• About TWIM


    The Warfare Is Mental (TWIM) reflects the mental warfare of an author, screenwriter, publisher and member of the Writer's Guild of America. Family, friends, health, humor, art, music, science, faith, fun and knowledge are some of the things that are important to me.



    TWIM is the first and only theist blog listed on the Atheist Blogroll, which currently contains over 1,000 blogs. It goes without saying that I don't endorse hardly any of the views of any of them. Contact Mojoey for more information.



    Ironically, TWIM won an award for "Best Atheist / Skeptic Site" from this site. Much obliged.



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    You and your commenters are a feast of thinking — great stuff.

    -C.L. Dyck
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I have no need to engage with racists, so will ignore cl’s further diatribes.

    -faithlessgod,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl resists following through on a thought even to provide a solid opposing position, and thus stifles many conversations. It’s a shame since it seems like cl has some brain power that could be applied to the topics at hand.

    -Hermes,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [faithlessgod and Hermes] fit my definition of trolling. I didn’t take any of those attacks against you seriously, and quickly categorized them as trolls.

    -JS Allen,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl] is, as many have noticed, a master of this warfare. I’ve been following him for quite some time and he’s one of the most effective Christian trolls out there. No one can completely destroy a conversation as effectively as he does, and with such masterful grace and subtly that he rarely gets banned. This isn’t a blunt-force “U R Hitler!” troll, this is the Yoda of trolling.

    -Eneasz,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    This seems to imply that cl is, at least in part, disingenuous in terms of how he responds/what he claims. Is this most likely true, supported by evidence, or merely a subjective claim?

    -al friedlander,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...I wanted to get a message to you outside of the context of specific discussions on CSA. You make good, insightful contributions to that site, and since I often agree with you I'm glad there is someone else there defending my positions better than I sometimes can. However I don't think anything of value would be lost if you stopped engaging in personal combat with juvenile snipers.

    -Zeb,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Thank you for your wonderful response - so reasoned in the race of [Waldvogel's] blustering.

    -Annie Laurie Gaylor
     Freedom From Religion Foundation
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Thanks for a great Op-Ed.

    -Marianne Ratcliff
     VC Star
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...as atheists we need to make sure that someone like cl and any Christian readers of [An Apostate's Chapel] don’t come away with the perception that the atheists caved in or were incapable of responding. I’m sure that a lot of Christians who find cl incomprehensible at times and don’t even bother reading him themselves will come away with an assumption that cl is that sort of rare intellectual theist who can prove that gods exist. And that’s how those inane rumors about the feared xian intellectuals start…

    -bbk
     An Apostate's Chapel
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are in so over your head here, you are embarrassing yourself...
    I am well versed in many aspects of evolution biology, through my academic background, and my professional life. Unless your academic degrees and background match mine, cease and desist. Return to philosophy and rhetoric, or whatever it is you perceive your strengths to be. They are definitely not science, even at the high school level.

    -R.C. Moore
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You're doing a fine job.

    -Prof. Larry Moran
     Dept. of Biochemistry
     University of Toronto
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Phyletic change and vicariance (or, drift and selection versus population isolation), as cl points out, are much better ways of describing what are unfortunately more commonly known as micro- and macro- evolution, respectively.

    -Dan
     Biology postdoc
     Univ. of Cyprus
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl says, “The minute you call yourself a Christian or an Atheist or whatever the heck else, you automatically get painted by other people’s interpretations of those words, which are almost always different and almost always distorted.” cl’s point couldn’t be more on. As cl points out there is an important reason for not claiming any real religious (or lack thereof) belief. It puts logical constraints on one's arguments due directly to the bias of the individual that is translating the English to mind ideas of what it means to be religious.

    -Bobaloo
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Just who in the bloody hell do you think you are, you Christian piece of garbage, to come here barking out orders? You're an arrogant, condescending piece of shit. You seem to think you're an intellectual of sorts, when all you are is a Christian who's read a few books. John, everyone, this really is the limit. BR, I'm more than a little annoyed that you continue to engage him. I'm out of here. I have better things to do than to waste my time with these cretins.

    -Cipher
     Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    How old are you CL? I'd guess you have not yet experienced much life. I'd say you were under the age of 21, too young to be here. I don't give a damn what you think of me or my deconversion at all. You're too stupid to realize that regardless of it you must deal with the arguments in the book. They are leading people away from you [sic] faith. I'm seriously considering banning you cl, as I've heard you were banned on other sites. You are much too ignorant for us to have a reasonable discussion.

    -John Loftus
     Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I admired the way you handled yourself in the discussion on John's blog. I'm not patient enough to keep my sarcasm in check with some of them blokes, but appreciate those who are.

    -David Marshall
     re: Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl, I have to say, while I fundamentally disagree with you, you are an individual which I highly respect. I think your responses are always well thought out and your insights always well thought out and pertinently derived.
    [Y]ou have made me a stronger atheist in my regards to critical thinking and debating. I really can’t wait to hear more from you. Hell, I’d even buy you a drink, good sir. Cheers!

