Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Can Atheists Have It Both Ways?

My blog has only been here for about a week, yet a number of inconsistencies have already been found in the atheist’s Argument from Evil. As a philosophy student, I spend my days analyzing arguments. But after seeing the way atheists use evil to argue against the existence of God, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen an argument filled with so many inconsistencies. There are, however, many more to discuss.

For instance, atheists seem to be arguing (1) that human beings are so good that God shouldn’t allow us to suffer, and (2) that human beings are so bad that God shouldn’t have created us (or given us free will, etc.). That is, atheists are simply shocked that a good God would allow human beings to experience all sorts of pain and injustice. “Why doesn’t God intervene?” “Why doesn’t God come down here and protect us?” The point of this criticism is that God should save us from harm (i.e. God is morally obligated to protect us). Therefore, we are worth saving from harm.

Then, usually in the course of the same argument, the atheist gives a long list of human atrocities that God should have prevented. The examples consist of dozens of instances of how awful human beings are. Consider the following sample from a recent post by John Loftus:

There is a horrendous amount of suffering caused by humans. This is known as Moral Evil; suffering as the result of the choices of moral agents.

Here are some examples: The holocaust, molesting, torture, beatings, and kidnappings. Drunk drivers across America regularly slam their vehicles into other cars instantly killing whole families. There are witchdoctors in Africa who tell men who have AIDS to have sex with a baby in order to be cured, and as a result many female babies are being taken from their mother’s arms and gang-raped even as I write this. Is this not horrendous? In sub-Saharan Africa nearly four million people die from AIDS each year! Just watching a re-enactment of the holocaust as depicted in Spielberg’s movie, Schindler’s List, is enough to keep Christians up late at night wondering why God doesn’t do much to help us in this life. Nearly 40,000 people, mostly children, die every day around the world, due to hunger. Then there was Joseph Mengele, who tortured concentration camp prisoners; atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Soviet gulags, 9/11 twin tower terrorist attacks, Cambodian children stepping on land mines, Columbine shootings, Jeffery Dahlmer, Ted Bundy, gang rapes, and brutal slavery. The list of atrocities done by people to each other could literally fill up a library full of books.

Go any place where humans live, and you will find horrible atrocities. We kill one another, we steal from one another, we rape, we torture, we bully, we mock. We will do practically anything to increase our pleasure. (Interesting how the Argument from Evil is based on God not giving us an “appropriate” balance of pleasure, isn’t it?)

But is this consistent with the atheist’s claim that God should protect us from harm? Sin and selfishness are ubiquitous in the Kingdom of Man, as even atheists admit in their criticisms. However, in piling up countless examples to illustrate how awful human behavior can be, atheists thereby forfeit the right to say that God is morally obligated to protect us.

In order to be consistent (and, as I said recently in a comment, proponents of the Argument from Evil seem to have no concern for consistency), atheists need to choose. If humans are so awful to one another that God shouldn’t have given us the opportunity to carry out our horrendous exploits, fine. Stick with this as an argument. But don’t turn around and immediately claim that God should protect us, because your argument, if correct, shows that human beings are very, very bad.

Alternatively, if human beings are so good that God should swoop down and save us whenever something goes wrong, all right. Stick with this argument. But don’t turn around and complain that God created us or that he gave us free will or that human beings are awful. After all, we’re so good that allowing us to suffer would be an abomination. But if we’re that wonderful, surely God would create us, give us free will, and let us exhibit our greatness on earth.

43 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

For instance, atheists seem to be arguing (1) that human beings are so good that God shouldn’t allow us to suffer, and (2) that human beings are so bad that God shouldn’t have created us (or given us free will, etc.).

I'm very sorry to say this my friend, but this is simply stupid. Are you really a Ph.D Student?

I’m arguing that humans should not have to suffer so much if there is a good God, precisely because God is supposed to be good. If God created us to suffer so much, then he shouldn’t have created us. It’s a problem for God and how he should treat his creatures, and he should show more love than he does if he is perfectly good. It doesn’t have anything to do with human goodness. It has all to do with God’s goodness.

If you cannot make these simple distinctions, then you'll have a very hard time defending your dissertation. Let me help you before you write it, please. If I were on your committee I would fail you, even though I like you very much.

I really truly hope you can do better. I really do. Otherwise you're in trouble.

This post of yours is completely and utterly worthless. And I'll have nothing more to say here.

David Wood said...

So we've got "stupid" and "worthless." When you respond like this, I know I'm on to something. Or are you upset because of all the posts at Triablogue?

Let me get this straight. Now you're saying that a good God must give even horrible creatures a world of complete pleasure??? Even if a being rejects God completely, kills a million people, and rapes a million women, God has to give this person a perfect world??? That's exactly what you're saying, so don't try to get out of it now. You said that it doesn't depend on what we do; instead, it only depends on God's goodness. And according to you, God's goodness entails that horrible sin should be rewarded with a world of sensual delights???

Not only this, but anyone who disagrees with your theory of hedonistic retribution is "stupid." Amazing!

I'm sorry, John, but that's your view, not mine. I would say that a good God, if he's really good, will not give such a world to the people you describe in your post.

BTW, as if it hasn't already been proven over and over again that you're not presenting an internal critique, you've really gone way outside the theist's belief on this one. I'm glad you don't make the laws for our society. The better a government is, the more it would reward criminals!

Neil said...

Hi David,

I followed your argument most of the way but I got a bit stuck. You say that whether or not God should swoop down and save us depends on whether we're good enough, but that's not how I decide whether I should save someone. Suppose I see someone being attacked in the street and they cry out for help. There are various ways I might decide whether or not to intervene. Let's assume for the sake of argument that I can intervene safely.

One view would be that the person being attacked is human and humans are very very bad and so that person deserves to be attacked. I should therefore not intervene.

