Monday, June 26, 2006

Some basic discussion of the problem of evil

19 comments:

Steven Carr said...

The author goes in for Plantinga's 'saving the appearances' defense , which can also be used to show that flat earthism, geocentrism and the belief that we only have one leg are all logically consistent beliefs.

Showing that a belief system is logically consistent does no more than 'save the appearances'. It is not a defense.

And, for some reason, the author goes in for the most stupid defense available. He claims there is no problem of evil if you say 'I, Blake, don't know why God allows evil.'

So now God can roast Blake alive on a spit, while prodding him with burning pokers on a lake of fire, and Blake will claim that there is no problem here, because Blake doesn't understand why God is doing that.

Yes, even if Satan turns out to be God in disguise, Blake would claim that is not a problem for Christianity because Blake doesn't understand why God enjoys watching Blake to suffer in Hell for all eternity.

Steven Carr said...

The author then goes on to claim that it is pure human hubris to suggest that a good, loving God would want his children not to suffer in lakes of fire or in gas-chambers , or in agonising deaths from the Ebola virus or rabies.

Around here, you start to wonder what the point of the Christian God is.

We don't even know that God would want to stop abortion, according to Blake :=


I quote him

'Thus, regardless of what evil x is assumed to be — a fawn suffering in a forest fire, a child killed by the tsunami, the entire Holocaust — the truth of (6) only raises a theoretical problem for belief in God if we assume that we do know that an omniscient, omnipotent, wholly good being would (or would probably) prevent x.'



But only a bloated opinion of the powers of human understanding would have us assume this. In my opinion, the problem of evil (in its theoretical form, at least) is really just the problem of human hubris.'

Ask yourself 'What would Jesus do, if he saw Jews being killed in the Holocaust'?

JD Walters said...

'Showing that a belief system is logically consistent does no more than 'save the appearances'. It is not a defense.'

By that standard quantum theory should go out the window because there are some areas where we have no direct experimental evidence, but all we can do is say that those hard to confirm aspects of the theory are logically consistent.

In any case, this is not a case of just 'saving the appearances' because the problem of evil is one of the only serious obstacles to an otherwise compelling case to believe in a loving God. If that obstacle can be removed or at least shown to be tractable, then the other positive reasons for believing in God can do their job. As the Ethiopian asks Philip in his chariot, "What is there to hinder me from becomming a Christian and getting baptized?". There is so much to say for belief in God: it provides a simple, compelling explanation of existence, allows for hope and justice and all that the human race stands for, makes life worth living, religious experience, etc. The one stumbling block is the problem of evil. If belief in God can be shown to be logically consistent despite it, then one more obstacle to belief is removed.

Steven Carr said...

Of course, if one wanted to explain observed atomic behaviour by a 'saving the appearances' extension to classical theory. the logical contortios needed would be huge.

This is why people prefer to expain such phenomena by quantum theory, rather than classical theory.

Rutherford did have a 'saving the appearances' explanation of the atom - he simply claimed that what classical theory predicted about electrons circing a nucleus didn't happen.

But people did not like the idea that an unknown reason was breaking one of the most fundamental principles of electricty - that an accelerating electron radiates engery.

Similarly, the claim that there is an unknown reason why God allows children to burn to death in house fires violates such a fundamental consequence of the idea that God loves childrem, that a simpler idea is preferred.

And logical consistency is a really low barrier for Plantinga to jump over.

Why not simply claim that it is possible we are all brains in vats, and so the evil we see is not really existent?

Isn't that logically consistent?

By the way, my belief that I am perfectly good is logically consistent with the observed fact that I sometimes do things which appear to outsiders to be wrong.

Is it rational ot believe that Steven Carr is logically good?

JD Walters said...

'Is it rational to believe that Steven Carr is logically good?'

To be honest I have a few doubts on that front myself.

As usual you do not know how to pick metaphors which accurately illustrate either yours or anyone else's points. The brain-in-the-vat scenario may be logically consistent, but there is little else to commend it as a view of life and existence, whereas like I pointed out belief in a loving God has a lot more going for it, so that it is worth the trouble to show that some of its more outstanding difficulties can be rendered logically consistent, even if there is not an evidentially satisfying answer that everyone accepts.

And what if the child that burns to death in a house fire was previously terribly abused by her parents, and now that she is dead she is raised into the presence of God, where she will never again suffer abuse but will be surrounding by love, happiness and delights? God may allow the evil, but always 'overcomes evil with good'.

Mike D said...