    -Parker
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Bottom line? Sometimes I think he's right about certain arguments, and I don't have a problem admitting that. Other times, however, I think he's wrong, and I've called him on that. But I have found he can be pretty reasonable if you (1) don't overstate your case, (2) make concessions when you have, and (3) insist he do the same.

    -Lifeguard
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I like it when [cl] makes me stop, think and question if I am making unfounded assertions or if I am being sloppy. What has been annoying me about cl of late is that he is being excruciatingly anal...

    -seantheblogonaut
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I really can't thank you enough for catching me on my error in rhetoric. I always love a good debate! And I always enjoy your posts, as well! Keep up the great writing and the excellent eye for detail!

    -BZ
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You make me smarter...

    -Mike G.
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ..thank you, cl. I discovered your blog on a random web search and saw it as an oasis amidst a vast desert of seemingly intractable theist-atheist debate.

    -Sung Jun
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    It's good to be able to discuss with people who are open and respectful, and know that disagreement does not mean disrespect... You are to be congratulated, not only for your patience, but also your ability to hold an ever-growing debate together with an impressive degree of structure.

    -Ritchie
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    My tone is derogatory... [cl is] ignorant and credulous and deserves to be mocked... In the time he's been here, he's shown a consistent pattern of antagonizing everyone he comes in contact with, monopolizing threads, derailing discussions with perpetual complaints, quibbles and demands for attention, and generally making arguments that display a lack of good faith and responsiveness... it's become intolerable. I'm not banning him, but I'm putting in place some restrictions on how often he can comment.

    -Ebonmuse
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    This is no defense of the annoying cl, but what a self-righteous, prissy atheist you turned out to be, Ebonmuse. I'm disappointed in you, stealing a strategem from the theists.

    -The Exterminator
     to Ebonmuse
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I certainly didn't get any bad impression about cl, and I can't relate his comments with any of the things (Ebonmuse) said above. I actually thought it was quite interesting to have him around.

    -Juan Felipe
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Please continue to allow
    cl to post his views and make it clear that he is still welcome. And let me be clear, cl is not a lunatic.

    -Curtis
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    With one exception, you are the most coherent and intelligent theist I've seen on this site...

    -Steve Bowen
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I'm rooting for cl. I hope he perpetually manages to skirt the rules enough to do his damage, forcing rule revision after rule revision, ad nauseum. Awesome! Let's watch as Ebon, ever more frustrated, continues to struggle to figure out how to keep his precious private blog neat and tidy as cl keeps messing up his papers while one by one, readers leave due to an every increasing administrative presence. Outstanding! Well I won't go. The thought of this sounds like the most entertaining thing that probably would have ever happened on Daylight Atheism. Hot damn!

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Your visit has been something of a reality check to me. It seems that when you present rational arguments and criticisms, many commenters feel territory slipping and then work up vaporous or leaky responses. I also want to remark that your presence here has considerably moved me to try being a more careful and understanding debater...

    -Brad
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I do have a lot of respect for you too. You seem to be a very intelligent and thoughtful individual with a knack for getting to the bottom of a problem, cutting through all the bullshit rhetoric on the way down. The fact that many other atheists seem to unreasonably despise you bothers me a lot, because I think that maybe they aren’t acting in good faith.

    -Peter Hurford
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I am not going to waste any more time parsing your comments to decide if they've crossed the line or not... So I banned you.

    -Greta Christina
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Be rude... cl invites rudeness. Would you want an incontinent little puppy coming into your house?

    -(((Billy))) the Atheist
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Note to all my regular readers: Since An Apostate’s Chapel is a free-speech zone, I don’t censor conversations.
    As it appears that cl is a troll, please note that I will not be responding to him any longer. I ask that you refrain from doing so, as well. Please don’t feed the troll!

    -The Chaplain
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    …I can’t reconcile being a "freethinker" with banning speech. [cl's] comments are not offensive in the normal understanding of that term, and he poses absolutely no threat except perhaps to some imagined decorum. Why can’t atheists lighten up, for no-Christ’s sake?

    -The Exterminator
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Is it going to distract from my meal when crazy uncle cl starts blathering out nonsense, pick his ears with a carrot or start taking his pants off? No. In fact, it might actually heighten the experience in some amusing way. So no, I don't see cl's work as damage.

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I am beginning to suspect that you are a troll cl. Albeit an evolved troll, but a troll nonetheless. Perhaps we should all stop feeding the troll?

    -GaySolomon
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl is] is either a sophist or an incompetent when it comes to the english language... (sic)

    -ThatOtherGuy
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I’d say cl is pretty sharp... it may be tempting at times to think that “the other guy” is arguing out of some personal character flaw rather than a sincere desire to acknowledge the truth, I still think it’s better to debate respectfully... It is disrespectful to make unsupported accusations against people, e.g. by suggesting that their views are caused by an intrinsically corrupt and immoral nature.