Another view would be that the person being attacked has done bad things in their life and so that person deserves to be attacked. I should therefore not intervene.

A third view is that it's none of my business and I shouldn't concern myself with what's right and what's wrong in other people's lives.

Yet another view is that the person doing the attacking should be taught that evil doesn't pay and so I should intervene.

Finally, there's a view that the person being attacked should be able to walk the streets without fearing for their life. I should therefore intervene to protect them.

If I understand correctly, you're saying that God follows the first line of thinking, but I'm inclined to the last line of thinking. I'm quite prepared to believe that I'm using the wrong approach, but I don't see why that would be. I would feel morally obliged to help someone in distress and it's a bit disturbing to think that being more godly involves giving that up. Can you explain?

Many thanks, Neil.

John W. Loftus said...

David, I'm back after thinking it over some more. I hastily commented earlier. I'm sorry for that, especially when you're trying so hard to deal head on with a problem many theists just avoid. I actually admire you for doing this.

Your point is about sin and punishment. Either we deserve not to suffer, or we deserve to suffer. You claim I cannot have it both ways. I must choose between arguing one or the other of two propositions: 1) If we don't deserve to suffer, then God should help us, 2) If we do deserve to suffer, then God shouldn't have created us. [I used different words, but I think this expresses what you wrote].

I find you offering so many false dichotomies that it's a bit strange. These are not my only arguments, either, which I know you are aware of.

In the first place, I must first concede this present world to argue about this question, which I don't. That's when I argued that God shouldn't have created us in the first place if doing so reduced the amount of goodness in the world, especially when it came to the evils I enumerated.

Secondly, only after conceding this present world is my argument that God should not allow any intense sufferings to afflict people. No one deserves such suffering at the hands of an good God. No good God should allow it even if we do deserve to suffer, for the argument isn't entirely about how good we are anyway, but about the goodness of God. This world should not be what it is because it's purportedly created by an omnibenelovent God. No father, for instance, would send a proverbial hurricane upon a 7 year old for stealing a cookie out of the cookie jar. And we don't deal with criminals who wreak havoc upon others the way that nature does. We simply put criminals in jail. We don't impale them on a ship's mast as the result of a tsunami for divorcing their spouses.

David B. Ellis said...


Even if a being rejects God completely, kills a million people, and rapes a million women, God has to give this person a perfect world???


A perfect world? Sorry, but no one here is proposing the problem of the imperfect world. We are proposing that beings which are caring and decent are, by definition, motivated to act for the welfare of others---and, if a being described as caring and decent does not, then this is a problem/inconsistency needing explaining.

We aren't talking about asking why God didn't create a world where our ice cream never melts. We are talking about extreme, severe, prolonged suffering and the plausibility of a caring person's inaction in the face of it.

And, as John pointed out, our argument has to do with the supposed character of your deity. Not the supposed character of humanity.

Congratulations, you've trounced the heck out of a few strawman versions of our position in this post.

David B. Ellis said...

"We are proposing that beings which are caring and decent are, by definition, motivated to act for the welfare of others---and, if a being described as caring and decent does not, then this is a problem/inconsistency needing explaining."

In the face of the above, the theist has basically two options for making their case against the problem of evil as strong evidence against theism:

1. Present a theodicy, an explanation of a intervening reason which makes this inaction plausible.

or

2. Admit you don't know the reason but argue that there must be one because you have strong reason to believe that God both exists and is caring and decent. Sufficiently strong to outweigh the problem of evil as contrary evidence. Of course, to take this tack you must present an overall case for God's existence and caring nature.

You have actually tried a bit of both.

On tack 1 you have proposed a free will theodicy (which, of course, only addresses part of the problem---natural evils are left entirely untouched).

You have also suggested that we deserve the suffering (presumably this applies to infants and animals as well, otherwise the problem remains).

If the above is not a complete list of the theodicies you have proposed remind me of any others.

On tack 2 you have suggested (at least I think it was you) that the incarnation and resurrection are strong evidence for God's existence and goodness. Though you have not actually presented an argument for this.

So, if you don't mind, try to leave off the strawman exercise and flesh out your case. There are many unaddressed problems that have been pointed out that you have barely even commented on.

David Wood said...

First, John, you always complain that God shouldn't have created a world. Then you immediately say that you grant the world. It's fine if you grant it. But a complaint has still been raised. If it's a complaint that you consistently bring up (prior to conceding the point), why do you object everytime I respond to something that is obviously an issue for you?

Second, Team Atheist is setting up the issue as if I'm arguing:

(1) Either man deserves a world of bliss, or man deserves severe punishment.
(2) Man doesn't deserve a world of bliss.
(3) Therefore, man deserves severe punishment.

That's not what I'm arguing. It's more like this:

(1) Either man deserves a world of bliss, or man doesn't deserve a world of bliss.
(2) The more examples an atheist provides to show how bad man is, the less inclined we should be to say that man deserves a world of bliss.
(3) Therefore, as long as atheists are complaining about how awful man is, it seems a bit inconsistent to demand God's constant intervention for our welfare.

Ellis, John, and Neil all agree that since God is good, he would have to give even the worst of sinners a world without pain (or, in the case of Ellis, a world without any significant pain). I think we're on to something here, as far as the atheist outlook on things.

And Ellis, I would have to object to your ice cream example. Have you ever seen a child drop her ice cream cone? She goes beserk. Surely an omni-benevolent God wouldn't allow this. So, ice cream is in. (Note: just because your primary objection is to intense suffering doesn't mean that smaller pains aren't an issue. An ice cream cone is the best pleasure a child can imagine. And when it melts, it's simply awful for her.)

David Wood said...

Ellis,

You are mistaken in your list of possible responses to the Problem of Evil. And, as always, you're looking for the short response. ("Give me your whole case now!") As I said earlier, whatever the answers to the Problem of Evil are, they're not something to be tossed around in comment sections, and they're not something that can be summed up in twelve lines or less.

