Friday, July 28, 2006

Reply to Comments on the Problem of Evil

Steven: Are we going to see numbered premises for the argument from reason any time soon?
Re-read chapters 3 and 4 of my book for several numbered-premise arguments from reason. Comments like these reinforce the suspicion that you don't know how to read.
1) God, by definition, is omni-benevolent.
2) An omni-benevelont being, by definition, does all possible acts of benevolence in its power to do
3) Not all acts of benevolence are done.
4) Therefore, there is no omni-benevlent God.


No, an omnibenevolent being does not do all possible acts of benevolence in its power to do. Some acts of benevolence do harm to the world as a whole. For example, it would be a benevolent act, but not a beneficial act, to give a serial killer money to help him leave town unnoticed.

John Loftus wrote: My mother could be able to do this by merely eliminating the whole predator/prey relationship among her creatures. She would additionally make all of her creatures vegetarians and she would then reduce the mating cycles and sex urges of her creatures so that there is plenty of vegetation to go around.

Would she do that? Do you know all the effects that such a different world would include, including the outcome of all the free choices that have been made, and will be made, in this world, compared to all the free choices that have been made in your "veggie world?" Could an adequate ecosystem exist under those circumstances? Unless you have become omniscient, John, you can't possible know that. And if you were omniscient, then we have at least established that an omniscient being exists.

My mother could do better if she was omnipotent!

How do you know that, taking everything into consideration that God must take into consideration in creating a world, she could do better.

Hallq: I'm surprised you need to write a post to get this question answered. It's like writing a blog post to ask someone to explain the cosmological argument, or the problem of induction. My initial thought was to recommend you seek out a philosophy 101 text book.

There are numerous formulations of the argument from evil, some logical, some evidential, some probabilistic. There's Rowe's version, and there's Draper's. Are you claiming that we know all the premises to be true for sure, or that we think they they are only probably true. You need more than a PHI 101 textbook to make those choices.

John again: Vic, I actually think you're right here. What is there in the Bible, and not merely a philosophically defined "greatest conceivable being" that requires an omnibenevolent being? I do not believe the Bible requires that of her God.

But then you run into a different problem, don't you? Doesn't the Biblical God seem more like an ancient potentate then what God can be conceived to be?


I am taking God to be the being who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosover believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Doesn't sound like an ancient potentate to me. But does that being have to create the best of all possible worlds, or at least the best possible world in his power to create. Maybe he does, but this is typically assumed without argument, and I am asking for the argument.

Blue Devil Knight: Similarly, but tangentially, shouldn't there be a lot more miracles if the Christian God existed?

And for each one that is performed we can always ask for one more. Maybe there is not best of all possible worlds.

16 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Vic: Could an adequate ecosystem exist under those circumstances?

What else has been changed here? I think everything has been accomodated for in my mother's "veggie world." But tell me this, why is an adequate ecosystem valuable when we're talking about God and the amount of natural evil we have as a result of the ecosystem? An omnipotent God can have a perpetual miracle correcting something in the ecosystem, if needed. As far as we know all natural laws are nothing but God's perpetual miracles anyway. If an adequate ecosystem also means we'll have earthquakes, tsunami's, tornados, hurricances, and pandemics, why bother with an "adequate" ecosystem at all?

Vic: Unless you have become omniscient, John, you can't possible know that. Now here is a reasonable requirement--not! No, I'm not omniscient, and neither is my mother. But what I just wrote above has more plausibility to it than not, and that's all we have to go on. It's possible that God is fooling you and that he created a world that leads any honest observer to believe he doesn't exist. There are so many possibilities here. But we must both operate on what's most plausible.

BTW: My Mother would also give her creatures stronger immune systems and as a result there would be no pandemics in her world.

Steven Carr said...

'Steven: Are we going to see numbered premises for the argument from reason any time soon?
Re-read chapters 3 and 4 of my book for several numbered-premise arguments from reason. Comments like these reinforce the suspicion that you don't know how to read.'

