Thursday, July 19, 2007

Babinski on the problem of evil

Ed: You seem to forget that it is atheists like Loftus who attempting to prove something here. So if, as you say, the discussion proves nothing and solves nothing, the theist wins.

Theists typically are not satisfied with a fideistic response to the problem of evil, that all the suffering is just God's will and that we should accept the "because I said so" theodicy. It is absurd to suggest, as you do, that this is a test for Christian orthodoxy.

It's something like evolutionary biologists. An evolutionary biologist does not necessarily think that evolution is disproved if there is a gap in the fossil record they can't explain. But if they couldn't explain anything, they's be in trouble. Christian reflection on suffering can perhaps explain a good deal of human suffering. Most theists at the same time realize that their best explanation efforts fall short of explaining all evil, but nevertheless they think that the force of what atheists think is an overwhelming argument for atheism is far from what the atheist supposes it to be.

The atheist maintains that if I were to look the facts of evil in the eye honestly, that I would not be a theist. He not only thinks that evil is a reason why he is not a theist, he thinks that it is also a good reason why I should not be a theist. That's the dialectical fact that everyone keeps overlooking. Attempts by people like Weisberger to put the theist on the defensive on this issue are unsuccessful, as agnostic philosopher Graham Oppy shows with considerable effectiveness.


Anonymous said...

The fact that theists have no way of demonstrating that their god is not evil is hardly an argument that there is no God.

Edward T. Babinski said...


Vic, If that's what you think I was arguing, I'm afraid you're wrong.

No doubt everyone is interested in the "success" of their arguments, hoping to find just the right key that unlocks the door to mutual agreement, or even a key that unlocks the door to getting someone else to capitulate to the truth of one's own view exclusively. But if there is a key to getting others to capitulate, it's not a very obvious one, and it grows less obvious when the other person already has a world view. (Even if someone agrees with you, you might be chagrined that perhaps they capitulated to your point of view too hastily, and hadn't run through the full gamut of questions and counter-questions you yourself did before finally arriving at your own point of view. *smile*)

If you had indeed read what I originally wrote you would have known that I agree with Oppy concerning the lack of success of philosophical arguments (when it comes to converting someone to one's own opinion via argument alone). There are several factors involved in the opinion-changing process, one is whether or not a person already has a world view, other factors are emotional and involve a person's desires, fears, psychological wants and sociological needs.

Studies conducted on partisan voters in 2004, revealled that when people are confronted with conflicting statements made by their preferred presidential candidates, both Democrats and Republicans shut down the rational part of their brains and instead used the brain’s emotional center to quiet the dissonance. A similar effect may occur during other forms of discourse and argumentation. (See Westen's book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.)

And then there's Starbuck's statistics that demonstrate the enormous role emotion plays in driving people to change their views. Psychological and sociological desires play an enormous role in the majority of Evangelical conversions:

"In the late 1800s, Edwin Starbuck conducted ground-breaking studies on conversion to Christianity. Ever since then, scholars, attempting either to verify or disprove his findings, have repeatedly demonstrated them to be accurate. Most observers agree that what Starbuck observed is to a large extent still valid. From these studies we learn two significant things: the age at which conversion to Christianity most often occurs, and the motivational factors involved in conversion. Starbuck noted that the average age of a person experiencing a religious conversion was 15.6 years. Other studies have produced similar results; as recently as 1979, Virgil Gillespie wrote that the average age of conversion in America is 16 years.

(1) fears,
(2) other self-regarding motives, (3) altruistic motives,
(4) following out a moral ideal,
(5) remorse for and conviction of sin,
(6) response to teaching,
(7) example and imitation, and
(8) urging and social pressure.

"Recent studies reveal that people still become Christians mainly for these same reasons.

"What conclusions can be drawn from this information? First, the average age of conversion is quite young. Postadolescent persons do not seem to find Christianity as attractive as do persons in their teens. Indeed, for every year the non-Christian grows older than 25, the odds increase exponentially against his or her ever becoming a Christian.