The theist has two broad approaches. First, the theist can find all sorts of problems with the Argument from Evil. This would include (1) showing that there are better arguments that outweigh the evidence drawn from evil, (2) inconsistencies in the atheist argument, (3) problems internal to the Argument from Evil, etc. The other approach is to explain the evil by appealing to (1) religious doctrines such as the fall, sin, etc., or (2) theodicies.

I've been trying to proceed in a fairly orderly manner. I'm focusing on the first approach, for only when we've discovered how strong the Argument from Evil truly is will we know how well the theist has to explain evil (or if the theist needs to explain anything at all). Even when I presented the free will theodicy, it was only to point out an absurdity in the atheist's argument (i.e. even here
I was focused on the first approach).

But whenever I point to an inconsistency, or whenever I mention other evidence, atheists unanimously flip out, demanding that we go straight to theodicies. What's wrong with taking my approach? Why not judge the strength of the argument before attempting to answer it? If the argument is really as strong as atheists think, I should be hearing something like, "Go ahead, David! Examine the argument all you want! Search for problems, because you won't find any. Our reasoning is airtight!" But that's not what I'm hearing. Instead, whenever I point out a problem with the argument, it's "Stop that! Don't examine the argument! Don't make us defend our reasoning! We don't like being on the defensive! Why don't you present some theodicies, so we can be the critics and you can be on the defensive!"

Besides, I think the true answer to the Problem of Evil lies in the way atheists view the world and God. And so far, we've discovered a number of interesting facts about the way atheists think (e.g. "There's nothing good about this world"--extreme pessimism; "God should give even the worst of sinners a world of bliss"--extreme hedonism and a world with no consequences for our actions; etc.)

David B. Ellis said...


That's not what I'm arguing. It's more like this:

(1) Either man deserves a world of bliss, or man doesn't deserve a world of bliss.
(2) The more examples an atheist provides to show how bad man is, the less inclined we should be to say that man deserves a world of bliss.
(3) Therefore, as long as atheists are complaining about how awful man is, it seems a bit inconsistent to demand God's constant intervention for our welfare.


The problem: no atheist here is arguing that humanity deserves a world of bliss. Nor does the problem of evil argue that.

Your comment is addressing a strawman.

Anyway, if you are going to argue an inconsistency in the problem of evil argument then you need to actually state that argument formally then go through it pointing out any inconsistency you see. I'd be glad to see that. So far, your approach has been a bit slapdash. That doesn't work too well in philosophy.

David B. Ellis said...


Besides, I think the true answer to the Problem of Evil lies in the way atheists view the world and God. And so far, we've discovered a number of interesting facts about the way atheists think (e.g. "There's nothing good about this world"--extreme pessimism; "God should give even the worst of sinners a world of bliss"--extreme hedonism and a world with no consequences for our actions; etc.)


Stawman again, I know I hold nothing like either of those positions and I'm pretty sure John doesn't either.

Try to actually address the issue of the problem of evil rather than these fictious "interesting facts about the way atheists think" that exist only in your bizarro-world version of atheism.

David B. Ellis said...

David, to help me get an idea of your general views on the solution to the problem of evil, I'd like to ask: what do you consider the best work (or couple of works) in the history of philosophy by theists addressing this issue?

Neil said...

Hi David,

"Ellis, John, and Neil all agree that since God is good, he would have to give even the worst of sinners a world without pain"

I didn't quite say that. I said that people should be allowed to walk the streets without fearing for their lives. I'm not sure that a good God would have to give a world without pain to the worst of sinners. That wouldn't be the case if God provided some form of natural justice.

Neil.

David Wood said...

What's with the straw man accusations? A world of bliss is exactly what atheists are demanding. If we don't have a world of bliss, then how can we say that God is all good (in the atheist's sense of "all good," where goodness amounts to how much pleasure a being gives us)? Would an all good God allow even a little bit of suffering? Of course not! He would allow only pleasure (since we're making God in our own image, and this is the world we would make for ourselves).

Ellis, I've been arguing with atheists enough to know what they're demanding. Let's suppose, just for a moment, that there was no murder, torture, rape, etc. Let's say that the only thing we could do to one another is tickle one another until it gets extremely annoying. Are you saying that the atheist couldn't use the exact same argument? "Why would a good God allow this extremely annoying tickling? It just doesn't make sense! A good God would only allow tickling that doesn't involve any bad consequences! This is proof against the existence of God!"

As far as atheists believing that there's nothing really good about this world, this does seem to be the position of some. (What I mean here is the view that there is nothing good in itself in this world, and you know that John has argued this.)

An outline of what I think to be the best response to the Argument from Evil would go like this:

I. Problems with the Argument.
(A) Several Inconsistencies.
(B) Internal Problems.
(C) Other Evidence Is Stronger.

(Once all of this is discussed, I think the argument loses it's bite. It is still quite powerful emotionally, but analysis shows that it is inferior to other arguments that don't share the same difficulties. Thus, given all the problems with the argument, I would say that theists are under no obligation to explain the evil. Any explanations, then, simply make our position stronger.)

II. Responses to Evil.
(A) The Fall of Man.
(B) Theodicies.

Since you're focused on theodicies, I'll say that my favorite is my own--the Two-World Theodicy--because it's an umbrella theodicy that incorporates many others.

A short summary would go like this. There are some goods that we can have in a heavenly world, but not in our world (e.g. knowing God as he is). But there are also goods that we can have in our world but not in a heavenly world (e.g. morality, free will, virtue, etc.).

Hence, the only way to have all the goods is to have some sort of two-world system, with one world leading into the next. Since the goods of the heavenly world are greater, I would say that they should be the eternal goods. Since the goods of our world are less significant (but still extremely significant), I would say that they should be temporal.

