Saturday, October 21, 2006

More on the problem of evil

I can't for the life of me see why the Christian theist's inability to explain some evils is more damaging to theism than the naturalist's inability to explain consciousness is for naturalism. If anything, the theist at least can, in broad outline, show how in many cases suffering can work redemptively. I would admit that in other cases it's far more mysterious. To say that we know for sure that God ought to intervene in some horrific case is to make moral-theoretic assumptions, and you have no reason to believe that the theist you are arguing with accepts those moral-theoretic assumptions or that they ought to. If you look back at Clayton's reasons why he thinks a hidden good argument won't work, you will find him appealing to Kantian moral principles and moral principles based on a "respect-for-persons" ethic. To get the silver bullet he wants, he either has to argue that these principle hold true objectively and that everyone ought to accept them even if they don't, or else he has to argue that all Christians either accept them or ought to accept them. I think that puts an intolerable burden on his argument.

A Christian moral subjectivist can dodge the argument from evil completely by simply saying that they, subjectively, can look at everything and say that the Omnipotent on is good according to their own feelings. End of argument. I have it tougher; I'm not a moral subjectivist.

50 comments:

exapologist said...

Hi Victor,

First, I grant that consciousness is a genuine problem for naturalism -- especially for versions such as reductive materialism and the sort of "logical supervenience" accounts that Chalmers and Frank Jackson discuss in "The Conscious Mind" and "From Metaphysics to Ethics", respectively.

Second, while I think it's possible for a theist to resist the logical or evidential problem of evil in principle, so long as their cumulative case for theism is sufficiently strong, I worry that this case *isn't* sufficiently strong to make the sorts of resistive moves you mention.

Third, and relatedly, I'm not sure how interesting your point is with respect to the ability of theists to resist the force of the problem(s) of evil. Consider it granted that you're in your epistemic rights to resist it. Still, that's of no help to the non-theist: it gives them no reason whatever for rejecting it. Or perhaps this weaker defensive point was all that you intended? If so, then I agree, keeping in mind the qualification in my second point.

jeff g said...

"I can't for the life of me see why the Christian theist's inability to explain some evils is more damaging to theism than the naturalist's inability to explain consciousness is for naturalism."

Well, I can think of two responses:

1) There are various forms of naturalism. Property dualism seems to deal quite nicely with the problem of consciousness, at least metaphysically speaking, and this without even hinting at anything supernatural.

2) The theist, in contrast to the naturalist, believes in an individual who should be able to, and indeed should actually explain their reason for allowing evil. Naturalism, on the other, makes no such claims about any individual.

While the theist is not logically compelled to accept the problem of evil, until we actually do have an explanation for why God allows tsunami's to destroy people, then the burden of proof, in the case of the problem of evil, is on the theist. After all, would we ever in a million years allow a murderer to go free if he simply claims to have a secret reason for why he did it which completely justifies him? Of course not. Either he gives his reason or we condemn him for his actions.

Clayton said...

Why should anyone care what another's assumptions are. I say there's a duty to intervene to prevent X. That's presumably either true or false. If it's true, incompatible with what theist's say, why should anyone care that it is consistent with the theist's assumptions? Hardly a consolation prize, right?

Don Jr. said...

Jeff G,

Because a man (or deity) remains silent, he's guilty? (Also, the Book of Job, one might argue, is a little more than silence.)

For anyone interested, Daniel Howard-Snyder has what I think to be one of the best, if not the best, papers on this subject, i.e., his "God, Evil, and Suffering".

jeff g said...

"Because a man (or deity) remains silent, he's guilty?"

You tell me, Don. Suppose that we have a guy who we all know is guilty of the most heinous form of child neglect imaginable. If he remains silent, rather than giving an explanation for his behavior (or lack thereof) do we just give him the benefit of the doubt, or do we send him to jail for a very long time?

I'll look into that paper you referenced.

Victor Reppert said...

Clayton said...

Why should anyone care what another's assumptions are. I say there's a duty to intervene to prevent X. That's presumably either true or false. If it's true, incompatible with what theist's say, why should anyone care that it is consistent with the theist's assumptions? Hardly a consolation prize, right?

OK, here you are arguing that this obligation on the part of God exists simpliciter. That presupposes the existence of moral facts, which on my view involve ontological commitments that are inconsistent with naturalism.

Clayton said...

Victor,
I thought we went over this point before. Even if I thought that the objectivity of morality depended upon denying naturalism, you yourself admitted in a previous thread that the objectivity of morality didn't require theism. Moreover, even if it did, the argument from evil can be construed as a reductio (You'd derive a contradiction from theism and some claim about events in the world such as genocide). If the theist is committed to there being moral facts but the existence of such facts conjoined with descriptions of how the world is entail that theism is false, the theist is really in trouble. Which they are.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Philosophical problems in a nutshell:


The problem of evil

[Perfect] Goodness--->Evil



The brain/mind problem

Unconsciousness--->Consciousness



How do you get from perfect goodness to evil? Or from unconsciousness to consciousness? I don't know. Seems like in both cases philosophers are trying to get to someplace that's simply excluded from the beginning of their questioning by definition.

