Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Stepford Wives and the "Problem" of Freedom

At the end of our first debate on the Problem of Evil (after videotaping had stopped), John Loftus was explaining to the audience why free will isn’t very important. I brought up the movie The Stepford Wives (the new version), which deals with free will. In the film, husbands program their wives to be the “perfect” mates—completely obedient to the will of their husbands. The point of the film is that a “perfect” robot wife is only better than a real wife if your sole criterion is that your wife always does exactly what you want her to do. If other things are important (e.g. if it’s important that your wife does things of her own accord and not because you programmed her to do them), then a real wife turns out to be much, much better.

I asked the men in the audience whether they would prefer a Stepford wife to a real wife, and atheists and theists unanimously agreed that a real wife is better. When she says, “I love you,” she means it. When she spends time with you, it’s because she chooses to spend time with you, not because of a computer chip in her brain.

There was, however, one person who thought that a Stepford wife would be better than a real wife—John Loftus. While I respect his honesty, the idea of programming a woman to do whatever you want her to do seems a bit repulsive to me. I suspect that technology may one day make Stepford a reality, by allowing us to purchase the ultimate blow-up dolls, such as the robots from Steven Spielberg’s AI. But are “perfect” robot women better than real women? I suspect that even most atheists would say that they are not. But why not?

The difference is freedom. A robot wife only does what it is programmed to do. If it says, “You’re the king, Baby,” this is only because a programmer inserted a program that made the robot say these words. Hence, there is no value in what it says. No genuine complement was made. A real woman, however, is free to leave if she likes. Thus, there is value in her staying. When a real wife gives her husband a kiss, it’s not because she must. She could have refrained, which is why a kiss is so special.

John recently wrote an article explaining why free will isn’t very important. I haven’t read it yet, because after two debates I have a fair idea of his reasoning. Freedom isn’t important enough to justify God’s allowing us to suffer. But even before I read the article, I have to wonder what John is really aiming at. Yes, God could have made a world full of Stepford wives and Stepford husbands. We would take care of the planet and not hurt one another. But is this the sort of world a good God would create? If we say “Yes,” then as far as the movie goes, we should greatly admire the men who turn their wives into robots, and despise the man who chooses to preserve his wife’s freedom. After all, a real wife might criticize you, or nag you, or leave you, or even kill you. Why take the risk?

I plan to discuss John’s reasoning more thoroughly after reading his article. But I’m greatly interested in knowing what other people think about this. I suspect that most Christians will say that free will is far better than programmed obedience, but I’m not sure how atheists will respond.

57 comments:

eas239 said...

As an atheist I think free will is more important than obedience.

But then I don't believe in a God who created everything but despises his creation enough to torture it and destroy it, repeatedly.

Steven Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Carr said...

Did God chuck out of Heaven all beings who did not do exactly what He wanted them to do, leaving Himself only with robots who worshipped Him?

Or are the angels who worshipped God and never rebellled , not at all robots programmed by God to worship Him?

If the angels who freely worship God and never rebelled are not robots, then where does that leave David Wood's arguments?

John W. Loftus said...

David, I had not seen this movie, but I commented on this analogy anyway. I still have not seen this movie, but the definition of perfect is what I commented on. Yes, I want a perfect wife (and I think I have one too). By definition a perfect wife is just that, perfect. So whatever the movie depicts about the Stepford wives, these women were not perfect. I think this is indisputable, and I think now you know what I mean.

David Wood said...

Steve,

Though I try not to respond to your comments, and though I'm quite worried now that you've found my site, I'll simply say that there is a tremendous difference between free obedience and programmed obedience. The angels who obeyed God did so freely. And the angels who disobeyed did so freely. And I obey God freely. And you spend every day complaining on blogs freely. The question is whether the world would be better if we didn't have the opportunity to do anything freely. And though your constant negative comments on every blog annoy me quite a bit, I confess that even I would prefer a free Steven Carr.

David Wood said...

John,

The point is that the women were perfect in every way, except that they weren't free. Since all of their actions were programmed, nothing they did had any value. This made them imperfect.

So, if you agree that they were imperfect, then you agree that freedom is valuable. If freedom is valuable, and if a flawed human is better than a "perfect" programmed human, then you must agree that freedom is extremely important.

It looks as if you're saying, "Of course freedom is extremely important. It's just not really important at all." Am I missing something?

John W. Loftus said...

Now, if I were an Omni-God and I knew that giving the Stepford wives free will would cause intense suffering for themselves and/or other people (the likes of which we see daily on the news), then I would not create them with so much free will, or I would intervene to keep them from causing this suffering. It would be the ethical thing to do.

Steven Carr said...

It appears David Wood is well aware that God can create beings that behave perfectly and do exactly what He wants them to do.

God surrounded Himself in Heaven with beings who do just that.

So Wood has a false dichotomy.

Should Adam and Eve have been free to eat of the Tree of Life, or should God have taken away their freedom by putting angels with flaming swords to forcibly prevent access?

The Bible says God took away their freedom.

David Wood says taking away freedom is wrong.

Who should we believe?

Steven Carr said...

'When she spends time with you, it’s because she chooses to spend time with you, not because of a computer chip in her brain.'

Interesting.

Why did God give us brains if he didn't want our brains to make decisions for us?

David Wood said...

John,

Let's face the facts. Wives, as they exist in our world, are free to rebel against their husbands. As you know, some wives have even killed their husbands. What is the cause of this rebellion? Free will. So, according to your reasoning, the way to prevent all the horrible things that wives can do, we must remove their free will. If you deny this, then you're saying that freedom is more important than the problems that will arise from this freedom.

