Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Suffering and Expectation

I recently debated former Christian minister John Loftus on The Debate Hour (click here to download the program). One of the many inconsistencies I noticed in John’s (and Reginald’s) position was that he frequently applied some “test” to Christianity that would absolutely destroy atheism, if only he applied his test consistently.

For instance, John and Reginald asked me whether I would expect a world of suffering, given my belief in an all-powerful, wholly good Being. John repeated this challenge in his blog:

Your mission, should you choose it, is to try to sufficiently explain why there is so much intense suffering in this world, if a good, omnipotent God exists. Is this the world you would expect prior to experiencing it, if that kind of God existed?

Presumably, by “sufficiently explain,” John means “give an explanation that atheists will find persuasive.” I’m not sure that this is even possible, so John’s dice may be loaded. But I like to live dangerously.

If we begin with only the concept of God, and we try to deduce what kind of world, if any, this Being would create, would we expect anything like the world around us? Before I answer this question, let us first consider how atheists would answer it if they took the extraordinary step of applying their tests consistently (i.e. to both theism and atheism). Now the question becomes:

If God does not exist, is this the world we would expect prior to experiencing it?

The answer, of course, is “No.” We would never expect a world like ours (a world which had a beginning) without some first cause. Indeed, I wouldn’t expect any world at all without something to cause it. And this is why atheism is so unconvincing (unless we exempt atheism from the critical evaluations we apply to other positions). If God is involved, God can choose what kind of world to create. But if God is not involved, the atheist is left with sheer improbabilities, and improbabilities are some of atheism’s chief adversaries. Suppose that God does not exist. What are the odds that a universe will form out of nothing, by nothing? I would say that the odds are effectively zero. But let’s suppose that the “nothingness” somehow overcomes these odds and produces a universe. Would the universe that forms be suitable for life? The odds are overwhelmingly against this. The constants necessary for life have to be fine-tuned to an amazing degree (and that’s a tremendous understatement). But let’s suppose that “randomness” overcomes these odds and the universe ends up finely tuned for life. Would life form? Like it or not, the odds are against this as well, but let’s grant the atheists a single-celled organism. Would this single-celled organism evolve into multi-celled organisms? Probably not, but let’s grant it anyway. To speed things up a bit, would these multi-celled organisms eventually develop into conscious, autonomous agents, capable of reason, moral action, and intense suffering? The probabilities here are so astronomically against atheism that we must admit that, if God does not exist, we would never expect anything even remotely resembling our world.

A sophisticated atheist may regroup and say, “Ah, but the properties you ascribe to God lead us to expect a world different from ours, whereas atheism doesn’t lead us to expect any particular world.” But atheism does lead me to a particular expectation. It leads me to expect that there would be nothing at all. And, if something does form, I would expect a world that cannot support life.

It seems, then, that if we apply the “expectation” criterion to atheism, the atheist must forfeit his belief. After all, that was the point of the original challenge. If we wouldn’t expect our world on the theist’s hypothesis, then the theist should abandon his hypothesis. However, as we have seen, on the atheist’s hypothesis, we certainly would expect our world. The atheist’s belief can’t pass the atheist’s own test, which means that there’s a double-standard here.

But let’s return to John’s challenge. Given my belief in God, would I expect a world like ours? True, I might not expect a world like ours in every detail, but I would expect a world somewhat like ours. I said this on the program, and John and Reginald both seemed to think I was being insincere. I offered what I call a “Two-World Theodicy,” in which I argue that, proceeding philosophically, we can construct our world from scratch, beginning with the idea of an all-powerful, wholly good Being.

I shall present my Two-World Theodicy in a future post. For now, I will give a simpler response that will at least get us much farther than atheism will ever get us.

First, God could either create a world or not create a world. Since I think it’s better to be creative, I would expect God to create a world. (We’ve now got a world, so we’re already beyond what atheism can achieve.)

Second, God could either put living beings in this world, or leave it lifeless. I believe that life is better than non-life, so I would expect God to add some living beings. (Now we’re way beyond atheism.)

Third, God could either populate this world with free beings (morally free, volitionally free, etc.), or he could create only beings that lack true freedom. I think freedom is extremely important, so I would expect God to create free beings.

Fourth, these beings will either obey God or disobey God. Based on what I know of every free being I’ve ever met (and here I’m appealing mildly to experience), it wouldn’t surprise me to find that these free beings will disobey God.