Edward T. Babinski said...

The Free Will Defense

I don't see how "free will" helps answer the problem of evil for Christian apologists. Doesn't God have "free will?" So potentially God can choose "evil" just like Adam and Eve did, right? What keeps God from choosing evil? Or isn't God truly "free?"

And if some secondary thing keeps God (even with HIS free will) from EVER choosing evil, then did God forget to also include that secondary thing in Eden?

Lastly, many of the world's pains and sufferings are not believed to be due to Adam's "free will," but are believed to have been around ages before Adam arose. Death was around before Adam, so was pain and suffering. So God choose to create a cosmos where every living things in it eventually dies and where all the living creatures it contains are living lives in which they "struggle" for their very lives against other living things God designed, or against nature in general that God designed, and her myriad ways to kill creatures--from a sudden frost to a tsunami or even asteroid. I haven't even gotten into how psychological suffering enters into the picture, or brain diseases.

Edward T. Babinski said...

I recently added two articles on the Problem of Evil over at a blog titled, Debunking Christianity.

Steven Carr said...

Hey, who can disprove the idea that God makes some people suffer so that others can learn the appropriate lessons from it?

I know that I do the same thing.

I allowed my 6 year old child to put his hand in the fire, so that I could tell my 4 year old that he can watch and learn.

And the courts had the audacity to claim that I was not a good parent!

Steven Carr said...

Consciousness is a huge problem for theists, who cannot begin to explain how it comes about. They never even try.


How can a soul be conscious? God makes it conscious?? What sort of non-answer is that?

Anonymous said...

"OK, here you are arguing that this obligation on the part of God exists simpliciter. That presupposes the existence of moral facts, which on my view involve ontological commitments that are inconsistent with naturalism."

Clayton is right. The argument from evil can be construed as a reductio. One arguing it need not himself be a moral objectivist.

Don Jr. said...

Jeff G,

Okay, I will tell you: Because a man remains silent it does not follow that he is guilty. I, of course, am speaking in terms of logic here (He is silent; therefore, He is guilty is not a valid argument). In what terms are you speaking?

And if it is a guy who "we all know is guilty of the most heinous form of child neglect imaginable" it doesn't matter if he speaks or not.

I'm not, Jeff, meaning to say that God, because He is God, is automatically absolved from crimes. I'm meaning to say that His (supposed) silence, or our ignorance of His reasons (which is to say, our lack of omniscience), does not entail that he is guilty of any crime (if He were to exist). Daniel Howard-Snyder presents a good case, I think, for this in his paper (see, specifically, section 6).

Don Jr. said...

Clayton and Anonymous,

I think the point of Victor's comment ('11:21 PM') was that assumptions do mattter. You can't give a reductio without an assumption. The entire point of a reductio is to prove an assumption absurd.

Victor was right, in my opinion, when said, "To get the silver bullet he [Clayton] wants, he either has to argue that these principle[s] hold true objectively and that everyone ought to accept them even if they don't, or else he has to argue that all Christians either accept them or ought to accept them."

Clayton, when you say, "I say there's a duty to intervene to prevent X. That's presumably either true or false," I agree. But that there is a duty to intervene to prevent X can be denied because (1) duties exist but there is not in fact a duty to intervene there or (2) duties do not exist. You assume that the second point is mistaken. Victor was saying, I think, that this assumption, along with your "appealing to Kantian moral principles and moral principles based on a 'respect-for-persons' ethic," is an assumption independent of the argument from evil and, if it is part of your argument, would need to be argued for separately. This is if your argument is presented on its on terms. If, however, it is a reductio, then the theist's assumptions very much do matter.

It should be noted that Victor's comments--at least in this post--don't count as a refutation of your argument, Clayton. And I don't think they were meant as such. (In fact, Victor basically acknowledged that he accepted your assumptions, at least in general, when he said that he was not a moral subjectivist.) Rather, I think he was simply making an aside. Of course Victor can speak for himself if I have interpreted him wrongly, but that is how I understood him.

Clayton said...

Don,

I think that assumptions matter, but there's something very weird abou the way that Victor seems to think assumptions matter.

Suppose someone has OCD and washes his hands 97 times a day. Someone could say that we could never show that his actions are unreasonable given assumptions he accepts, but that's precisely why we think there's something wrong with his assumptions. We've never thought that therapists have some extra burden of proof because the people they deal with tend to be unreasonable.

If the theist's assumptions don't allow them to figure out that genocide should be stopped by whoever is in a position to do so, their assumptions are insufficient for enabling them to see the moral facts as they are. Why on earth does that mean that there's extra work for the atheist to do?

So, I come along and say that allowing some to suffer horrendously so that others might see it and gain something from the experience violates Kantian principles. The response is that I've not shown that those principles are true. Fair enough. Are they false? Am I wrong to say that you should allow some to suffer horrendous evils so that others might benefit from this? If not, then the theist is surely screwed regardless of whether I've provided the proof of Kantianism or not.

jeff g said...

