Wednesday, December 21, 2011

C. S. Lewis on Subjectivism and the argument from evil

A redated post.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I com­paring this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: A fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as, if there were no light in the uni­verse and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

Mere Christianity, II, 1

39 comments:

Jason said...

Note: turns out the business trip out of state has been delayed yet _again_, this time due to inclement weather (chemicals wouldn’t behave properly on site.) So, next week for sure (God willing, creek don’t rise, etc. {g})

I intend to continue staying mostly out of the AfE sparring, but I’m glad Victor posted up one of the _pro_-theistic AfE portions from Lewis. Another relevant quotation can be made, at length, from the introduction to Lewis’ _The Problem of Pain_; where Lewis is far more specific about his argument against God, as an atheist. (The following is quoted from the Touchstone 1986 edition, pages 11-13. Italics are my emphasis.)



Not many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone had asked me, “Why do you not believe in God?” my reply would have run something like this:

“Look at the universe we live in. By far the greater part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold. The bodies which move in this space are so few and so small in comparison with the space itself that even if every one of them were known to be crowded as full as it could hold with perfectly happy creatures, it would still be difficult to believe that liffe and happiness were more than a by-product to the power that made the universe. As it is, however, the scientists think it likely that very few of the suns of space--perhaps none of them except our own--have any planets; and in our own system it is improbable that any planet except the Earth sustains life. And Earth herself existed without life for millions of years and may exist for millions more when life has left her. And what is [life] like while it lasts? It is so arranged that all the forms of it can live only by preying upon one another. In the lower forms this process entails only death, but in the higher there appears a new quality called consciousness which enables [death] to be attended with pain. The creatures cause pain by being born, and live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die. In the most complex of all the creatures, Man, yet another quality appears, which we call reason, whereby he is enabled to foresee his own pain which henceforth is preceded with acute mental suffering, and to foresee his own death while keenly desiring permanence. It also enables men by a hundred ingenious contrivances to inflict a great deal more pain than they otherwise could have done on one another and on the irrational creatures. This power they have exploited to the full. Their history is largely a record of crime, war, disease, and terror, with just sufficient happiness interposed to give them, while it lasts, an agonised apprehension of losing it, and, when it is lost, the poignant misery of remembering. Every now and then they improve their condition a little and what we call a civilisation appears. But all civilisations pass away and, even while they remain, inflict peculiar sufferings of their own probably sufficient to outweigh what alleviations they may have brought to the normal pains of man. That our own civilisation has done so, no one will dispute; that it will pass away like all its predecessors is surely probable. Even if it should not, what then? The race is doomed. Every race that comes into being in any part of the universe is doomed; for the universe, they tell us, is running down, and will sometime be a uniform infinity of homogenous matter at a low temperature. All stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter.

“If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit.”




I call attention to the fact that this is, in effect, a concise summary of every version of the anti-theistic (actually anti-Christian) AfE I have ever heard of.

The point being, that when Lewis converted first to theism, then to supernaturalism, then to Christianity, _this_ (among numerous other things) is what he was having to get past.

(Which, I submit, is one of the reasons why he has mattered so much, and will continue to do so in his legacy.)

JRP

Anonymous said...

" call attention to the fact that this is, in effect, a concise summary of every version of the anti-theistic (actually anti-Christian) AfE I have ever heard of."

I beg to differ. Sounds like the typical Christian portrayal of what an atheistic outlook leads to. Supposedly, all is doom and gloom unless one buys into the idea of a supernatural being in the heavens.
It's hard not to giggle when seeing how much Lewis anthropomorphized nature.

Without a deity there is no problem of evil. The problem emerges when a theist proposes that an omnibenevolent and omniscient deity is responsible for the creation of the world without an edequate explanation for why He would have made so much suffering.

Anonymous said...

"But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies."

Lewis' argument falls apart here. He's made the unsupported assumption the the "world was really unjust." The problem of evil does not require such an assumption.

Steven Carr said...

I wonders where Lewis gotted hers idea of good and badder English from.

If his feelings of what English was worsest and what English was bestest was purely subective, then how could he say that one English was less or more purer than another pers'on's usersing of Grammar?