Fifth, God could either remain with these disobedient beings, giving them a perfect world, or he could separate himself from them. Since I believe that God’s goodness implies holiness and justice, I would expect God to separate himself from these creatures (to some extent).

Sixth, if God separates himself from our world, would I expect a perfect world of complete pleasure, or a world with both pain and pleasure? To be honest, I would expect a world of both pain and pleasure. Indeed, I would be absolutely shocked if God gave a perfect world to a bunch of rebellious creatures.

Seventh, would I expect God to intervene whenever something goes wrong? No, I wouldn’t. Since the free beings had rejected a world in which God takes care of everything, I have no reason to think that God would overrule their rejection every time they get into trouble.

So, it seems that I might expect a world like ours after all. True, the issue is far more complex than I’ve made it here. But we’ve covered the major steps, and the most important point is that theism gets us much closer to our world than atheism can.

Now that I’ve offered at least some idea of why a theist might expect a world like ours, atheists will have many objections. But it seems only fair that before they object, they return the gesture. That is, John (or another atheist) should show that atheism can get us a world somewhat like our own. Once he has done that, we can focus on working out the difficulties in my position. Thus, I will modify John’s original challenge so that it applies to his own position:

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to try to sufficiently explain why the world is as it is, if God does not exist. Is this the world you would expect prior to experiencing it, if atheism is true?

66 comments:

Marvels of the Mind said...

I think you need to further clarify yourth fifth point. God was with humans, humans sinned, and then God left? Is that how the Biblical account goes?

I've actually often thought about the problem of pain in the same way: if there were a world in which there was a God and no problem of pain, what would it look like? This, of course, would be a world in which the great majority of the atheists who are solely atheists because they reject an omnibenevolent God who would create a world with such an exorbitant amount of suffering would no longer be atheists on such a basis.

I suppose that many variables would be eliminated:
1) Humans would be the most powerful, protected, indestructible creature there is. Animals could not kill us, and falling off things would not be a problem. Somehow, less fragile humans would eliminate much pain.

2) All humans would enter the world in a state of cognizance and equality, so that none would be assaulted by another one of the humans in an unjust situation. Childhood would be excluded. If God is expected to distribute love equally, this would comport him creating equally defensible humans at every point.

3) Death would happen, certainly, but of course infant and child deaths would be completely eliminated, deaths by nature (animal attacks, physical force) would be significantly lessened, which leaves only two sources of death left: violence from humans and diseases. Removing the combustible properties from element could solve the problem of weapons, however more primitive it would make civilization. Cures for diseases would be naturally supplied by nature, so that the perversity of creation is apparent, but at the same time, remedied.

I am not sure how humans would enter life without infantile development, but then again my brain is very small.

That is what would be expected of a world deprived of atheists on the basis of the argument from evil. At least according to the way I have entertained the thought exercise while bored in class. I doubt that's what the teacher thought I was thinking about.

"Philip, focus! We're in class, remember? What are you even thinking about?!"
"Oh, sorry. Theodicy. My bad."

John W. Loftus said...

David, Francis Schaeffer did something along these lines in his book, He Is There And He Is Not Silent. You may want to check that out, but he wasn't dealing with the problem of evil. See also Thomas Morris' Francis Schaeffer's Apologetics: A Critique.

There are several things I can say in response, and here is the short version. 1) Why does something exist at all? You and I should both be extremely surprised that something, anything, exists. We should expect that nothing at all exists, since if something does exist, it demands an explanation. 2) "The beauty of Darwinian evolution is that it explains the very improbable, by gradual degrees. It starts from primeval simplicity (relatively easy to understand) and works up, by plausibly small steps, to complex entities whose genesis, by any non-gradual process, would be too improbable for serious contemplation. Design is a real alternative, but only if the designer is himself the product of an escalatory process such as evolution by natural selection, either on this planet or elsewhere. There may be alien life forms so advanced that we would worship them as gods. But they too must ultimately be explained by gradual escalation. Gods that exist ab initio are ruled out by the argument from improbability, even more surely than are spontaneously erupting eyes or elbow joints.” [Richard Dawkins]

3) Now that we do exist, this universe is exactly the way it should be for us to know that it exists. This is known as the anthropic principle, which I'm sure you are aware of. According to Richard Dawkins, the anthropic principle is the better alternative to the design hypothesis. “It has been estimated that there are between 1 billion and 30 billion planets in our galaxy, and about 100 billion galaxies in the universe,” so “a billion billion is a conservative estimate of the number of available planets in the universe.” Therefore “even with such absurdly long odds, life will still have arisen on a billion planets—of which Earth, of course, is one.” Once life has arisen the principle of natural selection takes over, and “natural selection is emphatically not a matter of luck.” [The God Delusion, pp. 134-141].