So answer me. If men were capable of removing the free will of women, should we do it, knowing that otherwise women won't behave perfectly?

David B. Ellis said...

I am reminded of the scene in terminator 2 where John's mother realizes that the robot programed to protect John was, even though just a machine doing as it is programed, the best father-figure her son had ever had. That he was far better off with him than all the would-be fathers that he had had in his life previously.

But on a more serious note. I want to point out that the stepford wife/natural wife issue is a false dichotomy.

God has more options than those described. He could have created human being with both free will and with natural drives more harmonious, kind, peaceful and balanced than the muddled mess of a psychological makeup that humans have to struggle with.

David Wood said...

Perhaps. But that would be quite different from the issue of whether free will is bad because it allows us to rebel.

If an atheist says that free will is bad, all I can do is give an example to show how awful it would be if we were programmed to do things, rather than freely choosing to do them.

So one issue at a time. Right now we're discussing free will vs. no free will. If we arrive at some consensus that free will is better, then we can discuss what kind of limitations would be best. So what would you say? Stepford wife or real wife? Based on your Terminator example, it seems you're voting for Stepford. But at the same time, I just don't think you'd make that move.

Steven Carr said...

'If men were capable of removing the free will of women, should we do it, knowing that otherwise women won't behave perfectly?'

Should we remove the freedom of rapists and murderers to rape and murder?

David Wood loves his false dichtomies.

You can either give a being free will or have that being behave perfectly.

I guess Heaven must be empty....

I wonder why people like the love and affection shown to them by dogs, when in Christian thought dogs do not have free will.

Perhaps , in practice, people don't value free will as much as they claim.

Certainly they don't want to let murderers and rapists out of prison, just because some Christians say murderers and rapists should have the freedom to murder and rape.

David B. Ellis said...


Perhaps. But that would be quite different from the issue of whether free will is bad because it allows us to rebel.


True. But we need to keep in mind the distinction between free will and freedom of action. If, for example, God gave us free will but also made us impervious to attempts at physical damage (a cinch for an omnipotent being) then we would have both free will and a world without suffering or injury caused by moral evils.

And, of course, the whole issue of free will is entirely irrelevent the issue of natural evils.

David Wood said...

But do you or do you not agree that a world with free beings is better than a world without free beings?

I'm not loading this question. I'm simply astonished that there are atheists (like Loftus) who argue that God shouldn't have created free beings. True, he argues a number of other things. But again, one issue at a time.

To put it differently, I hold freedom to be among my most prized possessions. In fact, there's only one thing I would trade it for: Knowing God. The fact that atheists treat it as such an irrelevant aspect of our nature leaves us at an impasse, and it doesn't seem to be one that can be overcome by argument. It's a value. So the atheist says, "Free will? Who cares? What's the point? I'd rather be a robot who doesn't suffer." And all I can do in response is say, "Do you really care so little for your freedom? Would you say that a Stepford wife is better than a real wife then?"

And, so far, the atheists have gone in every conceivable direction other than actually answering the question. It seems that every time I bring up an issue, the following comments invariably arise: "But God will torture us in hell! How awful!" "But what about other options?" "Man I can't stand God." "Christianity is dumb."

How simple would it be for everyone to say either, "Yes, programmed obedience is better than free rebellion or free obedience, so a Stepford wife would be better than a real wife," or "No, a Stepford wife is a glorified blow-up doll. That's gross. Freedom really is important, so I won't complain about God giving us freedom to choose."

Let me put the matter differently. Suppose there were a button. If you push it, all our decisions (of everyone in the world), from then on, will be made for us. We will lose the ability to choose; our choices will be programmed into us. And, as compensation, all our suffering will be over. We'll never hurt one another again. Would you push the button?

I wouldn't.

David B. Ellis said...


But do you or do you not agree that a world with free beings is better than a world without free beings?


Actually, I honestly don't see how they can be distinguished. No one has ever shown clear evidence of free will. So far as I can see we have no way to know if we have free will or not. When two options have no discernable way to be distinguished from one another it hard to see how one is all that strongly preferable to the other.

But, for the sake of discussion, I will grant free will being preferable (although I'm not entirely sure the concept is even coherent when carefully analyzed--but we'll let that go for the moment).

Let's say free will in intrinsically highly desirable.

So what? This does nothing to solve the problem of evil since I have already listed two options a deity would have to alleviate any suffering that might result from it:

a) giving us natural drives of a more harmonious, emotionally balanced and loving nature.

b) making living being impervious to harm resulting from actions of others.

Given these two options open to an omnipotent being (and there are probably others as well) I don't see how the desire for his creations to have free will does anything at all to solve the problem of unnecessary suffering (my preferred term to what you are calling the problem of evil).

David Wood said...

As for free will, it isn't so difficult to tell the difference between a world with free beings and a world without free beings. I recently read an essay by Charles Peirce on this topic. He argued that science deals in probabilities, and it can never achieve the sort of certitude that would allow us to say that everything is determined. By contrast, our experience of choosing one thing over another at least seems to be genuine. That is, we have good prima facie reason to believe that our freedom is real and not an illusion, and science is unable to demonstrate otherwise.

As for your two options, I'm sure I'll have to give careful posts on these issues in the coming months. (And perhaps this exchange will help solidify some points.) For now, my gut reaction would be this.