Clearly without God to say what is objectively good English, Lewis could not say that something was objectively grammatically wrong.

Jason said...

Meaning you can no longer condemn actions taken by, say, ancient genocidal Jews (or modern genocidal Nazis), as being anything more or other than grammar that happens to be different than the grammar your culture has more-or-less arbitrarily chosen to speak.

JD Walters said...

"Without a deity there is no problem of evil. The problem emerges when a theist proposes that an omnibenevolent and omniscient deity is responsible for the creation of the world without an edequate explanation for why He would have made so much suffering."

Nope. It's not that without a deity there is no problem of evil. Without a deity there is no SOLUTION to the problem of evil. The atheist just has to accept that the world is pretty f--ked up and billions of people are going to fade into oblivion without hope or justice.

"Lewis' argument falls apart here. He's made the unsupported assumption the the "world was really unjust." The problem of evil does not require such an assumption."

If it doesn't, then what exactly is the argument from evil supposed to accomplish? If the arguer doesn't grant that the world is really unjust, then he must admit that all evil and suffering is merely subjective, no more a cause for complaining than not seeing more of your favorite color around town. For the argument from evil to work against God, the world REALLY has to be unjust. It can't just be all in our heads.

The burden of proof is on the atheist to show that evil makes God an impossibility.

IlĂ­on said...

Anonymouse: "I beg to differ. Sounds like the typical Christian portrayal of what an atheistic outlook leads to. [blah, blah, blah] ..."

These so-called atheists -- who *will not* reason -- are so tiresome.

Papalinton said...

This little piece from C S Lewis is replete with hand-wringing and questions why? why? why? throwing in a few of who? who? whos?

To attribute notions of unjust, and cruel etc to the universe is a simple case of anthropomorphizing, or personifying it as if it were human with emotions that would make it capable of being unjust and cruel. Such comparators are emotional responses that only animals on this planet are known to possess. To extrapolate these emotional states on to a universe is a little silly, really.

It makes for great literature. It doesn't make for actuality or factual reality. All Lewis is doing is a projection of our ideas and imagination on an as yet the inexplicable nature of the universe. In other words filling the current gap with a god.

If his argument for God collapsed too—simply for the reason the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, then his argument collapses, because just saying the universe is unjust, is not proof of the existence of a god. They is only weasel-words.

Lewis's argument is premised solely on the 'Argument from Personal Incredulity" [AfPI]

End of story.

Thrasymachus said...

Passages like this that make me rate Lewis's philosophical skills very poorly indeed. This is just dire.

Lewis's main thrust is to say that if the universe was really meaningless, we should never be able to recognize that it is meaningless. Lewis backs this up with a couple of analogies: fish don't feel wet because they are accustomed to their watery environment, and in an eyeless, unlit universe, we'd never never talk about darkness.

But it is laughably easy to give an account of how (presuming a meaningless atheistic universe) you would get people believing and saying things like "the universe is meaningless". It's pretty easy to offer a story as to how humans evo-psych leads to normativity and purposive language (and thought) - maybe from past social groups, maybe from trying to figure out the world around them, and its pretty easy from there for them to deliberate about whether any of this really applies in the universe.

I can't see how the analogies offer any support against this story (or any others). They are simply inapposite, and any way of contriving them to apply makes them easily counter-exampled.

In between the two sections of this really bad argument, Lewis sandwiches in another bad argument, vaguely and unclearly distinguished from the rest. Now instead of talking about moral thoughts ("But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?"), he talks about the metaphysics of morality ("I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own" - note even 'private ideas' are be susceptible to Lewis's 'argument' above). Lewis suggests that you need to say there 'really is' justice to run an argument from evil. If you don't, the argument collapsed.

There are two reasons to think this is wrong. 1) it is very easy to reformulate a similar argument in non-moral terms. The widespread pain of sentient beings, even if not "evil", may appear jolly surprising on Theism. 2) The dialectic is misunderstood: God cannot exist if moral realism is false, as Theism demands certain moral sentences be true, like "There is a morally perfect creator of the universe" be true. So if you believe that things like justice are only private ideas, it is Theism that collapses, and an argument from evil is rendered unnecessary.

