philosophy, Theodicy

What Evil? (The Problem of Evil on Empiricism)

The problem of evil is often seen to be the greatest philosophical challenge to theistic belief. The problem of evil is also most frequently raised by people who are ardent empiricists (which undergirds their atheism).  There are many versions of empiricism, but the one we will investigate at the moment is naturalistic, atheistic empiricism, which holds both that there is nothing but the natural world in the sense of the world which can be directly accessed via the senses and only sensory, empirical evidence is sufficient evidence for holding a proposition to be true.

On this view, it seems extremely difficult to figure out what exactly evil is. Sam Harris is well known for trying to show that science is capable of dealing with moral issues (discussed here). The method basically involves finding out what makes people happy (which is “good”) and what makes them unhappy (which makes it “bad”) (see here). It remains totally unclear to me, however, how Harris makes the jump from “happy” to “objective good.” Measuring people’s happiness doesn’t mean measuring goodness. There are serial killers who are very happy to go about secretly killing as many people as possible. That doesn’t make their action “good”, unless you boil “good” down to a purely subjective basis, on which nothing can be decried as “evil” unless 100% of people agree it is indeed evil.

Returning to the problem of evil, then, it seems like theists can simply ask the atheists a question: “What evil?” Judging something as “evil” is necessarily a valuation of an action. How does one make an experiment which can make a value judgment? Certainly, one can try to argue, as does Harris, that values are just [scientific] facts (note that the theist agrees that moral values are facts… but facts centered on the nature of God, not on empirical grounds). But simply asserting something doesn’t make it so. I often say “God exists.” People don’t tend to take this as profound evidence that the statement is true. (Though, perhaps if I said “God exists is a fact.” I might win some over… at least those who take Harris seriously when he makes a similar claim about values in the video linked above.)

So the question remains: What evil? On an atheistic empirical standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be any way to judge actions or events as “evil” other than by saying “I don’t like that.” But perhaps I do like that same event/action. Who’s to judge between us? Bringing numbers into the mix won’t help either. Imagine a scenario in which 1,000,000 people thought some action (rape) was evil. On the other side there were 10,000 who thought the same action was perfectly reasonable, because, after all, that’s how our ancestors behaved. Who is right? Well, on empiricism, perhaps one could argue that the 1,000,000 are right, but then we’re making a judgment on values simply because of a majority vote. Science doesn’t work that way. We don’t just vote on what is empirically correct.

The only way to solve this problem would be to argue that in moral questions, the majority is correct. Yet I don’t see any way to argue in this matter other than metaphysically, which is exactly what the empiricist is trying to avoid. Therefore, on empiricism, there is no such thing as evil. Just good and bad feelings. And that’s not enough.

And so we get to my main argument.

1) One cannot rationally hold both to a proposition’s truth and falsehood.

2) On atheistic empiricism, there is no evil.

3) Atheistic empiricists argue that evil disproves (or challenges) the existence of God [implicit premise: evil exists].

4) Therefore, atheistic empiricists hold that both evil does not exist, and that it does exist (2, 3).

5) Therefore, atheistic empiricism is irrational (1, 4).

In order to avoid the argument, the atheistic empiricist can simply deny 3). However, this would disarm the strongest anti-theistic argument. I see no reason to feel threatened by the problem of evil when it is leveled by an empirical/naturalistic anti-theist. In fact, some have argued that:

1) If evil has meaning, then God exists.

2) Evil has meaning.

3) God exists (1, 2, modus ponens).

This argument is a kind of reverse moral argument, and I think it works, though I doubt one will find many anti-theists who will accept premise 1). As is the case with the moral argument [1) If objective morals exist, then God exists; 2) Objective morals exist; 3) therefore God exists], I believe atheists will vary between denying 1) and 2) as they find convenient.

I leave it to the naturalistic/empirical atheist to show that science can, in fact, test for objective morality, rather than just measuring feelings.

SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

114 thoughts on “What Evil? (The Problem of Evil on Empiricism)

  1. Let’s consider human suffering instead of evil. That argument is trouble for any loving, omnipotent god.

    If Yahweh exists, he is callous, indifferent, sadistic or weak. These are just the words we would use to describe any human parent who stood by while kids are crushed, burned or neglected. Such fates are commonplace for children on Earth. There is no loving rationale for them.

    It pains me to hear good, loving Christians defend any god that could stop the suffering of children, but doesn’t. No ‘long view’ of suffering erases the present terror and torture of our children. To set up a world where such things occur is sadistic no matter what the end of the story is, and no matter how limited our perceptions are.

    I recently spoke with a dear friend who assured me that God has a purpose for everything. I told her that that would mean that kids being tortured and killed is part of God’s purpose. She smiled and said it again: “God has a purpose”. She’s a mandatory reporter, so I’m confused.

    Here is my best attempt to understand this position:

    I sometimes have to hold my kid down for the nurse to draw blood. He has to trust that I have a purpose in inflicting pain on him. If he had cancer, he might even die from complications of the treatment. Believers want to say God is like a parent who sometimes has to hurt his children to help them. But parents aren’t omnipotent. We make the best choice we can.

    An omnipotent God could design a Plan that didn’t involve torturing kids. In his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Kushner gives up omnipotence for just this reason.

    But my friend insisted her God was omnipotent. She wants to say a God who can do anything still chooses to have kids get tortured and killed. He has a Purpose.

    Some of God’s purposes leave kids dead. To salvage the idea of Purpose in this case, you need an afterlife. But even then, how does that justify the suffering and loss of Earthly life they endure? Consider this:

    You are treated/tortured for three days by a doctor. When he’s done, he fixes you up good as new. Are you grateful? YES, as long as you believe there was a good reason for the treatment and the doctor was doing all he could for you. But wait, you find out later there was a painless treatment the doctor was trained to administer. He didn’t use it because he’s a sadist and likes the old methods.

    An omnipotent God has options no human has. He never has to allow torture.

    My friend can believe that her God has a purpose for kids suffering, but then she can’t say her God is loving or just. When we have the choice, it isn’t loving to torture and kill kids, no matter what your purpose. Some say that God is sovereign and has a right to torture us. In that case, he is a sadistic tyrant.

    If God allows suffering when he has a choice, then he isn’t loving. We are lab rats in his Plan.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 28, 2010, 9:49 PM
    • Don, as always thank you for a thought-provoking response to one of my posts. I was hoping you’d stop by again soon. How have you been? How were your holidays? And I hope you have a great New Year.

      Alright, to the meat.

      First, I must point out that my argument in this post was this: on empiricism, there is no such thing as evil. Therefore, the empiricist atheist cannot justifiably claim that evil (which does not actually exist) serves for evidence against God’s existence. If they do argue in such a manner, they are being incoherent, for they are claiming that evil both does not and does exist. So, while I do find your response thought-provoking and provide a response immediately below this paragraph, I do not know what relevance it has. If you are embracing empirical atheism, then you must provide some means by which we can detect evil. The theist can appeal to our creation in the image of God, and therefore point out that actions which harm the image of God are, necessarily, evil.

      Your comment focuses around evil, as it rightly should. It seems to me that your argument is this: An omnipotent God could prevent evil; there is much evil; therefore either God cannot actually prevent evil (and is not omnipotent) or chooses not to (and is not omnibenevolent). My response focuses on denying part 1); that an omnipotent God could prevent evil.

      I agree with your stance that arguing that God has a purpose for every evil seems a little far-fetched. Swinburne makes a similar argument his work, The Existence of God. I always admit by bias, and I obviously have a bias for the theistic defender, but I find it incoherent to say that God had a purpose for the holocaust. I do not deny that God used some things about the holocaust to bring about some goods (I don’t wish to get into single-case scenarios here, as that would take us far afield), nor do I deny that God foresaw the holocaust. God does use all things for his purposes; but this does not entail that God has purposes for all things. To see this distinction, imagine, for a second, me being omnipotent, and also omniscient (or perhaps nearly omnipotent, and nearly omniscient, if you want to object to the following by saying an omnipotent being could bring it about more easily) (this may be the best portrayal of myself I’ve ever done. I’ll try not to get too big of a head). Now let’s say my goal is to bring it about that the Cubs win the world series (this is a lifetime dream of mine). Now, the Cubs losing a series in the playoffs clearly goes against that goal. But I use this loss in the playoffs for my goal–I work to bring it about that the loss in the playoffs leads to cutting certain players; which frees up salary space to higher better players; and they win next year. I achieved my goal, and I used the loss for my purpose. But that doesn’t mean I intended for the loss in the playoffs the year before. I knew it would happen, but I planned around it and set up things to achieve my purpose the next year.

      Similarly, I think there’s a difference between saying God has a purpose for everything (which seems to entail that God is either bringing it about or wills that it happens) and saying that God uses everything for God’s purposes.

      Anyway, I said that my argument denies that “an omnipotent God could prevent [all] evil.” I believe this is the case. For God created people with free will. Necessarily, libertarian free will entails that nothing can overcome this freedom. Therefore, if God created humans (at least) with libertarian free will, then there is evil God cannot prevent. It is logically contradictory to say “I have freedom of the will” and “God can force me to do x.” Omnipotence doesn’t including the ability to bring about contradictory states of affairs. Therefore, there is going to be evil that God cannot prevent. So my response to the argument is that “There is evil which God cannot prevent.” This does not entail that God is not omnipotent, because, once again, omnipotence is the ability to bring about anything possible. Bringing about logical contradictions is impossible; therefore, it is not part of omnipotence.

      I agree with many of your objections (i.e. that to say God can torture because He is sovereign smacks of God being a sadist; and others which discuss God’s bringing about some evil state of affairs; etc), but deny your conclusions, because they are based on the premise that an omnipotent God can bring about a perfect world. I don’t think this is the case. In fact, it seems like your argument from suffering is basically the logical problem of evil, which Plantinga is widely acknowledged to have done away with. The problem of evil which can still perturb theists is the evidential problem of evil; but that argument too has problems (i.e. how much evil is too much? also, what basis is there for judging an action is evil without God?).

      So once again, I don’t see any reason to take your objections as serious arguments against God’s existence, because they stem from a premise which I believe is false.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 29, 2010, 10:18 AM
  2. My argument is not against the existence of any god imaginable, just that an omnipotent and loving god is ruled out by the fact of human suffering.

    I’ll grant that ‘evil’ doesn’t exist under atheism. That’s why I addressed ‘suffering’, not ‘evil’. (I know it’s off-topic.) If a kid is tortured, then suffering occurs, whether evil exists or not. Suffering is a state of conscious creatures.

    >God does use all things for his purposes; but this does not entail that God has purposes for all things.

    Even if this were true, this would be no solace to a 6 year old kid buried under the rubble for a week with a gangrenous, crushed leg in Haiti. She doesn’t care, and doesn’t have the sophistication to contemplate, whether her suffering has a purpose. If God could prevent it, yet doesn’t, he is, at least, callous. To torture kids, or allow them to be tortured, when you have other options is sadistic.

    >if God created humans (at least) with libertarian free will, then there is evil God cannot prevent.

    Granted. But this doesn’t address suffering from natural causes like neglect, birth defects, tsunmanis and earthquakes. Some Christians say natural suffering is caused by human sin. Even if this were true, it wouldn’t be just. Why should a 4 year old be drowned, his lungs filling with seawater, for the rebellion of others? Again, this isn’t an argument against the existence of God, just against the existence of a loving and/or just god.

    >they are based on the premise that an omnipotent God can bring about a perfect world.

    Even if this is true, we don’t require a perfect world for God to be loving. Insofar as God could reduce the suffering of even one kid with a brainstem tumor or spina bifida, and does not, he is not loving, or as loving as he could be.

    I read CaringBridge.com journals written by parents of such kids. Many of them fervently believe God is lovingly watching their kid expire. This is plain contradiction. Saying God is loving, yet stands by and does nothing to stop suffering, violates the definition of “loving”. Their God is a married bachelor. Even when this is pointed out, they say they still believe it. This is a violation of the Principle of non-Contradiction and means their beliefs are meaningless, since whatever they say they believe, the opposite could just as well be the case.

    The only way out I can see is for us to devalue the present, real suffering of children. Perhaps they have a memory wipe in heaven. I have kids, and I would be a terrible parent if I turned my children over the care of such a god, no matter what the eventual outcome.

    So, even if God exists, he is abhorrent or, at least, negligent. I, for one, see no reason to honor such a being. This position is easier for atheists, although there are believers who hate God, too:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misotheism

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 29, 2010, 10:48 AM
    • Why should suffering be a problem? If there is no such thing as evil, then suffering is as neutral as bliss. None of the horrific incidents you quote has any meaning if they are not ontologically wrong. Whether the child is buried under rubble or happily playing soccer with her friends doesn’t matter. Either situation is neutral, for neither is “wrong.”