    -Deacon Duncan, 3-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl] cannot refute my facts, so he needs must find (sic) some scapegoat in order to claim that he has confronted the enemy and proven them wrong... cl, sadly, has proven himself to be the sort of guest who comes into your living room and sneaks behind your couch to take a crap on the floor, just so he can tell all your neighbors how bad your house smells and what an unsanitary housekeeper you are... an interesting case study in the negative effects a Christian worldview has on a reasonably intellectual mind.

    -Deacon Duncan, 6-17-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I strongly discourage discussion of the character, abilities, motives, or personal ancestry of individual commenters, as tempting as such comments may be at times. I discourage the posting of comments that make frequent use of the pronoun “you,” as in “you always…” or “you never…” or “you are just so…”, when directed at a specific individual.

    -Deacon Duncan, 4-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I won’t be publishing your most recent comment because it’s a return to the same sort of schtick you’ve pulled here before: re-writing other people’s arguments to make yourself look misunderstood and/or unfairly accused, taking “polyvalent” positions so that when people address your points you can claim to have said something else, distorting other people’s arguments, trolling for negative reactions, and so on.

    -Deacon Duncan, 10-8-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [E]gomaniacal troll.
    You win... You’re a disingenuous sophist through and through, cl. And a friggin’ narcissist to boot! Since I’ve thoroughly and purposefully broken the Deacon’s rules of engagement, I shall consider my right to post henceforth annulled, and move on - dramatic pause, lights out.

    -jim
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    He either thinks in a very weird way or he's quite the con artist.

    -mikespeir
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I will gladly admit that I have a boner for cl. Maybe some day I’ll even earn a place of honor on cl’s Blog of Infamy.

    -Eneasz
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Long time reader first time poster... I like reading what you
    have to say over at Daylight Atheism so I figured I'd pop in here.

    -Pine
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    He's just a jerk
    that likes to argue.

    -KShep
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You’re not a reasonable thinker in my book. You’re simply an arguer, for better or worse. I’m Michael Palin, you’re John Cleese. You’re just a disputation-ist, bringing everything into question...

    -jim
     Reason vs. Apologetics
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Motherfucker, this is an interesting blog... Quite the group of commenters.

    -John Evo
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are very articulate, and I can only assume that it's a result of high intelligence; an intelligence that's interested in, and can understand, healthy debate. However, at every turn, that's not what I or others seem to get.

    -ex machina
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are a troll, a liar, and a useless sack of shit. Not only that, but you're still wrong even after moving the goal posts and trying to re-write history. So, you can stop cyber stalking me now and trying to provoke me. I know what you are doing, and you are doing it so that you can whine about how I'm being irrational and mean to you and stroke your pathetic martyr complex. You're a pathetic attention whore and I've already given you too much attention. So, back the fuck off, stop following me around the intarwebs and trying to provoke me, and fuck off.

    -OMGF
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I would just like to say that, OMGF, having read the debate as a neutral observer, some of the things cl says about your style of argument are true, IMO. It is quite hasty, which means you occasionally haven't got the central point cl is trying to make...

    -John D.
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...this is a difficult question that deserves more than a kneejerk reaction, not to imply that you're kneejerking. You're the least kneejerking person I've met.

    -Quixote
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    If you’re here playing devil’s advocate, then, hey, you do a great job at it, it’s a service, keep us sharp... You’re a smart guy, but those are exactly the ones who give the worst headaches!

    -Lifeguard
     An Apostate's Chapel
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are a waste of time, cl. A big fat black hole of bullshit sucking in everyone who comes into contact with you.

    -Spanish Inquisitor
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    As for all that harsh invective that's come your way, umm... I gotta say, I've seen some of the invective, but I haven't seen the behavior on your part that called for it. Maybe I've just not seen enough? I don't know... from what I've read, I can tell that you're a smart person, and whether you deserved any of that treatment or not is quite frankly immaterial to me; I just want to deal with the smart person at the eye of that storm.

    -D
     She Who Chatters
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I now think that you’re an atheist, just having fun at other atheists’ expense. If that’s the case, kudos.

    -The Exterminator
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    

The Problem Of Evil: Where I’m At Today

While I’ll still gladly engage anybody on the issue, these days, I’m leaning towards the conclusion that the atheist’s problem of evil arguments are fatally flawed. In the end, all variants I’ve encountered reduce to incredulity: reasoning from premises derived at via conceptual analysis and intuition, the atheist disbelieves that a morally sufficient reason can exist: “There’s no way a good God would allow this much evil in the world.” That’s it. I’ve not seen a single POE argument that doesn’t reduce thus, and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether disbelief is sufficient to warrant skepticism in this regard. I say no. I mean, people said the same thing about QM and all sorts of other stuff: “There’s no way light can act as both particle and wave!” “There’s no way an airplane can fly!” “There’s no way man will walk on the moon!” Etc. This is why I like what they attribute to Archimedes: with a long enough lever, one could move the Earth.

Is anybody aware of a POE argument that doesn’t reduce thus?

21 Responses

  1. hi cl,

    Glad to see you blogging again. I agree that the POE fails to explain why Christianity is incoherent, but do you think that it works as a probabilistic argument that reduces the likelihood of the existence of the Christian God?

