Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Reporting on an Evening with Atheists

On Friday, March 24, I received an email from Justin Bosch, who was sponsoring a screening of the film, “The God Who Wasn’t There” at the historic Oriental Theater in Northwest Denver. Mr. Bosch screens films related to media reform and social ethics, but he was venturing into the religious deep. Since the film is very critical of Christianity—claiming that Jesus never existed and that Christians are dangerous simpletons—he wanted to give some response time to a Christian, as well as to an atheist. So, at the last minute it was arranged that Will Providence, a local atheist of the Objectivist stripe (a follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy), and I would make some brief comments after the film and then answer questions.

Although I seldom participate in highly-charged public forums with little notice, I was interested in doing this because without me there would have been no Christian response. Further, I was familiar with the basic arguments of the film and was able to mine quite a bit of material on it and the producer on line.

The event nearly filled the theater. The first half hour or so was taken up by an audio presentation of a comedian who recounted her loss of Catholic faith and her turn to atheism. It was the most uncharitable presentation of the teaching of the Bible I had ever heard in one sitting. The Old Testament is nothing more an amoral mess. Jesus isn’t as nice as he thought. After all, he was impatient with his disciples, and so on. The Catholic priest who taught her the Bible was a fideist, who said she had to have faith and that he would pray she had faith. That was not good enough, and eventually “God disappeared” for this poor soul. Then came the film. The best thing about it was that it was mercifully short: sixty-two minutes. The film advances the solidly refuted claim that Christianity was started by Paul, who invented a Jesus out of whole cloth—the cloth of mystery religions. There are so many inaccuracies that I don’t know where to begin, so I won’t. However, Mike Lacona has written a long and thorough piece on the movie. Christians were presented as rapture-bedazzled nincompoops who wanted to take over America and persecute as many infidels as possible.

After this torment was over, Will and I took the stage before about 125 people. I made an opening statement that focused on the films three basic arguments (if I can so dignify such propaganda): (1) the claim mystery religions influenced, (2) that Christianity leads to persecution, and (3) that Christianity is intrinsically irrational. Will spoke for just a few minutes on what atheism meant to him. He did not address the film at all. We then took questions from the audience for about 45 minutes. Most of the questions were aimed at me. The audience was largely made up atheists, it seemed; although a few Christian friends attended. I infer this because when Will or a questioner made a point against Christianity or God, people tended to applaud. I would sometimes interact directly with Will—a young and presentable Iranian man in law school—but he didn’t have too much of substance to say except that he based his philosophy on reason and not faith. He also made positive allusions to Saint Ayn Rand. The questions—or sometimes just accusations against Christianity—related to issues such as the concept of truth, the supposed sexism of the Bible, hell, and so on. They really started piling on about hell at the end. In some cases, people would yell things from the audience instead of going to the microphone. When I presented an egalitarian account of gender relations (with ample reference to Rebecca Merrill Groothuis’s books), someone yelled, “Read Paul!” I have, amazingly enough, and he was no sexist.

This was easily the most hostile group I have ever addressed in twenty-seven years of public speaking. I spoke after an hour and half of anti-Christian propaganda and was on stage with an atheist before an audience of many atheists. Nevertheless, I think my opening comments refuted important claims in the film—I needed several hours to respond to all the errors, many of which were absolute howlers—and attempted to fairly and calmly respond to all the questioners. I was not stumped by any of the questions or comments, but I always wanted to say more. (I am a professor, after all.) I tried to give Will ample time to respond, but he often wanted to move on to the next questioner. He seemed quite nervous. At several points, I was able to present the essential gospel message, once in response to a question on hell: Jesus came to save us from that fate.

I hope that people who attended this event will post comments. You are better judges of me than I am, and you may be able to add your own observations of the event as a whole. Nevertheless, I offer a few reflections. I solicited widespread prayer for this, which is my custom (and was the Apostle Paul’s custom as well). This makes a tremendous difference. Despite the antagonistic crowd, I did not feel threatened or panicked. Several questioners wanted to back me into a fideist corner, but I never said that Christianity was without reason or evidence. I provided arguments and no subjective testimony or “I just know in my knower.” The caricature was applied because most Christians do not give reasons for their faith, even though they are commanded to do so in the Bible (1 Peter 3:15). A philosopher defending Christianity as rational probably blew some of their materialist circuits. It was also heartening to talk with several people afterward who seemed to be genuinely interested in Christianity. One of the co-owners of the theater was every enthusiastic about having me there and complimented me on my ability to respond reasonably to questions. He had probably never seen such a thing before. I hope to follow up with him. I also received an email from a man who is an agnostic who would like to interact with me.

My final blast is this (although I’ve said it a thousand times): We need more thoughtful and well-informed Christians in the market place of ideas, even in the hot spots. As Os Guinness as stated, most of American Christian evangelism in America is aimed at those already very interested in Christianity, but don’t know how to become Christians. This leaves out a vast number of souls who are hostile to Christianity or have no interest in it at all. We are called by Jesus Christ to engage these people as well.

96 comments:

Keith said...

It sounds like you did a good job, especially if a couple of attendees have expressed a desire for further interaction. I appreciate your efforts in the service of our Lord.

I am keenly interested in apologetics, but I must confess a weakness with which I struggle: fear of addressing crowds. May I ask how prepare for such events, if you share such a struggle?

Paul (probably - maybe Liz) said...

Well done. You are right - there does need to be serious Christian engagement in the world of non-Christian ideas. In terms of trying to introduce these ideas at a grass-roots level in churches, can I give a link to Facing the Challenge?

Susan said...

Your account of the event in and of itself shows the same calm, fair, and reasonable manner in which you conducted yourself at the event. I am certain that most atheists and others who are against Christianity are not used to the manner in which you presented, and the nervousness you detected in Mr. Providence may have been due to your unanticipated demeanor. He seemed disarmed several times. He did use one crafty technique on you in debate, and that is to appear to be the underdog, drawing sympathy from the audience. A bit maddening to me, but your humility didn't leave him much room for his tactic to be very effective.

I came into the PR program without much interest in apologetics, honestly. At this point, it is something I have become very passionate about. The need is great, and there is no longer room for apologetics "training" that is merely made up of memorizing several points in an argument and spitting them out at your opponent. That kind of combative discourse is destructive, particularly today. What we need is people who not only have the truth, but who can communicate it with integrity, purity of character, and the love of Christ. I am committed to doing my part toward that end.

john alan turner said...

Thank you so much for what you're doing -- and the way you do it.

Luke Rhinehart said...

You certainly spoke well, and may have convinced a few people on the fence. The method with which you did that, however, could well be questioned.

Speaking, as you do in your post, of advancing "solidly refuted claim[s]" your speech made use of several arguments now consigned to the trash heaps of history. Notwithstanding the logical arguments for God you used, which have all been lampooned by Kant, your discussion of a few evolutionary specifics would have convinced no one except the ignorant. I have no doubt you are an honest man and I wouldn't suggest for a second that you propounded these arguments for duplicious reasons. However, some of the arguments you used could be viewed unfavorably as you advancing points which could be easily refuted by anyone familiar with them, and therefore relied on the ignorance of the vocal audience for their efficacy (and make no mistake, much of the vocal audience was ignorant.)

I have a few points to make, and then I'll ask that someone simply present their best case for Intelligent Design or against evolution which we can then discuss.

1. Because there was some discussion about morality and how Christianity can provide it, I'd like to add my own 2 cents here. Christianity makes the population less moral, and I say this not with reference to the crusades and so forth (as, no doubt, you've all tired of hearing) but rather for theoretical reasons. If someone holds a gun to your head and forces you to give money to charity, your charity giving is a non-moral act because it was done simply out of fear of retribution. This much seems clear and intuitive. As such, any Christian ethics which promotes the idea that God will punish evil and reward good is an argument for non-moral behavior. Behaving a certain way because you're afraid of punishment is no different then the behavior in our charity-gun example. As such, Christianity can take acts that were formerly in the moral realm and, by introducing a punishment system, render them non-moral.


2. As was pointed out by one of the more reasonable questioners, the belief in hell is ethically inexcusable. Any system which honors a god willing to punish acts (especially inconsequential acts, like being born in the African bush and never being exposed to Christianity) infinitely is questionable indeed.

3. This'll be familiar- it's logically impossible to believe in an all good, all knowing, and all powerful god when we know that evil exists in the world.

I tried in this post to be reasonable. I don't feel that Doug was fair to the movie, or to the audience in particular in his post. In fact his demeanor during the debate seemed far more calm and reasonable than his post (written 2 days later, presumably.) I'll refrain from interpreting the above, but his use of the terms "anti-Christian propaganda" and saying that to refute the film is to dignify it is rather overplaying his hand. Here's hoping we can spark some dialogue, and that I can convert you guys to athiesm, or at least FSMism (Flying Spaghetti Monsterism.)

David said...

luke,

In response to your third point, the deductive problem evil has long been refuted and recognized as unsound. See Alvin Plantinga's book published almost thirty years ago, called God, Freedom and Evil.

Your other points are equally spurious, but I will leave it to someone else to point out their inherent problems.

Loretta said...

Myself, a burgeoning Christian apologist (hopefully), along with my husband - who would deem himself a cultural Catholic but otherwise agnostic, also attended the movie, “The God Who Wasn’t There.” I was glad to attend so that I might have the opportunity to sharpen the sword, as it were, plus have some fuel for discussions in the case for Christianity with my husband.

The film claims that there is a significant gap between Christ's life and the appearance of the first of the Gospels, filled only by a record of Paul's accounts. Though I roughly know the dates of each – I couldn’t have stood up against a criticism of there being some disparity. The movie also contends that Christ's life resembles that of the mythological heroes of his era; therefore one could wonder whether Christ himself was a mythological figure. But if you look into those myths, they at some point show a decidedly lacking “god.” There is no other faith with Holy Scriptures that could be remotely compared with the Bible and its historical evidence. We Christians have much to account for – and the burden of proof is on us. When we read 1 Peter 3:14-16, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” we must give an account far beyond the “Jesus & me” component.

On leaving the theater, my husband had a myriad of questions, but one in particular stood above the rest: What gives you the certainty that you are right and everyone else—including the faithful of other religions-- is wrong? I responded that if you trace the beliefs of other religions – they generally come down to a belief in rules, rituals, incantations, or how humans are actually God incarnate. None make the ultimate claims of Christianity. Christianity is centered in God’s love and also in his justice. It rings true in your soul. Christ is love, and we are to love as Christ did. To see this in action – people putting the needs of others before their own and submitting one’s will to that of a Heavenly Father who has our ultimate good in mind - actually works with amazing harmony. It’s hard to believe in anything until you see it in action. God’s love is decidedly unique. How do I know love? I know it when I see it.

Ken Abbott said...

Loretta, I appreciate and in large part agree with how you answered your husband's question. But I believe the answer is actually much simpler. I can be certain of the truth of Christianity because on the third day Christ rose again from the dead. A real person who was really dead who is now really alive, and it all took place in real history. The resurrection is the linchpin.

nancy said...

Loretta - your enthusiasm and eagerness is terrific. I'll recommend 3 books. First, "Jesus in an Age of Controversey" (by Dr G himself) is a terrifc source to dispute most of the typical arguements leveled agaist Jesus being who Christianity says he is. I think it is one of the best resources around! Second, Dr. Craig Blomberg (also of Denver Seminary) is an expert on the historical reliability of the Gospels. In "Making Sense of the New Testament" the first chapter includes the results of research that presents a powerful case that in the early Christian church, the oral tradition of the community would have accurately preserved the accounts of Jesus. Third, JP Moreland's "Scaling the Secular City" has several powerful chapters on the resurrection and reliability of the gospels. And if you are game for a little brain damage, the chapter on the cosmological arguement for the existence of God is fun!
And, to refute "The Da Vinci Code" the best book out is by Ben Witherington.
Happy reading!!!

Luke Rhinehart said...

David:
that's not gonna cut it. The domain in which the argument from evil applies has been challenged, but to my knowledge it hasn't been "refuted." Most responses make the mistake of assuming that they must only show that the evil in the world produces a greater good. In actuality they must show that the evil in the world absolutely must exist in order to produce a greater good, otherwise there's no excuse for it. Demonstrating that is tantamount to saying "God couldn't get to this greater good without allowing evil" meaning "God doesn't have the ability to produce good x without evil" meaning you again have a contradiction w/r/t god's omnipotence.

The other "equally spurious" points I made might as well be addressed by you if you're so sure they're wrong. You must have somre reason, no?

Fletcher said...

Dr. Groothuis,

BRAVO!!! You made my wife and I proud to be Christians in that very hostile environment that night. You are very courageous and Chelle and I commend you for representing Christianity amidst such inane counterarguments. Your demeanor was impressive.. although I felt stressed out on your behalf due to the extremely harsh and irrational treatment of Christianity on display that night.

The atheist position (from your co-speaker as well as the audience) seems to be "just be good to people, be good to the world, and that's all that matters" attitude. The recurring theme was "we know truth and we know how to act because we use our brains and we are logical, we don't resort to faith for explanations". As though they think Christians don't have these ideals? We have Christ's life to follow, the ultimate standard of these ideals, in addition to being logical and rational. The indication was that Christians don't use reason to make decisions in our life, we simply throw reason to the wind and rely on answers from faith.

The film was weak and ridiculous - Being a reasonably well-read apologist I kept saying to myself "is this all they have?" The secular people in the film were made out to be analytical thinkers, while the Christians were made out to be simpletons. The filmmakers really skewed the film to make Christians look bigoted, intolerant, and stupid. (This is what secular, liberal society thinks of us for the most part anyway – and this film is a perfect example of why!). I didn't see any new arguments against Christianity in the film, and there was no offering of Christian rebuttals to these arguments in the film. The filmmaker went from a gullible Christian who would believe anything, to a gullible unbeliever who believes anything. Where's the bologna detector on this guy? Terribly irresponsible.

Thank God that you were there that night, otherwise the audience would walk out believing that 100% of what they heard and say was 100% true, although their philosophical presuppositions may have had that affect anyway.

I was in the restroom afterwards and there were people saying things like "well, he's [Dr. Groothuis] not as bad as Farwell and Pat Robinson, he's much more civilized. BUT, he believes in the hell of Jesus so he's still an idiot."

People really seem to have a hard time with Hell… they were laughing out loud about it in the audience. I can relate to this issue - it's not the easiest one to address. "If God loves us then why……." (why not love us unconditionally even if we don't love him, why not give us another chance, etc.). The fact is, we [Christians] don't claim to know exactly what happens when you die - but we do know what Jesus taught and we cannot deny it because it's inconvenient to us. There is just too much evidence supporting the reality of Christ's life, death, and resurrection to deny the teachings that cramp our style.

My take on Hell:

Hell is eternal separation from God BY CHOICE. People go to hell because they do not WANT to be with God. That is how relationship dynamics works. If you like a woman you don't try to force her to love you… you try to woo her and hope that she CHOOSES to have affections for you over time. You don't drag her into your house kicking and screaming and say "be with ME!".

Maybe some inhabitants of hell want to be there? I don't believe that Hell is a literal "lake of fire", but rather believe (in light of scripture) that this is metaphorical language to denote that those who are in hell suffer and agonize over their decision to reject God. Once they are there, they realize they have made a mistake -and this is the hard part, they can't change their minds. They've rejected God.

Doug, remain encouraged, because you are a powerful weapon of Truth in our community. We need you. It is so easy to be an atheist, and so hard to be a Christian nowadays. The most difficult decisions we make are usually the right ones, and the most rewarding.

We must always be ready to answer for the hope that you have in Christ. If Christianity is true, then we need to be able to explain WHY. Otherwise, we look and sound like idiots, such as the Christians in this film were made out to be.

Fletcher said...

Luke,

What acts are you referring to when you say "Christianity can take acts that were formerly in the moral realm and, by introducing a punishment system, render them non-moral."

If I read this right, you are implying that there are acts that were once considered moral, then Christianity labeled them as immoral and suggests punishment for these acts?

A little off topic, but in response to your allegory, Christians are not commanded or forced to give money against their will. They give (or they should give) because they want to, and because Jesus made it abundantly clear that those who can, should give to those in need.

2 Cor 9:7 pust it best: "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Fletcher said...

Luke,

The "problem of evil" is indeed problematic... but that's if we assume that the only truths are those that we can fully apprehend with our finite sense of understanding. Some things are inscrutible, and this is certainly one of them.

I can't explain to you why evil happens to those who don't appear to deserve it. Such as a drought in Africa that kills thousands by dying of malnourishment when all they really needed was water?

I do know one thing... the evidence for Christianity is virtually insurmountable if one is willing to do the hard work of studying its claims seriously, objectively, and thoroughly, not lazily. In light of the cumulative case argument for Christianity being true... I am not willing to throw all the arguments for Christianity out the window because I don't understand why evil happens. I can humbly say that I don't know why, and I don't fully understand it. I have some philosophical arguments for why there is evil, but in the end... I know that God understands "the big picture", and I trust Him.

I don't want to sound like I am invoking the "it's a mystery" card here, but really... when you look at everything else that points to Christianity being objectively true - you cannot reasonably throw it out because of our limited understanding of the problem of evil. Evil existing in the world doesn't take away the fact that Jesus was a divine being who was literally raise from the dead by God. We have to deal with that reality.

David said...

luke,

On the contrary, it cuts just fine. The evidence for the deductive problem from evil being refuted is quite simply that no one brings it up anymore--except you, apparently. This is because it is too strong to claim that the existence of evil makes it logically impossible for traditional theism to obtain--it is a non sequitor.

The more modest claim, and the route taken by contemporary philosophers of religion, is to assert that the existence of evil makes the existence of this God unlikely or improbable. This is a much more difficult criticism to refute.

You're welcome to continue promoting the deductive version, but you should know that doing so flies in the face of contemporary scholarship on this matter. But I'm sure you're really smart, so clearly you must see something that other brilliant thinkers have missed.

Frank Walton said...

Is there a taping of this event?

Douglas Groothuis said...

To my knowledge, the event was not taped in any form.

Douglas Groothuis said...

One of the best arguments for the reality and rationality and morality of hell is by Jonathon Edwards, "The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners," which I refer to in my on-line essay, "What About Hell," available at www.equip.org. Go to "The Christian Research Journal" section of the page and search for it.

Some in the audience my have laughed at my defense of hell, but some laughed at Jesus as well. A chuckle is not an argument.

VeeJay said...

An atheist named "Mr. Providence" - now that is what the audience should have been laughing at!

juliagwin said...

2 Corinthians 4: 3-6 says "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Then 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 says:

"18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“ I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

Although I dearly love intellectual arguments (this blog is one of my indulgences), and I also adore the reasonableness and rationality of scripture, I recognize a claim of lack of evidence or logical incoherence is never the true reason for unbelief in God. Our problem, at its core, is sin. If we come to God, we are going to have to admit it and deal with it. We love our sin before we come to God, and we still struggle afterward!

Yes, we must be ready to give an answer for the faith that is in us, but we must also know the answer is not in the power of our intellect. The power is from God who blesses those who seek Him with a humble and contrite heart.

Tomorrow, a radio program called "Thru the Bible" is going to begin its 8th journey through scripture. It takes a listener through the entire Bible in 5 years, explaining the scriptures verse by verse. This is an easy and delightful way to begin to study scripture. The website is at www.ttb.org. You can listen online for free or on a radio station near you. This program is now heard in over 100 languages around the world, and still growing!

May God continue to bless Dr. Groothuis and his wife, with wisdom and grace to always give an answer for the hope that is within them.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Fellas:

Here's hopin' we can get Dr.G in on this discussion too, that is unless David will step up and actually make an argument instead of asking me to read various books of his choosing any time I make a point. If your commitment to rationality only includes book reccomendation, then I can say you'll have a sore time indeed converting people. I could argue by simply citing books (then you'd cite a refuting book and I'd cite and new book as a rejoinder) but this comments section could actually provide an opportunity to discuss how truly rational your beliefs are, rather just just be an ineffectual bookclub. If Dr.G is holding back on his comments because he doesn't want to open a can of worms, I'm here to say that a can of worms is exactly what needs to be opened here.


What acts are you referring to when you say "Christianity can take acts that were formerly in the moral realm and, by introducing a punishment system, render them non-moral."

Let's say that you don't kill someone you want to kill because you're afraid of God's punishment. That no different than not pulling the trigger because another gun is pointed at you (like the end of reservir dogs), and as such it's non-moral. If you chose to not kill someone because you didn't believe it was right, but thought you'd get away with it, then you were behaving ethically. Because Christianity intrdouces a gun pointed at you, all your actions cease to be moral. Christianity causes people to be less ethical, QED.

If I read this right, you are implying that there are acts that were once considered moral, then Christianity labeled them as immoral and suggests punishment for these acts?
you're on the right track, but no. Read what I wrote above and if I'm still not clear enough I'm happy to explain further. You sound like a nice enough guy, and genuinely open and honest. I like your style.

They give (or they should give) because they want to, and because Jesus made it abundantly clear that those who can, should give to those in need.
this is a fair point, but again, insofar as you back up your ethics with the threat of God's punishment you've got the amoral problem discussed above.


The "problem of evil" is indeed problematic... but that's if we assume that the only truths are those that we can fully apprehend with our finite sense of understanding. Some things are inscrutible, and this is certainly one of them.

see, this is what I like about you. There is an answer to the problem of evil, but it presupposes god (it says "god works in mysterious ways.") If you already believe in God for personal reasons, then who am I to tell you about what God does? You don't have to be rational, and I admire that you admit that the argument from evil is problematic, because it truly is.


The evidence for the deductive problem from evil being refuted is quite simply that no one brings it up anymore--except you, apparently. This is because it is too strong to claim that the existence of evil makes it logically impossible for traditional theism to obtain--it is a non sequitor.

This is commonly discussed (in fact, it was brought up at the discussion Dr.G spoke at). There are books about it on the shelves of B&N- open your eyes. You 've once again failed to make an argument though.

If it's so obvsiouly wrong it shouldn't take too long for you to refute it.

It's going to be hard to read the Jonathan Edwards Dr.G cited- i read enough of that stuff in school. This is the sinners in the hands of angry god guy right? Really, please just write the kernal of the argument. I'm sure you guys have tons of books and esays that you really love and you always think "well if this person would just read it, they'd understand." Well guess what? I have them too, but I'm not asking you to read them because I know you won't. If you guys can catch me on a point or two then I'll read an essay you reccomend me.

David said...

luke,

I never intended my reference to Plantinga's book to serve as a substitute for a good response to the problem from evil. And I have no problem admitting that I have not offered any kind of response to your argument. That was not my purpose in the original post--it was simply to point out that your argument is rather outdated given current research in philosophy of religion, and so you may want to refine it a bit.

So quit criticizing me on the basis that I haven't provided any arguments, when I never had any intention of doing so in the first place. And the reference to Plantinga's book is perfectly legitimate, since many scholars feel that his work has successfully refuted the deductive problem of evil. I would hope that you'd be interested to know what is going on in contemporary philosophy of religion, even if you don't make the effort to read the book for yourself.

Finally, I would not assume that any commentator's unwillingness to engage in debate in this forum necessarily reflects an inability to deal with certain arguments. Rather, it just might be the case that some commentators have more pressing projects to deal with, and that to entertain arguments that have been soundly defeated would not be the best use of their time and energy.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Well, Mr. Rhinehart, Dr. Groothuis is so busy teaching four classes (not to mention a Sunday school class), meeting with students, and giving doctoral oral exams, that he doesn't have time to go point for point with you right now. However, several respondents are doing a fine job of it. I don't view my blog as the main forum for apologetic discussions, however; it is very limited. So, I often refer to good sources as opposed to repeating or simplifying the arguments.

Absence of evidence--my relative reticence--is not necessarily evidence of the absense of arguments.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Here's what I wrote:
If Dr.G is holding back on his comments because he doesn't want to open a can of worms, I'm here to say that a can of worms is exactly what needs to be opened here.

that says nothing about Dr.G being scared or something. Nor does it imply that he doesn't have anything to say. I should say that I'm disappointed that no one on this blog has even really contended with my arguments in a real way. Fletcher is a nice guy, and David has told me what to read but c'mon. Several posters are doing a fine job of going point for point with me? That's a joke and a half. I've asked for a case against evolution, and I've made several good arguments which haven't been touched. If you guys are so committed to rationality and proving that Christianity can be proven rationally then we should really start talking, because I'm only interested in rationality. Prove me wrong.

David, I have a sense of religious philosophy and I differ from you on what's the consensus and what isn't. Besides, if you want to use consensus as your argument, why the heck do you disbelieve in evolution? I'm assuming you do, simply because Groothius said so at the debate. The 1st cause argument and the argument from design are laughable at this point in the field of philosophy but Dr.G still trots them out, and why shouldn't he? We need to understand these arguments.

Luke Rhinehart said...

I might as well ask you Dr.G is using the word "apologetics." If he's referring to himself and attempting to take the word back to its platonic (rather than colloquial) meaning then it's fine. If instead he's referring to me and my opinions as colloquially apologetic then I take serious umbrage at the charge.