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 29, 2010, 10:59 AM
  3. Elie Wiesel is dystheistic (God is not wholly good), yet not misotheistic .(hates God). I suppose he ‘respects’ God.

    We could say that God can’t prevent ‘free will suffering’ and that ‘natural suffering has a purpose. In this view, believers can be comforted that whatever happens is for the greatest good God can achieve.

    This comes close, but is still no comfort to a kid. If God has a choice in the matter, it is harsh to set things up this way. We hear stories of miracles when one kid is pulled from the rubble after a week of two. Was the net suffering in Haiti really the best God could do? He couldn’t have reduced it even a little? That’s hard to believe.

    As a parent, I work to minimize the suffering of my kids. At this point, we could say that some suffering is character-building or contributes to some ‘greater good’. Even if this is the case, it’s a stretch to say that all suffering falls in this category. One father threw his 4 living kids off a bridge to their deaths. Even if this resulted in a law that saved 100 kids from such fates, it is unjust to conscript those 4 kids in such a plan. At minimum, they should be allowed to volunteer their services. And in his power, couldn’t God devise a better way to get this done?

    This area of apologetics is striking in the way it argues for God’s limitations.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 29, 2010, 11:02 AM
    • You ask “Was the net suffering in Haiti really the best God could do? He couldn’t have reduced it even a little? That’s hard to believe.”

      I don’t see any justification for that question. We could equally ask, “Isn’t it amazing how God reduced the net suffering in Haiti to as small a quantity as it was?”

      Either of these questions ask for answers which we can’t provide. Only if I had a God’s-eye view of the event would I know how much suffering God did/did not prevent.

      However, you’ve still not answered my objection to your entire reasoning. Namely, if God does not exist, then all of your objections are incoherent. For, once more, suffering is no different from bliss. Whether children live or die, whether animals thrive or are extinguished, whether humanity lives on or perishes, all of these are equal. Your objection is founded on saying there is something “wrong” with suffering, yet you have no basis for making this claim. You’ve granted there is no evil. Therefore, suffering is a matter of little significance. It is not abhorrent, other than subjectively. I may not like suffering, but I can’t declare it evil (for there is no evil). At most I can say “I don’t like that.” But what if someone else did like suffering? Who is right? Who can say?

      Your objection is founded in a theistic interpretation of reality–in which a loving God does exist. Without this God as objective reality, the instances of suffering are meaningless.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 29, 2010, 11:08 AM
  4. >Whether the child is buried under rubble or happily playing soccer with her friends doesn’t matter.

    You can make this argument, but not remain loving yourself. Does your wife read this blog? If you have kids, you should delete this comment. You wouldn’t want DHS reading it.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 29, 2010, 11:03 AM
  5. >None of the horrific incidents you quote has any meaning if they are not ontologically wrong.

    This is plain wrong, which is rare for you. Please think like a parent, or a kid. ‘Suffering’ is independent of ‘evil’. Suffering consists of conscious states and has nothing to do with good and evil.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 29, 2010, 11:06 AM
    • Show me how I’m wrong. If there is no evil, then suffering cannot be wrong. How do you judge which kind of conscious state is “permissible” and which is not?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 29, 2010, 11:10 AM
      • Here’s the problem. I’m not saying suffering is wrong. I’m saying it exists. Whether suffering is ‘wrong’ or ‘permissible’ is another issue.

        As long as suffering exists, and God could reduce it, then he isn’t worthy of our devotion. Some call this ‘maltheism’. God exists, but he’s a jerk and plays favorites.

        It grieves me that otherwise loving, decent people, will torture logic to comfort themselves. They make excuses for a god who does things that would land him in jail on Earth.

        Posted by Donald Severs | December 29, 2010, 11:45 AM
      • What allows you to make the conclusion that “God could reduce it” is indeed factual? But, I think we have both missed another mainstay of Christian theism (and some forms of Muslim theism, as I find out as I explore it, and of course Judaic theism)–God works through people. Often, people sit around and say, “If God exists, why doesn’t he do anything to reduce the suffering?” But God doesn’t work in a coercive fashion. He works through people. Justifiably, God could ask us, “How is it that you’ve allowed situation x to come about?” Take the holocaust. There were stories leaking out about what was happening. The German communities next to the camps had people who knew what was happening (though not necessarily all the specifics). The Allies could have committed more strongly to stopping it more quickly. The U.S. could have entered the war to prevent the troubles in the world. There are any number of people who could have stood up and reduced the suffering.

        Yet people want to put all the blame on God. Could God not have prevented the holocaust entirely? Perhaps not, if there is a logical contradiction entailed (again, Hitler had freedom of the will, and it would have been a logical contradiction to allow him freedom and simultaneously take it–there seems to me to be no evidence that this is anything but a contradiction). But could humans, who God often works through according to theism, have worked to prevent the suffering? Absolutely. The choices were made. The suffering occurred.

        But then, that’s not all. Granting theism–which, to be intellectually fair, you must in order to press this objection against theism–there is also the goodness of God to all people to be considered. Marily McCord Adams makes the argument very well in her works. On Christian theism, God has been infinitely good to all people. He has provided for the possibility of salvation to all people (infinite good). He has created all persons and granted them freedom of the will (which is at least a finite good). He sustains creation (at least finite). There are many more goods God has done to and for all people, regardless of any background. But then in order for the problem of suffering to counteract this, it must be infinite–and even then it would only be on balance equal. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any way to demonstrate what infinite suffering would be. And again, even if there were infinite suffering, it would only entail an on-the-whole neutrally good life, for God has already been infinitely good to all persons.

        So even if the theist wishes to grant that there is an enormous amount of suffering/evil–which I do–he or she does not have to take this as evidence against God’s existence, for God has been infinitely good to all.

        Now, there is still something to be said about suffering on atheism. What does suffering matter, granting atheism? as Harry pointed out in his comment, it seems like all beings avoid suffering. But does that mean? All it means is that, on the whole, it seems beings don’t like this thing called suffering. However, that doesn’t mean there is an “ought” statement there–like “One ought not to cause suffering.” All we have is an “is” statement: “There is suffering, and creatures tend to avoid it.” It doesn’t really matter, for in the end, there will be no suffering–the heat death of the universe. All things will pass away.

        And, on naturalistic, empirical atheism–to get back onto the topic of my post–the question is even more poignant. For what are people, on this view (I clarify, because last time you assigned to me a belief I was hypothetically extrapolating from atheism)? They are just matter in motion. What does it mean to have a child injured? It means that matter has been rearranged in some way. What is the emotional tug we feel when we consider this example? It is a neuron(s) firing in the brain, along with maybe chemical reaction(s). Matter, again, is simply rearranged. What ontological difference is there between the suffering child and the soccer-playing child? A difference in the motions made by matter. Again, I am making these statements assuming naturalistic/materialist/empirical atheism (and I know that I am combining terms here).

        But in order for you to make the claim that suffering is, in some sense, something we should want to prevent, you must demonstrate on your own background view how this is the case. Why should I care how matter is arranged?

        The fact is that atheists import theism into their view. They say that humans are valuable, based on what they are as persons. They argue that suffering is something bad and we should work to prevent it. In fact, it’s so bad that we should be upset with God, if God existed, if He allowed this. But in the end, suffering, on naturalistic atheism, is just matter being arranged in certain ways.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 30, 2010, 12:02 PM
      • >It is not abhorrent, other than subjectively.

        Other than subjectively? This is the callousness I’m talking about. The subjective experience of kids matters.

        It seems you think ‘atheism’ entails ‘no moral judgments’. That’s not the case, and is another long discussion. But I don’t even need to make that point. ‘Suffering’ consists of states of nervous systems, even in a godless, amoral universe. It would be unpleasant in any case. Evolution made it so.

        >“Isn’t it amazing how God reduced the net suffering in Haiti to as small a quantity as it was?”

        Your god is weaker than I thought. To heck with prayer; I’m calling 911.

        Theists have the burden of proof when they want to show that there is a god and he cares about humans. The facts say otherwise.

        Posted by Donald Severs | December 29, 2010, 11:51 AM
  6. J.W.,
    I think what you are missing is that a naturalist or atheist probably doesn’t believe in evil and wouldn’t argue about evil except to point out issues with a theistic argument. Don is trying to point out that, when building a case for empiricism, one would argue about the problem of suffering, not evil. So, if you want to shoot down empiricism standing on its own, you must make your argument from there.

    If you read your article and replace the word ‘evil’ with ‘suffering’ you will see that your argument falls flat. It doesn’t work. It was a nice try though. Based on your last few posts it seems like you are trying hard not to see this. But it is pretty obvious when you take a fresh look. Try it.

    I don’t think that the definition of suffering is dependent on evil. I am pretty sure suffering exists and it is in the nature of all thinking beings to avoid it when possible.
    Harry

    Posted by HarryTFS | December 29, 2010, 9:51 PM
    • I’ve included my response to your points in my most recent response to Don. Basically, the argument is that I don’t see any reason to think that even suffering is anything but matter in motion, granting atheism. Why should we consider suffering something “bad”?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 30, 2010, 12:03 PM
  7. I agree with J.W. on this one, Harry.

    Even though the atheist believes suffering exists, by no stretch of logic can they assign any morale value to it. For how can suffering be bad if there is no objective difference between suffering and relaxing at the beach [on atheism]?

    One cannot build a case for an argument from suffering on empiricism, simply because empiricism provides no basis for placing any value-based judgement on suffering. Of course, I certainly don’t believe this. I believe that suffering is indeed an evil thing, but the only reason I can do so is because I believe theism. Simply put, all the atheist can say is, “I don’t like it”, and from this, a person cannot get too far, because “I don’t like it” is not substance for any kind of objective truth.

    Posted by Evan | December 30, 2010, 1:05 PM
  8. If God isn’t qualified to be a babysitter, he isn’t worthy of being called a god. If God could reduce the suffering of even one kid even a little and doesn’t, he’s not worthy of our devotion.

    >theists import theism into their view. They say that humans are valuable, based on what they are as persons.

    This drumbeat of yours is not part of my view. I don’t import theism. Theism is not required to say humans are valuable. That’s a false choice. There are numerous naturalistic moralities we could choose from. Theism isn’t necessary for suffering to be undesirable. Non sequitur.

    Further, the holocaust example is irrelevant since I already granted your free will argument (for now). Your God still has a problem with birth defects and all other natural suffering.

    >how can suffering be bad if there is no objective difference between suffering and relaxing at the beach [on atheism]?

    Wow. Theistic ethnocentrism is thick in here. Believe it or not, people who lack belief in deities enjoy sitting on the beach more than being tortured.

    Let’s say, instead of a human, it’s a cat on the beach. A cat will choose relaxing over torture every time. Is a cat an atheist? I think so.

    >But then in order for the problem of suffering to counteract this, it must be infinite–

    This is the “all’s well that ends well” argument. I reject it because I think a child will resist being tortured not matter what the eventual outcome. It pains me that Christians defend a God who stands by while kids are tortured by cancer, suffocation, drowning, etc, saying that “God will make it good in the end”. Would you accept such a deal for your kids? I wouldn’t.

    Just consider the same transaction with a human agent. He wants your kid for neglect or torture. He’s also a SuperDoctor and will fix the kid up good as new in the end, complete with memory wipe. All he asks is that he can stand by and watch your kid’s terror and bewilderment at his abandonment (see Book of Job). Is this dysfunctional? No, it’s sadism.

    The most gracious attitude we can take to Yahweh is disbelief. Anything else is damning.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 30, 2010, 5:22 PM
  9. >They are just matter in motion. What does it mean to have a child injured? It means that matter has been rearranged in some way. What is the emotional tug we feel when we consider this example? It is a neuron(s) firing in the brain, along with maybe chemical reaction(s). Matter, again, is simply rearranged. What ontological difference is there between the suffering child and the soccer-playing child?

    In this passage, you answer your own question. The emotional tug we feel is a rearrangement of matter. And that’s your answer. Your mistake is to minimize and dismiss that. Rearrangements of matter really matter.

    Atheists love their kids. That’s a fact. When they are tortured and we can do something about it, we try to stop it. Almost any parent you can find acts more nobly than your god.

    Functionalist views like “matter in motion” don’t negate morality. They offer an alternate source and explanation for it.

    Theists often think theism is indispensable. It’s not and it leads to absurdities like this one:

    “God has been infinitely good to all.”

    Tell that to this kid:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/19/angel-vidal-mendoza-accus_n_205442.html

    Any human on Earth, particularly mandatory reporters, would do more than your God did for this kid.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 30, 2010, 6:04 PM
  10. >how can suffering be bad if there is no objective difference between suffering and relaxing at the beach [on atheism]?