    I’m a Christian because I think that, on the whole, Christianity is more likely true than it is false. I’m willing to admit when there is evidence against Christianity (that is, facts or reasons that shift the probability of Christianity’s truth to the negative). While POE doesn’t crush Christianity, when phrased as a probabilistic argument and using “suffering” (or some equivalent) instead of evil it shows that non-Christianity is a better explanation for that fact. Again, it doesn’t disprove Christianity, it just requires the evidence for Christianity to be greater in other areas (which I think it is).

  2. 1. A good person wants to prevent and eliminate evil. (premise)
    2. If a person can, a person does what he wants. (premise)
    3. God is a good person who can do anything. (premise)
    4. God wants to prevent and eliminate evil. (from 1 and 3)
    5. God prevents and eliminates evil. (from 2, 3 and 4)

    6. If something has been prevented and eliminated, it is not observed. (premise)
    7. Evil is observed. (premise)
    8. It is not the case that evil has been prevented and eliminated (from 6 and 7)

    9. If a person has existed, that person has done what he does. (premise)
    10. If God has existed, God has prevented and eliminated evil. (from 5 and 9)
    11. It is not the case that God has existed. (from 8 and 10)

    I agree that the incredulity argument is what we most commonly see in blogs and comments boxes, but I don’t see it in the above formulation of the POE.

  3. I know our previous conversation on the Problem of Evil was left unresolved, but I think calling the Problem of Evil an “argument from ignorance” is, in my opinion, the most convincing way of resolving the issue.

    However, I don’t think it is an argument from ignorance as it is an authentic contradiction. I agree with Zeb, and I mentioned this in our conversation that is still unresolved:

    1: calling an entity “good” entails specific predictions about that entity’s actions.

    2: When it comes to God, knowing his powers, those specific predictions do not come true.

    3: Since those predictions do not come true, at best calling God good is meaningless, since we don’t really know that God is good, but at worst it provides negative evidence that makes the nonexistence of a good God far more likely. (There still could be an evil God or trickster God, though.)

    So instead of this argument being along the lines of “There’s no way light can act as both a particle and a wave!”, it is more along the lines of “There’s no way it makes sense for something to simultaneously be A and not-A!”

    Additionally, while saying “There’s no way an airplane can fly!” is not proof that an airplane can’t fly (because the argument from ignorance is indeed a fallacy), that doesn’t mean that an airplane *can* fly either. Is “There’s no way a zebra can fly!” an argument from ignorance?

    So when it comes to God’s goodness, I don’t think we can just sit here and say “God is good and I challenge you to prove otherwise!”. I think, in addition to solving the Problem of Evil, we actually need evidence of God’s goodness, or else calling god “good” is a meaningless statement that doesn’t entail anything, and therefore is just smuggling in connotations about God that are false.

  4. (Ignore this second comment; I’m only posting it so I can check “notify me of follow-up comments”, which I forgot to do for my previous comment.)

  5. I don’t think a well-formulated problem of evil argument is an argument from incredulity. I agree with Matt that the (evidential) problem of evil, if successful (which is debatable but beside the point for this comment), is more like a probabilistic argument than a definitive disproof. It is one argument among many arguments for and against a good God’s existence. We must consider all the arguments before deciding whether the existence of a good God is more probable than not.

    I think the problem of evil might parallel, in a relevant sense, arguments against the belief that the mind is the brain in the philosophy of mind that depend on consciousness, intentionality, and qualia. I’m guessing that you, cl, agree that these arguments have some merit (even if they are not definitive proofs). If so, can you explain why they are not arguments from incredulity?

    It seems that in both cases the proponents of the arguments in question are trying to demonstrate a logical or physical incompatibility/tension between two ideas (good vs. evil, intentional vs. non-intentional). This appears much different than the skeptic who simply says he can’t accept, say, some paranormal account he is offered.

  6. Matt,

    I agree that the POE fails to explain why Christianity is incoherent, but do you think that it works as a probabilistic argument that reduces the likelihood of the existence of the Christian God?

    That would depend on the argument, but probably not [no pun intended]. I don’t see how we could come up with reliable probability estimates for such things. I think in these types of discussions, “more likely” always or almost always reduces to “I prefer,” or “it seems intuitively true to me that.” But I’m open to any protocol that could generate reliable probability statements in the POE.

    While POE doesn’t crush Christianity, when phrased as a probabilistic argument and using “suffering” (or some equivalent) instead of evil it shows that non-Christianity is a better explanation for that fact.

    You think? I really don’t think it does. I suffering is consistent with the hypothesis of sin, evil, judgment, etc., and all of these are Biblical concepts [and variants of them exist in many other religions]. The most I’d grant the materialist or atheist is that the existence of suffering alongside joy is consistent with an impartial, non-sentient universe. However, I don’t think the latter is a better explanation that the former.