First, God has given us the moral law, so that we know certain things (e.g. torturing old ladies for fun) are wrong. But, of course, God could have given us stronger desires to obey the moral law. However, isn't this just a less extreme instance of removing our free will? That is, suppose I could program my wife so that she has a tremendous desire to do whatever I say. Of course, if she tries hard enough, she will be able to resist. But without a tremendous effort, she will do whatever I say.

You would have to admit, wouldn't you, that this diminishes the value of any good thing my wife does?

Now suppose God gives us an intense desire to worship him. Then we worship him, in order to fulfill this strong desire. What is the value in such worship? Wouldn't the worship of a person who can genuinely decide to do otherwise be more valuable? I think so.

Your other suggestion presupposes the view that we're not supposed to develop morally in this world. You would allow, for instance, that we could want to kill each other, and even try to kill each other. It's just that, whenever we try, our bullets should turn to cotton. God should have put us in "Nerf World," where our weapons can't really do any damage.

Do you really think that a Looney Toons world is better than our world? Elmer Fudd shoots Daffy, but Daffy's okay. The Coyote's rocket suit blows up, but he's okay.

Assuming, hypothetically, of course, that morality, virtue, and things of this nature are important (an idea I think all theists would be committed to), can you say that theists should hold that your world is better than our world?

A world in which all I can do to you is, at most, annoy you slightly, is not a world where there will be significant moral development.

What I'm seeing is this. The atheist is always willing to sacrifice something (freedom, virtue, etc.) for a greater balance of pleasure. And it always turns out to be something that the theist holds very dear. This is, I think, part of the reason why theists aren't convinced by the argument from evil. Pain and pleasure are not our top priorities. Other things are far more important to us (at least in principle). So we wouldn't be inclined to trade things that are extremely important to us for a greater amount of pleasure.

John W. Loftus said...

David, I see you posted something while I was writing this. I'll post it anyway then read what you wrote.

DW: So answer me. If men were capable of removing the free will of women, should we do it, knowing that otherwise women won't behave perfectly?

I like being challenged like my wife Gwen does to me. She's not a push over, and yet she'd give me anything I want freely. So no, I do not want a robot wife controlled by me. But if she were a robot wife and did the exact same things she does, then it wouldn't matter to me at all, except perhaps if I knew she was programmed, and at that point I wouldn't feel like I have a true companion. However, if this argument is to be applied to God, then answer me why God cares to have companions at all? Why? Even if this whole discussion doesn't have anything to do with the problem of evil at all, why does God care/desire/want to have companions who love him? I doubt you can answer that question sufficiently apart from the problem of evil. Besides, you still have to answer why an omni-God wants companions if it also means these companions suffer so intensely.

If the question about a robotic wife isn't just an either/or one, and I had the further decision to prohibit my wife from freely choosing to kill me, or in not granting her the freedom to accidently cause a vehicle crash that would kill a family, I would not grant her these freedoms. It's not an either/or choice here, David.

You seem to argue that we give our wives complete freedom to do whatever they want to, no matter what, or we give them no freedom at all, and that's the false dichotomy people are refering to here. There is no false dichotomy, even with your "would you push the button" question. Surely, you see this....surely.

DW: But do you or do you not agree that a world with free beings is better than a world without free beings?

What do you mean by the word "better"? In what sense is it better? For whom? What about the possibility of not having free will but thinking we do? Let's say there is no free will. I would still have the experience of having free will, so there's no difference for me. Let's say I know I don't have free will. Does this knowledge cause me to act any differently? Why should it? I still must act out of the sum total of who I am no matter what.

John W. Loftus said...

In case anyone wonders about the time lag between my last post and David's last post, I took time out to eat and watch TV while I was in the middle of writing.

John W. Loftus said...

But, of course, God could have given us stronger desires to obey the moral law. However, isn't this just a less extreme instance of removing our free will? That is, suppose I could program my wife so that she has a tremendous desire to do whatever I say. Of course, if she tries hard enough, she will be able to resist. But without a tremendous effort, she will do whatever I say.

You would have to admit, wouldn't you, that this diminishes the value of any good thing my wife does?


But we already have a limited free will, David. Can a mentally challenged person fully understand who God is, and can he fully worship him and obey him like someone who isn't mentally chanllenged? Probably not. Does this diminish the value of any good thing he might do for God? NO, not if God exists. So diminishing a person's freedom more than what God has purportedly done is what I'm asking for, given the intense suffering in this world caused by free choices.

David Wood said...

I've said over and over and over that you seem to have no idea that something can be good in itself (i.e. not because someone is going to get something out of it). Why does God want people to have a relationship with him? Not because he needs these relationships. It's simply good for people to be able to have a relationship with God. And if God is good, why shouldn't he bring about a good state of affairs?

You can ask why things are good all day long, but if you don't see it, there's really nothing I can say. If you argue, "What's the point of a beautiful cosmos? Why create one? I don't get it!" or "What's the point of animals?" or "What's the point of writing poetry or novels?" all a person can say is, "How could you not understand that these things are good?" Relationships are good. Relationships with God are better. Just about everyone in the world understands this.

You make a similar mistake when you ask why a world with free beings is better than a world of robots. Again, how could you not see this? A world with free beings is better than a world without free beings for the same reason a real wife is better than a Stepford wife. Anything good in the former has tremendous intrinsic value. Anything good in the latter is the result of programming. Here as always, if you don't see this, we're simply going to remain at an impasse forever.

In other words, if your primary complaints continue to be, "I don't see why God would create anything (Translation: Everything is completely worthless)," or "A Stepford wife is as good as a real wife as long as I don't know she's programmed," you're never going to get anywhere with theists. And that is the purpose of your arguments, isn't it?

eas239 said...