    I missed this the first time: The key word here is “objective”. You guys discount subjective experience! That is essential to your view. And it is callous. To us humanists, subjective experience is paramount. We don’t have a god to please or a theistic eschatology to live out. We don’t trade present suffering for future bliss. We live now and we seek the good life for as many of our human family as is possible. Here on Earth.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 30, 2010, 8:00 PM
  11. Forgive me. You guys don’t discount the subjective, but you insist that on atheism there is no objective reason to distinguish between suffering and pleasure. This is false.

    In fact, I don’t know what “objective suffering” would be. All suffering is subjective. You have to discount the subjective to think this way. Good parents never do that. In fact, good, empathetic human beings never do that. And this kind of thinking doesn’t follow from atheism. It is a cultural sterotype, like thinking gay men are pedophiles. Atheists distinguish between pain and pleasure without theism. Really, we do.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 30, 2010, 8:19 PM
  12. Don, I agree with you that you don’t need theism for suffering to be undesirable. You simply seem to make the same jump in logic that Humanists make when they say, “Because it seems right and because a lot of people believe it, Humans are intrinsically valuable”– just because something is undesirable and disliked by every single human does not mean it is objectively, or “true apart from what anyone thinks” bad. Thus, there still cannot, unless there is an actual grounding for it, be any kind of real “evil”, on empiricism. There may be real suffering; anyone can grant this. But what is it that makes suffering bad? Is it because we don’t like it? That would mean:

    1) If Humans do not like something, it is objectively bad.
    2) Humans do not like suffering.
    3) Therefore, Suffering is objectively bad.

    I don’t see any reason to think premise 1) is true. Necessarily, if any human disagrees with the masses, the premise fails. Without theism, all we are left with is pragmatism. But how can pragmatism hold any sway whatsoever in the mind of a person who wants to know if it is actually true that he should not kill a person; or if it only works best not to kill that person?

    With regards to your comments about the subjectivity of suffering, I think the proper response would be that theists do not discount the subjective at all, but see no reason to raise human’s subjective interpretations of an experience as having objective meaning without any sort of grounding for such. No one denies that there ACTUALLY is a difference [a HUGE difference] between suffering and relaxing subjectively, but on atheism there is no way to raise this to a level beyond that as being perceived by the mind. Theists believe that when the mind perceives and experiences [through perception] something that is bad, it is objectively bad, because the immaterial soul experiences displeasure– which is objectively bad on theism. But on atheism, one person may subjectively experience something dis-pleasurable, but since it corresponds with no such objective value: [Bad or Good] it is ultimately meaningless, since there is no grounding to give it meaning. A subjective of experience of something ultimately means nothing if it fails to correspond with actually existing values which exist independent of human judgement.

    Posted by Evan | December 31, 2010, 1:00 AM
  13. There’s something funny going on in this argument:

    >>how can suffering be bad if there is no objective difference between suffering and relaxing at the beach [on atheism]?

    I didn’t see it until this morning. Arguments ‘on atheism’ don’t apply at the same time as arguments ‘on theism’. Even if suffering is not bad under atheism, it doesn’t obtain at the same time as the assertion that God is responsible for suffering under theism. Under theism, we have no disagreement that suffering is bad, and that is the situation under which I am claiming God is responsible.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 31, 2010, 9:58 AM
  14. >I don’t see any reason to think premise 1) is true.

    I don’t need this for my position. It isn’t even a philosophical premise. It is the self-evident fact that living things avoid pain. No judgment of good or bad, objective or otherwise is needed. Suffering occurs, period. If a god could reduce suffering and does not, he is complicit in it.

    The Greek idea of fate fits the facts better than your brand of theism. Epicurus believed in gods and didn’t think they were malevolent. They just didn’t interfere with the natural order of things. But he didn’t claim they were omnibenevolent, either. Their cosmos had a plan, but humans didn’t have a particularly favored role. We were as likely to be grist for the mill as attendants to the gods.

    Theists can say God has a sovereign right to do as he pleases or that his grace will compensate for it later. These are no comfort to a terrified kid in agony, like that 8 year old who saw his hands de-gloved after being scalded head to toe in a geothermal pool. He’s dead now. What happy ending justifies doing nothing to help him?

    I think both of you are fine, loving men. I’d feel better if you just said that God weeps with us and isn’t powerful enough to reduce suffering any further. This is the approach Rabbi Kushner takes. It demotes Yahweh to a Zeus-like god, a superhero it’s good to be friends with, but who isn’t all-powerful. He loses a battle here and there and can’t be everywhere at once. He can’t stop landslides and evil men. The truly lovable Zeus in Disney’s Hercules is a god free of contradiction and who fits the facts. He is as false as yours, but he is more plausible.

    But this isn’t Yahweh. Theists normally shout from the rooftops about the greatness of their gods. Yahweh can create the universe and populate it with millions of species, but can’t or won’t keep a kid from falling in boiling water? Was this a (just and fair?) lesson to his parents? Did they fail in being God’s hands and feet? Well, if God needs us to do his work, then what good is he? It is incredible to think that the suffering in Haiti was the absolute best God could do. But we need to remember that believing the unbelievable is the specialty of theists.

    Trust God? Ok, but if you let Him babysit your kids, you’ll go to jail. He’s very unreliable.

    Posted by Donald Severs | December 31, 2010, 5:55 PM
  15. I want to step back in order to refocus my argument. It has been my contention that atheism provides no grounds for objecting to the existence of God from evil. It has been conceded that there is no such thing as evil, but then it was pressed that suffering provides grounds for objecting to God’s existence.

    My argument against this has been that on an atheistic perspective, the argument from suffering boils down to this: “I don’t like x [suffering], which provides evidence that y [God] doesn’t exist.”

    It is very important to note that even if x does exist, the existence of x simpliciter does not provide evidence against the existence of y. Rather, there must be some way that x serves as a defeater for y. But can we really take “I don’t like x” to be a good argument for epistemic defeat of y? No, we cannot.

    The contention on the atheistic side has been pressed further, however, to say that there is some kind of universal dislike or avoidance of x. However, just because things avoid/dislike x, does not mean that this provides a meaningful link between x and the way things ought to be.

    My further argument was that, on atheism, we are only matter in motion. That is all. There is no ontological difference between matter in motion in way 1 and matter moving in way 2. The only difference is the type of movement. Why should we favor one type of movement over another?

    Don’s argument, I charge, boils down to an emotional appeal. He has argued that we should be concerned with the welfare of children. He argues that scalding children, killing children, anything bad happening to children, is a bad thing.

    I agree with him. But I have a grounds from which I can build this supposition. I don’t agree that the child is only matter in motion. I contend that the child is valuable simply because of what he or she is–a being made in the image of God. In short, Don and I agree that the child is valuable, but Don has provided no reason on an atheistic perspective for thinking that this is the case.

    Now, Don has recently argued that the argument from suffering should be understood as “on theism.” I agree, to an extent. However, the argument cuts both ways. If theism is false, then suffering is a value judgement in a value-less universe. Yet the argument was pressed from this perspective (in other words, the argument that suffering provides evidence against God’s existence assumes that suffering is, in some way, damaging to some kind of value). But if theism is false, then the argument is drained of all value. Therefore, the atheist is trying to have it both ways. He cannot. Either the universe really is valueless, and any argument which assumes “value” is inherently flawed (and therefore unsound, and cannot be used in debate), or there is such a thing as value, and theism is true. But if theism is true, then even if suffering counts against the existence of God, that doesn’t force God into nonexistence.

    It becomes a dilemma:

    1) Either God exists, and arguments against God’s existence are specious at best (because God exists, in fact).

    2) Or God does not exist, and arguments based on value are specious at best and cannot count as evidence for or against anything.

    Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 31, 2010, 6:37 PM
  16. >it was pressed that suffering provides grounds for objecting to God’s existence.

    No. I have been clear that suffering is only a problem for loving, omnipotent gods. Zeus is more plausible than Yahweh given the facts.

    More later.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 1, 2011, 10:40 AM
  17. >Don and I agree that the child is valuable, but Don has provided no reason on an atheistic perspective for thinking that this is the case.

    No. I have noted that there are numerous naturalistic derivations of morality. BUT, we don’t even need that. There is also the brute fact that cats avoid pain. Cats are atheists, yet feel pain.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 1, 2011, 10:42 AM
  18. >If theism is false, then suffering is a value judgement in a value-less universe.

    No. Theism is not necessary for values.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 1, 2011, 10:43 AM
  19. >Or God does not exist, and arguments based on value are specious at best and cannot count as evidence for or against anything.

    You’re smuggling a premise here: that theism is necessary for values. Prove that, and we’ll talk further. In the meantime, you’re in a corner, defending a God who abandons kids to horrible fates.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 1, 2011, 10:46 AM
  20. >>Or God does not exist, and arguments based on value are specious at best and cannot count as evidence for or against anything.

    Moreover, I’m not arguing based on values. The neurological phenomenon of suffering would exist even in a valueless universe.

    Atheism doesn’t entail valuelessness, but suffering would exist even if it did. Even so, arguments on atheism don’t obtain at the same time as arguments on theism, so you can’t refute my position with them, since my arguments is on theism.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 1, 2011, 4:54 PM
  21. Can God improve Himself? If He’s loving, he would want to do better than this. If He weeps with us, He must have time for nothing else:

    http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/12/22/couple-killed-on-way-to-plan-funerals-for-three-grandchildren/?iref=obnetwork

    Posted by Don Severs | January 1, 2011, 9:03 PM
  22. Don, you convincingly tug on heartstrings, but you have no grounds from which to do so. To reiterate, my argument is:

    “1) Either God exists, and arguments against God’s existence are specious at best (because God exists, in fact).

    “2) Or God does not exist, and arguments based on value are specious at best and cannot count as evidence for or against anything.”

    Your counter was:

    “No. I have been clear that suffering is only a problem for loving, omnipotent gods. Zeus is more plausible than Yahweh given the facts.”

    …and to constantly link articles showing terrible things happening. We both acknowledge bad things happen. Your persistence here smacks of appealing to pity.

    The problem with your argument is that the only way suffering can have any meaning is if a loving, omnipotent God exists. Suffering can only be objectively wrong if there is in omnibenevolent God.

    Again, on atheism, all we are is matter in motion. The articles you link merely describe matter being moved in different ways [on atheism]. We may not like how matter is being used, but it doesn’t actually have any meaning. Everything supervenes upon the descriptive, not the prescriptive. There is no “ought” or “evil” or “good” or “right” or “wrong” on atheism. These are judgments that can only be made if the universe has meaning.

    You objected that I must show that atheism entails valuelessness. The burden of proof is on the positive. What value is there in the universe, on atheism? If all things are is matter in motion, how can matter organized in one way be more valuable than matter organized in another?

    But if God exists, then suffering has meaning. However, the fact that suffering is an evil (it has negative value) supervenes upon that God being loving. For only if there is something objectively “wrong” about suffering can it have ontological significance. But for suffering to be “wrong”; God must be omnibenevolent, and have all “oughts” based upon God’s nature. The universe “ought” not to be this way (there is suffering. The statement is true, but it only makes sense if God exists. The argument boils down to the complaint of the Biblical Job.

    I’ve further pointed out that if the Christian God specifically exists, then God has been infinitely good to all human persons. Don has failed to argue against this assertion, and countered merely by snatching upon the possibility of infinite suffering to show that things may only be neutral “on the whole.” However, as I pointed out in my discussion of this argument, the notion of infinite suffering is hard to pinpoint. I charge that it is incoherent. There can always be more pain, more burns, more prolonged suffering. Therefore, that God has done an infinite good to all persons infinitely outweights any finite suffering experienced in this life.

    Further, Don has argued that: “The neurological phenomenon of suffering would exist even in a valueless universe.”

    I have repeatedly granted this premise. My point has been that there is no reason to value the neurological phenomenon of happiness over the neurological phenomenon of suffering when both are, on atheism, simply matter in motion. Don has failed to provide any reason why we should value one over the other. He has tried to ignore the burden of proof or shift it by saying “suffering exists.” I have granted this, but I maintain that suffering is meaningless on atheism. Again, the burden of proof is on the positive.

    Therefore, in order for Don’s objections to have weight he must:

    1) somehow articulate how suffering has meaning on atheism (burden of proof). Without this, his argument is void of all meaning.
    2) demonstrate that an infinite good done to someone can be outweighed by finite wrongs (and, on Christian theism, the “finite wrongs” are not done to someone by God… so Don must show how human finite evils somehow outweigh infinite good)

    To be fair, I think that both 1 and 2 pose insurmountable problems (2, in particular, is impossible to overcome). Perhaps that is why Don has failed to answer these coherent answers to his objections and instead turned to linking articles about bad things happening. Of course, Don admits there is no such thing as evil, so these things aren’t really (ontologically) bad, we just don’t like them.

    Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 2, 2011, 12:25 AM
  23. >Your persistence here smacks of appealing to pity.

    I don’t need the emotional appeal, but we all feel it. A robot tasked with monitoring suffering on Earth would do the same thing and reach the same conclusion: if a being existed who could reduce suffering and did not, it wouldn’t meet the definition of ‘loving’.

    >The problem with your argument is that the only way suffering can have any meaning is if a loving, omnipotent God exists.

    This is a strength of my argument, since it is on theism. You are not listening.

    I don’t happen to agree that theism is necessary for suffering to have meaning, but it only helps my position if it’s true.

    >There is no “ought” or “evil” or “good” or “right” or “wrong” on atheism.

    I don’t grant this, but I don’t need it. Cats avoid pain.

    >Don has failed to argue against this assertion,

    We’re going in circles. I did address this. My point was that the real, present subjective suffering of a kid matters, not matter what the end game. Only a sadist would justify torturing kids with candy in the future.

    >1) somehow articulate how suffering has meaning on atheism (burden of proof). Without this, his argument is void of all meaning.

    I don’t have to do this because I am arguing on theism. I could do it, though.

    >these things aren’t really (ontologically) bad, we just don’t like them.

    On theism or atheism, when a kid thinks something is bad, it should matter to us. It pains me when sweet men like yourself torture logic to comfort yourselves. Such is the power of faith.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 2, 2011, 9:49 AM
    • You’re importing theism to justify your belief that there are “oughts.” Throughout your responses you say things like “when a kid thinks something is bad, it should matter to us.” Whence does this “should” come? You have consistently asserted that there are “shoulds” and “oughts” without any basis whatsoever for them.

      Furthermore, the infinite good done to all people is right now, not in the future.

      You’ve neither addressed 1) or 2) from my previous comment.

      Finally, if your argument is based on theism, then you have ignored my 2 counters; namely, 1) that God has been infinitely good to all persons, which serves as a defeater for suffering/evil; 2) the only way to make value judgments like “when a kid thinks something is bad, it should matter to us” is on theism.

      Your point, as you said, is that “real, present subjective suffering of a kid matters”. You’ve given absolutely no reason to justify this premise, other than emotional appeal that we all feel. Theism provides an objective basis for this feeling, atheism provides blind matter as the solution.

      You’ve failed to show why matter in motion in direction A is better or worse than matter in motion in way B. Your only argument is that “it should matter.” That’s an unsupported premise. Your argument has failed.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 2, 2011, 11:30 AM
  24. To sum up:

    Yahweh: Loving, Omnipotent, Allows Suffering. Pick two.

    I think this will be my final post, since there is nothing in it I haven’t said before. But I’d like to answer your points one last time. Thank you for a good discussion.

    It is obfuscating to introduce arguments on atheism in this thread. You and I are both arguing on theism. Forget about atheism. Pretend we are both full-blooded theists discussing the character of God given the fact of human suffering. Further, evil and the goodness or badness of suffering is irrelevant. Only the existence of suffering is pertinent. Suffering exists independently of whether evil exists. Besides, we are both arguing from theism and can assume evil does exist for the purposes of this argument. This alone clears most of the smoke in the room today.

    The second key point is this: we are talking about the definition of the word “Loving”. Does God fit it?

    >Whence does this “should” come?

    Let’s say it comes from theism. It can come from other sources, but since we’re arguing on theism, let’s say it comes from theism.

    >You have consistently asserted that there are “shoulds” and “oughts” without any basis whatsoever for them.

    For the purposes of this argument, let’s say they come from theism.

    >Furthermore, the infinite good done to all people is right now, not in the future.

    You can say this, but it doesn’t erase a kid’s suffering. We both acknowledge that kids suffer. No infinite good, past, present or future, erases suffering. It still exists and that is all that is needed for God not to fit the definition of Loving.

    Future bliss is no comfort to a kid being burned or tortured, particularly an infant with no concept of the future. You have to devalue his real, present suffering to think this way. This has nothing to do with having a basis for saying suffering is bad. It is a function of the definition of the word “loving”. You can devalue a kid’s subjective experience, but you can’t remain loving at the same time. You can say that God doesn’t have to meet our human definition of ‘loving, but then you’ve granted that he isn’t loving by our definitions. I can grant that your God could be “Loving” in some other way. But he isn’t loving in human terms. He just doesn’t meet the definition.

    >Finally, if your argument is based on theism, then you have ignored my 2 counters; namely, 1) that God has been infinitely good to all persons, which serves as a defeater for suffering/evil;

    Even if this is true, it doesn’t erase the real, present, subjective suffering of kids. Let’s be clear: this isn’t an argument that God doesn’t exist. It is only information about his character. If you can stomach that he allows kids to suffer, then you can worship Yahweh. If you can’t, then the atheist community will be glad to have you and your talents on board. Or, you can be a misotheist or maltheist.

    >2) the only way to make value judgments like “when a kid thinks something is bad, it should matter to us” is on theism.

    I don’t agree it’s the only way, but I am arguing on theism, so the point is moot in this argument.

    >Your point, as you said, is that “real, present subjective suffering of a kid matters”. You’ve given absolutely no reason to justify this premise

    For the purposes of this argument, the justification is theism. God loves every living creature and not a sparrow falls without his knowledge. He weeps with us.

    Apart from that, ask the kid. His real, present subjective suffering matters to him. Are you going to ask him to justify why it matters? It matters because evolution made pain matter to him.

    Any justification is irrelevant to this discussion anyway. Here’s why: The kid’s subjective state is simply what is at issue when we use the word “loving”. “Loving” has a definition that concerns the subjective states of people. If that state doesn’t matter to someone, then that person or god isn’t loving toward that kid. It’s just a definition thing, nothing deeper.

    Yahweh: Loving, Omnipotent, Allows Suffering. Pick two.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 2, 2011, 2:39 PM
    • “It is obfuscating to introduce arguments on atheism in this thread.”

      Actually, the original post was about atheism, I don’t see how arguing about atheism is wrong when that was the topic at hand.

      Your argument: “YHWH: Loving, Omnipotent, Allows suffering. Pick two.”

      My counters: 1) God has been infinitely good to all persons

      Your response: “No infinite good, past, present or future, erases suffering. It still exists and that is all that is needed for God not to fit the definition of Loving.”

      This is obviously a straw man. It also begs the question. It is a straw man because: I never argued that God’s infinite goodness to all persons erases suffering; I have argued that it overcomes it. There is a difference. My contention has been that God’s infinite goodness to all persons demonstrates his love for them. It begs the question because it assumes that an infinite good cannot equate to loving someone. You’ve failed to demonstrate how God’s being infinitely good to someone somehow means that He has wronged them if he allows suffering. Note that there has been no response whatsoever to another counter of mine, which can be used in conjunction with 1). Namely,
      2) God has given persons freedom of the will. By definition, to coerce a free creature is logically impossible. Therefore, if a person freely wills to cause suffering, then suffering will occur.

      You have provided no counter to this argument. Your only response above was that God should have somehow reduced the overall amount of suffering. Again, this begs the question because it is impossible to know whether or not God has, in fact, reduced the overall suffering.

      Finally, 3) Suffering, on atheism, is meaningless.

      You keep saying you have an argument to counter this, but you’ve failed to effectively argue against this the entire debate. Note that this is a variation of the argument made in the post. As so often happens in your comments, you’ve taken us far afield. I don’t mind, but to then turn around and say I can’t argue for what was originally my point is disingenuous.

      In any case, I don’t think it is possible to give meaning to anything on atheism. On atheism, all the universe is is a lot of matter organized in different ways. To say that matter organized in way A is better than matter organized in way B is absurd. Both are, at their core, the same: hunks of “stuff” moving in different directions. Atheism gives one a life without meaning. Certainly, atheists can argue that subjective meaning is to be had. But the moment an atheist tries to go out from there, and tell others that other people “should” value something they do, or that their subjective meaning actually has value, he or she has crossed into territory that only theists can claim. Meaning exists only on theism.

      [Edit:]

      Therefore, my arguments have been that

      1) God has been infinitely good to all persons;
      2) Free persons are actually free, and can do evil;
      3) Atheism provides a meaningless, valueless universe

      Judging from the weaknesses in the counter arguments: straw men, question begging, and appeal ad misericordiam; it seems that my arguments have been successful.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 3, 2011, 10:18 AM
  25. We can close this by summing up our positions:

    Yours:
    God’s infinite goodness excuses his allowing suffering.

    Mine:
    For an omnipotent being, allowing suffering when it could be prevented is incompatible with human definitions of loving.

    >You’ve failed to demonstrate how God’s being infinitely good to someone somehow means that He has wronged them if he allows suffering.

    Say you were in a relationship with an abusive woman. She gives you good lovin’, all you can handle, without end. She’s a good mother and has a great career. But she occasionally holds a knife to your throat, or allows others to do so.

    No amount of goodness justifies allowing torture. You can have a god like that, he just wouldn’t fit the definition of loving.

    You could object: “Don, are we to say that a father who deeply loves his kids, but accidentally neglects one of them and they fall in a scalding hot pool is not loving?”

    I would say, “No. He’s a good, fallible human father. An omnipotent God wouldn’t be fallible in that way. If you want to say God is loving and still lets kids fall in hot pools to their deaths, then you have to give up omnipotence.” To claim God can create the universe but can’t prevent a kid from falling in a pool is hard to defend.

    >Note that there has been no response whatsoever to another counter of mine, which can be used in conjunction with 1). Namely,
    2) God has given persons freedom of the will. By definition, to coerce a free creature is logically impossible. Therefore, if a person freely wills to cause suffering, then suffering will occur.

    We’ve covered this. I’ve granted free will as an excuse for allowing suffering caused by humans. It still leaves natural suffering like birth defects, smallpox, etc. Blame Satan? Ok, but but it’s not loving to turn us over to be tortured. That’s just torture by proxy. Again, this is not an argument against the existence of God, just his goodness or omnipotence.

    >Finally, 3) Suffering, on atheism, is meaningless. You keep saying you have an argument to counter this, but you’ve failed to effectively argue against this the entire debate.

    Yes, you started the thread on empiricism/atheism. But my entire approach in this argument is on theism. I’ve explained that.

    >In any case, I don’t think it is possible to give meaning to anything on atheism.

    You don’t have to think so. A billion nonbelievers manage it in a variety of ways. Google it.

    >On atheism, all the universe is is a lot of matter organized in different ways.

    Yes, but it doesn’t follow that no meaning can be had. I’ll allow that there is no objective meaning on atheism, just as there is no ‘first philosophy’. That doesn’t prevent us from finding meaning within various systems.

    >To say that matter organized in way A is better than matter organized in way B is absurd.

    No, it’s not. You can get there many ways. Quine’s web of belief is one. A new hammer is better than a broken one; not in any objective sense, but there is a sense in which it is better. To say otherwise is to deny the manifest. That’s absurd.

    >Certainly, atheists can argue that subjective meaning is to be had.
    Thank you. That’s all we are saying.

    >But the moment an atheist tries to go out from there, and tell others that other people “should” value something they do, or that their subjective meaning actually has value, he or she has crossed into territory that only theists can claim. Meaning exists only on theism.

    I’ll grant that objective meaning requires something foundational, such as a theism, but then you have the religious diversity problem. Which theism? Which objective meaning?

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 3, 2011, 12:31 PM
    • “Yours:
      God’s infinite goodness excuses his allowing suffering.”

      My argument is that His allowing suffering is entailed in His granting freedom of the will. Saying God “allows suffering” is equivalent to saying God “grants us freedom of the will.” In order to take away one, He’d have to take away the other. Therefore, once again, my argument has been presented as a straw man. I have not argued that God’s infinite goodness simpliciter “excuses” his allowing suffering. I have argued that 1) God is infinitely good to every person. 2) God has allowed freedom of the will. 3) Because of 2, there will be suffering, as free agents choose to do wrong. 4) God is not responsible for the suffering (2, 3).

      You are trying to put the blame on God, when the blame is on persons. Not only that, but because of 1, there is infinite goodness (=infinite value) in every life.

      Your argument hinges upon totally devaluing persons. You continue to subtly beg the question. You say you grant theism, but you are unwilling to allow robust theism–theism which has counters to every one of the fragile arguments you present.