I would like to test a line of thought I am trying to piece together. The problem of evil as stated by Rowe and others sets up a false dilemna where in order for God to exist, evil cannot exist. It is not just that gratuitous, horrible evils cannot exist, but that any evil cannot exist. If an good, omnipotent and omnicient God is morally bound to prevent the terrible death of an innocent faun (or the Holocaust), we would also be bound to eliminate any degree of pain. He would be bound to stop my hand from slapping against my forehead. The view of God suggested by the atheologian demands the promised state of heaven to be the only state of existence. Somewhere behind these thoughts may be an explanation of the problem of evil entitled "The World As We Know It." In the world as we know it, evil exists. We also have indications that God exists. The new world promised will be better in many ways.

I am sure someone thought of this before.

Even if these thoughts "solve" for me the problem of evil, I am now ruminating about the "problem of heaven" in terms of issues such as free will, moral perfection, human "omniscience", etc.

JD Walters said...

Mike D,

You are right that the existence of God vs the existence of evil sets up a false dilemma. The elimination of all pain and evil would lead to a very peculiar (and uninteresting) kind of life, without moral progress, without freedom of choice, without satisfaction at having overcome significant obstacles, etc. Maybe one solution to the problem of evil by itself is not satisfactory, but when you take into consideration 1)the fact that much evil is human as a result of sin (which rather tends to confirm the Christian view of the world), 2)that it is better to let us have freedom of choice than to 'force' us to be good, 3)that natural evils can in large part be avoided (i.e. by not building houses in an earthquake-prone region) or overcome (i.e. the efficacy of modern medicine), 4)that pain and suffering can lead to character formation and help us to cultivate the better parts of ourselves (such as when many people volunteer relief after a hurricane), 5)the fact that we are dealing with an all-powerful, all-knowing God that is infinitely beyond our ability to understand and finally 6) that, according to Christian belief, a better world is coming where God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes and there will be no more death, sorrow or crying, then the problem of evil seems eminently tractable and makes more sense in the theistic worldview than in any other.

As for the "problem of heaven", I'd just as soon get there first. We DO have quite a bit on our hands with our limited, mortal existence without worrying about whether heaven will be too wonderful for us...:)

Steven Carr said...

'The brain-in-the-vat scenario may be logically consistent,...'

But that is all I need to make it rational to believe that Steven Carr is all good. The fact that you sometimes perceive me to do bad things is not a problem , because you do not really exist.

And according to Plantinga's defense a proof of logical consistency is all I need to cock a snook at your doubts of my omnibenevolence.

Steven Carr said...

'And what if the child that burns to death in a house fire was previously terribly abused by her parents, and now that she is dead she is raised into the presence of God, where she will never again suffer abuse but will be surrounding by love, happiness and delights? God may allow the evil, but always 'overcomes evil with good'.'

I shall recommend to the NSPCC that if they come across a case of child abuse, they should burn the child to death, so that it may go to Heaven.

Can I put your name forward as a seconder to that motion?

Steven Carr said...

'The problem of evil as stated by Rowe and others sets up a false dilemna where in order for God to exist, evil cannot exist. '

Read Mackie's Miracle of Theism where he spoke only of what he called 'unabsorbed evil'

You raise an interesting point.

When Jesus was resurrected into a glorius body, and invited Thomas to touch him, could Thomas have made a free will choice to hurt Jesus resurrected body?

If Thomas had made a free will choice to stab Jesus, would Jesus have suffered?

If Thomas had (to use your analogy) slapped Jesus across the forehead, would the resurrected Jesus have felt any pain?

When we are resurrected , will we still be able to make free will decisions to inflict pain on each other?

Tim said...

"The elimination of all pain and evil would lead to a very peculiar (and uninteresting) kind of life, without moral progress, without freedom of choice, without satisfaction at having overcome significant obstacles, etc."

Guess heaven would then be a peculiar and uninteresting place to live.
t.

JD Walters said...

Steven Carr,

Now I certainly have proof that you are not omnibenevolent. If you could even think of making such a proposal to the NSPCC I'd feel like burning you to death. You completely misinterpreted my point. My point is that God always overcomes evil with good. That does NOT mean that we should not do everything we can to limit and oppose evil by any means necessary. My point is that, even if there are some disasters which we cannot avoid or prevent, that does not make the evil insoluble, because ultimately God will make all things new. See, it's stupid suggestions like that (let's burn alive an abused child so that she won't suffer anymore) which don't allow me to take atheism seriously. The fact that there's a heaven does NOT absolve us of moral responsibility to prevent evil by any means necessary, any more than knowing that you can graduate from high school absolves you of having to study hard to get good grades.

Yet another good example of how hard it is for the limited human mind to grasp the things of the spirit.

Tim said...

"My point is that God always overcomes evil with good. "

I don't get why christians thinks this lets their god off the hook. Kinda like me saying 'I'm going to poke your eyes out with a branding iron, but it's really ok because I'm then going to give you something good.' Or to give a more exact analogy: 'I'm going to give you a birth defect that will give you horrible pain while you are alive on earth, but its really ok because I'm going to make you feel better in the next life.'
Or as Jason would put it: It's really ok because I'm going to put myself through some pain too by dying on a cross.
Sorry, but that kind of logic just sounds screwy to us non-christians.
t.