David said: In other words, if your primary complaints continue to be, "I don't see why God would create anything (Translation: Everything is completely worthless),"

That's not the translation at all. The translation is: If God is completely whole and perfect in himself, why would he NEED or WANT anything? To NEED or WANT implies a lack. If you are lacking, then by definition you are not perfect in yourself.

And as a former theist, I have to say this was a "wedge" question for me. I was studying for the ministry but no one could answer why God needed anything if he was perfect. To this day I've never seen a compelling explanation.

Humans have different reasons for NEEDING and WANTING things having to do with our biological drives, fears, hopes, and so forth. One would think a perfect complete God would not have those same motivations.

David Wood said...

Amazing! Someone who makes the same complaint as John!

A want doesn't necessarily imply a lack. The basis of the entire argument from evil, for instance, is that an all good God would prefer a world without suffering. Is this preference due to a lack or a need? Hardly. Since God is good, he prefers good states of affairs to bad states of affairs.

I have argued that a world (we're talking about ANY world here) can be a good state of affairs, especially if that world contains people who come to know God. Why is it good? Again, relationships are good. And relationships with God are better. Since God is good, he prefers good states of affairs, which would include bringing a world into existence.

I'm thinking I might soon write an essay called "The World Haters." I said that John's assertion is ultimately "Everything is completely worthless." You rejected this claim. But what is the alternative? Would you say that some things have worth? If that's the case, then it's better that they exist then not exist. In other words, if bringing a world into existence is good and worthy (and I would say that it is), then we would expect God to do this. If you deny it, then you're saying that it's better for God not to create. And you would have to defend this.

But let's end all this "If God creates it's because he has a need." God does what he wants to do, and this happens to include bringing other things into existence. I might draw something later, simply because it's good to draw.

David Wood said...

eas239,

So let me get this straight. God created something, and for you the only reason a person can do anything is if the person is going to get something out of it (i.e. all actions are done from selfish motives). Hence, if God created something, he must have done it to get something out of it, and this means that God needed something.

I think this is a terrible view of motivation (believe it or not, someone can do something solely because it's good for someone else), but that's not the purpose here. You said that this was a "wedge" question. People couldn't answer it, so you converted.

So your reasoning went like this:

(1) If theists can't answer my question, then theism must be false.
(2) Theists can't answer my question.
(3) Therefore, theism must be false.

Now look at what you've said! Theists can't explain why there's a world (at least, given your warped view of motivation), so you rejected their view. Instead, you became an atheist, since atheists have such a great explanation for why there's a world! (BTW, I was being sarcastic in that last sentence. You know as well as I that atheists have no explanation for a world, which means that you're applying two different standards to theism and atheism, which means that your will is overruling your intellect.)

John W. Loftus said...

David, I am a consequentialist. I do not believe anything is intrinsically good. But I can meet you on your grounds. Let's say it's intrinsically good that there are people and that it's intrinsically good that God created us for a relationship with him. So what? This doesn't get you anywhere because it's not intrinsically good that God created parasites, or the brown recluse spider, or the Yew plant. The fact that God gave us too much freedom is not intrinsically good either, as I have been arguing. You see, if intrinsically good is the criteria, then you must argue that the whole ball of wax is intrinsically good, and that you cannot do.

John W. Loftus said...

And the fact that your argument against eas239 offers up a different problem than the one we're discussing means you cannot defend the goodness of your God without punting to your whole worldview to do so. Once again, for the sake of argument we grant that your God exists and that he created this world. You don't need to continue bringing up the Design or Cosmological arguments and ask us to debate those with you. We can, but that's not the topic. The topic is this: granting that your God exists, why did he create this world?

Rich said...

Wow what a discussion to follow! I will put in my vote for free acting beings. I also believe this to be the best possible method for becoming free acting beings who choose to always do good. We absolutly have to learn, from experience, why bad choices are bad. We can be told about things being bad but without actual experience we would never be able to confirm that to be true. Is this not the basis for science? Test for results?
Someone said that A perfect being can't want anything, or he isn't perfect. I disagree because a perfect being could want us to become like he is, to be free acting beings that always choose good. Why would he want this? Because we are his children and he wants the best for us.
Also the comment was made that God could make us impervious to physical damage. That is true, there are many possibilities for our exsistance but the question remains what is the best world. Without the eternal perspective, this world wouldn't match up. However if this world was a step in our eternal progression, and the end result was to learn to become beings that are perfectly good, then to me that changes my view about this life. I don't believe suffering is good but necessary for our progression. Do I want rapists and murderers out of jail and free to rape and murder? No. However they do need to be able to freely choose their actions, once the choice is made then consequences must follow. This is justice, which is also something God must be is perfectly just.

David B. Ellis said...


By contrast, our experience of choosing one thing over another at least seems to be genuine. That is, we have good prima facie reason to believe that our freedom is real and not an illusion, and science is unable to demonstrate otherwise.


We have choosing in a deterministic universe as much as in a universe with free will. The fact that people make choices is no evidence either way. The question is not whether there are choices but what is the metaphysical basis of those choices. Nothing in the quality of the experience of choosing gives us any evidence either way.


First, God has given us the moral law, so that we know certain things (e.g. torturing old ladies for fun) are wrong. But, of course, God could have given us stronger desires to obey the moral law. However, isn't this just a less extreme instance of removing our free will?


I am not referring to a desire to "obey moral law". That would be the implanting of an opinion. I am referring to the idea of him giving us stronger natural affection and empathy---to the "settings" of our emotional dispositions (which are not a matter of choice regardless of whether our actions are or not).


