Thursday, August 17, 2006

Atheism of the gaps again

Steven Carr: I can't think of any downside to God helping doctors find a vaccine for HIV.

Does this mean God should help doctors find a vaccine for HIV?

VR: I can't see how the bacterial flagellum could have evolved. Does that mean that it didn't evolve?


Steven Carr said...

What argument is Victor putting forward?

That there is an unknown reason why a vaccine for HIV would be a bad idea in the way that a vaccine for rabies is not a bad idea?

Or that there is a good reason why God has designed bacteria with a flegallum to more virulent than bacteria without a flagellum?

There are lots of things that I cannot explain naturalistically.

But history shows that a natualistic explanation of a given phenomeneon has never once had to be replaced by a supernatural explanation.

So ,in the face of absolutely no evidence that God sticks tails on bacteria, I am safe in betting that there is a natural explanation. Especially as I can see these tails develop naturally when bacteria reproduce.

However, I have yet once to see a justification for a disease. Not once.

Nobody has ever come up with a good reason why children should die of maalaria, for example.

So I am safe in betting that there is no such good reason.

The track record is on my side.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what argument Vic is trying to put forward. He seems to have cut it short at the word "Athe". Perhaps he performed an abortion?

Jeff said...

Nobody has ever come up with a good reason why children should die of maalaria, for example (emphasis mine).

You seem to be asking a wrong question here - should?

Victor Reppert said...

I have corrected the text. The idea is this. When naturalists come upon an phenomenon that they can's explain naturalistically, they say that the lack of an explanation was to be expected.

With respect to evils, the rule of the game seems to be that if you come up with an evil the theist can't figure out how to explain, the atheist immediately jumps to the conclusion that this is clear proof that God does not exist. This in spite of the fact that a difference between a human being's understanding of what should go on in the world and God's understanding should be anticipated.

Of course, supernatural explanations don't replace natural ones in science; it is the nature of science to look for natural ones first. If you lose a dollar bill on the beach, and you scour the area with a metal detector, you probably won't find your bill if it got covered by sand.

Mike Darus said...

I think Jeff has a good question. "A reason why something should occur" is very different from "a cause that had an effect." They are both "reasons why" but of a different sort. The first should be incomprehensible to a naturalistic world view. There is no "should" or "ought" in natural selection. There is only "was" and "is". The theist is able to explore the "should" and "ought" to the extent that God's motivations are revealed, but not much beyond that. The naturalist has no basis to determine whether bacteria "should be" weaker or stronger.

Natural selection from the bacteria's point of view suggest it should be as strong as needs to be to dominate the world. The theist is unsure of the purpose of bacteria. It may be a part of the good creation or it may be a result of the fallen creation. We suspect the latter because we don't like it. However, bacteria may have a proper niche in a good creation. The problems we are having with it may have a different cause and purpose. More likely, it has many purposes. Any single purpose would seem insufficient but the sum of all the purposes (if known) could be quite satisfying.

Anonymous said...

"However, I have yet once to see a justification for a disease. Not once.
Nobody has ever come up with a good reason why children should die of maalaria, for example.
So I am safe in betting that there is no such good reason."

Is it possible that good could come from a terrible situation like this? I believe so. My mother died of an aneurism (very unexpectedly), it was a terrible time in my life (this is an understatement).... but something very good came out of this situation. I went from agnostic to Christian. But not just that; because of my belief in a personal God who ultimately is concerned about me, I have been able to overcome many things: depression, my relationship with my father, my relationship with my fiancee', my fear of many things.
Also, it prompted me to begin studying. Soon I will be going back to college to obtain a degree in molecular biology.

Prior to (and shortly after) my mom passing away I would have seen no benefit to it in the least. After the whole situation had passed I became a better person on various levels.

If the physical health/well-being of a person is the ultimate concern of the God of Christianity (since that is the perspective I'm coming from), then you're correct.... this is either a very inept God, or no God at all.
But, I see no reason to believe that physical health/well-being is the crux as to why the God of Christianity created the creation He did.

So, either you're unable to use this argument to undermine the possible existence of the God of Christianity..... or you are short-sighted on what the God of Christianity values.

Edwardtbabinski said...

A) We can of course only guess at the number of people for whom suffering has not led to them "becoming a Christian." (Just as we can only guess at how many prayers go unanswered for every one that appears to have been answered.)

