Sunday, October 12, 2008

Response to John Loftus on the Problem of Evil Part 2 of 7: Loftus’ Argument from Evil in Why I Became an Atheist

Loftus begins his argument


I’ll be arguing here against the theistic conception of God, who is believed to be all-powerful, or omnipotent, perfectly good, or omnibenelovent (sic) and all-knowing, or omniscient.  The problem of evil (or suffering) is an internal one to these three theistic beliefs, which is expressed in both deductive and evidential arguments concerning both moral and natural evils. p. 228


To properly unpack this statement, a basic outline of Loftus’ argument should be understood.  In chapter 12, he lays out his case.  It begins by stating the problem, looking briefly at some theistic answers, and then talking about the logical and evidential  (what I’ve called intuitive) problems.  Finally, Loftus presents his own specific argument from evil.  Chapter 13 is then devoted to answering various defenses offered by Christians.

This short outline is necessary to point out that, instead of making a distinction between internal and external forms of of the problem, as I did in my articles, Loftus treats his entire case as an internal critique.  There’s nothing wrong with limiting one’s own critique to an internal one.  The problem is that he’s calling the problem of evil an “empirical” case against Christianity. (p. 61)  Again, while it’s possible to couch it in terms of internal consistency, empirical arguments are almost always based on raw data that should be obvious on any worldview, not just the one under question.  As I will show, Loftus appears to be confused about the real nature of his critique of Christianity.  He calls it internal, but frequently makes arguments that are inconsistent with an internal critique.  As I go through them, I’ll point out some of these instances.

Loftus categorizes evil into three types: moral, natural, and accidental.  “Moral” is a result of human oppression or deliberate action that brings about suffering.  “Natural” is suffering as a result of natural disasters, forces of nature, diseases and such.  “Accidental” is suffering as a result of human action with no malicious intent. (pp. 228-229) Note that, for Loftus, evil and suffering are functionally synonymous.  His types of evil are types of suffering.  This can be seen even more clearly later in chapter 13:

Some theists like C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity will argue from the start that there can be no evil without absolute goodness (God) to measure it against. "How do you know a line is crooked without having some knowledge of what a straight line is?” In other words, I need some sort of objective moral in order to say something is morally evil. But the word evil here is used both as a term describing the fact that there is suffering, and at the same time it’s used as a moral term to describe whether or not such suffering makes the belief in a good God improbable, and that’s an equivocation in the word’s usage. The fact that there is suffering is undeniable. Whether it makes the belief in a good God improbable is the subject for debate. I'm talking about pain--the kind that turns our stomachs. Why is there so much of it when there is a good omnipotent God? p. 243 (emphasis mine)


I’ll spend more time with this quote later, but I bring it up now in order to show Loftus’ definition of evil as suffering.  There is nothing wrong with Loftus so defining evil.  It is a widely used definition in the realms of philosophy, especially when treating this issue.  The problem, which can be seen in Loftus’ charge against C. S. Lewis, is that Loftus is limiting the definition to only suffering.  Even his category of evil called “moral evil” is just that kind of suffering that is deliberately caused by human beings.  The import of this limitation will become clear as we begin to examine Loftus’ case in detail.

Loftus states the problem of evil this way:


If God is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. The reason is that a perfectly good God would be opposed to it, an all-powerful God would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it. So, the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that: either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge.  I consider this as close to an empirical refutation of Christianity as is possible. p. 230


This is the age-old problem.  There is not much to comment on here specifically except to point out some of the lack of care with which Loftus presents the problem.  Overall, it looks like the internal critique, but he refers to the “extent of intense suffering”.  Also, he refers to the problem as an “empirical refutation.”  This sounds more like an evidential argument.  It seems that he is trying to combine both arguments into one.

It is in the stating of the problem here that Loftus’ definition of evil as suffering becomes very important.  Loftus wants to limit the discussion to something that is “undeniable”, as the above quote says.  This is understandable, since the existence of real moral depravity is quite often denied, often by many of his fellow atheists.  The question is this:  Is suffering morally evil?  Or to put it better, does the existence of suffering constitute a moral failing on God’s part, should He exist?  If we limit “evil” to “suffering”, and don’t also ask about its moral character, then it can do nothing, logically, to indicate whether a morally perfect God exists.  This type of mistake can be seen in a basic deductive argument.


1. There are trees.

2. A master termite farmer would make sure his termites are fed.

3. Therefore, there are no master termite farmers.


This argument is obviously invalid.  The existence of trees is irrelevant to the termite farmer according to the argument.  Suppose, though, that we added a premise.