David said...

luke,

Did you even read my most recent post? The fact is that I'm not using consensus as an argument, and this is the case because I'm not trying to make an argument at all. Not sure why that's so difficult to understand.

And if I did think consensus was relevant in determining the truth of some view, then I would most certainly disbelieve in evolution--since very few people actually hold to the Darwinian account of macro-evolution.

As someone who is involved in the world of academia, I can tell you with confidence that you are wrong about how the deductive argument is viewed by contemporary philosophers of religion.

Of course, it is not surprising that you would contest this point, since to admit my insight would make you look very foolish for bringing up the argument in the first place.

I will let you have the last word.

Guy Fawkes said...

Luke,

You might enjoy this (one hell of a) debate between William Lane Craig and Ray Bradley:

http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-bradley0.html

Luke Rhinehart said...

David:

I love it when people are all "I can't be bothered to respond now." Oh you'll let me have the last word? Why thank you. So the fact that you know you can't respond to my arguments is all the sudden some kind of virtue?

A few telling things:
A. "the others" that david said would refute my arguments have never appeared. Perhaps the community isn't as rational as you think.
B. Everyone's so busy doing things that they can't defend the obviously rational tenets of their faith. Seem a bit convenient?
C. My arguments have been dodged, evaded, and referred elsewhere. As someone who came to this site expecting a meeting of the minds, expecting to have my atheist "faith" challenged a bit, I am severely disappointed.

David: Did you even read my most recent post? The fact is that I'm not using consensus as an argument, and this is the case because I'm not trying to make an argument at all. Not sure why that's so difficult to understand.

Hate to point this out to you David, but I'd like you to consider some other things you've said on the subject. Your new defense of "I literally haven't said anything" is quite ingenius though.

Select David quotes:

"In response to your third point, the deductive problem evil has long been refuted and recognized as unsound." and "You're welcome to continue promoting the deductive version, but you should know that doing so flies in the face of contemporary scholarship on this matter. But I'm sure you're really smart, so clearly you must see something that other brilliant thinkers have missed."

These seem like consensus-based arguments to me, my man.

"Your other points are equally spurious, but I will leave it to someone else to point out their inherent problems."

This seems to imply that you had responded to (in fact "pointed out the inherent problems" of) my argument from evil. Please refer to you above sited quote in which you claim you are "not making an argument."

And if I did think consensus was relevant in determining the truth of some view, then I would most certainly disbelieve in evolution--since very few people actually hold to the Darwinian account of macro-evolution.

potatoes potahtoes david. Few people believe in the big bang either (favoring the "expansionist universe" theory) but we all know what we're talking about, and you know that you reject the general scientific consensus.

As someone who is involved in the world of academia, I can tell you with confidence that you are wrong about how the deductive argument is viewed by contemporary philosophers of religion.

wow- only 5 sentences down abd you're already talking about arguments from authority and consensus again. Have we already forgotten?

Of course, it is not surprising that you would contest this point, since to admit my insight would make you look very foolish for bringing up the argument in the first place.

what are you talking about? It's not surprising that I would contest any point, given that we disagree.

I tell you what's really not surprising- the fact that you're already trying to back out this little exchange and pretend you're taking the high road:

I will let you have the last word.

Guy (obviously not your real name, though you may be able to convince a few christians that you've been alive for the past 400 years):

Unimpressed with the debate. I'll tell you what- you can pick Bill Craig's best point and I'll respond to it. Just tell me which one, I'll read it and I'll write a response. See how easy I'm making it for you guys?

Tim said...

Luke,

Your insistence on resurrecting the logical problem of evil is somewhat embarrassing, since your reasoning is not deductively rigorous.

You write:

Most responses make the mistake of assuming that they must only show that the evil in the world produces a greater good. In actuality they must show that the evil in the world absolutely must exist in order to produce a greater good, otherwise there's no excuse for it.

Wrong. They must show that it is logically possible for God to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent and yet for there to be evil in the world. For the conclusion of the logical argument from evil is that this is not logically possible. To refute this, all that is necessary is to show that the premises of that argument do not entail its conclusion, which is equivalent to showing it to be logically possible that the premises are true and the conclusion, under the same interpretation, is false. Plantinga (among others) has done this.

In general, it's very difficult to get to the bottom of any complex argument in a blog thread. That's why your interlocutors are offering you substantial resources to read rather than trying to recapitulate everything here.

The trouble with your description of the Christian position on hell and morality is that none of the serious Christians here recognizes it. This one isn't going anywhere: it will fly in the local atheist meet-ups where people will let you get away with characterizing the other guys any which way you please (as long as it comes out unfavorable), but if people don't share your theological premises it ends up being a pretty pointless exercise.

Your natural reaction might be to try to argue us into your point of view on hell. But everything that has happened on this thread so suggests that you share so few premises with the Christians that there's little hope of this going through.

On the ID front, you might try the tenth anniversary edition of Mike Behe's Darwin's Black Box, just coming out this month if I'm not mistaken. There is an afterword on various criticisms of Behe's position, including all of those mousetraps, gene duplication, etc. If it's just infra dig for you to read a book by an advocate of ID, you might want to look at this paper:

M. Behe and D. Snoke, "Simulating the evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues," Protein Science 13 (2004): 2651-2664.

There's a subsequent exchange on this in the same journal:

Michael Lynch, "Simple Evolutionary Pathways to Complex Proteins," Protein Science 14 (2005): 2217-2225

Behe and Snoke, "A Response to
Michael Lynch," in the same issue, pp. 2226-2227.

Frank Walton said...

Just an aside note: you briefly mentioned that you were in a hostile group of people. I'm not surprised. Let me be blunt, if you are on stage with an audience filled with atheists you will be ridiculed, laughed at, or shouted at. Just listen to Dr. Craig's debate with Avalos where an audience member shamelessly spouted, "Shame on you!" at Dr. Craig! Sure, Christians can be big-headed but not so overt as the atheist professors I have in my science and philosophy curriculums where they use their podium to hurl assault at Christianity and the Bible.

Luke Rhinehart said...

tim,

this has to be a joke. People have argued serious things on blog threads plenty of times. In fact it's a vastly superior forum to the one Doug just participated in because it allows cited evidence, thought out arguments, and concurrent group participation. You guys have a bunch of books you like (as do I) and you think that a book-off is gonna solve something? You probably don't though- you probably just don't want to see your beliefs contested in a serious way, and would prefer instead to make this argument about a possible book club we could start. You know I'm not gonna read some book you reccomend me when you're
a.somewhat of a jerk ("Your insistence on resurrecting the logical problem of evil is somewhat embarrassing")
b. not giving me any reason I should accept your word- get me on a single point first would ya?

Also Tim, you simply don't understand my argument, friend. My claim that "In actuality [Christians] must show that the evil in the world absolutely must exist in order to produce a greater good, otherwise there's no excuse for it." is the logical outcome of Omnipotence and omnibenevolence. So you're right that I am defnding the consistency of the argument, but you're wrong that I'm saying anything "embarassing" and without "rigour."

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tim said...

Luke,

You write, first:

People have argued serious things on blog threads plenty of times. In fact it's a vastly superior forum to the one Doug just participated in because it allows cited evidence, thought out arguments, and concurrent group participation.

There is a difference between discussing a serious topic on a blog thread and having a serious discussion of a serious topic on a blog thread. That said, I certainly agree that it provides a better forum than a stand-up debate. One of the main differences is just what you say -- it enables participants to cite sources. It's still a far cry from a serious discussion in journals or books, but it's better than trying to do it on your feet.

But the whole point of citing sources to advance an argument is vitiated when you follow up like this:

You know I'm not gonna read some book you reccomend me when you're
a.somewhat of a jerk ("Your insistence on resurrecting the logical problem of evil is somewhat embarrassing")
b. not giving me any reason I should accept your word- get me on a single point first would ya?


So you think a blog is a great place for a serious discussion with the citation of evidence, but if someone points out that your foot is halfway down your esophagus you won't read a book he recommends? Luke, you're lowering my opinion of the rationality and decorum of atheists, and this takes some doing.

(In passing: if you consider someone to be "somewhat of a jerk" for telling you truthfully that you're embarrassing yourself, then you should have a look at some of the things you've said to others on this thread and engage in a little self-reflection.)

On the substantive issue, you write:

My claim that "In actuality [Christians] must show that the evil in the world absolutely must exist in order to produce a greater good, otherwise there's no excuse for it." is the logical outcome of Omnipotence and omnibenevolence.

No, it isn't. But since you think that it is, try putting this in the first order predicate calculus and doing the derivation. Let us know what you come up with. If you come out with a valid argument without begging the question, atheists worldwide will kiss your feet. But do not fear -- your feet are safe. It can't be done. This is why thoughtful atheists have dropped the logical problem and moved on to the probabilistic problem of evil.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Tim,
you may be evasive, but I'll hand it to you for being the only person to contest (albiet mildly, and without an eye toward my important arguments) what I post.

Of course, that doesn't mean that you have anything to say.

There is a difference between discussing a serious topic on a blog thread and having a serious discussion of a serious topic on a blog thread.

no problem here. As you agree, a blog atmosphere is much better than many other forums (in fact I prefer it to many "book debates" i.e. Franken v. Coulter.)

That said, I certainly agree that it provides a better forum than a stand-up debate.

Stop here. Given that
a. this is a blog forum posted because of a debate Dr.G was willing to engage in.
b. you admit that this comments section is a better forum than a standup debate
then
c. it's telling indeed when you guys trot out the tired old "it's been refuted" "you're embarassing yourself" and "I'm too busy" stuff that would never fly in a stand-up argument.

You might argue that the audience for the debate made it more important, but there's an audience for this (at least there was- I told some of my friends to look at it, but they've probably stopped by now after the lack of substance from you guys.)

but if someone points out that your foot is halfway down your esophagus you won't read a book he recommends?
Let's go ahead and officially establish that you've now rendered yourself unable to take the high road.

Luke, you're lowering my opinion of the rationality and decorum of atheists, and this takes some doing.

Once again. Because I'm supposed to simply take your word for it when you tell me I'm wrong, and read whatever you want me to? Honestly, I'm again starting to believe that this is a joke. You take me to task for using ad hominem, and then triple your own ad hominem content; you feign indignance about my rationality yet fail to advance a single logical argument! Is there a secret verse that reads "3 eyes for an eye, 3 teeth for a tooth"?

I've been clear that unless you're going to convince me you have something to say, I'm not going to read your books. Would you read "Why Bush took down the Trade Centers" just because some idiot told you to? No- they'd have to advance a plausible case first. I expect that you'll ask the same of me, and I expect the same of you.

(In passing: if you consider someone to be "somewhat of a jerk" for telling you truthfully that you're embarrassing yourself, then you should have a look at some of the things you've said to others on this thread and engage in a little self-reflection.)

I love this technique here. It's painfully obvious, true, but you've got gumption. You're now trying to tell me that you think calling my posts "embarassing" was just a friendly word of advice? You are either being funny or dishonest. Try walking down the street and telling someone that the way they dress and conduct themselves is an embarassment. See if they think you're just handing out a bit of friendly advice, or if they take it (gasp) to be an insult. I won't leave you hanging- do it a few times in harlem and you'll wind up seriously hurt. Now that we can both agree you insulted me right off the bat in your first post, let's drop all of this nonsense about whose a jerk and who's not. Is the Pot-Kettle thing biblical?


...since you think that it is, try putting this in the first order predicate calculus and doing the derivation. Let us know what you come up with. If you come out with a valid argument without begging the question, atheists worldwide will kiss your feet.

Wow, way to spew some verbiage yet say nothing. I already explained why it's the case and you've yet to even address, much less refute, my points beyond simply telling me you've read a book that you think took down the argument. Read my second post about the argument from evil, and since you can be bothered to haul out the old thesaurus and write a bunch of 10 dollar words that say nothing, you could at least address my argument in some logical way.

PS- I don't think saying "think about it until you realize it's wrong" is much of a response since you could use that argument for anything and the only effect it would have is probably the effect you're intending here: to hijack the argument with insults, ridicule, and arguments from authority without ever having to put forth a case.

Luke Rhinehart said...

I'd also like spew some verbiage of my own (perhaps even substantive verbiage if such a thing is possible):

I've read Aquinas and Descartes and I've also read Hume, Kant and Russell. I know about Dembski and irroducible complexity and I know about the pathetic Behe who was so humiliated in the scientific community (his own sources took him to task for misrepresenting their claims, in fact) that he was forced to effectively castrate his own arguments to the point of nothingness. There's little point in talking about these things though because we're talking about consensus and perception instead of the arguments themselves which is what would be proper. I'm not participating in such a dicussion because it's fruitless. If you have arguments you would do well to advance them at this point, because I was planning on using my knowledge to actually discuss something of merit, rather than just compare who thinks they know what.

If you'd like proof that serious topics can be discussed successfully, I'll gladly point you to threads in which matters like Kantian ethics and evolution have been discussed in depth. Guess what though? They weren't discussed by having people parade around their own opinions about the books they've read. Such an interchange is bound to a be a fruitless one, so if you aren't interested yet in making a single relevent point, I'll be here until you do.

A prediction: you'll respond to the Behe point I made above because that's exactly what you want to move this dicussion toward- who thinks this and who thinks that instead of what's correct and what isn't. My even bringing up Behe is giving you fuel with which to turn the discussion in the aforementioned direction, and I only do so in an attempt to glean any possible kernels of rational arguments you may or may not possess.

I'm not gonna "let you have the last word" if you're wrong, and I'll continue to call you on your baseless attacks and insubstantial claims until you stop. Again: if you have arguments, you'd do well to advance them.

Tim said...

Luke,

Most of what you wrote there is just increasing our sense that you don't want to have a serious discussion. It looks like you want to tweak the noses of the stupid fundy nincompoops. But if it turns out that the Christians know a great deal more about logic and about the specific arguments you're citing than you do, you'll revert to the old tactic of abusing them personally.

Did someone speak of losing the high ground?

Let's cut to the chase. You've claimed to have a rigorous argument that vindicates the logical problem of evil. Either you do or you don't. If you do, show it to us. If you don't, then either back out of that claim as gracefully as you can or else go hang out somewhere else where the denizens let you make such claims without challenging you to back them up.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Tim,
if you can't be bothered to go and read some statements above which haven't even been addressed, I'll go ahead and do the work for you:

"The domain in which the argument from evil applies has been challenged, but to my knowledge it hasn't been "refuted." Most responses make the mistake of assuming that they must only show that the evil in the world produces a greater good. In actuality they must show that the evil in the world absolutely must exist in order to produce a greater good, otherwise there's no excuse for it. Demonstrating that is tantamount to saying "God couldn't get to this greater good without allowing evil" meaning "God doesn't have the ability to produce good x without evil" meaning you again have a contradiction w/r/t god's omnipotence."

This is what's called an argument, and if there are glaring holes you'd do well to point them out. The fact is, I've advanced 3+ arguments and you've advanced about 0. If my logic was clearly erroneous it would take all of about 2 minutes to point them out, and certainly you've wasted more minutes than that attempting to steer this thing toward a verbal joust rather than a meeting of the minds. ANyone who reads this thread objectively will see that I made a few uncontested arguments, and because frustrated by the amount of posturing which to you must be the hallmark of etiquette reason.

You've made an interesting hypothesis about what I'll do in the case that you actually use logic and reason to contend with my arguments. Perhaps you'd be willing to put such a hypothesis to the test by actually saying something substantive. If you did, and it was deleted, I apologize. Please repost or cite any actual logic you've already used to rebut any of my serious claims- maybe I just overlooked it among all of your ridiculous put-downs and your transparent attempts to look smart without saying anything.

If you'd like to seriously discuss this, please post something civil which addresses at least one of my claims in a serious manner. I can assure you that you'll find me the perfect gentleman when we're discussing matters of importance. Care to test the waters, or are you more comfortable with more of the same?

Tim said...

Luke,

I'd read that bit before, but it doesn't amount to what I'd call a rigorous argument. Let's roll up our sleeves and have a look at it.

You write:

In actuality they [Christians] must show that the evil in the world absolutely must exist in order to produce a greater good, otherwise there's no excuse for it. Demonstrating that is tantamount to saying "God couldn't get to this greater good without allowing evil" meaning "God doesn't have the ability to produce good x without evil" meaning you again have a contradiction w/r/t god's omnipotence."

First (minor) point: It's overstating to say that Christians owe an account for "the evil in the world," because the definite article makes it sound as though they must give a catalogue of all of the world's evils in order to get started on the job. I'm going to assume, unless you tell me otherwise, that you didn't intend to hang much on this and that you're really thinking of the kinds of evil in the world, stuff like genocide and little girls having their faces burned off and babies being born without arms.

Second point: What is required in order to avoid the logical problem here is not that the Christians demonstrate that the evil in the world be a prerequisite for some greater good but rather that the simultaneous existence of God (traditionally conceived) and evil be logically consistent. This is a much weaker requirement and it does not take much to discharge it. "God knows something you don't" will do the job.

This does not, of course, tell us what the thing is that God knows that we don't that would make sense of the whole picture. But in the nature of the case it would be illegitimate to demand that of the Christian. The question in the logical problem of evil is whether it is possible to reconcile God and evil.

What you could reasonably ask is whether we have some reason for thinking that God knows something we don't that makes it impossible to prevent the sorts of evils we see in the world. But this is a shift to the evidential problem of evil -- it is no longer a matter of pure logic but rather a matter of balancing probabilities. That, if I understood him correctly, is what David was trying to get you to see in your earlier exchange.

Third point: you suggest that if there are restrictions on what God can do, then God cannot be omnipotent. But this contention rests on a misunderstanding of divine omnipotence, which is not the ability to do anything whatsoever without restriction (including self-annihilation) but rather the ability to bring about any state of affairs logically consistent with God's existence and nature. If it isn't logically possible to bring about good x while guaranteeing against evil y, then it's no reflection on God's omnipotence that he can't do it -- any more than it is a reflection on His omnipotence that he cannot make a stone bigger than He can lift. If the creation of beings with genuine free will cannot be accomplished in a way that guarantees the won't abuse that free will, for example, then it's no use complaining that God can't do it.

Someone might retort that this is all very well from the standpoint of Christianity, but it assumes Christian categories and attributes of God. This is quite true, but that's exactly the sort of response the Christian needs to give here. The challenge is that the Christian's concept of God is logically incompatible with the existence of evil. In the very nature of the case we have to use the Christian's concept of God -- otherwise the answer wouldn't address the question in the first place.

Susan said...

Luke,

1. Your notion that a Christian's morality is based on a fear of hell is a false notion.

Christian morality is grounded in preserving what is referred to theologically as imago dei. To be moral is to behave according to the original design and intent of humankind's existence. Humans are moral beings. To refrain from murder, for instance, is to behave in a way that is faithful to our best example of what it means to be made in the image of God. Our motive is love. Love, in the Christian bible is described this way: "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right." 1 Corinthians 13:4-6


2. Hell is as much a moral necessity as jails are in society.
If you think jail is a bad idea, I suppose you will not want to "believe in" hell, either.

3. "Belief in" God is not logically contingent upon our ability to comprehend the cosmic interplay of evil over and against justice. Clearly, were God to "do something about evil" you might be a target! God may be dealing with evil in ways far more effective, on a metaphysical and teleological level, than any of those schemes you'd cook up were you in charge. But if you have some ideas for how God could do a better job without impinging on your free will, perhaps you could share a few of those pointers here?

-Susan

Luke Rhinehart said...

thank you two for actually rolling upi your sleeves and answering. I'm on my way to a lacrosse game, so I won't be answering now, but expect it within the 18-24 hours. Really, this all I was hoping for on the thread- someone to actually answer in this manner.

Matt

ps- if you'd do the same for my other arguments, it'd be like an early christmas.

Tim said...

Luke,

Since you apparently think well of your other two attempted arguments, let me just add a brief analysis of another one here.

You write:

Christianity makes the population less moral, and I say this not with reference to the crusades and so forth (as, no doubt, you've all tired of hearing) but rather for theoretical reasons. If someone holds a gun to your head and forces you to give money to charity, your charity giving is a non-moral act because it was done simply out of fear of retribution. This much seems clear and intuitive. As such, any Christian ethics which promotes the idea that God will punish evil and reward good is an argument for non-moral behavior. Behaving a certain way because you're afraid of punishment is no different then the behavior in our charity-gun example. As such, Christianity can take acts that were formerly in the moral realm and, by introducing a punishment system, render them non-moral.

I'm trying to reconstruct this as an argument in the following way:

1. If Christianity is true, then there are (ultimately) rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior.

2. If there are (ultimately) rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior, then behavior falling under the former category is not morally commendable.

Therefore:

3. If Christianity is true, good behavior is not morally commendable.

The main problem here is that premise 2 is not plausible. If you hold a gun to my head and tell me, "Be nice to your mother or I'll blow your brains out!" and I am nice to my mother because I love her, is my action not morally commendable? Absent any further argument I can't see why any Christian should grant this. It looks to me like you've slid from the fact that desire for reward and fear of punishment could be a motivation for one's actions to the conclusion that, when these are present, they must always be the motivation for one's actions.

But if I'm misconstruing your argument, please tell us how it really goes instead.

Tim said...

Quick clarification, to forestall any needless wrangling: when I said "... when these are present ..." I meant, of course, reward and punishment (and, I'd be willing to add, awareness of them), not the desire for them.

BJ the Tornado said...

OK Luke (or Matt... I'm not sure what your name is),

to be perfectly honest, you've finally bugged me enough to respond to you. (No offense intended... truth is I have many papers and projects I am working on and crafting a blog response at present just doesn't rank that highly on the priorites. I hope you understand this and do not see my other matters needing to be attended to as some dodge or evasion from your questions and arguments).

Your first argument on morality.
First off I'd like to note that you made a small mistake by your positive citing of Kant earlier (Kant's "lampooning" of arguments for God's existence). Why? Well Kant specifically denied your argument against Christian morality. In fact, he argued just the reverse: that WITHOUT a system of reward in the after life there is no rational basis for morality (since some ultristic acts require self-sacrificial acts, etc.).

This suggests to me you either actually have not read the Critique of Pure Reason or else Kant was just briefly instructed to you. Fot therein, yes, he does in fact offer what he thinks are refutations of the cosmological argument and various versions of it as well as the ontological argument. But he hardly "lampoons" them. He spends several hundred pages wrestling over just how good they are only to final deny them -- not quite a "lampooning" (go back and read the antinomies again, which are just a precursor to the refutations of the arguments. And read the arguments via analogies. And since you are fond of Kant, apparently, go back and read his argument FOR God's existence that he thinks DOES work. Kant was a Christian, afterall).


But, look, that's all neither here nor there. For I don't agree with Kant's assesment. And I'm guessing you don't either (unless, of course, you are a Transcendent Idealist -- in which case we have a lot of other matters to talk about).

So, I take your first argument to claim this (quoting you where possible):


1. There are these certain behavoirs that are moral (good or bad).

2. Christiany "takes acts that were formly good [premise 1] and, by introducing a punishment system renders them non-moral."

Therefore

3. "Christianity makes the population less moral."


To this argument I want you to defend premise 1. That's right, premise 1. Where on earth do you get this idea of "moral" behavoir? In premise 2 you are claiming that Christianity makes things non-moral, but this is only possible if your first premise is true -- if there ARE "moral" things in the first place. Defend to us how you ground this silly notion. (By the way, I, as a theist and a metaphysical dualist, have no problem making sense of metaethical reality. But I don't think you'll have as easy a time of it. After you've explained to us your metaethics, then we'll see if your argument holds up. (This goes back to good ol' Lewis who told us "I used to have this idea that God was cruel and unjust... then I asked myself, where do I get these notions of cruel and unjust?")).

Next:
Your second argument:

1. Christianity believes in hell.

2. Hell is "ethically inexcusable".

Therefore

3. Christianty must be rejected.

Again: where do you get this idea of things being "ethically inexcusable"? What are your ethics grounded on? Give me a defense of your metaethics. Only then can you rightly make a premise like premise 2, for at present, I have no idea what you mean by "ethical inexcusable."

Next:
Your third argument.

"it's logically impossible to believe in an all good, all knowing, and all powerful god when we know that evil exists in the world."

Two points of response:
First, again, what do you mean by evil? Again: explain to me how you ground your ethics. What is your metaethical position and how do you defend it?

Second: When you start talking about what is and what isn't "logically impossible to believe in" you might be surprised just what kind of nonsense people believe in. For example, I used to be an atheist. What was I thinking? In all sincerity, approaching this as an epistemic issue is the wrong way to do it. I think you meant it more like this, a straight ontological impossibility claim:

It is impossible that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omnisceint being exists in this world given that there is evil/suffering in this world.

That's a stronger "deductive" formulation for you (since, despite David's warnings, that seems to be what you want to claim).