B) I read about someone whose story about leaving the fold partly involved the recognition of mental decay after seeing a loved one deteriorate from Alzheimer's.

C) People have become any number of things after seeing others in pain, either agnostics, atheists, joined other religions or sects, even "heretical" ones, or simply grown more supserstitious to try and irrationally avoid such pain themselves. Sometimes pain and the fact of death makes a person become more than just religious, but a fanatic (of various sorts).


D) "It was no use feeling the pain of an inflamed appendix until modern surgical techniques were sufficiently advanced to remove it. And often the `warnings' appear ill-adjusted to the seriousness of the disease. Toothache kills few people, while sadly some forms of cancer give little pain in the early stages. So we are left with a large amount of pain that seems to serve no purpose and which is not far distant from torture."


Anonymous said...


How does that address the point of my post?

My main point was here: "If the physical health/well-being of a person is the ultimate concern of the God of Christianity (since that is the perspective I'm coming from), then you're correct.... this is either a very inept God, or no God at all.
But, I see no reason to believe that physical health/well-being is the crux as to why the God of Christianity created the creation He did."

Do you believe that God's (I'm referencing the God of Christianity... again, it's from my perspective) main purpose for creating people was to help them be healthy physically, and to not suffer from various maladies?

Can you conceive of no possibilities where the potential for a person to learn might be at those moments of despair?

Does a person have the potential, in those situations, to turn out worse or for the trial to have no effect? Sure. But this isn't saying anything unique.... we knew this was the potential all along.

Say that this God actually does exist. And he has the foresight/pre-knowledge to know that this trial won't lead to a conversion but that it will still have a positive impact on that person directly or their loved ones (they learn from the trial/grow from it/appreciate life more/whatever....). It's still conceivable that this God would permit that trial. I see this being entirely consistent with the nature of God. I see this being inconsistent with the image of a jolly, grandfather God that just wants to make sure everyone is having a good ol' time.

For me, it wasn't just my mom's passing away that lead me to become a Christian. I went from agnostic to atheistic at that moment. It was because that I didn't know what happened to her after she died.... because I didn't get any 'sign from above' that she was in a better place that I became atheistic. Begging/pleading/praying for some assurance (assurance that I never received) lead me to become an atheist (momentarily). But it was how bankrupt these views were in actually helping me deal with this very real situation that lead me on a journey to find some truth. I didn't initially become a Christian for emotional reasons. And I have a real hard time believing that many in a similar situation would.

Steven Carr said...

'Could good come out of a situation like this?'

There is an American comedian at the Edinbugh Festival. Part of her act is worrying about the angels looking after her and making major life-decisions on her behalf.

She is worried that one of them may one day decide that she should get a crippling disease, so that she can inspire people by painting water-colours with her feet.

Victor repeats the charge he made about atheism-of-the-gaps ignoring the fact that I explained the difference. It is hard to dialogue with somebody who ignores you.

Perhaps I can explain again.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that there is not an unknown reason why it is good to leave people in suffering and distress.

Anonymous said...

The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us our duty as humans toward any person in suffering and distress.
This duty has been laid upon _us_ for the good of both victims and helpers.
The total situation of people helping each other is beneficial to God's goals. There is no reason to suspect that the situation of God securing everybody's wellbeing in this life advances God's goals.

Steven Carr said...


God does not help people suffering from malaria, because there is nothing in it for Him. It doesn't advance his goals.

Victor makes a false analogy.

If I have no naturalistic explanation for something, it is a false dichotomy to assume that God did it.

If there is no knowledge about the origins of something, then God could have done it, or pixies or fairies, or leprechauns.

There is as much evidence for God designing flagellae as there is for leprechauns designing flagellae.

On the other hand, if I can see no good reason why God should not lie to Christians about the existence of Heaven, does that mean that there is no good reason?

The 'man cannot understand God's ways' defense just wipes out Christianity as man has now no reason to take God's words at face value (even when over the hurdle of showing that there is a God)

God could be a lying deceitful monster with reasons known only to himself for deceiving us.

The fact that neither Steven Carr not Victor Reppert can see a good reason why God should lie to us , and lie about having lied to us, is , according to Victor, no grounds for assuming that God never would lie to us.

