is just a different way of saying that God should have created the best of all worlds or that somehow He owes us the best of all possible worlds, or ought to have given each and everyone of us the best of all possible worlds. This is all incoherent.

Furthermore, since what is Good for us is dictated by our natures and He freely willed our natures into being, it can be said that He positively wills that we pursue the Good, so He cannot be indifferent to our plight since He wills some definite, higher goods for us instead of other, lesser goods (say, the selfish goods pursued by the morally indifferent persons). And as the ultimate source of morality itself, it is hardly coherent to say that He is indifferent to our plight, for not only He enables the very conditions for us to pursue the Good (e.g. invent that new vaccine to bring some measure of relief to the suffering of that African child), He positively entreats us to pursue the Good in that He freely created a world where it is indeed Good for us to pursue just such Goods and not other, different goods, such as the already mentioned selfish goods pursued by persons indifferent to the plight of others.

Maybe more can be added, but I doubt much more from the natural theology angle alone. Glad to be proven otherwise though.

Walter said...

Actually, that's not entirely accurate. As the CT God is the source of all change, being, perfection and directedness at every moment, it could be said that God does engage in "meticulous providence" of a sort.

It's the subtle nuance right here that I am struggling to understand. To keep from picking on Ben's family, let me make up a hypothetical example. Let's imagine a Christian housewife and mother of two, named Sarah, who gets diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 30.

A) Do you believe that God made a conscious, deliberate choice to give Sarah cancer because it serves a greater good in God's divine plan?

-or-

B) God is somewhat more remote and less personal and he merely created a world where people might possibly develop cancer based on a complex web of statistical probabilities, but there was no conscious deliberation to give Sarah cancer? Was Sarah's condition an unintended consequence? Can anything truly be unintended with an omniscient and omnipotent deity? Is there much difference between an Omni-God who allows bad things to happen from one who deliberately causes bad things to happens to serve a greater purpose? Classical Theists appear to be classifying Sarah's condition as collateral damage.

God(B)seems a little more hands-off than God(A). Calvinists tend to argue for God(A). Their God is in meticulous control of every event: past, present, and future. Their God would have made a deliberate, conscious decision to give Sarah cancer.

BenYachov said...

You question implies an Anthropomorphic God who thinks like a human.

I wish you would get over that.

Cancer is a cell pursuing the good of growth at the expense of the body it inhabits.

It is the nature of a material world that some material things compete with other material things for their own good.

Your question implies a God who give communicative Justice. The Classic Theistic God only give distributive justice.

God can't say to me "It's nothing personal" since he A) is no respecter of persons B) Doesn't owe me a response to why I am suffering natural evil.

Matt DeStefano said...

Clearly you have not shown that since I still see nothing in the text to rule out the existence of carniverous animals. Remember I reject the idea Scripture is plain & I reject it as the sole authority. I read the text with a Catholic mindset not a non-Catholic one.

Ben, I understand this and have made it clear that I do. But, here's the problem: we've got the Bible saying one thing, and Aquinas saying [as far as I know - you haven't given me actual quotes or anything of substance to show his position on this] "We shouldn't interpret that literally."You've given me no exegesis besides pointing me to a different translation and attempting to swindle me by leaving out the most poignant verse.

Why should I take Aquinas's word over the Bible? What reason do I have for accepting that Aquinas has a special revelation that is superior in nature to the Bible itself? If your answer is "Well, Catholics just do!" Then we've come to an impasse. I'm not much interested in taking an authority's word just because , especially not one that stands on such morally shaky ground as the Catholic Church.

Which you where giving me an English translation read appart from Church and Tradition according to cATHOLIC STANDARDS.

I hope you can realize the irony here: you GAVE me the translation that you desired and then when I showed it actually endorsed my own reading, you suddenly revert to "Well, now you can't read the English version."

*face palm*

"Well you have given me no reason to accept your literalistic interpretation. Since I believe only the Church has authority to interpret the Word listening to your blather is like listening to a non-American telling me what the Constitution really means contrary to American tradition and Supreme Court rullings."

Is the Fall a literal event or an allegorical event? Did God literally create the world, or is that allegorical too? Did God literally create mankind and animals, or is that allegorical? I could go on and on about the events in Genesis. Since most Christians seem to take the Fall as a literal event, I'm simply inferring that the story that leads up to it is also mostly narrative rather than allegory.

I'm late to this party I have no idea what you are talking about here?

What "God and Science" website?


Sorry, that was intended for rank. I didn't properly differentiate between you two.

Walter said...

You question implies an Anthropomorphic God who thinks like a human.

I wish you would get over that.


The Bible describes an anthropomorphic and anthropopathic deity.

Cancer is a cell pursuing the good of growth at the expense of the body it inhabits.

It is the nature of a material world that some material things compete with other material things for their own good.


Then your response would be that suffering is simply collateral damage.

Matt DeStefano said...

Your question implies a God who give communicative Justice. The Classic Theistic God only give distributive justice.

Ben, could you elaborate on this? This might be the key distinction I am missing as well. AFAIK, distributive justice is about the just allocation of resources within a society. What principle is guiding this distributive justice?

rank sophist said...

Walter,

Grodrigues's explanation is better than whatever I was going to write. I'd like to respond to a few points from your post, though.

God B is closer to the CT God. Unlike God A, the CT God does not decide to do anything "bad" for the "greater good". He creates and sustains a natural order--which, by its nature, is prone to imperfection--that obeys certain logical laws and so forth. Any good we experience is from God, since He is considered the only source of such things; but any imperfection we experience is a result of the natural order.

Notably, the CT God could at any time suspend the natural order to prevent, for example, Sarah's cancer from killing her. However, this brings us back to the question, "Why should God do one thing rather than another?" If Sarah's cancer was miraculously cured, then it would not be a result of any obligation on God's part.

Was Sarah's condition an unintended consequence? Can anything truly be unintended with an omniscient and omnipotent deity?

Omniscience and omnipotence mean that God would have known and could have done something, but did not. Sarah's condition wasn't unintended, but it wasn't intended, either.

Is there much difference between an Omni-God who allows bad things to happen from one who deliberately causes bad things to happens to serve a greater purpose?

Definitely. If God deliberately caused bad things to happen, then He would be directly implicated in the imperfection. This sounds unjust--almost evil. Did God cause the Holocaust? It's insanity to ask that question.

An analogy might be drawn to a portion of the human principle of double effect. In morality, the intent of the act is what decides whether it is good. If one intends something good, but something bad happens instead, then the action is not considered bad. While I don't dare apply this univocally to God, who is not a moral agent, I think it's safe to use the analogy that God directs everything toward the good (given the Fifth Way), but that, as a result of our imperfect world, foreseen but not intended negatives occur. For example, all animals act toward their own good, but this results in the imperfection that some animals will be used for food by other animals. God allows this to happen, but He does not cause it directly. Again, this is a necessarily incomplete analogy, but I think it helps make sense of the situation.

rank sophist said...

Is the argument from authority the most powerful case you've got? You've given me no independent reason to take this "those were just allegorical" jargon seriously. It's another case of bait and switch. Your first response to me quoting the verse was to say that I was mis-reading it, and then to link me to a website. I showed the gross errors in critical reasoning in that "God and Science" website, and now it's back to "Well, some old Church Fathers said x, therefore x."

I missed your other post, unfortunately. Even more unfortunately, I responded to it after reading this, but blogspot deleted it. Hopefully it comes back later on, because it would be a huge pain to rewrite it.

Matt DeStefano said...

No worries, rank. I know what a drag reproducing a lot of content can be.

BenYachov said...

@Matt

>Ben, I understand this and have made it clear that I do. But, here's the problem: we've got the Bible saying one thing, and Aquinas saying
>[as far as I know - you haven't given me actual quotes or anything of substance to show his position on this] "We shouldn't interpret that literally."You've given me no exegesis besides pointing me to a different translation and attempting to swindle me by leaving out the most poignant verse.

I don't know why I have to do your homework for you? An easy google search will lead you too the quotes from either Aquinas or Augustine on animal death before the fall.

But here you go.
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1096.htm

QUOTE"In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state, have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man's sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon. Nor does Bede's gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to some. Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals."END QUOTE


>Why should I take Aquinas's word over the Bible?

You mean your private interpretation of the Bible over Aquinas(or Augustine)? I reject the Reformation heresy that the Bible is perspecuous.

If you claim this teaching is true then show me from the Bible. Kinda of hard to since Peter says (i.e2 Peter 3:15) Paul's teachings can be misunderstood to distruction. The Old Priests interpreted the Law or some Prophet did it then the Pharasee's took the Chair of Moses. But the idea of a clear Bible is not clearly taught in the Bible. But tradition is taught in the Bible (2 Thes 2:15) or (2 Thes 3:6) and the Church Matt 18.

The fact we both dispute the Bible's meaning shows it can't be clear and thus needs an interpretor.

>What reason do I have for accepting that Aquinas has a special revelation that is superior in nature to the Bible itself?

You are assuming here without proof that the Bible's nature is that of a handbook for individual believers not a Constitution for a Church & you assume without proof the Bible is clear and must always be interpreted literally.

Prove these assumptions to me using the Bible alone. Yeh good luck with that!

Also explain to me why the Bible itself calls the Church (1 Tim 3:15) "the Pillar and ground of the Truth" not the Bible?

>If your answer is "Well, Catholics just do!" Then we've come to an impasse. I'm not much interested in taking an authority's word just because , especially not one that stands on such morally shaky ground as the Catholic Church.

The Bible is common ground between the Protestant and the Catholic but not the Atheist and the Catholic. You reject the Bible so it's futile to discuss it at all with you. Rather you must make the philosophical case against the Existence of God & or point out the flaws if any in Catholic philosophy and Theology. But if you dogatically claim Genesis One must be held literally I will point out that contradicts a literal understanding of Genesis 2:4 onward. They both can't be literal. So one must be analigous.