      Again, your analogy of the abusive woman relationship is simply a red herring. The correct analogy is you are in a relationship with a perfectly, infinitely loving woman, who has done everything to help you. Other, lesser, people continue to put you down. (And now’s where the analogy really has impact:) you choose to blame the woman who has provided everything for you for the actions of other people. [the next sentence was added subsequently:] The reason you blame her is because you say that if she really loved you, she would have prevented all the other people from doing what they freely choose to do, even though it is logically contradictory. That is what you have done Don. You are equating the actions of free persons with God’s action. It doesn’t follow.

      So, once more, your whole argument is facile. You keep saying you grant theism, without being willing to grant the arguments presented. You throw blame at God when it should be on persons. How is God responsible for what you do?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 3, 2011, 1:48 PM
  26. >My argument is that His allowing suffering is entailed in His granting freedom of the will.

    I am talking about natural suffering like tsunamis and earthquakes. I know you know that. Why do you ignore it?

    >Saying God “allows suffering” is equivalent to saying God “grants us freedom of the will.”

    No. You are ignoring natural suffering. Earthquakes, tsunamis, birth defects, etc.

    >You are trying to put the blame on God, when the blame is on persons.

    A 3-month old is burned to death in a natural accident that God could have prevented. How is she to blame? If it is caused by the original sin, then that isn’t just. Why should she suffer for the sins of others? That isn’t just.

    >The correct analogy is you are in a relationship with a perfectly, infinitely loving woman, who has done everything to help you.

    Ok, let’s use your version. If the woman you describe allows natural events to hurt me when she could prevent it, her goodness is no excuse. Even human legal systems reflect this. It is simply part of the definition of ‘loving’. Good deeds don’t excuse bad ones.

    >How is God responsible for what you do?

    I granted your free will argument. For this argument, God is not responsible for suffering caused by humans, only natural suffering.

    I am talking about natural suffering like tsunamis and earthquakes. I know you know that. Why do you ignore it?

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 3, 2011, 2:10 PM
    • “I am talking about natural suffering like tsunamis and earthquakes. I know you know that. Why do you ignore it?”

      So now I am supposed to pick up premises which aren’t there? Again, why this disingenuous nature of argumentation?

      Natural evil is indeed a different type of problem. However, the theist must only have the possibility of an answer to get around it. For example, the theist may argue that natural evil is also due to free agents. Robust Christian theism includes things like satan and demons as actual beings with powers over natural forces. Things like tsunamis and other natural evils could be caused by the free actions of these evil persons. Indeed, it is possible to attribute all natural evils to the workings of these free agents.

      Another answer, to be used either on its own or in conjunction with the above, would be that in order to sustain life on earth, such natural processes which lead to hurricanes and tsunamis must exist. Either there would be no life and no natural disasters, or there will be both. Again, this is just a possibility, but that is all that is needed to circumvent the problem you are presenting, which is that somehow, natural evil/God’s goodness are logically incompatible.

      There are other possibilities as well–perhaps the two options above are joined. Perhaps God did create a world without natural disasters, but the free choices of mankind and other agents have caused it to deteriorate into what it is now. Perhaps the disasters would be less severe if free agents did less damage to the environment by flattening forests and overutilizing consumable fuels.

      Any of these are options, and all of them grant robust theism the possibility that God’s goodness is not threatened by natural disasters. Again, only a facile understanding of theism which sees God as some kind of miracle vending machine whose job is to ensure his subjects live coerced, perfectly happy lives is capable of sustaining the arguments you’ve presented. It’s a caricature of Christian theism you present, not reality.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 3, 2011, 2:54 PM
  27. >So now I am supposed to pick up premises which aren’t there? Again, why this disingenuous nature of argumentation?

    I searched the page. In 10 seconds, I found 10 instances where I mentioned natural suffering in my comments.

    >it is possible to attribute all natural evils to the workings of these free agents.

    Fine, but if God turns us over to such forces he isn’t just or loving. This doesn’t help. He’s either weak or unloving.

    >Another answer, to be used either on its own or in conjunction with the above, would be that in order to sustain life on earth, such natural processes which lead to hurricanes and tsunamis must exist.

    This is more of a Greek view of fate. It works, but can not be considered Loving. Nature isn’t loving. Every loving, human parent tries to protect their kids from nature’s indifference.

    >Perhaps God did create a world without natural disasters, but the free choices of mankind and other agents have caused it to deteriorate into what it is now.

    Even if this were the case, if God could have made it otherwise and did not, he is responsible for suffering. In addition, he created us to feel pain. He can do that, but he can’t be called loving. When loving humans are able to alleviate senseless pain, we do so. God either can’t or won’t. He is either weak or unloving.

    >robust theism the possibility that God’s goodness is not threatened by natural disasters.

    In this case, he can be good, but not omnipotent. He weeps with us. He’d like to do more but can’t. He’s weak. This is a way out for theism (but only on this particular issue). Will you take it? Rabbi Kushner did.

    >It’s a caricature of Christian theism you present, not reality.

    If Christian Theism is true, it must match the reality of our human family. Kids suffer. Nothing you can say can change that. Your god is either weak or unloving. But that’s ok. These problems vanish under naturalism. Upon examination, especially in the modern era, CT requires so much baggage (devils, etc), it has become a propped-up mess reminiscent of Ptolemy’s epicycles. You can keep it, but it will keep you hopping defending it.

    There is a general rule about defending gods:

    The more specific your claim, the harder it is to defend. The more vague your claim, it is easier to defend, but it means very little to believe it.

    Millions of people are good without gods. I gave back my gift of faith. I grew tired of defending it, especially to myself. Naturalism is a huge relief. Every defendant deserves a good defense, but many are still guilty.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 3, 2011, 3:47 PM
    • Your argument has consistently been operating under the assumption that God could prevent evils, and does not. The implication that has been made explicit; that if God cannot prevent such evils He is “not omnipotent… He’s weak.” But omnipotence does not entail capacity to do everything; it entails ability to do that which is logically possible. Therefore, as I’ve been arguing, if it is logically contradictory for God to prevent things like necessary evil, it is neither a sign of Him being not fully good nor is it a sign that He lacks omnipotence; it is no defect to be unable to bring about absurdities.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 3, 2011, 5:59 PM
  28. >But omnipotence does not entail capacity to do everything; it entails ability to do that which is logically possible.

    What is logically impossible about preventing a kid from falling in a boiling pool?

    Posted by Don Severs | January 3, 2011, 6:40 PM
    • Void of any context whatsoever, the situation is simply intended as intellectual entrapment. What lead to this hypothetical scenario?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 4, 2011, 1:00 AM
      • A truly horrendous incident. Putting it in a vacuum outside of all influencing factors made it difficult to respond. There are many different ways this scenario could not have been preventable by God. 2 come to mind immediately: 1) What choices did the parents make which lead to the boy being able to wander off and fall in the pool in the first place? 2) What choices did the child make that lead to this event?

        This is why the goodness of God to persons is so important. He may not be able to stop such horrible incidents, but He has done what He can do; namely, been infinitely good to each individual person, including this boy. Your argument has been that “infinite goodness does not excuse suffering now“; but that assumes exactly that which I am denying (and is therefore question begging): it assumes that God can prevent the suffering, and chooses not to. I have denied this repeatedly, and the objection continues to beg the question against me.

        Finally, as I have constantly argued, such an event can only be considered actually wrong on theism.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 4, 2011, 10:12 AM
  29. You can say that God can’t interfere with nature, cause and effect, etc, like Epicurus’s gods. He didn’t think they were malevolent; they just didn’t interfere.

    The problem with this is that human parents do it all the time, when they can. Gods who don’t interfere may not be evil, but, if they could do something to prevent injury and don’t, they aren’t loving. They go to jail. Ask any parent.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 3, 2011, 7:06 PM
    • “You can say that God can’t interfere with nature, cause and effect, etc, like Epicurus’s gods. He didn’t think they were malevolent; they just didn’t interfere.”

      Note that even in this sentence you’ve made the semantical distinction I have been pressing. God would be worth condemning if he “didn’t” interfere. But one can’t plausibly condemn someone for an action they “can’t” do. The words you used are exactly those I would have chosen, except that the distinction between Epicurus’ gods and God is made clear by the semantical usage. I would modify it to say:

      “God can’t bring about logical contradictions (which may be entailed in interfering with personal agency as well as varied instances of natural evils); Epicurus’ gods did not, though they were[, allegedly,] capable of doing so.” [I find it utterly absurd to argue that any agent can bring about a contradiction; indeed, to say that "x brought about a contradiction" is a sentence void of meaning. Cf. Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism.]

      The distinction you yourself made is exactly my point.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 4, 2011, 1:05 AM
  30. I’m not arguing that God can bring about a contradiction. I’m wondering why he doesn’t help every kid.

    You claim that God created the universe, yet can’t or won’t prevent one kid from falling in a scalding pool. I see no contradiction in helping a kid.

    Christians claim God helps them all the time. I bet you have claimed it. The question is, how does God decide which people to help? Can this game of favorites be considered loving?

    See the link I sent you as a case study for our discussion.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 4, 2011, 10:09 AM
  31. You may be satisfied with that, but here’s how it looks to an outsider:

    Yahweh would love to help that kid. In fact, he’s already provided the ultimate goodness for him. Even though God can create the entire universe with whirling planets, millions of species, all of humanity and Jesus himself, there’s just nothing that could have been done for that poor kid. The actions and inactions of the parents and his own 8-year-old behavior simply must be allowed to run their course.

    Even if this is all true, this is a callous way to set things up. Your God is not loving.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 4, 2011, 10:16 AM
    • You make many hidden assumptions in your posts which are subtle, but important.

      For example, you assume that “help” means miraculous intervention whenever something bad will happen to someone (or perhaps you set an arbitrary threshold of suffering, past which God is obligated to do a miracle).
      You assume that God is some kind of miracle-vending machine, and ‘should’ intervene continually.

      You assume that a loving God would not value freedom of the will.

      You assume that freedom of the will is less important than a “perfect life” as a robot.

      You assume that you can subjectively judge the moral character of an omnibenevolent deity.

      You assume that love means to love all persons equally. (The previous has been shown plausibly false by Shawn Floyd in “Preferential Divine Love”, Philosophia Christi volume 12 #2 p.359-376. Basically, he argues that preference is a salient feature of love both in human and divine persons.)

      You assume that all situations are exactly the same, in that “help” can be uniformly applied to all situations.

      In your most recent response (defining “help”–well, not actually defining it, but continuing your objection) you assume that God’s power is, once more, to bring about contradictions (note that your case is human parents would help if they could–therefore God should help if He can. I’ve argued that God can’t bring about contradictions like overcoming freedom of the will. specifically, in the case of the child, who can say whether God did help or not? Perhaps God made the pool appear more dangerous than it already was, but the boy still came closer and closer to investigate; vice versa, perhaps God made it appear less interesting, but the boy still chose to come near; perhaps the boy fell in while running past, and God had kept putting up signs warning him to stop running; etc. Note that your most recent response says “Think like a parent. Or just a good Samaritan. If you see a kid about to fall in a scalding pool, you help him. It means grabbing his hand or warning him.” Again, you assume that God can do anything, and you further assume that God did not do anything, yet any of my examples may have happened. We don’t know either way, do we? It’s quite possible that God did do very much to help. therefore:)

      You assume that God does not actually help in any situation suffering occurs.

      You assume that “help” means divine, miraculous intervention–causing someone to float rather than fall, etc.–as opposed to something more subtle, like causing a neurological warning, the scent of the pool warning the boy away, the feel of heat radiating from it, etc.

      There are more.

      Somehow, you must ground all of them in Christian theism in a non-question begging manner in order for your argument to succeed. Again, every single one of these assumptions must be grounded on theistic Christianity for success. You must somehow explain why God should operate in one manner rather than another; you must explain how objectively a world without free will but with no suffering is better than a world with both; you must show me specifically that God did not help people in every instance of suffering (instead of begging the question by assuming God must do miracles, rather than something more subtle); you must show that a perfectly loving God means loving everyone exactly the same (a plausible assumption, but still ungrounded, and with plausible alternatives); you must demonstrate every one of these reflects perfectly the character of Christian theism.

      I charge that (arbitrarily) at least 5 assumptions you hold are false and question begging. Therefore, I have no reason to think that your caricature of God is the one I worship.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 4, 2011, 10:39 AM
  32. You would never tolerate such a situation with anyone else. I know your God is a special case, but I see no good reason to excuse him for things you would never counsel in a human. If anything, God should be more loving, perfectly loving than human parents can be.

    If you are satisfied that your God is loving, then you simply have a different definition of ‘loving’ than I am using.

    You are also making incredible claims about your God’s powers. He is powerful when you want him to be, but there’s nothing he can do about suffering.