1. There are trees.

2. The termites of a master termite farmer would need to eat every tree.

3. A master termite farmer would make sure they are fed.

4. Therefore, there are no master termite farmers.


So, aside from the silliness of the example, this is now a valid argument.  The added premise is necessary to make any logical connection between the master farmer and the trees.  Since Loftus calls C. S. Lewis’ connection between suffering and evil an equivocation, we’d be safe to say that Loftus considers the connection inappropriate.  So, let’s reconstruct Loftus’ argument with this in mind, remembering that “evil”, if it is just the same thing as suffering, has no moral character.


1. There is undeniable nonmoral suffering.

2. A morally perfect (and omniscient and omnipotent) God would prevent all the evil he knows about and can prevent.

3. Therefore, a morally perfect God does not exist.


Do you see how this argument has exactly the same logical form as the first termite argument above?  The premise that suffering is morally evil, which Loftus doesn’t want Lewis to use, is the one that makes the argument valid.  If suffering is not morally evil, then it carries absolutely no weight in helping to decide whether a morally perfect being could exist.  Merely equating suffering with evil doesn’t do the work either, since it’s only moral evil that can be relevant.  In truth, it is Loftus who is equivocating.  Equivocation is the fallacy where an argument looks sound, but only because it is inserting more than one definition into one word at different points.  When a word is limited to one definition, the argument fails.  Loftus equivocates on the word “evil”.  On one definition, it is the same thing as “suffering”, which he says is “undeniable”.  On the other, it is the opposite of “morally good”.  Now, the only way Loftus can say that suffering is “undeniable” is if he does not attach any moral evaluation to it.  Suffering is just the experience of physical or mental pain or anguish.  We may not like it, but it is not “undeniable” to say that it is morally evil.  Many atheists deny it themselves.

Let’s look at this, again, in logical form.  This time, we’ll put it into two separate arguments, each one using only one definition for “evil”.


1. There is undeniable, nonmoral suffering.

2. A morally perfect God would prevent nonmoral suffering.

3. Therefore, a morally perfect God doesn’t exist.


And:


1. There is real moral depravity.

2. A morally perfect God would prevent real moral depravity.

3. Therefore, a morally perfect God doesn’t exist.


So, in the first argument, we limit “evil” to “suffering” and it’s apparent that the second premise is false.  If suffering carries no moral character, then it’s like cooking rice or listening to Beethoven.  What does preventing nonmoral events have to do with one’s own moral goodness?

In the second argument, it is the first premise that is difficult for Loftus.  His whole argument from evil is based on the universality of belief in suffering.  It’s not that I think there is no moral depravity.  It’s that Loftus doesn’t base his argument anywhere in his book on the existence of moral depravity.  In fact, the one thing Loftus is careful to (almost) never say is that there is real moral failure, because that would commit him to believing in objective morality, which he can’t and won’t account for in his writings.  Loftus is trading on two different definitions of “evil” to make his argument work, but that renders his argument invalid.  Both of the above arguments are valid, but both have questionable premises.  Loftus says in his quote about Lewis that he’s only using one, but as we’ve seen, he has to sneak in the other or his argument cannot be relevant to the morality of God.


Theodicies


Loftus gives a brief introduction to what he calls the “three global theodices”. (pp. 223-224)  I should just point out here, that, while my own (and I think the biblical) theodicy is most like the Augustinian, there are some major differences such that I wouldn’t use his to defend against the problem of evil.  As for “soul-making”, I think it, too has some things in common with the biblical account, but is not complete.  I completely reject process theology.

My own theodicy can be summed up like this:  God freely, and for his own reasons, which are good because he is perfectly good, created the physical and spiritual realms. (Gen. 1:1)  He has a perfect plan to bring those realms through history and everything that happens has an exact place in that plan. (Isa. 46:9-11, James 4:13-16) Because He is the Creator, He has the right to execute His plan over His creation. (Rom. 9:19-21)  Nothing that happens is in opposition to that overarching perfect plan.  God, in his wisdom and for the glorification of all aspects of his nature, such as his love, wisdom, justice, mercy, power, knowledge, etc., has decided that this world will not be without suffering and moral evil, just as it is not without joy and blessedness, but that no suffering, evil, joy, or blessedness will be without purpose in His plan. (Rom. 8:28, 9:22-24)  We, as finite human beings, only sometimes get a glimpse of what that purpose is, but, since God is infinite and all-wise, He knows it perfectly and everything fits perfectly into it. (Job 38-41, Isa. 41:22-23) Sometimes, evil’s purpose is to make us better people. (James 1:2-4)  Sometimes, it serves to punish sin. (Gen. 3, Isaiah 10) Sometimes, it is to save many lives by the suffering in one life. (Gen. 50:20)  Sometimes, it is to prove the sincerity of the faith of His people while removing pretenders from His house. (Rev. 2:9-10)  It often serves many goals, and we never see all of them.  But they are there.