Don,

Okay. Let's say that we have our parent who is obviously guilty of neglect. Do you honestly think that his lawyers appeal to logic should count for anything in his defense? Who cares what logic says in this situation, since logic can only rarely be applied in real life. Just follow your moral intuitions and we must conclude that unless God speaks in his defense, we must assume that he cannot possibly be all-good.

I know that this isn't a logically deductive argument, but again, who cares? In this case appeals to logic simply seem immoral.

Don Jr. said...

Clayton,

About the hand-washer, you say, "Someone could say that we could never show that his actions are unreasonable given assumptions he accepts." In a sense I agree. And that is the entire point and method of a reductio. The method of a reductio is to be fully reasonable in taking one's assumptions--that is, not to be unreasonable given the assumptions. The point of a reductio, though, is to show that being fully reasonable in taking one's assumptions ends up, ultimately, being unreasonable.

All that aside I think you are attributing beliefs to the theist which she doesn't hold. You say that "allowing some to suffer horrendously so that others might see it and gain something from the experience" violates moral principles. I agree, as I think most theists would. But the theist usually doesn't hold that sort of belief about the existence of evil. She usually believes that God's specific reasons for permitting evil are unknown to us (hence you hear her talking about having faith that "God is good" regardless of the way things appear at times) or that what we think to be an instance of evil might actually not be (in the way that a child might think his parents evil for denying him cookies or a doctor evil for giving him a shot). And the theist is not "screwed" because she denies that one ought to "allow some to suffer horrendous evils so that others might benefit from [them]." The claim is that God can use evil for good, not that he allows it "so that" others might benefit from them. America doesn't (always) have wars "so that" America might survive. (We warred with Hitler because we thought him evil.) But the survival of America is always a product of a successful American war (at least from America's perspective).

Don Jr. said...

Jeff G,

How is your example analogous when you say, "Let's say that we have our parent who is obviously guilty of neglect" (emphasis mine)?

Victor Reppert said...

There are two ways of advancing the argument from evil. One way is to argue that God has certain obligations objectively which He would be failing to fulfil if he existed. Such an argument presupposes the objectivity of moral values, and runs into trouble if I am right in asserting that objective moral values are incompatible with naturalism. By saying it is either true or false that God has a certain obligation, you are asserting moral objectivity. So I was a little surprised by that claim, given the fact that you had opted for the "reductio" formulation in the previous thread.

The other formulation, the reductio formulation, argues that even if moral values are subjective, theists invariably say that they are not subjective, and their own moral code entail the moral premises of the argument from evil. The problem there is that even if theists are moral objectivists, theists might differ with the moral premise of the argument. You are counting on the content of someone else's moral philosophy for the basis of your argument. You are saying that I must agree that God has such and such an obligation. I think there is some flipping back and forth here. My problem is that when Clayton produced arguments against the hidden good theory, he appealed to moral premises based on Kantian ethics and on respect-for-person morality. He must either argue that I ought to accept these principles because everyone ought to accept these principles, or argue that I do accept these principles as a theist. So far, I haven't seen a good argument for either of these claims.

Clayton said...

Victor,

I don't have to argue that YOU should accept anything to show you that you have a false theory. All I have to do to show the theory you hold is false is that it entails a false propositon. If you can't see that it does, well, we know that ~(horse + water = drink).

As for the allegation that I'm flip flopping, that's absolutely preposterous. I say that that the argument from evil works AND I say that the responses you've offered are unsuccessful because even if we were to pretend that theism is a necessary pre-requisite for believing in the objectivity of values, the argument can be reconstructed as a reductio. Since when does someone count as "flipping back and forth" when they show that a view they're criticizing suffers from a defect and the defect can't be removed even if we grant our opponent wholly implausible assumptions?

Don Jr.,

I don't want you to think that every theist believes that God allows evil to befall one group of individuals so that another group benefits. I was merely offering that as an example. There are surely other ways of developing theodicies that don't go in this direction. I'm reasonably confident that any theodicy, whether it involves the hidden good response or something else, runs afoul of moral principles known with certainty. Maybe not known to people who have certain theories they oughtn't accept, but known to others with certainty.

jeff g said...

Don,

By "obviously guilty of neglect" I mean that everybody in the entire court room knows for a fact that the parent allowed something terrible happen to their child which they could have prevented. This is exactly analogous to the situation at hand, for God sat by and let the tsumani happen and everybody knows it. Thus the argument is about whether He had a good reason for sitting back and letting it happen or not.

Going back to the analogy, unless the parent who sat back and let something terrible happen to their child can actually tell us WHY they did so, they stand condemned. If his lawyers simply said that the prosecution couldn't logically prove that there wasn't a good reason for their inaction, we would all still confict the parent, and rightfully so. Such is exactly the case in the problem of evil.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic: By saying it is either true or false that God has a certain obligation, you are asserting moral objectivity.