It's pretty impressive that someone concatenated so many philosophical sins into one short passage. Lewis starts with a bad argument from inapposite analogy, careens across (via equivocating over 'meaning', and confusing "ideas about morality" and "moral facts") to make a distinct but equally bad argument that misunderstand the relevant dialectic, and then returns to making further inapposite analogies for his first argument. And that's granting the question begging claims that Atheism means things are meaningless, or that it cannot support a conception of justice besides it being a private idea.

I am striving my best to be charitable - if I'm missing something major, please correct me - but as it is stands the most charitable take on this passage is the author purely meant it as an intellectual autobiography, and he was not endorsing the veracity of any of these reflections. As a piece of philosophical argument, it is vague, confusingly structured, poorly argued, question begging, and wrong.

Papalinton said...

"If the arguer doesn't grant that the world is really unjust, then he must admit that all evil and suffering is merely subjective, no more a cause for complaining than not seeing more of your favorite color around town. "

This is a somewhat idiotic and rancorous argument. I, for one, certainly don't subscribe to this nonsense as a rational proposition in any form. And I'm an atheist. I am firstly a human being, secondly, have secular humanism as my principle guiding philosophy, and I don't see suffering as no more a cause for complaining than not seeing more of your favorite color around town. Indeed it is all our responsibility to help those in need.

To do that, every person should have mandated access to universal health care and education as a human right. These two great aspects of human well-being should not be left to the whims of the market on which shareholders get fat on the misery of others. And quality education should also be universally available to all children and not to those who can afford it. Universal access to health care and education, and particularly to women, are the two two greatest drivers in alleviating poverty and giving people the chance of a good life.

The runs are on the board. Refer to Bangladesh's Grameen Bank that provides micro-loans to women.

http://www.grameen.org.au/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grameen_Bank

The corporate structure of the free market has proven to be a dismal failure in providing health care and education except on a very limited sector of the population.

Suffering is personal and felt subjectively but it can be eliminated in a moment if the community has a mind to ditch health and education out of the hands of self-interested corporate malefactors.

Chris said...

I wonder if Lewis also had trouble saying "God is just" without an objective standard of justice. "A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line," right?

Honestly fellows I don't know why you all think Lewis is so great. He's Chesterton without the wit.

unkleE said...

I'm with you Vic. I grew up as a young believer on CS Lewis, and it was this very argument (no doubt I got it from him, though I didn't recall that at the time) that led me to continue to believe when I faced up to the evil in the world.

Unlike Thrasymachus, I still think the argument is reasonable. Yes, we can find many ways that all sorts of beliefs arose in a naturalistic universe, but I still haven't seen any that shows how ethical statements like This world is evil" are objectively true.

And equally, no way that the argument from evil works unless "This world is evil" is objectively true.

I can only conclude that evil can never be an argument against the existence of God, but is nevertheless an enormous problem to anyone who believes in a good God.

Papalinton said...

unkleE
"I can only conclude that evil can never be an argument against the existence of God, but is nevertheless an enormous problem to anyone who believes in a good God."

In a review of judaic history, it is well known Jews were polytheistic and Yahweh was but one of the gods, indeed he started out his career as the God of War [ 'The Lord is a man of war; Yahweh is his name.' – Exodus 15.3].

"The earliest Yahwistic traditions reveal that Yahweh was a bedouin war god from the deserts of Edom and of the surrounding regions. His essentially warlike characteristics are demonstated by his name, by cultic celebrations of his mighty deeds, and by his ark."
[http://www.biblicalheritage.org/God/el-goi.htm] Please read on at this site.

Over time as the agglomeration of gods became functionally cumbersome, polytheism gradually morphed into monotheism so that all sectors of the business [war, health, love, wine, thunder, lightning, etc] were subsumed into a central core. All previous god-functions were subsumed into one general, 'all-purpose' god; a one-stop shop for all occasions, from cradle to grave and beyond. After some internecine squabbling, Yahweh found himself in the CEO's chair of this new corporation and finally, he bought out all the other supernatural shareholders and became sole owner of the judeo-christian god business.