Loftus never addresses this theodicy.  In part, I don’t blame him, since he’s probably never read it and he may rarely encounter those who believe it.  However, this is, in terms of content, the very theodicy of the Protestant Reformers, such as Martin Luther or John Calvin, and other theologians since then including Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards.  Many of today’s evangelicals would reject this perspective, but many would not.  Loftus limits his effectiveness when he limits his responses to theodicies that depart from the roots of the Reformation.  Rather than arguing against this position, Loftus dismisses it:


There is theological determinism, where God decrees everything that happens for his glory (or hyper-Calvinism).  According to Clark Pinnock, “One need not wonder why people become atheists when faced with such a theology.  A God like that has a great deal for which to answer.” p. 232


Now, aside from the fact that Loftus offers no argument to support his endorsement of the Pinnock quote, he also misidentifies Calvinism.  Hyper-Calvinism is a term that is used as a pejorative by non-Calvinists of consistent Calvinists, and by Calvinists of actual hyper-Calvinists.  Without going into too much detail, a Calvinist is someone who believes in the five doctrines of grace: total depravity/inability, unconditional election, particular redemption, effectual calling, and perseverance of the saints.  A hyper-Calvinist adds to this that no one is personally responsible for his actions, and that evangelism is unnecessary and not required of the Christian.  These additional beliefs contradict Scripture and are argued against constantly by Calvinists.  It appears that Loftus’ understanding of evangelicalism is limited to the non-Calvinist views and rhetoric he picked up in his church and schooling.


The Logical Problem of Evil


When I wrote my first article on this subject, I had only read some of Loftus’ articles on it.  In those articles, Loftus claimed that the problem of evil was an internal one, but he also referred to example after example of suffering to make his case.  As I said in that article, it is common for people addressing this issue to not be aware that there really are two separate problems of evil.  One is a logical, internal critique, and the other is an inductive, evidential critique.  I wrote that it is a common mistake for someone who hasn’t really studied the issue much to accidentally conflate these two arguments.  When I read Loftus’ article on his blog called “The Logical Problem of Evil is Alive and Well”, which can be found almost verbatim on pages 233 and 234 of his book, I was rather confused.  It seemed that Loftus was conflating these two arguments on purpose knowing full well the differences.  As I’ve said before, I think that this is just an example of the logical sloppiness that Loftus employs in his use of arguments.  The subheadings of his first chapter on the problem hint at this: “The Logical (Deductive) Problem of Evil” p. 233, “The Evidential (or Inductive) Problem of Evil” p. 234, and “My Specific Case” p. 235.  Loftus doesn’t identify his specific case as being of either form, and from his other statements, it can be pretty well determined that he means to try to combine the deductive and inductive arguments into one, which is logically impossible.  An internal critique is just a critique that only uses internal evidence.  As soon as it uses external evidence, it is no longer internal.

In this section, Loftus spends more than half of the time giving a sort of “history” of the logical problem, but doesn’t make his own argument until the end.  He basically agrees with an argument by Richard La Croix, whom he quotes:


“If God is the greatest possible good then if God had not created there would be nothing but the greatest possible good. And since God didn’t need to create at all, then the fact that he did create produced less than the greatest possible good...Perhaps God could not, for some perfectly plausible reason, create a world without evil, but then it would seem that he ought not to have created at all...Prior to creation God knew that if he created there would be evil, so being wholly good he ought not to have created.” p. 233-234


Loftus responds with approval, asking “Why did God create something in the first place?” and concluding, “Besides, a perfectly good God should not have created anything at all, if by creating something, anything, it also brought about so much intense suffering.”

Before dealing with La Croix’s argument, I just also point out that Loftus’ last phrase again is inappropriate in an internal critique if the Christian’s theodicy says that all suffering serves God’s purpose, which even non-Calvinists say.