You would have to admit, wouldn't you, that this diminishes the value of any good thing my wife does?


LOL

How absurd. To think that its better to be a naturally sour, mean-spirited who manages to act decently than to have one's decency flow naturally from a kind disposition.

Tell me honestly which you would prefer for your child---a naturally sour joyless and unaffectionate disposition so that being good to others requires a constant effort of will or a naturally affectionate, happy and empathetic nature.


It's just that, whenever we try, our bullets should turn to cotton. God should have put us in "Nerf World," where our weapons can't really do any damage.

Do you really think that a Looney Toons world is better than our world? Elmer Fudd shoots Daffy, but Daffy's okay.


When I imagine what happens to a child who was abducted, raped, tortured and murdered I have little trouble deciding. Besides, nothing about a world where we could not be physically harmed presumes that we could not develop morally. It simply recognizes that in a world with free will some might choose to do harm. Even in a world where physical harm is impossible a person still has the option of acting with kindness or not. Of being concerned for the feeling of others or not. Of sharing or not. They simply don't have the option of torturing each other.

Yeah, I'd prefer that option. Hands down.


A world in which all I can do to you is, at most, annoy you slightly, is not a world where there will be significant moral development.


You actually think you have to have the option of torturing your fellow human beings to develop morally to a significant degree?

Sorry but I find that a highly dubious psychological hypothesis.

David B. Ellis said...


It's just that, whenever we try, our bullets should turn to cotton. God should have put us in "Nerf World," where our weapons can't really do any damage.

Do you really think that a Looney Toons world is better than our world? Elmer Fudd shoots Daffy, but Daffy's okay.


Let me give another thought experiment to illustrate the problem with your objection. Imagine that some incredible scientific breakthrough allows the creation of personal force fields. Each person can wear a small device on their person which will instantly and automatically generate an impervious forcefield whenever something is about to harm the wearer. Your car crashes. The forcefield allows you and your children to walk away from the crash without so much as a bruise. Someone attempts to nab your child in the mall. The forcefield surrounds them with an immovable shield. A pit bull runs out of the bushes and attempts to maul your daughter. She is surprised but its attacks can do no harm and she walks on home.

Would you buy this device for your child or would you refrain out of fear it will retard her moral development?

David Wood said...

John Loftus said:

“David, I am a consequentialist. I do not believe anything is intrinsically good. But I can meet you on your grounds. Let's say it's intrinsically good that there are people and that it's intrinsically good that God created us for a relationship with him. So what? This doesn't get you anywhere because it's not intrinsically good that God created parasites, or the brown recluse spider, or the Yew plant.”

There are so many problems here, I’m not sure where to begin.

First, you’re a consequentialist. Great. But if you’re presupposing consequentialism in your criticisms, then your criticisms don’t work against, say, a deontologist. This is a recurring problem with all your arguments, and you have never answered this problem. You consistently presuppose your own values and philosophical views in the course of making your argument, so that anyone who doesn’t share your views and values will remain unpersuaded. It’s as if you’re saying, “Let’s all presuppose everything that I believe and value and take the argument from there.” But no one is going to do this.

Second, I’m not sure you understand consequentialism. This is an ethical theory of rightness/wrongness. It refers to acts, not things. But even here your criticism doesn’t work, because even consequentialism requires us to say that some things are good/bad in themselves. Suppose I stab someone. On consequentialism, why is it wrong? It’s wrong because the consequences are bad. But what are the consequences that we’re calling “bad”? The suffering of the victim. Now what if someone asks, “Why is suffering bad?” All you can say is, “Suffering is just bad” (i.e. it’s bad in itself). So consequentialism doesn’t help you escape the fact that some things are good or bad in themselves, and your claim that you do not “believe anything is intrinsically good” shows that you’ve got an inconsistency in your position (though inconsistencies don’t seem to bother you the way they bother me).

Third, you said that you would meet me on my own grounds. Okay. In my world, a relationship with God is the most wonderful state of affairs imaginable, and it would simply outweigh any bad states of affairs. So it makes sense to think that God would create a world where these relationships are possible. What’s the problem (assuming you’re meeting me on my own grounds)? You know, it’s funny how you always make criticisms, and when I start to answer them, you immediately retreat and act as if you never raised the objection. Hence, you argue (along with your new friend), that God creating something implies a lack or a need in God. Then when I respond, you suddenly say, “Look, I’m granting God and a universe and all that; let’s talk about this other issue.” So now you’re asking why God would create a world. Well, because it’s good to create worlds (even on consequentialism, since one consequence of our world is that people can come to know God).

Fourth, you once again moved on to a separate issue. We were discussing whether freedom is important, and then whether God should create anything at all. And what is your response? “What about spiders? What about parasites?” It seems that I’m saying, “Hey, the problem of evil is a huge issue. Let’s focus on one aspect at a time.” But as soon as we start talking about one issue, you bring in everything else. You constantly retreat to other issues, and this makes me wonder whether any of your points can stand on their own.

I know you’re thinking, “But David, you talk about the design argument and other things.” Correct, but I do so specifically when I’m trying to point out an inconsistency in the way atheists evaluate arguments, or when I want to show that there’s more to the question of God’s existence than pain/pleasure. In other words, I bring up other arguments when other arguments are relevant to my point. You bring up other arguments whenever you start losing in a discussion. And there’s a big difference.

Readers might want to check out the discussion going on at Triablogue, since they’re talking about these issues:

Triablogue

John W. Loftus said...