Notice I haven't appealed to the Bible at all in this theodicy, but if we (1) try to sketch a system which would include all goods, and (2) adjust the system so that the greater goods are more lasting, we arrive at roughly the same picture as the Bible presents.

I will add that, so far as I can tell, the only way for an atheist to respond to this theodicy is to say that the goods aren't really that important. Hence, the atheist has to say, "Free will? Who cares? Morality? Meaningless! Virtue? It doesn't matter!" For if the atheist agrees that these are all important, then he will have to say that these things outweigh suffering. And if they outweigh suffering, then our world is still good.

David Wood said...

Neil,

You did imply that you would help a person in distress without thought for who the person is. And your point was that God should be as nice as you are. Hence, God should run to the aid of a mass murderer.

David Wood said...

Ellis,

As far as work by theists in the history of philosophy, there are pieces everywhere. But I think these pieces need to be brought together.

The most important recent work, I would say, was by Plantinga. His free will defense doesn't really explain evil, but it shows what kind of argument the Argument from Evil really is. It's a probabilistic argument. Atheists thought for centuries that they were dealing with a contradiction, and this was false. Today, very few philosophers advocate the logical argument from evil, and that's a significant development.

David Wood said...

And, since you say you aren't arguing for a world of bliss, how about telling us what kind of world you're demanding. Then, I'll pretend to be an atheist, and you'll quickly find out that your world is completely unacceptable.

David B. Ellis said...


Hi David,

"Ellis, John, and Neil all agree that since God is good, he would have to give even the worst of sinners a world without pain"

I didn't quite say that. I said that people should be allowed to walk the streets without fearing for their lives. I'm not sure that a good God would have to give a world without pain to the worst of sinners. That wouldn't be the case if God provided some form of natural justice.

Neil.



I said nothing that remotely resembles that. I never even mentioned how I think a decent being would treat "the worst of sinners". For more important as part of the problem of evil is how one treats beings that are the least capable of being responsible for their actions. Which is why I focused entirely on infants and animals.

Mr Wood is simply inventing a position I did not take.

David B. Ellis said...


What's with the straw man accusations? A world of bliss is exactly what atheists are demanding.


I'm not, Neil isn't and so far as I have read, John isn't.


Would an all good God allow even a little bit of suffering? Of course not! He would allow only pleasure (since we're making God in our own image, and this is the world we would make for ourselves).


Please refrain from inventing positions for us which we did not take and actually address the positions we HAVE taken.


II. Responses to Evil.
(A) The Fall of Man.
(B) Theodicies.


As I was using the word theodicy (an explanation of why God's caring nature and extreme suffering are consistent) the fall of man seems to fall into that category. Perhaps you are using the word theodicy differently or more narrowly.


I will add that, so far as I can tell, the only way for an atheist to respond to this theodicy is to say that the goods aren't really that important. Hence, the atheist has to say, "Free will? Who cares? Morality? Meaningless! Virtue? It doesn't matter!" For if the atheist agrees that these are all important, then he will have to say that these things outweigh suffering. And if they outweigh suffering, then our world is still good.


Can you explain how aiding a child suffering extreme agonies from a congenital defect would interfere with free will, morality or virtue? How, specifically your two world theodicy explains a loving God's inaction in this sort of case. I'm afraid I don't see it.

If this case is not addressed

David B. Ellis said...


The most important recent work, I would say, was by Plantinga. His free will defense doesn't really explain evil, but it shows what kind of argument the Argument from Evil really is. It's a probabilistic argument. Atheists thought for centuries that they were dealing with a contradiction, and this was false. Today, very few philosophers advocate the logical argument from evil, and that's a significant development.


As a skeptic and rationalist I'm rather loath to claim absolute proof or disproof on much of anything.

So, what article or book (by Plantinga or anyone else) do you consider the best at providing a plausible alternative to God's being fictitious as an explanation for his inaction?

John W. Loftus said...

First, John, you always complain that God shouldn't have created a world. Then you immediately say that you grant the world. It's fine if you grant it. But a complaint has still been raised. If it's a complaint that you consistently bring up (prior to conceding the point), why do you object everytime I respond to something that is obviously an issue for you?

David, this type of argument is something you'll see in most philosophical literature about most disputes. I'm looking for a good argument for why God created this world in the first place. That's the first argument. I do not accept your answers to this argument. I see no reason why God created anything, and I stand by that. All you can say in response is that it's "better" that we exist than if we didn't (correct me if I'm wrong). But when I press you to say why it's "better" you simply say because it is. That's an unacceptable answer from my perspective.

So we are at a standstill on that argument, correct? Do we leave it there and walk away? No. For I have a second argument based upon granting that your God exists and created this world. At this point I'm asking you why he created this particular world with all of the intense suffering in it (and in the next life for million/billions of people in hell). You don't buy my first argument, so we simply agree to disagree. We can go no further there. If I continued to harp on it, it would quickly become a boring uninteresting discussion from which neither of us would learn anything. So I move on to my next argument. What exactly is inconsistent or wrong with my doing so? I don't se it.

As far as me arguing that God should have created a "bliss" for the people he created, I actually did argue for that. I argued that God could've created us all in heaven to begin with. Why didn't he? In heaven you believe there will be no moral choices, and hence no immoral choices, so why didn't God skip this present existence and create us all with imperishable bodies in his direct unmediated presence in the firat place? I am not satisfied with any of your answers so far.

But when I concede (or grant) you this present world, I'm arguing that a good God should've made it a more pleasant existence here on earth then he did.

Am I likewise looking for a "blissful" existence here on earth? Would I still reject God if I received a scratch on my toe? Hardly. The force of the argument from evil is in its massiveness and intensity. Take those two things out of the problem of evil and you take the force out of the argument. It's a continuum. The more intense we suffer the more intense the problem. Would there still be a problem if I received a scratch? Maybe. But it would only be a scratch of a problem, hardly anything that would be seen as a problem at all, especially since we have fleshly bodies in the first place.