So there is no mystery about the change of a god of war in the early chapters of the OT, with Yahweh battling it out with all the other gods, such as Baal etc, dashing children's bodies on rocks, slaughtering men, women and children with great blood-curdling glee, morphing into that of the goody-goody two-shoes of the NT.

Of course we all know this stuff is a wank. But some people treat this stuff with great seriousness, enough to even rationalize evil with an innumerable range of theodicean weasel-words as claimed evidence for the existence of a god.

Sheesh

B. Prokop said...

Papalinton and (to a lesser extent) Thrasymachus have gotten it completely backwards, by accusing Lewis of anthropomorphizing. A careful reading of the passage shows clearly that Lewis is saying that unless you anthropomorphize the universe, you have no Problem of Evil. And once you do so, then you have a much greater Problem of Atheism, because you cannot use any of the concepts necessary for such a "problem" to even arise without now having to explain the very existence of one's standards - impossible to do for an atheist without retreating into the fortress of subjectivity.

I think the passage is brilliant.

Anonymous said...

No, a careful reading of the passage shows that Lewis was just as lousy at philosophy when he was an atheist as he was after he became a Christian.

B. Prokop said...

"Anonymous",

Your comment does not advance the discussion one iota, other than we now know that an unidentified person doesn't like Lewis for unknown reasons of unknown validity.

Kindly explain why you regard Lewis's philosophy as "lousy". Just calling it that is as meaningless as your chosen moniker.

Papalinton said...

Bob

"Papalinton and (to a lesser extent) Thrasymachus have gotten it completely backwards, by accusing Lewis of anthropomorphizing."

What? Saying that only by considering the universe as 'unjust and cruel', is not anthropomorphizing? Oops! There must be a natural definition and a supernatural definition of 'anthropomorphizing', and I was using the natural definition.

Lewis says, "If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning."

But that is what natural explanation and science is telling us; the universe does not have anthropomorphic meaning. The attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object, even the universe, is simply projection. With uncommon regularity, the scientific community continues to discover, or uncover as the case may be, something that serves to seriously challenge if not debunk long-held religious beliefs. And no matter how the believer tries to rationalize the cognitive dissonance that seeps into their consciousness, there is no denying that science continues to encroach on their delusion. Whether jesus was or was not a realperson, the claim is moot, as science gives us more and more reason not to look up in the sky and say, “God did it.”

We know that the attribution of god-like qualities to a jesus person is but a time-dependent tradition of legendizing accretion. This no more evident than when one steps outside their theological bubble to read the many historical accounts of 'god' formation to appreciate the consistent and correlative theme in their development.

BenYachov said...

>Saying that only by considering the universe as 'unjust and cruel', is not anthropomorphizing? Oops! There must be a natural definition and a supernatural definition of 'anthropomorphizing', and I was using the natural definition.

So if I say it's raining cats and dogs I am saying literally cats and dogs are falling from the sky as precipitation?

Paps you are so full of shit.

B. Prokop said...

"But that is what natural explanation and science is telling us; the universe does not have anthropomorphic meaning."

What?!?

Have you never heard of the Anthropic Principle? (I'm not a particular fan of it myself, mainly because I believe that Christianity makes it redundant.) But the point here is that your statement is simply untrue. Science says no such thing as what you wrote - in fact, it is tending towards quite the opposite conclusion. And this is straight, unadulterated science! No "God Talk" needed!

Papalinton, if you're going to use "science" as your antifaith prop, you'd better first be sure that real scientists are saying what you want them to say... and they ain't!

finney said...

I liked C.S. Lewis' response to the problem.

Atheists don't understand the problem quite the way theists do. Theists *really* believe there is actual injustice in the world. Atheists only take it as a premise in an argument they wish theists to solve or alternatively to stop being theists. But if the choice is between trying to work out a solution to the evil in the world and denying that evil exists, I'll take the first option. A catch-22 is better than utter denial.

This is much like David Chalmers' response to Dennett on consciousness. "[C]onscious experience is not "postulated" to explain other phenomena in turn; rather, it is a phenomenon to be explained in its own right." Like consciousness, atheists may rather "eliminate" the existence of evil rather than explain it.