JD Walters said...

Tim,

I hope you're not under the influence of Steven Carr because like him, you are starting to use extremely inept metaphors to caricature other people's positions. There is no sense in which 'I'm going to poke your eyes out with a branding iron, but it's really ok because I'm then going to give you something good.' is in any way analogous to my assertion that God will overcome evil with good. For one thing God doesn't have arms or hands to poke anyone's eyes out with a branding iron. What God did is create an intricate, marvelous, dynamic, evolving world in which at some point in time hominids evolve to the point where they discover the amazing potential of iron for tool-making and civilization. These hominids are free to either respond to God in gratitude for their existence and obey his commandment to 'Be fruitful and multiply' and enjoy loving communion with Him and the rest of creation, or to live selfishly and violently, which may lead to them corrupting the good uses of iron, by using a branding iron as a weapon to poke someone's eyes out. It is absurd to directly implicate God in an event like that. When I say that God will overcome evil with good I am absolutely not saying that God deliberately gives people problems so that he can give them something better in return. The problems are the result either of wilful human sin or of natural disasters which are unavoidable in a rich, dynamic world like ours. Would you rather give up fire as a part of the world, which keeps us warm and allows us to harness the energy of heat for so much good in civilization, than risk an accidental fire killing someone or a person deliberately burning another person at the stake? Would you rather that all babies looked identical and acted identically rather than risk birth defects as a result of genomic recombination? You do Creation one better and come up with a way to make an entirely perfect world, involving no trade-offs between regularity and creativity, chance and necessity, freedom of will and insurance against all suffering and I'll worship you instead of God. And please leave Jesus' sacrifice out of this. It's a hell of a lot more than you or I will ever have to go through for the sin of the world. And here's a shocking thought: maybe God doesn't have to be let off your hook! Maybe He's an almighty God and you're just a lowly creature. Maybe a drowning man shouldn't complain to the guy on the shore that he doesn't approve of his rescue strategy. Here's the deal: for reasons we can't really understand, the world is a pretty big mess and we don't exactly have the best track record at trying to fix it. Now some of us think that a very powerful Savior has offered us a way out. Now you may not think that there is sufficient evidence to trust this claim but it is absurd to criticize the KIND of help offered a priori, as a reason for rejecting that help. The way I see it, I'd rather trust that God knows what He's doing, evil and all, than accept the ultimate futility and meaninglessness of life. Any help, even if it's not the kind we'd prefer, is preferable to no help at all.

Steven Carr said...

'I don't get why christians thinks this lets their god off the hook. Kinda like me saying 'I'm going to poke your eyes out with a branding iron, but it's really ok because I'm then going to give you something good.'

To be more prcise, God is going to stand by and watch somebody poke your eyes out.

Of course, JD Walters appears to think that a sufficient condition for getting to heaven is that you have suffered in this life.

Now I may not know much about Christianity, but having suffered is not somethimg that earns salvation.

Many Jews who died in the Holocaust rejected Jesus even at the end.

Well, that's just tough.

Tim said...

jd, I'm not under Mr. Carr's influence. I just get tired of the weak excuses Christians come up with to defend their conception of God. Though I strongly disagree with you pov here, I do gather you are a fairly intelligent person who realizes that each person is responsible for the kind of god they worship. Your conception of god seems to me quite flawed -you would apparently allow him to do anything and still say that he is good despite the evil he does and allows to happen. Or can you imagine any scenario in which you would agree that he is doing evil?
The vast majority of evil that happens in the world is not due to human actions. The amount of suffering from crippling and painful diseases alone dwarfs anything that humans have done.
And if this god of yours is unable to create a world without suffering, then what becomes of heaven?
t.

JD Walters said...

Tim,

That's precisely the case with the Judeo-Christian God. We are not responsible for the conception of God that we hold. Of course if it was just our conception then we could make it whatever we wanted, the best anthropomorphic God there could ever be, with exactly the characteristics which would make Him most convenient for our religious purposes. Unfortunately we don't have that luxury. We believe that the God who has revealed Himself through Abraham, Moses and Christ is "wholly other". I don't feel I have to defend my God from objections, I have quite a few 'complaints' against Him myself. And if you read the book of Job, the Prophets, etc. you see that all throughout Israelite history God's people have wrestled with Him, complained against Him, raised their fists in defiance and hurled all sorts of abuse at Him. And it's our prerogative to get angry at God, but we also trust His word when He says that He is holy and good. I can very well imagine scenarios in which God SEEMS to be doing evil or allowing it to unroll unchecked. Half the Psalms express that complaint. That is nothing new to Judaism or Christianity. But God does not have to answer to us. Any help or benevolence He shows is entirely on His terms. He is not a 'tame lion'.