    Zeb,

    I agree that the incredulity argument is what we most commonly see in blogs and comments boxes…

    Nice. I like a little confirmation every now and again. I’m still deciding how I want to approach your argument. There seems to be some latent incredulity in #4. Specifically, 4) seems rooted to the intuition that the existence of any evil is inconsistent with an all-powerful God that did not desire evil…

    Peter and Jayman,

    I’ll have to get to you guys later.

  7. Peter,

    …I think calling the Problem of Evil an “argument from ignorance” is, in my opinion, the most convincing way of resolving the issue.

    I tend to agree that it often takes that form, too, but not necessarily all the time. It can also take both forms at the same time, i.e. incredulity and ignorance, depending on the premises we’re working with.

    calling an entity “good” entails specific predictions about that entity’s actions.

    Certainly. The problem is that the specificity of the predictions is inexorably dependent on the intelligence of the one making the predictions. The best we can do is approximate under the heavy burden of our own biases. This is where we’re right back to intuition again: “A good God would never allow any evil for any reason” seems to be the latent assumption here [though I recall that you seem to trim the argument to alleged “needless evil” which is a different situation], but I think those assumptions can and should be challenged.

    When it comes to God, knowing his powers, those specific predictions do not come true.

    That’s just a generalization, though, as there are no specific predictions yet offered in this thread. Although, many of the predictions that I think flow naturally if the God of the Bible exists do seem to come true, and hardly any seem to come false–though quite a few are debated. For example, if God is good and also wanted humans to be good, then I would predict that God would have instilled a push towards goodness in human beings, and though their have certainly been some overwhelmingly evil individuals throughout history, the entire history of humanity (and even some of the so-called “lower” animals) is identified with concern for morality and social order. I would expect this given a God interested in our harmonious co-existence.

    Since those predictions do not come true, at best calling God good is meaningless, since we don’t really know that God is good, but at worst it provides negative evidence that makes the nonexistence of a good God far more likely. (There still could be an evil God or trickster God, though.)

    Hold on, though… you see what you did there? The string, “those predictions” doesn’t refer to anything specific. What specific predictions are you talking about, and do I agree with the latent assumptions? That’s the question, I think. I mean after all, I just alluded to an example of a prediction that seems fulfilled, so the question of which predictions have or haven’t been fulfilled seems up for grabs still.

    So instead of this argument being along the lines of “There’s no way light can act as both a particle and a wave!”, it is more along the lines of “There’s no way it makes sense for something to simultaneously be A and not-A!”

    I agree with you that any meaningful definition of contradiction entails an instance of A and ~A. I don’t agree that we have such an instance here, but I would need to see your full offering of predictions before I could make an in-depth judgment.

    Additionally, while saying “There’s no way an airplane can fly!” is not proof that an airplane can’t fly (because the argument from ignorance is indeed a fallacy), that doesn’t mean that an airplane *can* fly either.

    I agree.

    Is “There’s no way a zebra can fly!” an argument from ignorance?

    Well, on my view, an argument from ignorance occurs we accept X just because ~X hasn’t been demonstrated as true (or vice-versa). In the case of “There’s no way a zebra can fly!” we don’t technically have an argument, but at the same time, the proposition doesn’t rest solely on the failure to demonstrate that zebras can fly. It rests on a solid foundation of observed regularity and human experience with the biological kingdom.

    So when it comes to God’s goodness, I don’t think we can just sit here and say “God is good and I challenge you to prove otherwise!”.

    I don’t. I only respond to atheists who say, “per evil God doesn’t exist and I challenge you to demonstrate otherwise.”

    I think, in addition to solving the Problem of Evil, we actually need evidence of God’s goodness, or else calling god “good” is a meaningless statement that doesn’t entail anything, and therefore is just smuggling in connotations about God that are false.

    Well, I gave an example of a prediction that seems to bear out, and I don’t see that it smuggles in any unreasonable connotations. So again, I think we have various evidences of God’s goodness, which entails that “God is good” is a meaningful claim for me, one that generates some rather specific predictions. The problem is, as humans, we can’t possibly know all the predictions that “God is good” necessarily entails, so either one of us could be missing something at any given point.

  8. Cl, you make some pretty good points and we look like we’re shaping up for a lively discussion:

    The problem is that the specificity of the predictions is inexorably dependent on the intelligence of the one making the predictions. The best we can do is approximate under the heavy burden of our own biases. This is where we’re right back to intuition again: “A good God would never allow any evil for any reason” seems to be the latent assumption here [though I recall that you seem to trim the argument to alleged “needless evil” which is a different situation], but I think those assumptions can and should be challenged.

    Peter: When it comes to God, knowing his powers, those specific predictions do not come true.

    cl: That’s just a generalization, though, as there are no specific predictions yet offered in this thread.

    1: I call suffering that does not exist in order to serve a higher good is “needless suffering” (on my view, evil and suffering are interchangeable).

    2: Saying “X is perfectly good” is true if and only if “X will reduce all needless suffering within X’s immediate power to do so”.

    3: It is within God’s power to eliminate all needless suffering.

    4: Therefore from 1-3, God can only be perfectly good if needless suffering does not exist.