Ok. Then you tried to shore this up a bit by giving us this:
"In actuality they must show that the evil in the world absolutely must exist in order to produce a greater good, otherwise there's no excuse for it. Demonstrating that is tantamount to saying "God couldn't get to this greater good without allowing evil" meaning "God doesn't have the ability to produce good x without evil""

Let's go with that last part: "God doesn't have the ability to produce good x without evil." This certainly seems possible. And yet you wanted to make the rather strong claim that this is impossible. I don't see how it could be impossible -- it could be unlikely, but impossible? I suppose you might think it is impossible because if God is all-powerful then he should be "able" to do anything. Well, that's not quite right. He can't do what is logically impossible. So he can't make a round square. He also can't violate his own nature. So if he is omnibenevolent, then he CAN'T create anything less than the best of all possible worlds (on one reading of omnibenevolent -- he also could have not created at all, but that's a different point we can address later if you'd like). So, in the case at hand, it is certainly possible that "God doesn't have the ability to produce good x without evil". For example, it is altogether possible that it is the case that (although little non-omniscient types like you and I could never know it) libertarian free will is neccessary for "good x" AND that God knows (again, how could we know this) that instantiating freely willing agents will inevitably lead to evil. And so forth. The point is this is entirely possible. The question would be how on earth can we know the fact of the matter here. That is, how could we know if free will agents existence neccesitates evil in all possible worlds, or what all those possible worlds would look like once they all "play out". We can't, of course, know this. But an omniscient God could. And if he's omnibenevolent, and he's created this world, then we can only assume (via logical deduction) that he's created the best possible world to create "good x" at the cost of evil. And, again, we can only assume since HE is the one who is omniscient and omnibenevolent, that he wouldn't have created the world in any other way if it could have been different.

You see, the problem of evil is certainly not a deductive impossibility IF there is a God. But that question must be answered FIRST. IF there's a God (who is all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful), then YES there is an explanation to the evil in the world via logical necessity! If there is NOT a God, then we have no problem as you've laid it out (but, as I've been hinting, we will suddenly have a problem for the atheist -- how does the ATHEIST account for evil?). SO, first let's answer the question of if there is a God, then we'll HAVE our answer to the deductive impossibility problem you contend for.

This is why it is much better to try to present the problem of evil as an inductive problem. I suggest you do that -- formulate it as strongly as you possibly can, and I'll defend it the best I can.

Have fun with Lacrosse.

-The Tornado.

PS
Sorry we are all so busy. Sincerly. You raise important and difficult answers that must be addressed. Your questions deserve good answers. I asked these same types of questions when I first started investigating the claims of Christianity (which I took to be a farce, at the time). If you'd like, you can email me and I'll correspond with you more in depth. My email is on my profile.

Luke Rhinehart said...

1st batch:

First (minor) point: It's overstating to say that Christians owe an account for "the evil in the world," because the definite article makes it sound as though they must give a catalogue of all of the world's evils in order to get started on the job.

if a general account will cover the evils of the world, then I'm fine with that. However, there may be specific evils that seem harder to intuitively justify. We probably needn't worry about this.

What is required in order to avoid the logical problem here is not that the Christians demonstrate that the evil in the world be a prerequisite for some greater good but rather that the simultaneous existence of God (traditionally conceived) and evil be logically consistent.

Now see, I think this is logically implied. An all-good God would do no evil (by definition) unless it would bring about a greater good.

This is a much weaker requirement and it does not take much to discharge it. "God knows something you don't" will do the job.

this
a. presupposes the existence of God
b. ignores the fact that it's in God's power (by definition) to bring about whatever he wants to bring about without resorting to evil.



What you could reasonably ask is whether we have some reason for thinking that God knows something we don't that makes it impossible to prevent the sorts of evils we see in the world.

Please read point b. above. The only thing God could "know" that we don't is that he's not powerful enough to bring about his aims without resorting to evil, meaning he'd "know" that he's not all-powerful.

If the creation of beings with genuine free will cannot be accomplished in a way that guarantees the won't abuse that free will, for example, then it's no use complaining that God can't do it.
a. angels have free will, no? And also do no wrong?
b. the onus is on you to provide a rejoinder that demonstrates that such a scenario is possible.

What I think we're tending to disagree over is the definition of good. Relying on "god knows something we don't" implies that
a. we can't know the good
b. saying "god is good" is meaningless save but in the analytic a priori sense
c. God could just as well be evil, because the positive claim of god being good rests on nothing but a definitional assertion.

This argument is intended to critique the positive claims of Christianity. As such, when I say good, it should be understood to be the obvious pragmatic good that we use all of time (when someone gives to charity.) There's no sense in abandoning our concept of good here for a non-intuitive topsy-turvy good. The people who make the probablistic argument accept the premise that the counter-arguers get to define good as they please. It'd be as if I made an argument about bachelors and you asked me to consider that God had secret knowledge that Bachelors are women. That's asking me to change my definitions.

In case you're planning on posing the question, I'm an intuitionist.

The challenge is that the Christian's concept of God is logically incompatible with the existence of evil. In the very nature of the case we have to use the Christian's concept of God -- otherwise the answer wouldn't address the question in the first place.

Let me be more clear about what I mean when I say "your argument presupposes the existence of god." What you're really asking for is a reduction of the syllogism. Clearly the argument from evil persupposes the existence of a good apart from god (if it didn't, there'd be no reason to call God good, or mention omnibenevolence.) To remove the sphere of the good to that which we cannot know is to back away from the syllogism, while admitting that it's true on its own terms.


1. Your notion that a Christian's morality is based on a fear of hell is a false notion.

if the incentives to do good are based on outside sources of punishment, then I'm right. If you reject it, and argue for an alternate source of morality and an alternate invcneitve, then I applaud you. This comment was directed at the people who are interested in glamourizing heaven and demonizing hell. Any insistence on the qualitative rewards for doing "good" removes such actions from the realm of the ethical. It's probably impossible to determine the extent to which Christians act for such reasons, but certainly you would concede that a large segment of Christian theory relies on be good/go to heaven BS. I can't think of another reason given by Christianity in fact.

Christian morality is grounded in preserving what is referred to theologically as imago dei. To be moral is to behave according to the original design and intent of humankind's existence. Humans are moral beings. To refrain from murder, for instance, is to behave in a way that is faithful to our best example of what it means to be made in the image of God. Our motive is love.

Soapbox: There are so many contradictions and double-takes in the bible that it's hard to pin down one doctrine. Anyone attempting to define Christian morality almost always contradicts other aspects of the bible.

non-soapbox: this theory has several intrinsic flaws (some of which are scripture based, such as the inability to be moral in isolation, and so forth.) I'd also like to know whether you consider man acting within his original design to be good because it's pleasing to God, or good because it's intriniscally valuable? Sorry to get all platonic here, but it's an important question. You and I may basically agree, given that I'm an inuitionist, but then I see no reason to infer god.

I wrote "As such, any Christian ethics which promotes the idea that God will punish evil and reward good is an argument for non-moral behavior." What we should perhaps consider here, Susan, is that Heaven and hell are somewhat incompatable with intuitionism- if there are intra-human reasons for doing good, and good is done when one allows their true nature to guide them, then Heaven and Hell still make ethical actors tend toward the non-moral realm. God could've kept Heaven a secret, maybe, but every sentence about how bad hell is, every citation of Jonathan Edwards makes people less moral.


2. Hell is as much a moral necessity as jails are in society.
If you think jail is a bad idea, I suppose you will not want to "believe in" hell, either.


Maybe I do think jails are a bad idea. Maybe they're rooted in a perverse desire to "get even." There are some relevent diffferences (the eternal aspect is one.) Regardless, you'll have to make an argument about the comparability and neccesity of the two. Jails are better rationalized preventatively, I think, something which eternal hellfire cannot be rationalized by. Either way, I'm interestd to hear your thoughts on the subject.

But if you have some ideas for how God could do a better job without impinging on your free will, perhaps you could share a few of those pointers here?

See I think you're admitting here that God does a good job but not a perfect one. That seems very inconsistent with all-powerful being to me (as does having to rest after making the world.) The question isn't whether "god" does a better job than I would do, but rather why he can't do it perfectly. Any answer will have a hard time preserving God's essential qualities, IMHO. It's a classic Lisbon earthquake question.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Tim:
regarding your second post, you got it almost right. The question is about a morality which relies on or stresses the punishments and rewards involved. You love your mother- you don't need to be punished if you dont't, okay. So let me ask then- if there are "love-based" reasons to be a good person, why heaven and hell or at least- why tell us about heaven and hell?

If you're already on your way to give to charity, what is the gunman thinking by trying to force you? It's correct that, in the cases in which you were going to do something ANYWAY, then punishment doesn't neccessarily have an effect on you (though it still may- it could rob you of your good-will, or change your behavior.) So I accept it as true that Christianity doesn't make every act less moral, however insofar as one changes their behavior out of fear of hell or desire for heaven (and obviously that's plenty of people) then Christianity decreases ethical behavior. If you'd like me to do a google search and find someone who admits they've changed their ways because "the fear of god" was put to them, but I expect that you won't ask for that.

Tim said...

Luke,

I wrote (and you quoted me):

What is required in order to avoid the logical problem here is not that the Christians demonstrate that the evil in the world be a prerequisite for some greater good but rather that the simultaneous existence of God (traditionally conceived) and evil be logically consistent.

You replied:

Now see, I think this is logically implied. An all-good God would do no evil (by definition) unless it would bring about a greater good.

Then you quoted me again:

This is a much weaker requirement and it does not take much to discharge it. "God knows something you don't" will do the job.

But here you balk, because (quoting you):

this
a. presupposes the existence of God
b. ignores the fact that it's in God's power (by definition) to bring about whatever he wants to bring about without resorting to evil.


Your first point here is just a confusion. If your challenge to someone is that his views are logically inconsistent and he responds by showing that there is no logical contradiction in holding them, your challenge has been answered. It does not matter that you still disagree with his views. You might even think you have reason to believe them to be false. You may even be right. But it doesn’t matter. This is one of the reasons that knock-down deductive refutations for complex positions are so hard to find; if they succeed, sure, they’re devastating, but they’re generally very easy to deflect. And the dialectic of challenge and response generally doesn’t get anywhere close to the substantive issues, which are usually issues of nondeductive evidence.

Your second point reflects a common confusion on the part of non-theists regarding what omnipotence entails. I anticipated it in my first post, though it seems you missed this bit:

Third point: you suggest that if there are restrictions on what God can do, then God cannot be omnipotent. But this contention rests on a misunderstanding of divine omnipotence, which is not the ability to do anything whatsoever without restriction (including self-annihilation) but rather the ability to bring about any state of affairs logically consistent with God's existence and nature. If it isn't logically possible to bring about good x while guaranteeing against evil y, then it's no reflection on God's omnipotence that he can't do it -- any more than it is a reflection on His omnipotence that he cannot make a stone bigger than He can lift. If the creation of beings with genuine free will cannot be accomplished in a way that guarantees the won't abuse that free will, for example, then it's no use complaining that God can't do it.

You might have intended this, however, to be a response (quoting you):

a. angels have free will, no? And also do no wrong?
b. the onus is on you to provide a rejoinder that demonstrates that such a scenario is possible.


On the first point, yes, they have free will, but no, they aren’t unable to sin. No counterexample there. The second point reflects your relative unfamiliarity with logic. Impossibility claims put the onus on you – again, this is one of the reasons why the logical argument from evil is no longer popular. Michael Tooley, a professional philosopher who is an expert on the problem of evil and is certainly no friend to theism, puts the point this way:

Consider, in particular, the relevant premise in the more concrete version of the argument from evil set out in section 1.4, namely:

1. There exist states of affairs in which animals die agonizing deaths in forest fires, or where children undergo lingering suffering and eventual death due to cancer, and that (a) are intrinsically bad or undesirable, and (b) are such that any omnipotent person has the power to prevent them without thereby either allowing an equal or greater evil, or preventing an equal or greater good.

How would one go about establishing, via a purely deductive argument that a deer's suffering a slow and painful death because of a forest fire, or a child's undergo lingering suffering and eventual death due to cancer, is not logically necessary either to achieve a greater good or to avoid a greater evil? If one had knowledge of the totality of morally relevant properties, then it might well be possible to show both that there are no greater evils that can be avoided only at the cost of the evil in question, and that there are no greater goods that are possible only given that evil. Do we have such knowledge? Some moral theorists would claim that we do, and that it is possible to set out a complete an corect moral theory. But this is certainly a highly controversial metaethical claim, and, as a consequence, the prospects for establishing a premise such as (1) via a deductive argument do not appear promising, given the present state of moral theory.


[Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The Problem of Evil”]

You go on to suggest that this will have several sweeping consequences, namely, that the “God knows something you don’t” defense implies

a. we can't know the good
b. saying "god is good" is meaningless save but in the analytic a priori sense
c. God could just as well be evil, because the positive claim of god being good rests on nothing but a definitional assertion.


Not at all. The absence of moral omniscience does not entail complete moral ignorance. The rest of what you write on this point is vitiated by your failure to make the distinction and your consequent misrepresentation of the Christian’s position.

Finally, you write:

Let me be more clear about what I mean when I say "your argument presupposes the existence of god." What you're really asking for is a reduction of the syllogism. Clearly the argument from evil persupposes the existence of a good apart from god (if it didn't, there'd be no reason to call God good, or mention omnibenevolence.) To remove the sphere of the good to that which we cannot know is to back away from the syllogism, while admitting that it's true on its own terms.

I’m sorry – I find this unintelligible. What do you mean by a “reduction of the syllogism”? It isn’t what logicians mean; those who still speak this language mean the conversion of a syllogism into the first figure from some other figure. Your argument isn’t technically a syllogism anyway (though it doesn’t have to be in order to be rigorous). In the last sentence you seem to be reiterating the claim that I discussed above regarding moral omniscience and moral ignorance.

BJ the Tornado said...

Luke,

I must respond to your most recent post and correct an error you are making.

You claim that people "change their behavior out of fear of hell or desire for heaven (and obviously that's plenty of people)". And there can be no doubt that this is true. But it is not behavoir rooted in proper Christian theology.
Yes, you could easily cite many people who think if they do good things they go to heaven and vice versa. But I'm not interested whatsoever in defending such a position. This was a big stumbling block for me when I was an atheist: a confused picture on what proper Christian theology even was. You need to get straight what we are claiming for Christianity. Christianity correctly claims that no one MERITS heaven. The only way "in to" heaven is via FAITH -- faith in God's saving work on your behalf through Christ. So, someone trying to act good to get into heaven, or someon who is avoiding acting bad to avoid Hell, has the wrong idea. Maybe another religion preaches that, but it isn't (proper) Christianity.

Also, don't try to say that I need to defend that errant theological position just because a lot of people believe it. I am defending to you the most rational correct version of Christianity. For that is what I believe. I'm not going to defend (nor should I defend) a theological position that I think is false.

Here's an analogy for you:

Imagine the perfect race car. I mean the sweetest, badest, finest automobile ever made. (Probably some $500,000 Italian model, I'd guess). Now say you are driving down the road and you see said car wrapped around a tree -- completely destroyed. You would not, I hope, deduce from that evidence that the car was a bad car. You would deduce that there was a crappy driver behind the wheel of the perfect car.

Christianity is like the perfect sports car. It all hangs together in an astoundingly coherent, rational system. But when bad drivers get behind the wheel and say stupid, ignorant, or incorrect things or base their life off of false theological teachings ("I better do good to get into heaven", etc.), then the car may crash. Sure you can come along and point that crash out to us, but it doesn't in anyway change the quality of the car (the rationality of proper Christianity).

In short -- I don't believe you can merit your way into heaven (or out of hell). I believe Christianity, properly understood, claims precisely this. Your moral argument seems based on an incorrect understanding of Christianity.

Good day,
The Tornado.

PS
Still looking forward to your metaethical defense I challenged in my previous post.

Tim said...

Luke,

You write:

regarding your second post, you got it almost right. The question is about a morality which relies on or stresses the punishments and rewards involved. You love your mother- you don't need to be punished if you dont't, okay. So let me ask then- if there are "love-based" reasons to be a good person, why heaven and hell or at least- why tell us about heaven and hell?

I think you’ve got a misconception about the Christian view of heaven and hell. And a reasonably large number of people who go by the name ‘Christian’ share your view, so it’s certainly understandable. If I shared that conception, I’d find them pretty mystifying too.

The short answer is that the ultimate and proper motive for good action according to Christianity is the love of God, both because of who He is and because of what He has done. I see that many others are making this same point, so I won’t belabor it. But the critical point is that heaven and hell aren’t created to be the Big Carrot and the Big Stick, however often they’re taken that way by some.

From this point of view, you’d do much better to say that misunderstanding of Christianity – or at least a certain sort of misunderstanding about it – makes people less moral. And frankly, if you were to retrench like that, I think you’d have a good point. It wouldn’t be an argument against the moral standing of Christianity, but it would certainly be telling against the moral views of some Christians.

Susan said...

Hi Luke,
Thank you for responding to my answers to your questions.
-Susan

Tim said...

Luke,

A bit more on that last one. Why heaven and hell? Presumably because they're real. (You're asking a Christian here -- what other answer could be expected?)

Why tell us about them? I really don't think that a Christian has to have a pat answer to that in order to be intellectually responsible. But one plausible answer is that a knowledge that wrongs will be put right and the wicked will receive their just deserts may strengthen the resolve of the suffering. "Why do the wicked prosper?" asks the Psalmist, and surely he is not alone. Let's not pretend that faint-heartedness is never a problem.

BJ the Tornado said...

So apparently Luke is "conviently too busy to defend his position" (like he accused us of) since he has not replied immeadiatly.

Just kidding Luke -- I'll be a little more gracious than that. Take your time.

I do look forward to your response to my questions regarding your arguments.

Best,
-The Tornado.

Tim said...

B. Jay,

Yes, there was a great deal of self-congratulatory blustering and absurd posturing in Luke's posts, particularly in the middle of the thread. (I think my favorite was "you probably just don't want to see your beliefs contested in a serious way" -- conflating the fact that he means to be serious, which is doubtless true, with the idea that what he presented were weighty challenges, which they are not.)

It was also depressing to see him positively threatening to be a troll on someone else's blog. ("I'm not gonna 'let you have the last word' if you're wrong, and I'll continue to call you on your baseless attacks and insubstantial claims until you stop.")

Still, it's at least possible that he's learned something.

Besides, this gives us leisure to speculate on his identity. Luke? Matt? Hmm ... what do Luke and Matt have in common? How about Q!?

Luke Rhinehart said...

I'm not gone fellas, but went from no credible responses to about 50, and so it's a bit much to try and handle all that reading. My identity is confusing because
a. these posts are a collaborative effort between a person named Luke and a person named Matt. Matt was the "agnostic" Dr.G mentioned in the post, and didn't want to directly discuss things on here because he didn't want to offend. However, he's going to be doing most of the responding at this point, so it was all for naught.
b. some responses were copied verbatim from emails, and some posts were simply written by matt, who likes to sign his name. Er, my name.

onto the meat.

Your first point here is just a confusion. If your challenge to someone is that his views are logically inconsistent and he responds by showing that there is no logical contradiction in holding them, your challenge has been answered
I explained what I meant by this further on in the message. I understand the confusion, but I'll address your real reply once I get down there.

This is one of the reasons that knock-down deductive refutations for complex positions are so hard to find; if they succeed, sure, they’re devastating, but they’re generally very easy to deflect.

I agree with you here, and I asked in my original post for some positive claims (about ID for instance.) I say we wade through this stuff first, because I didn't expect multiple responses in a one day period.

Third point: you suggest that if there are restrictions on what God can do, then God cannot be omnipotent. But this contention rests on a misunderstanding of divine omnipotence, which is not the ability to do anything whatsoever without restriction (including self-annihilation) but rather the ability to bring about any state of affairs logically consistent with God's existence and nature.

now see, I think you are making a positive claim here that you should defend. I'll further address this point below when we talk about onuses (sounds kind of dirty no?), but I think you should show me how if God's nature is good, it's illogical for him to oppose evil. Or, if the argument goes the other way, why he's not powerful enough to oppose evil and why that's consistent with omnipotence.

The simple reason you should do this is that your position really doesn't seem intuitive. The analogy to "making a stone so heavy God can't lift it" isn't really a case- it merely shows that God must obey logic. While I think that's questionable anyway (why is logic above God?), you still must account for how eliminating evil in the service of good is logically inconsistent. Again, this argument is about intuitive clarity- Ithink your position is prima facie unconvincing. I'll argue about who has the logical burden of proof below.

If the creation of beings with genuine free will cannot be accomplished in a way that guarantees the won't abuse that free will, for example, then it's no use complaining that God can't do it.

this seems entirely counter-intuitive. for one thing, you're already starting to beg the question, because you are assuming that God needs to make beings with free will. Please argue for this premise- why must God make us with free will? Is there some good to be gotten out of free will that cannot be gotten in another way?

Okay, now beyond that I think you'll also have to argue that free will cannot exist without evil, something which I think is silly. Can we not make choices between two non-moral things? Or between a moral and a non-moral thing? I think you'll have to demonstrate that those are not really "free choices" and I don't see how you can do that.

Beyond this, we have another question. If we can argue that God understands things we don't , then why do we presume that certain paradoxes and logic puzzles (the can God make a stone so heavy puzzle for instance) aren't simply the result of our ignorance? Is it not possible that logic is a akin to hearing, and simply has limitations? That, as Borges implies in the 9 copper coins paradox, our logic isn't all-encompassing? I think it is possible (though there's no reason to believe it.) However, accepting such conclusions mean rejecting the argument from evil rather than addressing it. Such a "God works in mysterious ways" argument actually can admit the truth of the argument from evil, because it simply must acknowledge that
a. based on our own (possibly finite) understanding of good God doesn't seem to ensure that goodness is done.
b. based on our limited understanding of power, it appears that God does not have the power to bring about this good.

This may be the very argument you were making, but it actually begs the question. The problem is that "good" in the argument simply references our own understanding of what's good. If you're arguing that we don't know the good then you're merely arguing for different definitions (and same goes for omnipotence.)

On the first point, yes, they have free will, but no, they aren’t unable to sin.
3 questions then:
a. why are there sins?
b. doesn't this show that free will and goodness can exist without evil?
c. why didn't God make only angels?

The second point reflects your relative unfamiliarity with logic.

No, see I think that for the purposes of debate the onus is on you. I can't address every single possibility, and I think you should hit the percieved weak points in my argument by making arguments. Otherwise we reduce this whole thing to a principia mathematica excercise. Let me give you an example: suppose I'm arguing that it's practically impossible that the Iraq war was about spreading democracy, and your reply simply says "well you'll have to show we weren't defending the world from the Russians" or "you'll have to show there isn't an alternate dimension in which democracy wasn't spread" or "how do you know you aren't a brain in a vat?" Those are all technically logical presses, but because they aren't intuitive, they can't merely be proposed and not argued for.


If one had knowledge of the totality of morally relevant properties, then it might well be possible to show both that there are no greater evils that can be avoided only at the cost of the evil in question,

We've perhaps reached a good point in the discussion. Here're the two important points:
a. I think that this is quibbling over the definition of Good. The A.f.E. presumes that we can know the good (obviously, by the prepositional content of the argument itself) and to argue that we cannot is to not accept the argument on its terms. This is what I meant about "reducing the syllogism"- you're effectively asking that "good" be redefined or removed . Suppose you argue that A=A and I counter that "A", propery understood, is actually "B" therefore you statement is untrue. It may be possible to untangle the epistemilogical issues w/r/t a=a, but expanding from beyond basic truths of mathematics such a press simply reduces to general philosophical scepticism.

b. can we know the good? Again, "good" in the A.f.E. is pragmatically defined, and I'd again stress that contrary argument walk a dangrous Montaignian line. But yes we can know the good, in the metaethical sense. Because I don't really need to demonstrate that in this argument (I'm concerned only with showing that a denial of the pragmatic definition will reduce to G.P.S.) I'll make the argument to B.Jay and you can read it there.




The absence of moral omniscience does not entail complete moral ignorance.

but that's not the issue, even if you can consistently hold that we "probably", "maybe", or "sort-of" have moral knowledge without admitting that we only "possibly" know the real world there's no basis on which to assume that our incomplete moral knowledge allows us to assert truths about things beyond or above such knowledge. If understand only bark, we have no business speculating about a tree and saying "trees are rough" is to overstate our case and talk out of school. That's why it's correct to simply presmise discussions on the fact that we're neccesarily speaking within the realm of our experience. This isn't to say I won't argue metaethics and epistemtology (I will- looks like strawser and I'll be talking about it, and you're welcome to chime in too) but only that such arguments are basically unneccesary.



Matt: To remove the sphere of the good to that which we cannot know is to back away from the syllogism, while admitting that it's true on its own terms.

I’m sorry – I find this unintelligible. What do you mean by a “reduction of the syllogism”?

I hope I explained this well enough above. I was arguing that you either want good to be a tautological reference to God (rendering it redundant and unneccesary) or want good redefined which means you aren't accepting the argument on its terms.


B. Jay:

I'll get to you as soon as I can. I wrote this on my lunch break, but if you don't already know, I'm a intuitionist in the metaethical sense. I believe that we probably have an innate moral faculty (analogous to the "language organ" accepted by modern linguistics, and partially based on the same "poverty of stimulus" arguments used to solidify the linguistic theory.) I also think there are solid logical arguments to defend such a position and I'll detail those soon.