And your refusal, over many years, to tell people what they are in a form where they can be easily searched tells me what exactly?

Steven Carr said...

'No, an omnibenevolent being does not do all possible acts of benevolence in its power to do. Some acts of benevolence do harm to the world as a whole. For example, it would be a benevolent act, but not a beneficial act, to give a serial killer money to help him leave town unnoticed.'

This is the specious reasoning Victor comes up with for God allowing millions of children to die from malaria and leukemia.

Apparently, God doesn't save a child from malaria, because that would just be a benevolent act, not a beneficial one.

Joe Markus said...

Maybe, as Hasker argues, some pointless evil is a necessary condition for moral choice. If every evil were such that it has associated with it a greater good then there would seem to be no point in trying to avoid the undesireable consequences of natural law. We should want more hurricanes, cancer, etc.

However, if some natural evil is really pointless then it makes sense to choose to prepare for and react to natural evil.

The same seems to hold for moral evil. If every evil has a greater good associated with it then there wouldn't really be any moral choice. If I choose to torture Smith there would be a greater outweighing good for that choice. So the choice would really be good--at least it would contribute to a good state of affairs that outweighs it. Just as a doctor can cause the evil of pain in surgery and not be considered to be an evil person because the act contributes to a greater good, God could allow moral and natural evil because all lead to greater goods.

The question is: does the pain and suffering of children outweigh the value associated with moral choice?

John W. Loftus said...

Maybe, as Hasker argues, some pointless evil is a necessary condition for moral choice.

But then, as Daniel Howard-Snyder has argued, how is it then to be considered truly pointless evil?

Boy, what a value God must place on moral choices. Why place such a high value on them, and what is there about horrendous evils such that moral choice-making is different during intense suffering than merely being tempted to steal without the suffering? Has someone actually shown that moral choice-making is qualitatively different in times of intense suffering over normal choice making?

And doesn't a parent give her child only the amount of freedom that a child can handle responsibly? If she knowingly gives a child more freedom than a child can handle, isn't she blameworthy if the child abuses it? Would you give a razor blade to a 2 year old?

John W. Loftus said...

I've raised this same discussion on my blog here

Hallq said...

On your response to me: Okay. Your initial post made it sound like there was some general lack of formal versions, but you just wanted to always have the version set. Why not, though, just pick a common one when discussing the problem and leave it to the atheists in the debate to say if there's a better one?

Mike D said...

John asked, "Has someone actually shown that moral choice-making is qualitatively different in times of intense suffering over normal choice making?"

The cost/benefit analysis of suffering is not best determined by the "qualitative different moral choice-making." It may not be highly relevant whether people make better choices in the presence of suffering. This may be one of the factors that makes a world with suffering "better" in the mind of God than a world with less suffering or no suffering.

When it comes to choice-making, it seems inherently beneficial that horrendous choices have horrendous consequences. In the awfullness of it, dignity is found in bearing the responsibility. God trusts us with the ability to destroy his creation -- and we do. The alterntive of living without consequences to our actions would be bizarre. It would be analagous to not permitting an adult a rounded pair of scissors.

Even when evil is not attributable to moral choices, dignity and significance is found in the mitigation of evil by human agency. The most personally rewarding and satisfying professions are those that focus on alieviating human suffering.

Moral choice-making is qualitatively different in a world where suffering exists. Moral choice-making has little significance in a world where suffering does not exist. In a world where less evil exists, moral choice making is less signfificant.

exbeliever said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
exbeliever said...

[Sorry, here is the post-spell-checker version.]

I don't think it is an atheist's duty to make an argument against the existence of a god or gods anymore than it is an aleprechaunist's duty to make an argument against the existence of leprechauns. As I argued here, it is up to the person who is claiming to know of the existence of a being outside of another person's experience to give that other person reason to believe the existence of this being is possible. In other words (and as I have also argued elsewhere), it is reasonable for a person to be skeptical of existence claims outside of that person's experience. It is reasonable for that person to ask for reasons to believe in a being outside of her experience if another is making an existence claim that is, in fact, outside of her experience.