    5: Birth defects, loa loa, the guinea worm, smallpox, the Spanish Flu, cancer, and animal predation are some examples of needless suffering that we observe.

    6: Therefore from 4 and 5, God cannot be perfectly good.

    You can see here that 4 is the prediction that logically follows from being all-powerful and all-good, and if 5 is true, this prediction does not obtain.

    Although, many of the predictions that I think flow naturally if the God of the Bible exists do seem to come true, and hardly any seem to come false–though quite a few are debated. For example, if God is good and also wanted humans to be good, then I would predict that God would have instilled a push towards goodness in human beings, and though their have certainly been some overwhelmingly evil individuals throughout history, the entire history of humanity (and even some of the so-called “lower” animals) is identified with concern for morality and social order. I would expect this given a God interested in our harmonious co-existence.

    I’ll buy that in general, sure. I agree that humans definitely demonstrate social order and compassion to great and increasing degrees. I think it’s enough to prove that if God exists, he is not perfectly evil either. (I mean I also think that this social order has natural explanations, but that’s not very relevant here.)

    me: So when it comes to God’s goodness, I don’t think we can just sit here and say “God is good and I challenge you to prove otherwise!”.

    cl: I don’t. I only respond to atheists who say, “per evil God doesn’t exist and I challenge you to demonstrate otherwise.”

    Fair enough. I’ll abandon that claim, then.

    me: I think, in addition to solving the Problem of Evil, we actually need evidence of God’s goodness, or else calling god “good” is a meaningless statement that doesn’t entail anything, and therefore is just smuggling in connotations about God that are false.

    cl: Well, I gave an example of a prediction that seems to bear out, and I don’t see that it smuggles in any unreasonable connotations. So again, I think we have various evidences of God’s goodness, which entails that “God is good” is a meaningful claim for me, one that generates some rather specific predictions.

    I’ll abandon this claim that “God is good” is meaningless unless you decide to make your case based on a “God allows birth defects for reasons beyond our comprehension”, which I don’t anticipate you will do. Sorry for mischaracterizing you.

  9. cl

    It would seem like an omnipotent and loving God would create a universe without suffering. Especially without naturally caused suffering. Just because Christian theology accounts for suffering with sin does not mean that it diminishes the evidence because Christianity still says that a loving God created a universe where creatures have the potential to suffer. Philosophers like Plantinga and Van Inwagen have done a good job showing that this is not an explicit contradiction and providing examples of possible worlds where a loving God and evil exist, but the simplest explanation is that everything is that the universe is random and undesigned (some people suffer, others prosper and most fall somewhere in between just like you would expect on randomness). This is why suffering is evidence for atheism or at least evidence against traditional Christianity. Though it is not sufficient evidence to warrant atheism on its own. I don’t think you can provide specific numbers to get an exact probability. I guess it’s just an isolated argument for the best explanation which must be taken into account among other lines of evidence somehow. The point is, if it is the better explanation it moves the likelihood (I won’t say probability anymore) away from Christianity.

  10. Matt,

    It would seem like an omnipotent and loving God would create a universe without suffering. Especially without naturally caused suffering.

    The Bible seems to state that God created such a universe.

    Just because Christian theology accounts for suffering with sin does not mean that it diminishes the evidence because Christianity still says that a loving God created a universe where creatures have the potential to suffer.

    Well, the extent to which the evidence is diminished is in the eye of the beholder. You seem fairly persuaded by it; myself, not as much so. In fact, to me, the existence of evil and suffering is also evidence for the God of the Bible. If we lived in a world that contained sin, but not suffering, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the Bible.

    Philosophers like Plantinga and Van Inwagen have done a good job showing that this is not an explicit contradiction and providing examples of possible worlds where a loving God and evil exist…

    I agree.

    …but the simplest explanation is that everything is that the universe is random and undesigned (some people suffer, others prosper and most fall somewhere in between just like you would expect on randomness). This is why suffering is evidence for atheism or at least evidence against traditional Christianity.

    I’ve already agreed that the seemingly random distribution of suffering is consistent with a non-sentient universe. The problem is, it’s also consistent with a God who allows free beings to make free choices. So, how do we say which hypothesis is more supported by the evidence? That’s the conundrum.

    Though it is not sufficient evidence to warrant atheism on its own. I don’t think you can provide specific numbers to get an exact probability.

    I wholeheartedly agree, and that’s why I’m strongly opposed to claims of the variant, “per the existence of evil / suffering, atheism is more likely than theism.” It seems to me that all such statements reduce to, “It seems intuitively true to me that.”

    The point is, if it is the better explanation it moves the likelihood (I won’t say probability anymore) away from Christianity.

    I suspect you might think I’m trying to be a pain in the ass, but “likelihood” strikes me as entirely meaningless there. Now, if you were to ask, “What’s the likelihood of rolling all threes with five six-sided dice,” then we can have a conversation. But if you want me to respond favorably to “likelihood” in POE discussions, I’ll need similar math. I hope you don’t see that as being dismissive. It’s not. I’m just trying to establish some ground rules for rigor here.