4) The law of predation in the nature world fits much better with the theory of evolution, since there is no good reason for it if God created this world. Animals didn't even need to be created.

David said: I think freedom is extremely important, so I would expect God to create free beings.

This seems to get at the heart of our debate when it comes to the free will defense. I am planning a lengthy piece on the nature and value of free will.

David Wood said...

John,

(1) You're surprised that there is something rather than nothing, and rightly so. But as I've said repeatedly, I believe that it's good to create, so if God has the power, it's no surprise to me that he created a world. Saying "Why did God create a world?" is like saying "Why did John Loftus have children?" We have children because it's good to have children. No other reason is necessary.

(2) Darwinism, even in theory, only works when you have a certain type of living organism (i.e. one that reproduces copies of itself, copies that are slightly different, but not too different). Appealing to Darwinism does you no good at all unless you already have a universe, which must be finely-tuned for life, as well as a suitable planet. Where did you get all of that John? Darwinism didn't get it for you. And beyond this, you know that more and more scientists are coming to doubt the sufficiency of Darwinism. I was a biology major at a secular school, and the head of the graduate program and the chair of the department were both skeptical of the ability of natural selection to produce the variety of life around us. You can believe, by faith, that it all happened by natural means, but you can't say that it's unreasonable to conclude that at least some things were designed, when they obviously function as if they were designed.

(3) THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE???!!! That's your answer??? This isn't an explanation, John. I'm arguing, "This universe is extremely improbable on atheism," and your response is, "Well, the world has to be the way it is, or else we wouldn't be here to notice it." Again, that's not an explanation. Let me put the matter differently. Suppose you and I are kidnapped. Someone ties us to a chair and says, "I'm going to roll these dice a million times. Every time double sixes come up, I'll let you live. But as soon as any other numbers come up, I'm going to kill both of you." So he rolls the dice. "Double sixes!" You and I are amazed at our luck. He rolls again. "Double sixes!" We're absolutely stunned. But he rolls the dice a million times, and double sixes come up every time. At the end of this series, we'll be wondering why we're alive. Apparently, you would say, "Well, all the rolls had to come up double sixes, or else we wouldn't be here to notice." My reaction would be, "John, the dice were loaded."

(4) You say that the law of predation fits much better with evolution. I would argue that it doesn't fit at all with atheism, since atheism could never get us a world or animals to begin with. Notice also that you're being inconsistent again. You're saying, "My view accounts for X better than your view does." Even if I grant this, I would say that my view accounts for A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H better than atheism does (where A is the existence of the universe, B is fine-tuning, C is the moral law, etc.). In other words, you're dismissing theism because you think it doesn't explain some feature of our world. Well, I don't think atheism explains ANY feature of our world. So, on your own criteria, we would have to dismiss atheism.

As for freedom, you are correct. We disagree. And notice that our disagreements keep returning to value judgments. You don't think freedom is important, and I do. You don't think it's good to create, and I do. You think pain/pleasure are our top priority, and I don't. You think rebellion against God is a small matter, and I think it's huge. But this only shows that the argument from evil only works if people have a certain set of values. If someone has different values, the argument doesn't work.

David Wood said...

BTW, John, you admitted that, given your worldview, you wouldn't expect our world. So you've failed your own test.

Also notice that I would expect at least some world (and, indeed, a world something like ours) on my worldview. You reject the idea that I could expect a world like ours, but you do so by presupposing your own value system. In other words, it's as if you're saying, "David, if you had my value system instead of your own, would you expect a world like ours, if God exists." True, I wouldn't. But your original question was whether I would expect a world like ours, given theism. And, like it or not, my values do lead me to expect a world like the one we see around us.

David B. Ellis said...

If God does not exist, is this the world we would expect prior to experiencing it?

The answer, of course, is “No.” We would never expect a world like ours (a world which had a beginning) without some first cause.


I am an atheist and yet I see no reason to have any particular expectation as to the origin of the universe. One could think of all manner of purely naturalistic possibilities. And as to the idea that it would be more plausible to expect nothing to exist rather than something: why? There seems no obvious reason for this assumption.