You want to critique consequentialism? Okay. You want to argue for the Design argument, okay. Can we take one issue at a time? I thought it was about the problem of evil.

I am indeed accepting your positions on these topics and arguing against them from within the things you hold dearly.

I actually think what you believe is ridiculous, okay? But I tone down my rhetoric so we can have a civilized discussion. So don't accuse me of always retreating or switching topics on you because I'm losing in a discussion. I do not and I am not! (I did mention parasites, but since you had mentioned the goodness of creating people and people are afflicted with parasites, I though it was fair, if not, then that awaits you when we're done here).

Besides, I think you're doing what you accuse me of, but whether you or I do is not for us to judge. Let our readers judge this. I could argue my consequential ethics with you, if you want me too, but where would that get us when you're being asked to provide answers for the extent of evil in this world, and where I've already granted both your ethics and your God for the purpose of discussion?

Okay? Now would you like to comment on what I said yet? I said, "if intrinsically good is the criteria, then you must argue that the whole ball of wax is intrinsically good, and that you cannot do."

David Wood said...

John Loftus said:

"you must argue that the whole ball of wax is intrinsically good, and that you cannot do."

To argue that the entire world is intrinsically good is actually quite simple, since you're granting me everything. As I said, the good of coming to know God outweighs any potential evils. So, if some people come to know God, then, on balance, the world contains more good than evil. Hence, the world, on the whole, is good, even though there are some bad states of affairs within it. Hence, God created a world, and it is good (see Genesis).

David Wood said...

As for critiquing consequentialism, if I make an argument that certain things are intrinsically good, and you respond by saying that you're a consequentialist and that you don't believe anything is intrinsically good, and I happen to know that even consequentialism requires that certain things be intrinsically good, are you saying that I shouldn't point out the errors in your comments?

I'd feel quite bad if some philosophy undergrad went away from my site with a mistaken view of ethics because I didn't point out a simple error.

David B. Ellis said...


I happen to know that even consequentialism requires that certain things be intrinsically good


On that I agree with you. I think John is in error there.

David Wood said...

Mr. Ellis,

("Mr. Ellis" sounds too formal, but things would get confusing if I call you "David." So you need a cool nickname. How about "Supreme Atheist"? Don't you see the connection? Your last name is Ellis. Thus we have Ellis >> Ellis Island >> the Statue of Liberty >> The Liberty Bell >> Taco Bell >> Taco Supreme >> "Supreme Atheist." Never mind. I'll let you pick your own nickname.)

Let's go through these quickly.

(1) I have to disagree about determinism. The point is that we really feel like we're free--that is, that particles colliding are not guiding everything. So in the absence of some good reason to believe that we are determined, why not go with our experience?

(2) Child: Mean and unprogrammed or pleasant and programmed? That's a tough call. My first choice would be pleasant and unprogrammed. But the only way to have a pleasant and unprogrammed child is to allow the child to choose. And with this comes the possibility that the child will be mean and unprogrammed.

(3) In a Looney Toons World, there would be very little moral development. The reason is that we learn by seeing the effects of our actions on others. In your hypothetical world, we can hate each other all we want, and there are no consequences of our attitudes. The way things are now, our actions are an outward indication of an inward disposition. Moreover, how can a person develop patience, courage, fortitude, compassion, and other virtues in your world? I think what you'd have to say is something like this: "I think we would have some opportunities for moral development in a Looney Toons World, but nowhere near as much chance for development as in our world." But if you say that, then it all comes down to what is more important. If developing morally is more important than pain/pleasure, then a world like ours is better. If pain/pleasure are more important than moral development, then it would be better to have a Looney Toons World.

(4) As for the ability to torture one another, just think for a moment. How would you eliminate our ability to torture one another? You could take away our ability to experience pain, but that would be disastrous. You could take away our hands or our ability to make tools, but that wouldn't be good either. You could take away our free will, but we've already seen that this option doesn't work either.

What I mean is this. Humans tend to think that solutions are always simple. If there's a problem in the Middle East, we'll just go in there and fix it. But we don't realize that things are always in a delicate balance. At various times in our history, men have said things like, "You know what Australia needs? Some rabbits! Let's bring some down here!" Then the entire ecosystem of a continent almost gets wiped out. Why? Because we think in extraordinarily simplistic ways, and we don't see all the connections.

So it's easy to make a bunch of recommendations. But we need to be careful about what we suggest. Even your force-fields would end in disaster (i.e. the end of all genuine morality), as would just about every other atheist suggestion I've ever heard.

And let's not forget that, according to Christianity, we're in a state of rebellion. This does effect the equations.

John W. Loftus said...

As I said, the good of coming to know God outweighs any potential evils. So, if some people come to know God, then, on balance, the world contains more good than evil.

All of it for one soul? Please explain why there is so much carnage as the result.

Hence, God created a world, and it is good (see Genesis).

I do not, and I will not grant you what the Bible says.

David Wood said...

"All of it for one soul? Please explain why there is so much carnage as the result."

Who said "one soul"? We're talking billions of souls. (Though I would say that even one person coming to a relationship with God would be far more significant than the suffering in our world.)

Now you're moving on to carnage? Remember when I said that you have trouble sticking to an issue?

"I do not, and I will not grant you what the Bible says."

I didn't argue from the Bible. I argued that the world is good, and when I had stated one reason, I noted that the Bible concurs.

eas239 said...

David,
My reasoning on that particular topic went more like this:

God is a perfect being, according to my religion's teachings.

Supposedly he wanted to create humans to satisfy his need for companionship or some such thing.

Why?