    Suggesting that an 8 year old played a role in his scalding death is repugnant (on theism). It is up to his parents and the tribe to protect him. Is God our Father? I have followed your every effort to find a way to excuse your God. The fact remains that that poor boy saw the flesh fall from his hands.

    Do you really want to say that was the best your God could do?

    From where I stand, the most gracious attitude we can take toward your God is that he is weak. What is your problem with Rabbi Kushner’s position?

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 4, 2011, 10:24 AM
  33. I like you, JW, but don’t understand this:

    >You assume that a loving God would not value freedom of the will.

    I have repeatedly granted your free will argument. I can only conclude you are blowing smoke to shield some of your readers from my arguments. Eschew obfuscation!

    >you assume that “help” means miraculous intervention whenever something bad will happen to someone

    God can perform miracles, so why not? Compassion requires the use of every power we have to help one another.

    >You assume that God is some kind of miracle-vending machine, and ‘should’ intervene continually.

    Why not?

    >You assume that you can subjectively judge the moral character of an omnibenevolent deity.

    I can and do. And his omnibenevolence is what is at issue, so we can’t assume it.

    >he argues that preference is a salient feature of love both in human and divine persons.)

    Great, a new point. I’ll think about that, but playing favorites isn’t part of my definition of ‘loving’.

    >Again, you assume that God can do anything

    So sorry. When it is claimed that God can create the universe, I tend to think he also has a black belt in karate. And could function as a guard rail when necessary.

    >I have no reason to think that your caricature of God is the one I worship.

    The God you worship stands by while kids burn. He is unworthy of your devotion.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 4, 2011, 10:51 AM
    • The point about freedom of the will was that in order to do as you say, very often, freedom of the will would fall by the wayside (and be contradicted).

      Your next two responses (“why not?”) are the kind of question begging I’m talking about. I know of no Christian theist who believes God operates in that fashion. There may be someone, somewhere, but that’s not the Christianity I’ve known/read about/believe. Saying “Why not?” is very clearly an attempt to shift the burden of proof to the negative; that, or just to assume you’re right. Why should I accept your caricature of God?

      About omnibenevolence; you’ve begged the question there as well. Christians believe God is omnibenevolent; so for you to judge the deity by your own totally arbitrary standards (“Why not?” It’s not even a real debate at that point) is pretty ridiculous (and question begging). If God exists, God is omnibenevolent. Your moral values do not trump omnibenevolence.

      When I said you assume God can do anything, I meant that it includes contradictions. You keep saying you don’t, but then you change your mind the next sentence. Either people have freedom of the will; or they do not. The situation of the child may have involved freedom of the will; we don’t know.

      Again, I find it very interesting that you totally left out my last two assumptions: namely, that God may in fact help everyone, but in a subtler fashion than you want; and that “help” means over-the-top, supernatural help (which may be contradictory in many cases).

      You can’t plausibly argue that God did not help in any situation you’ve quoted. You can only assume it. And that begs the question. I see no point in continuing this line until you actually argue “on theism” as you’ve claimed to do, rather than arguing “on Don Severs’ version of theism, which makes whatever assumptions Don wants.”

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 4, 2011, 11:01 AM
  34. >The situation of the child may have involved freedom of the will; we don’t know.

    Madness this way lies. I think it’s absurd to think that 8 year old boy could have been committing suicide, but let’s say it was a 3 month old who fell in. In that case, we know that his free will wouldn’t have been infringed by saving his life.

    And by the way, we violate human free will all the time when people are suicidal. We lock them up. Why? Because it’s loving.

    >that God may in fact help everyone, but in a subtler fashion than you want

    A subtle help (that means allowing him to burn) is of no help to a 3 month old. You’re off your rocker, JW. You got Jesus-brain. I call this ‘seminary talk’. It’s just kooky.

    >and that “help” means over-the-top, supernatural help (which may be contradictory in many cases).

    A 3 month old doesn’t care where the help comes from. He just doesn’t want to burn. And there’s nothing contradictory about saving him. A human would do it if he could.

    >You can’t plausibly argue that God did not help in any situation you’ve quoted.

    Ask the kid. That’s what matters to loving people. Theism makes God’s reputation more important than the suffering of kids. That’s disgusting. On theism.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 4, 2011, 11:09 AM
    • Don has mastered the art of weaving emotional appeals together with insults. Neither makes a good argument.

      I’m going to sum up my argument because it seems we’re just talking past each other now.
      Freedom of the will argument:
      1) If God were to overcome freedom of the will, God would have to bring about a logical contradiction.
      2) God cannot bring about a logical contradiction.
      3) Therefore, God cannot overcome freedom of the will.

      Don has granted this argument.

      Culpability for things one is unable to prevent:
      *) If any agent is unable to prevent x, the agent is not culpable for x

      Natural evils/accidents and freedom:
      4) If an instance of natural evil/an accident is the result of freedom of the will, then (1-3 applies)
      5) Many/most/perhaps all natural evils/accidents are the results of freedom of the will
      6) Therefore, God is not culpable (*)

      Freedom of the will and unfree persons
      7) There are seemingly situations in which one’s own freedom was not involved
      8 ) These situations almost certainly arise due to others freedoms (in the case of the 3 month old Don has pressed, it would be the parents of the child)
      9) Repeat (6)

      God’s actual help for all persons:
      10) God helps all persons in subtle ways, but (3).

      Infinite goodness to all persons
      11) If God brings about circumstances such that a person’s life is good for one to have, then God has been good to that person.
      12) God has brought about circumstances such that He has been infinitely good to every person.
      13) Therefore, God has been good to every person

      Infinite goodness and finite suffering
      14) Infinite goodness infinitely outshines finite suffering
      15) God has been infinitely good to all persons
      16) All persons have infinitely good lives

      One subtlety Don has pressed has been that even infinite goodness to a person does not excuse finite suffering here and now. There are many problems with this. I’ll focus on two.
      17)First, God has been infinitely good to all persons here and now, not just in the future, which undercuts the objection.
      18) Second, it is unclear how infinite goodness can be outweighed by finite suffering, regardless of the timeline.

      Therefore, our arguments give us the following:
      19) God cannot prevent much of the suffering which actually occurs (1-9)
      20) However, God still helps every person (10)
      21) God has been infinitely good to all persons (11-18 )

      Therefore,
      21) A God who is infinitely good to all persons, provides help for all persons, and is not culpable for the suffering of such persons is omnibenevolent.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 4, 2011, 11:43 AM
      • Tell that to a 3 month old kid.

        Posted by Donald Severs | January 4, 2011, 11:52 AM
      • Alright, this really is my last response–but again, this is mere emotional appeal. There is no rational argument or discourse here. Nor does it even address that my arguments specifically cater this example and show that God has been infinitely good to him/her and is not culpable for his/her suffering. All this is is a jab–an emotional appeal–and a logical fallacy.

        This is not honest discourse.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 4, 2011, 12:02 PM
  35. My last comment had an emotional component, but that isn’t what makes it a valid argument. It is a valid argument bacause the definition of loving requires that we do all we can to protect the kid’s subjective state.

    No future bliss erases present pain.

    Your word ‘almost’ is all we need to disprove omnibenevolence:

    8 ) These situations almost certainly arise due to others freedoms

    Suffering is not always of this type. You seem to be asking us to give Yahweh the benefit of the doubt. A good defense lawyer would do this, and a jury would decide.

    Among the combined suffering of humanity, we only need one instance where God could have reduced a kid’s suffering, even a little, and did not. That’s not a problem, unless you have a foundational belief that God is omnibenevolent and omnipotent.

    I’m still wondering why you reject Kushner’s weak god. It’s better than a cruel or indifferent one.

    Try this: Would you let Yahweh babysit your kids? If you do, you’ll go to jail. Your human fellows know he’s unreliable.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 4, 2011, 12:12 PM
  36. Defenders of Yahweh should take tips from defense lawyers. Take omnipotence and omniscience. You don’t really want a jury to know your client has a black belt when he’s charged with assault. And you don’t want them to know your client had full knowledge when he’s charged with negligence.

    Making strong claims like omnibenevolence, omnipotence and omniscience open God up to countless charges. It’s just not smart and is very hard to defend.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 4, 2011, 12:43 PM
  37. Under your argument why did jesus praise the good samaritan?

    Posted by don severs | January 4, 2011, 1:06 PM
  38. To say god is love but that he doesn’t do what a loving human would do makes no sense

    Posted by don severs | January 4, 2011, 1:10 PM
  39. On the other hand if god is loving then we should do as he does and not interfere with the suffering of children.

    Posted by don severs | January 4, 2011, 1:12 PM
  40. And now this:

    For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right. God is omnibenevolent. The same argument can be made for Allah, Zeus and Thor. Quetzalcoatl, Ra and Osiris.

    All this time, you’ve been defending not Yahweh, but “God” in general. Nothing in your argument homes in on Yahweh.

    Religious people everywhere thank you for dedicating your talents to defending their gods, which are all incompatible with yours. Your argument is even more powerful than it appears.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 4, 2011, 5:26 PM
  41. Great discussion Don and J.W. Interesting stuff! I’ll have to throw my hat in the ring to the original post I’d like to see a bit of expansion on.

    J.W. claims that with atheism there is no evil and therefor you can’t have not-evil and evil at the same time. I think its a bit more fair to both sides of the argument to label it suffering instead, as Don has done. Labeling it evil already assumes that there is something objectively evil and that a majority of people would automatically rail against it. It also assumes that evil is a direct contradiction to a good, in this case god. This is framing the argument in such a way as to be against god is to be against good (or not suffering as it turns out to be) and putting us back at square one. This is a very slippery way to frame an argument and also be consistent.

    I think Don really homes in a point early on (sorry I skimmed some of the later entries, shame on me) in that he is appealing to you asking the kid how he feels. It isn’t about the emotional component or an appeal to make you feel sorry for a kid and to renounce god. His point is that suffering is ACTUALLY HAPPENING to a sentient being that COULD/SHOULD/WOULD be prevented by a supposedly caring by stander. By any other measure outside of a god example people can measure that someone is in pain and that this pain should cease. However, if god is the one doing the measuring somehow it doesn’t matter, its somehow out side the scope of moral claims and empiricism. This simply isn’t the case, this just shows how much of a not-good, not-reducing-of-suffering-being such a god is.

    Now, if you agree that suffering has a purpose, and that such suffering is for the good of people somehow, then again, we must ask that kid. Does his or her suffering make them a stronger person? Are we better people because children are born with skin cancer, or old ladies are beaten and raped in parts of our world? No we are not, not by any empirical or spiritual measure.

    Lasly, as Don again points out, no arguments I’ve seen from any apologetic explains why we should believe in a CHRISTIAN god. Nearly all arguments I see have to set aside specific dogma and focus on the existence of some benevolent being. This gives us NO reason on why we should choose a Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Mormon/Scientologist deity over another. The entire argument for theist apologetic is built upon a house of cards upon a house of cards. Try to get people to believe in the first part without even thinking of building that first part on a solid foundation in the first place.

    Posted by Jason Kelley | January 5, 2011, 12:26 AM
    • My argument answers your points on multiple levels. See my summing up of the argument. My argument also provides a uniquely Christian answer because the goodness of God to all persons is reflected in the possibility of salvation through Jesus Christ; whereas other theistic traditions do not have this option. It is a bit unclear as to what modern Judaism believes is the way of salvation–mostly it seems as though following the Law, but that rejects the specific Covenant relationship of the Jewish people–therefore, it seems Judaism would be exclusive in God’s goodness, whereas Christianity provides infinite goodness to all persons. Islam, similarly, seems to base salvation on either Allah’s own will or various human actions. Again, it is unclear whether this allows Muslims to argue that their God is infinitely good to all persons. I leave it to Muslim apologists to do so.

      My argument, despite objections, is specifically Christian, theistic, and provides infinite good to all persons. Perhaps those who wish to reduce suffering to a meaningless stain on a torn universe (atheism) would do better to consider the theistic alternative of infinite goodness.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 12:55 AM
  42. So far, I’ve allowed Christian Theism, CT. But there isn’t a single CT, there are many, and none that are consistent. Further, I’ve only been trying to show that, even if CT is true, the god described in it does not fit the definition of loving and omnipotent.

    But there are countless other problems. Supernaturalism can be attacked. The religious diversity problem, which I’ve recently noted, is serious. And scriptural problems abound, such as this one:

    Jesus said God is Love. Paul said Love is not jealous. God said he is a jealous god.

    Which is it?