Reason dictates it should be Genesis One.

Even if I deny the existence of God therefore the divine origin of the Bible you would still have to prove the human writters never intended any allegory or metaphorical interpretation of the text.

Yeh good luck with that.

BenYachov said...

Part II
>I hope you can realize the irony here: you GAVE me the translation that you desired and then when I showed it actually endorsed my own reading, you suddenly revert to "Well, now you can't read the English version."

Of course I can do that. Aquinas obviously doesn't believe Gen 1:30 applies to every animal. Without an authority I have no reason to prefer his interpretation over that of Matt the Atheist and his friends at ANSWERS IN GENESIS.

I don't believe in the Koran but even I know no Muslim is going to be impressed by my own self-serving interpretation of the text that contradicts Islamic tradition. For example I have seen Christians cite texts in the Koran that say only Allah can create life and then point to the text in the Koran where Isa Ibn Mirium (i.e. Jesus) turns clay birds into real ones too prove he is Allah made flesh.

Muslims have there own tradition explanations as to why what Isa did is not the same as what Allah does when He creates(Isa is seen as just a channel for Allah's power not a source in itself).

I don't believe in the Koran anymore then you do in the Bible. But I am wise enough to know interpreting it contrary to Islamic tradition and doctrine will never move a Muslim & will be seen as a misinterpretation of the text.

Those are just the brute facts.

>Is the Fall a literal event or an allegorical event?

Why can't it be literal but told in an allegorical way?

>Did God literally create the world, or is that allegorical too? Did God literally create mankind and animals, or is that allegorical? I could go on and on about the events in Genesis.

Atheists with a kneejerk unexamined Protestant either/or mentality are so tedious!

here to get you up to speed.

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/creation-and-genesis

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/09/monkey-in-your-soul.html

http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/kemp-monogenism.pdf

Bonus something from an Orthodox Jewish perspective & tradition which is compatible with Catholic teaching on creation.

The first man.
http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48931772.html

>Since most Christians seem to take the Fall as a literal event,
I'm simply inferring that the story that leads up to it is also mostly narrative rather than allegory.

Most Christians! Bullshit there are a Billion Catholic Catholics and the Church does not say Genesis One must be taken literally. We are the largest Christian group and our Church does not mandate a fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis.

Therefore we have the controlling vote.

Besides the fall is literal but told using an allegory. It's not hard.

Now stop treating me like a Baptist YEC and more like a Catholic Theistic Evolutionist.

I demand it!

BenYachov said...

>Ben, could you elaborate on this? This might be the key distinction I am missing as well. AFAIK, distributive justice is about the just allocation of resources within a society. What principle is guiding this distributive justice?

Well I am a little spent answering your insistence the Bible must be understood threw the interpretive lens of Protestant fundamentalism.

But here is how it's explained in Aquinas.

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1021.htm

You may also want to look up book II chapters 28 to 29 of Summa Contra Gentiles.

Or best easiest of all get a cheap copy of Brian Davies THE REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL.

BenYachov said...

@Walter

>The Bible describes an anthropomorphic and anthropopathic deity.

Not the correct Catholic interpretation of the Bible nor the Orthodox Jewish for that matter and many Protestants like Calvin would puke over any suggestion God is Anthropomorphic.

Walter you are a Deist (with some Agnostic flavors) who rejects the Bible like I told Matt. It's not common ground for us.

>Then your response would be that suffering is simply collateral damage.

Well I was Reading Brian Davies and I fortunatelly have his book REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL in PDF form. I found it on the internet. This saves me the trouble of laboriously copying Davies thoughts. I will answer you in the next post.

BenYachov said...

Quoting Herbert McCabe on Pages 182-183 in REALITY OF GOD..etc.

It may be argued that God could have made a material world without so much sheer pain in it. But let us look at what is being said if we say this. Ordinarily if I have a headache the doctor will explain what brought it about - it was that fifth whiskey last night.
It was the whiskey behaving like good whiskey - as whiskey may
be expected to behave - which brought about my headache. There
is no mystery about my headache. Similarly with my cancer or my
influenza - always there is a natural explanation and always the
explanation is in terms of some things, cells or germs or whatever
doing what comes naturally, being good. Sometimes of course and
rather more often than he admits, the doctor is baffled. But he puts
this down to his own ignorance; he says: 'Well, eventually we may
hope to find out what is causing this, what things are bringing it
about simply by being their good selves, but for the moment we
don't know'. What he does not say is this: there is no explanation
in nature for this, it is an anti-miracle worked by a malignant God.
But that is what he would have to say if he thought that there was
more pain in the world than there need be. More suffering than
there need be would be suffering that had no natural cause, that
was not the obverse of some good, that was scientifically inexplicable
.. . The pain and agony of the world is just what you would
expect to find in a material world - no more and no less. If we think
otherwise we do not just give up belief in a good God, we give up
belief in the rational scientific intelligibility of the world.13END OF McCabe quote.

BenYachov said...

Part II
(Davies remarks)
In reply to this line of argument you might say that it would be best
for there to be no material world in which some things do well while
others do badly.14 However, and passing over the fact that most of us seem glad to be here, it remains that evil suffered cannot be cited in defense of the claim that God wills evil as an end in itself. When it comes to evil suffered, God is only making what, to various degrees, is good. He is intending and effecting nothing but that. You might say that God could have made a material world and prevented any sufferings
in it by a series of miraculous interventions. However, and passing over the difficulties of knowing what such a world would be
like (it certainly would not be anything like ours), it remains that actual evil suffered (evil suffered in the real world) cannot be thought of as directly willed by God as an end in itself.END QUOTE

BenYachov said...

More quotes:

From other things that he says, it is clear that Rowe believes that
there must be more to God's goodness than moral goodness. But,
equally clearly, Rowe takes God's goodness to include this, and he
suggests that those who believe in God predominantly think of his
moral goodness as a matter of conformity to moral demands which
are somehow independent of him (just as my moral goodness might
be thought of in terms of my conformity to requirements over and
above me). And there are many who line up with Rowe on this matter.
According, for instance, to Stephen T. Davis, 'God is good' means 'God never does what is morally wrong; all his intentions and actions are morally right. If it is always morally wrong, say, needlessly to break a promise, this is something God never does. If it is always morally wrong to cause needless suffering, this too is something God never does.'7 Davis goes on to add that God's goodness also consists in the fact that he could do what is morally bad but does not.

Page 85 REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL by brian Davies

BenYachov said...

Page 180

God makes all that is good to be, and that God cannot be accused of creating evil. My claim is that, when it comes to evil suffered, evil is not created by (caused by) God. For God to create is for him to make it to be that something actually exists. The evil in evil suffered, I am saying, does not actually exist. It is what we can
refer to only because we can identify individuals or attributes which actually exist and note ways in which they are failing or lacking when it comes to being. The badness in a diseased cat is nothing real in the cat. It is what we grieve about as we note how an actual cat fails to
thrive in some way.

Page 181
Or, to put it another way, there is
always concomitant good when it comes to evil suffered, for evil
suffered only occurs as something thrives at the expense of something
else. It may be bad for a lamb to be eaten by a lion, yet, as
Herbert McCabe coyly observes, 'the lion is being fulfilled, indeed he is being filled, precisely by what damages the lamb and renders it defective'.11
Another way of making this point is to say that evil suffered is
always, in principle, scientifically explicable. Confronted by evil suffered we seek to understand what it is that by being good in its way renders something bad. We do not throw up our hands and say 'Oh, there is no natural explanation for this'. We look for causes, for things which are doing well considered as what they are, things the flourishing of which accounts for the badness suffered by other things. Once again, therefore, I say that God is only bringing goodness about when it comes to evil suffered.
You might reply that there is more evil suffered than there needs to
be and that God is therefore to be blamed. William Rowe seems to be
saying this. Remember his example of the fawn dying in a forest fire.12
Rowe clearly thinks that the suffering of the fawn is suffering that need not be. In a sense, of course, he is right. It is not logically necessary that there be any fawns at all. But the actual suffering of an actual fawn is only more suffering than there need be (and is therefore, as Rowe likes to say, 'pointless') if it lacks natural causes, if it is scientifically inexplicable. Assuming that it is scientifically explicable, however, then it arises because something other than the fawn is nourishing at some level.END QUOTE

BenYachov said...

@Walter

Now a final quote for now since I don't want to abuse fair use too much.


Page 193 to 194 of REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL by Davies.

And what of the famous claim that God is good because he is loving?
How should we think of God's love when it comes to the topic of God
and evil? I turn to all these questions in the next chapter, in which I
also want to ask how we should think of God as acting for reasons.
Confronted by evil, people often say 'Why has God done or allowed
that?' Before seeking to reply to these people, we might, as I shall
soon be suggesting, pause to ask what the sense of the question is
and whether it; is answerable even in principle.

BenYachov said...

@WALTER
My thoughts.


The trouble I have with your question is that I don't believe it deals with the Problem of Evil but the Mystery of Evil.

The Problem of Evil was for Aquinas an ontological one. If God is an All powerful Divine Good substance then ontologically how could any finite Evil substance exist in the same reality with him?

Like how could matter and anti-matter exist in the same container without cancelling each other out? God being an All powerful good substance would by nature wipe out a non-omnipotent evil substance. Thus how could an all powerful good God exist with any evil?

The answer was simple. Evil is not a substance but a privation and lack of being. An all powerful substance can exist alongside "nothing".

But then why does God tolerate the privation? Because he can actualize potency & bring being out of it as part of His Goodness. Otherwise known as "It's part of the Goodness of God that He allows evil so He can bring good out of it".

Modern Atheists who waste their lives answering Theistic Personalists and their Moral agency "god" falsely see Aquinas explaination as a moral justification for allowing evil. That is wrong. Aquinas does not see God as a moral agent unequivocally compared to a human moral agent.