B. Prokop said...

Finney,

You may be on to something there. There are a certain number of irreducible ens (as the Thomists would say) that generally reduce the atheist to a sputtering denial of what is staring him in the face. Prime examples include Existence Itself, Consciousness, Free Will, the existence of Evil, and the Validity of Reason. He has to either engage in pretzel-twisting "logic" to explain these things away, or throw them onto the theist and tell him to square these things with a just God, or just flat out deny they even exist. Some of the best atheists I know are quite good at out-Buddhisting the Buddhists when it comes to declaring that "all is illusion" (such as when it comes toFree Will or Consciousness).

But since this may very well be my last posting for 2011 (I'm off tomorrow sans computer to relatives for the Holidays), I do not want to end on a pugilistic note. I wish Papalinton, Ilion, Crude, Bilbo, Ben Yachov, Mattghg, Parboui, Gregory, Walter, Steven Carr, and even anonymous (sorry if I missed anyone) the happiest of New Years, all the best, and... (wait for it) ... Merry Christmas!

finney said...

Merry Christmas and have a wonderful 2012 start, Bob.

Matteo said...

But it is laughably easy to give an account of how (presuming a meaningless atheistic universe) you would get people believing and saying things like "the universe is meaningless".

What is it with these atheists? When they're presented with an argument you'll never catch them saying "Hmmm. Interesting. But there is a nuance that might defeat the argument. Consider..."

No. Things are always "laughable". Or "It's hard not to giggle". Or "Lewis's argument is premised solely on the 'Argument from Personal Incredulity" [AfPI (TM)]. End of story."

No indeed, it's always that theistic arguments are wrong, Wrong, WRONG! Can't you see immediately how blindingly, obviously, shockingly WRONG they are? No? Then You're an IDIOT!

It's tiresome. Folks that are secure in their views offer them as something to think about, trusting that the truth speaks for itself. Those who are not shout about how the other guy is laughably, certifiably WRONG!!!

I suppose it's an example of: "If you've got the facts and logic on your side, pound on the facts and logic. If you don't have the facts and logic on your side, pound on the table."

Given that Gnu Atheists, almost to a man, spend most of their time pounding on the table, an obvious conclusion suggests itself.

Papalinton said...

Bob

The Anthropic Principle or known more widely by its idiom, 'fine-tuning of the universe', are loved by theists, as they assert a place for a god in amongst the crevices of knowledge.
As Wiki notes: "The anthropic principle has given rise to some confusion and controversy, partly because the phrase has been applied to several distinct ideas. All versions of the principle have been accused of discouraging the search for a deeper physical understanding of the universe. The anthropic principle is often criticized for lacking falsifiability and therefore critics of the anthropic principle may point out that the anthropic principle is a non-scientific concept, even though the weak anthropic principle, "conditions that are observed in the universe must allow the observer to exist",[5] is "easy" to support in mathematics and philosophy, i.e. it is a tautology or truism. However, building a substantive argument based on a tautological foundation is problematic. Stronger variants of the anthropic principle are not tautologies and thus make claims considered controversial by some and that are contingent upon empirical verification.

Steven J Gould compared the claim that the universe is fine-tuned [use of the anthropic principle] for the benefit of our kind of life to saying that sausages were made long and narrow so that they could fit into modern hotdog buns, or saying that ships had been invented to house barnacles. These critics cite the vast physical, fossil, genetic, and other biological evidence consistent with life having been fine-tuned through natural selection to adapt to the physical and geophysical environment in which life exists. Life appears to have adapted to physics, and not vice versa.

And the very best of the festive season for you and your family, too, Bob. See you in 2012.

Papalinton said...

Bob

The Anthropic Principle or known more widely by its idiom, 'fine-tuning of the universe', are loved by theists, as they assert a place for a god in amongst the crevices of knowledge.
As Wiki notes: "The anthropic principle has given rise to some confusion and controversy, partly because the phrase has been applied to several distinct ideas. All versions of the principle have been accused of discouraging the search for a deeper physical understanding of the universe. The anthropic principle is often criticized for lacking falsifiability and therefore critics of the anthropic principle may point out that the anthropic principle is a non-scientific concept, even though the weak anthropic principle, "conditions that are observed in the universe must allow the observer to exist",[5] is "easy" to support in mathematics and philosophy, i.e. it is a tautology or truism. However, building a substantive argument based on a tautological foundation is problematic. Stronger variants of the anthropic principle are not tautologies and thus make claims considered controversial by some and that are contingent upon empirical verification.