In the other hand ,if I can see no good reason to allow polio to blight out lives, does that mean there is no good reason not to wipe out polio or smallpox?

If Victor's logic is right, then there is no reason to help anybody, because there is a very good reason why God wants people to continue to suffer.

Anonymous said...


You're arguing past people on here.

In regards to the designing of flagellae you're the one making the conclusion that it must be God (or just as likely leprechauns). The ID proponents that I have read make relatively subtle claims about the identity of the Designer who designed the flagellae. Usually stating that, if they are indeed correct and it is designed, the Designer must have an intellect similar to ours (an agent that can achieve goals) but one that certainly transcends ours. This might be a supporting reason as to why they believe in a personal God, but I know not of one who uses this as their basis for the belief in a personal God (the design of the bacterial flagellum). If that's all they had to go they could at least infer that there is one similarity between humans and the Designer (in the image of? intellect- agency) and that the abilities of this Designer is far greater than theirs.
If there were no other support for the existence of this Designer.... no Scriptural texts that make certain claims about the Designer's nature, lack of insight in regards to the apparent fine-tuning of the universe, no belief that the universe is actually intelligible and that we can understand it to some degree - - then you'd be right, we'd have a very weak basis for inferring any other characteristics to this Designer (whatever it might be). But you're incorrect because of your myopic view. You're focusing on this one aspect and paying no attention to the other claims that the rational theist gives for his/her belief, and then you act amazed at their seemingly incredulous claims about the existence of a personal God.

"If Victor's logic is right, then there is no reason to help anybody, because there is a very good reason why God wants people to continue to suffer."

God doesn't want people to suffer any more than a loving parent wants their child to suffer.
But that loving parent knows that through suffering (which can mean so many different things: struggling, despair, sadness) their child will learn, develop and grow.

Edwardtbabinski said...
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Edwardtbabinski said...
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Edwardtbabinski said...

There were a number of comments above about God not caring that people suffer either lightly or horribly, because all the suffering in the world and cosmos is merely so "we can learn;" a view that seems unfalsifiable of course, and I might ask what animals learn from their suffering. Is God purifying their souls as well? (Or did God give tapeworms--and other diseases along with predators--to deer, simply in order to teach mankind more "lessons?" As I said such a view remains unfalsifiable. But what about the past eons when humankind wasn't even around to see and "learn" anything from all the predation and parasites and natural disasters tormenting the animals? More unfalsifiable hypotheses can explain that of course.)

I think people "learn" plenty simply through interactions with fellow human beings (who are relatively healthy and not suffering great pains). We learn how to increase joys by sharing pleasures, and we learn how to decrease pains by having others commiserate with us. We learn how our feelings are hurt and how we hurt the feelings of others--as well as learning how to boost other people's egos and see them shine and be happy that blesses us as well. So we learn plenty about getting along and having friends and avoiding making enemies. But tossing in plagues and tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes and tornadoes and hurricanes and droughts and floods and parasites and diseases, not to mention genetic defects that make it impossible for a child to even lay down without his skin blistering up, so that the child spends every day of their short life in excruciating pain, as well as tossing in the fact that the female pelvis narrowed when humans became upright while the cranium grew, such that there is mortal peril involved in the very birthing process for both child and mother, is simply to apologize for things no sane person should have to apologize for. Apologizing for such things in creation appears to be to be a form of irrational madness. I'd sooner remain agnostic over such matters, or at least accept a God who employed Darwinian evolution, a Divine Tinkerer even, than try to attempt apologizing for such things. For a far larger list of such things see "Why We Believe in a Designer" Even ministers like Clayton Sullivan don't cotton to such apologetics. See Rev. Sullivan's statement in a companion piece, "The Most Provocative Things Ever Said About the Way God Designed the Cosmos."

And the view that we're "learning" from the daily grind of suffering both physically and mentally also belies the fact that many people are permanently traumatized, or even driven mad by such suffering, or even kill their own children, or commit suicide due to it, such as people suffering tinnitus--a constant ringing in the ears that continues as they try to sleep, some of whom commit suicide after many sleepless nights.

Not to mention suffering the vast wealth of ignorance on this planet that harms us all in ways innumerable. Or suffering problems caused simply by miscommunication with others or between nations.

Lastly there's the view that after all the suffering of this world there's an eternal world of suffering that lay ahead for people who don't "believe" like "we" do.