  11. cl,

    I used likelihood because probability seems to imply that I have numbers to throw at you, which in this case I do not. It’s sort of like when you are trying to decide what kind of car to buy. You can put up numbers for things like price and gas mileage but then you might also wonder which car will impress your girlfriend mores. You don’t get numbers for stuff like that but you can still discuss it, even if it can feel subjective sometimes. “She likes red, and the car is red. But she’s an environmentalist and the car doesn’t get good mileage.” You don’t get an exact probability but each of these things is a sort of evidence of whether your girlfriend will be impressed by your car or not.

    Being a Christian I feel weird harping on POE like this because I think its potency is often overrated. Many of the atheists I know consider this a slam dunk argument against Christianity and many of my Christian friends consider this the greatest challenge to Christianity. I’m not convinced it’s that strong, though as you know I think it is at least a notch is the direction away.

  12. Matt,

    …I feel weird harping on POE like this because I think its potency is often overrated.

    I agree. It’s like using Newtonian mechanics to “disprove” QM.

    Zeb,

    In the OP, I wrote:

    In the end, all variants I’ve encountered reduce to incredulity: reasoning from premises derived at via conceptual analysis and intuition, the atheist disbelieves that a morally sufficient reason can exist:

    I think this applies to your argument. Specifically, 1-10 are not sufficient to force 11. In reality, your conclusion needs to be restated thus:

    11A. It is either not the case that God has existed (from 8 and 10);

    11B. God has existed and has a morally sufficient reason for allowing the evils we see.

  13. Do you agree that (8) and (10) are justified? If so, how is this argument invalid?

    (8). It is not the case that evil has been prevented and eliminated (from 6 and 7)
    (10). If God has existed, God has prevented and eliminated evil. (from 5 and 9)
    (11). It is not the case that God has existed. (from 8 and 10)

    To put it in symbolic logic (confusing to read, but helpful to test for formal validity):
    Let A = Evil has been prevented and eliminated
    Let B = God has existed

    So the argument is
    (8) ~A
    (10) B => A
    (11) ~B
    And that’s clearly valid. You must disagree with (10), which means you must find either one of the premises preceding (10) to be false, or one of the arguments preceding (10) to be invalid. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that you believe premise (3) “God is a good person who can do anything.” is false. The free will defense relies on the premise that God cannot do anything that is logically impossible. The FWD holds that the elimination and prevention of evil is logically impossible, because refraining from creating free will would be an evil (an opposition to the highest good), and creating free will would fail to prevent evil. God must either do evil (refrain from creating free will) or refrain from preventing evil (by creating free will). That way of putting might even give the FWD a way of avoiding having to argue that free will is a greater good than preventing all the unnecessary suffering in the world. God starts with having to choose evil or the mere possibility of evil, and so is morally obligated to choose possibility over certainty.

  14. It’s not that. I disagree on a larger level. Yeah, the argument as you’ve written it is formally valid. That’s not the issue. Validity != soundness, neither does validity entail the absence of any assumed premises that might be up for debate. The more I digest it, the more your formulation seems to suffer from hidden assumptions. Your 4 really reads, “God wants to prevent and eliminate evil — such that none should be observed right now.” Your 7 really reads, “Evil is observed — right now,” and of course while I agree, that evil is observed right now doesn’t carry enough weight to force 11. In short, there are at least two assumed premises that I think are up for debate.

    At an even more fundamental level, consider 4: God wants to prevent and eliminate evil. Why prevent and eliminate? If God wants to prevent evil (from 1-3), and God can do anything (from 3), then evil could never be eliminated, since it would always have been prevented. So I think you need to eliminate the “eliminate” part of the argument, and re-run it with, “A good person wants to prevent evil” as 1. Or if not, then maybe you can explain why it’s worth keeping.

    The FWD holds that the elimination and prevention of evil is logically impossible, because refraining from creating free will would be an evil (an opposition to the highest good), and creating free will would fail to prevent evil. God must either do evil (refrain from creating free will) or refrain from preventing evil (by creating free will). That way of putting might even give the FWD a way of avoiding having to argue that free will is a greater good than preventing all the unnecessary suffering in the world. God starts with having to choose evil or the mere possibility of evil, and so is morally obligated to choose possibility over certainty.

    Personally, I like what you said earlier about a “multi-faceted” approach. For me, the various “theodicies” combine nicely. Instead of either FWD or soul-making, we come up with a robust counterargument that includes the strengths of each [and others]. For example, I’m surprised people don’t talk more about compensation. To even mount a POE, the atheist has to assume that God can’t or won’t fairly retribute for both evil and good. But if God does fairly retribute, the POE dissipates. in fact, the final state of affairs could even contain more or perhaps more genuine good. Here’s a question, surely up for grabs: is it better that evil existed temporarily and was then banished forever? Or, is it better that evil was never allowed to exist?

  15. Here’s a question, surely up for grabs: is it better that evil existed temporarily and was then banished forever? Or, is it better that evil was never allowed to exist?

    cl, would you mind clarifying what you mean by evil?