I do not believe in a god or gods because I have seen no reason to believe such an entity or entities exist. The reasons that I have seen or heard for the existence of a god have all been unsound.

I do not disbelieve because the case for a god or gods has been disproven, but rather because the case is still unproven. In invite Christians and other theists to present their reasons for believing something like a god can exist.

That said, however, I think there are problems of evil [not a singular "problem of evil"] that make the Christian belief that a good god exists improbable. While I am not so bold as to claim that these problems disprove the existence of any god or gods, I do contend that they place Christians in an awkward, defensive position in which they must adopt several ad hoc, and unconventional, beliefs in order to maintain their god's goodness.

That said, I will now present a few arguments that I believe are problematic for Christians. While none of them may be unanswerable, I believe that they force the Christian to accept answers that stretch the credibility of their openness to the "falsifibility" [forgive the word invention, I can't think of a better one] of their beliefs. In other words, I believe the "answers" that Christians invent for these problems demonstrate that their faith is not subject to falsifibility, and that their faith is, therefore, not subject to reason.

Argument #1:

P1: An omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent being would not commit an evil act.
P2: Ordering an army to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants is an evil act.
P3: The Christian God ordered an army to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants.
C: Therefore, the Christian God is not omni-benevolent.

I believe P1 is true by definition. If a being is all good, wise enough to know how to avoid evil acts, and powerful enough to accomplish his goals without evil acts, that being would not commit an evil act.

Christian theists often argue that P2 is true when applied to humans, but not to the Christian God. It is argued that humans are the Christian God's "property" and it is not, then, an evil act for him to destroy his own property.

This seems to me an ad hoc argument intended to save the Christian God from an obvious evil act (i.e. an act that would be obviously evil to most people who heard it). It also creates a problem for Christian moral philosophy.

Many of the same Christians who argue that a different morality applies to the Christian God justify human morality by reference to God's nature. They do this to avoid the horns of Euthyphro's dilemma. They do not want to say that morality is an arbitrary decision of God nor do they want to say that morality is external to God (because this would, presumably, make God subject to a standard outside of himself).

The defense, then, that P2 does not apply to the Christian God because of his position as "owner" of humanity is problematic because it implies a different moral standard for God and for humanity. If morality is determined by God's nature, however, and not his divine commands, then, there would not be two separate moral standards for God and for humanity. All morality would be unified by God's nature (i.e. if it is immoral to order an army to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants because of God's nature, then God's nature would not allow him to do so either).

Whether this defense is as problematic to those who do not maintain that morality is derived from God's nature is unclear to me. Perhaps, there is a way of justifying Christian moral belief that avoids both horns of Euthyphro's dilemma and avoids the problem of a morality derived from God's nature that does not apply to God himself. If there is such a justification, I do not know it.

Christians who are familiar with the Bible and believe in its infallibility will understand that P3 is supported by the Bible itself--1 Samuel 15:2-3, "Thus says the LORD of hosts. . . 'Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey'" (emphasis added). A denial that this record records an actual history is a defeator of my argument.

The conclusion follows from the premises. It does not disprove the existence of any god or gods, but only that the Christian God is not omnibenevolent.

Argument #2 (general):

P1a: If the creator of this world were omniscient and omnipotent, then "he" could create a world in which all of his goals could be accomplished without pain and suffering.
P2a: If the creator of this world were omnibenevolent, then "he" would create a world in which all of his goals were accomplished without pain and suffering.
P3a: This world is not without pain and suffering.
Ca: Therefore the creator of this world is not omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.

P1b: If the creator of this world is not omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, then the Christian God is not the creator of this world.
P2b: The creator of this world is not omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.
Cb: Therefore, the Christian God is not the creator of this world.