David Hume actually argued that people can learn to be good and avoid doing evil by means of pleasure and the absence of pleasure alone! That alone, he argued would be enough to motivate us. I'll explain later, if you want. But it makes some sense to me.

Sophia De Morgan said...

John Loftus said:
”Secondly, only after conceding this present world is my argument that God should not allow any intense sufferings to afflict people…No father, for instance, would send a proverbial hurricane upon a 7 year old for stealing a cookie out of the cookie jar... We simply put criminals in jail. We don't impale them on a ship's mast as the result of a tsunami for divorcing their spouses.”

Everyone accuses D Wood of false dichotomies and straw man arguments, but these types of comments certainly misrepresent the biblical, and D Wood’s, position. Loftus poses the issue as if there is a direct causal link between a child “stealing a cookie” and a hurricane, or someone being impaled because he divorced his spouse, but we're not arguing that when a child steals a cookie, he deserves a hurricane or any other such nonsense. Furthermore, some of the atheist bloggers here keep bringing up these sorrowful kind of events with a certain relish and flair, which casts a shadow on the sincerity of their compassion.

Sophia De Morgan said...

I have to agree with D Wood. Loftus keeps asserting that humans are bad enough to decrease to overall goodness of all creation (despite music, art, literature, justice, loyalty, friendship, and love, and too much more to name!), that humans are so bad that God shouldn’t even have created us! David’s point still stands, and that is if you keep saying we’re too bad even to allow us to exist in the first place, how can it be bad to allow us some amount of suffering?

David B. Ellis said...


The force of the argument from evil is in its massiveness and intensity. Take those two things out of the problem of evil and you take the force out of the argument. It's a continuum. The more intense we suffer the more intense the problem.


Exactly.

I am also curious about David's concept of the fall. I had understood him to believe in evolution (but guided by an intelligent designer). Correct me if I'm wrong. I may be misremembering on this.

If so, I have to wonder what the fall was if you don't consider the adam and eve story literal fact. Of course, maybe David DOES consider the story of adam and eve historical fact. But for those who aren't literalist on the Genesis story the Fall seems problematic.

Of course, that's a bit of a diversion from the problem of evil so far as I can see---but David DID say the Fall was one of the things explaining God's inaction so one needs to know exactly what he means by the Fall.

David B. Ellis said...


Furthermore, some of the atheist bloggers here keep bringing up these sorrowful kind of events with a certain relish and flair, which casts a shadow on the sincerity of their compassion.


As for myself, if you think I relish the sorts of suffering I bring up you are woefully mistaken. I find it horrifying. The idea of anyone standing by and doing nothing and then hearing people come up with utterly lame excuses for that inaction is more deeply saddening to we humanists than most of you christians seem able to understand. There seems to be a sort of moral blind spot on certain issues among christians.

At least that's my perception of the matter.

John W. Loftus said...

Sophia said....Loftus poses the issue as if there is a direct causal link between a child “stealing a cookie” and a hurricane, or someone being impaled because he divorced his spouse, but we're not arguing that when a child steals a cookie, he deserves a hurricane or any other such nonsense.

Well then, if I have mischaracterized David's position, maybe he can tell me what punishment God will inflict upon an accountable child who steals a cookie, or for someone who (unjustifiably) divorces his wife? If I remember right, the Christian God is so holy that he will not let even a small sin into his presence. So, if these two people do not accept Jesus they will suffer even more than a hurricane in hell for their sins, correct?

David’s point still stands, and that is if you keep saying we’re too bad even to allow us to exist in the first place, how can it be bad to allow us some amount of suffering?

I've already said this is nonsense, and I gave my reasons why. Let me state it in different words:

1) I don't see any reason for God to create anything...anything at all. 2) I don't see any reason for God to have given us free will (or so much free will) if he knew we would abuse it so badly. 3) I don't see why God should punish us so severely when we disobey (with disasters and hell itself). 4) I don't see why God would build heaven upon the backs of billions of screaming people in hell, or one child in an outhouse, for that matter, if he's omnibenelovent.

Besides, you mischaracterize my view when you wrote about God allowing for "some amount of suffering?" Do you realize the amount of suffering that takes place hourly, no, every minute on this globe, from creatures hunting and eating each other to gang rapes, sex slaves, beatings, diseases, parasites, and those who grieve the loss of a loved one?

I do not believe you can defend an omnibenelovent God given the nature of this world, Fall or not. It's not that we're good or bad. It's that God is supposed to be omnibenelovent. And I don't believe in physically brutalizing someone who breaks the law, or in maiming him, or putting him in a wheelchair either. Our punishments are humane when compared to anything your barbaric God purportedly does. We simply put criminals in jail. Under extreme conditions we put them to death in humane ways, like lethal injection, even though most of the rest of the civilized world won't even do that. Now just compare our ways of punishing criminals to God's and you'll see a big difference. Your God is barbaric. Why you keep defending his ways is due to blind faith, because you certainly cannot make any sense of it.

You'll counter-argue that God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. Does this justify how he treats sinners both here and in the life everafter? Even if he is holy he could deal with criminals like us in more humane ways. I do not believe parents have to spank their children (much at all) to teach them. I don't believe we have to hit or spank our dogs to train them. Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) has been around for a few decades and the children from these homes (if consistent and also loving) have produced obedient kids. But your God breaks our arm, plucks out our eyes, and burns our skin. Why? Because we did wrong? Why? To teach us. Why? To punish us. None of this makes any sense. Can YOU actually make any sense of this at all?

David Wood said...

Ellis,

There are three main theistic views of origins: young-earth creation, old-earth creation, and theistic evolution. The fall can be worked out in each view, though it will be quite different in each.