Luke Rhinehart said...

I also wouldn't say I was threatening to be a troll. I was simply waiting for a substantive argument. We're all having a polite discussion now (apart from the errant comment or two by Tim), and all it took was some rational responses. This alone should show that I wasn't motivated by a desire to be rude, but simply to press my points until they were addressed. Because this audience is primarily Christain (I'm assuming) they're apt to be more friendly to your points, and you may even appear to "win" the discussion if you have the last post, so long as it's sufficiently dismissive and insulting in tone. I was merely saying that I'd continue to press my points until you stopped responding, said you couldn't respond, or made an argument fo some substance. Had Dr.G asked me to leave I would've abided, and so I wouldn't say that this counts as troll-like behavior. I'm not an ends justify the means guy, but I will say I'm glad that our bickering in the middle of this thread has turned into serious, substantive discussion.

Tim said...

Matt,

You quote this from me:

Third point: you suggest that if there are restrictions on what God can do, then God cannot be omnipotent. But this contention rests on a misunderstanding of divine omnipotence, which is not the ability to do anything whatsoever without restriction (including self-annihilation) but rather the ability to bring about any state of affairs logically consistent with God's existence and nature.

Then you write:

now see, I think you are making a positive claim here that you should defend. I'll further address this point below when we talk about onuses (sounds kind of dirty no?), but I think you should show me how if God's nature is good, it's illogical for him to oppose evil. Or, if the argument goes the other way, why he's not powerful enough to oppose evil and why that's consistent with omnipotence.

The simple reason you should do this is that your position really doesn't seem intuitive. The analogy to "making a stone so heavy God can't lift it" isn't really a case- it merely shows that God must obey logic. While I think that's questionable anyway (why is logic above God?), you still must account for how eliminating evil in the service of good is logically inconsistent. Again, this argument is about intuitive clarity- Ithink your position is prima facie unconvincing. I'll argue about who has the logical burden of proof below.


This response shifts between two very different criticisms of the orthodox Christian position:

(1) that the existence of God is logically inconsistent with the existence of evil (Luke’s original claim), and
(2) that it is implausible that there should be reasons that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God would allow evil.

Charge (1) is met adequately by (a) the clarification of the concept of omnipotence and (b) the observation that it is logically possible that there are moral reasons for God’s failure to prevent all evil. It is not required, to meet this criticism, that the Christian provide any evidence for the plausibility of (b).

Now, (a) and (b) do not by themselves address criticism (2) at all. I’m quite willing to discuss (2) on its merits. But before we do, let’s figure out whether you’re really dropping (1) or whether you are shifting back and forth between (1) and (2) for some other reason.

Again, you quote me:

If the creation of beings with genuine free will cannot be accomplished in a way that guarantees the won't abuse that free will, for example, then it's no use complaining that God can't do it.
Then you write:

this seems entirely counter-intuitive. for one thing, you're already starting to beg the question, because you are assuming that God needs to make beings with free will. Please argue for this premise- why must God make us with free will? Is there some good to be gotten out of free will that cannot be gotten in another way?

You’re missing the point of this example, which is that there’s no logical impossibility in God’s permitting the abuse of free will. It isn’t a premise in an argument designed to convince you that God exists; you’re on the offensive here and I’m merely illustrating that the offense, which is designed to show me that my own position is internally incoherent, is misguided. Whether you find my position plausible on a point-by-point level is an entirely different question and needs to be handled separately. Are you willing to concede now that my position, though in your view implausible, is not logically inconsistent, which is what Luke originally charged the Christians with?

You go on:

Okay, now beyond that I think you'll also have to argue that free will cannot exist without evil, something which I think is silly. Can we not make choices between two non-moral things? Or between a moral and a non-moral thing? I think you'll have to demonstrate that those are not really "free choices" and I don't see how you can do that.

Again, this pertains to challenge (2) rather than to challenge (1), so it threatens to drag the discussion off track.

You continue:

Beyond this, we have another question. If we can argue that God understands things we don't, then why do we presume that certain paradoxes and logic puzzles (the can God make a stone so heavy puzzle for instance) aren't simply the result of our ignorance? Is it not possible that logic is a akin to hearing, and simply has limitations? That, as Borges implies in the 9 copper coins paradox, our logic isn't all-encompassing? I think it is possible (though there's no reason to believe it.)

Short answer: no. What could you mean by “possible” here? Logically possible?

You go on:

However, accepting such conclusions mean rejecting the argument from evil rather than addressing it. Such a "God works in mysterious ways" argument actually can admit the truth of the argument from evil, because it simply must acknowledge that
a. based on our own (possibly finite) understanding of good God doesn't seem to ensure that goodness is done.b. based on our limited understanding of power, it appears that God does not have the power to bring about this good.


The parallel is flawed. I’m happy to grant that some logical truths are epistemically transparent (like “If P, then P”). I see no reason why “No one with infinite power and knowledge could have an adequate moral reason for permitting some evil to exist” should be placed in this class.

You wrap up this segment by writing:

This may be the very argument you were making, but it actually begs the question. The problem is that "good" in the argument simply references our own understanding of what's good. If you're arguing that we don't know the good then you're merely arguing for different definitions (and same goes for omnipotence.)

Actually it wasn’t the argument I was making at all, so I feel no need to defend it.

Now you move on to angels. First you quote me:

On the first point, yes, they have free will, but no, they aren’t unable to sin.

Then you write:

3 questions then:
a. why are there sins?
b. doesn't this show that free will and goodness can exist without evil?
c. why didn't God make only angels?


I think you misread my response. I said they aren’t unable to sin.

Moving on to the question of whether, having defined omnipotence and stipulated that God cannot bring about logically impossible states of affairs, it is my responsibility to show you which morally relevant properties or whether it is your job to show a contradiction in the position, you first quote me:

The second point reflects your relative unfamiliarity with logic.

Then you write:

No, see I think that for the purposes of debate the onus is on you. I can't address every single possibility, and I think you should hit the percieved weak points in my argument by making arguments. Otherwise we reduce this whole thing to a principia mathematica excercise.

Again you’re shifting from a type (1) to a type (2) critique, perhaps partly because you may not have been the one to write the original critique. The way to argue against an impossibility charge is by showing logical possibility. We can move on to plausibility as a separate issue, but as a matter of intellectual hygiene let’s finish one task at a time.

You continue:

Let me give you an example: suppose I'm arguing that it's practically impossible that the Iraq war was about spreading democracy, and your reply simply says "well you'll have to show we weren't defending the world from the Russians" or "you'll have to show there isn't an alternate dimension in which democracy wasn't spread" or "how do you know you aren't a brain in a vat?" Those are all technically logical presses, but because they aren't intuitive, they can't merely be proposed and not argued for.

The terminology “practically impossible” slides from a type (1) to a type (2) charge. Are you conceding that Luke’s original insistence that there was a logical inconsistency here was misguided and you’re dropping it?

Next you repeat a bit of my quotation from Tooley:

If one had knowledge of the totality of morally relevant properties, then it might well be possible to show both that there are no greater evils that can be avoided only at the cost of the evil in question,

Then you write:

We've perhaps reached a good point in the discussion. Here're the two important points:
a. I think that this is quibbling over the definition of Good. The A.f.E. presumes that we can know the good (obviously, by the prepositional content of the argument itself) and to argue that we cannot is to not accept the argument on its terms. This is what I meant about "reducing the syllogism"- you're effectively asking that "good" be redefined or removed . Suppose you argue that A=A and I counter that "A", propery understood, is actually "B" therefore you statement is untrue. It may be possible to untangle the epistemilogical issues w/r/t a=a, but expanding from beyond basic truths of mathematics such a press simply reduces to general philosophical scepticism.


It would be helpful if you could explain how this is supposed to address the distinction I made in my earlier post regarding the difference between lacking moral omniscience and being utterly morally ignorant, since it seems that this reply again conflates these two.

You go on:

b. can we know the good? Again, "good" in the A.f.E. is pragmatically defined, and I'd again stress that contrary argument walk a dangrous Montaignian line. But yes we can know the good, in the metaethical sense. Because I don't really need to demonstrate that in this argument (I'm concerned only with showing that a denial of the pragmatic definition will reduce to G.P.S.) I'll make the argument to B.Jay and you can read it there.

I’ll look forward to an answer that deals with my distinction there, then.

But I see that you go on to take a stab at it here. First you quote me:

The absence of moral omniscience does not entail complete moral ignorance.

Then you reply:

but that's not the issue, even if you can consistently hold that we "probably", "maybe", or "sort-of" have moral knowledge without admitting that we only "possibly" know the real world there's no basis on which to assume that our incomplete moral knowledge allows us to assert truths about things beyond or above such knowledge. If understand only bark, we have no business speculating about a tree and saying "trees are rough" is to overstate our case and talk out of school. That's why it's correct to simply presmise discussions on the fact that we're neccesarily speaking within the realm of our experience. This isn't to say I won't argue metaethics and epistemtology (I will- looks like strawser and I'll be talking about it, and you're welcome to chime in too) but only that such arguments are basically unneccesary.

I just don’t understand this as a reply. We know that some things are good. Not “probably” or “maybe” or “sort of” – we know them. About other things we are less sure. You may claim to know the moral claim that a God with the traditional attributes couldn’t allow evil, but you’re supposed to be showing me that this is true on my own terms. I gather that you think my reply would sink me into global moral skepticism. Why? Is this claim itself the outcome of some independent line of argument, or is it just your direct and unarguable ethical intuition?

Hope that helps.

Luke,

Thanks for the clarification. I'm glad you don't intend to be a troll and I am sorry that I misinterpreted that remark of yours.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Blogger Gods erased my comment! Construction huh? I don't see any extra lanes...

Because I'm answering B Jay next, Tim, let me have you answer a few questions in the meantime if you wouldn't mind.

1. Do Angels ever sin? You say they are able, but do they simply never prefer to do it?

2. Do humans have a quality that places us above and beyond angels? A level of goodness or possible goodness that we can attain?

3. Can anything be logically proven about the world? Why or why not?

4. Is it possible that logic and reason is simply reflective of our specific human capacities, and don't apply absolutely? Is it possible that there is a realm in which our logic doesn't apply?

5. Is there a high-order good that you think is only attainable via evil? Why?

and finally
6. Can we use Human understanding to make sense of God or not?



That should get us on track a bit. There seems to be some confusion over whether my argument needs to be internally logically consistent (in which case I'd be able to define the terms, and the point of the argument would be to show you that by rejecting my argument you also reject many things you already believe about the world) or if my argument needs to be entirely applicable to your beliefs (beliefs which I wasn't aware of when the argument was made, and am still basically unaware of now) as the latter will allow you to define God as you see fit and the former will not. Either of cases will depend on me knowing something about your position really (speaking as to efficacy of the first argument or the proof of the second) and as such I think you answering a few questions might well allow this little endeavor to more seriously get off the ground.

Susan:

Your welcome- your questions were thoughtful and interesting and I'd be further interested to know how much Imago Dei overlaps with my own moral beliefs.

Matt

Luke Rhinehart said...

again trying to cut a little more time, here's a part of the original email I sent to Dr. G:

I am an "agnostic" though my technical position is that the question of God isn't a meaningful enough one to merit taking sides. I believe that ethics are part of our intrinsic biological structure (somewhat as Hume and Adam Smith have argued), and I "believe" in science just like everyone else does (all of the people who stride confidently out into the street expecting the street to be there believe in science, because that's all that such a belief requires.)

My question regards your "first proof" about the big bang theory. You assume that there is something that must have "caused" the nebula in the first place. Rather than Socratically ask why, I'll assume that you're appealing to the simple logic that "all things must have a principle and efficient cause equal or greater to themselves" (Descartes, meditations.) A simple first premise, but if your conclusion is that God exists and caused the big bang, AND that God has no cause then your conclusion contradicts your premises and the syllogism falls flat.

This is primarily for B.Jay, so he knows further where I'm coming from. I think arguments that we can't know ethics without God is a "god of the gaps" argument, notwithstanding a few other flaws. However, as a moral realist myself, I sincerely respect your desire for firm moral ground (though I think strong enough ground can be found elsewhere, in a place we can actually get to.)

Tim said...

Matt:

1. Do Angels ever sin? You say they are able, but do they simply never prefer to do it?

Apparently so, since Lucifer and his followers did.

2. Do humans have a quality that places us above and beyond angels? A level of goodness or possible goodness that we can attain?

Not that I can see, though I am not in a position to rule out the possibility either. We do not have a great deal of information about this, and I do not see much point in speculating without information.

3. Can anything be logically proven about the world? Why or why not?

It depends on what you mean by “logically proven” and “about the world.” Factual claims cannot be shown to be true by pure reasoning; one must have at least some non-trivial premises. This is one reason that I think the Ontological Argument fails.

4. Is it possible that logic and reason is simply reflective of our specific human capacities, and don't apply absolutely?

No.

Is it possible that there is a realm in which our logic doesn't apply?

No. But be careful here; it’s one thing to say that it is not possible for there to be a realm in which logic does not apply, but quite a different thing to say that logic alone – unaided by information that is not a matter of logic – is competent to reveal all of the truths about a realm. And it is still another thing to say that the application of logic to limited information is adequate to reveal all of the truths about a realm. I think the first claim is true but the second and third are false.

5. Is there a high-order good that you think is only attainable via evil? Why?

No. But there are several that I can think of – genuine free will is probably the most important one – for which it is, IMHO, plausible that they can be attained only by means that leave open the possibility of evil, and I think this is what you really mean to be asking. It’s quite important to distinguish between (a) directly and deliberately bringing about an evil and (b) directly and deliberately bringing about a state of affairs in which it cannot be guaranteed that no one else will bring about an evil. It is (I think) more plausible to address the problem of evil in terms of attributing (b) to God than in terms of attributing (a) to Him.

and finally
6. Can we use Human understanding to make sense of God or not?


It depends on what you mean by “make sense of.” We can use human understanding, aided by special revelation, to gain some concept of God. (I am not of the apophatic tradition.) The concept we can thus acquire is adequate for our purposes. We cannot, however, with such information as is at our disposal, fathom everything there is to know about God.

But much more interestingly, we can (and must) use what understanding and information we have in determining whether God exists. In the process we should, however, be wary of assuming that we are morally or metaphysically omniscient.

There seems to be some confusion over whether my argument needs to be internally logically consistent (in which case I'd be able to define the terms, and the point of the argument would be to show you that by rejecting my argument you also reject many things you already believe about the world) or if my argument needs to be entirely applicable to your beliefs (beliefs which I wasn't aware of when the argument was made, and am still basically unaware of now) as the latter will allow you to define God as you see fit and the former will not. Either of cases will depend on me knowing something about your position really (speaking as to efficacy of the first argument or the proof of the second) and as such I think you answering a few questions might well allow this little endeavor to more seriously get off the ground.

This is quite reasonable. Your premises shouldn’t contradict each other, of course, so in that sense your argument must be internally logically consistent regardless of your purpose. But if the argument is designed as a criticism of the Christian position then it must use the relevant terms the way that the Christians define them, not in some other way – otherwise you would refute only a straw man, and that would be uninteresting.

Hope that helps.

Luke Rhinehart said...

it does help. Follow up, why can logic and reason not be reflective of our specific human capabilities?

There are at least two possible ways to go, as you point out:
a. logic is applicable beyond the realm of human understanding, but that doesn't mean we can apply it beyond such understanding.

b. we can't absolutely know if logic is applicable beyond the realm of human understanding or not.

Regarding a., would you agree that we could have every reason to think we're right but be wrong for logical reasons? Touching the foot of an elephant, and the foot only, might lead us to the conclusion that this "thing" is mostly cold (the foot has just been in the cool mud.) Beyond our capacity to understand, the elephant is actually mostly hot (the rest of it is in the sun.) The totality of our experience of the thing is one way, but the totality of the thing itself is another and we can be wrong for the right reasons. Would you agree with this? Or would you argue that we aren't "wrong" until we have contrary evidence, since when we say "the elephant" we're neccesarily and obviously referring only to a foot?

Regarding B., why is it absolutely impossible that our reason doesn't stretch beyond our own understanding? You might question what a term like "possible" could mean under such a situation, but I don't think this is much of a refutation. We can climb up a ladder far enough to see that there are things we can't get to, and while our discussion of such concepts must be rooted in our own understanding (therefore logic and reason) it doesn't mean that such an understanding neccesarily, absolutely, 100% without a doubt applies. What is wrong with that argument?

Don't think we're off the topic of A.f.E.- you can probably see that we're still duscussing it via analogy anyway.

Luke Rhinehart said...

B. Jay:

I think you're approaching this question in the right manner- if my argument is to stand on it's own terms you should know what those terms are.

Evil and bad and so forth are simply representative of our our rationally considered moral intuitions about the world. First, let me handle the epistemology:

I believe in a version of foundationalism (in fact, Tim phrased things quite nicely when he said that you must have a reasonable premise for the argument to be valid.) Roughly, it's what's called "phenomenal conservatism" and it borrows from Moore and Prichard. I believe in strong PC, meaning that I believe that everyone neccesarily ascribes to it as a prerequisite for rational discourse and their typical behavior in the world.

Here's what PC means: "Other things being equal, it is reasonable to assume that things are the way they appear." A rational person believes only what seems to him to be true, though he need not believe everything that seems true. As you may already be able to see, any denial of this principle in self-defeating, which makes it an excellent foundational premise.

Ethics: Here is a quote from Michael Huemer, one of the foremost thinkers w/r/t the theory of ethical intuitionism these days: "The way things seem prior to reasoning we may call an 'initial appearance'. An initial, intellectual appearance is an 'intuition'. That is, an intuition that p is a state of its seeming to one that p that is not dependent on inference from other beliefs and that results from thinking about p, as opposed to perceiving, remembering, or introspecting."

So, rather than let this get too wordy, let's say that Evil is an understanding we have based on our moral intuitions, but preferably aided by reason. We can probably discuss whether a specific thing is evil or isn't without all agreeing on specific deontological ethics and we'll have very few basic disagreements. What the answer really comes down to is, "c'mon you and I both know what evil is." If you don't let's trace is back to our basic ethical intuitions and see if we disagree over the intuitions themselves (unlikely) or the application (much more likely.) The relative untruth of either (for insteance, if we did disagree over out intuitions), as far as I can tell, would not be terminally damaging to PC or intuitionism. The utility of Intuitionism is based in the fact that we have similar moral intuitions, but all else being equal, the conformity of intuitions is not required for those intuitions to be real or for intuitionism to be true.

Looks like you enjoy discussing politics too. Is there a blog you post on that I could haunt a bit? I'm always looking for intelligent people with whom I disagree politically because I like discussing politics. And trust me, you almost certainly disagree with me.

Luke Rhinehart said...

I recently sent this in an email to Sarah regarding Imago Dei:

"Belief that our nature is love and that all ethics can be based on such a conformity is not a true ethics. The reason for this is that you still need an "ought", as in "you ought to behave in accordance with your nature." Without this presumptive "ought" the theory is purely descriptive, which I was why I prefer intuitionism. For more on that you can view my post. "

I hope it came out nicer than this sounds, as Sarah sounds like a very nice intelligent person. Nevertheless I disagree with her, even though our positions are similar.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Tim let me phrase one of my questions in a slightly new way (not that you shouldn't respond to the old way, too.)

What would you say to someone who said:

"So we knew that 1+1=2 through the laws that GOD created.

GOD created the law and the things that make these laws and the way that make us understand these laws."

If there was a higher good to be produced by us thinking that 1+1=3 couldn't God make it seem so? And if God could make it seem so (in fact he has to, in pursuit of some greater good that we can't understand) couldn't we presently be laboring under the apprehension that our logic is correct instead of merely morally imperative?

This is actually a seperate question, now that I think of it. I was earlier asking for a standard defense that God can't do what seems to us impossible by virtue of logic and reason (a question I'm still quite interested in.) Now I'm wondering whether God is powerful enough to make the possible seem impossible... Certainly he's that powerful, no?

Tim said...

Matt,

This is pretty hard to follow. At some places I can’t tell whether you’re asking about (1) knowledge of logical truths, or (2) knowledge of putative logical truths, or (3) putative knowledge of (putative?) non-logical truths that might fail to be genuine knowledge for logical reasons. I’m not quite sure what sort of work the logical reasons would be doing in (3) anyway. (By “logical reasons” would you mean “good and sufficient reasons” or “reasons having to do with logic”?) So we’re still very much at the sorting-out-what-each-other-mean stage here.

Assuming you mean something like either (1) or (2), I don't think the elephant analogy works for logic, since knowledge of logical truths, when we have conceptual grasp of them, is (in my view) absolutely certain -- which knowledge of elephants is not. There’s no way to grasp “If P, then P” partly, no counterpart to feeling the foot of an elephant. In this respect I agree with that delightful bit at the end of the first day of Galileo's Dialogue where Salviati says that, considered intensively (though not extensively), our knowledge of some necessary truths is of the same sort as God's knowledge of them.

In any event, even beyond the realm where we have the data or the concepts to say anything significant, we can be absolutely certain that there are no contradictions. There are no holidays from logic.

As far as point b goes, the ladder analogy again leaves me cold. I simply don't know what you mean when you say that it's possible that logic could be false; if "possible" doesn't mean what it usually does -- for if it means what it usually does, the answer is simply and unequivocally “No” -- then the question is just unintelligible.

I’m not sure what any of this has to do with the problem of evil, but that doesn’t bother me if you can see that it’s going somewhere helpful.

Tim said...

Matt,

Quickly. You ask:

What would you say to someone who said:

"So we knew that 1+1=2 through the laws that GOD created.

GOD created the law and the things that make these laws and the way that make us understand these laws."

If there was a higher good to be produced by us thinking that 1+1=3 couldn't God make it seem so? And if God could make it seem so (in fact he has to, in pursuit of some greater good that we can't understand) couldn't we presently be laboring under the apprehension that our logic is correct instead of merely morally imperative?


I'd say this person was pretty confused. I'm really unsympathetic to attempts to invoke divine power to jack around with the laws of logic. But usually I'm defending the hard-core position against woolly-minded Christians, not against atheists or agnostics. ;)

God is powerful enough to confuse me, sure; he can even confuse me into thinking vaguely that I go wrong whenever I add two and three or count the sides of a square. But even God cannot both give me an indefectible grasp of a logical truth and, simultaneously, make that grasp defective. That's P and ~P all at once, and as a logical contradiction lies outside the scope of omnipotence. And sometimes, we do have such indefectible grasp -- and we can know that we do.

This is all discussed in fascinating detail in the Objections & Replies to Descartes's Meditations, and I find Descartes's position there convincing.

Tim said...

Matt,

I realize that you brought this up in the course of a response to B. Jay, but if I may, let me make a comment regarding Huemer's principle of Phenomenal Conservatism (PC). This is something Huemer brings up in Skepticism and the Veil of Perception in an attempt to make his version of direct realism workable.

Huemer gives PC on p. 99:

If it seems to S as if P, then S thereby has at least prima facie justification for believing that P.

Now the notion of prima facie justification here is part and parcel of a defeater analysis of justification, and such analyses are attractive, if at all, because of the solution they offer to the Gettier problem. Unfortunately, I think this is the wrong way to handle Gettier, and in fact I'm convinced that defeater analyses of justification are simply misguided.

Huemer does the job as well as anyone could be expected to, but after reading the book (which I really liked -- I'd bet he's an awesome teacher) I simply wasn't convinced. The notion of "seeming as if" just doesn't carry the requisite epistemic weight -- which would have to be deontological, given Huemer's own commitments (pp. 96-7).

All of that being said, I appreciate Huemer's foundationalism and internalism. In the defense of these things, he and I are comrades in arms.

Luke Rhinehart said...

"indefectible grasp of a logical truth"

you're begging the question here. If you acknowledge that God is powerful enough to fool you into believing that certain things are true, then how can you be sure you have an indefenctible grasp of logical truth"?

Tim said...

Luke/Matt,

You write:

you're begging the question here. If you acknowledge that God is powerful enough to fool you into believing that certain things are true, then how can you be sure you have an indefenctible grasp of logical truth"?

Nothing question-begging here. To beg the question requires that one be offering an argument, in a persuasive context, where one of the premises is either a restatement of the conclusion or a logically stronger statement than the conclusion itself. As I'm stating my position on knowledge of logic rather than trying to argue you into it, that category simply doesn't apply.

I gather that what you are really trying to say is that you think there is an incompatibility between these two claims:

(1) For any individual S other than God, and for any proposition P, God is powerful enough to make S think that he understands P clearly even though S does not understand P clearly.

(2) There exists an individual S (other than God) and a proposition P such that S knows, indefectibly, that P.

Is this your real problem?

Luke Rhinehart said...

To beg the question requires that one be offering an argument, in a persuasive context, where one of the premises is either a restatement of the conclusion or a logically stronger statement than the conclusion itself.

You claimed that you had "indefectible grasp of a logical truth" while were speaking about the question of whether god could fool you, and make your grasp of logical truth something less than indefectible. We needn't get into s semantic argument about what question begging is (though if you don't understand where I'm coming from, by all means ask.)