I believe P1a is true by definition. A being that is both omniscient and omnipotent would have both the wisdom and strength to accomplish his goals without inflicting (or allowing) pain and suffering.

It seems to me that P2a is also true by definition. Given a choice between accomplishing a goal with pain and suffering and accomplishing the same goal without it, a being that is all good would not inflict this pain and suffering because it would be unnecessary.

Perhaps it could be argued that "pain and suffering" are not "evil" and are, therefore, irrelevant to the discussion of a benevolent being. I feel this stance, however, is unusual. It seems that most humans agree that pain and suffering is evil. It seems to me that one arguing an unusual position should bear the burden of that claim. I realize that I am the one equating pain and suffering with evil, but I feel that since this is such a commonly held belief it is not my burden to defend this in detail. If asked, I will attempt to do so, however.

Denial of P3a seems antithetical to Christian doctrine and irreconcilable with human experience. If anyone disagrees, I will accept my burden to elaborate on this point.

Conclusion Ca follows from the premises.

Justification of P1b is taken, again, from Christian doctrine (or, perhaps, it is more appropriate to say that it is taken from Evangelical doctrine--e.g. Process theologians would not agree with this premise). Since my audience is mostly Evangelical, however, I do not feel the need to justify a premise derived from their own theology.

P2b is justified on the basis of P1a, P2a, and P3a above as it is simply the conclusion derived from those premises.

Conclusion Cb follows from the premises.

It seems to me that a possible defeator of this argument would be the claim that the Christian God could have had pain and suffering as a goal for humanity. In other words, while it might be true that an omnipotent and omniscient being could create a world in which many goals could be accomplished with or without pain and suffering, it might be the case that the particular goal of the Christian God in creating the world involved pain and suffering as its overall objective. Even an omniscient and omnipotent being could not accomplish a goal that included inflicting pain and suffering without pain and suffering.

This position, however, seems to create another problem. It seems to insist that the Christian God could not have chosen another goal for the world that did not involve pain and suffering. It seems to imply that the Christian God was not free to choose his own goals for the world, that he had to choose one that involved pain and suffering. This, however, seems to refute Christian doctrine of the Christian God's freedom, which leads into Argument #3.

Argument #3:

P1a: If the creator of this world were omniscient, omnipotent, and free, then "he" could choose any goal for this world that he wanted.
P2a: If the creator of this world were omnibenevolent, then "he" would choose only those goals for this world that did not involve pain and suffering.
P3a: This world involves pain and suffering.
C1a: Therefore, the creator of this world did not choose only those goals for this world that did not involve pain and suffering.
C2a: Therefore, the creator of this world is not omniscient, omnipotent, free, and omnibenevolent.

P1b: If the creator of this world is not omniscient, omnipotent, free, and omnibenevolent, then the Christian God is not the creator of this world.
P2b: The creator of this world is not omniscient, omnipotent, free, and omnibenevolent.
Cb: Therefore, the Christian God is not the creator of this world.

I believe P1a is true by definition. A free creator is not obligated to choose one goal over another. An omnipotent creator is not limited in his choices of goals by his power. An omniscient creator is not limited in his choices of goals by his ignorance of his options.

It seems that P2a is also true by definition. An omnibenevolent creator would limit himself to those goals that did not involve evil (viz. pain and suffering--see the justification of Argument #2, P2a for equating "pain and suffering" to "evil").

As I stated above, "Denial of P3a seems antithetical to Christian doctrine and irreconcilable with human experience. If anyone disagrees, I will accept my burden to elaborate on this point."

Conclusions C1a and C2a follow from the premises.

For justification of P1b, see the justification of Argument #3, P1b.

P2b is P2b is justified on the basis of P1a, P2a, P3a, and C1a above as it is simply the conclusion derived from those premises.

Conclusion C1b follows from the premises.