Now teh Mystery of Evil is why does God create this world with this level of Evil? Granted he could create a better world or a worst world. There is no world so good God is obligated to create it and none so bad as long as it participates in being God should refrain from creating it.

But that doesn't answer the Question why this world. That I doubt we can ever know. We can only know God is not a moral agent and thus the moral problem of evil is solved by virtue of the fact the objection is a non-starter.

BenYachov said...

Thus I can't tell you why Sarah has cancer. I can't coherently say it's part of some Divine plan or Sarah is "collateral" damage.

Either answer seems to be fishing for a good reason to morally justify God allowing Sarah to have cancer.*

(This does not exclude the possibility God might have a knowable reason in some individual cases. Such as the man from the Gospels who was crippled from birth for the purpose of Jesus healing him).

God is not morally obligated to prevent Sarah from getting cancer & he is not morally obligated to cure her if she does. Though if he does intervene thru nature or miracle He can only be praised for doing a Good He is not obligated to do.

There is no world so good God is obligated to create it and none so bad as long as it participates in being that God should refrain from creating it.

But why this world and not that?

We cannot know.

Matt DeStefano said...

Well, the combox got a bit more spammed than I had expected. Admittedly, most of your comments are just more of the same "You don't know the relevant stuff" but now you've added link-spam. I'll probably just cut my losses here and run, this is getting beyond pointless. But I wanted to address the one relevant quote you put up:

QUOTE"In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state, have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man's sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon. Nor does Bede's gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to some. Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals."END QUOTE


Here's Gen 1:30:

"30 Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so."

30 "And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done" (your favorite translation)

I'll give you a hint - the Latin doesn't help here either. It's universa , which means all. While Aquinas's reasoning certainly makes sense, where is he getting this from? Why should I agree with his own revelation that the word "all" doesn't really mean "all"?

BenYachov said...

@Matt

>Well, the combox got a bit more spammed than I had expected. Admittedly, most of your comments are just more of the same "You don't know the relevant stuff" but now you've added link-spam. I'll probably just cut my losses here and run, this is getting beyond pointless. But I wanted to address the one relevant quote you put up:

If you want easy infused knowledge without rolling up your sleaves & doing a little research I can't help you.

If you are not really interested in learning what the real differences are in how different Christian traditions understand the Bible I can't help you.

If you are only here to "win" an argument and not objectively learn the difference between how Catholics treat the Bible vs Protestant fundamentalists and you insist the Protestant fundamentalist version be Ad Hoc declared the default view without argument then I still can't help you.

You clearly don't want to learn anything or be an effective Atheist.

You will be limited to arguing with Fundamentalist Protestants and that will be your total skill set. No Catholic will take you seriously trying to force him into a Protestant procrustian bed.

>I'll give you a hint - the Latin doesn't help here either. It's universa , which means all. While Aquinas's reasoning certainly makes sense, where is he getting this from? Why should I agree with his own revelation that the word "all" doesn't really mean "all"?

Well the Bible says "All have sinned" does that mean God or Jesus or Mary must put under that rubric? How about the Good Angels who sided with God during the War in Heaven? They never sinned. My two low functioning autistic daughters can't be said to have ever sinned. In fact no mentally handicaped or person bellow the age of reason can be guilty of actual sin.

See the difference a little theological reasoning can make in interpreting Scripture without your crass fundamentalism?

Beside from a Catholic perspective it doesn't specifically say "Even birds of prey or animals that hunt I have given every green herb for food."?

It's ambigious enough.

But why are you still bitching about this? Even if I grant you Gen 1:30 literally means all the animals (whose species and types are not specified in the text btw) are to eat only green herbs.

It's still part of the first narative of Creation not the second one and I don't have to take the first narrative literally. Like Philo, Augustine, Origin etc I can take it allegorically because I am not a fundamentalist nor do I believe early Christians or Jews where.

Get over it.

BenYachov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rank sophist said...

Matt,

Why in the world should we pay attention to your interpretation of scripture? The Jewish rabbinic tradition has been offering interpretations of it for thousands of years. The Church Fathers had competing interpretations. Scholars within the various traditions have debated it for hundreds of years (pushing a thousand). Each denomination has its own understanding. People go to college and study this stuff for years to earn degrees. Why would a literalist YEC interpretation by a layman atheist in a combox be the solution after all this time? Are you kidding? Are you high?

As was mentioned by the (otherwise lousy) site I linked initially, your interpretation would mean that animals could sin, that God continued changing nature after the final "day" of creation, and/or that the entire universe fell with man. Neither of the two largest Christian denominations (~1.3 billion in total) buy any of this. At least two of those would probably be considered blasphemous. So why are you right? This is like me picking up the Vedas cold and moralizing to a Hindu. Understand how bad it looks.

Also, WRT your comments about IPA and Stout: if we lived in a world where you always picked IPA, you would never and could never pick Stout. It's right there in the definition of the word "always". If you ever picked Stout--even once--then we would by definition not be living in a world in which you always picked IPA. If you weaken "always" to something like "99.9% of the time", then you concede my initial point that a world in which man always chose the good would remove freedom to do evil.

Matt DeStefano said...

"Why in the world should we pay attention to your interpretation of scripture? The Jewish rabbinic tradition has been offering interpretations of it for thousands of years. The Church Fathers had competing interpretations. Scholars within the various traditions have debated it for hundreds of years (pushing a thousand). Each denomination has its own understanding. People go to college and study this stuff for years to earn degrees. Why would a literalist YEC interpretation by a layman atheist in a combox be the solution after all this time? Are you kidding? Are you high?"

Do you have anything other than arguments from authority and ad hominems, or have you exhausted your rational toolbox?

"As was mentioned by the (otherwise lousy) site I linked initially, your interpretation would mean that animals could sin, that God continued changing nature after the final "day" of creation, and/or that the entire universe fell with man. Neither of the two largest Christian denominations (~1.3 billion in total) buy any of this. At least two of those would probably be considered blasphemous. So why are you right? This is like me picking up the Vedas cold and moralizing to a Hindu. Understand how bad it looks."

The fact that you keep referring to a site which I've already shown has piss-poor reasoning is worrisome. But, let's deal with your two points briefly:

(1) God continued changing nature after the final "day" of creation.

Didn't God allow people to start dying/get sick/get hurt after the Fall (which, if I'm not mistaken... was after the final day of creation)? That sure seems like a "change" in nature.

(2) That the entire universe fell with man.

How did you possibly gather that from what we've been talking about? I didn't even say anything about the entire Earth, let alone the "entire universe".

You can spare me the "X many people believe this" and "You're just a lay atheist without any knowledge!". If you wish to educate my ignorance, by all means... but ad populum arguments and false claims to authority on a subject don't interest me.

Matt DeStefano said...

"Also, WRT your comments about IPA and Stout: if we lived in a world where you always picked IPA, you would never and could never pick Stout. It's right there in the definition of the word "always". If you ever picked Stout--even once--then we would by definition not be living in a world in which you always picked IPA. If you weaken "always" to something like "99.9% of the time", then you concede my initial point that a world in which man always chose the good would remove freedom to do evil."

This is basic logic, rank. Even Plantinga openly admits that this world is logically possible (which is why, in his Free Will Defense - he argues for a concept called "transworld depravity"). There is nothing logically contradictory about having a choice and always choosing a certain option. Since I'm obviously failing to illustrate this, I'll quote the IEP:

"Consider W4. [free-will and no evil, essentially] Is it possible? Yes! Most people are tempted to answer “No” when first exposed to this description, but think carefully about it. Although there is no evil and suffering in this world, it is not because God causally determines people in every situation to choose what is right and to avoid what is wrong. In this world God has given creatures morally significant free will without any strings attached. If there is nothing bad in this world, it can only be because the free creatures that inhabit this world have—by their own free will—always chosen to do the right thing. Is this kind of situation really possible? Yes. Something is logically possible just when it can be conceived without contradiction. There is nothing contradictory about supposing that there is a possible world where free creatures always make the right choices and never go wrong. Of course, it’s highly improbable, given what we know about human nature. But improbability and impossibility, as we said above, are two different things. In fact, according to the Judeo-Christian story of Adam and Eve, it was God’s will that significantly free human beings would live in the Garden of Eden and always obey God’s commands. If Adam and Eve had followed God’s plan, then W4 would have been the actual world." [Source: http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-log/#H4]

rank sophist said...

Do you have anything other than arguments from authority and ad hominems, or have you exhausted your rational toolbox?

I thought I'd check out this whole poetry thing, so I picked up The Waste Land earlier. It sucked. I mean, it starts by saying "April is the cruellest month". So I guess he thinks months are like people? But, doesn't most death occur in the winter? He must have been writing this before those kinds of statistics were available. I don't know why scholars bother reading so much into this thing. Anyone could tell this much just by looking at it.

Or,

It's so funny how Christians think that God looks like a person. I mean, it says it right there in the Bible that man is made in God's image. Who could possibly disagree with that? Don't bring me these appeals to authority. Augustine, Aquinas and co. had decent reasoning, but where is their special revelation that allows them to deviate from scripture? Until you explain that, I'm just going to go with the common sense version.

The fact that you keep referring to a site which I've already shown has piss-poor reasoning is worrisome.

You didn't show anything. First, the verse you quoted is vague, as the site showed. Following this, the combined evidence of God's threatening Adam with death, the animal names (it's irrelevant whether or not you take a literalist approach here), and the statement that death spread through sin (which only man can perform) are enough to make animal death pre-Fall sound a whole lot more likely than your YEC interpretation. This is before we consider the traditional view that only man was immortal pre-Fall.

You don't have a leg to stand on, here.