Tim said...

Luke/Matt,

So is your problem that you think claims (1) and (2) in my previous post are logically incompatible? Or is it something else?

I'm asking because if that's the issue, I can address it fairly simply -- but there's little point in my doing so if that isn't what's worrying you.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Tim:
that is close to one of my concerns, yes. I'm not phrasing in in logical format in hopes that this discussion will be readable by a general audience. The reason I'm relectant to agree with your statement is thus:

a. a consistent "P" in your statement isn't neccesarily accurate. It may be the case that God has made us believe that X is actually P, in which case it's not that we don't "have a clear understanding of P" but rather that we don't have it at all.

b. We may understand that "P" but not understand the Domain in which "P" is true. The "axiom of truth" in mathematics seems counter-intuitive and may well seem false becuase we don't understand the full applicability of reason.

What it comes down to is this (I might as well spell it out.) It certainly seems intuitive to me that existence of an infinte being who's all powerful means he may have the ability to defy logic as we understand it. Either by

a.being unconstrained by Logic as a result of his power, or

b. understanding logic in a way significantly beyond our understanding and therefore seeming to "violate" the rules of logic"

It's hard for me to imagine a first principle that would contradict these two possibilities, that is in keeping with you argument above about morals.
By the same principle we're applying to morality (god works in mysterious ways) I think you can show that there's no good reason to Discount God's ability to do good without resprting to evil.

The argument from evil is therefore logically sound on the basis that
a. God is all-powerful in a way which knows not the limits of human understanding
b. An all-powerful God would not need to rely on evil to do Good even if it seems to us difficult to do otherwise (though to me it does not.)

Any argument that God needed the evil to do a greater good which could not have been done without the evil presumes a limitation on God's power that is inconsistent with the argument itself.

Luke Rhinehart said...

a few extra notes, and then I'll try and get around to responding directly to a few of Tim's claims (the elepheant analogy, for instance, which I feel was not given its fair due.)

To summarize my conclusions, I think I have shown that there ar at least three cases in which the argument from evil is logically tenable:

1. A case in which God isn't bound by rationality in a conventional way, and so even supposing that some good logically require the existence of Evil, God doesn't have to allow it to be so. Simply put: God shuld be powerful enough to produce any good without resorting to the use of evil. A Good God would have every reason to prefer such a scenario.

2. A Case in which God is bound by logic and reason, but there is no higher good that neccesarily requires the existence of evil. It may be the case that all evil is undone in the future by a corresponding or greater good- that I don't have to question- but there's no reason to assume God couldn't have used his "infinite power" within the constraints of logic to forego the evil yet still attain the good.

3. A case in which God isn't bound by reason and good isn't logically dependent on Evil. Here God can do anything, and he doesn't need evil to produce good.

None of these discount the existence of God, per se. They merely say that if either "good" and/or "all powerful" have any meaning at all, such meanings are not applicable to God, as we can understand him.

All three of these scenarios are extremely plausible in my estimation, which means that the argument from evil works logically using three seperate sets of definitions. The only recourse for a theist who'd like to argue this on its own terms is to show that the presumption of God's extra-rational power and Good's logical dependence on evil are logically untenable both seperately and together.

Tim said...

Matt,

I think I'm beginning to understand where this is sticking for you. You write:

It certainly seems intuitive to me that existence of an infinte being who's all powerful means he may have the ability to defy logic as we understand it. Either by

a.being unconstrained by Logic as a result of his power, or

b. understanding logic in a way significantly beyond our understanding and therefore seeming to "violate" the rules of logic"


This isn't the notion of "all-powerful" I'm talking about and it isn't one that most reflective Christians will endorse. So if your version of the Arg from Evil depends on taking omnipotence this way, what it will refute is the existence of a God most Christians don't believe in anyway. By itself that doesn't make it a bad argument. But it does mean that as a tool for persuading Christians that there's something wrong with their position, it's a non-starter.

You go on:

It's hard for me to imagine a first principle that would contradict these two possibilities, that is in keeping with you argument above about morals.
By the same principle we're applying to morality (god works in mysterious ways) I think you can show that there's no good reason to Discount God's ability to do good without resprting to evil.


I think the analogy between logic and morals isn't very good. It's one thing to say that God has moral reasons for His actions we aren't aware of -- nothing surprising there, since some humans have reasons that others are unaware of -- and quite another to say that God has an alternate logic that we're not aware of. Despite their superficial grammatical similarity, these two assertions are as different as chalk and cheese. Moral reasons simply don't play an epistemic role that is even remotely similar to the role played by the truths and fundamental inference rules of logic.

You also write:

b. We may understand that "P" but not understand the Domain in which "P" is true. The "axiom of truth" in mathematics seems counter-intuitive and may well seem false becuase we don't understand the full applicability of reason.

I don't follow this. What's the "axiom of truth"? I've been teaching foundations of mathematics at the grad level for a decade now and I have never run across this.

Anyway, it looks like we're down to a level now where we can see that what you're really trying to refute is the notion of a deity whose power is great enough that he somehow can warp the laws of logic. I'm not interesting in defending the existence of such a being; I don't think it's even a coherent idea. Would you concede that this places my position beyond the reach of your argument, or do we still have a disagreement left over once this difference between my position and your target is acknowledged?

Tim said...

Matt,

On those three scenarios:

1. A case in which God isn't bound by rationality in a conventional way, . . .

Non-starter, in my opinion. If this means anything, it means something impossible.

2. A Case in which God is bound by logic and reason, but there is no higher good that neccesarily requires the existence of evil. It may be the case that all evil is undone in the future by a corresponding or greater good- that I don't have to question- but there's no reason to assume God couldn't have used his "infinite power" within the constraints of logic to forego the evil yet still attain the good.

Interesting case, but this will underwrite the logical argument from evil only if you have a metaethical proof that there are no moral factors that would justify God in leaving open the possibility of evil. Note that this is more subtle than God's doing evil to bring about good -- it has to do whether, to bring about good, He would have to leave open the risk of evil.

3. A case in which God isn't bound by reason and ...

Same problem as in case 1.

So let's focus on case 2. If you have a knock-down proof that there cannot be moral factors that would justify God in leaving open the possibility of evil, let's have it. Then, and only then, the logical argument from evil will be resurrected. If you don't, there's still more to discuss -- but it will turn on the plausibility of the claim that such factors exist, and we'll have to bring in some independent lines of argument to bear on it. In short, we'll be back to the evidential problem of evil.

Luke Rhinehart said...

I think the analogy between logic and morals isn't very good. It's one thing to say that God has moral reasons for His actions we aren't aware of -- nothing surprising there, since some humans have reasons that others are unaware of -- and quite another to say that God has an alternate logic that we're not aware of.

This is a point I can't stretch enough, and I hope you are starting to see why I think the argument from evil is more problematic than people give it credit for. Remember what I said at the beginning? It has to be the case that God had no other way of producing the end-result goods. I understand and agree that wrongs could be righted and things could turn out for the better in the end. The "totality of morals" argument of the professor you cited is fine for disproving the idea that the world is overall evil, or that the evils of the world aren't covered. I think you'll have to show a logically neccesary relationship between good and evil in order to establish that God absolutely needed the evil in order to make good (if god is all powerful but only confined by logic.)

Tim said...

Matt,

Still not following your reasoning. For it to be possible for God and evil to coexist, it needs to be possible for there to be moral reasons for God to permit evil. The logical argument from evil has as its conclusion the claim that it is impossible for God and evil to coexist. But no sane theist will grant you as a premise that it is impossible for there to be moral reasons for God to permit evil. If you want to press this as a deductive argument against theists, it's your job, as the self-styled advocate of the logical problem of evil, to supply a proof that it is impossible for there to be moral reasons for God to permit evil.

I'm beginning to wonder whether a lot of this is just a terminological confusion -- whether your original insistence that your argument was purely logical and not evidential reflected your unfamiliarity with the way those terms are used in the literature. An evidential argument doesn't have to be illogical: that isn't the implied contrast.

The case would be quite different if I were trying to persuade you to believe in the existence of God. Then it would be perfectly appropriate for you to ask me what reason one might have for thinking that such moral reasons for permitting evil exist. Reasons might be direct or indirect, etc. But so far, because you maintained that you were pushing the logical problem of evil, I've simply been responding by pointing out that it is possible that such reasons exist. If at this point you wanted to move on to phase II and, granting that it's possible, engage in a discussion of whether they actually exist, I'd be more than happy to do so.

The Christian Hedonist Blog Dude said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Christian Hedonist Blog Dude said...

Luke,
I find your dismissing the moral argument with the logic of the gun pointed at one's head to be a very good argument that you make. And I would flat out accept it except for one minor detail that is actually rather huge.

For God is no capricious hit man at all, but if there is any doubt as to his nature and character he demonstrates his outrageous goodness once and for all by pointing the gun at his own head and pulling the trigger, the carcass of God laid bare on the vulgar stake that I fully deserved and deserve to this day.

Does this make me a moralist? God forbid no.
But having been an atheist, that is a hater of God, my soul is now compelled to delight in him -- to follow the most beautiful One. The Lover of your soul. That there is no peace, no joy at all, until you find your peace in him. Hence the writing of your namesake, the doctor-historian, who wrote his incredible account of people's conversion from atheism and agnosticism to a life of awe in the Almighty.

Blessings my man,
Steve

Luke Rhinehart said...

Tim:
I'll respond more fully in a few hours, but I'd just like to highlight a few things. As we discussed above, our conversation was often vague as to whether we were discussing the logical tenability of the A.f.E. or it's applicability to your beliefs. After you made several defenses along the line of "We can move on to plausibility as a separate issue".

My critiques which were directed toward Christian beliefs were headed off at the pass with your claim that I needed to show to demonstrate the the A.f.E. was a sound logical critique. I have now done so, as you admit (in the case of God being able to defy logic and/or the case of us not understanding true logic.)

I think you will also soon agree with me that I have shown it tenable in the case that good doesn't logically imply evil. I will further detail the latter argument shortly, but at present I think you agree that-regardless of whether you think a particular definition is applicable to your beliefs- there is at least one case in which the argument from evil is logically correct.

I think the correctness in the two realms (which again, I realize you've only granted that it's true in one realm thus far) may be more damaging than you've considered, but that's not the point. There are many arguments that have been left hanging above because you felt I needed to show the logical soundness of the A.f.E. Now that I have done so (and once I finish providing the second argument which will show at least 3 meaningful cases in which the A.F.E. works) we should discuss the aforementioned arguments that were just rebutted with "we're talking about logical impossibility."

So yes, one more post and we're off to phase two.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Steve:
Are you saying that ethics are better without Heaven and Hell? Because I fully agree. An ethics which solely relies on a final omnipotent arbiter is a child's ethics. It's little different than a child not doing wrong because daddy says not to. If you think that ethics are stronger without such an arbiter then we are in complete agreement. Shall I take it that you like "The Dice Man"? I have a slightly different interpretation of the book than you do, but I too feel it's quite spiritual in a much deeper way than people give it credit for.

I would also disagree that an athiest is a hater of god. I don't describe myself that way, but my position is basically that you have to show me that the question is even a meaningful one. If you believed that the star Mizar was made of cheese, I wouldn't call myself an "antimizar-cheesist" just because you think that/ The argument would have to be sound and the question would have to be shown to be meaningful before I'd accept such a term.

Matt

Tim said...

Matt,

You write:

My critiques which were directed toward Christian beliefs were headed off at the pass with your claim that I needed to show to demonstrate the the A.f.E. was a sound logical critique. I have now done so, as you admit (in the case of God being able to defy logic and/or the case of us not understanding true logic.)

I have no idea why you think this. What it seems to me we've established is that you were using terms in ways most thoughtful Christians don't and attributing to them views they don't hold. Furthermore, it looks like even if these problems are corrected your argument requires at least one very substantial additional premise that you didn't state at the outset. None of this makes for what I'd call "a sound logical critique."

You go on:

I think you will also soon agree with me that I have shown it tenable in the case that good doesn't logically imply evil. I will further detail the latter argument shortly, but at present I think you agree that-regardless of whether you think a particular definition is applicable to your beliefs- there is at least one case in which the argument from evil is logically correct.

Actually, I don't think this is a helpful way to frame the discussion. The question isn't whether good logically implies evil but rather whether there exist some goods that cannot be brought about without the risk of evils. These are very different claims, and the distinction closes off one of the obvious attempts to make an Argument from Evil go through.

You go on:

There are many arguments that have been left hanging above because you felt I needed to show the logical soundness of the A.f.E. Now that I have done so ...

No, you haven't done so. What it seems to me that we've established is that your original claim --

... it's logically impossible to believe in an all good, all knowing, and all powerful god when we know that evil exists in the world

-- is simply false. Even setting aside the confusion between its being logically impossible to believe that X, on the one hand, and X's being a logical impossibility, on the other, the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God is compatible with the existence of evil. All that is required is that it be possible that there are adequate moral reasons for God to permit the existence of evil. If the logical argument from evil is to be resurrected, it will be on the basis of a proof that it is not possible that there are such reasons. And you haven't even tried to offer such a proof.

So I'm afraid that we're a great deal further from reaching any agreement on this issue than you seem to think we are.

Luke Rhinehart said...

I'm talking about and it isn't one that most reflective Christians will endorse.

but then

what it will refute is the existence of a God most Christians don't believe in anyway.

Most reflective christians, or most christians? This is important because a google serach turns up plenty of Christians who think that our own human understanding of reason doesn't neccesarily confine god. I'd be curious to know upon what you base your assertion that most christians think that God is limited to within the scope of human reason.

But it does mean that as a tool for persuading Christians that there's something wrong with their position, it's a non-starter.

Again, we should seperate out our lines of argument. You argued earlier that my position was internally inconsistent (without first asking my definition which, as we are seeing, was where B. Jay got things right.)



I think the analogy between logic and morals isn't very good... Despite their superficial grammatical similarity, these two assertions are as different as chalk and cheese. Moral reasons simply don't play an epistemic role that is even remotely similar to the role played by the truths and fundamental inference rules of logic.

this pre-empts the argument, but regardless: If things that seem inconsistent with our ethics (evil that is in fact neccesary for good and therefore, evil which is good) I don't see why it has to be the case that things which seem inconsistent with our reason neccesarily aren't. Now I'm not even arguing here with what I take to be you pocket assertion that God is a consequentialist.


I don't follow this. What's the "axiom of truth"?

I don't blame you for not following. I meant the "axiom of choice." The "axiom of truth" sounds like something an ad agency would come up with to promote a new finding in mathematics.


Anyway, it looks like we're down to a level now where we can see that what you're really trying to refute is the notion of a deity whose power is great enough that he somehow can warp the laws of logic.

What I'm doing is showing that the argument from evil is consistent based on a number of different definitions.

I'm not interesting in defending the existence of such a being; I don't think it's even a coherent idea.

this is a perfectly reasonable decision. I think we've got a lot of other things to talk about (including the good and evil part of this discussion,) but this does mean you admit that, under at least one working definition, the AFE holds. No matter how extremem you consider the definitions to be (though, as I've argued before, I see no reason to consider such beliefs extreme.)

Would you concede that this places my position beyond the reach of your argument, or do we still have a disagreement left over once this difference between my position and your target is acknowledged?

Read this again! We were so close to wrapping this part up. It may well be the case that this logically consistent version of the AFE has no consequences for your beliefs. I'm curious to know why you think God is neccesarily bound by reason, but that's neither here nor there. I think we're close to being able to put this "illogical" thing to rest and start talking about actual christianity, assuming you're enjoying the discussion (I should confess that I am; you're quite an intelligent person.




Non-starter, in my opinion. If this means anything, it means something impossible.

A google search turns up a number of people who find this idea intuitive and plausible. If I believed in a God I certainly wouldn't be bold as to presume that my pathetic human understanding can ascertain 100% certain constraints on God.


Interesting case, but this will underwrite the logical argument from evil only if you have a metaethical proof that there are no moral factors that would justify God in leaving open the possibility of evil.

This is not what's required. You've argued that a "constraint" (scare quotes only because I don't doubt that you wouldn't word it that way) on God's power is logic and reason. If God must use evil to maximize the Good, then there must be a reason that's as sound as pure logic for him to do such a thing. Your only recourse, as far as I can see, is to claim that Evil is logically bound to Good. Anything less than that and you've given no reason why God wouldn't be powerful enough to bring about these higher goods without resorting to evil. If God's power is only "bound" by reason, then his use of Evil to bring about good must be logically required.

The above paragraph regards only the case of my second argument (labeled #2 above) and so I am taking it to be the case that God is bound by rationality.


So let's focus on case 2. If you have a knock-down proof that there cannot be moral factors that would justify God in leaving open the possibility of evil, let's have it.

Again, not the point. Is Evil logically neccesary?

Matt

Luke Rhinehart said...

Tim:

I have no idea why you think this.

Because, despite the fact that you ridiculed the definitions as inapplicable to "most christians" (or "most reflective christians") you admitted that it was logically valid (saying that it "would refute a God most Christains don't believe in.") While I'm still curious about your arguments here, I'm happy to take you at your word that this aspect of the critique may be inapplicable to you. As I've already stated, we have forked the arguments and are only discussing logical consistency at this point; not applicability to beliefs (beliefs which, when I wrote my post, were all but unknown to me.) The other fork is no doubt an interesting one, and I'll happily pursue it when you wish.

it looks like even if these problems are corrected your argument requires at least one very substantial additional premise that you didn't state at the outset. None of this makes for what I'd call "a sound logical critique."

What additional premise to you mean? We could argue over what "omnipotent" means in standard usage, but this would be beside the point (I get to use my definitions for my argument) and would probably be misleading. A simple glance at Wikipedia reveals that this question is far from settles in Christian theology, and the number one definition listed is that God is unbound by any limitations (including those of reason.) Aquinas definition of Omnipotence included a Caveat, in fact, about Active vs. Passive power- indicating that perhaps it's your position which needs an additional premise.



Actually, I don't think this is a helpful way to frame the discussion. The question isn't whether good logically implies evil but rather whether there exist some goods that cannot be brought about without the risk of evils.

I've handled this above- I see no way to argue that God couldn't make certain goods without certain evils, unless you argue that his inability to do so is in accordance with the restriction on his power you've set forth (reason.) If it was not a problem of logic then you are presuming additional restrictions on God's power.


I've been meaning to do this for a while: Sorry for any previous misspellings and future misspellings. I type this out on my lunch breaks usually, and am constrained by time. Please don't interpet any gramatical sloppiness as me not caring.

Matt

Tim said...

Luke,

You quote me twice:

I'm talking about and it isn't one that most reflective Christians will endorse.

...

what it will refute is the existence of a God most Christians don't believe in anyway.

Then you ask a fair question:

Most reflective christians, or most christians? This is important because a google serach turns up plenty of Christians who think that our own human understanding of reason doesn't neccesarily confine god. I'd be curious to know upon what you base your assertion that most christians think that God is limited to within the scope of human reason.

I can see why you found this puzzling, so let me be more explicit. Extensive exposure to Christians has convinced me that most of them never get far enough even to pose the question regarding the scope of omnipotence. A large percentage of the ones I've spoken with experience a more or less complete conceptual whiteout when asked whether they mean that God could circumvent the laws of logic. So they wouldn't qualify as partisans of either my camp or the fuzzy camp. If your gripe is with the fuzzies, I submit that it’s with a relatively small subgroup – the Christians who have (a) thought about the question of omnipotence and then (b) got themselves confused in a particular way. They may be vocal, and they may (though I seriously doubt it) outnumber the people who have thought through omnipotence and realized that it doesn’t extend beyond the bounds of logic. But both groups are dwarfed by the majority that simply doesn’t bother to think about it much.

I propose that we leave the fuzzies to their own devices. Anyone who opts out of logic by invoking God has put himself out of the reach of reason and argument as effectively as any postmodernist. Trust me on this: you cannot possibly find that sort of move more offensively irrational than I do.

You quote me and then respond:

But it does mean that as a tool for persuading Christians that there's something wrong with their position, it's a non-starter.

Again, we should seperate out our lines of argument. You argued earlier that my position was internally inconsistent (without first asking my definition which, as we are seeing, was where B. Jay got things right.)

As far as I can tell – and I may be missing something here, since this thread is getting quite long – I have never accused you of holding an internally inconsistent position. I have insisted that since you are accusing the Christians of holding an inconsistent position, the onus is on you to demonstrate that inconsistency. And I’ve remarked in passing that your premises must be consistent if your argument is to have any hope of succeeding. One of the moves you made involved trying to pin something like ultra-strong logical voluntarism on the Christians; but my reply is that their position is incoherent, not that yours is.

I wonder (and this is only a conjecture) if whether by “internally inconsistent” you mean something different from what is ordinarily meant by logicians, something like “defined in my own terms and, granted those terms, a good argument.” If so, this could be causing some confusion. I take it that a good direct persuasive argument has to use terms in such a way that the conclusion actually denies something the other side intends to affirm. Since yours didn’t make contact with the classical Christian position, it is not a good direct persuasive argument. If the argument is deductive, the reasoning must be rigorous; and I did point out in my first post that your reasoning wasn’t rigorous. But by itself this doesn’t mean that your basic position is logically inconsistent.

Regarding the Axiom of Choice – do you know the old joke about this? “The Axiom of Choice is obviously true, the well-ordering principle is obviously false, and as for Zorn’s Lemma, who can say?” All three are, of course, interderivable. ;)

You quote me:

I think the analogy between logic and morals isn't very good... Despite their superficial grammatical similarity, these two assertions are as different as chalk and cheese. Moral reasons simply don't play an epistemic role that is even remotely similar to the role played by the truths and fundamental inference rules of logic.

Then you respond:

this pre-empts the argument, but regardless: If things that seem inconsistent with our ethics (evil that is in fact neccesary for good and therefore, evil which is good) I don't see why it has to be the case that things which seem inconsistent with our reason neccesarily aren't. Now I'm not even arguing here with what I take to be you pocket assertion that God is a consequentialist.

When we speak of something’s being “inconsistent with our ethics” we’re taking logic for granted. When we speak of something’s being “inconsistent with our reason,” and by “our reason” we mean the fundamental laws of logic, we’re sawing off the branch we’re sitting on since “inconsistent” doesn’t mean anything once those are abrogated.

I’ve no idea why you think I think God is a consequentialist.

You quote me regarding the existence of a being who supposedly could warp the laws of logic:

I'm not interesting in defending the existence of such a being; I don't think it's even a coherent idea.

You reply:

this is a perfectly reasonable decision. I think we've got a lot of other things to talk about (including the good and evil part of this discussion,) but this does mean you admit that, under at least one working definition, the AFE holds.

Agreed that we’ve better things to talk about. But in this case, I wouldn’t say that considerations about evil are doing any work; in my opinion this position on omnipotence refutes itself. It follows that coupling it with any other set of assertions, even a consistent set, produces an inconsistency. So I have a hard time seeing this as even a minor triumph for the argument from evil.

You write:

We were so close to wrapping this part up. It may well be the case that this logically consistent version of the AFE has no consequences for your beliefs. I'm curious to know why you think God is neccesarily bound by reason, but that's neither here nor there. I think we're close to being able to put this "illogical" thing to rest and start talking about actual christianity, assuming you're enjoying the discussion (I should confess that I am; you're quite an intelligent person.

Thanks for the compliment; I’ve found this latter part of our interaction more enjoyable as well. I think at this point our residual differences in this corner of the terrain are semantic – maters of terminology like “logically consistent argument” – and we probably can and should move on to the discussion of Christianity proper. My only regret is that with finals and an APA presentation coming on in a few weeks I’ll be tied up and may not be able to interact here so frequently.

Now you bring matters to a focus, quoting me regarding your second case – the one I find intelligible:

Interesting case, but this will underwrite the logical argument from evil only if you have a metaethical proof that there are no moral factors that would justify God in leaving open the possibility of evil.

Then you write:

This is not what's required. You've argued that a "constraint" (scare quotes only because I don't doubt that you wouldn't word it that way) on God's power is logic and reason. If God must use evil to maximize the Good, then there must be a reason that's as sound as pure logic for him to do such a thing. Your only recourse, as far as I can see, is to claim that Evil is logically bound to Good. Anything less than that and you've given no reason why God wouldn't be powerful enough to bring about these higher goods without resorting to evil. If God's power is only "bound" by reason, then his use of Evil to bring about good must be logically required.

A great deal depends here on who is pressing the argument and exactly what the argument is. Your initial challenge went like this:

it's logically impossible to believe in an all good, all knowing, and all powerful god when we know that evil exists in the world

I took that to be a compressed way of claiming that the following four propositions are inconsistent:

1. God is omniscient
2. God is omnipotent
3. God is completely good
4. Evil exists

This is indeed the core of a classic formulation of the logical argument from evil, as old as Epicurus. But the charge of inconsistency is misplaced, since if we add to the list

5. God has adequate moral reasons for permitting evil to exist

the set is manifestly consistent. Now an inconsistent set cannot be made consistent by the addition of any claim. Therefore the original set of claims 1 - 4 was logically consistent.