"Relishing" evil. I've noticed this too. It's not that atheists are happy about suffering. It's that they often seem glad that it gives them ammunition against God. I might do a post about this.

The point is that there's a world of difference between (1) an atheist who genuinely cares about suffering people and does everything in his power to change things, and (2) an atheist who only seems to care about suffering when it serves his purpose in an argument.

I would distinguish between the two based on what the atheist does in his free time. If he actually spends his time helping people and trying to decrease suffering, I will respect his argument far more than someone who's idea of alleviating suffering is to complain about God all day.

David Wood said...

John,

You and I have debated twice, and you know my view of the fall. Yet every time you bring it up, you misrepresent my view. Once would be forgivable. But when you constantly misrepresent my position, I can only assume that you're doing so deliberately. And if you continue to do so, I'll be inclined to stop responding to your redundant claims that I've already responded to.

The curse is not an addition. I've said that repeatedly, yet every time you raise the issue you treat it as if my position is that the curse is an addition (i.e. God adds a bunch of punishments to our world). The curse is a subtraction. God withdrew some of his sustaining power from the world. The result is a world with suffering, because things start falling apart. Yet today (and presumably tomorrow, and the next day, and the next) you will come on my site and say, "David thinks that God blinds people because of the fall, and he thinks that God gives people diseases because of the fall, and he says that God sends hurricanes on people because of what Adam did." Do you care at all about accurately representing someone's position?

Now watch this. You said that my claim is "nonsense," and you gave four reasons.

(1) You don't think there's any reason for God to create anything. Well, just about everyone in the world (including many atheists) thinks you're wrong. That is, most people think that it's good to create something, or to bring a baby into the world, or to build something. How does your odd, amazingly pessimistic view make my claim "nonsense"?

(2) You don't see why God would give us free will. So what? Here again, just about everyone in the world understands that a world of free beings is better than a world without free beings. Again, how does your odd, amazingly pessimistic view make my claim "nonsense"?

In (3) and (4), you argue about hell! You never seem to be able to distinguish between two different arguments. We're talking about the problem of evil, and I'm responding to the problem of evil. Since you constantly have to resort to complaints about hell, I can only assume that your argument from evil can't stand on its own. But to return to the issue at hand, how does hell show that my argument is "nonsense"?

John, if you're going to continue holding a conversation, you need to learn how to focus on an issue. The point of this blog is to explore these issues carefully. You come here each day and toss in whatever's on your mind, and it's always the same thing. We're left with something like this:

DAVID: I think I've found another inconsistency in the argument from evil.

JOHN: Nonsense! What about all the people in hell!

DAVID: Atheists are claiming that people should reject God because it's "improbable" that there could be a reason for suffering. But when they examine the design argument, they say, "Of course it's 'improbable' that life could form on its own, but we're going to believe it anyway." Thus, atheists say that it's okay to go against the probabilities, but then they turn to theists and tell us that we shouldn't go against the probabilities! Isn't that odd?

JOHN: What's odd is how God loves to torture little old ladies for fun.

DAVID: But there are tons of other inconsistencies.

JOHN: There are tons of old ladies roasting in hell!

DAVID: All right, let's turn to some other problems with the argument from evil.

JOHN: I just don't see why God created this miserable place. AND I HATE FREE WILL! No good God would ever allow people to think for themselves.

DAVID: It's interesting that theistic arguments don't have the same problems as the argument from evil. This leads me to trust them more.

JOHN: I mean, free will. What's the point? Huh? HUH? And why did God create everything when he's just going to torture us in hell. Huh? HUH?

John W. Loftus said...

Funny David. Post something on the Fall and we'll deal with that.

Eustochius said...

David,

I don't think you understand what John is saying. This is my understanding.

(1) If God is a perfect, entirely self-sufficient being, why would he want to create, and thereby introduce imperfection in the universe?

(2) As for free will, just think of how you raise children. You give them just enough freedom that you think they will be able to handle. If they're about to make a catastrophic error -- you intervene. I see no reason why God couldn't be a more involved parent so to speak. You don't literally have to remove your child's free will but you restrict the actions of that child according to their maturity.

(3) If you actually believe in an eternal painful hell for non-believers that is an extremely serious problem. Just the amount of evil in the world is enough to cast serious doubt on the truth of theism -- but adding to suffering of humans by creating hell -- I'm mean that's almost an instant refutation of your position, given the magnitude of suffering involved.

(4) Finally, don't be frightened or angry at atheism. The way I see it -- if God is truly good in a way most humans would recognize -- we have nothing to worry about. And if you can let go of your fear, you can realize that there is true goodness without God and that pretty much anything good that has every occurred has happened by human doing -- whether one thinks God helped in this or not. I mean, look, if God cared so much about poor people as Jesus seems to, he should be airlifting in the manna all the time. Are we really so much more degenerate than the ancient Israelites? He performed such miracles for them. Why not us?

David Wood said...

Eustochius,

I know exactly what John is saying. We've been through all of this over and over again. The points you're raising have been dealt with repeatedly, on this blog, on John's, on other blogs, and in our two debates (except hell).

Beyond that, keep in mind these four points were meant to show that my accusation of an inconsistency in the atheist's argument is "nonsense." Even if all of John's claims were accurate (and they aren't), this has nothing to do with the inconsistency I pointed out.

Don't be frightened at atheism? I don't recall ever being frightened of atheism. I'd sooner run from a damp sponge. (BTW, I was an atheist longer than I've been a Christian.)

David B. Ellis said...


Ellis,

There are three main theistic views of origins: young-earth creation, old-earth creation, and theistic evolution. The fall can be worked out in each view, though it will be quite different in each.


So which view of creation is yours and what is your view of the fall?



"Relishing" evil. I've noticed this too. It's not that atheists are happy about suffering. It's that they often seem glad that it gives them ammunition against God. I might do a post about this.



Then you would be, yet again, kicking serious strawman @$$. Have fun.