Didn't God allow people to start dying/get sick/get hurt after the Fall (which, if I'm not mistaken... was after the final day of creation)? That sure seems like a "change" in nature.

That was a punishment for the Fall--it had nothing to do with rewriting the natural order. Or are you saying that the natural order was rewritten after the Fall?

You can spare me the "X many people believe this" and "You're just a lay atheist without any knowledge!". If you wish to educate my ignorance, by all means... but ad populum arguments and false claims to authority on a subject don't interest me.

You claimed that most Christians believe your YEC literalist account. I pointed to 1.3 billion people whose doctrine teaches otherwise. You accuse me of argumentum ad populum. What?

Also, what you're doing here is an argument from personal incredulity: "I can't believe that any other interpretation is legitimate, therefore no other interpretation is legitimate." Somehow, you are the expert and everyone else's interpretation must meet your standards. Again, refer to my Waste Land and in-God's-image diatribes above.

rank sophist said...

This is basic logic, rank. Even Plantinga openly admits that this world is logically possible (which is why, in his Free Will Defense - he argues for a concept called "transworld depravity"). There is nothing logically contradictory about having a choice and always choosing a certain option. Since I'm obviously failing to illustrate this, I'll quote the IEP:

I'll admit that I'm (by choice) no student of modal logic. I find it counter-intuitive and largely irrelevant. My mistake was most likely trying to apply standard logic to a modal situation.

Walter said...

Either answer seems to be fishing for a good reason to morally justify God allowing Sarah to have cancer.

(This does not exclude the possibility God might have a knowable reason in some individual cases. Such as the man from the Gospels who was crippled from birth for the purpose of Jesus healing him).


Your example of the cripple would indicate that God, on occasion at least, makes a deliberate, conscious choice to afflict a person with a handicap or disease to serve a higher purpose. At other times--or most of the time--you will claim that afflictions are just part and parcel of the created order in which we live, and that there is no conscious decision to dole out suffering to individuals--it just happens. Basically you are claiming that my (A) and (B) scenarios are both right depending on the occasion.

Walter said...

There is no world so good God is obligated to create it and none so bad as long as it participates in being that God should refrain from creating it.

But why this world and not that?

We cannot know.


To put it plainly, Thomist's defeat the POE by declaring the reality of suffering to be an unexplainable mystery. Since suffering is a necessary corollary when existing in an imperfect creation, and we cannot know why God created an imperfect world rather than creating just Heaven and populating it with humans.

We could have saved twenty comments if you had just stated that outright. (On a side note, I have just placed an order for Davies' book. I had been planning on getting it for months and I kept procrastinating.)

BenYachov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BenYachov said...

@Matt

There is nothing rational in your responses other then showing your profound ignorance of anything outside of Protestant Fundamentalism and or Theistic Personalism.

We wait with baited breath for you to show us where the Bible alone teaches the Reformation doctrine of Perspecuity and Private Interpretation which you insist must be held as the default interpretive principle.

>Do you have anything other than arguments from authority and ad hominems, or have you exhausted your rational toolbox?

Why can't you just be a man and admit you have no experience of Christian thought outside of either Fundamentalism. Protestantism or Theistic Personalism(like Plantinga)?

You certainly have zero knowledge of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and or Orthodox Judaism.

Zero knowledge and too much pride to admit your limitations.

BenYachov said...

>To put it plainly, Thomist's defeat the POE by declaring the reality of suffering to be an unexplainable mystery.

Sorry no the Problem of Evil refers to how we can reconcile an all powerful good God with the existence of Evil. That can be done either ontologically(Aquinas) or morally(Theodicy).


The mystery of evil is why this particular evil or this amount of evil or that in any particular world.

You have misunderstood.

Get too reading Davies book.

>To put it plainly, Thomist's defeat the POE by declaring the reality of suffering to be an unexplainable mystery.

That is not correct he showed Evil was not a substance.

Also Davies shows God cannot coherently be conceived of as a moral agent thus doesn't have to morally justify himself for allowing evil.

>Since suffering is a necessary corollary when existing in an imperfect creation, and we cannot know why God created an imperfect world rather than creating just Heaven and populating it with humans.

No "suffering" is a necessary corollary when creating a material world which participates in being thus he may create that world and he is not obligated to create any world or a better world.

Anyway read the book. I am tired of correcting you.

BenYachov said...

Sorry if I sounded too snippy Walter.

Chhers.

BenYachov said...

rank sophist,

What is this website that Matt claims to have refuted & what is his "refutation"?

BenYachov said...

One last Time Walter.

The Mystery of Evil asks "Why does Sarah have cancer and not Mary?"

The Problem of Evil asks how could a morally good God allow any world with Cancer or allow anybody to have cancer?

Or how could an all powerful moral being allow any Evil? That is the problem of Evil.

The Mystery of Evil is why this evil here and now and not that evil?

The Problem of evil is solved by seeing God is not a moral agent therefore has no moral obligation to not create a world with cancer or prevent anyone from getting it.

Walter said...


No "suffering" is a necessary corollary when creating a material world which participates in being thus he may create that world and he is not obligated to create any world or a better world.


I see it like this:

1)Creating a material world that is separate from God is necessary for human agents to exercise free will, since if humans were in God's presence they would become overwhelmed and incapable of choosing to follow or reject God.

2)Any material world created at some distance from God's presence is necessarily imperfect which leads to some privations existing. Privations lead to suffering, therefore suffering is a necessary corollary to existence in an imperfect material world.

3) We don't know why a deity would value the free choice of human agents, therefore we cannot know why a deity would create a world where human freedom of choice obtains. It's a mystery.

The above does not take into account the tradition that non-material angels have rebelled even in the presence of God, thus indicating that some semblance of choice is possible in God's presence (unless one posits that Angelic behavior is determined and not free).

It still all boils down ultimately to mystery.

Walter said...


The Problem of evil is solved by seeing God is not a moral agent therefore has no moral obligation to not create a world with cancer or prevent anyone from getting it.


Ben, I ceded that point fifty comments back. What I said was that CT defangs the POE at the expense of God's reputation among the common folk. The average person will read your quote above as arguing for an indifferent deity that is indistinguishable from an uncaring universe where bad shit just happens. To show that your concept of God is not indifferent you have to go beyond philosophical arguments and appeal to revelation, where you will claim that an impersonal God became a person to redeem fallen humans.

BenYachov said...

>1)Creating a material world that is separate from God is necessary for human agents to exercise free will, since if humans were in God's presence they would become overwhelmed and incapable of choosing to follow or reject God.

Wrong, read Davies critique of the Free Will Defense. We don't assume Plantinga's erroneous view the human will is somehow un-caused apart from God.

I get back too you later Walter.

Walter said...

Wrong, read Davies critique of the Free Will Defense. We don't assume Plantinga's erroneous view the human will is somehow un-caused apart from God.

I am merely following rank sophist's argument that humans would be unable to freely choose in Heaven.

rank sophist stated:


A Thomist answer might go something like this. In experiencing God--who, again, is the summary of all perfections--a human has no ability to choose. While living, we choose between pursuit of one perfection or another; but there is only a single, ultimate perfection present in the Beatific Vision. Therefore, we cannot choose anything. Plus, sin becomes impossible, because no choosing means no ability to make the wrong choice.

BenYachov said...

>)Creating a material world that is separate from God is necessary for human agents to exercise free will, since if humans were in God's presence they would become overwhelmed and incapable of choosing to follow or reject God.

The intellect moves the will to by nature always choose the good. Sin is the choosing of a lesser good at the expense of a greater one in a disordered way.

It's good for a married man to choose to enjoy sex with his wife.

Choosing to enjoy sex is good and having it is good but not at the expense of violating the law of marriage.

If your soul experienced the Beatific Vision your intellect would merely follow it's nature and move the will to accept Goodness Itself right in front of it. Since by nature the intellect moves the will towards the good.

You really have to ditch this neo-Lockeian Volunteerism nonsense.

This is all understood better from the perspective of Thomism top to bottom.

I have work to do.

Cheers Walter.

BenYachov said...

Now that I wrote that RS might rephrase & I predict he will agree with me.

Granted even I don't always use the precise technical terms.

This is a comm box not a JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY.

grodrigues said...

@Matt DeStefano:

"[in response to rank sophist:] Do you have anything other than arguments from authority and ad hominems, or have you exhausted your rational toolbox?"

Are you playing clueless or it just comes natural to you?

What Ben Yachov and rank sophist are saying is pretty elementary. They are *not* saying that *you* should accept their interpretation because only the Catholic Church has the authority to deliver the right interpretation. What they are saying is that *they* do not accept *your* "literalist YEC interpretation by a layman atheist" in the very apt words of rank sophist, because it is based on various wrong presuppositions on Bible reading that they (and me also) reject and goes against what they (and me also) take to be the authoritative teaching on these matters. Whether you accept such an authority is besides the point; what is not besides the point is that we reject your (unconsciously held?) presuppositions and assumptions in reading the Bible and as Ben Yachov said, it is incumbent upon *you* to make a rational case for them. Since you reject the Bible, it is difficult to imagine how exactly you will substantiate your case, as there is simply no common ground for discussion, but hey, surprise us and take your best shot.

Do you know about Medieval exegesis with its four levels of interpretation; the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical? Do you understand that the literary *form* of the first chapters of Genesis is that of myth, myth in the sense used in literary criticism (e.g. N. Frye) not in the bastardized sense of a story "having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence", and myth, being a centripetal structure of meaning, it can be made to mean an indefinite number of things? Do you even realize that interpretation is not made in a vacuum by "an ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia" to borrow from James Joyce, but in constant dialogue with the past acts of reading and interpretation (hint: there *is* a reason why Ben Yachov pulled off Augustine and Aquinas)?

Walter said...

If your soul experienced the Beatific Vision your intellect would merely follow it's nature and move the will to accept Goodness Itself right in front of it. Since by nature the intellect moves the will towards the good.