Steven J Gould compared the claim that the universe is fine-tuned [use of the anthropic principle] for the benefit of our kind of life to saying that sausages were made long and narrow so that they could fit into modern hotdog buns, or saying that ships had been invented to house barnacles. These critics cite the vast physical, fossil, genetic, and other biological evidence consistent with life having been fine-tuned through natural selection to adapt to the physical and geophysical environment in which life exists. Life appears to have adapted to physics, and not vice versa.

And the very best of the festive season for you and your family, too, Bob. See you in 2012.

Thrasymachus said...

@unkleE:


Unlike Thrasymachus, I still think the argument is reasonable. Yes, we can find many ways that all sorts of beliefs arose in a naturalistic universe, but I still haven't seen any that shows how ethical statements like This world is evil" are objectively true.

And equally, no way that the argument from evil works unless "This world is evil" is objectively true.

I can only conclude that evil can never be an argument against the existence of God, but is nevertheless an enormous problem to anyone who believes in a good God.


If we accept there are ways we can get to beliefs like "the universe is cruel and meaningless", then that means one half of Lewis's argument in this passage is wrong. He's asserting if atheism were true, we should never even come to think about the universe being meaningless, regardless of whether it is true.

On the more 'standard' moral argument reply, I repeat my claim that this misunderstands the dialectic. There either are moral facts/objective moral values, or there aren't.

a) If there aren't objective moral values, you can't run a problem of evil (although you can run an argument from pain). But you don't need any such arguments, for if we grant there aren't objective moral values, then God (an objectively morally perfect being) cannot possibly exist.

b) If there are objective moral values, you can run an argument from evil as usual.

So either Atheist has an argument from evil, or a concession that God cannot possibly exist.

Thrasymachus said...

@Matteo

I said it was "laughably easy" to demonstrate Lewis is wrong. But I didn't just say it and leave it there. I then provided a back-of-the-envelope demonstrating this fact. You complained, went on a bit of inaccurate and sub-par psychologizing, and neglected to rebut either the example I offered nor offer any support for Lewis's contention.

I also said this passage was philosophically dire. But I didn't just say it and leave it there. I offered a variety of criticisms both of the arguments offered, and of how the passage was structured, suggested it was equivocating over 'meaning' etc.

You haven't responded to any of this. Instead (and with no discernible hint of irony) you decided to on a splentic outpouring of vitriol about how gnu-atheits (I'm not one, by the way) say all arguments are wrong, some off-target psychologizing about how I think all theistic arguments are obviously false, how folks like me spend all their time rhetorically 'pounding this fists on the table' instead of engaging with the issues (Matt 7:3, bro).

Not only did you fail to support any of these claims (which are also, as it happens, "laughably easy" to refute) you've also not offered anything substantive wrt either what Lewis wrote or my criticisms.

Please raise your game, and put up or shut up.

BenYachov said...

God be with you Bob!

Oh & Happy New Year to you Paps.

Peace & Grace to all of you here.

Papalinton said...

Ben
May you and your family have a great time over the festive season.

Cheers

Hiero5ant said...

Sorry, Thrasymachus wins the blog this week.

Shut 'er down and start up again in ought twelve.

CQC said...

"So if you believe that things like justice are only private ideas, it is Theism that collapses, and an argument from evil is rendered unnecessary."

But that's false. One form of theism collapses, sure, but others thrive. There are nominalist theists, theists who identify goodness with the ideas of God, and so on. "What is goodness?" is a debate even among theists. But what's important here is that Lewis is asserting that his argument against theism collapses, and it seems to do that: if his argument against God is that the universe isn't just, but what is or isn't just is just a private idea, then it could be that this universe is some other being's (namely God's) idea of justice after all.

Also: the statement "justice is just a private idea" is something needed to be argued for. And if the existence of justice beyond private idea is for Lewis more obvious than its non-existence, and of this doesn't square with atheism, then he actually has a reason to reject atheism on the spot.