As for La Croix’s argument, he is equivocating on the phrase “greatest possible good”.  His first premise is referring to an individual thing, as in the “greatest possible good thing”.  Then he says that God’s act of creating produced less than the “greatest possible good”, but here he needs it to refer to all of existence as a whole, or the “greatest possible good situation”.  If we carry the first definition through, then his second premise is obviously false, since God never ceased to exist, and therefore never ceased to be the “greatest possible good thing”.  If we carry the second definition from the first premise, then La Croix must assert that the evil in the world makes all of existence “less good” than God existing alone.  The problem with this is that, if God is a perfectly good being, then adding something else to existence, namely the created realm, adds both good and evil, but does not diminish God’s goodness.  Also, Christians hold that all of the evil in this world is purposeful to reach an ultimately good end.  It is God plus an ultimately good creation.  Therefore, Christians believe that the amount of good is actually increased because of the created realm.  The only way to say that suffering in the created realm lessens the total good that exists in the world is to say that the Christian account of a good must be arbitrarily limited to considering what “percentage” of the world is evil, and that the Christian account for evil in the world is factually false, which requires an external argument that Loftus claims not to be making.


Next time: More from Loftus' book

13 comments:

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

So, the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that: either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it.

As you implicitly show under the heading 'Theodicies', John is artificially limiting the options (and falsely implying at the same time that God is not the ultimate cause of evil). But God is the ultimate cause of evil under the Christian view, and so John's options are irrelevant to the Christian. We need only point out that John has yet to prove that an omnibenevolent God would not instantiate a world in which there is evil. Since the Bible says that God would, in fact, instantiate such a world, and even offers a non-exhaustive list of reasons why he would do this, the objection fails to even interact with the Christian position.

Loftus never addresses this theodicy. In part, I don’t blame him, since he’s probably never read it and he may rarely encounter those who believe it.

No, John is very well aware of this position. I've pulled him up on it before; as have the chaps at Triablogue—but he is unwilling to interact with the thoroughgoing biblical position further than to say that it's so abominable that it invariably leads to atheism. Hardly a compelling argument; let alone a statement with even a modicum of truth behind it.

It appears that Loftus’ understanding of evangelicalism is limited to the non-Calvinist views and rhetoric he picked up in his church and schooling.

This is, sadly, quite accurate. It's helpful to bear in mind, when debating John, that he studied under William Lane Craig who is a molinist; and he hasn't ever broken out of that unbiblical libertarian mold in his view of Christianity.

Loftus responds with approval, asking “Why did God create something in the first place?” and concluding, “Besides, a perfectly good God should not have created anything at all, if by creating something, anything, it also brought about so much intense suffering.”

Yes, the "atheistic greater good argument". An argument so thoroughly jejune that it's hard to believe someone would forward it with a straight face, even if you clear up the equivocation.

Keep up the good work, Drew; and be prepared for a protracted and unfruitful exchange.

Regards,
Bnonn

John W. Loftus said...

Drew: Overall, it looks like the internal critique, but he refers to the “extent of intense suffering”.

Drew, if I cannot force the believer to look at what we find in the world itself to show his beliefs wrong, then that believer lives in la la land. You might as well be a solipsist. You MUST look at the world that exists and reconcile it with your beliefs about God. This problem, even though I point to the world that exists, is still and internal one for your beliefs.

Drew: Also, he refers to the problem as an “empirical refutation.” This sounds more like an evidential argument. It seems that he is trying to combine both arguments into one.

Since a Christian is committed to thinking “all truth is God’s truth” there is no distinction between an external and internal critique as I argued for earlier.

Drew: If we limit “evil” to “suffering”, and don’t also ask about its moral character, then it can do nothing, logically, to indicate whether a morally perfect God exists…. If suffering is not morally evil, then it carries absolutely no weight in helping to decide whether a morally perfect being could exist. Merely equating suffering with evil doesn’t do the work either, since it’s only moral evil that can be relevant. In truth, it is Loftus who is equivocating.

You have wasted a lot of time trying to show this point, but nothing of what you said shows this. In the first place I’m referring to intensive suffering, not just to suffering. It’s quite possible that there should be some pain if God created us with fleshly bodies. Secondly, in equating trees with suffering you bypass the pain of suffering. Suffering is about the kind of pain that turns our stomachs. It repulses us by its very nature. No one likes it…no one; because we all want to be happy…all of us. But this is not the case with trees.

I am distinguishing what I think about evil from what a Christian thinks, anyway. I’m claiming intensive suffering is a problem for the Christian theist. This is not my problem. It’s yours. I’m arguing that this kind of suffering is what you should consider an “evil.” That’s what this debate is all about at this point. I’m trying to argue that it is an evil from YOUR perspective. What counts as a moral evil from MY perspective can and is much different. For instance, the law of predation is not considered by me to be a moral “evil” at all. This is what I expect given evolutionary biology. But I’m arguing that it is an evil from your perspective. I think it’s you who is confused here about that which I’m arguing about. And I do not say that “evil” is undeniable from YOUR perspective. In fact, I’m trying to argue that it is. You’re denying this. I say instead that intensive suffering is undeniable.