David Wood said...

Ellis,

Are you saying that all atheists who talk about suffering are actually deeply concerned about it??? Be realistic. I talk to atheists all the time, who spend their days laughing, and mocking, and playing, and eating, and drinking, and buying Ipods. Then, as soon as God is mentioned, they suddenly become these wonderful humanitarians, who are deeply concerned about the plight of their fellow human beings, and shocked that a good God could stand by and do nothing.

You use the term "strawman" far too often. It should be reserved for actual fallacies, not for every claim you disagree with.

As for creation, I don't have a specific view. They all have strengths and weaknesses. (For the record, I think there are three biblically defensible doctrines of hell as well, and I'm not inclined to feign certainty when the evidence isn't strong.)

Eustochius said...

I'm not sure why you think atheists are being inconsistent. Human beings are both bad and good. Some are good and some are bad, to varying degrees. Basically, God seems to be both negligent and abusive. That is, he allows the really bad humans free reign -- Hitler, Stalin, etc. -- negligence. And he permits punishments, earthquakes etc., that do not teach and are all out proportion to the crimes committed. They maim both the innocent and the guilty indiscriminately. Natural disasters seem like an extreme form of collective punishment.

Here's the question; without the fall, how good would you find the evidential argument from evil? If you could justify a very good reason why God had to withdraw, I might be more sympathetic to your position.

It would seem for the argument to work you would need both the natural and human worlds to fall. Surely, in the edenic state there were no natural disasters. But don't we have good evidence of natural disasters long before humans came on the scene? And why millions of years of nature red in tooth and claw before humans even arrived? I'm not a Christian but if I could be convinced that some sort of fall occurred, I would be much more sympathetic to the theist's position. But where's the evidence?

Neil said...

Hi David,

"I would distinguish between the two based on what the atheist does in his free time. If he actually spends his time helping people and trying to decrease suffering, I will respect his argument far more than someone who's idea of alleviating suffering is to complain about God all day."

This looks like an ad-hominem fallacy. The argument either stands or it falls. It's got nothing to do with the person who actually puts the argument forward. The argument is about suffering and whether it's loving to remove suffering, not whether the person making the argument is loving. What you say might be a reason to have less respect for the person giving the argument, but it's not a reason to have less respect for the argument itself.

We've still haven't got a formal statement of the problem of evil. I notice we've got strawman accusations going left, right and center so perhaps it's a bit unfair to expect you to present the argument. I'm going to propose this one which I got from Wikipedia. There are several listed on the page and I'm not sure that this is the best one, but at least it will give us something concrete to talk about.

Logical problem of evil

1. God exists. (premise)
2. God is omnipotent. (premise - or true by definition of the word 'God')
3. God is all-benevolent. (premise - or true by definition)
4. All-benevolent beings are opposed to all evil. (premise - or true by definition)
5. All-benevolent beings who can eliminate evil will do so immediately when they become aware of it. (premise)
6. God is opposed to all evil. (conclusion from 3 and 4)
7. God can eliminate evil completely and immediately. (conclusion from 2)
7.1. Whatever the end result of suffering is, God can bring it about by ways which do not include suffering. (conclusion from 2)
7.2. God has no reason not to eliminate evil. (conclusion from 7.1)
7.3. God has no reason not to act immediately. (conclusion from 5)
8. God will eliminate evil completely and immediately. (conclusion from 6, 7.2 and 7.3)
9. Evil exists, has existed, and probably will always exist. (premise)
10. Items 8 and 9 are contradictory; therefore, one or more of the premises is false: either God does not exist, or he is not both omnipotent and all-benevolent or there is a reason why He does not act immediately.

Cheers, Neil.

John W. Loftus said...

In case you haven't read this yet, Sandalstraps wrote a response to your argument on my blog. He wrote:

Having read Mr. Wood's argument, I struggle to find anything charitable to say about it.

For one, he sees the problem of evil as being a problem for atheists, advanced by atheists as a way to disprove Christianity. But, of course, this is not always the case. The problem of evil is a philosophic problem with no religious agenda. That is, it comes out of a particular description of God, and is evident in the construction of that description.

If we hold that God is

1.) omniscient,
2.) omnipotent, and
3.) benevolent,

and if we acknowledge the presense of "evil," or the existence (if not ontological, then at least experiental) of suffering, then the apparent inconsistency is obvious, and must be dealt with, even if all persons identify themselves as Christians and seek in exploring the problem only to explore what we mean by God.

While the problem of evil has been wielded as a weapon against Christianity by some atheists, it is not a necessarily antagonistic problem. It is simply a philosophic problem, and honesty demands some sort of an answer to it regardless of who is asking the question and why they are asking it.

To say, then, that atheists are trying to "have it both ways" or are being in some way inconsistent when pressing theists on a logical problem in the construction of traditional theism is to skirt the issue.

If I, as a Christian, raise the problem of evil as a problem with the traditional theistic concept of God, am I open to the rambling, ad hominem attack that has here been given against atheists?

Additionally, I don't think that the "atheist claim" is that "God should protect us from harm." The atheist claim is that the existence of harm speaks against the existence of the God described by traditional theism; and, more broadly, against the existence of any sort of a God. It isn't a question of whether or not human being deserve to suffer; it is a question of whether or not any form of suffering is logically compatible with a particular description of God.

In this argument I see and feel a great deal of frustration, and I can empathize with it. I have often read rhetorical attacks against my religious tradition and been mystified and even offended. But that atheists, like all other people, can from time to time be rude when advancing their position does not make the problem of evil go away, nor does it shift the problem from the theist to the atheist. I simply don't see how a piece typed in frustration which doesn't make a single discernable rational claim in any way advances the discussion.

This, I hope, is not a reflection of Mr. Wood's best work.


This is not your best work David.

Neil said...