Your scenarios (1) and (3) from your post above depend on reading proposition 2 in a way that, I have argued, is inconsistent all on its own; naturally I’m not interested in defending that position. Your scenario (2) raises the question of whether 5 is true, and this is an interesting question. But unless you have an argument that shows that 5 is itself logically impossible, I cannot see how you can escape the conclusion that the original four propositions are logically consistent and that, in consequence, the logical argument from evil fails.

As I’ve said before, that doesn’t mean that 5 is true. It just means that in order to get a grip on this issue we will have to take an all-things-considered approach and bring in the widest range of evidence. Deductive logic alone won’t show which of two incompatible positions, each internally consistent, is true.

Tim said...

Matt,

I dealt with some of these issues in my last post, and apparently you were posting at about the same time so naturally you didn't see them. So I'll keep this brief.

The additional premise required for your original argument is:

N: It is not logically possible that God has adequate moral reasons to permit evil.

The logical argument from evil will go through only if N is true. And it seems to me that N, which is after all a very strong modal claim, is false.

Tim said...

Matt,

Oops! Typo time. When in my penultimate post I wrote:

I wonder (and this is only a conjecture) if whether by “internally inconsistent” you mean something different from what is ordinarily meant by logicians, something like ...

I started the sentence talking about "internally inconsistent" and ended it with a conjecture about what you might mean when protesting that your argument is internally consistent. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused.

You write:

I've been meaning to do this for a while: Sorry for any previous misspellings and future misspellings. I type this out on my lunch breaks usually, and am constrained by time. Please don't interpet any gramatical sloppiness as me not caring.

Obviously I'm in the same boat, so let's agree to be charitable in this department. I've long since realized that there's not a very strong correlation between intelligence and typing ability.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Tim:

They may be vocal, and they may (though I seriously doubt it) outnumber the people who have thought through omnipotence and realized that it doesn’t extend beyond the bounds of logic. But both groups are dwarfed by the majority that simply doesn’t bother to think about it much.

This veers dangerously close to a "if only they knew they'd agree with me" argument, and as such it seems a little thin to cover for the fact that the AfE under my assumptions set #1 does in fact apply to many Christians (in fact you say possibly most.) Again, the article on Wikipedia seems to give a fair go of this opinion (it's listed first) furhter bolstering it's plausibility and it's general relevance. I'm again curious to know why you're so confident in your position.

...as effectively as any postmodernist. Trust me on this: you cannot possibly find that sort of move more offensively irrational than I do.

On this much we can agree: postmodernists are usually arrogant ivory-tower fools.


As far as I can tell – and I may be missing something here, since this thread is getting quite long – I have never accused you of holding an internally inconsistent position.

Alright, what I have in mind are a few points like this one in which you say:

(1) that the existence of God is logically inconsistent with the existence of evil (Luke’s original claim), and
(2) that it is implausible that there should be reasons that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God would allow evil.


You go on to not respond to part 2 because you're interested in whether my argument can apply in some ways, but whether it stands a logically consistent. Because of a few moments like this I decided to simply make the case that there were assumptions and definitions under which the AfE would hold. So far you agree with me that there is one set of definitions. Because you consider set #2 to be interesting (as do I) we'll continue discussing that as well.


I have insisted that since you are accusing the Christians of holding an inconsistent position, the onus is on you to demonstrate that inconsistency.

And I have done so. As I'll discuss the further below, claiming that my argument is inapplicable to your beliefs (regardless of whether that's accurate or not) is not a very strong case. If it wasn't applicable to anyone's beliefs then that might mean something.

I take it that a good direct persuasive argument has to use terms in such a way that the conclusion actually denies something the other side intends to affirm.

The other side had not (and still largely has not) presented a case. I was making the point in a vacuum and I didn't make it the largest part of my argument (by any means, it was argument #4 or #5 I think.) It's an unfari burden to presume that I should've addressed my case to a position I wasn't yet aware of.

If the argument is deductive, the reasoning must be rigorous; and I did point out in my first post that your reasoning wasn’t rigorous.

What could you mean here? Is it not rigorous simply because you claim it doesn't apply to your position? Perhaps you chould've responded to the more applicable arguments. I still think that assumption set #2 applies to you though.

“The Axiom of Choice is obviously true, the well-ordering principle is obviously false, and as for Zorn’s Lemma, who can say?” All three are, of course, interderivable. ;)

nice, a joke only a few math-heads could love :)


When we speak of something’s being “inconsistent with our ethics” we’re taking logic for granted.

I'm not sure about this in the sense in which we're discussing. There are a few famous cases which show our ethical intuitions to be inconsistent (the utilitarian surgery vs. train-deaths example, which I'll further detail if you're unfamiliar with it.) I suppose it depends on what exactly you're saying here.

When we speak of something’s being “inconsistent with our reason,” and by “our reason” we mean the fundamental laws of logic, we’re sawing off the branch we’re sitting on since “inconsistent” doesn’t mean anything once those are abrogated.

I'm glad you're using analogies, but I think this anaology's off. It's actually like just realizing that either
a. not everyone has to sit on this branch, by virtue of the fact that we're sitting on it
b. this branch doesn't reach everything- there are perhaps places you can't be while also sitting on this branch.

I’ve no idea why you think I think God is a consequentialist.

I see no serious alternative. We'll discuss it further, but any claims about God having adequate moral reasons probably presumes that God believes in results and not acts, otherwise I see no possible argument (in fact, I see no possible argument either way, but your best case basically assumes that God is after some great end, and is willing to allow evil to occur as a result. SOunds consequentialist to me.)

But in this case, I wouldn’t say that considerations about evil are doing any work; in my opinion this position on omnipotence refutes itself. It follows that coupling it with any other set of assertions, even a consistent set, produces an inconsistency. So I have a hard time seeing this as even a minor triumph for the argument from evil.

I don't see how it defeats itself to confine reason to the human realm. The AfE exists in the human realm and the terms are firmly rooted in human experience and understanding. Acknowledging (rationally) that reason may be a neccesarily human way of understanding the world, something we can't get away from (ala space and time) There exists a possible world or a possible being to which reason does not apply. In such a world (or w/r/t to such a being) the AfE wouldn't neccesarily be true. However, we are not in such a world, we merely recognize it's possibility. Moreso, if we believe in God, we may choose to assert it's probability, or certainty.


My only regret is that with finals and an APA presentation coming on in a few weeks I’ll be tied up and may not be able to interact here so frequently.
I understand, as you may have already noticed, I'm prefectly comfortable relzing the frequency with which we respond.




I took that to be a compressed way of claiming that the following four propositions are inconsistent:

1. God is omniscient
2. God is omnipotent
3. God is completely good
4. Evil exists


This is roughly right. You could expand a few of these, and I'll list the expansion if you like.

5. God has adequate moral reasons for permitting evil to exist

You could also claim that adding "God, as defined, literally means "good, all powerful, and all-knowing" which would mean defeat the argument as well. But on YOUR terms. Is it consistent with out understanding of good that God has adequate moral reasons for permitting evil, and consistent with our understanding of complete power (bound only by reason) that certain higher goods are logically impossible (again, that's the only thing you can claim) to bring into being without Evil? This is why, a long time ago, I wrote that most major critiques make the mistake of forgetting that the Evil must be required to produce the good, and further, that they often try and change the definition of good. To wit (and hold on, cause it's gonna get bumpy):

(this first one's just for kicks)
a. free will and omniescence may be contradictory. If God can produce something which contradicts his own power couldn't he make a stone heavier than he could lift? Doesn't that take us back to #1?

b. What would it take for God to have "Adequate moral reasons" for permitting evil? For one thing, I'd say it take the existence of some good that was of utmost importance AND could only be got by allowing all manner of evil to exist. The Tsunami for instance- what is the possible ultimate good that will come about that could not have been produced otherwise, and why couldn't it have been produced otherwise? To answer that last question we will need an appeal to the "restriction" on God's power- logic. The only reason (under assumptions #2) he couldn't get these goods without relying on the evils is if they were somehow rationally bound together. That seems about as counter-intuitive as anything I can think of.

c. If such evils are absolutely neccesary for bringing about goods, shouldn't we define them as good? That is to say, why call them evil if they are absolutely neccesary components of the highest goods in existence?


Your scenarios (1) and (3) from your post above depend on reading proposition 2 in a way that, I have argued, is inconsistent all on its own; naturally I’m not interested in defending that position.

Which is okay. It's certainly not inconsistent on its own, and if you keep asserting that we probably will have a scenario in which you're defending that position (this is true, but said jocularly, not threateningly.)

Your scenario (2) raises the question of whether 5 is true, and this is an interesting question. But unless you have an argument that shows that 5 is itself logically impossible,

There is no Good that exists that is logically dependent on certain evils like natural disasters. God is powerful enough that any good in the world could've been brought about without resorting to certain types of evil (in fact, evil in general I think.) Good is not logically bound to evil, and as such there is no relevent constraint on God's power that renders him unable to produce certain goods without resorting to certain evils.


N: It is not logically possible that God has adequate moral reasons to permit evil.

I've detailed this above. What would an adequate moral reason look like? Some great good that was worth all the evil in the world, and that God wasn't powerful enough to bring about without relying on the evil of the world. Given that God is only constrained by logic (again, hate to keep bringing this up, but for clarity's sake this is only assumptions set #2- I don't grant that this is true, I only grant it hueristically) there must for, certain higher goods, a logical dependence on things like the Tsunami. Otherwise we are left the conclusion that God could've prevented these evils and still brought about the goods... but did not.

Matt

Tim said...

Matt,

You quote my comment regarding the group I call “the fuzzies” -- those who maintain that God can abrogate the laws of logic:

They may be vocal, and they may (though I seriously doubt it) outnumber the people who have thought through omnipotence and realized that it doesn’t extend beyond the bounds of logic. But both groups are dwarfed by the majority that simply doesn’t bother to think about it much.

Then you comment:

This veers dangerously close to a "if only they knew they'd agree with me" argument, and as such it seems a little thin to cover for the fact that the AfE under my assumptions set #1 does in fact apply to many Christians (in fact you say possibly most.)

It seems to me that I’ve explicitly denied what you’re claiming here. If most Christians don’t hold that God’s omnipotence extends to abrogating the laws of logic, then your argument doesn’t apply to most Christians. But most Christians haven’t thought about the question of whether omnipotence extends that far; hence they don’t hold that position. Therefore, your argument doesn’t apply to most Christians. It has nothing to do with whether, if they thought about it, they'd agree with me; it has to do with the fact that, not having thought about it, they don't agree with either me or the fuzzies.

Again, the article on Wikipedia seems to give a fair go of this opinion (it's listed first) furhter bolstering it's plausibility and it's general relevance. I'm again curious to know why you're so confident in your position.

You appeal to the fact that Wikipedia lists ability to violate the laws of logic first as evidence that it is historically important. This simply isn’t true. If it were important to our discussion, we could get into a long discussion of the ins and outs of historical positions on omnipotence. An anonymous Wikipedia article without sources cited, however, is not going to count as an authority for that discussion, and even if it did the order in which positions are cited in that article wouldn’t demonstrate anything about historical prominence. I’m not claiming to be an expert on this, but I’ve read several hundred pages of primary source material on omnipotence and I simply haven’t seen the ultra-strong position heavily represented.

But what about those who do hold this concept of omnipotence? Let me be more explicit about why I don’t think the Argument from Evil is doing work for you here. The ultra-strong logical voluntarist position regarding divine omnipotence is, I maintain, intrinsically inconsistent -- it is a contradiction all on its own. Now your charge is that a claim of this sort of omnipotence, in conjunction with two other claims about God and the claim that evil exists, creates an inconsistent set. But on this reading, the claim about omnipotence was logically inconsistent all by itself. Nothing about evil or the other attributes of God is necessary or pertinent to driving home the charge of inconsistency. Therefore, there is nothing about evil essential to the argument. Therefore it is inappropriate to classify it as, in anything but a Pickwickian sense, an Argument from Evil.

You quote me and then respond:

As far as I can tell – and I may be missing something here, since this thread is getting quite long – I have never accused you of holding an internally inconsistent position.

Alright, what I have in mind are a few points like this one in which you say:

(1) that the existence of God is logically inconsistent with the existence of evil (Luke’s original claim), and
(2) that it is implausible that there should be reasons that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God would allow evil.


Then you write:

You go on to not respond to part 2 because you're interested in whether my argument can apply in some ways, but whether it stands a logically consistent. Because of a few moments like this I decided to simply make the case that there were assumptions and definitions under which the AfE would hold. So far you agree with me that there is one set of definitions. Because you consider set #2 to be interesting (as do I) we'll continue discussing that as well.

I think what I’ve written above explains why I do not think that, under the interpretation you intend, the argument you advance is really a version of the Argument from Evil.

I have insisted that since you are accusing the Christians of holding an inconsistent position, the onus is on you to demonstrate that inconsistency.

And I have done so. As I'll discuss the further below, claiming that my argument is inapplicable to your beliefs (regardless of whether that's accurate or not) is not a very strong case. If it wasn't applicable to anyone's beliefs then that might mean something.

My problem with this is that, as I’ve explained above, when you insist on interpreting omnipotence in this odd way your argument (1) doesn’t apply to beliefs held by most Christians and (2) isn’t in any interesting sense an argument from evil, since the charge of inconsistency could be leveled against claim 2 alone just as well as against the whole set of claims 1-4.

I take it that a good direct persuasive argument has to use terms in such a way that the conclusion actually denies something the other side intends to affirm.

The other side had not (and still largely has not) presented a case. I was making the point in a vacuum and I didn't make it the largest part of my argument (by any means, it was argument #4 or #5 I think.) It's an unfari burden to presume that I should've addressed my case to a position I wasn't yet aware of.

Fair enough. I was at the time under the impression that you wanted to press an Argument from Evil, and to press it against at least the majority of Christians.

If your objective isn't to press the Argument from Evil and isn't to attack the majority of Christians but is rather to attack the incoherence of a certain unfortunate conception of omnipotence -- then may I, as a Christian who thinks (along with the most eminent names in the theological tradition) that the existence of God is reconcilable with the existence of evil, join you?

If the argument is deductive, the reasoning must be rigorous; and I did point out in my first post that your reasoning wasn’t rigorous.

What could you mean here? Is it not rigorous simply because you claim it doesn't apply to your position? Perhaps you chould've responded to the more applicable arguments. I still think that assumption set #2 applies to you though.

No, you misunderstand me here. I’m speaking about what happens when we focus on your second scenario and don’t try to saddle the Christians with ultra-strong logical voluntarism. More on this below.

When we speak of something’s being “inconsistent with our ethics” we’re taking logic for granted.

I'm not sure about this in the sense in which we're discussing. There are a few famous cases which show our ethical intuitions to be inconsistent (the utilitarian surgery vs. train-deaths example, which I'll further detail if you're unfamiliar with it.) I suppose it depends on what exactly you're saying here.

What does it mean to say that something is “inconsistent with our ethics”? Presumably that there is a set of ethical claims E1, ... , En, itself logically consistent, such that when we add a further claim S to this set the resulting set is logically inconsistent. That’s all I meant.

When we speak of something’s being “inconsistent with our reason,” and by “our reason” we mean the fundamental laws of logic, we’re sawing off the branch we’re sitting on since “inconsistent” doesn’t mean anything once those are abrogated.

I'm glad you're using analogies, but I think this anaology's off. It's actually like just realizing that either
a. not everyone has to sit on this branch, by virtue of the fact that we're sitting on it
b. this branch doesn't reach everything- there are perhaps places you can't be while also sitting on this branch.


The analogy was intended to summarize the situation here, not to act as a surrogate for the argument. What does it mean to say that something is “inconsistent with our logic”? Presumably that there is a set of logical axioms L1, ... , Ln, itself provably consistent and complete, which defines logical consistency, and that adding some additional claim S to the set would result in an inconsistency.

That is, a logical inconsistency.

That is, an inconsistency with the laws of logic.

That is, an inconsistency with the very principles that define what it means for something to be possible or impossible.

Now, you’re asking me to consider whether it’s possible that S might nevertheless be true. This comes down to asking whether something inconsistent with the laws of logic is consistent with the laws of logic. And the answer here is simply, clearly, unequivocally “No.”

I’ve no idea why you think I think God is a consequentialist.

I see no serious alternative. We'll discuss it further, but any claims about God having adequate moral reasons probably presumes that God believes in results and not acts, otherwise I see no possible argument (in fact, I see no possible argument either way, but your best case basically assumes that God is after some great end, and is willing to allow evil to occur as a result. SOunds consequentialist to me.)

It appears that you think anyone who takes consequences into account in the evaluation of the moral standing of an action is a consequentialist. But this isn’t the way that “consequentialist” and “consequentialism” are used in the philosophical literature. A consequentialist theory is (at least) a theory according to which whether an action -- any action -- is morally right depends only on its consequences, as opposed to the intrinsic nature of the act. My ethical theory is explicitly deontological, so of course it's not a consequentialist theory.

But in this case, I wouldn’t say that considerations about evil are doing any work; in my opinion this position on omnipotence refutes itself. It follows that coupling it with any other set of assertions, even a consistent set, produces an inconsistency. So I have a hard time seeing this as even a minor triumph for the argument from evil.

I don't see how it defeats itself to confine reason to the human realm. The AfE exists in the human realm and the terms are firmly rooted in human experience and understanding. Acknowledging (rationally) that reason may be a neccesarily human way of understanding the world, something we can't get away from (ala space and time) There exists a possible world or a possible being to which reason does not apply. In such a world (or w/r/t to such a being) the AfE wouldn't neccesarily be true. However, we are not in such a world, we merely recognize it's possibility. Moreso, if we believe in God, we may choose to assert it's probability, or certainty.

There are so many problems here that I am almost at a loss as to where to begin.

1. The phrase “confine reason to the human realm” is not clear, and I don’t see how it advances the argument to claim that the Argument from Evil “exists in the human realm” since I really don’t see anything that this could mean that would be neither false nor trivial.

2. I do not think, as Kant does, that space and time are mere forms of sensible intuition, and

3. I adamantly deny that “There exists a possible world or a possible being to which reason does not apply,” if “reason” is being used here to mean logic.

4. Arguments are neither true nor false but rather valid or invalid.

5. I don’t recognize the possibility of such a world.

6. I don’t see why one has to invoke God in order to make the silly claim that the impossible is possible, or probable, or certain -- or why, if one were determined to make such a silly claim, invoking God would be of any help.

I really fear that we’re going to go ’round this bush interminably. If atheism requires that logical impossibilities are logically possible, it’s in pretty bad shape. If for the sake of argument you’re willing to confine yourself to the realm of the logically possible, then let’s just do that and move on.

I took that to be a compressed way of claiming that the following four propositions are inconsistent:

1. God is omniscient
2. God is omnipotent
3. God is completely good
4. Evil exists


This is roughly right. You could expand a few of these, and I'll list the expansion if you like.

5. God has adequate moral reasons for permitting evil to exist

You could also claim that adding "God, as defined, literally means "good, all powerful, and all-knowing" which would mean defeat the argument as well. But on YOUR terms. Is it consistent with out understanding of good that God has adequate moral reasons for permitting evil, and consistent with our understanding of complete power (bound only by reason) that certain higher goods are logically impossible (again, that's the only thing you can claim) to bring into being without Evil?

With one proviso: I am not claiming that these higher goods are impossible to bring into being without evil, but that they are impossible to bring into being without the risk of evil. This is a distinction you haven’t addressed, but I think it’s important. There are some other subtleties that probably don’t need to be mentioned here, so let’s stipulate for the sake of moving the discussion forward that, as corrected, this is consistent both with my understanding of God and with my understanding of good.

This is why, a long time ago, I wrote that most major critiques make the mistake of forgetting that the Evil must be required to produce the good, and further, that they often try and change the definition of good.

Again, this isn’t quite right but it’s easily fixed by substituting “the risk of evil” for “Evil” in what you wrote.

To wit (and hold on, cause it's gonna get bumpy):

(this first one's just for kicks)
a. free will and omniescence may be contradictory. If God can produce something which contradicts his own power couldn't he make a stone heavier than he could lift? Doesn't that take us back to #1?


Slow down -- you’re using the word “contradicts” here in a very loose sense. Free will, in a genuine and robust sense, doesn’t contradict either omnipotence or omniscience. I’m really surprised that you’d even raise this challenge: there’s a vast literature on this. Are you perhaps unfamiliar with it?

b. What would it take for God to have "Adequate moral reasons" for permitting evil? For one thing, I'd say it take the existence of some good that was of utmost importance AND could only be got by allowing all manner of evil to exist. The Tsunami for instance- what is the possible ultimate good that will come about that could not have been produced otherwise, and why couldn't it have been produced otherwise? To answer that last question we will need an appeal to the "restriction" on God's power- logic. The only reason (under assumptions #2) he couldn't get these goods without relying on the evils is if they were somehow rationally bound together. That seems about as counter-intuitive as anything I can think of.

Recall my initial response: “God knows something you don’t.” The point here is that

1. God has morally adequate reasons for permitting tsunamis, earthquakes, mudslides, and other natural disasters

may be perfectly true while

2. I do not know what God’s reasons for permitting these things

is also true. It seems pretty obvious to me that if there is, after all, a being vastly superior to humans in knowledge, wisdom, and power, then we should positively expect that some of his reasons will not be obvious to us.

c. If such evils are absolutely neccesary for bringing about goods, shouldn't we define them as good? That is to say, why call them evil if they are absolutely neccesary components of the highest goods in existence?

No. It’s one thing to say that the possibility of certain kinds of evils is a necessary condition for the existence of certain higher goods, and quite another to say that they’re components of those goods. The former may be true without the latter.

Your scenarios (1) and (3) from your post above depend on reading proposition 2 in a way that, I have argued, is inconsistent all on its own; naturally I’m not interested in defending that position.

Which is okay. It's certainly not inconsistent on its own, and if you keep asserting that we probably will have a scenario in which you're defending that position (this is true, but said jocularly, not threateningly.)

Again: see above. To say that the impossible is possible is to assert an inconsistency. It doesn’t cease to be an inconsistency just because we tack the words “... for God” onto the end of it.

Your scenario (2) raises the question of whether 5 is true, and this is an interesting question. But unless you have an argument that shows that 5 is itself logically impossible,

There is no Good that exists that is logically dependent on certain evils like natural disasters. God is powerful enough that any good in the world could've been brought about without resorting to certain types of evil (in fact, evil in general I think.) Good is not logically bound to evil, and as such there is no relevent constraint on God's power that renders him unable to produce certain goods without resorting to certain evils.

There’s the assertion. Where’s the argument?

N: It is not logically possible that God has adequate moral reasons to permit evil.

I've detailed this above. What would an adequate moral reason look like?

The fact that this question is recurring is one of the illustrations of how hard it is to get to the bottom of an issue in a blog thread without each side’s suggesting readings.

1. It is not to be expected that we would be able to give a full parsing out of God’s reasons, given the gap between His wisdom, knowledge, and power and our own.

2. Both the existence of beings with genuine (and therefore abusable) free will and the existence of a universe governed by naturally exceptionless physical laws have been suggested and argued for as plausible candidates for at least some such goods.

Some great good that was worth all the evil in the world, and that God wasn't powerful enough to bring about without relying on the evil of the world. Given that God is only constrained by logic (again, hate to keep bringing this up, but for clarity's sake this is only assumptions set #2- I don't grant that this is true, I only grant it hueristically) there must for, certain higher goods, a logical dependence on things like the Tsunami. Otherwise we are left the conclusion that God could've prevented these evils and still brought about the goods... but did not.

Subject to the kinds of rewordings I proposed above, I have no problem with this. What’s your argument that such goods don’t exist?

Luke Rhinehart said...

It seems to me that I’ve explicitly denied what you’re claiming here. If most Christians don’t hold that God’s omnipotence extends to abrogating the laws of logic, then your argument doesn’t apply to most Christians.
a. I didn't claim it did apply to most Christians
b. I read you as claiming that many people had a contrary opinion to yours about God's omnipotence, but merely hadn't thought enough about it. I read your comment as being analogous to a Marxist arguing about "false consciousness."

But most Christians haven’t thought about the question of whether omnipotence extends that far; hence they don’t hold that position.

You may be right that most Christians haven't seriously considered the question. If the people literally have no answer, then my argument under assumptions set #1 doesn't apply to them. If they say they think that God's power extends beyond a human understanding of logic, then I don't think it's very reasonable of you to claim that they just don't understand. Until they change their mind, then my argument will apply to them. Certainly you will concede that my argument applies to at least one reflective Christian, which is already 1 more than I need (it would be a little silly to make the argument if it applied to no one, though.)

Therefore, your argument doesn’t apply to most Christians. It has nothing to do with whether, if they thought about it, they'd agree with me; it has to do with the fact that, not having thought about it, they don't agree with either me or the fuzzies.

I've seen no evidence that convinces me that most Christians don't have an opinion on the subject. As it stands, I relied on a Google search to glean the fact that there are many Christians who at least think they believe that omnipotence means what it seems intuitively to mean: a power which literally knows no bounds. You have started basing your argument here on simple assertions on what people think, and what people would think if they simply thought about things a little harder. I can't say that I find this particularly convincing, and as such I still regard my argument under assumptions set #1 as both

a. valid
and
b. applicable to at least some Christians, if not most.