Argument #4 (specific):

[I often feel that these discussions are cheapened when they are only discussed in abstractions. I feel that it is appropriate to be specific when discussing pain and suffering and evil. Not doing so seems to sanitize the conversation. Some Christians, however, claim that specifics are often intended to "poison the well." The reader can judge for herself.]

[Background: Samantha Runnion was a five-year-old little girl who was lured away from her house by a man claiming to have lost his dog. This man, Alejandro Avila, took her into the woods and raped her. (Sorry to be graphic, but imagine what 'raping' a five-year-old entails. According to leaked reports Samantha was vaginally and anally raped. There were large lacerations in both locations. Imagine the little girl under this man who is forcing himself inside her).

After repeatedly raping her, Avila killed her by strangulation. He, then, arranged her body in a sexual position and spread her hair so that it cascaded down a hill. He left her corpse there.]

P1a: If the creator of this world were omniscient and omnipotent, then "he" could create a world in which all of his goals could be accomplished without the rape of Samantha Runnion.
P2a: If the creator of this world were omnibenevolent, then "he" would create a world in which all of his goals were accomplised without the rape of Samantha Runnion.
P3a: This world is not without the rape of Samantha Runnion.
Ca: Therefore the creator of this world is not omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.

P1b: If the creator of this world is not omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, then the Christian God is not the creator of this world.
P2b: The creator of this world is not omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.
Cb: Therefore, the Christian God is not the creator of this world.

Justification of this argument is the same as Argument #2 above.

While none of these arguments are the basis of my disbelief in a god or gods, they do help solidify my disbelief.

Joe Markus said...

John W. Loftus,

You said:

"But then, as Daniel Howard-Snyder has argued, how is it then to be considered truly pointless evil?"

Hasker has responded to this objection. It was first raised by Rowe. And it is based on a misunderstanding.

Hasker accepts a distinction (first suggested by Rowe) between the CLASS of gratuitous evil and PARTICULAR gratuitous evils. The former is necessary for the greater good of preserving significant moral freedom. The latter is not.

Consider an example. Suppose a teacher asks for two students to help her move her desk. The class of "Two Students" may be a necessary condition for the moving of her desk. That doesn't mean that the two students who actually move the desk are necessary. So it's not necessary that Tom and Dick move the desk. Jack and Jill could do it just as well. Any particular student is gratuitous with regard to the moving of the desk.

So no particular gratuitous evil would be necessary for preserving significant morality. The fact that gratuitous evil exists at all is necessary.

Now consider your example:

"Would you give a razor blade to a 2 year old?"

If the theist must believe that every evil is such that God couldn't prevent it without thereby losing some greater good, why NOT allow a child to play with a razor? Sure, they may cut their eye out, which would be terrible or they may cut themselves and bleed to death, which would be worse. But whatever suffering is caused it is still associated with a GREATER GOOD. Just as a surgeon can cause great pain and suffering as a necessary condition for a long healthy life, a parent could allow their child to cut themselves or even kill themselves since it would lead to a greater good. In fact,maybe the theist should beat his children, encourage them to play in the street, eat rancid meat, and play with sharp objects. Sure those things will lead to pain and suffering but the theist would be bringing about greater goods.

Shouldn't one ALWAYS choose a greater good over a lesser evil? The surgeon example certainly seems to suggest so.

The same follows for natural evils. Why prepare for and attempt to correct the pain and destruction of natural disasters? They are bringing about GREATER GOODS. We shouldn't attempt to cure poverty and disease. We're undermining all the greater goods associated with them.

So the theist can't believe that every evil is such that God couldn't prevent it without losing some greater good.

John W. Loftus said...

Mike D: Moral choice-making has little significance in a world where suffering does not exist. In a world where less evil exists, moral choice making is less signfificant.

Less significant, eh? For my moral choices to be more significant I must be able to do more harm? Significant, as in more important? Why must I be able to drown a child, and not just rescue a child from drowning, for moral choices to be more important?

exbeliever said...