Drew: 1. There is undeniable, nonmoral suffering.

2. A morally perfect God would prevent nonmoral suffering.

3. Therefore, a morally perfect God doesn’t exist.


Here’s the limits that a Christian must argue to defend the indefensible. A classic case. It is intellectual gerrymandering plain and simple. If a group of guys gangrape and kill 10 year old child, that’s NOT considered moral suffering to you? That’s my question. This kind of suffering FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE is indeed moral evil! I think this kind of suffering is moral suffering as well, but that’s irrelevant to my argument since my argument is about YOUR beliefs, not mine.

More later.

John W. Loftus said...

Drew: My own theodicy can be summed up like this…Loftus never addresses this theodicy. In part, I don’t blame him, since he’s probably never read it and he may rarely encounter those who believe it.

Oh, I’ve read it alright. I even had a master’s level class with Kenneth Kantzer on Calvin at TEDS. It’s simply not worth my time.

Drew: However, this is, in terms of content, the very theodicy of the Protestant Reformers, such as Martin Luther or John Calvin, and other theologians since then including Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards. Many of today’s evangelicals would reject this perspective…Rather than arguing against this position, Loftus dismisses it…

Yep. See page 290.

Drew: Loftus doesn’t identify his specific case as being of either form, and from his other statements, it can be pretty well determined that he means to try to combine the deductive and inductive arguments into one, which is logically impossible. An internal critique is just a critique that only uses internal evidence. As soon as it uses external evidence, it is no longer internal.

I think the distinctions between the emotional problem, the logical problem and the inductive problem of evil are blurred, confusing, and not helpful to this whole debate. Christians are setting arbitrary limits on the argument itself. There is a bit of all three in any argument of this kind. I use logic. If I have argued my case well this is indeed a logical problem for the Christian. We cannot dismiss our emotions, as Daniel Howard-Snyder admits. And I use the inductive evidence of this world. What logical problem could succeed without inductive evidence I don’t have a clue, for it must begin with what we experience.

More later.

John W. Loftus said...

Drew: Richard La Croix…The problem with this is that, if God is a perfectly good being, then adding something else to existence, namely the created realm, adds both good and evil, but does not diminish God’s goodness.

It reflects on his goodness. It has to. This world must be a reflection of his goodness and from what we see he is not good. And it does speak about the goodness of that which exists apart from God. First there was perfect goodness. Now there is goodness plus evil.

Drew: Also…Christians believe that the amount of good is actually increased because of the created realm.

Hmmm. You maintain this despite the overwhelming intensive suffering in this world and the eternal suffering of billions of people in hell forever? Answer Dostoevsky’s question on page 259.

I really think you’re best bet here is to simply punt to ignorance. Just admit you cannot answer these arguments and move on to my next chapter, and my next one and my next one. You will not be able to resort to your background beliefs to support this weak plank in your worldview, because they are all weak planks.

Cheers.

Drew Lewis said...

Mr. Loftus,

Let me try to explain more clearly why the internal/external distinction is so important, addressing some of your comments.

When I say "all truth is God's truth", and I think when any Christian says it, it is not a statement that every true statement is an integral part of the Christian worldview, replete with interpretive power over facts and such. What I take that statement to mean is that, since God is the Potter, behind every fact of the universe, no fact in that universe will flatly contradict the biblical Christian worldview. So, in a sense, you are right that from my worldview every fact is consistent with that worldview, meaning that every evil event is consistent with the plan of God. This is how my worldview accounts for every evil event. This is why an internal critique of my worldview must demonstrate a logical inconsistency between the data (evil events) and the Christian worldview's interpretation of those events.

Another way of looking at the internal/external distinction is to say that a worldview should account for everything, and so every critique, in a sense, must show some logical inconsistency. Some examples of logically possible evils that I would consider inconsistent with Christianity would be things like the annihilation of mankind with no second coming of Christ, or the extinction of Christianity as a faith that anyone holds. To me, these particular events are inconsistent with Scripture. None of the examples of suffering that you've given are inconsistent with Christianity.

What an external critique will look like, then, is an introduction of data that the worldview in question has not taken into account. If there were an evil event that could be shown to directly contradict Scripture, that would be a sound external critique of Christianity. The hallmark of an external critique is that it introduces raw data that should be "undeniable" on any worldview, but must be denied by the worldview in question. Thus, the inconsistency lies between the fact and the worldview's position.