Except in the case of some fallen angels, who apparently chose rebellion even in the presence of God.

I think that it is probably pointless to continue this quibbling, since I can read Davies' book and formulate my own opinions as to whether his answers are all that good or not. I am signing off and leaving this conversation to Matt and RS.

BenYachov said...

@Walter

I have work to do stop baiting me.

According to Tradition before the War in Heaven the Angels had the Angelic version of Sanctifying Grace not the Beatific Vision.

The good angels who where not cast out where rewarded with the Beatific Vision for siding with God against Lucifer.

But you are on the right track so we can stop talking past each other.

BenYachov said...
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BenYachov said...
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BenYachov said...

Thank you grodrigues.

Over at Luke Commonsense Atheist blog a very wise Atheist made similar points you have made here when I went at it with some Gnu over a fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture vs a Catholic one.

He added the problem with an Atheist insisting on a fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture to a non-fundamentalist Christian is he the atheist in a sense has to put on the hat of a Fundamentalist Religious Apologist and try to convince his opponent to adopt a view of Scripture both already reject before turning around and offering an Atheist criticism of the Fundamentalist view.

That is self-defeating & silly. I liked that guy. I only wish that Matt had known him.

B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...

"Except in the case of some fallen angels, who apparently chose rebellion even in the presence of God."

Not quite, Walter. The Beatific Vision is granted only to those who choose it. The fallen angels were not experiencing the Beatific Vision prior to their rebellion, since they had not as yet made a choice one way or the other.

Now Aquinas argues that the fall of the angels, while instantaneous with their creation, was nevertheless causually subsequent to that event. So there was still a point (quite literally) prior to their rebellion.

Walter said...

Not quite, Walter. The Beatific Vision is granted only to those who choose it. The fallen angels were not experiencing the Beatific Vision prior to their rebellion, since they had not as yet made a choice one way or the other.

You guys do have an answer for everything. :-)

I actually don't believe in angels nor demons, but I have enjoyed this stimulating conversation (with a few exceptions). Classical Theism sans Christian dogma appears highly compatible with my own beliefs. (I would consider my worldview to be roughly the same as Antony Flew's was before his death.)

BenYachov said...
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BenYachov said...

Damn it why do I keep erasing my posts?!!!

Anyway as I was saying brefore I erased myself...

Peace to you Walter.

I hope you enjoy Davies as much as I even if you don't wind up agreeing with him.

rank sophist said...

Ben,

What is this website that Matt claims to have refuted & what is his "refutation"?

A lousy OEC site I found through a quick Google search. I decided to post it in here because it pointed out flaws in the YEC no-animal-death position from a purely Biblical standpoint. Here is the link: http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/death.html

This is obviously no substitute for real scholarship or the analyses of the Church Fathers. However, it was the first result in Google, and it seemed on topic, so I used it. I stand by that decision.

Now that I wrote that RS might rephrase & I predict he will agree with me.

Yep. What I wrote was shorthand for the longer explanation you gave.

Walter,

I actually don't believe in angels nor demons, but I have enjoyed this stimulating conversation (with a few exceptions). Classical Theism sans Christian dogma appears highly compatible with my own beliefs. (I would consider my worldview to be roughly the same as Antony Flew's was before his death.)

Classical theism is remarkably adaptable. In any case, I'm glad that this discussion proved edifying for you. It's rare to have a combox debate with someone who asks good questions and actually wants to understand the answers. In fact, your questions were so good that I had to do a fair amount of thinking and reading to keep up, which allowed me to learn more as well.

Catch you later, Walter.

Matt DeStefano said...

What Ben Yachov and rank sophist are saying is pretty elementary. They are *not* saying that *you* should accept their interpretation because only the Catholic Church has the authority to deliver the right interpretation. What they are saying is that *they* do not accept *your* "literalist YEC interpretation by a layman atheist" in the very apt words of rank sophist, because it is based on various wrong presuppositions on Bible reading that they (and me also) reject and goes against what they (and me also) take to be the authoritative teaching on these matters. Whether you accept such an authority is besides the point; what is not besides the point is that we reject your (unconsciously held?) presuppositions and assumptions in reading the Bible and as Ben Yachov said, it is incumbent upon *you* to make a rational case for them. Since you reject the Bible, it is difficult to imagine how exactly you will substantiate your case, as there is simply no common ground for discussion, but hey, surprise us and take your best shot.


I'm going to bow out after this comment because what began as edifying discussion quickly devolved into "you silly fundy atheist" which I have no interest in hearing out. I've studied the Bible for years on end, and while the nuances of classical theism are rather new to me, a figurative/allegorical interpretation of Genesis is not. Instead of addressing the issue at hand, Ben has devolved into a version of the Courtier's Reply and simply link-spammed the combox, while rank seems overtly curious with my state of inebriation. (Notice the difference in how I treated rank's misunderstanding of modal logic vs. how Ben/rank have treated my misunderstanding of proper Scriptural exegesis.) If my objections are as silly and ill-founded, a competent theist should be able to dispel them through rational argumentation rather than the frenzied hysterics of "You high, bro?"

However, here's where rank/Ben/you continue to misunderstand. I'm not pressing you to understand a strictly literal YEC interpretation of Genesis. From what I can gather, you all accept that biological evolution and the Creation story are compatible. That's fine. What I don't understand, however, is the view they/you hold on the state of pre-Fall nature. I've been trying to elucidate that from you and all I've gotten in return is this "you're trying to make us look like fundies!" nonsense.

Understanding the Bible in the "mythological" sense as N. Frye does (I have an English minor, so I'm actually no stranger to his influence on literary criticism although I'm admittedly daft in many other areas you've mentioned) makes sense to an extent. But here's the problem: direct contradictions matter . This is why I find rank's comparison of my Scriptural reading to analyzing poetry so puzzling. The Wasteland is a popular, fictitious poem that is dripping with allegorical language and regularly changes time/place. Genesis is a narrative that also serves as a major theological foundation for a coherent theology (Creation/Fall/etc.). It's comparing apples to oranges, and while contradictions might not matter in The Wasteland (after all, they can be a useful literary device), contradictions in theology are a problem. This is why so much ink has been spilt on whether or not evolution and Genesis are compatible, anyway.

Matt DeStefano said...

If the Bible says that all animals ate plants for food before the Fall and then later I am told that there were "plenty"of carnivorous animals pre-Fall, I want to understand why I should accept this latter view in light of what is clear as day in Scripture. rank's first attempt was to show me an error-ridden site which skirted around the actual issue and made a few claims:

(1) the Hebrew names for the animals proved that they had their natures when Adam named them
(2) that it was inconsistent with other theology.
(3) that there was no verse explicitly saying they couldn't eat meat.

None of these are compelling reasons for me to accept this contradiction. I've gone through why, but if need be I can flesh it out again. So far, that and a paragraph from Aquinas (that again fails to give me a good reason why this contradiction doesn't matter) are all I've gotten.

rank sophist said...

If my objections are as silly and ill-founded, a competent theist should be able to dispel them through rational argumentation rather than the frenzied hysterics of "You high, bro?"

I don't know how you misunderstood this, but my "Are you high?" was not related to your scriptural position. Rather, I was referring to your belief that you were somehow justified in tossing aside 2,000+ years of scholarship and interpretation. I would expect you to ask the same of me had I been making such claims.

But here's the problem: direct contradictions matter.

I agree. This is why the interpretation you put forth is flawed. It contradicts numerous other passages and creates theological problems.

This is why I find rank's comparison of my Scriptural reading to analyzing poetry so puzzling. The Wasteland is a popular, fictitious poem that is dripping with allegorical language and regularly changes time/place.

"dripping with allegorical language and [regular] changes [in] time/place". This sounds an awful lot like Genesis.

Genesis is a narrative that also serves as a major theological foundation for a coherent theology (Creation/Fall/etc.).

It's a narrative, but I don't see how this provides a bridge to literalism.

It's comparing apples to oranges, and while contradictions might not matter in The Wasteland (after all, they can be a useful literary device), contradictions in theology are a problem.

The Waste Land and Genesis are both heavily allegorical and are not meant to be taken at face value. The contradiction you're talking about only appears when you take one passage 100% literally while also ignoring its overall placement in the work. Plus, if you do that, numerous other passages are reduced to gibberish. So, as others have said, why should we buy your interpretation over a different one? It doesn't seem to have any upsides.

rank sophist said...

I want to understand why I should accept this latter view in light of what is clear as day in Scripture.

This is exactly what I was parodying in my Waste Land rant. That it is "clear as day" is your own undefended (indefensible?) assumption. Is it also clear as day that God looks like a human?

B. Prokop said...

"You guys do have an answer for everything"

Actually, yes we do. I can't argue with you on that one.

Walter said...

Actually, yes we do. I can't argue with you on that one.

I didn't say it was a good answer, Bob. Although I find Aristotelian metaphysics fairly intriguing, I am less impressed with Christian apologetics, whether it be Protestant fundamentalist or Catholic Traditionalist.

B. Prokop said...

I know, Walter, but I couldn't resist!

BenYachov said...

If Matt wasn't such an intellectual coward & took some time to read the links which I carefully choose to give him a little overview of what the Catholic view was on Genesis he might have learned something.

But he would rather justify his continued learned ignorance with cracks like "spam linking" or Courier's Reply.

I have no sympathy for that type of anti-intellectualism.

None at all.

BenYachov said...

@Matt

>From what I can gather, you all accept that biological evolution and the Creation story are compatible.

I'm sorry but I stand with the late Fr. Stanley Jaki in that I reject concordance interpretations of Genesis One across the board.

At best I might be tentatively open to a very very mild concordance but in the end I don't believe Genesis One gives either a literal description or metaphorical description of creation that corresponds to science. Genesis One is IMHO an allegory alone. Many Fathers hold this & I agree with them.