I am really really surprised you say this. In my debate with Mr. Wood he argued that same thing. But during the one-on-one with the moderator, Dr. Larry Hatab said to David, that such an argument "is just false." It's false that I assume anything when I look at your beliefs and subject them to the test of consistency. I could be a relativist, a pantheist, or a witchdoctor and still take what YOU believe and subject it to the test of consistency. I am very surprised you think otherwise. You don't do this with any other argument when you analyse it, do you? Claiming what you do here, is "just false."

So here's a challenge. Teach me what you mean here. Because it appears to me that you are a sloppy thinker on this issue. But I don't consider you to be sloppy at all, so what gives?

Don Jr. said...

Jeff G,

It seems to be pure rhetoric to say that God is "obviously guilty of neglect" while it could still be the case that He has a justifying reason for permitting evil. We call a parent guilty of neglect because they don't have a justifying reason. And we don't call them guilty before the trial.

Howard-Snyder actually deals with the exact analogy you're attempting here in section 6 of his paper. After re-reading your analogy, though, it makes me wonder what type of being you expect God to be--some sort of Superman who puts on a cape and tights, swoops down from Heaven, and saves every person in the face of danger (especially those named Lois)? And in exactly what sorts of situations ought God to swoop down and rescue? Just when someone is in the face of horrendous evils or when someone is in the face of any evil? Should he also save the parent who is about to be lied to? Should God be concerned with only the really bad rather than the bad. Should his attitude be "Well, it's only a lie. I'll let it pass"? If your answer is yes, then the God of orthodox Christianity actually cares more for evil than your God. If your answer is no, then your God would just annoy the crap out of everybody. (I know that's not a logical refutation but we've thrown logic out the door, remember.)

Nevertheless, Howard-Snyder--in section 6 of his paper--explains, or at least attempts to explain, why your analogy seems to fail. He actually does deal pretty much with the exact analogy you give. If you wouldn't mind reading section 6 of his paper, I would like to hear your thoughts on it. I realize that what I said in this comment is not a refutation of your analogy argument; it was merely food for thought. (I hope that you actually consider it though, even if you disagree with it, rather than brushing it off. But you need not respond to it.) However, section 6 of Howard-Snyder's paper is, in my opinion, a refutation of your analogy argument. That particular section isn't too long. So if you wouldn't mind responding to it here or on your blog if you have one (and letting me know) I would appreciate it.

Don Jr. said...

Clayton,

I don't defend theodicies since I don't think anyone is in the position to offer reasons for God's actions--or non-actions--concerning this matter (that, I think, is the whole point of the Book of Job). However, I'm not sure how claiming ignorance of God's reason(s) "runs afoul of moral principles known with certainty."

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think Victor is, ultimately, right about this. For purposes of convincing a theist, there are ways to get around the problem of evil. In particular, the theist needs to say that we are simply wrong about what seem, on the face of it, to be clear moral facts. Now, without a good account of how our moral faculty, given to us by god (on most accounts of Christian theism), can get things so wrong, this isn't going to convince someone for whom AOE is part of their overall argument against God, but it can stand to preserve the theist's position.

"God is ridiculously intelligent and knows everything: he probably has more information which would make it perfectly reasonable that he allowed the kids in the orphanage to drown during the Tsunami, to drown after hours floating gasping for air near the ceiling, hoping that God would help them."

While the naturalists have 'future science' to appeal to with things like consciousness, the theists have the ridiculous intelligence, goodness, and power of god to appeal to in their arguments (and who of us could say we claim to really understand God's motives).

jeff g said...

Don,

I think you are being less than fair to my analogy.

First of all, I do admit that using the word "guilty" was inaccurate, but that should not have prevented you from seeing what I was getting at. Let me try again:

Suppose we have a parent on trial. It is the case that everybody knows, indeed the defendant does not even attempt to deny it, that he knew his child was in serious peril. It is also known that the parent could have done something to prevent this peril from befalling his child. It is also known that the parent actively choose not to intervene in such a case. The only thing which is not known to anybody accept the defendant is why?

The point is this: unless the defendant is willing to share their reason and lay it out from public inspection, is there any jury in the world which would not find this parent guilty of neglect or worse? Would YOU do anything less than this?

The point is NOT that there was no reason for the parents inaction, but rather that the burden of proof is completely and entirely upon the shoulders of the accused in this case.

Similarly, it is not the atheists job to prove that there could not have been a good reason for God's not intervening to prevent the tsunami (I intentionally avoided all human evils). Rather, the atheist simply has to point out that any moral person would convict another human being based on the evidence at hand. Why should it be any different for God?

I should also mention that it is not me who paints God as a superman. It is the theist who does that by calling Him all-powerful and all-good. If fact, did superman intervene on many evils to prevent them out of moral duty? Does anybody think that he should have let people have their freewill or "learn their lesson whatever it might be"? Is not God supposed to be even more powerful and moral than superman?

steve said...

7:49 PM, John W. Loftus said…

Vic: By saying it is either true or false that God has a certain obligation, you are asserting moral objectivity.