"But it is laughably easy to give an account of how (presuming a meaningless atheistic universe) you would get people believing and saying things like "the universe is meaningless"."

Not really. Belief and the mental is pretty damn bothersome (intractable, arguably) on a meaningless, atheistic (and presumably materialistic) universe. Maybe you meant that, if we accept these things as a given, we can come up with evo-psych stories of why people say or believe this and that. But, ignoring that lingering problem, you're setting the bar too low. You can come up with plenty of things people say or do on evo-psych. Having a rational reason for their doing or saying it is a lot trickier. I don't think even Lewis would have denied that you can have some people saying or even believing "the universe is meaningless", since after all he did exactly that for a while. It's how you justify saying or believing it that's the problem.

"Lewis suggests that you need to say there 'really is' justice to run an argument from evil. If you don't, the argument collapsed."

What seems to be going on is that Lewis is pointing out that 'the universe is objectively unjust' and 'justice is all in the head' are incompatible claims. You simply can't maintain both. Now, you give two ways this can be gotten around, and I don't think either work.

"1) it is very easy to reformulate a similar argument in non-moral terms. The widespread pain of sentient beings, even if not "evil", may appear jolly surprising on Theism."

First, I don't think it's fair to knock Lewis and imply that he's wrong about an argument being a failure, then offer up what really is a very different argument in its place as proof he was wrong. "Injustice" and "pain" have a few things in common, but they're still very far apart. Likewise, replacing what was a moral argument with a non-moral argument is quite a change.

Maybe what you mean is "Okay, Lewis is right about the argument for atheism that he gave failing. But I have another argument for atheism that's broadly similar!" But so what? I doubt Lewis even suspected he shot down all possible arguments for atheism by shooting down one, or even similar ones. But one he found personally persuasive, and which seems pretty popular in some quarters, fails.

"So if you believe that things like justice are only private ideas, it is Theism that collapses, and an argument from evil is rendered unnecessary."

As I said before: first, "justice is only a private idea" becomes something you need to argue for, and you end up with a vastly different argument than Lewis was originally working with. Second, even on the personal level, if you do believe that justice is not a private idea... well, now you have a problem. And if justice must be a private idea on atheism, you're pushed to sacrifice atheism.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Matteo wrote:
"If you've got the facts and logic on your side, pound on the facts and logic. If you don't have the facts and logic on your side, pound on the table."

A great quote.

Of course, if you just focus on evidence and reason, people will fall asleep.

We could come up with nearly infinite variants of the quote, a hierarchy of side doors people will slip through if they don't have evidence...

evidence-->
logic/mathematics-->
philosophy-->
appeal to authority-->
table pounding-->
person pounding (ad hominem)

Note putting evidence at the top is quite purposeful.

Have a great holiday everyone. I've missed posting here, but it has helped my productivity.

I have noticed that each character here still is playing their proper role in my absence. :)

Anonymous said...

"Kindly explain why you regard Lewis's philosophy as "lousy"."

Saying that the idea of justice is meaningless because the universe is unjust is as absurd as saying that the idea of triangles is meaningless because the universe is not a triangle.

Lewis was a lousy philosopher when he was an atheist. He was just as lousy a philosopher when he became a Christian.

Anonymous said...

BDK:Note putting evidence at the top is quite purposeful.

BDK, what is evidence as a concept according to you? And why is philosophy ranked below evidence and math/logic on your list? Questions like "What is evidence? What does it consist of? What ought not be counted as evidence? etc." are philosophical questions through and through.

Victor Reppert said...

If my argument against the existence of God is that if the universe is unjust, then God does not exist, then if it is not objectively true that the universe is unjust, the argument fails.

One possible rebuttal to any argument from evil is to reject that moral standard that is used to generate the argument. Calvinists do that to me all the time.

parbouj said...

Victor they can say they are doing a reductio. Not a big deal.

OTOH, this constant conflation of atheism and crude materialism is inexcusable, especially with Lewis, who knew Russell and others (Russell was no crude materialist). I am an atheist, but fine with meaningfulness, morality, and such.

I see why Lewis is not taken seriously outside apologetics.

Victor Reppert said...