>That's fine. What I don't understand, however, is the view they/you hold on the state of pre-Fall nature. I've been trying to elucidate that from you and all I've gotten in return is this "you're trying to make us look like fundies!" nonsense.

I would have told you in a straight forward manner what I believe except you insisted Genesis 1:30 had to & could only mean all animals where vegetarians.

The Text simply doesn't specify birds of prey or hunting animals specifically being vegetarians.
There is good reason to treat Genesis 1 & 2 as two distinct and separate narratives.

Also I pointed out since I can take the whole section allegorically it didn't really matter if it was technically literal.

But you insisted on shoving your Fundamentalist Protestant interpretation down my throat & refused to learn anything about the Catholic interpretation.

>understanding the Bible in the "mythological" sense as N. Frye does (I have an English minor, so I'm actually no stranger to his influence on literary criticism although I'm admittedly daft in many other areas you've mentioned) makes sense to an extent. But here's the problem: direct contradictions matter.

Direct contradiction? The Church teaches God is Simple in His Substance without parts or passions. That is Dogma! If we inject Matt's Atheist Fundamentalism into the equation then according to him there is a contradiction between this infallible dogma and any and all verses in the Bible that talk of God's head, hands, feet or wings or Him being "angry" or "Joyfully".

Sorry but I can't take this fundie crap seriously. How can you have a damn contradiction if you don't take the passage literally?

Tell me how?

>the Bible says that all animals ate plants for food before the Fall and then later I am told that there were "plenty"of carnivorous animals pre-Fall, I want to understand why I should accept this latter view in light of what is clear as day in Scripture.

For your amusement ladies and gentlemen! An Atheist who believes in the Protestant Reformation doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture!
(invented by the Arch-heretic Luther)

Next up an Agnostic who professes Transubstantiation and the Ex opere operato view of the Seven Sacraments!

BenYachov said...

Sorry but I can't help but remember something the Protestant apologist Norman Geisler once said "Just because Scripture speaks of God enfolding you in his Wings doesn't mean he is literally a giant chicken".

>(1) the Hebrew names for the animals proved that they had their natures when Adam named them.

Here Matt assumes (contrary to Augustine's interpretation) Genesis One and Two are the same narrative and are in literal harmony. But as I have pointed out several times (& Matt has rudely ignored me) they are in contradiction.

Genesis 2:4 onward speaks of the day God created the Heavens and the Earth, Creates man then creates the animals and Adam names them. All this happens in one day.

Well in Genesis One God creates Heaven & Earth on day one the animals later on and man on the sixth day.

Plus Matt is assuming I must take all this as a literal scientific disciption of nature.

I don't get over it!

>2) that it was inconsistent with other theology.
(3) that there was no verse explicitly saying they couldn't eat meat.

There is no defined Dogma in the History of the Catholic Church in any Council that teaches Catholics to believe animals could only eat greens before the Fall that I know of.

If there is any I must have missed it in my copy of Denzinger or Ott.

>None of these are compelling reasons for me to accept this contradiction. I've gone through why, but if need be I can flesh it out again.

I agree with that if I took Genesis One as a literal mechanistic description of nature. But I don't and Augustine & Philos didn't. Just as I don't take "all have sinned" so literally to mean my Austitic kids have actually violated God's Law!

Geez! Enough of the fundie crap already Matt!

Matt if you want me to explain how Catholics understand and interpret the Bible I will tell you. But stop shoving you fundie nonsense down my throat!

BenYachov said...

>A lousy OEC site I found through a quick Google search. I decided to post it in here because it pointed out flaws in the YEC no-animal-death position from a purely Biblical standpoint. Here is the link: http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/death.html

>This is obviously no substitute for real scholarship or the analyses of the Church Fathers. However, it was the first result in Google, and it seemed on topic, so I used it. I stand by that decision.

So this is the nonsense he is referring too?

This explains a lot....but it clear the term for beasts in Genesis One is a generic term like the term "animals"(or beasts). It doesn't tell me what type of animals/beasts are under discussion or their species.

Even if a majority use of the term for beasts in the Bible is used to refer to carnivores that tells me nothing. After all in an English translation the majority use of the word "animal" refers to carnivores in the Bible does that mean the word "animal" means carnivore?

In the second Creation narrative Adam giving names to predators that indicated their observed predator nature seems to indicate
he didn't see them eating grass.

>None of these are compelling reasons for me to accept this contradiction. I've gone through why, but if need be I can flesh it out again.

But they are not prohibitive.

Who the "literal" argument for my claims are stronger then I thought.

cl said...

Wow... this thread really took off! I haven't read anything past #45 or so, so if anybody addressed me and didn't get a response, that's why.

cl said...

Kudos to grodrigues for the comment at May 19, 2012 9:04 AM. Quoting Walter,

"It suggests that God's goodness is significantly *different* from human notions of goodness -- since a good person would attempt to eliminate as much pain and suffering as possible in animals as well as fellow humans. The God of CT has no such desire."

...grodrigues successfully addressed Walter's remark, but I'd like to add a few things:

1) God's goodness *MUST* be different from human notions. After all, God is omniscient, not only that, but purportedly omnijust as well. Therefore, it makes sense that an omnijust being would be more concerned with the permanent removal of sin—the root cause of suffering—than the temporal removal of suffering sin causes. Now, that's not to say God has no interest in alleviating suffering, for Scripture both confirms and commands believers thus. The former is the cause, the latter an effect. What competent physician focuses on symptoms? Is it not a better approach to address the causes?

2) If this is the atheist's standard of a good person—one who would attempt to eliminate as much pain and suffering as possible in animals as well as fellow humans—then very few good people exist, and certainly none of us, including the atheists who spend countless hours arguing these points online. None of us—and by "none" I'm going with an intuitively derived figure of < 99.5%—meet that standard. By contrast, most of us prioritize our own careers and families above all else. Every keystroke on this blog is time that could've been spent alleviating suffering, right?

Walter said...

1) God's goodness *MUST* be different from human notions. After all, God is omniscient, not only that, but purportedly omnijust as well.

Classical Theists claim that God has no moral obligations to humanity, so you might need to flesh out what exactly you mean by omnijust.


2) If this is the atheist's standard of a good person—one who would attempt to eliminate as much pain and suffering as possible in animals as well as fellow humans—then very few good people exist, and certainly none of us, including the atheists who spend countless hours arguing these points online.


I have two things to say in response to this: A) I'm not an atheist, nor am I a Christian theist. Please don't assume there are only two sides in these discussions B) Us mere humans are not omnipotent; I can't snap my fingers and stop another person from suffering. If I could, I would. I am also quite sure that I don't do near enough to help others. On the flipside, how many Christians evangelize every spare moment that they have? Saving an eternal soul must be infinitely more important than alleviating a little suffering here and there.

BenYachov said...

God only gives distributive justice not communative Justice.

But here is how it's explained in Aquinas.

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1021.htm

You may also want to look up book II chapters 28 to 29 of Summa Contra Gentiles.

Or best easiest of all get a cheap copy of Brian Davies THE REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL.

cl said...

Walter,

"Classical Theists claim that God has no moral obligations to humanity,"

Yes, exactly... that supports my point.

"I'm not an atheist, nor am I a Christian theist. Please don't assume there are only two sides in these discussions"

I didn't. I said "very few people, including the atheists." The assumption was on your part, and it's mistaken. Worse, it's a red herring, in that it has nothing to do with my point.

"Us mere humans are not omnipotent; I can't snap my fingers and stop another person from suffering. If I could, I would."

This is silly. You don't need omnipotence to get off the internet and help people.

"I am also quite sure that I don't do near enough to help others."

There we probably all agree.

Walter said...

"Us mere humans are not omnipotent; I can't snap my fingers and stop another person from suffering. If I could, I would."

This is silly. You don't need omnipotence to get off the internet and help people.


And that is where you missed my point. Skeptics of a benevolent deity claim that God could alleviate suffering with absolutely zero effort on his part, yet chooses not to (assuming its existence). The standard theodicy is to claim that God's ways aren't our ways...blah,blah,blah.

I actually kinda like the Thomistic approach: God created you and there is going to be some suffering in your life, so suck it up! Their answer to theodicy is to give no answer.

cl said...

Walter,

"And that is where you missed my point. Skeptics of a benevolent deity claim that God could alleviate suffering with absolutely zero effort on his part, yet chooses not to (assuming its existence). The standard theodicy is to claim that God's ways aren't our ways...blah,blah,blah."

No, this is where *YOU* missed *MY* point, as evidenced by this total non-sequitur of a response. I wasn't talking about God; I was talking about us. By your definition of a good person, none of us are good people. Engage with that or concede it; simple as that.

cl said...

Walter,

Just to drive my point home:

"Us mere humans are not omnipotent; I can't snap my fingers and stop another person from suffering. If I could, I would."

This is a cop-out, an excuse for failure. After all, you *COULD* devote all the time you devote to arguing here towards alleviating suffering, right?

Right.

So stop trying to pretend that only your lack of omnipotence prevents you from doing all you can to alleviate suffering, because that's simply not true.

Walter said...

By your definition of a good person, none of us are good people. Engage with that or concede it; simple as that.

Did I say that I was a good person? No, I didn't. Do I think you are a good person? I don't know, but you seem like a bit of a jerk. Engage with that.

cl said...

"I don't know, but you seem like a bit of a jerk"

Ah, the irony. Here you are, frustrated and name-calling, and *I'M* the jerk? Get real buddy. Stick to the arguments, lest we both waste our time. I'll engage your arguments, I won't engage your sandbox techniques.

The choice is yours. Should you opt for the former, then explain to us theists why we ought to grant your POE any credibility whatsoever.

cl said...