Steven: Are we going to see numbered premises for the argument from reason any time soon?

Re-read chapters 3 and 4 of my book for several numbered-premise arguments from reason.


[I'm guessing there's some history between you two that explains the comment about Steven's inability to read (which I did not include in my cut-and-paste.]

As far as I'm concerned, though, I spent enough money on Christian apologetics books in Bible college and in seminary. I figure if your argument is extremely profound, lots of apologists will take it up, it will become ubiquitous, and I can save myself a few bucks.

If you are interested, I just finished a post analyzing your "argument from reason" as you expressed it in your article on infidels.org.

I took your statement, "So if I can show that the existence of reason makes sense in a theistic universe but not in a mechanistic materialist universe, I will have given some good reasons for preferring theism to atheism," and formalized it thusly:

P1: If reason makes sense in a theistic universe, but not in a mechanistic materialist universe, then theism is preferred to atheism.
P2: Reason makes sense in a theistic universe, but not in a mechanistic materialist universe.
C: Therefore, theism is preferred to atheism.

While I am certain that this formulation expresses the argument you put forward in your article, you may have revised, strengthened, or rephrased it in your book.

You still might find my post an interesting read.

HiveMaker said...

Either the statement "God is good" means something intelligible in plain English, or it does not mean something intelligible.

If the statement "God is good" is intelligible, then it means what it means in ordinary, plain English. Even though people may disagree (sometimes strongly) on the details of whether this or that particular act is benevolent when performed by one of us Average Joe Sixpacks, we have a basis for understanding what it means to say that something is benevolent.

However, ordering genocide, pillage, and rape is not benevolent according to what the word means in plain English. So Yahweh, if he exists, is not benevolent according to the plain English understanding of what it means to say of a person that he is good.

Alternately, it might be urged that Yahweh's knowledge, his faculties of reasoning, and his ultimate purposes bear a relation to our own that is analogous to the relationship between an adult and a very young child. Just as children cannot understand why they are being punished for this or that, we cannot understand that Yahweh has some "higher" purpose or "higher" good that the sufferings he inflicts on his children serve.

However, to us Average Joe Sixpacks, the condition of Yahweh being "superduper good" is epistemically identical to Yahweh being a deranged child-abusing monster. So even if it were the case that Yahweh was superduper good, no one could meaningfully assert that this is the case.

So when the theist tells me they believe in a "good" being who is slowly killing my friend with a degenerative autoimmune disorder, either they are speaking plain English, or they are filling the air with noise. If they are speaking plain English, then they are saying something that is cognitively meaningful, but is a falsehood. However, if they are not speaking plain English when they say "good", they are speaking something that they by definition could not possibly understand, and by definition could not possibly be justified in believing.

exbeliever said...

Hivemaker,

I think you make a good point. I've found that when most Christians say, "God is good," what they mean is "God is God."

In ordinary language, a "good" being does not command an army to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants (1 Samuel 15:2-3). In ordinary language, a "good" being does not threaten rape for disobedience (Zechariah 14:2).

I feel that Christians are being deceitful when they tell others "God is good," when these others would not understand that when they say "good," they allow it to be applied to a being who commands armies to kill infants and threatens rape for disobedience. I think an honest Christian would stick to saying "God is God" and leaving it at that.

Mike D said...

John W. Loftus said... "Less significant, eh? For my moral choices to be more significant I must be able to do more harm? Significant, as in more important? Why must I be able to drown a child, and not just rescue a child from drowning, for moral choices to be more important?"
By "signigicant", I do not mean merely that the decision is an important one. It is not the decision that increases in significance but the decision-maker. If the consequences of our decisions are narrowed to the benign, our signifance as decision-makers is diminished. The potential for our decisions to result in evil, harm, negative consequences, pain, etc. give us significances as decision-makers. We also gain significance when our decisions can result in relieving pain, combating evil, and restoring others affected by poor decision-making.