I am really really surprised you say this. In my debate with Mr. Wood he argued that same thing. But during the one-on-one with the moderator, Dr. Larry Hatab said to David, that such an argument "is just false." It's false that I assume anything when I look at your beliefs and subject them to the test of consistency. I could be a relativist, a pantheist, or a witchdoctor and still take what YOU believe and subject it to the test of consistency. I am very surprised you think otherwise. You don't do this with any other argument when you analyse it, do you? Claiming what you do here, is "just false."

So here's a challenge. Teach me what you mean here. Because it appears to me that you are a sloppy thinker on this issue. But I don't consider you to be sloppy at all, so what gives?

****************************

No, Victor is not a sloppy thinker. Rather, Loftus is a sloppy reader. That's what gives.

Victor carefully distinguished between two different lines of approach: an external critique and an internal critique.

Loftus simply disregards this distinction, conflating the two approaches and attributing to one what's proper to the other.

Don Jr. said...

Jeff G,

You have admitted that your analogy argument is not a logically deductive argument. So in all honesty I really don't know how to engage with it anymore than I already have. All I can say is it doesn't follow that because one is silent one is guilty. Your argument isn't sound. In fact it's not even valid. So I'm not sure what you want me to do. I'm not going to accept an unsound, invalid argument whose defender admits to not caring about logic "in this situation." Again, Daniel Howard-Synder in section 6 of his "God, Evil, and Suffering" refutes a valid argument from evil and in the process gives a response to an analogy practically identical to the one you are giving.

The theist doesn't paint God as Superman. Superman wears a cape and tights; God is immaterial. Superman is concerned with saving people for this life; God is concerned with saving souls for the next life. Your theological view of God, as some sort of superhero-like being who ought to rescue everyone in peril (and perhaps have his own theme music), is not the orthodox Christian view of God. (I still wonder if God ought to save the parent who is about to be lied to.)

Clayton said...

Hmmmmm....

So I say that allowing someone to be gangraped and butchered by men wielding machetes when you could save this person with no concern for your safety is disallowed by moral principles I know with certainty.

In saying that there is a justification for God's decision to refrain from intervening (known or not), you're saying it's true that there are such reasons. These reasons, whatever they are, are sufficient for justifying inaction. In asserting such reasons exist, you're asserting the negation of the principle I know with certainty. Maybe others don't know it with certainty, but I do.

Mike D said...

You make an interesting qualification, "with no concern for your own safety." We want to easily assume God could act without any concern for his own safety. However, if God were subject to an external moral code that required him to protect individuals from every evil, every occurance of evil would challenge His safety. The conditions your propse would force action on God's part. He would be a slave to evil. Evil could control his every move. Evil would act, God would be compelled to react.

Dave Armstrong said...

I replied to Ed Babinski's comments (which referenced this blog), in my paper:

Critique of Agnostic Ed Babinski's Post: "The Problem of Evil, Alvin Plantinga & Victor Reppert" (the "Emotional" Argument From Evil)

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/10/critique-of-agnostic-ed-babinskis-post.html

Dave Armstrong

P.S. It was to my paper that Victor made the link at the end of his post on Plantinga and evil. Thanks, btw!

jeff g said...

Don,

I see us repeating the same things over and over. Just because an argument is not deductively valid does not make it a bad argument. My argument is inductive and is based in our everyday experience.

My question of whether you would actually rule a seemingly neglectful parent to be innocent is not a rhetorical one. Would you really allow such a person to go free unless they actually shared their reasons for inaction with the world?

That is my question, which you have not answered. Instead, you keep going back to that article which I only see as addressing a point which I am not making, namely that God's not sharing his reasons means there are no reasons. This is not my point at all.

My point is that unless God shares with us His reasons, then we not only get to, but indeed are morally obligated to assume that there is no good reason, just as we would in the court case.

If the article addresses this inductive argument at all, which I don't think it did based on my rather quick skim of it, then perhaps you could make a counter-arguments yourself. Such a response, I am convinced, should begin with you answering the question which I posed to you non-rhetorically.

As to human evils, I think that my point can probably be generalized to a certain extent, but introducing freewill and the like only serves to bring the well-being of another, superfluous person into the mix. For simplicities as well as cautions sake, lets limit ourselves to natural evils.

Jason said...

I'm prepping to go out of town this week, and so don't have much time to comment. (Besides which, I prefer to let other people debate the AfE in abstraction--I'm on record a long time back when Victor first posted on it here on the blog, as saying that the discussion is being worked at backwards. That's mainly a critique of my side, btw, not so much the sceptical one.)

I will however comment on one small portion--which won't be anything different than I've said before, but the sceptics might appreciate it anyway:

"The point is this: unless the defendant is willing to share their reason and lay it out from public inspection, is there any jury in the world which would not find this parent guilty of neglect or worse? Would YOU do anything less than this?"

While technically Don is correct that, rigorously speaking, it would be wrong to conclude the defendant is guilty from a refusal to give a reason; _practically_ speaking I agree Jeff is correct that the judgment would have to be made against the defendant.