Walter,

Here's my point and the question: if you really believe in your stated standard of goodness, why don't you abide by it? The fact that you don't suggests to me that you might not really believe in the standard you endorse. It suggests that you only endorse the standard when trying to put God on trial.

Know what I mean?

Walter said...

Here's my point and the question: if you really believe in your stated standard of goodness, why don't you abide by it?

Because I am selfish, greedy, lazy, and materialistic, in other words I am human. God is supposed to be none of those things.

The fact that you don't suggests to me that you might not really believe in the standard you endorse. It suggests that you only endorse the standard when trying to put God on trial.

So because I don't spend every free dollar I make on charity or every free minute volunteering at a shelter, this is supposed to show that I don't really consider such actions to be good? That's just plain ignorant. What that shows is that I am a flawed individual, much like every other person on the planet. That's my excuse.

Get this through your head: I am a deist. I am drawn to this thread because Thomists claim that they can defang the POE without appeals to scripture or Tradition, thus making their arguments applicable to my own belief system. If your spoiling for a debate over the POE, go find yourself an atheist.

cl said...

Walter,

Look, like I said, I've missed a significant portion of the exchanges in this thread. I'm more than happy to apologize if I've missed one or more of your key points, and thus wandered off the mark. You sure come across like an atheist trying to prop the traditional POE, and that's why I said what I said. I think that calling me a jerk was a bit of a cheapshot, but whatever. I appreciate the straight-forward answers in response to my perceived discrepancy between your standard of goodness and your living up to it. I agree with you. We're all human. None of us even try to abide by that standard.

"If your spoiling for a debate over the POE, go find yourself an atheist."

Don't worry, I'm not. Been there, done that. Atheists have nothing but doubt and reasoning of the variant, "I can't conceive of a higher good that would justify the observed suffering, therefore I'll go ahead and take too much liberty by assuming none exists, ergo, God doesn't exist." I'm not interested in that sort of silliness. Rather, I'm more interested in hearing further explanation of...

"Thomists claim that they can defang the POE without appeals to scripture or Tradition, thus making their arguments applicable to my own belief system."

How are the traditional monotheistic arguments *NOT* also applicable to the deist god you believe in? Because said god is not bound to the criteria for goodness (alleviating suffering at every possible turn)? OTOH, what about the Thomists' arguments make them applicable to your belief system?

Walter said...


How are the traditional monotheistic arguments *NOT* also applicable to the deist god you believe in?


Any argument that appeals to special revelation is of no value to a deist. Arguments based on natural theology OTOH are exactly what I am looking for.

cl said...

Walter,

Well. Color me even more confused. Why would a deist have the desire to defang the POE in the first place? Why would you need to defend a deist god who simply wound things up, let them go, then split? It would seem to me that the POE can only be applied to a God intricately concerned about creation. In what way is the POE any threat whatsoever to your deist god?

Walter said...

Why would you need to defend a deist god who simply wound things up, let them go, then split?

Because that is not what every deist believes. What you are describing is what was historically known to be French Deism. The French deists were basically atheists who believed in a remote, impersonal first cause. English and early American deists believed in a more active God who could be known through reason alone. English Deism has a lot of overlap with Christian Unitarianism, with the main difference being that Biblical Unitarians do accept some special revelation since they believe that the Bible has some divine authority attached to it--even if they don't consider it to be inerrant.

You are correct, however, that the POE would be of much less concern to the type of deist that you described. Evil and suffering is evidence to them that God is impersonal and largely unconcerned with your life. But even a Type 1 deist would likely seek a philosophical argument in an attempt to explain why a perfect deity would create a world filled with carnivory, predation, and pain.

cl said...

Walter,

"Because that is not what every deist believes."

Fair enough. When time allows, can you give a quick sketch of *YOUR* deist beliefs, such that I might understand how the POE threatens them?

Walter said...

Fair enough. When time allows, can you give a quick sketch of *YOUR* deist beliefs, such that I might understand how the POE threatens them?

Mine would be closer to that of the English variety. As far as the POE is concerned, it is the same threat faced by any other monotheism that posits an all-powerful and benevolent deity. Even a French deist would seek to understand the purpose of suffering.

cl said...

Walter,

Okay, I'll chew on that for a few. In the meantime, I figured I'd field one of your questions to the other believers. You said,

"I am still curious, though, as to whether the classical theist believes that Heaven -- whether it be in a Platonic realm or on a redeemed earth -- is the best of all possible worlds."

I say yes, and I don't think the concept of a best possible world is incoherent at all.

WIth regard to deism, you said,

"English and early American deists believed in a more active God who could be known through reason alone. "

Do you agree or disagree with me that the God of CT can also be known through reason alone (e.g. Aristotleian / Thomist arguments)?

Do you think that holds for your deism? Can you demonstrate it using reason alone?

Walter said...

Do you agree or disagree with me that the God of CT can also be known through reason alone (e.g. Aristotleian / Thomist arguments)?

Antony Flew seemed to believe so...and so do I.

cl said...

Walter,

I'm interested in knowing why you aren't some form of classical theist, as well as why you're not an atheist. Would you say you're not a CT because of the POE, but you're not an atheist because reason alone is sufficient to establish deity, and that you might have to become an atheist if reason along can't defang the POE against deism?

"I have displayed no overt emotion in this thread and I appreciate civil discussion like I have received from rank sophist."

Well, that may have been true when you stated it halfway up the thread, but your quick descent to name-calling is surely consistent with a departure from cold reason, wouldn't you say?

cl said...

Ben,

"You don't see me bitching because my anti-materialist polemics don't phase a Platonic Atheist!"

Woo hoo! That, my friend, is one of the better responses I've heard to that lame "argument from religious disagreement" you see atheists often wage. Trite, concise, witty... a real gem.

cl said...

Ben,

I spoke too soon, the following lines were the icing on the cake:

"That's life son & the POE is different for the Classic Theist and the Classic Theist doesn't presupose a God with any obligations to his creatures. Otherwise it's not God."

...then, finally,

"Adapt or perish!"

Pure beauty.

Walter said...

I'm interested in knowing why you aren't some form of classical theist, as well as why you're not an atheist.

What makes you think that deism is not compatible with classical theism? Last I checked Aristotle was no Christian.

Walter said...

Would you say you're not a CT because of the POE, but you're not an atheist because reason alone is sufficient to establish deity, and that you might have to become an atheist if reason along can't defang the POE against deism?

Classical theism is philosophical theism. One need not be a Christian, Muslim, or Jew to be a CT. Even if I never found a good answer to the POE, I would still feel that there is sufficient reason to believe in a divine Creator.

cl said...

grodrigues,

Great comment at May 21, 2012 4:20 PM. Very well thought-out IMHO.

cl said...

Walter,

"What makes you think that deism is not compatible with classical theism? "

Don't put words in my mouth bud. I'm simply asking why you're a deist, as opposed to some form of classical theist or Christian. An informative answer would get us closer to fruit than... whatever that yuck was.

So, let's try again: why are you a deist and not a Christian, Catholic, Muslim or Jew?

Walter said...


Don't put words in my mouth bud. I'm simply asking why you're a deist, as opposed to some form of classical theist or Christian.


Let's try this again. A deist can be considered a classical theist as long as the deist's conception of God is the same as the one conceived of by medieval philosophers of religion. You do not have to belong to a revealed religion to be considered a CT. If you wish to discuss why I am not a Christian then I'm afraid that will take us too far afield from the topic at hand, so we will save it for a future post.

BenYachov said...

cl,

I would personally assume since Walter aspires to believe in the existence of the God of Aristotle then that is the God he intends to believe in & thus can be called a Classic Theist.

The God of Aristotle is the True God of Abraham sans any information we might obtain about him from Divine Revelation.

BenYachov said...

BTW I would reject the concept of "the best of all possible worlds" because only God can be absolutely perfect. Part of His perfection is He is uncreated & thus how can he "create" an uncreated world?

That is why Thomism rejects this concept. God could have always made a better world & as long as it participates in being there is no world so bad God must refrain from creating it.

cl said...

Walter,

Backpedaling up the thread, you asked Ben why God wouldn't create the best of all possible worlds from the getgo. Part of my answer is that humanity needed an empirical demonstration of the necessity of absolute obedience to God's word. IOW, God had to allow us the chance to "go it alone" in order to prove that we can't go it alone without disastrous consequences for the creation.

In your last comment to me, you wrote,

"You do not have to belong to a revealed religion to be considered a CT."

I already understood that.

"A deist can be considered a classical theist as long as the deist's conception of God is the same as the one conceived of by medieval philosophers of religion."

Then what becomes the pertinent line of demarcation? Is your concept of God the same as the one conceived of by medieval philosophers of religion? If so, would you say you can wear either label (CT/deist) interchangeably? If not, why not?

Ben,

Thanks for your efforts, I've got a few things to add to your discussion with Matt, but it'll take another day or three for sure.

As for the best of all possible worlds, I recall the question being whether the "heaven" you believed in was the best of all possible worlds. Maybe this is just semantics, but it seems to me the "heaven" and New Earth described in the Bible qualifies as the best of all possible worlds. I'm not sure I agree with you that God could have always made a better world, especially because "better" is a value-laden concept (is a world with free will and sin better than a world without free will or sin? Etc.). My concern is that your position seems to imply there is a world better than the eternal restoration God desires to bring about, and I guess I'm just having trouble seeing how / why that could be.

Walter said...

Backpedaling up the thread, you asked Ben why God wouldn't create the best of all possible worlds from the getgo. Part of my answer is that humanity needed an empirical demonstration of the necessity of absolute obedience to God's word. IOW, God had to allow us the chance to "go it alone" in order to prove that we can't go it alone without disastrous consequences for the creation.

Why would humanity need a demonstration when God could simply create people with the innate knowledge that they can't go it alone? Suppositions such as this always circle back to mystery.