The reductio requires that you establish that a particular conception of goodness is essential to Christianity. I think it's a mistake to just say "no problem, it's just a reductio." Even if you argue that a theist must accept an objective standard of right and wrong, you then show that the standard that God supposedly violates by allowing the type of evil you are highlighting is a standard that theists, in virtue of being Christians, are committed to. That's a bit of a demanding chore, in my book.

If you're a subjectivist, you can't say "This is the true standard of right and wrong, God violates that in virtue of allowing the evil he does allow, therefore, an omnipotent being, if he exists, can't be good." What you have to say is that Christians are committed to the standard that God is violating. Showing that commitment on the part of Christians is bound to be difficult.

A two or three years back on DI I got into some dialogue with Calvinists, in which I argued that a God who predestined some to heaven and some to hell would not be a good being in any recognizable sense. I still think that's right, but they argued that what it is for God to be good is that God's actions promote his own glory, and by glory they mean that God acted in such a way as to be able to exercise as many of his attributes as possible. God's goodness, as they understood it, required him to required him to exercise both his merciful forgiveness of sinners, which he does by giving them saving grace and welcoming them into heaven, but also by leaving people in sin and exercising his attribute of hostility to and punishment toward sin, which he exercises by punishing people eternally in hell.

I still think that this leaves us with too big of a disconnect between goodness as we understand in human relationships and goodness as practiced by God. But making that case as someone who believes in an objective moral standard is difficult enough. Making such a case if you are an ethical subjectivist strikes me as being just plain impossible.

Thrasymachus said...

@CQC

If moral realism is false, all forms of Theism collapse. Stuff like divine conceptualism is a form of theism, which (I presume) would say justice is not some private idea, but is identified to a particular though of God's, etc.

Lewis's original contention was the empirical fact of people saying or believing these things is weird, regardless of whether these beliefs are justified or not. Of course if believing stuff in general is weird on naturalism (thanks to AfR or whatever) then beliefs about the meaninglessness of the universe are included. But given Lewis is targetting just these sorts of beliefs (and analogizes similarly) he seems to think, even if AfR or whatever is granted, we shouldn't get people thinking the universe is meaningless. And this is laughably easy to show implausible.

And you (and Reppert, I think) are missing the dialectic wrt. subjectivism/non-realism move. I don't need to argue for moral subjectivism private idea stuff because if moral realism is true, then I can run the argument from evil as usual. Lewis's reply in the passage replies on all non-thestic accounts of moral objectivity/moral realism are implausible (which is something *he* needs to argue).

And, again, if you think moral realism is false, that entails theism is false. So the meta-ethical views that don't let you run (moral) problems of evil are inhospitable to theism anyway. So atheist has a win-win.

Moral concerns could rebut the problem of evil: something like "if atheism is true, then justice can only be a private idea, but we know that justice isn't this, so not Atheism". But Lewis is presenting it like some judo-throw undercutter. Also this sort of 'moral argument trumping' makes lots of appearances in apologetics, I've never seen it used in the philosophical literature. I think that is because it is meritless.

Anonymous said...

In arguing about the problem of evil and suffering I use to try to place God in a human category and say He must behave a certain way. What I failed to take into consideration is the holiness of God. Holiness when applied to God not only refers to moral purity and perfection but to everything that sets God apart from His creation and His creatures. Holiness is God's essence. It's who He is. God is set apart from His creation and transcendent. He's distinct. We are to imitate God in His holiness in certain ways but there are also ways we are not to imitate God. We cannot be like God in every way. He alone is God and He therefore has rights and prerogatives that we don't have. Just to name a few ways I'm not like God: God is infinite in wisdom, God is all-powerful, God is sovereign, God is self-sufficient, God is all-knowing. When I try to be like God in every way it leads to pride and arrogance. He is the Creator and I am the creature.

The Bible tells us that God is love. It doesn't say He is ONLY love. And while God is love it's a holy love. For the Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not only this but the Bible also speaks of a holy hatred that God has. So, it's my contention that the problem of evil and suffering doesn't even get started. For God's love isn't merely a human love but a holy love. This isn't the same omnibenevolence that we try to ascribe to God. For God has a holy hatred as well. Nonetheless, He is completely holy and deserves our worship.