Despite your insistence that you're only making an internal critique, you say that you're appealing to something "undeniable" (the faultiness of which I addressed here in part 2), but you don't give a successful account of it on your own worldview. (I address the Atheistic Ethic in a later section). If you only mean that it's undeniable "for the Christian", then the argument reverts back to a reductio, which does not succeed because the Christian worldview does account for all actual evil.

On the issue of nonmoral suffering, I am not, of course actually arguing that intense suffering is nonmoral, I'm saying that the only thing that's "undeniable" for anyone is the bare fact of intense suffering. My point is that it is a moral issue for the Christian, but not one that's inconsistent with the Christian worldview. If it is not a moral issue for the atheist, then it can only be used as an unsuccessful internal critique. If it is a moral issue for the atheist, then it can only be used by that atheist if he can give an atheistic account of it. If he can't, as we'll see in a later section, then that moral evil destroys his atheism as much as it could destroy Christianity.

You make the statement that the logical and inductive arguments' distinctions are "blurred", and that somehow, it's just Christian gerrymandering that brings them up. I honestly don't know what to say to that. I've shown the distinctions pretty clearly to be distinctions based on logic, so your claim just doesn't work. An internal critique starts only with premises that the position in question affirms, and derives a contradiction. If one of your implied premises is, "A good God wouldn't allow this much suffering," then you are not doing an internal critique. You've introduced a premise that flatly contradicts the Christian worldview. I'm not saying, and have never said, that the problem of evil isn't a problem at all. Every Christian must wrestle with it. My only point is that it cannot succeed in actually demonstrating in any meaningful way that God doesn't exist. It cannot be formulated so as to show a contradiction within the Christian worldview, and no particular intense example or examples can be affirmed as demonstrating that the existence of a good God is questionable without destroying the atheist position as well. I know that the problem of evil wasn't invented by atheists, and that process theologians and non-theistic worldviews could possibly survive the existence of real, moral evil. To them I would offer a different argument. My purpose for this series is, and has always been, to show that the atheist cannot successfully use the problem of evil against the Christian, because it is either impotent (the internal argument) or, if it's sound, too strong, destroying atheism along with Christianity (the external argument).

John W. Loftus said...

Drew: When I say "all truth is God's truth"…is that, since God is the Potter, behind every fact of the universe, no fact in that universe will flatly contradict the biblical Christian worldview.

I was initially impressed with you but I grow tired of this. Do you know that you used the words “contradict” or “logical inconsistency” or “inconsistent” in your recent post 11 times on my count? You are asking me to disprove your faith by showing suffering “contradicts” the Bible or that there is some “logical inconsistency” in what you believe. Such a high standard you have there, Drew! In other words, unless I can show your views are logically inconsistent your faith stands, eh? Such standards are risible. Read the bottom of page 61. We’re talking about probabilities not possibilities here.

Drew: Another way of looking at the internal/external distinction is to say that a worldview should account for everything….

Yes. I’m glad you agree, if you do, minus the “logical inconsistency” talk. And there should be nothing external to what you must account for.

Drew: What an external critique will look like, then, is an introduction of data that the worldview in question has not taken into account….The hallmark of an external critique is that it introduces raw data that… must be denied by the worldview in question. Thus, the inconsistency lies between the fact and the worldview's position.

That’s exactly what I have done. The fact that you disagree is irrelevant. If I cannot convince you that your faith is improbable (not logically impossible) then that does not matter. I claim it is. I use your standards to do so. Why you don’t see it is strange to me. As I former Christian I became persuaded of these things, so why is it impossible for you to do so? The answer is that it is not impossible for you to see that you’re wrong, just like I did. That’s how we change our minds, and we all do. Who knows, you might end up a panentheist after further considerations of these arguments. Who knows, right? THEN what will you say about my arguments? You will say they helped you to see the improbability of your prior beliefs.

Drew: An internal critique starts only with premises that the position in question….If one of your implied premises is, "A good God wouldn't allow this much suffering," then you are not doing an internal critique. You've introduced a premise that flatly contradicts the Christian worldview.

Of course I am! Stating the obvious, eh? In order to challenge your beliefs I must disagree. It cannot be otherwise in any disagreement. Otherwise I would believe what you do, silly. Sheesh. And there is no disctinction between an internal and external argument when you believe God is the author of all truth. There cannot be. Get the point.