You appeal to the fact that Wikipedia lists ability to violate the laws of logic first as evidence that it is historically important. This simply isn’t true. An anonymous Wikipedia article without sources cited, however, is not going to count as an authority for that discussion, and even if it did the order in which positions are cited in that article wouldn’t demonstrate anything about historical prominence.

I didn't say it demonstrated historical prominance. I know the history- intellectuals started grappling with question like "can god make a stone so heavy he cant lift it" and then did about 17 backflips to come up with an answer about how God's nature is to do things in keeping with his nature and so forth. I honestly can't see what standards you're trying to hold me to to show that my argument applies to some Christians. Wikipedia shows that the intellectual argument has been taken seriously and still bears mentioning, and they don't mention the argument "God can do everything except ride a unicycle" which to me shows they aren't trying to produce an exhaustive compendium of possible beliefs about God's power. I've referenced a Google search (which you're welcome to carry out) which shows the that many people hold the aforementioned belief about God's omnipotence. I really can't see what else I could do aside from citing poll data which likely doesn't exist.

The ultra-strong logical voluntarist position regarding divine omnipotence is, I maintain, intrinsically inconsistent -- it is a contradiction all on its own.

I don't see how. Suppose there's a God who isn't subject to the laws of logic and reason. That doesn't mean that we have to cease making logical arguments. I'd really like you to elaborate why you think this contradicts itself. What part?

But on this reading, the claim about omnipotence was logically inconsistent all by itself.

The claim that "God is omnipotent" is hardly logically inconsistent by itself. It would mean, in this case either

1. "God is powerful beyond out understanding, and has the ability to do things we consider violations of logic and reason" By the way this could mean that, as some cognitive psychologists have suggested, the rules of mathematics are rooted in our Brain structures and while they bind human understanding that may be all they bind.

2. "God has an understanding sufficiently beyond ours such that, when things appear to be contradictions for us they are not contradictions for him."

3. "God has used his power to convince us that the rules of logic imply P when in fact they imply S."

Where's the self-contradiction in any of those? They all seem perfectly reasonable. Is it the fact that they seem "perfectly reasonable"? Well this might be a problem if we were talking with God (the answer to the riddle could be unintelligible.) However, I don't see how this implies that we shouldn't continue to use human reason (do we have any other choice?)

Nothing about evil or the other attributes of God is necessary or pertinent to driving home the charge of inconsistency. Therefore, there is nothing about evil essential to the argument. Therefore it is inappropriate to classify it as, in anything but a Pickwickian sense, an Argument from Evil.

The real problem is that God could bring about any good he wanted without evil, and did not do so. If you left off "God is omnibenevolent" I fail to see how the argument contradicts itself anymore. Fine, God can do anything and he knows everything. This world is as it is because he wanted it so or because he does not care.


I think what I’ve written above explains why I do not think that, under the interpretation you intend, the argument you advance is really a version of the Argument from Evil.

We're discussing this above. Nevertheless I'll reiterate the fundamental point of this section: I've tried on a few occassions to make this argument apply to you and you've rebuked me by saying that I need to defend the claim of "logically impossible." This was the the part of the argument where I was showing how we'd forked to logical content on the one hand and applicability to your beliefs on the other.


My problem with this is that, as I’ve explained above, when you insist on interpreting omnipotence in this odd way your argument (1) doesn’t apply to beliefs held by most Christians and


I still don't see why this is the case. I've presented something like evidence for the plausibility and popularity of these beliefs, and my argument was made before you or anyone else had espoused their position on such beliefs.

(2) isn’t in any interesting sense an argument from evil, since the charge of inconsistency could be leveled against claim 2 alone just as well as against the whole set of claims 1-4.

We've dealt with this above. It sounds like you're making the claim that "God is omnipotent"- when understood to mean any one of the three scenarios I've outlined above- is a self-contradictory argument all on its own. I suppose that will mean that the same burdens of proof you are happy to put me to are now required of you.


Fair enough. I was at the time under the impression that you wanted to press an Argument from Evil, and to press it against at least the majority of Christians.

I'll reiterate: it was a small part of my argument and as I'll explain below it has precious little bearing on Atheism vs. Theism per se. Nevertheless I still hold that it applies to many Christians, and that's all one can ask for when one presents an argument before people have iterated their specific positions.

then may I, as a Christian who thinks (along with the most eminent names in the theological tradition) that the existence of God is reconcilable with the existence of evil, join you?

You may join me in claiming that the AfE devastates those who believe in a God who is all knowing, all good, and omnipotent in one of the three ways I've enumerated above.


What does it mean to say that something is “inconsistent with our ethics”? Presumably that there is a set of ethical claims E1, ... , En, itself logically consistent, such that when we add a further claim S to this set the resulting set is logically inconsistent. That’s all I meant.

An interesting question. If ethics aren't redicble to logic, and we merely intuit things which are ethically wrong then I'm not sure this is correct. For instance, a thing cannot be all red and all yellow. This happens to be logically true, but whether or not we recognize that this is the case, it will still stand to reason that you and I (as humans) will never have a sense experience of something that's both all red and all yellow. Without an ability to understand logic and reason, I would still imagine this to be the case (though we wouldn't know that it would always be the case.) By the same token, it may be that "inconsistent" here is merely shorthand for something more basic which doesn't rely on logic.



Now, you’re asking me to consider whether it’s possible that S might nevertheless be true. This comes down to asking whether something inconsistent with the laws of logic is consistent with the laws of logic. And the answer here is simply, clearly, unequivocally “No.”

We're arguing this above in a more clear manner, but I'll try to respond in rough math terms to clear things up. Suppose that there's a set P (in this case that set coud be "all possible human understanding") and there are certain laws that govern the set. Is it a contradiction to say that those laws don't neccesarily apply to other sets? Te reason the question gets tricky and deep and can't be reduced very easily is the peculiar characteristics of the set. In this case the set is probably something like the peculiar functioning of the human brain and how it orders and structures things and makes sense out of out experience. What makes it difficult is that fact that we can't, by definition it seems, get outside of the set presently. Does that neccesarily imply that there is nothing beyond the set, and no laws which apply beyond them? I don't think so, and the idea that our logics are the special rules of the set governing our experiences, well, that seems a perfectly reasonable and consistent position to me.

So your answer is "no", but it should be ""no"" (with scare quotes around it) because the answer is no only to the extent to which we discuss things in our set. When we're discussing God, who is quite presumably beyond out set, it seems reasonable to acknowledge that the set-rules don't neccesarily apply to him.



It appears that you think anyone who takes consequences into account in the evaluation of the moral standing of an action is a consequentialist.

No, but you could argue that anyone who allows evil actions to be justified on account of their consequences is a consequentialist.

But this isn’t the way that “consequentialist” and “consequentialism” are used in the philosophical literature.

Right, but that's also not what I mean.

A consequentialist theory is (at least) a theory according to which whether an action -- any action -- is morally right depends only on its consequences, as opposed to the intrinsic nature of the act.

see above. Would you agree that an ethics which justifies evil on account of future goods is consequentialist? I recognize that things can get somewhat more subtle, with intuitionism and situationism adopting aspects of what could be termed "censequentialism." Nevertheless, ths'll do for my purposes. I case could be (and has been) made that justifying evil for future goods is morally bankrupt (it doesn't treat people as ends in themselves, for instance.)

My ethical theory is explicitly deontological, so of course it's not a consequentialist theory.

Which makes me wonder- do you think it's okay to do evil if it will bring about greater good in the future?


I don't see how it defeats itself to confine reason to the human realm. The AfE exists in the human realm and the terms are firmly rooted in human experience and understanding. Acknowledging (rationally) that reason may be a neccesarily human way of understanding the world, something we can't get away from (ala space and time) There exists a possible world or a possible being to which reason does not apply. In such a world (or w/r/t to such a being) the AfE wouldn't neccesarily be true. However, we are not in such a world, we merely recognize it's possibility. Moreso, if we believe in God, we may choose to assert it's probability, or certainty.

There are so many problems here that I am almost at a loss as to where to begin.

Well, thanks for your never-ending benevolence [groan.]

1. The phrase “confine reason to the human realm” is not clear, and I don’t see how it advances the argument to claim that the Argument from Evil “exists in the human realm” since I really don’t see anything that this could mean that would be neither false nor trivial.

I've made this more clear above in one respect (the set metaphor.) FOr another thing, there is a branch of cognitive psychology (specifically studying math) which holds that our understanding or certain mathematical concepts is hardiwired. We're not capable of getting out side of it, but it doesn't mean that there's nothing outside of it. I could understand you arguing that this is trivial in one respect- because nearly all of our discussions are silently presmised on the fact that we're discussing things within the bounds of "human understanding"- but when we talk about God it ceases to be trivial.

2. I do not think, as Kant does, that space and time are mere forms of sensible intuition, and

Well okay, but you could see how people might hold that belief, and moreso how they night hold it with regard to reason.

3. I adamantly deny that “There exists a possible world or a possible being to which reason does not apply,” if “reason” is being used here to mean logic.

Well, I'm not sure why. Is it impossible that Reason simply governs our understanding but doesn't neccesarily govern everything? Why?

4. Arguments are neither true nor false but rather valid or invalid.


um, okay. Did you understand what I meant? Good.

5. I don’t recognize the possibility of such a world.

You've already said that.

6. I don’t see why one has to invoke God in order to make the silly claim that the impossible is possible, or probable, or certain -- or why, if one were determined to make such a silly claim, invoking God would be of any help.

Because it's one of the rare cases in which we're talking about a sentient being who isn't neccesarily bound by certain, possibly earthly, constraints on understanding. I feel like your argument presumes to make God in Man's image. Is it also that case that God is contrained by time? Why or why not?


If atheism requires that logical impossibilities are logically possible, it’s in pretty bad shape. If for the sake of argument you’re willing to confine yourself to the realm of the logically possible, then let’s just do that and move on.

Here you go badly off the rails. We're so far from discussing atheism vs. theism it's not even funny. I hope you don't seriously contend that if the AfE were false it would prove Christianity true. The error there is pretty glaring. It's difficult to disprove Russell's teaopt too.

Might as well note something here: Plantinga (who you should probably send a royalty check to) explicitely declared that his was getting a version of "omnipotence" which didn't include the possibility of God bending or breaking logical "rules." One can only presume that he specified it because he didn't think it was obvious, for one thing, and because his case isn't successful against the AfE under such a set of assumptions. That royalty thing was a joke, but you may notice that the proportion of my jokes made at your expense will likely increase proportionally to comments like "this is so wrong I don't know where to begin." We've gone over this stuff before. Just letting you know.


With one proviso: I am not claiming that these higher goods are impossible to bring into being without evil, but that they are impossible to bring into being without the risk of evil.

Does God know the evil will occur or does he not? If he does know, then it's not the "possibility of evil"- it's evil. Regardless of how this is handled, natural distasters present a much bigger problem. For one thing, it seems likely that God knew such disasters would occur (not just that they would "possibly occur", because otherwise we've got some serious omniescence problems.) I'm going to let this response be it for now because you reiterate this point below and I'll make a different response there.


Again, this isn’t quite right but it’s easily fixed by substituting “the risk of evil” for “Evil” in what you wrote.

again with the question about free will and knowing, and again with the question on natural disasters. But I'll hit another point on this below.


Slow down -- you’re using the word “contradicts” here in a very loose sense. Free will, in a genuine and robust sense, doesn’t contradict either omnipotence or omniscience. I’m really surprised that you’d even raise this challenge: there’s a vast literature on this. Are you perhaps unfamiliar with it?

I've never found it completely convincing, for one. Is the solution of which you speak the one in which God knows what we do, but doesn't affect our choices and so they're still choices?

1. God has morally adequate reasons for permitting tsunamis, earthquakes, mudslides, and other natural disasters

may be perfectly true while

2. I do not know what God’s reasons for permitting these things


The argument would have to be "God is morally required to bring about some good x, and good x can logically only be brought about by either resorting on evil y or allowing for the possibility of evil y." I'm allowing that last part in even though I don't agree with it, because we haven't wrapped up our discussion above about free will.

In the case of the Tsunami though, I have a hard time considering this part of your "possibility of evil" defense you make above, since it isn't the result of free will (which I'm just going to go ahead and presume is what's implied.) Does there exist a good which the Tsunami will bring about that logically could not be brought about without it?


No. It’s one thing to say that the possibility of certain kinds of evils is a necessary condition for the existence of certain higher goods, and quite another to say that they’re components of those goods. The former may be true without the latter.


I'd like you to explain this further. If you think cracking an egg is a small evil in and of itself, but that it's justified by the fact that it's a logical neccessity for the bringing about the "good" of making an omelette, is the egg-breaking still an evil in this case?

Further, if God:
a. Didn't know what we would do (our free will coming into play here)
and
b. Knew there was a possibility of we would never choose the good and only choose the evil, then what is the good God was bringing about? Was it the choice itself?



I say: There is no Good that exists that is logically dependent on certain evils like natural disasters. God is powerful enough that any good in the world could've been brought about without resorting to certain types of evil (in fact, evil in general I think.) Good is not logically bound to evil, and as such there is no relevent constraint on God's power that renders him unable to produce certain goods without resorting to certain evils.

Tim's response:
There’s the assertion. Where’s the argument?


Oh come now. I spelled out my case, and it's highly intuitive. Within our understanding of good (all we're discussing) there is no good brought about by a natural disaster like a Tsunami that could not logically be brought about by an all-powerful being in another manner, one which caused less suffering. Are you asking me to detail every possible good and show that it could've been brought about otherwise? Again, I think your rebuttal is veering toward an "iron man" fallacy (a term I made up. the opposite of the straw
man, when someone asks that the opponent present impossible evidence or arguments to prove their case correct, like writing principia mathematica.)

The fact that this question is recurring is one of the illustrations of how hard it is to get to the bottom of an issue in a blog thread without each side’s suggesting readings.

Look I've read Plantinga on this subject. I know that he "solved" the problem by outlining a possible world in which it seemed evils were morally and logically required. You aren't taking that step, and that's why we're going around in circles.


Some great good that was worth all the evil in the world, and that God wasn't powerful enough to bring about without relying on the evil of the world. Given that God is only constrained by logic (again, hate to keep bringing this up, but for clarity's sake this is only assumptions set #2- I don't grant that this is true, I only grant it hueristically) there must for, certain higher goods, a logical dependence on things like the Tsunami. Otherwise we are left the conclusion that God could've prevented these evils and still brought about the goods... but did not.

Matt

Luke Rhinehart said...

Let me elaborate on one point:
I said
I'd like you to explain this further. If you think cracking an egg is a small evil in and of itself, but that it's justified by the fact that it's a logical neccessity for the bringing about the "good" of making an omelette, is the egg-breaking still an evil in this case?


A better example of this might be war. Was WWII a good war? War is a fundamentally bad act (it involves killing and threatending and hurting, all bad in the most basic obvious sense) but it can be said to be "good" if it's the case that it will bring about good consequnces. What do you think about this analysis?

Luke Rhinehart said...

aw man! A little more housecleaning:
I wrote
Further, if God:
a. Didn't know what we would do (our free will coming into play here)
and
b. Knew there was a possibility that we would never choose the good and only choose the evil, then what is the good God was bringing about? Was it the choice itself?


And then I must've erased my next paragraph. In hindsight, these should really just stand on their own and I should've phrased them differently. As for the 1st, does God know what we'll do, and leave us free to make our choice? As for the second, I asked the question already, is it the case that the possibility is the good itself? The choice, that is, the freedom? Is that the highest good?

Tim said...

Matt,

Well that comes out as nine pages single spaced, so this is going to be a very long reply. After I post it, I’m going to post something much shorter as a proposal for getting this discussion back on track and keeping it down to a manageable size. So if you (or anyone else) would like to see that proposal, just skip this and move on to the next post.

You originally wrote:

... it seems a little thin to cover for the fact that the AfE under my assumptions set #1 does in fact apply to many Christians (in fact you say possibly most.)

You quote me (bold) and then respond (italics):

It seems to me that I’ve explicitly denied what you’re claiming here. If most Christians don’t hold that God’s omnipotence extends to abrogating the laws of logic, then your argument doesn’t apply to most Christians.

a. I didn't claim it did apply to most Christians

No: you said that I said possibly most ... which I didn’t (and don’t). Clearly it doesn’t apply to most Christians; I have my doubts about how many it applies to.

b. I read you as claiming that many people had a contrary opinion to yours about God's omnipotence, but merely hadn't thought enough about it. I read your comment as being analogous to a Marxist arguing about "false consciousness."

Just a misunderstanding, then.

But most Christians haven’t thought about the question of whether omnipotence extends that far; hence they don’t hold that position.

You may be right that most Christians haven't seriously considered the question. If the people literally have no answer, then my argument under assumptions set #1 doesn't apply to them.

We’re agreed here.

If they say they think that God's power extends beyond a human understanding of logic, then I don't think it's very reasonable of you to claim that they just don't understand.

I haven’t in fact claimed that, but if I did I don’t see that there would be anything wrong with the claim – or anything that you should want to resist.

Until they change their mind, then my argument will apply to them. Certainly you will concede that my argument applies to at least one reflective Christian, which is already 1 more than I need (it would be a little silly to make the argument if it applied to no one, though.)

A lot depends on one’s standards for “reflective” here, but let that go. The principal point is that I don’t think this is much of an argument against Christianity since it doesn’t hit a position that the vast majority of Christians hold. When I mount arguments against atheism, I try not to focus on what I consider to be the “lunatic fringe” atheists – that’s just not fair to the more thoughtful ones.

Therefore, your argument doesn’t apply to most Christians. It has nothing to do with whether, if they thought about it, they'd agree with me; it has to do with the fact that, not having thought about it, they don't agree with either me or the fuzzies.

I've seen no evidence that convinces me that most Christians don't have an opinion on the subject. As it stands, I relied on a Google search to glean the fact that there are many Christians who at least think they believe that omnipotence means what it seems intuitively to mean: a power which literally knows no bounds. You have started basing your argument here on simple assertions on what people think, and what people would think if they simply thought about things a little harder. I can't say that I find this particularly convincing, and as such I still regard my argument under assumptions set #1 as both

a. valid
and
b. applicable to at least some Christians, if not most.


Not contesting that it hits some. I did provide you with the evidence of my own rather extensive experience talking with Christians. I can’t tell whether you think

(a) I’m lying about the scope of my experience discussing these things with Christians, or

(b) I’m lying about the lack of explicit beliefs on this topic (inter alia) among the Christians I’ve spoken with, or

(c) Induction is not a legitimate method of nondeductive inference.

You appeal to the fact that Wikipedia lists ability to violate the laws of logic first as evidence that it is historically important. This simply isn’t true. An anonymous Wikipedia article without sources cited, however, is not going to count as an authority for that discussion, and even if it did the order in which positions are cited in that article wouldn’t demonstrate anything about historical prominence.

I didn't say it demonstrated historical prominance. I know the history- intellectuals started grappling with question like "can god make a stone so heavy he cant lift it" and then did about 17 backflips to come up with an answer about how God's nature is to do things in keeping with his nature and so forth.

If this is the extent of your knowledge of the history, we’re going to have to move on unless you want to take a time out to work through a bibliography of primary sources.

I honestly can't see what standards you're trying to hold me to to show that my argument applies to some Christians. Wikipedia shows that the intellectual argument has been taken seriously and still bears mentioning, and they don't mention the argument "God can do everything except ride a unicycle" which to me shows they aren't trying to produce an exhaustive compendium of possible beliefs about God's power. I've referenced a Google search (which you're welcome to carry out) which shows the that many people hold the aforementioned belief about God's omnipotence. I really can't see what else I could do aside from citing poll data which likely doesn't exist.

Oh, I know that some of them exist – never denied it. Probably tens of thousands of them, worldwide, across the past nineteen centuries or so. Out of several billion Christians. Let’s focus on the central stuff that can plausibly be found in Scripture, shall we? That way we’ll avoid expending ammunition on beliefs that, in my experience and in the judgment of mainline Christian thinkers, are peripheral.

The ultra-strong logical voluntarist position regarding divine omnipotence is, I maintain, intrinsically inconsistent -- it is a contradiction all on its own.

I don't see how. Suppose there's a God who isn't subject to the laws of logic and reason.

That’s how. The notion of the existence of anything – whether you call it God, eighteen-dimensional spaces, Zen consciousness, or what have you – that “isn’t subject to the laws of logic” is, at least as I’m taking the word “subject,” intrinsically contradictory. I take it that you mean the existence of something that violates the laws of logic, something of which both P and ~P can be predicated at the same time in the same sense. It’s like asking me to suppose that there’s a perfect circle ... with corners. Nope.

But on this reading, the claim about omnipotence was logically inconsistent all by itself.

The claim that "God is omnipotent" is hardly logically inconsistent by itself. It would mean, in this case either

1. "God is powerful beyond out understanding, and has the ability to do things we consider violations of logic and reason" By the way this could mean that, as some cognitive psychologists have suggested, the rules of mathematics are rooted in our Brain structures and while they bind human understanding that may be all they bind.


I frankly find people who suggest this to be very funny. In my opinion -- and I’m speaking here as someone who makes a living training future professionals in logic and epistemology -- cognitive scientists who say such things are speaking so far out of their appropriate field that their credibility is not even on a par with the credibility of an actor who does commercials for hemorrhoid remedies. (The actor might, after all, have some idea what he’s talking about.) To forestall the inevitable question, yes, I have read a few books by people who say things like this, so I’m not just talking through my hat.

2. "God has an understanding sufficiently beyond ours such that, when things appear to be contradictions for us they are not contradictions for him."

Like a proposition’s being true and false in the same sense at the same time? Sorry, this just sounds like an attempt to find a grammatically plausible way to say something that, upon semantic investigation, turns out to be a logical contradiction.

3. "God has used his power to convince us that the rules of logic imply P when in fact they imply S."

This suggestion won’t work against what Descartes calls clear and distinct perception – a category that has gotten a bum rap in the philosophical literature of late and deserves better. But waiving that, at this point we’ve gone so far off track that not even your arguments can be taken at face value. If you’re going to insist on taking this possibility seriously, what’s to prevent some Christian from rejoining that God is using His power to blind your eyes to the luminous and compelling truth of Christianity until you yield your heart to Him? C’mon – this would be bunk, and we both know it. Don’t try to pull the parallel stunt in the name of saving an argument against Christianity; the supposition is an acid that will dissolve arguments equally well on both sides.

Nothing about evil or the other attributes of God is necessary or pertinent to driving home the charge of inconsistency. Therefore, there is nothing about evil essential to the argument. Therefore it is inappropriate to classify it as, in anything but a Pickwickian sense, an Argument from Evil.

The real problem is that God could bring about any good he wanted without evil, and did not do so. If you left off "God is omnibenevolent" I fail to see how the argument contradicts itself anymore.

1. God is M-omnipotent (for “Matt-omnipotent”), that is, able to bring about all logical impossibilities.

2. It is possible that Bill Clinton is the Pope and Bill Clinton is not the Pope (from 1, specifying a particular contradiction that, according to 1, God could bring about)

3. It is not possible that Bill Clinton is the Pope and Bill Clinton is not the Pope (from deductive logic).

4. It is both possible and not possible that Bill Clinton is the Pope and Bill Clinton is not the Pope (conjunction from 2 and 3)

5. It is not the case that God is M-omnipotent (reductio ad absurdum from 1 and 2).
I've tried on a few occassions to make this argument apply to you and you've rebuked me by saying that I need to defend the claim of "logically impossible." This was the the part of the argument where I was showing how we'd forked to logical content on the one hand and applicability to your beliefs on the other.

See above.

My problem with this is that, as I’ve explained above, when you insist on interpreting omnipotence in this odd way your argument (1) doesn’t apply to beliefs held by most Christians and

I still don't see why this is the case. I've presented something like evidence for the plausibility and popularity of these beliefs, and my argument was made before you or anyone else had espoused their position on such beliefs.

See above.

(2) isn’t in any interesting sense an argument from evil, since the charge of inconsistency could be leveled against claim 2 alone just as well as against the whole set of claims 1-4.

We've dealt with this above. It sounds like you're making the claim that "God is omnipotent"- when understood to mean any one of the three scenarios I've outlined above- is a self-contradictory argument all on its own.

Not a self-contradictory argument but a self-contradiction in the first two scenarios you outlined and a universal acid in the third.

I suppose that will mean that the same burdens of proof you are happy to put me to are now required of you.

See above.

Fair enough. I was at the time under the impression that you wanted to press an Argument from Evil, and to press it against at least the majority of Christians.

I'll reiterate: it was a small part of my argument and as I'll explain below it has precious little bearing on Atheism vs. Theism per se. Nevertheless I still hold that it applies to many Christians, and that's all one can ask for when one presents an argument before people have iterated their specific positions.