    Posted by Don Severs | January 5, 2011, 8:14 AM
  43. You’re a faithful foot soldier and defender of Christ. You are devoted, but you would be equally devoted to Allah or any god you chose to follow. I feel like an enemy spy trying to turn you from your country. Every honorable soldier feels conflict in that task, because we know what it means to be honorable; and something is lost when a man turns, even to our side.

    So, as always, I haven’t really been addressing you, as long as you are what you say you are. I’m addressing others, as well that part of you that doubts. Luther had a large doubting side. James Carse says doubt made his belief stronger; that doubt enlivens faith; that without doubt, faith is simply where thinking stops.

    So, I appreciate your continued thinking. And I understand and respect foundationalism; I practice a version of it in my marriage: I can not be turned, even though I can’t prove I have the best wife in the world.

    But people deserve respect; they are real; ideas, however, only have the life we give them. As long as you believe Yahweh is real, you can maintain your devotion. But you know enough about philosophy to know that you have simply made a choice. You are young, and you can make other choices. You could do so in 10 or 20 years; and by then, you might even do it without much difficulty. You’re laying the groundwork now.

    Posted by Don Severs | January 5, 2011, 8:27 AM
  44. >My argument answers your points on multiple levels.

    Let’s suppose you are right. You’ve shown there is no contradiction in the existence of an omnibenevolent deity in the light of human suffering. Even if that were the case, this would show only plausibility. You’re now at the leading edge of the starting line in the race to prove God’s existence.

    I’m an atheist because I’m some sort of skeptic and a scientific naturalist. I am conservative in what I will say about the world. A-theism is simply the condition of not committing to one of the world’s theisms. I can’t justify embracing any of them. This is ‘weak atheism’ or ‘strong agnosticism’, I suppose.

    But we can be strongly atheistic about some gods; that is, we can rule them out. If they entail contradictions or don’t fit the facts, we don’t have to waste any more time on them.

    Picture handing your 21-point proof a jury. Your almighty defendant is charged with standing by during the whole gory pageant of human suffering. Are you confident of acquittal? To get it, you have to convince them that, in the case of your defendant, “loving” means something very different from what it means when applied to a human.

    If your God is omnibenevolent, then we should do as he does. Send all the crossing guards home. Forget about hats, coats and mittens in the winter, because it is now loving to let kids suffer.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 9:42 AM
  45. >A-theism is simply the condition of not committing to one of the world’s theisms. I can’t justify embracing any of them. This is ‘weak atheism’ or ‘strong agnosticism’, I suppose.

    This is the same position Christians take to all the other religions.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 9:56 AM
  46. I have a hard time wrapping my head around your response here. You are saying that your religion is better because it promises good for everyone. If this were true, and your religion was the only religion that promised good to everyone, then there is either no good in other religions because they lack a Jesus figure, or it doesn’t matter because good is extended to everyone anyways therefor removing the onus to really believe anything. Right? If your description of Christianity is True and all of the stuff in the Bible and all the contradictions and criticisms fall away and JW’s Christianity is Right….then there is no real reason to believe anything at all. You’re better off being atheist/agnostic/Jew/whatever because JW’s Christ helps us in any case.

    This is actually a bad thing because it removes even the Christians motivation to reduce suffering. Its also bad because it gives us no explanation of why there is suffering. Its like you are looking at the suffering in the world, and the only way you can cope is to take refuge in religious thoughts and scripture, specifically Christian one. Taking refuge does nothing to explain why there is suffering, it just makes you feel better. I mean, you talk about infinite good, but people suffer all the time. I’m pretty sure that isn’t infinite good. Even if they DO go to heaven afterwards, they still had some bad, in some cases REALLY bad. So there isn’t infinite good going on there.

    I would like to know how atheism reduces suffering to a meaningless stain. It isn’t meaningless because should do what we can to stop it. That drives our morality-to stop suffering. Not some contrived moral scripture or belief in the divine that allows suffering to happen.

    I would also like to know why you are so confident that your brand of religion is so much better than others. They operate on the same premises you do but you still have yet to show how yours is superior.

    Posted by Jason Kelley | January 5, 2011, 11:32 AM
  47. God is Love. Love is never jealous. I am a jealous God.

    How was the Flood benevolent or just to the infants who drowned?

    Discuss.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 11:56 AM
  48. “But then in order for the problem of suffering to counteract this, it must be infinite–and even then it would only be on balance equal. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any way to demonstrate what infinite suffering would be.”

    I will throw out a wild thought and say “hell” would be an example of infinite suffering. And I will also throw out that infinite suffering in hell, combined with suffering on earth pretty much tips the scales away from the idea of an “infinitely good” Christian deity.

    Also, “It remains totally unclear to me, however, how Harris makes the jump from “happy” to “objective good.” Measuring people’s happiness doesn’t mean measuring goodness. There are serial killers who are very happy to go about secretly killing as many people as possible” leaves a bit to be desired in an argument. For starters, Harris’ main point (from what I gather) is that we should seek to decrease suffering and increase human happiness and that this is the “objective good.” And in the case of the serial killer, you failed to the suffering and happiness of all involved, and chose to instead only consider that of the killer.

    Posted by Saturn | January 5, 2011, 1:56 PM
  49. Back to whether good deeds justify bad ones. The Catholic Church disagrees with you, at least when people do it.

    The medical ethics director of the Diocese of Phoenix stated that McBride “consented in the murder of an unborn child. There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective – you can’t do evil to do good. The end does not justify the means” (www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126985072).

    Perhaps the Catholics think it’s still ok for God to allow a kid to burn for His inscrutable purposes. They can think that, but that doesn’t fit the definition of ‘loving’.

    Your God is a married bachelor; a contradiction in terms. To say he is loving, yet doesn’t fit the definition of ‘loving’ as we use it to describe the behavior of humans, is bald contradiction.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 3:58 PM
    • Don, your new strategy of peppering me with insulting comments is a strange shift. Anyway, again, you’re assuming God has done a bad deed. Question begging my arguments out of existence. I find no need to respond to the same tired arguments.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 5:11 PM
  50. >Don, your new strategy of peppering me with insulting comments is a strange shift. Anyway, again, you’re assuming God has done a bad deed. Question begging my arguments out of existence. I find no need to respond to the same tired arguments.

    Ignore the insults. You’re right they have nothing to do with the argument.

    Answer this question:

    Are we to follow God’s example and allow kids to suffer? If not, why is it loving when God does it?

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 5:14 PM
  51. And please answer this one:

    How was the Flood benevolent or just to the infants who drowned?

    Here, God is not just allowing suffering, but causing it.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 5:16 PM
  52. >peppering me with insulting comments

    I retract them. But don’t hide behind my mistakes. You have left some questions unanswered, and not just the tired ones.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 5:18 PM
    • I’ve already made my final arguments. There was a reason I called them final. If one thinks that God’s infinite goodness to all persons, along with an argument showing God is not culpable for human suffering is not enough to prove omnibenevolence, their dogmatic resistance to God’s existence has gone beyond reason. The debate, at that point, is over.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 5:25 PM
  53. Not so fast, JW. You’ve left a great big reductio ad absurdum hanging. You know, where the whole argument seems fine, but leads to a contradiction. I’ve asked you to address it before:

    If God omnibenevolent, yet allow kids to suffer, then why does Jesus praise the Good Samaritan? Why shouldn’t we follow his example and let kids suffer, too?

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 5:30 PM
    • Again, it’s not like I haven’t allowed for this example. I maintain that my arguments above very easily circumvent this attempted reductio. The phrase “letting kids suffer” is not what God does. “Cannot prevent the suffering” is the phrase I have continually applied. Your reductio is (unfortunately, getting to be “as usual”) a mere charade–you’re becoming increasingly focused on erecting straw men and knocking them over. I am simply not going to respond further; as I said before, once you’ve reduced yourself to such dogma, rational discourse is over. I’ve presented your arguments, you’ve presented your emotions. I’m moving on.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 5:36 PM
  54. >“Cannot prevent the suffering”

    Ok. You are still in this position:

    My God created the universe but can’t keep a kid from falling in a scalding pool.

    What jury would buy that? Only a jury of Christian Theists. Such a verdict would get thrown out for bias.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 5:38 PM
    • A powerful counter, that much I will not deny. However note that the creation of the universe is prior to the suffering of the child. One could easily argue that less things were contradictory when all that existed was God; however, posterior to the creation of the universe, numerous things became contradictory. For example, is God less powerful because after He created the universe He could not make it such that He had never created it? Obviously not. But analogous points would apply for any number of scenarios, all the way down to things which seem as though they should not be impossible.

      The way to refute your argument is to show that there is no inconsistency in God’s omnibenevolence and the child falling in the scalding pool. This is a rather basic point of logic, but it is possible that people miss it. Namely, when one is asserting that two claims are logically inconsistent, one only needs to show that there is a possible way to make them consistent in order to refute the argument.

      In this case, Don is asserting that:
      1) God is omnibenevolent
      is logically inconsistent with
      2) A child fell in a scalding pool

      In order to do this, the claims must be contradictory. My arguments have shown many possible ways they are not. Whether or not the possibilities are plausible or true is actually irrelevant–again, this is a basic of logic. If someone claims that two statements are incompatible, all that needs to be done to refute them is to introduce a third possibility which allows for both claims. I have done so numerous times. Don’s argument, therefore, fails.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 5:46 PM
  55. I’m not conceding. All I need is one instance where God’s reducing a kid’s suffering, even a little, would not impinge on the free will of anyone.

    You have the much harder job of saying that, in all of human history, NOT ONE of the cases of human suffering, including hangnails, fall in this category.

    I need one instance. You need to show that not one in a nearly infinite set meets my criteria. By the odds, God is not loving.

    (By the way, Plantinga-style libertarian free will isn’t that hard to knock down. I just don’t want to get into it with you, so I’m granting it for now.)

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 5:56 PM
    • But again, your argument shows a misunderstanding of how logic operates. I have introduced a possibility. Furthermore, it is quite possible that God has decreased suffering across the board. That is inscrutable, however. The point is that logically, in order for you to maintain the claim that God is not omnibenevolent, the two statements had to be contradictory. I’ve shown they are not. My work is done.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 6:00 PM
  56. Not quite. You have to show that god could not have reduced suffering even a little bit more.

    Posted by don severs | January 5, 2011, 6:06 PM
    • Again, you’ve strayed far from the realm of logic here. In order to claim that things are contradictory, all it takes is a possibility that they are not. Your argument is absurd. It would imply that in order to demonstrate that things are not contradictory, we would have to universally show that they are true. That’s simply fallacious.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 6:08 PM
  57. Help me out guys is jw blowing smoke here? please explain it to me…

    Posted by don severs | January 5, 2011, 6:11 PM
    • Don, it’s not like you need to appeal to others. “In logic, a consistent theory is one that does not contain a contradiction.”. I’m merely claiming that 1) God is omnibenevolent and 2) people suffer are consistent. Your argument wants to say they aren’t. Your argument relies on saying they are logically contradictory. Therefore, all the theist has to do is show that there are ways that such statements are not contradictory. I’ve done so.

      In order to show that

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 6:28 PM
    • Let “T” be “God is good”; let S be “There is suffering”; let P be “any proposition J.W. introduced which was intended to show that God may be unable to prevent suffering”; let R be “God has reduced suffering”

      Your claim is that :
      S⊃~◊T
      S
      ~◊T (modus ponens)

      My claim is that:
      ◊P⊃◊T
      ◊P
      ◊T (Modus ponens)

      In order to get around my argument, you must demonstrate that ~◊T is the case, which would entail you showing that ~◊P. It is not my job to prove that P, because I have only asserted that ◊P, a weaker statement.

      Note further, that you have argued that I must show that R. But even if ~R, it does not follow that ~◊T, you need a further premise, namely,
      T⊃R

      I grant this premise. However, I have asserted that ◊R. I don’t have to show that R is the case in order to demonstrate that ◊R, in that case I would be demonstrating R, not ◊R.
      Follow that with the argument that
      ◊R⊃◊T
      ◊R
      ◊T (modus ponens)

      And from this, and the argument above from ◊P, there are two good arguments that ◊T.

      You, on the other hand, are claiming that S=> ~◊T. This is a universal negative, as well as a modal claim (there is no possible world such that ◊T and S). The burden of proof is on you in this case to show that ◊R and ◊P are in fact not possible.

      My argument, therefore, seems very successful.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 6:50 PM
  58. Let’s put all this aside for a moment now.

    At some point god decided to give us free will.

    Was that decision a Loving one considering the suffering that followed?

    Posted by don severs | January 5, 2011, 6:18 PM
    • Again, all the theist would have to do is show it is consistent. There are many possibilities. One could be that; necessarily, free beings are more valuable than non-free beings. This isn’t a best of all possible worlds argument, it is merely claiming that God would be more apt to create free beings than not. Of course, your question doesn’t even begin to call into question God’s infinite goodness to all beings. Your assumption seems to be that:

      1) If God brought beings with free will into existence, then He is responsible for their actions.