Let me put it this way...

Perhaps all discussions of Christian apologetics with non-Christians should begin with the words of John G. Stackhouse Jr. in his book, Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), who wrote:

"The familiarity Christians enjoy for our own religion, especially given its priviledged place in North American culture, keeps us from seeing, in the light of other world views, how weird it really is." (p.16)

Edwardtbabinski said...
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Edwardtbabinski said...
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Edwardtbabinski said...

Also...on the topic of all we can "learn" from the suffering in the world, please read this short tale by Mark Twain, "Little Bessie," The Myth of Providence

"In His wisdom and mercy the Lord sends us afflictions to discipline us and make us better…All of them. None of them comes by accident; He alone sends them, and always out of love for us, and to make us better, my child."

"Did He give Billy Norris the typhus, mamma?"


"What for?"

"Why, to discipline him and make him good."

"But he died, mamma, and so it couldn't make him good."

"Well, then, I suppose it was for some other reason. We know it was a good reason, whatever it was."

After a pause: "Did He make the roof fall on the stranger that was trying to save the crippled old woman from the fire, mamma?"

"Yes, my child. Wait! Don't ask me why, because I don't know. I only know it was to discipline some one, or be a judgment upon somebody, or to show His power."

"That drunken man that stuck a pitchfork into Mrs. Welch's baby when…"

"Never mind about it, you needn't go into particulars; it was to discipline the child - that much is certain, anyway."

"Mamma, Mr. Burgess said in his sermon that billions of little creatures are sent into us to give us cholera, and typhoid, and lockjaw, and more than a thousand other sicknesses and, mamma, does He send them?"

"Oh, certainly, child, certainly. Of course."

"What for?"

"Oh, to discipline us! Haven't I told you so, over and over again?"

"It's awful cruel, mamma! And silly! And if I…"

"Hush, oh hush! Do you want to bring the lightning?"

"You know the lightning did come last week, mamma, and struck the new church, and burnt it down. Was it to discipline the church?"

(Wearily) "Oh, I suppose so."

"But it killed a hog that wasn't doing anything. Was it to discipline the hog, mamma?"

"Dear child, don't you want to run out and play a while? If you would like to…"

"Mamma, Mr. Hollister says there isn't a bird or fish or reptile or any other animal that hasn't got an enemy that Providence has sent to bite it and chase it and pester it, and kill it, and suck its blood and discipline it and make it good and religious. Is that true, mamma, because if it is true, why did Mr. Hollister laugh at it?"

"That Hollister is a scandalous person, and I don't want you to listen to anything he says."

"Why, mamma, he is very interesting, and I think he tries to be good. He says the wasps catch spiders and cram them down their nests in the ground - alive, mama! - and there they live and suffer days and days and days, and hungry little baby wasps chew the spider's legs and gnaw into their bellies all the time, to make them good and religious and praise God for His infinite mercies. I think Mr. Hollister is just lovely, and ever so kind; for when I asked him if he would treat a spider like that, he said he hoped to be damned if he would; and then he…"

"My child! oh, do for goodness' sake…"

"And mamma, he says the spider is appointed to catch the fly, and drive her fangs into his bowels, and sucks and sucks and sucks his blood, to discipline him and make him a Christian; and whenever the fly buzzes his wings with the pain and misery of it, you can see by the spider's grateful eye that she is thanking the Giver of All Good for…well, she's saying grace, as he says; and also, he…"

"Oh, aren't you ever going to get tired chattering! If you want to go out and play…"

"Mamma, he says himself that all troubles and pains and miseries and rotten diseases and horrors and villainies are sent to us in mercy and kindness to discipline us; and he says it is the duty of every father and mother to help Providence, every way they can; and says they can't do it by just scolding and whipping, for that won't answer, it is weak and no good - Providence's invention for disciplining us and the animals is the very brightest idea that ever was. Mamma, brother Eddie needs disciplining, right away; and I know where you can get the smallpox for him, and the itch, and the diphtheria, and bone-rot, and heart disease, and tuberculosis, and… Dear mama, have you fainted?"

Anonymous said...


I would say that you were argumenting by the strength of your emotions alone - that's definitely what I would be saying, if you were actually advancing an argument.

I apologize in advance for my tone.