Let's say god did exist and he created souls. Then he gave them earthly experiences to educate them. After countless rebirths (or one incarnation, depending on your theology) they reunite with god (or, again depending on your theology, burn in hell forever). What for? What does god get out of it? God was perfect to begin with. Did he just do it for entertainment? Just to say he did it because it was good to create begs the question. Why was it "good"? What does god get out of it?

Aside from that, there were many other factors and questions that contributed to my conclusion that theism is wrong and atheism is correct. But that was the "wedge" issue that led to my search and research.

Getting back to the question of the Stepford wifes and free will, I have to ask you how much the Xian god actually values free will, since if you don't do what god wants you'll be punished eternally.

This would be like me saying I value my wife having free will. One day I say to my wife, "honey, a steak would sure be good for dinner." At dinnertime, I discover she has made tuna noodle casserole instead. So I beat the crap out of her. "If you loved me, you would have made steak," I say.

John W. Loftus said...

Now you're moving on to carnage? Remember when I said that you have trouble sticking to an issue?

If we're not talking about carnage, then what are we talking about when we're talking about the problem of evil?

Sometimes during a discussion, when we reach basic fundamental presuppositions, that's when the participants have nothing left to do but to shout and throw things at each other.

When you said "even one person coming to a relationship with God would be far more significant than the suffering in our world," I have to be done here for now, lest I start shouting and throwing things. That statement is bizzare to me. Only a person who is blinded by his faith could say it. What you said is obviously false, or you're about to do some logical gerrymandering.

John W. Loftus said...

My view is diametrically opposed to yours, David.

Consider what Ivan Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s character, said: “Tell me yourself—I challenge you: let’s assume that you were called upon to build the edifice of destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquility. If you knew that, in order to attain this, you would have to torture just one single creature, let’s say a little girl who beat her chest so desperately in the outhouse, and that on her unavenged tears you could build that edifice, would you agree to do it? Tell me and don’t lie!” [in The Brothers Karamazov].

You focus on what is gained, whereas I focus on what was lost in order to gain the gains. If the government paid 3 million dollars for a shack in Africa, you would focus on the fact that there is a shack, whereas I'd focus on why the government wasted the money and got little for it. If an entire army of 200,000 soldiers were killed in order to save a woman in the hands of an evil tyrant you would focus on the life that was saved whereas I would focus on the human carnage that it required. Things are just obvious to me...obvious. And such things can be multiplied in every area of our lives.

God purportedly created the world and there is a great deal of human carnage. You say all of it would be justified if only one person was saved. I say such a statement is obviously wrongheaded. Obviously. It's saying that God does not care for all of his creatures. That simply does not describe a caring person, much less an omnibenelovent one.

I figure that you just cannot defend what you believe here, so you make ridiculous statements that would be clearly seen to be such in any other area of your life.

eas239 said...

David said: "Now look at what you've said! Theists can't explain why there's a world (at least, given your warped view of motivation), so you rejected their view. Instead, you became an atheist, since atheists have such a great explanation for why there's a world! (BTW, I was being sarcastic in that last sentence. You know as well as I that atheists have no explanation for a world, which means that "you're applying two different standards to theism and atheism, which means that your will is overruling your intellect.)"

I could not disagree more. To say that the naturalistic explanation of the world is less compelling than the theistic one suggests a lack of even a rudimentary understanding of cosmology and biology, in addition to an emotional need for a santa claus/father-figure fantasty/myth.

In any case, a debate on "first cause" is a whole separate thing.

David B. Ellis said...


I have to disagree about determinism. The point is that we really feel like we're free--that is, that particles colliding are not guiding everything. So in the absence of some good reason to believe that we are determined, why not go with our experience?


You are mistaken. Again, a thought experiment (one of the best tools of the philosopher):

Imagine we live in a universe with free will. A mad scientist invents a device that alters the fundamental rules of our cosmos so that it is now completely deterministic.

Do you think there would be any noticeable difference in the sensation of making a choice?

David B. Ellis said...


Child: Mean and unprogrammed or pleasant and programmed? That's a tough call.


That was not the question. All human beings are "programmed", to use your word, with a personality and emotional disposition (some naturally affectionate, some naturally more reserved, some shy, some outgoing, etc etc). The question was, in the role of the genetic dice, which you would prefer it land on.


In a Looney Toons World, there would be very little moral development.


This is a scientific/psychological claim. You described what you think the results would be but provided no actual basis for the claim. You have shown absolutely no connection between our ability to torture another person and our moral development. Frankly, the suggestion seems downright absurd on the face of it.

I again ask the question:

if a scientist invented the personal force field described in my thought experiment (which would have exactly the same effect as God making us impervious to harm) would you want it banned because it would retard moral development?

Would you buy one for your child?


As for the ability to torture one another, just think for a moment. How would you eliminate our ability to torture one another? You could take away our ability to experience pain, but that would be disastrous. You could take away our hands or our ability to make tools, but that wouldn't be good either. You could take away our free will, but we've already seen that this option doesn't work either.


Do you really think these are the only options? Use your imagination.

Ever heard of superman (whose body is impervious to physical harm)? An omnipotent deity could have made our bodies impervious to physical damage.

And then there is my force field thought experiment.


Even your force-fields would end in disaster (i.e. the end of all genuine morality), as would just about every other atheist suggestion I've ever heard.


LOL

Really? How so?

David B. Ellis said...


And let's not forget that, according to Christianity, we're in a state of rebellion. This does effect the equations.


Again, how exactly is an infant able to rebel against God?

David B. Ellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David B. Ellis said...