Hi David,

"You did imply that you would help a person in distress without thought for who the person is. And your point was that God should be as nice as you are. Hence, God should run to the aid of a mass murderer."

Yes, you're right. Of course, that might not be the most loving (since we're talking about God's all-benevolence rather than his niceness) thing for me to do in that situation. I'm not actually in a position to make that kind of judgment though unless the person being attacked is showing signs of being a mass murderer. God, however, is in a different position and yet it seems that he also doesn't give any thought to who the person is before deciding whether or not to act. He appears to always decide not to act (from my experience at least).

I've been thinking about your arguments (yes, I know that's shocking...) and I'm wondering if perhaps they show that the concept of an all-benevolent being is an oxymoron. I think the Two-World Theodicy you presented demonstrates it quite nicely. There are some good things which we can have in a heavenly world and some good things which we can have in an earthly world, but it would be a logical impossibility for God (or any other being) to give us both at the same time. As a result, God can't be ALL-benevolent.

Perhaps he could be maximally-benevolent (as benevolent as logically possible), but that's a different thing and I'm not sure such a thing is well-defined. When God's deciding how much time we're going to spend in the earthly world, he'd be forced to give with one hand and take with the other. If we spend less time here he's taking away the amount of time we have to exercise our free-will, but if we spend more time here he's taking away time which could be spent knowing God fully. God then has to make an ad-hoc decision about how to resolve the conflict. I'm not saying that it's impossible for such a God to exist, but he would be restricted and finite. Much greater than us, of course, but still limited.

Cheers, Neil.

David B. Ellis said...


You use the term "strawman" far too often. It should be reserved for actual fallacies, not for every claim you disagree with.



My apologies, I did use the word strawman inappropriately in reference to your comment. Neil is correct. It is more accurately described as an ad hominem.

In the future I will try to be more careful to describe the fallacies you employ more accurately. :)


As for creation, I don't have a specific view. They all have strengths and weaknesses.


Am I to take it, then, that you have no particular position on the Fall either? Since you seem to consider the Fall central to solving the POE it seems rather important to at least discuss it with some specificity. If nothing else, since you seem to think there are 3 possible positions we should at least discuss what they are and why you consider the Fall relevent to the POE regardless of which is the correct view of the Fall.

David Wood said...

Neil,

Your comments about omni-benevolence are interesting. I try not to use the term "omni-benevolence," because I think it makes God sound like Santa Claus. That is, it makes it look as if God is going to give you lots of stuff.

I prefer "wholly good." "Good" would seem to fit more nicely with "just," whereas "benevolent" wouldn't. A "good" judge will be just. I'm not sure what a "benevolent" judge would do. Maybe give out candy canes?

You brought up the idea that any time in this world is time away from God. But this doesn't present a problem for theism. First, if we have eternity with God, it's not like we're losing time by being here. Second, some of the goods of our world are crucial.

Here's a link to an article on one aspect of our world that may be extremely important. I wouldn't say this theodicy does much by itself, but I think it is an important part of the good of our world:

Informed Consent Theodicy

David Wood said...

Ellis,

You're correct in saying that I have no specific position on the fall. The fall is definitely a part of my belief (it's emphasized in the OT and NT, and it lines up pretty well with our observations of humanity), but I'm agnostic on the details.

Neil said...

Hi David,

I'm not with you on the "wholly good" thing. The adjective "good" has 21 different meanings and you've just picked one which I didn't expect. Are you saying that God performs well at any activity? The term seems a bit too vague and broad to be useful here.

It also doesn't align with my understanding of the POE. The POE doesn't set out to prove that God is incompetent. It sets out to prove that God is not completely benevolent, sympathetic or loving. I accept that you don't like the word benevolent. What about the others? I think "all-loving" is another traditional phrasing.

Thanks for the link. It certainly looks interesting. I don't have time to read it now because I'm away on holiday for a week but I will when I get back. Have a good one. I intend to.

Cheers, Neil.

David Wood said...

Neil,

I like "good" specifically because it encompasses quite a bit, far more than "benevolent."

Jim Lazarus said...

I haven't bothered to read all the comments on this post, but for the record, the counter-argument here about inconsistencies in the argument from evil might only work for those atheists who actually believe that the world should not have been created, and that all humans are evil. To argue that God should stop the suffering of humans *might* be an inconsistency, because if we're all evil, we may arguably lose our moral status. At the same time, this hardly defeats the argument - the problem turns into the question of why God allows beings who are more evil than good exist, or why God allows a world that is more evil than good to exist.

At the same time, for those who believe that there's no moral problem in God creating the world, and for those who believe that there are many good human beings that suffer, this argument does not work at all. David concedes this in his last paragraph, but not in the proper way. He says, "After all, we're [i.e. humankind] so good that allowing us to suffer would be an abomination". Atheists don't have to argue that all of humankind is good or fundamentally good. All atheists have to argue is that many humans are good - but not necessarily all humankind (the atrocities of Hitler and Dahmer by Loftus being a case in point). With that in mind, the argument from evil can be presented in the way that it is typically presented, by the majority of atheistic philosophers that I've read. This whole notion of the world being more of an evil than a good, or of humans being more of an evil than a good, is something foreign to the standard argument, unless I've somehow missed it in every book and article that I've read.

search4db said...

I don't think there's really an inconsistency there. Your claim of inconsistency depends on the notion that humans are either ALL good or ALL bad, which isn't the case.

As I understand, the Christian tradition says man started out in a sufferingless world, but then sinned. Instead of totally abandoning us, God offered redemption through Jesus. So some people will live hedonistic destructive lives, others will strive to be right with God. Soooo... from that Christian tradition, it's fairly intuitive to me that God would lift a few fingers to protect the redeemed from the hedons. After all, this particular God is depicted as doing precisely that all throughout the Bible! I think the theist is in trouble trying to explain God's lack of measurable intervention in the world today.