Drew: My only point is that it cannot succeed in actually demonstrating in any meaningful way that God doesn't exist…

Of course you do! Again, stating the obvious, eh? That’s what you think now. So what? Maybe you’ll be persuaded to think differently later. And if persuaded what will you say then? I quickly tire of having to repeat myself. Maybe I’ve spent too much time here and should go back to skimming what you write.

Drew: …and no particular intense example or examples can be affirmed as demonstrating that the existence of a good God is questionable without destroying the atheist position as well.

Re-read page pp. 243-244. Don’t skim them. Okay?

Drew: I know that the problem of evil wasn't invented by atheists, and that process theologians and non-theistic worldviews could possibly survive the existence of real, moral evil. To them I would offer a different argument. My purpose for this series is, and has always been, to show that the atheist cannot successfully use the problem of evil against the Christian, because it is either impotent (the internal argument) or, if it's sound, too strong, destroying atheism along with Christianity (the external argument).

I’m losing patience with you. You cannot answer YOUR problem by skirting the issue. You cannot say “you too” when you must answer an argument that you must deal with even if NO ONE pressed it against you! You must think about this problem for your faith on your own. The beliefs of a person who makes this or any argument are absolutely and completely irrelevant to the problem you yourself face. Again, if you believe all things can be reconciled by your faith then you and you alone must do the reconciling. You can say you have done so all you want to, but since human beings have an overwhelming tendency to intellectually defend those beliefs they have been brought up in, and since they treat those things they believe with an insider perspective, they must come to grips with the arguments of outsiders just to test what they believe. You are doing that, I know, and I congratulate you for this. But please don’t throw up any more smoke screens here. That’s what you’re doing and it’s called cognitive dissonance. If you cannot be honest with the facts, then okay. I’ve given you the facts. You don’t like them. You’re doing a great deal of intellectual gerrymandering.

John W. Loftus said...

dominic, you have absolutely NO reason to trust a Calvinistic God on its own terms.

Cheers.

david said...

Again for purposes of clarification, could we please be explicit about the factual premise being put forth here.

Traditionally, the three factual premises to choose from:

(E1) Evil exists
(E2) Large amounts, extreme kinds, and perplexing distributions of evil exists
(E3) Gratuitous or pointless evil exists.

I also still don't think a satisfactory agreement has been reached between you two on the internal/external distinction.

As I see it:

1. The logical problem of evil (using E1 above as its factual premise) attempts to show that Christian theism is internally inconsistent. "Evil exists" is necessarily part of the Christian worldview.

2. The evidential or probabilistic argument (using E3 as the factual premise) purports that, given the facts of evil, theism is improbable.

3. E2 is used evidentially, but is often abandoned because of the obstacle of establishing precisely how much evil God would allow.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

John, that is probably the most systematically and comically dishonest caricature of Calvinism I've ever read; and one which you yourself know full well has been thoroughly refuted. It's not just theologically ignorant; not just philosophically inept—it also fails simply in terms of investigative detail and journalistic integrity. Once again, you prove the charge that you just are not a serious scholar. Where is the balanced consideration of Calvinist arguments? Where is the thoughtful weighing of the nuances of Reformed doctrine? You breathlessly dismiss them as "logical gerrymandering" in your excitement to get to your ill-conceived, thoroughly jejune, but preciously triumphant conclusion. Your site is like a tabloid for unbelief.

John W. Loftus said...

David, here is my argument:

If God is perfectly good, all knowing, and all powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation. The reason is that a perfectly good God would be opposed to it, an all-powerful God would be capable of eliminating it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it. So the extent of intense suffering in the world means for the theist that either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, or God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. The stubborn fact of intense suffering in the world means that something is wrong with God’s ability, or his goodness, or his knowledge. I consider this as close to an empirical refutation of Christianity as is possible.

Is this a logical argument? Yes, even though it's written for the average college student and not for the profesional philosopher. Is it an evidential argument? Yes, since I'm looking at the evidence in this world. This whole distinction between a logical and evidential argument is blurred.

The way Drew describes an "internal critique" means that I must show his belief to be logically impossible by use of deductive logic based on the things he believes. And he maintains that an "external critique" depends on my having ultimate objective morals (a problem I have dealt with head-on). So Drew thinks he has me choosing between two horns of a dilemna where I reject BOTH horns. It's a false dimemna. On the one hand, I reject the claim that my logical argument (above) must show his beliefs to be logically contradictory. That's a near impossible standard that isn't required of most ideas we reject. On the other hand, I reject his notion that by offering a so-called "external critique" of his present beliefs means I must have some sort of ultimate objective moral to do so as an atheist, since this argument of mine is not an atheist argument at all. It's an argument that he needs to consider in reconciling all that he believes, since he believes God is the author of all truth. Regardless of whether as an atheist I press this argument against him or not, and regardless of whether he agrees with me or not, he must still consider my argument to reconcile his beliefs. This is evidenced by Christian thinkers who have become process thinkers.