  16. Well you can take away “eliminate” if you want. And you can add “right now” to 7. “such that none is observed right now” is not assumed in 4, but stated in other words in 6. So if you agree that the argument is valid, but assert that it is not sound, then which premise do you assert is false?

  17. Zeb,

    Well, taking away “eliminate” really splits this into two separate arguments, but that’s beside the point. As I tried to explain earlier, I disagree with the unspoken premises that are being smuggled in. For example, that God’s desire for good requires God to force humans to do only good acts. Yes, I believe God wants to prevent and/or eliminate evil, but not at the expense of creating free beings.

    Hope that helps.

  18. Peter Hurford,

    cl, would you mind clarifying what you mean by evil?

    If only it were that easy. I can give you specific acts that I think would qualify as “evil,” but of course, I’m just shooting from my own intuition. Even so, I offer the following: rape, unjustified killing, racism, greed, gluttony… I could go on but I’m not sure why you’re asking.

  19. cl,

    I’m asking because I don’t think you can meaningfully say god isn’t evil if you don’t actually have a definition of what “evil” entails. I was also wondering if you agreed with me regarding the “needless suffering” definition.

    What do you think of this Problem of Evil:

    P1: Needless suffering (aka “unnecessary suffering”, “gratuitous suffering”, “evil”) is, by definition, suffering that doesn’t exist because of a higher good.

    P2: If an instance of suffering that is necessary (because of a higher good) were prevented, then that higher good would also be prevented.

    C3: Therefore from P1 and P2, preventing necessary suffering makes us worse off.

    P4: There are some currently existing instances of suffering that can be prevented without making us worse off.

    C5: Therefore from P1, C3, and P4, needless suffering exists.

    P6: A perfectly good entity is an entity that will prevent as much needless suffering as is possible for that entity.

    P7: A perfectly powerful entity is an entity that can do anything that is logically possible without being hindered.

    P8: Eliminating all needless suffering is logically possible.

    C9: Therefore from P7 and P8, a perfectly powerful entity can eliminate all needless suffering without being hindered.

    P10: A perfectly knowledgable entity is an entity that knows everything that is logically possible to know.

    P11: Knowledge of needless suffering is logically possible.

    C12: Therefore from P10 and P11, a perfectly knowledgeable entity would know of all needless suffering.

    C13: Therefore from P6, C9, and C12, if an entity exists that is perfectly good, perfectly powerful, and perfectly knowledgable, needless suffering would not exist.

    C14: Therefore from C5 and C13, no entity exists that is perfectly good, perfectly powerful, and perfectly knowledgable.

  20. Peter,

    “I’m asking because I don’t think you can meaningfully say god isn’t evil if you don’t actually have a definition of what “evil” entails.”

    I disagree, but I did offer you some perfunctory parameters, don’t you think? You see, I don’t quite know how to put “evil” into words. I’m tempted to offer some pedestrian one-off like “that which causes pain,” but that quickly falls apart. I can give further examples of acts I think are evil, and perhaps you’ll be able to parse some lowest common denominator out of them. In fact I’ve been thinking about doing a post on this…

    I’ll take a deeper look later, but the argument seems just like all the rest: based on unfalsifiable premises, along with the very incredulity I allude to in the OP. “I can’t imagine how X can possibly lead to a higher good, therefore X is needless.” Maybe birth defects lead to higher good. Maybe they don’t. We have no way to tell, nothing empirical to work with, and I think it’s quite dangerous to let emotions dictate logic.

  21. cl,

    I disagree, but I did offer you some perfunctory parameters, don’t you think? […] I can give further examples of acts I think are evil, and perhaps you’ll be able to parse some lowest common denominator out of them.

    Maybe that approach would work, but I think I have a better question that is more likely to get an insightful answer: by saying God is good, what does that mean God will and will not do?

    It’s one thing to say that God won’t rape people or act in a racist manner, but that seems kind of trivial. What of other cases, like Leviticus 20:13 — is that command an endorsement of bigoted, unjustified murder?

    In fact I’ve been thinking about doing a post on this…

    Please do; I think it would be very productive.

    I’ll take a deeper look later, but the argument seems just like all the rest: based on unfalsifiable premises, along with the very incredulity I allude to in the OP. “I can’t imagine how X can possibly lead to a higher good, therefore X is needless.”

    This is why I did what no other formulation of the Problem of Evil I know of does — P1, P2, C3, P4, and C5 deductively prove the existence of needless suffering.

    I think the key problem here is P4: is there any suffering that can be eliminated without making us worse off? This is where I think we have to make a case on inferences and probabilistic arguments, which is as good as the Problem of Evil ever will get, but I think it’s leaps and bounds better than any argument before.

    For instance, polio was eliminated with no noticeable negative effects, and therefore was highly likely to be an instance of needless suffering. Other diseases we are fighting seem to be highly likely to be just like polio, capable of being eliminated without negative effects.

    I’ll elaborate on this in a blog post or two and incorporate your feedback…

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