Suppose that God does not exist. What are the odds that a universe will form out of nothing, by nothing? I would say that the odds are effectively zero.


Do you actually think that's the only naturalistic option? At least acquaint yourself with the ideas of astronomers who specialize in cosmology if you're going to argue on this topic.


But atheism does lead me to a particular expectation. It leads me to expect that there would be nothing at all.


Again, why? This seems a purely baseless assumption.

David B. Ellis said...

Its also, I think, important to point out that you are somewhat comparing apples and oranges here. If we are going to compare what would be reasonably expected if atheism were true as compared to theism we should be comparing their predictions on the SAME topic.

So I have to wonder why you didn't address what we would expect in regard to suffering if atheism is true when that was the topic addressed by the problem of evil in regard to whether theism is true.

Of course, the obvious answer is because we would expect exactly the sort of world we actually inhabit in regard to suffering if atheism is true.....and doesn't serve the religious apologists aims. So instead another topic is brought up: cosmology. A topic on which we really have little reason to make any prediction in regard to either atheism or theism since the reasonable possibilities are vast for both.

David Wood said...

Mr. Ellis,

Keep in mind the current dominant theory in cosmology--the Big Bang. There was a beginning to the universe. If you have nothing to cause this beginning (and I'm open to any suggestions you might have), then you have to simply say that the universe came from nothing, by nothing. Offer a better theory if you know of one.

As for switching the topic to cosmology, you missed the point. I was pointing out an inconsistency in the atheist's position. Atheists point to something and say, "Would you expect THAT if your God exists?" Yet they never apply this test to their own view, which doesn't account for anything. I could point to a rock and say, "Would you expect that if atheism is true?" And the answer would be "No."

Besides, the goal is to have a theory that accounts for as much data as possible. Theism accounts for a lot. Atheism accounts for nothing (literally). So atheists can point to things all day and say that we wouldn't expect them on theism, but if they applied this standard consistently, they would have to dismiss atheism long before they dismiss theism.

In short, atheism is a horribly deficient position, so it doesn't make sense for atheists to try to point out deficiencies in positions that are inherently much, much stronger.

David B. Ellis said...


Keep in mind the current dominant theory in cosmology--the Big Bang. There was a beginning to the universe. If you have nothing to cause this beginning (and I'm open to any suggestions you might have), then you have to simply say that the universe came from nothing, by nothing. Offer a better theory if you know of one.


Again, I would suggest more reading in cosmology. There is nothing in current astronomical knowledge to suggest that the Big Bang was the beginning of all physical reality or that what emerged from it is the totality of physical existence. That is simply unknown currently---though there are many hypotheses among cosmologists today concerning what existed prior to the Big Bang and what caused it. We simply have no means, yet, to test any of them.


As for switching the topic to cosmology, you missed the point.


I think I understand all too well why you chose to switch the topic to one about which practically nothing is definitively known.


Atheists point to something and say, "Would you expect THAT if your God exists?" Yet they never apply this test to their own view, which doesn't account for anything. I could point to a rock and say, "Would you expect that if atheism is true?" And the answer would be "No."


Again, this is an entirely unwarranted assumption. Why would I expect rocks (or anything else) to not exist if atheism is true? You have given no reasonable basis for this assumption.

David Wood said...

So there are many theories. Yes, I know this, and I also know that they are all full of difficulties, and a bunch of bad theories don't add up to a good one. If you've studied this at all, you know that the dominant view is that all physical reality began with the Big Bang, along with time and space. But as an atheist, you have nothing to cause this beginning. You have no explanation at all. To prove me wrong, all you have to do is give me some explanation. Give me your best one. (I'll consider it carefully.)

When exactly did I shift the topic to cosmology? As far as I can tell, you're the one focusing on cosmology. In my response to Loftus's question, I brought up a number of issues, and cosmology was only one of them. Since atheists get so touchy when I mention the universe, I can only assume that this is a weak spot. And you haven't said anything to show me otherwise.

Also keep in mind, I did address suffering in my response. You're acting as if I just changed the subject, and you know this isn't true. I simply started from the beginning, since my goal was to explain why I would expect our present world to be the way it is. It simply doesn't make sense to me to say, "Why is the world like this? Tell me! But don't talk about the world or anything else except suffering." Is that what you're demanding?

David Wood said...

P.S.