This stuff is elementary to me. I think he's been informed by ignorant people who feel the need to justify ignorant beliefs. He doesn't trust what I say, probably because he thinks I'm being used by the Devil. He needs to hear these same things from someone he trusts. But I fear he's reading all of the wrong literature, ignorant, truly ignorant literature on this. All he can do it to restate and repeat himself on these topics. I am truly baffled with his thinking skills here. These things are so very obvious to me that it's evidence of a man who is blinded by faith.

But with this introductory matter aside, he still is attempting to argue against me, and for that I congratulate him. Still if he can be so very ignorant on these introductory matters then how confident can he be on the more substantiove matters he deals with later?

John W. Loftus said...

dominic, I am not alone in thinking the way I do. Arminian Christians think the exact same way. I suppose you'd say the same things about what they write. Why is that people seem to think that if I just understood what they believed I'd believe the way they do. It's as if they think I must be ignorant about what they believe such that if this ignorance is removed I would believe. I find that extremely ignorant to the utmost.

There are serious problems with your theology. It means God decrees every evil deed that we do. It also means that God decrees every evil desire that we have to do every evil deed that we do. We cannot do otherwise. We cannot even desire to do otherwise. Therefore God sovereignly decrees all of our evil desires and deeds. It also means God decrees everything that we believe. None of us can believe other than that which God decrees. Therefore, God decrees people to hell, since those who end up there could not have believed differently. This is the problem you must deal with, okay? It matters not to say I may have wanted to believe differently or that I may have desired to sin, for I could not have believed or desired to do differently. Only gerrymandering can account for why anyone would worship and praise such a despicable God. He's a thug, a bully.

I only have the harshest kinds of comments for such a theology. That God is an evil monster requiring nothing but disgust and loathing. Such a theology creates atheists and motivates me like no other theology to attempt to demolish the Christian faith.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

John, some Arminians do write stuff which is little better than tabloid material. Some, however, are far more considered—and I have never seen such painfully ridiculous arguments from a thoughtful Arminian, because a thoughtful Arminian would not caricature Calvinist theology in such a way, regardless of how much he disagreed with it. I know of plenty of people who understand Calvinist theology, but still don't believe it. You just aren't one of them; judging from your "rebuttal", you manifestly do not understand Calvinism, though you certainly fancy that you do.

There are serious problems with your theology. It means God decrees every evil deed that we do. It also means that God decrees every evil desire that we have to do every evil deed that we do. We cannot do otherwise. We cannot even desire to do otherwise. Therefore God sovereignly decrees all of our evil desires and deeds. It also means God decrees everything that we believe. None of us can believe other than that which God decrees. Therefore, God decrees people to hell, since those who end up there could not have believed differently. This is the problem you must deal with, okay?

Sorry, what is the problem? You've just described the living God whom I worship. Rather one-sidedly, of course, but that's okay. The fact that you think my God is a despicable bully is typically unregenerate of you—but in what way does that constitute a problem for me?

I only have the harshest kinds of comments for such a theology. That God is an evil monster requiring nothing but disgust and loathing. Such a theology creates atheists and motivates me like no other theology to attempt to demolish the Christian faith.

Of course it does. You've just described the very essence man's spiritual problem: his unrelenting desire to be his own sovereign, and his unrestrained loathing of the truth that he is not. I don't know if you're doing this intentionally, but I think to a lot of Christians you are actually a very great encouragement. Your constant and repeated railing against Christianity is so reminiscent of Pharaoh in Exodus. The truth of God is right in front of your face, but you're the king, and you do not know this God of ours. And even if you did, look what a bully he is! Besides, you're the king! Who does he think he is? You fit so perfectly into the biblical archetype of fallen, unbelieving man; almost like you were made for it.

david said...

John,
To be fair, “internal critique” has traditionally been used to refer to the deductive argument. Where can that term be found in reference to the inductive argument in other writings? The non-Christian philosophers I’ve read acknowledge the internal/external distinction and use the term “internal critique” accordingly.

Thanks for clarifying your argument, my only question then is how much suffering would one expect given the theistic God’s existence? Imagine a world with half the suffering, would that still allow your empirical refutation to work?