And while Victor's earlier topic was on the question of a rigorous deductivism in regard to the anti-Christian AfE (I think I provided a rather fair and complete one myself several main posts back {shrug}--and I'm a theist!), the practical question is what concerns most sceptics, and not unreasonably or unrightly so. (um... just let 'unrightly' count as a real word... {g})


I thought Jeff might appreciate someone on my side saying that, anyway. {shrugging again} {s}

Jason Pratt

HiveMaker said...

I can't for the life of me see why the Christian theist's inability to explain some evils is more damaging to theism than the naturalist's inability to explain consciousness is for naturalism.

Wait, when did the opposite of "theism" become "reductive naturalism"?

Silly me, I always thought that the opposite of "theism" was "atheism". Or does one have to have a complete neurophysical account of consciousness before one can in honesty disbelieve the proposition that a zombie rabbi who had no earthly sperm donor was identical in substance to the person who designed the flagellum of the e. coli bacteria that had me shitting blood in a hospital bed for four days when I was 12?

Don Jr. said...

Clayton,

So it is just "allowing someone to be gangraped and butchered by men wielding machetes when you could save this person with no concern for your safety" that violates moral principles? What about allowing someone to be lied to when you save this person with no concern for your safety? (By the by, I offered a refutation of your argument in the comments here to which you never replied. See the second to last comment. If you could offer some sort of response I would appreciate it.)

Don Jr. said...

Jeff G,

Just because an argument is not deductively valid does not make it a good argument. Your argument involves a poor analogy. For one, people need to be accountable to people because we all live in a society. God needs to have justifying reasons for allowing evil, but he doesn't need to answer to Judge Jeff G because Judge Jeff G has a problem with a certain instance of evil. Moreover, in order for God to explain his reasons one would more than likely have to be omniscient to understand them; thus it might even be impossible for God to explain Himself.

I don't find your analogy argument to be at all convincing. And I think its ridiculous to say that we are morally obligated to believe God has no reasons for allowing evil (and thus would be either evil or inept if He were to exist) simply because he hasn't cited His reasons for allowing evil. (Is He supposed to continually cite reasons at the beckoning of Judge Jeff G or can others demand God to explain Himself as well? And how is he to give "us" these reasons? Is He to have a daily broadcast explaining every instance of evil? What if God isn't a good public speaker? Maybe like Bush He can't articulate His reasons well. Or maybe He has a bad stutter. Or maybe He's not a sharp as He used to be. An eternity can wear on you, you know. Maybe, then, He should get a blog, though I already think He has one; His first entry reads: "In the beginning I created the heavens and the earth." And in the post entitled "Job," He explains that He won't explain, and that He won't explain because we won't understand, just like we won't--and don't--understand the myriad other things he lists.)

I'm not going to make a counter argument since you haven't argued for yours and since Howard-Snyder has already said everything I would say. You can respond to section 6 of his paper if you wish to take your argument seriously (and "skimming" a possible refutation is not taking your argument seriously). I wouldn't ask you to read the whole thing since it's too long, but section 6 is short. And I wouldn't ask you to read it if I would say anything different from Howard-Snyder. But I wouldn't. I'm not going to just repeat exactly what Howard-Snyder says when his words are available to you. If you don't want to read all of section 6 then, if you will, just read--and respond to--6.1, 6.2, 6.4, 6.5 (only the "Alston's Analogies" part), and 6.6.

The point the article is addressing is not "that God's not sharing his reasons means there are no reasons" but that God's not sharing his reasons means there are no good reasons, which is exactly what you are saying. (Actually, the point the article is addressing is that our lack of having a good reason, whether God has shared it or not, means there are no good reasons.)

P.S. Your question is irrelevant since God is not a neglectful human parent. God is God, not a human. I would expect a human to defend him or herself in a court of law. God, first of all, is not in a court of law, and certainly not Judge Jeff's or Judge Don's court of law. Second of all, I wouldn't expect God to "defend" Himself to the world for everything the world doesn't understand, and you have given no reason why we ought to expect that He would (or why we ought to expect to even be able to comprehend His defense; and if weren't not able to comprehend it--which seems likely--then that's another reason we ought not expect him to give it). You've simply cited court practices as an argument against God, which is silly, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know what HiveMaker is ranting about? When did Victor say that the opposite of theism is naturalism? "Silly me"--I think that's the only part of HiveMaker's comment that is relevant.

Anonymous said...

I think HiveMaker makes a lot of sense.
Maybe you should try reading his comments more carefully. You seem to have a comprehension problem. :-)

HiveMaker said...

Anonymous the First:

It's certainly implied in the framing of the question, which is a classic tu quoque attempt to deflect discussion away from weaknesses in one's own position. It's a "what about" argument. ("It's immoral to randomly fire rockets into civilian areas." "Oh yeah, well what about the illegal settlements!?"; "It is overwhelmingly certain that humans evolved from earlier species of primates." "Oh yeah, well what about the origin of life?")