"Second, the reasons people become Christians appear to have at least as much to do with sociological factors as with purely 'religious' factors (for example, conviction of sin)."

[SOURCE: CT Classic: The Adult Gospel: The average convert to Islam is 31 years old. Why does Christianity attract mostly teens? By Larry Poston]

Also, for every C. S. Lewis who converts to Christianity during a trip to the zoo after thinking about G. K. Chesterton's book, The Everlasting Man, there's also others who have read Chesterton and Lewis and either been unimpressed, or later deconverted. Conversely, what makes a person like Lewis's own adopted son, grow into the mindset of a stern fundamentalist inerrantist Christian?

Getting back to the point of fideism and what I originally wrote compared with how you viewed it, I wish to reiterate that if one has a belief in a God with a plan, then no amount of evil or suffering throughout the geological past (or present) of animals, apes or extinct hominids; nor any amount of God-sanctioned drownings or killings or starvings or heaven-sent plagues mentioned in the Bible; nor any amount of suffering throughout all of eternity of human beings, seems able to introduce sufficient doubts into most Christian theists who already have worldviews. Such people remain convinced that everything's "fine" in the cosmos and in the Bible.

Such a person's mind works in such a way that I wonder what amount or examples of evil/suffering could ever be proof enough against their faith in "God" and/or "God's plan."

I'm sure people make "adjustments" to their world views after adopting them, such as you have made over the years, adopting C. S. Lewis's "kinder gentler hell" stance, and even arguing that perhaps this life isn't enough to convince everyone of the truth of Christanity and people will be given greater revelation in the next life--a "second chance" so to speak. But those are adaptations. Everything's basically "fine" for you isn't it? "God's" got things under control?

I also admit that some cases of radical changes in belief do occur, but they occur far far less often than lesser adaptions of an already present world view, such as yours mentioned above.

That being said I'd like to explore your statement that theistic explanations "fall short" of explaining all evil/suffering.

When do explanations concerning a host of large philosophical and religious questions ever not "fall short" in some sense?

But don't stop there...

Do Bible stories add up to proof of life after death and a final bodily resurrection of everyone, and a casting into hell of many who "don't believe?" (Mark 16, John 3) ("Fear him who can cast both body and soul into hell."--Matt.) Or do they also "fall short" in some ways?

Do Near Death stories and anecdotes of some people (not all of them are Evangeliical Christians either) prove that there's life after death? Or do such stories also "fall short" in some ways either philosophically or theologically?

And what about the most common observation shared and experienced by all, i.e., of the loss of mental ability with age, and the inevitability of death?

Which of the above beliefs affects which individuals most strongly, and why? Philosophy does not appear to hold the answer to such a question. (See above portions in which I discussed the way the mind works emotionally and what factors lead to people changing their views.)

I think your attempt to draw an analogy concerning "missing links" between common ancestors, and "missing links" in arguments against the problem of evil, fails for several reasons.

But I'd just as soon see you take up the question of the evidence for common ancestry with someone like Behe at the Discovery Institute, who probably won't deny that experiments have shown human beings and chimpanzees to be as close to one another genetically speaking as two near-identical sibling species of fruit fly. Behe's latest book amounts to God spicing up evolution with a couple mutations every now and then, and leaving nature, including natural selection, to take her course. (Neither is Behe's view original as it was was Asa Gray's theistic evolutionary view as well, a scientist, minister, defender of Darwin and friend of Darwin who wrote around the turn of the century.)

So Behe in effect believes we are "God-mutated" apes (my turn of phrase). God-mutated cousins of Koko the gorilla. Add to that the fact that many ancient species of primitive apes, upright hominids and homo species (as seen in the fossil record), went extinct throughout geological time before our homo-species was mutated by God into existence. So, argue with Behe if you will over common descent, and his Intelligent Designer who resembles a genetically-opportunistic tinkerer over geological time--most of whose past tinkerings didn't turn out so well.