      I would deny this, because it seems obviously false. The burden of proof would be upon you, because yours is the positive assertion.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 6:32 PM
      • >If God brought beings with free will into existence, then He is responsible for their actions.

        Not what I’m saying. I’m just wondering if a world with free will is the most loving world God could have created.

        Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 7:06 PM
      • And wonder is the appropriate response. It can’t really get further than that. See my explanation of the nature of the argument above, however. I believe I have sufficiently demonstrated that God’s goodness remains possible, even granting suffering.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 7:10 PM
      • Although, in actuality, it seems that “loving world” by definition would include freedom of the will. How do unfree beings love?

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 7:16 PM
  59. >1) God is omnibenevolent and 2) people suffer are consistent. Your argument wants to say they aren’t.

    Yes, and all I have to do to show they aren’t consistent is find one counterexample. Smallpox comes to mind. All I need is one case where God could have reduced the suffering of one person for one second, and did not.

    You, on the other hand, have to show that there has never been one case in all of history where God could have reduced suffering and did not.

    Before I begin, let me deflect your charge of emotionalism. Did the attorneys at Nuremburg show photos of Auschwitz? Yes. Was this sensationalism or emotionalism? No. It was evidence.

    You have summed up. I am more than happy to send this to a jury. Here is my summary:

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. JW claims ‘omnibenevolence and omnipotence’ for his client. At the same time, he wants to say God has done everything that could be done for humanity, and that, in fact, the world in all its wretched misery, is the absolute best he could do.

    To deny this claim, we only need to find one case where God could have done more than he did. Ignoring all the rest of history, from prehistoric infections from ticks and tiger bites, through smallpox, mental illness and birth defects; let’s find that one case. She is Jamilah. She is a 2 month old Muslim girl, her leg crushed under a concrete beam in Haiti. She passes into and out of consciousness for a week before succumbing to kidney failure. Like all pain, hers consists of the activity of the human nervous system.

    Are we to believe that Yahweh, creator of the universe, molder of species and architect of the heavens could not have quelled the firing of even one more of Jamilah’s neurons? Or caused one more drop of rain to fall on her lips?

    JW wants us to think he only has to show it is possible that God could not. He has it backwards. He must show that it was impossible for God to help. He must show that, not only in this case, but in the trillions of cases in human history, that God could not have done any more.

    We all suffer. We all know stories of abject misery. Are we to believe that ‘Almighty’ God has done his very best? If so, then we offend all of humanity. It is an affront to their suffering to say it all, ALL of it, was unavoidable.

    If we call this God “omnibenevolent and omnipotent”, then those words have lost all meaning.

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 7:21 PM
    • I’m perfectly happy to allow this summing up. I’ve demonstrated symbolically that Don’s argument has failed on every count. Thankfully, God’s goodness is not threatened by illogical arguments. I reiterate my arguments:

      Freedom of the will argument:
      1) If God were to overcome freedom of the will, God would have to bring about a logical contradiction.
      2) God cannot bring about a logical contradiction.
      3) Therefore, God cannot overcome freedom of the will.

      Don has granted this argument.

      Culpability for things one is unable to prevent:
      *) If any agent is unable to prevent x, the agent is not culpable for x

      Natural evils/accidents and freedom:
      4) If an instance of natural evil/an accident is the result of freedom of the will, then (1-3 applies)
      5) Many/most/perhaps all natural evils/accidents are the results of freedom of the will
      6) Therefore, God is not culpable (*)

      Freedom of the will and unfree persons
      7) There are seemingly situations in which one’s own freedom was not involved
      8 ) These situations almost certainly arise due to others freedoms (in the case of the 3 month old Don has pressed, it would be the parents of the child)
      9) Repeat (6)

      God’s actual help for all persons:
      10) God helps all persons in subtle ways, but (3).

      Infinite goodness to all persons
      11) If God brings about circumstances such that a person’s life is good for one to have, then God has been good to that person.
      12) God has brought about circumstances such that He has been infinitely good to every person.
      13) Therefore, God has been good to every person

      Infinite goodness and finite suffering
      14) Infinite goodness infinitely outshines finite suffering
      15) God has been infinitely good to all persons
      16) All persons have infinitely good lives

      One subtlety Don has pressed has been that even infinite goodness to a person does not excuse finite suffering here and now. There are many problems with this. I’ll focus on two.
      17)First, God has been infinitely good to all persons here and now, not just in the future, which undercuts the objection.
      18) Second, it is unclear how infinite goodness can be outweighed by finite suffering, regardless of the timeline.

      Therefore, our arguments give us the following:
      19) God cannot prevent much of the suffering which actually occurs (1-9)
      20) However, God still helps every person (10)
      21) God has been infinitely good to all persons (11-18 )

      Therefore,
      21) A God who is infinitely good to all persons, provides help for all persons, and is not culpable for the suffering of such persons is omnibenevolent.

      Let “T” be “God is good”; let S be “There is suffering”; let P be “any proposition J.W. introduced which was intended to show that God may be unable to prevent suffering [any argument above]”; let R be “God has reduced suffering”

      Don’s claim is that :
      S⊃~◊T
      S
      ~◊T (modus ponens)

      My claim is that:
      ◊P⊃◊T
      ◊P
      ◊T (Modus ponens)

      In order to get around my argument, Don must demonstrate that ~◊T is the case, which would entail Don showing that ~◊P. It is not my job to prove that P, because I have only asserted that ◊P, a weaker statement.

      Note further, that Don has argued that I must show that R. But even if ~R, it does not follow that ~◊T, Don needs a further premise, namely,
      T⊃R

      I grant this premise. However, I have asserted that ◊R. I don’t have to show that R is the case in order to demonstrate that ◊R, in that case I would be demonstrating R, not ◊R.
      Follow that with the argument that
      ◊R⊃◊T
      ◊R
      ◊T (modus ponens)

      And from this, and the argument above from ◊P, there are two good arguments that ◊T.

      Don, on the other hand, is claiming that S=> ~◊T. This is a universal negative, as well as a modal claim (there is no possible world such that ◊T and S). The burden of proof is on Don in this case to show that ◊R and ◊P are in fact not possible.

      My argument, therefore, seems very successful.

      Finally, Don seems to think that presenting a case of suffering demonstrates ~◊R. It should be clear to even a casual obserrvor that this is not the case. S does not entail that ~◊R. All it entails is S. It is consistent to claim that there is x amount of suffering and that God reduced suffering. Even Don’s closing argument, then, fails to pull any weight.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 7:25 PM
      • I edited my final response by adding the appendix: “Finally, Don seems to think that presenting a case of suffering demonstrates ~◊R. It should be clear to even a casual obserrvor that this is not the case. S does not entail that ~◊R. All it entails is S. It is consistent to claim that there is x amount of suffering and that God reduced suffering. Even Don’s closing argument, then, fails to pull any weight.”

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 5, 2011, 7:45 PM
  60. While the jury deliberates, let’s break this down. If JW wins, it doesn’t mean his god exists. His argument only shows that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent god is not contradictory. Flying pigs are not contradictory. A win would mean that Yahweh could stand on the starting line with the infinite set of imaginable, not-contradictory entities, a few of which may actually exist.

    A win for him would be important, though, since it would deflect one my charges: that believing in Yahweh is like believing in a married bachelor. I wanted to show that, even within his system of belief, he believed in a contradiction. He mounted an able and spirited defense and I learned a lot. He’d get an A on this assignment, even if it doesn’t sway the jury.

    Up to now, I’ve been debating with one hand tied behind my back. I’ve granted theism, supernaturalism and free will. None of those things can be assumed. We’ve argued these things in separate threads, most of which end with JW saying “My argument, therefore, seems very successful.”

    Posted by Donald Severs | January 5, 2011, 8:25 PM
    • Aye this is a point I alluded to earlier and it can be applied to all theist apologetics.

      All arguments for theism and for god and creationism and intelligent design are only arguments to even be able to sit down at the table. None of them even begin to explain why we should even believe in such a being, why such a being is necessary, why it would behave in such and such way. This is why I so do enjoy debating Christians in particular. No matter how right they may in any given argument you can think of under the sun, they are only arguing for a position that is ultimately indefensible. They are only, as Don put it, able to get to the starting line and a small preliminary will show them hopelessly outmatched by competing views.

      No matter how hard one argues against science, non theism, and evidence based reasoning, you still lose.

      Posted by jastiger | January 5, 2011, 10:23 PM
  61. I have just found this blog from a link on another site, so I apologise for posting so late. I find the problem of evil issue fascinating, and could not resist adding my thoghts.

    In the scientific method, you propose a hypothesis, draw predictions from it (that is, you assume the hypothesis is true, and determine the logical consequences of that), and test those prediction. The problem of evil is best framed in the same way, in my opinion.

    The base hypothesis is that there exists an all-loving, all-power, all-knowing, perfectly-good, perfectly-just God, and he has given us free will. Now we assume that the hypothesis is true, and determine the logical consequences. The important point here is that given this assumption, we are necessarily in a theistic world (albeit a hypothetical one) where the concept of “evil” does have meaning.

    We can then draw predictions, and test against the real world, and if we find the predictions fail, reject or modify the hypothesis.

    So what are the consequences of the stated hypothesis in this hypothetical world? I suggest that one is that there would be no natural evil; such a God would protect us from earthquates, tsunamis, etc.

    Posted by Pixie | October 27, 2011, 2:59 AM
  62. We empirically observe pleasure and pain as intrinsically good and bad in the same way that we experience water as wet or fire as hot. In my opinion, what’s (objectively) morally good and bad relates to what is (objectively) intrinsically good and bad (happiness and suffering).

    Posted by Chisanga | September 22, 2012, 3:57 PM
    • I don’t see how this helps the case whatsoever. All you’ve done is reduce good and evil to pleasure and pain, which is a very simplistic view of good and evil. Surely you aren’t suggesting that pleasure and pain cover the entire spectrum of good and evil? Not only that, but your view just equivocates on the meanings of “objective”; “good”; and “evil” respectively.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 22, 2012, 5:22 PM
  63. J.W. -

    I am a Christian myself. But I still have problems with the omnibenevolence/omnipotence of God. I know those are His characteristics, but Don has pointed out a few things that I have never taken into consideration before. I am a meteorologist, and so I can already debase Don’s objection to your option of natural processes in the atmosphere/geosphere because of the fact that God did create natural laws, but sooner or later, concentrated regions of the correct “ingredients” will cause massive storms. And since I do not believe God does interfere with natural processes, unless of course if He does want to “prove” His all-powerful nature (which his creation does everyday), then God does not stop a blizzard from forming (which could destroy the entire atmospheric pattern, and thus cause even more human suffering). My mind is continually battling this subject, and it keeps bringing up the objection that what if no free will was involved? Such as in the case of the Joplin 2011 EF-5 tornado. Supposedly, it is extremely rare for a person to survive this violent of a tornado.. If this kills and causes suffering, and no human will was involved, why did God not stop it? It’s things like these that make me think way too much.. And I just don’t know how to reconcile it. Thanks for responding (if you do).

    Posted by stormcenter5 | January 8, 2013, 9:52 PM
    • Hello,

      Thanks for your insightful, probing comment. I think you’ve touched on some of the most difficult questions to ask for Christians.

      You wrote:

      what if no free will was involved? Such as in the case of the Joplin 2011 EF-5 tornado. Supposedly, it is extremely rare for a person to survive this violent of a tornado.. If this kills and causes suffering, and no human will was involved, why did God not stop it?

      I have to admit that given what you said just before this makes your statement confusing. You wrote:

      God did create natural laws, but sooner or later, concentrated regions of the correct “ingredients” will cause massive storms. And since I do not believe God does interfere with natural processes, unless of course if He does want to “prove” His all-powerful nature (which his creation does everyday), then God does not stop a blizzard from forming (which could destroy the entire atmospheric pattern, and thus cause even more human suffering).

      Setting those statements alongside each other, you’ve already given yourself the answer. God created natural laws, which cause massive storms. They are lined up that way because stopping them could destroy the entire pattern and cause even more catastrophic harm.

      But we can go beyond that: it seems to me that this is one of the paradigm moments where we must turn to the Bible to search for answers, and, frankly, I think Job has the best answer. Namely, that we know that God is good, so we know that God must have a good reason, even if that is beyond our ken. It’s a hard answer, but it is Biblical. And, frankly, you’ve already provide an additional answer in asking the question.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 10, 2013, 3:56 PM

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