But the framing of the OP rests on a deeper fallacy, for lack of a better word call it "worldviewism". Modern apologetics has been extremely succesful in convincing people that no challenge to any individual proposition of their faith can possibly be legitimate unless absolutely every element in their "worldview" can be given a full and complete accounting for by some rival "worldview". So no matter how overwhelming the evidence that this or that proposition of Christianity -- immaculate conception, intelligent design, zombie rabbis -- is false, they can always brush the argument aside and say "ok, that's a 'problem for my worldview', but I'm not going to accept the conclusion of the argument unless you offer a complete alternative worldview that explains the origin of life, the universe, and everything. What about consciousness?"

The atheological argument from evil against contemporary Abrahamic monotheism works if you believe in samsara, or in the Greek pantheon, or in the Aztec pantheon, or in some kooky New Age Crystal magic, or nonreductive physicalism, or reductive physicalism. "Worldviews" are not some sort of impregnable wholes that can indefinitely stave off challenges to individual tenets (like omnibenevolence, or the resurrection of the dead, or the age of the earth) by demanding that the challenger not only supply evidence and arguments that the tenet is false, but that the challenger has an entire worldview and an answer to every question about everything.

jeff g said...

Don,

I have a feeling that we aren't getting very far, but I still hold out hope!

First of all, let me respond to your use of the linked article. "God's not sharing his reasons means there are no good reasons, which is exactly what you are saying." No, that is NOT what I am arguing. It is because I am not arguing this that I have not read the article as closely as you would like me to. Rather, I am simply saying that we have no reason to believe that God has good reasons unless He shares them with him. My argument is not to prove or even assert that there are no good reasons. The difference is subtle but important. My point is rather that the belief or assumption that there are no good reason has presumption and that the burden of proof is on the theist's or even God's shoulders to show that there are good reasons. Personally, I can think of no better proof for the theists than actually producing those good reasons which are supposed to exist. Again, I am not actively arguing that there are no good reasons, but instead that until the theist can produce these good reasons that there isn't even an argument to be had yet, and that presumption therefore is with the atheist. This is all the analogy was meant to establish, and I think it does so quite nicely.

"he doesn't need to answer to Judge Jeff G because Judge Jeff G has a problem with a certain instance of evil." Yes, he does. He has to explain himself to every single person who he expects to judge him as being good, powerful, etc. He has to explain himself to me, you and every other person out there who is asked to believe in him, because belief is judgment and we are asked to believe, or rather judge God to be perfect. If we are going to make a good judgment in this case, then it should be according to evidence and the evidence says no unless he can produce his good reasons.

"Moreover, in order for God to explain his reasons one would more than likely have to be omniscient to understand them; thus it might even be impossible for God to explain Himself." I see absolutely no reason to believe any of these things. It seems like pure hand waving, aimed at obscuring rather than clarifying the issue.

"And how is he to give "us" these reasons? Is He to have a daily broadcast explaining every instance of evil?" You tell me. I thought God was all powerful. I'm sure he could think of some way to announce his reasons. Additionally, I'm sure a general law would be sufficient rather than a long series of particular explanations. Unless, of course, you actually think God to be so particular in his treatment of the world.

"He explains that He won't explain, and that He won't explain because we won't understand." Fine, but if the parent on trial were to use this excuse we would all condemn him. Why should we judge God by different standards. And BTW, what are the standards by which we are supposed to make judgments regarding God, if not by those standards which we employ against the parent?

"You've simply cited court practices as an argument against God, which is silly, in my opinion." No, I've cited our moral intuitions according to which we naturally find, or at least assume people to be less than good in our everyday experience. Thus we are left with a dilemna: we can either deny the perfection of God, or deny that God lives up to our moral intuitions, thus calling into question why God would allow us to have such a warped moral intuition. Furthermore, inasmuch as our moral intuitions are warped, does that not make our calling God "morally good" an insult of sorts, since our sense of "morally good" isn't so good after all?

Don Jr. said...

Jeff G,

You say, "No, [God's not sharing his reasons means there are no good reasons] is NOT what I am arguing." Okay. Thanks for clarifying that. Your court analogy, in that case, seems to be a bad one for what you were trying to say since, at least in America, one is innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof is on the prosecution, not the defendant. But you want to put God on trial and then say the burden of proof rests with Him. So your entire analogy was a poor way of trying to say what you say you were trying to say.

You add: "I am simply saying that we have no reason to believe that God has good reasons unless He shares them with [us]." Honestly, I think that's silly--a lot like saying "We have no reason to believe that God exists unless He tells us" or "We have no reason to believe that the guy over there who appears to be white is actually white unless he tells us." Nevertheless, I don't mind it. And if that's all you're saying then I have no real complaint. But then you can't (as you seem to do) slip into "We have reason to believe that God has no good reasons unless He shares them with us."

You say, "Fine, but if the parent on trial were to use this excuse we would all condemn him." Again, Howard-Snyder addresses this in his paper (see section 6.8).

jeff g said...