Another thing just occurred to me. Even if your bizarre claim that the inability to torture another would retard moral development were true my proposals still allow for it:

if one could convince another to give their permission to let down their force field (whether scientifically created or of divine origin) then the presence of the possibility of torture would still exist. An evil person could attempt to convince another to allow them to inflict pain on them. They would still have the possibility of harming others and yet almost all actual harm would be prevented since almost no one would allow them to (and baby, unable to give consent, would always be protected). The presence of the "temptation" to talk someone in to torture would still be there (for anyone twisted enough to want do so).

Of course, I don't think this provision is actually necessary. I just mention it to show that even if your claim were true it still doesn't solve the problem.

Sophia De Morgan said...

I find it amusing that D Wood is being criticized for his loyalty and affirmation of this world with all its flaws, because Christianity was famously criticized by Nietzsche for being nihilistic in its other-worldliness. The Christian who says, “Oh well, heaven makes up for it all, i.e. this crappy place,” is simply repugnant in the mind of Nietzsche. The affirmation of life was of the highest value to him, and this tied in to his ideas of the eternal recurrence. Can you say to all that has been and ever will be, “Yes. And again, Yes!” It’s similar to Chesterton’s image of God as a little child who watches the sun rise every morning and set every evening and ecstatically cries, “Do it again! Do it again!” Whether one is a Christian or atheist, I think it is certainly braver to say, “Yes, I’ll accept this world, even if it is a dangerous place, because I do love it after all.” And this is similar to human relationships, isn’t it? Someone hurts you or frustrates you, but the preciousness of the person warrants forgiveness, even though the injurer can’t take it back and undo the injury. I certainly understand the disgust that an atheist has at the notion that the goodness of some things balances out/cancels all carnage and suffering. I am not impervious to the impact of Ivan’s proposition, quoted earlier by Loftus. But at the same time, I think the problem of evil may be an illustration of salvation at a macrocosmic level. The God, who says to the fallen creature, “ I love you enough to affirm your existence, to create you, to die for you,” is the same God who treasures even a flawed universe enough to say, “Let it be!”

Sophia De Morgan said...

I was just wondering also if Loftus has read The Brothers Karamazov? The reason I say this is that Ivan actually admits to Alyosha that he could accept God's existence, but he can't accept God's world. Alyosha tells Ivan that he is in rebellion, and I think that Dostoevsky has perfectly captured the true sentiment behind the Problem of Evil.

David B. Ellis said...

Few atheists are Nietszcheans. I, for one, think Nietszche, though occasionally insightful, was far more often full of.....nonsense (though another word comes to mind more readily).

John W. Loftus said...

No I have not read The Brothers Karamazov (I have not read most things, btw), but I am not in rebellion against God. I don't believe he exists, so how could I be in rebellion against him? This whole notion of rebellion is something Christians claim atheists are doing. Whether we are or not depends entirely upon whether or not God exists.

David B. Ellis said...

Thats true. But, that said, most of us humanist atheists would say that if a God existed and did nothing to come to the aid of suffering beings then he would have to provide a very good reason for that inaction before we would consider him worthy of worship.

It is only appropriate to bend one's knee in worship and adoration before a being that truly embodied the essence of kindness and simple decency. Anything else, no matter how powerful---even omnipotent, must be called a false god.

David Wood said...

Ellis,

You missed the point about Nietzsche, which was correct. If Christians say that the world is bad, tons of atheists complain and say, "Oh, go ahead and retreat to your pie-in-the-sky world! You can't handle the real world, which is why you need to dream up a fake one! Grow up!" In fact, a recent post by eas239 accused me of needing to retreat to false beliefs because I need a crutch.

But when a theist says, "I affirm this world," atheists say, "What? How could you affirm such an awful, disgusting place? Any god worthy of the name would never have created this hell-hole."

Thus, as usual, no matter what theists do, atheists complain.

David Wood said...

As for God's "worshipability" depending on whether he rushes to our aid, please see my new post.

(And keep in mind, we haven't even gotten to the fall or to theodicies. You keep bringing up problems as if there's no possible answer to them. Of course there are answers, but it seems you're looking for a quick, thirty line response to all the suffering that has ever occurred. But let's be realistic. Whatever the answers to the Problem of Evil are, they're things that will take quite a bit of time and thought to uncover. So quit looking for a quick fix.)

Tom DG said...

The stepford wives example focuses on what we, mortal men would prefer. It is quite a leap to project this on a perfect being. Wouldn't it be strange if a perfect being required or desired love from finite mortals?

The problem with free will is that it is like a double edged sword. If defined as such that is truly free, it would violate god's omniscience. If it is defined as such that it doesn't violate god's omniscience, this leads us to conclude that god is ultimately responsible for the evil that we commit. So it is impossible to define free will in a way that would allow an escape from the problem of evil.

search4db said...

My issue with saying that God could have either chosen to create robots or free-willed beings is that it's implying God was subject to some external law: there can either be robots or free-willed beings. If God was really limited by this law during creation, then that law is greater than God and he isn't really the Christian God.

If the Christian God indeed exists and created all rules/laws/etc, he was surely not subject to any rule during creation, and not limited to two particular options (robots or free-will).

And also, the free-will we enjoy is not exactly black-and-white. For all the freedom we have, we have countless more restrictions. We cannot do anything we want, the portion of ourself that we call "free" operates within a strict complex predefined framework of biology, needs, instincts, possibilities, pressures, influences, and uncontrollables. The human flavor of free-will is one of infinite conceivable flavors that God could have created.

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