Then what becomes the pertinent line of demarcation? Is your concept of God the same as the one conceived of by medieval philosophers of religion? If so, would you say you can wear either label (CT/deist) interchangeably? If not, why not?

I certainly can classify myself as a CT. The reason I use the label of deist is so that the average person I meet won't automatically think that I am a Christian theist.

cl said...

Walter,

"Suppositions such as this always circle back to mystery."

Some might, but there is no circling back to mystery here. I believe God did supply people with innate knowledge of morality. Though we have our sociopaths and psychopaths, innate senses of morality as evidenced by subsequent systems are ubiquitous across cultures. Though I believe God preferred we would never have sinned in the first place, now that we have, allowing us the freedom to ignore these senses will prove why we need to obey our Creator. In my opinion, this circles back to reason and empiricism stemming from God's desire to permanently eliminate sin and suffering—not mystery.

As for the deism thing, what beliefs would you say deism and CT cannot share? I'm trying to get a little more info from you. All I know so far is that you reject revelations, but believe there's a God who created the universe, who can be known through reason alone, and whose existence is threatened by the POE. This confuses me, because earlier you said the God of CT more-or-less defangs the POE (with some caveat about falling into disfavor with the people). Well, if the God of CT more-or-less defangs the POE, and you can reasonably classify yourself as a CT as you just said, then how is the POE any threat to what you believe?

Forgive me if it seems like I'm coming at you. I'm not. There's just a few disconnects here.

Walter said...

As for the deism thing, what beliefs would you say deism and CT cannot share?

It depends on whose deism you are referring to. Historically, deists believed in a mechanistic universe devoid of immanent teleogy; they would not have been classical theists, as the God they believed in would be something different from the one described by Aristotle. But I see no reason why a deist cannot be an Aristotelian deist.

All I know so far is that you reject revelations, but believe there's a God who created the universe, who can be known through reason alone, and whose existence is threatened by the POE.

God's existence would not be threatened so much as his character or reputation would be. We can take some bite out of the PoE by declaring God to be remote, impersonal, or so transcendent as to be unaffected by human suffering, but this would portray a God who could never be praised for his benevolence, just respected or feared due to his power.

BenYachov said...

>God's existence would not be threatened so much as his character or reputation would be.

"Character" is something only a human person or something unequivocally compared to a human person can have. Thus only a Theistic Personalist deity can have "Character". It's an incoherent concept when applied to CT. Like talking about God containing all perfection also means God therefore has Perfect Muscle tone.

>We can take some bite out of the PoE by declaring God to be remote, impersonal, or so transcendent as to be unaffected by human suffering,

Rather we just disabuse ourselves of the notion it is coherent to claim He has any moral obligation to stop it when it is in fact incoherent to even imagine CT God to be a moral agent.

>but this would portray a God who could never be praised for his benevolence, just respected or feared due to his power.

You still think of God in Theistic Personalist terms or impersonalist terms. To some degree.
We will work on you.

God is ontologically and metaphysically God. He gave us being which is good and to which He derives no benefit and has no obligation to do in the first place.


Like I said if Trump pays for my Gas bill but not my property taxes he can only be praised for what he has done (which he didn't have to do in the 1st place) and he can't be condemned for goods he hasn't rendered which he has by definition no obligation to render.

This is the difference between praising CT God vs Cosmic Santa.

BenYachov said...

>As for the best of all possible worlds, I recall the question being whether the "heaven" you believed in was the best of all possible worlds.

Without the Beatific Vision then Heaven is pointless. God is perfect and the Soul's vision of that Perfect Beauty is worth all things.

See the next post.

BenYachov said...

QUOTE" And then such an eager desire will take possession of our soul to gaze upon and enjoy this supreme Good, that she will be irresistibly drawn to God, and will long with all her powers to contemplate His ineffable beauty. And if on account of her sins she is deprived of this beatific vision, it will cause her the most intense anguish. No grief, no torture known in this world can be in any wise likened to it.

St. Bonaventure bears witness to this, when he says: "The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity." Again, St. John Chrysostom says: "I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.............


Consequently, if God were to send an Angel to the portals of Hell, with this message to the wretched denizens of that place of torment: "The Almighty has in His mercy had compassion on you, and He is willing you should be released from one of the penalties you endure; which shall it be?" What thinkest thou would be the reply? They would all as one man exclaim: "O good Angel, pray God that if only of His bounty He would no longer deprive us of the sight of His countenance! "This is the one favour they would implore of God. Were it possible for them, in the midst of Hell-fire, to behold the Divine countenance, for the joy of it they would no longer heed the devouring flames. For the vision of God is so beauteous, so blissful, so full of rapture and infinite delight, that all the joys and attractions of earth cannot compare with it in the remotest degree.

In fact, all celestial happiness, how greatsoever it might be, would be turned to bitterness if the vision of God was wanting; and the redeemed would choose rather to be in Hell, if they could there enjoy that Beatific Vision, than be in Heaven without it. Just as the privilege of be holding the Divine countenance constitutes the chief felicity of the blessed, the one without which all others would be no happiness at all, so it is the chief misery of Hell, that the lost souls should for ever be excluded from it. On this subject St. John Chrysostom says: "The torments of a thousand Hells are nothing in comparison to the anguish of being banished from everlasting bliss and the vision of God."END QUOTE
-THE FOUR LAST THINGS

Walter said...

Ben

What you say may be of great comfort to you, but it will be far less so to someone who is a skeptic. When you say that no possible world can be too bad for God not to create it, this conveys the image of an uncaring God who doesn't give two shits for the created beings that populate his world. Those of that are created are simply suppose to praise God for the positive "good" of existence itself, even if that existence is filled with misery. Surely you can see how this would be less than satisfactory for some.

BTW, I was using the word "character" as a synonym for "reputation."

cl said...

Matt,

I'll leave the other stuff aside for now, other than to say kudos to you for dealing with our criticisms honestly, and head-on. I've been making my way through this entire thread, and snagged a few of your comments along the way. The progression isn't necessarily chronological or even related for that matter, and I still haven't made it through all 200 comments. These are just isolated grabs I took for one reason or another.

"Not all evil is caused by man's freedom of choice. After all, the vast (read 99.9999999%) of suffering has occurred before man even came onto the scene. Why should God instantiate a world in which there was so much suffering prior to the it's supposed purpose?"

You're conflating evil and suffering. As traditionally defined, all evil results from man's abuse of freedom. Therefore, there was no evil before the first sin, whether there was suffering or not. What I'd like to know is this: why do you and most every other atheist simply assume that there is a logical incompatibility between an omnibenevolent God and natural suffering? Do you have something besides your feelings to justify this starting assumption?

"It's a pretty gross error to assert that acting is tantamount to having the capacity to act. Whenever I have the choice between drinking an IPA and a stout, I choose the IPA. This doesn't mean that I don't have the ability to choose the stout - I simply don't act upon that possibility."

That strikes me as a betrayal of the determinism I've heard you argue elsewhere. Have you changed your thinking on this? I ask because, if said determinism is true, then you really *DON'T* have the choice between an IPA and a stout. This "choice" is merely an epiphenomenal illusion.

"The could in (2) will work if you change it to "Matt choosing a Stout [would] never be accomplished", but there is no reason it can't be."

That's incorrect. (1) is the reason it can't be. If God made a world in which Matt always chose IPA, Matt neither could nor would choose stout in such a world. You'd have to change (1) to, "God created a world in which Matt can choose either IPA or stout" in order for the statement, "Matt could choose stout" to be true.

"...God, being a perfect being, ought have instantiated the world without imperfection."

Why? You're going to have to give me some reason other than, "Because Matt DeStefano says so on the internet." As just one possible retort, why can't a perfect being use imperfection to bring about perfection?

"Did you even read this joke of a website?"

Bad signs, Matt, bad signs... there's no possible way you could have read enough of the site to justify that remark. Quell your inner Loftus.

"The word games that you guys play to make your beliefs fit are incredible."

Regardless of who's in the right or wrong between you and Yachov, you've irrationally taken an alleged mistake by one person and leaped to "us guys." C'mon man, reel things in here. Cool down. Resist the Loftus!

BenYachov said...

This Post is a late response but you never know who will read it.

@Walter
>What you say may be of great comfort to you, but it will be far less so to someone who is a skeptic.

The rational conclusions by definition are comforting. The skeptic has no rational retort thus I must conclude the reason is emotional.

>When you say that no possible world can be too bad for God not to create it, this conveys the image of an uncaring God who doesn't give two shits for the created beings that populate his world.

If he didn't "give two shits" he wouldn't have created in the first place but this emotional plea is still based on the incoherent concept that God is somehow obligated to us. He simply is not.


>Those of that are created are simply suppose to praise God for the positive "good" of existence itself, even if that existence is filled with misery. Surely you can see how this would be less than satisfactory for some.

No rather I find it of great confort I can not coherently blame God for my trouble and I am free to love Him in spite of the shit. Once you disabuse yourself of the fantasy that God owes you anything and except the reality you owe him everything you are free.

>BTW, I was using the word "character" as a synonym for "reputation."

The Reputation God has is he readily forgives sinners and might help you out if you ask but he doesn't owe you help.

Walter said...

">When you say that no possible world can be too bad for God not to create it, this conveys the image of an uncaring God who doesn't give two shits for the created beings that populate his world."

If he didn't "give two shits" he wouldn't have created in the first place but this emotional plea is still based on the incoherent concept that God is somehow obligated to us. He simply is not.


And thus you argue for the impersonal God of Deism. It is the only conclusion that can be drawn without appealling to special revelation.

The Reputation God has is he readily forgives sinners and might help you out if you ask but he doesn't owe you help.

Another appeal to special revelation. There is no philosophical argument which purports to show that the Prime Mover answers human prayers or "forgives" human evils.

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