Don,

Now I think we are getting somewhere. (Thank goodness both of us seem to be relatively patient people. ;-) )

Much of your (and Howard-Snyder's) argument is precisely what bugs so many agnostics and atheists: god and his reasons are always somewhere else. The inexistence of an object or reason can rarely, if ever, be deductively proven, and it seems more than a little shady for the religionist to hide behind a veil of ignorance, a veil which only seems to be in place when they are on the defense.

This is precisely why my argument and analogy are about presumption and burden of proof, the very issue which the Howard-Snyder paper avoids at all costs.

This is exactly why my analogy IS appropriate. Yes, a person is innocent until proven guilty, but NOT by way of deductive reasoning. Instead, we use inductive reasoning in such, and pretty much all moral judgments and reasoning.

Following your point though, are you really suggesting that you WOULDN'T convict such a parent. After all, they are presumed innocent until PROVEN guilty. My point is that in such reasoning, unless the person does reveal their "good reason" we DO consider them to be proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.

Here is the question which I see you as doing your best to avoid at all costs: By what standards do we get to exclude God's alleged neglect from the case which I raise?

We don't get to simply say "God is different" and leave it at that. How is God different, and do these differences really place him beyond these moral intuitions? I have yet to see any reason to believe any of these things.

"Honestly, I think that's silly--a lot like saying "We have no reason to believe that God exists unless He tells us" or "We have no reason to believe that the guy over there who appears to be white is actually white unless he tells us."" No, it's not.

Don Jr. said...

Jeff G,

As you made it perfectly clear two posts ago that your point is NOT (in all caps) that God's not sharing his reasons means there are no good reasons, then I see no reason to object to the point you say you are trying to make (since it still allows that God has good reasons for permitting evil). I wish you would have stated that from the outset. It would have saved a lot of time.

jeff g said...

I did say that, however I think such a statement is in need of some serious qualification. (Entirely my fault on this one.)

I maintain, as you do, that there is no deductive reason to suppose that God does not have a reason. On this we agree, and I have made this point many times through out this thread.

However, we do have good inductive reasons to believe that there is none. Indeed, this inductive reasoning is what my analogy is all about.

My question is why we should (not just can mind you) hold people guilty due to such inductive reasoning, but when it comes to God we hold out for deductive certainty? I've yet to see a good reason for such a difference.

Don Jr. said...

Jeff G,

I'm truly sorry but I'm going to have to cut short our discussion. I don't feel like going through another 45 comments like the last 45. Sorry. Thanks for being patient. Maybe we can pick it up at a later time (in another post on the subject). Sorry to end so abruptly. If you want I can e-mail you, if you have an e-mail, so that we can continue the discussion that way (I feel as if it would be more focused through e-mail; don't know why). If not, that's fine too. Either way, thanks for the discussion.

Steve said...

This was a very interesting discussion which I'm sorry I discovered late.

I don't think this was mentioned explicitly, but another common assumption or belief among everyday theists is that God has intervened discretely and intermittently in history to create miracles. He is thereby worth praying to in hope of an new intervention in earthly matters. When you add this notion it makes the non-intervention to forestall suffering an even starker inconsistency in the set of assumptions.

Victor Reppert said...

It doesn't follow from the fact that God can intervene that he ought to do so simply to alleviate suffering. God may, of course, be interfering frequently to alleviate suffering, and in fact may be interfering in ways that make the suffering in the world less than it appears to be for us humans. (I am only directly aware of my own suffering, which in my mind causes no problem whatsoever for the goodness of God). However, God has made it appear that there is a lot of suffering in the world so that we might respond compassionately to it.

Victor Reppert said...

That was kind of an odd speculation, though it is one that has come to my mind from time to time when considering the problem of evil. Not one that I want to emphasize, however. However, if God were to in some regular and observable way were to alleviate suffering, we would cease to believe that the well-being of others depends crucially on our actions.

Edward T. Babinski said...

The answer to the question of

Unconsciousness---> Consciousness

at least has some limitations as to hypotheses, i.e., based on a scientific examination of the human brain/mind.

But the question

Perfect goodness---> Evil

Has no such limitations. One can hypothesis at will, redefining words like "freewill" to mean one thing when God has it, while something else when a human being has it. And that doesn't even begin to skip into the question of natural pain, suffering, and evil, and the fact that everything dies. That's at least common knowledge, unlike philosophy, which is high and airy wax nose knowledge.

~~~~~~~~~~

Victor: I am only directly aware of my own suffering.

Ed: Yet the thought of billions of lifeforms suffering and dying all around us, even since before mankind ever arose on this planet, doesn't seem highly indicative of the work of a tri-omni God. And your own life as mine, remains pampered, living in the wealthiest, fattest country of our day and age. Regular dental, no tinnitus ringing in my ears. And luckily I was not born with birth defects. We both have the luxury of philosophizing.

Speaking of which please see my latest reponse to you and Dave Armstrong, "Non-Exclusivism, Universalism, Evil, and, Philosophy As One Big 'IF'"