See above. I’ve no sympathy for the people to whom your argument applies, but I think they’re a soft target since their conception of omnipotence is (per above) itself incoherent.

then may I, as a Christian who thinks (along with the most eminent names in the theological tradition) that the existence of God is reconcilable with the existence of evil, join you?
You may join me in claiming that the AfE devastates those who believe in a God who is all knowing, all good, and omnipotent in one of the three ways I've enumerated above.

See above: the considerations of evil do no work here; everything rides on the mistaken position regarding omnipotence and logic.

What does it mean to say that something is “inconsistent with our ethics”? Presumably that there is a set of ethical claims E1, ... , En, itself logically consistent, such that when we add a further claim S to this set the resulting set is logically inconsistent. That’s all I meant.

An interesting question. If ethics aren't redicble to logic, and we merely intuit things which are ethically wrong then I'm not sure this is correct. For instance, a thing cannot be all red and all yellow. This happens to be logically true, but whether or not we recognize that this is the case, it will still stand to reason that you and I (as humans) will never have a sense experience of something that's both all red and all yellow. Without an ability to understand logic and reason, I would still imagine this to be the case (though we wouldn't know that it would always be the case.) By the same token, it may be that "inconsistent" here is merely shorthand for something more basic which doesn't rely on logic.

Since at this point we’ve established that I find this kind of talk unintelligible, it would be helpful if you’d make an argument that I can make sense of. I understand that you’re still fond of the idea that there may be, somehow, violations of logic, and I respect your tenacity in trying to make that opinion work, sort of the way that I respect the charge of the Light Brigade. But it isn’t advancing the argument at all and I think we’re losing Nielsen share every time we go ’round on this one. Let’s move on.

Now, you’re asking me to consider whether it’s possible that S might nevertheless be true. This comes down to asking whether something inconsistent with the laws of logic is consistent with the laws of logic. And the answer here is simply, clearly, unequivocally “No.”

We're arguing this above in a more clear manner, but I'll try to respond in rough math terms to clear things up. Suppose that there's a set P (in this case that set coud be "all possible human understanding") ...

What? I’m sorry, I don’t have any idea what the members of this set would be. Propositions?

and there are certain laws that govern the set.

Again, I don’t know what you mean here; it looks like you’re mixing up talk of sets with talk of something like axiomatic formal systems. Do you mean that there are certain truths about all of the members of the set?

Is it a contradiction to say that those laws don't neccesarily apply to other sets? Te reason the question gets tricky and deep and can't be reduced very easily is the peculiar characteristics of the set. In this case the set is probably something like the peculiar functioning of the human brain and how it orders and structures things and makes sense out of out experience. What makes it difficult is that fact that we can't, by definition it seems, get outside of the set presently. Does that neccesarily imply that there is nothing beyond the set, and no laws which apply beyond them? I don't think so, and the idea that our logics are the special rules of the set governing our experiences, well, that seems a perfectly reasonable and consistent position to me.

If I knew what you were talking about, I might be able to muster a response, but I’m frankly baffled and I have a depressing sense that we’re going to expend more time trying to come to an understanding here and wind up simply shaking our heads.

So your answer is "no", but it should be ""no"" (with scare quotes around it) because the answer is no only to the extent to which we discuss things in our set. When we're discussing God, who is quite presumably beyond out set, it seems reasonable to acknowledge that the set-rules don't neccesarily apply to him.

I’ve said everything that I can think of to say on this issue. The answer remains “No” (without scare quotes).

It appears that you think anyone who takes consequences into account in the evaluation of the moral standing of an action is a consequentialist.

No, but you could argue that anyone who allows evil actions to be justified on account of their consequences is a consequentialist.

You can argue anything if the right people aren’t looking. This is simply not the way that this word is used.

But this isn’t the way that “consequentialist” and “consequentialism” are used in the philosophical literature.

Right, but that's also not what I mean.

Okay, let’s not get hung up on words: just withdraw your claim that on my view God is a consequentialist, and replace it with the claim that on my view some of the things that God may take into account in His actions have to do with the consequences of those actions. Then I’ll agree.

A consequentialist theory is (at least) a theory according to which whether an action -- any action -- is morally right depends only on its consequences, as opposed to the intrinsic nature of the act.

see above. Would you agree that an ethics which justifies evil on account of future goods is consequentialist?

Not necessarily – though the suggestion is insufficiently fleshed out and might be developed by the addition of further conditions that would qualify that ethical position as a form of consequentialism. In any event, I don’t recognize this as a description of Christian moral theory.

I recognize that things can get somewhat more subtle, with intuitionism and situationism adopting aspects of what could be termed "censequentialism." Nevertheless, ths'll do for my purposes. I case could be (and has been) made that justifying evil for future goods is morally bankrupt (it doesn't treat people as ends in themselves, for instance.)

Notice that this presupposes the people are already there to be treated as means.

My ethical theory is explicitly deontological, so of course it's not a consequentialist theory.

Which makes me wonder- do you think it's okay to do evil if it will bring about greater good in the future?

Nope. But that’s not a proper description of what God does in (a) creating a world governed by physical laws or (b) creating sentient beings with genuine free will.

I don't see how it defeats itself to confine reason to the human realm. The AfE exists in the human realm and the terms are firmly rooted in human experience and understanding. Acknowledging (rationally) that reason may be a neccesarily human way of understanding the world, something we can't get away from (ala space and time) There exists a possible world or a possible being to which reason does not apply. In such a world (or w/r/t to such a being) the AfE wouldn't neccesarily be true. However, we are not in such a world, we merely recognize it's possibility. Moreso, if we believe in God, we may choose to assert it's probability, or certainty.

There are so many problems here that I am almost at a loss as to where to begin.

Well, thanks for your never-ending benevolence [groan.]

I groaned too. Not trying to be overbearing – it’s just that this is getting tedious and I’m willing to be blunt (trying not to be rude) and tell you when I think something is hopelessly confused. I even considered skipping over this entire paragraph with just that remark, but I figured you’d want to know why I thought there were problems, so I went ahead and listed half a dozen.

1. The phrase “confine reason to the human realm” is not clear, and I don’t see how it advances the argument to claim that the Argument from Evil “exists in the human realm” since I really don’t see anything that this could mean that would be neither false nor trivial.

I've made this more clear above in one respect (the set metaphor.) FOr another thing, there is a branch of cognitive psychology (specifically studying math) which holds that our understanding or certain mathematical concepts is hardiwired. We're not capable of getting out side of it, but it doesn't mean that there's nothing outside of it. I could understand you arguing that this is trivial in one respect- because nearly all of our discussions are silently presmised on the fact that we're discussing things within the bounds of "human understanding"- but when we talk about God it ceases to be trivial.

See above.

2. I do not think, as Kant does, that space and time are mere forms of sensible intuition, and

Well okay, but you could see how people might hold that belief, and moreso how they night hold it with regard to reason.

No, actually, less so how they might hold it with regard to reason.

3. I adamantly deny that “There exists a possible world or a possible being to which reason does not apply,” if “reason” is being used here to mean logic.

Well, I'm not sure why. Is it impossible that Reason simply governs our understanding but doesn't neccesarily govern everything?

Yes, it’s impossible.

Why?

See above.

4. Arguments are neither true nor false but rather valid or invalid.

um, okay. Did you understand what I meant? Good.

5. I don’t recognize the possibility of such a world.

You've already said that.

You’re right! By golly, see how dull this is becoming – I’m even repeating myself in my own lists, with no better excuse than that you repeated the claim and I was running through your paragraph.

6. I don’t see why one has to invoke God in order to make the silly claim that the impossible is possible, or probable, or certain -- or why, if one were determined to make such a silly claim, invoking God would be of any help.

Because it's one of the rare cases in which we're talking about a sentient being who isn't neccesarily bound by certain, possibly earthly, constraints on understanding. I feel like your argument presumes to make God in Man's image. Is it also that case that God is contrained by time? Why or why not?

The time question is interesting and I haven’t got a solution to sell you there. The reason I’m not sure, while I’m sure about the law of noncontradiction, is that time and logic are not on a par logically or epistemologically.

If atheism requires that logical impossibilities are logically possible, it’s in pretty bad shape. If for the sake of argument you’re willing to confine yourself to the realm of the logically possible, then let’s just do that and move on.

Here you go badly off the rails. We're so far from discussing atheism vs. theism it's not even funny. I hope you don't seriously contend that if the AfE were false it would prove Christianity true. The error there is pretty glaring. It's difficult to disprove Russell's teaopt too.

You’re trying to make an argument against Christianity work by trying to saddle the Christians with a God who can jigger with the laws of logic. If this is the best that the opponents of Christianity can do, we can stop now. Surely the atheists have better arrows in their quiver?

Might as well note something here: Plantinga (who you should probably send a royalty check to) explicitely declared that his was getting a version of "omnipotence" which didn't include the possibility of God bending or breaking logical "rules." One can only presume that he specified it because he didn't think it was obvious, for one thing, and because his case isn't successful against the AfE under such a set of assumptions. That royalty thing was a joke, but you may notice that the proportion of my jokes made at your expense will likely increase proportionally to comments like "this is so wrong I don't know where to begin." We've gone over this stuff before. Just letting you know.

Plantinga presumably says it to forestall misunderstandings by people who have encountered the fuzzies. Don’t worry, Al isn’t the first to have said this; if there are royalties due here, it’s a huge intellectual pyramid scheme. ;)

With one proviso: I am not claiming that these higher goods are impossible to bring into being without evil, but that they are impossible to bring into being without the risk of evil.

Does God know the evil will occur or does he not? If he does know, then it's not the "possibility of evil"- it's evil. Regardless of how this is handled, natural distasters present a much bigger problem. For one thing, it seems likely that God knew such disasters would occur (not just that they would "possibly occur", because otherwise we've got some serious omniescence problems.) I'm going to let this response be it for now because you reiterate this point below and I'll make a different response there.

Again, this isn’t quite right but it’s easily fixed by substituting “the risk of evil” for “Evil” in what you wrote.

again with the question about free will and knowing, and again with the question on natural disasters. But I'll hit another point on this below.

Slow down -- you’re using the word “contradicts” here in a very loose sense. Free will, in a genuine and robust sense, doesn’t contradict either omnipotence or omniscience. I’m really surprised that you’d even raise this challenge: there’s a vast literature on this. Are you perhaps unfamiliar with it?

I've never found it completely convincing, for one. Is the solution of which you speak the one in which God knows what we do, but doesn't affect our choices and so they're still choices?

There’s some wiggle room in there in the term “affect,” but if it’s properly defined, that’ll do as a rough approximation.

1. God has morally adequate reasons for permitting tsunamis, earthquakes, mudslides, and other natural disasters

may be perfectly true while

2. I do not know what God’s reasons for permitting these things


The argument would have to be "God is morally required to bring about some good x, and good x can logically only be brought about by either resorting on evil y or allowing for the possibility of evil y." I'm allowing that last part in even though I don't agree with it, because we haven't wrapped up our discussion above about free will.

This isn’t quite right. First of all, it isn’t an argument; it’s a position. Second, it isn’t obvious to me that the Christian would have to say that God is morally required to bring about good x, just that if He does bring it about, his reasons are morally adequate. You may think that these are the same thing, but that seems to build in the assumption that there’s just one maximally good universe, and that’s an assumption I don’t see how to justify.

In the case of the Tsunami though, I have a hard time considering this part of your "possibility of evil" defense you make above, since it isn't the result of free will (which I'm just going to go ahead and presume is what's implied.) Does there exist a good which the Tsunami will bring about that logically could not be brought about without it?

I think your focus is too narrow here. The standard Christian position is not that God directly intervenes in the course of nature to cause the tsunami or the Lisbon earthquake or the tornadoes in Iowa City, but rather that God creates a universe run by natural laws and that in the course of time, between the initial conditions of the universe, the natural laws, and the physically underdetermined actions of free agents, these things take place. So the relevant question isn’t whether the tsunami by itself is the thing that will bring about (or be) the good, but the existence of a universe governed by natural laws in which things like the tsunami can and do happen.

No. It’s one thing to say that the possibility of certain kinds of evils is a necessary condition for the existence of certain higher goods, and quite another to say that they’re components of those goods. The former may be true without the latter.
I'd like you to explain this further. If you think cracking an egg is a small evil in and of itself, but that it's justified by the fact that it's a logical neccessity for the bringing about the "good" of making an omelette, is the egg-breaking still an evil in this case?

More like this: if I think the creation of eggs is a good thing, even though I know that some of them will in fact be cracked and wasted, which is undesirable, then is it still okay to create eggs?

Further, if God:
a. Didn't know what we would do (our free will coming into play here)
and
b. Knew there was a possibility of we would never choose the good and only choose the evil, then what is the good God was bringing about? Was it the choice itself?


The good here, I should say, would be the existence of beings who could choose and, therefore, who could freely choose the good. But again, this is only one suggestion of one of the goods that might have been in view, and I’m certainly not trying to say that it’s the only one God might have had in view. I rather suspect that we simply don’t know what some of these are.

I say: There is no Good that exists that is logically dependent on certain evils like natural disasters. God is powerful enough that any good in the world could've been brought about without resorting to certain types of evil (in fact, evil in general I think.) Good is not logically bound to evil, and as such there is no relevent constraint on God's power that renders him unable to produce certain goods without resorting to certain evils.

Tim's response:

There’s the assertion. Where’s the argument?

Oh come now. I spelled out my case, and it's highly intuitive.

I’m sorry to have to disagree here, but you haven’t offered anything remotely like a compelling line of rational argument backing up this claim. I recognize that you find your own position intuitive, but all that the paragraph above does is to state your position, and as an attempt at persuasion this is question-begging since it’s about that very position that we disagree.

Within our understanding of good (all we're discussing) there is no good brought about by a natural disaster like a Tsunami that could not logically be brought about by an all-powerful being in another manner, one which caused less suffering. Are you asking me to detail every possible good and show that it could've been brought about otherwise?

Again, this is out of focus because you’re looking at the tsunami and not at the existence of a world of natural laws that, coupled with initial conditions and free actions of sentient agents, gives rise to the tsunami. (And yes, what those agents do can be causally relevant to the deaths that the natural phenomenon causes, down to their choices to be in certain places at certain times.)

That said, your claim is that it is logically impossible that there should be such a good. One way to do that would be to list every possible good and show that it won’t do the job. But I take it you’re indicating that this isn’t how you arrive at the conclusion, because as you go on it’s plain that you think you can’t provide any argument for this:

Again, I think your rebuttal is veering toward an "iron man" fallacy (a term I made up. the opposite of the straw man, when someone asks that the opponent present impossible evidence or arguments to prove their case correct, like writing principia mathematica.)

If you hadn’t made a strong modal claim, I wouldn’t ask for an argument of the sort that one needs to back up a strong modal claim. But you have. This is a consequence of your insistence on making the logical argument from evil work: you have the burden of proof to show that it is logically impossible for those four propositions,

1. God is omnipotent
2. God is omniscient
3. God is perfectly good
4. Evil exists

to be true simultaneously. What you’re telling us above, as far as I can understand you, is that you think it’s “highly intuitive” that 1-4 are logically incompatible. I don’t share that intuition, and I’ve searched in vain in what you’ve written for something that would count as an argument for it as opposed to a restatement of it.

The fact that this question is recurring is one of the illustrations of how hard it is to get to the bottom of an issue in a blog thread without each side’s suggesting readings.

Look I've read Plantinga on this subject.

Great! Which book or article have you read?

I know that he "solved" the problem by outlining a possible world in which it seemed evils were morally and logically required. You aren't taking that step, and that's why we're going around in circles.

I think what you’re sensing is that Plantinga is offering a theodicy, whereas I am content to respond to the logical Argument from Evil, since that is what you’ve brought up. That is to say, Plantinga offers an argument to the effect that the reasons he cites (a) are God’s reasons and (b) are morally sufficient reasons for His allowing the evils in question. Now, as it happens, I think that Plantinga has made a plausible case. But I agree with Richard Swinburne that what Plantinga is trying to do is more than is required for a response to the Argument from Evil. (See “Does Theism Need A Theodicy?” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 18 (1988), 287-312.)

Some great good that was worth all the evil in the world, and that God wasn't powerful enough to bring about without relying on the evil of the world.

The phrase “wasn’t powerful enough” is tendentious here, given that you have consistently insisted that God would be able to violate the laws of logic and I have consistently denied this.

Given that God is only constrained by logic (again, hate to keep bringing this up, but for clarity's sake this is only assumptions set #2- I don't grant that this is true, I only grant it hueristically) there must for, certain higher goods, a logical dependence on things like the Tsunami.

No – on the existence of conditions that, in point of fact, gave rise to the tsunami.

Otherwise we are left the conclusion that God could've prevented these evils and still brought about the goods... but did not.

With the corrections noted above, this seems right.

Let me elaborate on one point:
I said

I'd like you to explain this further. If you think cracking an egg is a small evil in and of itself, but that it's justified by the fact that it's a logical neccessity for the bringing about the "good" of making an omelette, is the egg-breaking still an evil in this case?

A better example of this might be war. Was WWII a good war? War is a fundamentally bad act (it involves killing and threatending and hurting, all bad in the most basic obvious sense) but it can be said to be "good" if it's the case that it will bring about good consequnces. What do you think about this analysis?


I think the question isn’t well formed. Was it a good thing that Hitler rose to power? No. Was it a good thing that he slaughtered millions of Jews and other inconvenient people? No. Was it a good thing that he was firmly opposed by the British and, later, the Americans, who defeated him at great cost? Yes – heroic. Was it a good thing that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, killing innocent civilians? Fill in your preferred answer.

I wrote
Further, if God:
a. Didn't know what we would do (our free will coming into play here)
and
b. Knew there was a possibility that we would never choose the good and only choose the evil, then what is the good God was bringing about? Was it the choice itself?


In this particular case, the good would be the existence of free choice which, just because it is free, could be used either for good or for evil.
I should've phrased them differently. As for the 1st, does God know what we'll do, and leave us free to make our choice?

Yes.

As for the second, I asked the question already, is it the case that the possibility is the good itself? The choice, that is, the freedom? Is that the highest good?

I’m not committed to saying that it’s the highest possible good. But yes, it is a good, if only because it opens up the possibility of a free being’s choosing to be good voluntarily. And that is certainly a very great good.

Tim said...

Matt,

We’re bogged down. The discussion of the argument from evil has now split into several fragments, including:

(1) Whether God’s omnipotence places Him “above logic” in some sense,

(2) Whether the fact that Christians who hold a logically incoherent position regarding omnipotence cannot consistently assert the existence of evil is in any significant sense a function of their beliefs about divine goodness and the existence of evil or is, rather, a function of the incoherence in their position on omnipotence, and

(3) Whether a logical argument from evil works against Christians who hold that omnipotence does not extend to the ability to violate the fundamental principles of logic.

I take it to be beyond reasonable dispute that there is no interesting sense in which the answer to (1) can be anything but “No.” You take the contrary position (hypothetically, since you don’t assert the existence of God). We’re repeating ourselves at this point in the discussion; I don’t think there’s much profit left in repeating ourselves any more.

I have laid out clearly in my previous post an argument against the claim that considerations of evil (or even goodness) play a significant role in the self-refutation of the sort of position described in (2), and I’ve indicated at some length why I’m not moved by what you’ve said. Again, we’ve reached the point where we are repeating ourselves.

So here’s a modest proposal.

Let’s table (1) and (2) for now. Neither side seems to be persuading the other, and the positions and arguments are out there for everyone to see. So I suggest that we focus on (3), where it seems we have some hope of making progress, and agree for the sake of the argument to stay within the bounds of logic.

I know you think there’s some rational alternative to this, and you know that I don’t. Since your original challenge was for a rational defense of Christianity, I think it makes the most sense for us to take the fundamental principles of classical bivalent logic as a boundary condition on our conversation. In the name of fairness, I’m happy to acknowledge publically that you feel the condition overly restrictive and find the possibility of some violations of logic plausible. I’m happy to admit that you think that by insisting on the contrary position at least some Christians may be gaining an unfair argumentative advantage, an insulation against at least some criticisms that you find intuitively persuasive. We can simply agree, for now, that any outcome of our discussion from this point forward will be predicated on the assumption, which you find debatable, that the laws of logic are inviolable.

What do you say?

anonymous said...

Hi Tim and Luke/Matt.
If it is true that you are losing audience share you are not losing me.
I've been enjoying this conversation for days.

I had set to remarking on the lawful goodness that results in/requires earthquakes and tsunamis, and the goodness of resisting evil without mandating necessarily the "goodness" of WWII, but chose to wait on Tim's response. Glad I did.

Keep up the good work, gentlemen.

Tim said...

Whoops! That'll teach me to rely on memories of things I've read more than two decades ago. Plantinga isn't offering a theodicy in GFE; he's simply using the term "theodicy" to denote that strong project. He's using the terminology to contrast a defense with a theodicy. Swinburne finesses the definition of the latter term, but that's all.

So I guess Al and I are sending our royalty checks to pretty much the same place ...

Luke Rhinehart said...

Thanks Charlie:

to Tim and all reading this- expect a post from me sometime soon. Tim was right that things were getting long so I'm trying to condense my points and rewrite my basic points. I know Tim is busy but feels he has to respond quickly (or wants to respond quickly) so I'm also trying to hold off for college scheduling reasons. If it'd be easier for me to email any of you guys when I post next so you know when to look for it, I'm happy to send a little notice of update. Just shoot me an email.

Matt

Tim said...

Matt,

No problem -- we're all busy. Take your time, and if you've got finals, good luck with 'em.

Luke Rhinehart said...

Wow, I just read over this stuff and it was a pretty good discussion. I'd originally meant to step away from this and try to shrink things down because continuing to expand on 9 pages wasn't working for anyone. In so doing, I forgot my lines of argumentation (forgot isn't the right word, but I presume you'll know what I mean) and the post was moved off the main page (by normal posting forces.) So, if anyone happens to read this I'd urge you not to be swayed by "last wordism"- the fact that this may be the last post means nothing about the state of the argument. It seems obvious, but it's easy to presume otherwise. It would be a dirty trick to post nearly a year later when it's unlikely Tim would respond, so consider the points raised here to be reflections.

So anyway, a few things:

1. I mostly argue politics on aaaathatsfiveas.blogspot.com and so I have no outlets for serious discussions on religion which I also enjoy. That's part of why I'm here again.

2. I was recently reading a paper that i thought made an elegant addendum that I wished I would've had in my pocket at the time of these debates. Namely, that success in general argumentation is to formulate an argument that can only be "defeated" by general philosophical skepticism. More on this below.

3. I wanted to post the deductive form of the argument in order to clarify things.

So onto the show, let me make a few points. I'll be delighted if Tim responds (or anyone does) and I'll respond back.

Deductive form of the argument from evil here: http://www.philosophy.ucsb.edu/faculty/anderson/12ARGUMENTFROMEVILDEDUCTIVEVERSION.htm

Tim's response was "god knows something you don't." In retrospect, this argument could be used to oppose nearly any deductive argument under the sun. The famous "All men are mortal" premise in the Socrates argument could handily be tanked by introducing general philosophical skepticism into the mix (and I'm including "god knows a non-mortal man even though you don't" as an GPS argument- just like "a demon is fooling me".) So really, I don't mind conceding that the argument from evil is only as correct as almost every other valid deductive logical expression in history.

Secondly, I'd like to consider the intuitive force behind the "God knows something you don't" argument in relation to, say, the Tsunami. In our day to day lives we are willing to justify certain "evil acts" because they bring about a greater good. I'll consider two examples here:

A. I shoot an armed mugger in self-defense.

B. I help guide a group of Sudanese refugees through the desert so they won't be killed, but I know that many of them will starve on the way through the desert.

In my opinion both acts- of which "evil" is a consequence- are soundly justified. In these cases the intuitive justification comes from my relative powerlessness. I'm justified in killing the mugger because I don't have another choice; I'm justified in leading the Sudanese boys across the desert because I don't have any other options. It's easy to imagine scenarios in which I might not be justified in doing what I do- if there was an alternate route for the sudanese boys, different in important respects save for the fact that there was plenty of food and water, my actions would not be justified.

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that the "all powerful" clause in the definition of god means that the problem of good is far more difficult than simply "this evil will bring about good." Would a person who could simply ensure that all of Sudanese boys survived all would be safe in their homes with their families be justified in basically making some of them starve to death? I certainly think not. And yet, God would seem to be in such a position. God would seem to be almost limitless in his abilities (meaning that unless saving Sudanese children meant making 1+1=3, and assuming he can't do that, then he should have done it.)

While it's technically conceivable that God has adequate moral reasons for allowing evil to exist, it's only as conceivable as it is that the outside world doesn't exist and I'm being deceived by a demon. Furthermore, that argument is no more intuitive or likely than the argument that I'm a brain in a vat primarily because the claims of God's omnipotence render it seemingly impossible that He would be unable to do certain Goods without allowing evils like the Tsunami.

Just as faith-based Christians should regard these discussions as little more than interesting diversions, so to should Atheists. Serious arguments about God put the burden of proof on religious people, and as such the outcome of such a discussion is unrelated to the intellectual standing of Atheism. If this ends the discussions, I should say that I rather enjoyed it, even the verbal barbs.

Luke/Matt