I think you misunderstood my point about trade-offs. If you have too much of one thing you risk having too little of another. Too much comfort and indulgence and there's not enough opportunity for character building, etc. I can't deny that there is great evil, but isn't there also great good as well? Again I ask, would you rather give up the fun of sex than risk that someone will rape? Would you give up the beauty of a sunset because the UV rays of the sun cause skin cancer? And wouldn't heaven be so much better if we attained it after a lifetime of struggle and toil, than if we had it from the beginning? Doesn't a cold shower feel best after working all day under the hot sun?

One final point. It's all too customary to shake your finger at theists and complain about all this evil, but what about you? Have you been so overwhelmed by evil yourself, been through so many diseases and been psychologically traumatized so much that you feel you have the right to complain against God? Or are you, as I think you are, engaging in armchair speculation? If you've been through hell then I say by all means, go ahead and yell at God and curse all you want. He can take it, and if you let Him, he can use the experience to make you a better person. Think of Helen Keller or Wladislaw Szpilman. But if you've led a comfortable, middle-class existence so far, then WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU COMPLAINING ABOUT? Thank God for the good things you do enjoy. I don't see you running half-way around the world to help alleviate pain and suffering. Many who do get to witness God's extraordinary grace in trying circumstances. I've met missionaries in Africa and Vietnam who have witnessed miracle healings, witch doctors giving up their voodoo curses to preach the Gospel and tears of joy streaming down the faces of people who were touched by God's love through His faithful messengers. Where iniquity abounds, grace does much more abound. Again I say, any help is better than none, because we can't do it on our own.

Tim said...

"That's precisely the case with the Judeo-Christian God. We are not responsible for the conception of God that we hold."

I couldn't disagree more strongly. Don't you think those xians who thought their god supported slavery were responsible for their views of god? Wasn't their conception of god flawed?


"One final point. It's all too customary to shake your finger at theists and complain about all this evil, but what about you? Have you been so overwhelmed by evil yourself, been through so many diseases and been psychologically traumatized so much that you feel you have the right to complain against God? Or are you, as I think you are, engaging in armchair speculation? If you've been through hell then I say by all means, go ahead and yell at God and curse all you want."

Man oh man, you are really projecting a lot of bs onto me. What makes you think I want to curse an imaginary being?
All I'm trying to do here is point out that your imagined concept of god is very incoherent and does not correspond well to what we experience here on earth. And this is important to me because in this country I see many evangelicals trying to pass laws which would harm other people, because they (the evangelicals) have such screwy views of god.
t.

JD Walters said...

Tim,

I have no idea who these 'xians' you refer to are (are they like Martian scientologists or something?) but precisely when you realize that you are not responsible for the conception of God that you hold, when you realize that it is a power that reveals itself, that should make you less dogmatic, not more so, because it becomes very hard to tell when you are really hearing from God. So if xians support slavery claiming that God (the God we Christians worship) sanctions it as well, right away I become skeptical about whether God actually does support it. And if you're referring to the Bible's views on slavery, you better not just quote slavery passages out of context and then point your finger and yell, 'See, the Bible supports slavery'. Slavery was a very common practice in the Middle East and did not often have the connotations it does today. Very often slaves were well-treated and well-educated, especially in Hebrew law, where there were numerous constraints on how long one could hold a slave and the slave could go free if he got his eye poked out or because of other injuries. Again, I ask, who are these xians you refer to, when did they live, what exactly did they do and what was their theological justification? You skeptics think you've got it all figured out, but all you do is say a few magic words (slavery! dogma! superstition!) and you think that settles the argument.

I trust you see how circular your reasoning is about your 'imaginary being'. Of course you're not going to complain to an imaginary being. But what makes him imaginary? Do you realize that you're presuming that God is imaginary, and then arguing to why he is in fact imaginary based on the problem of evil? You assume the conclusion and then argue towards it.

And of course since God is imaginary, He doesn't measure up to experience. Myself, I would be very suspicious about a God that everyone can agree upon, an all-too convenient God who is just who we want Him to be. Nobody can satisfy you skeptics. Really, your idea of God (which you reject) is the anthropomorphic one. Notice how you're always saying, "If there was a God, He'd..." How anthropomorphic is that? Truth is, we are not privy to what God would or would not do. The Christian God is the least anthropomorphic because He's so unpredictable. 'Nobody can say unto Him, 'why hast thou made me thus?''. If we could He wouldn't be God, but a projection of our own needs and insecurities.

And your rhetoric is so persuasive, Tim. Evangelicals' idea of God is screwy. Ohh, I'm convinced now! You really are starting to sound like Steve Carr. He pulls exactly the same stunts with me.