If you'd like to continue talking about cosmology (while complaining that we're talking about cosmology), here are a couple of quotations:

“Space and time were created in that event and so was all the matter in the universe. It is not meaningful to ask what happened before the Big Bang; it is like asking what is north of the North Pole. Similarly it is not sensible to ask where the Big Bang took place. The point-universe was not an object isolated in space; it was the entire universe, and so the only answer can be that the Big Bang happened everywhere.” (J. R. Gott, J. E. Gunn, D. N. Schramm, B. M. Tinsley, “Will the Universe Expand Forever?” in Scientific American [March, 1976], p. 65.)

“The most startling feature of the scientific theory is the suggestion that space itself was created in the big bang, and not merely matter. . . . The first instant of the big bang, where space was infinitely shrunken, represents a boundary or edge in time at which space ceases to exist. . . . Space is inextricably linked to time, and as space stretches and shrinks, so does time. Just as the big bang represents the creation of space, so it represents the creation of time. Neither space nor time can be extended back through the initial singularity. Crudely speaking, time itself began at the big bang.” (Paul Davies, God and the New Physics [New York: Touchstone, 1983], p. 18.)

When you say there are other theories, I assume you're thinking of multiverse theory. Here's a link to my critique of Smolin's theory:

Smolin’s Multiverse Theory

Daniel said...

First, I would say that God is not an explanation of anything. God is what people say when they give up on an explanation. For to transfer "an uncaused event" from the universe to God is by no means ontologically simpler. You go from the universe only, which all of us agree does exist, to the universe + a Being whose attributes are incomprehensible...

The Anthropic Principle relies upon three ignorances:
i) how many universes there are
ii) how many cycles our universe has gone through
iii) how many configurations of the forces of our own universe would still result in life.

1) We don't know if our universe is the only one or not. We simply don't know, either way. There is no evidence for or against it. IF a great number, or infinite number, of other universes exist, with different fundamental forces (and thus no life), ours is not "special" -- no "money has changed hands".

2) We don't know what precedes the first ability of physics to peer into the past for our own universe. The singularity may be the result of prior contractions and expansions, whether or not this particular universe will ever have a "big crunch". The cyclic universe is actually reviving amongst academic cosmologists, esp Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok, who have a nice FAQ on the subject. This doesn't invoke other universes, simply other possible configurations of our own, and so it is ontologically simpler. That is, if our universe has cycled through an enormous number of configurations, it is only reasonable to expect one of those to be like ours.

3) Given all other constants are set as they are, altering one of them is catastrophic for the potential of life. However, physicists will readily admit that changing these constants in ratios is completely beyond our ability to predict the consequences of. That is, if we tweak G by a certain amount, and we tweak the property of the strong nuclear force as well in some way, and of EM, and of the weak nuclear force...no one knows what ratios would still give a universe with the properties necessary for life. No one knows.

In that sense, the "money changing hands" argument, that "the universe is just too special to be here as it is all on its own" is largely predicated upon that which we do not know -- a big fat argument from ignorance.

The Big Bang is the result of extrapolating back the equations of GR and quantum physics to the point that they break down. That is why it is called a "singularity". Typically, most physicists will admit that this singularity results from the irreconcilable differences between general relativity and quantum theory. We need a quantum gravity.

Everyone in the physics community accepts that in the past, our universe was very small and very hot. However, when the universe contracts to a certain size, and when we approach the Planck length, all of physics break down. It is literally a huge gaping hole in our knowledge. And you want to use this ignorance as a launching point to insert God, just like people always have -- a god of the gaps.

The Standard Model (Big Bang) has had to be "tweaked" many times, to put it mildly. Most significantly, the inflantionary epoch was added in after it was determined that space was not curved, but flat, in contrast to the model's prediction, and that matter is not unevenly distrubted, but evenly distributed. Also, "dark energy" seems to many like a placeholder for a more significant revision of the model.

That is why the search for a "Theory of Everything" or "Grand Unified Theory" occupied most of Einstein's latter years, and most of the effort of the theoretical physics community today.

It is entirely expected that the singularity will be resolved. And this resolution, then, will do away with the utter weirdness of a "beginning of time". Since time-space-matter-energy are all related, to say that this big package "poofs" out of nothing is ridiculous. To say that it has always been, although it has gone through various changes, is much more logical.

Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok may have already done so -- they do not advocate a multiverse, but instead, show that our own universe may oscillate between a "big bang" and a "big crunch" -- I find this explanation simple and beautiful (see my two comments there):
A Cyclic Model of the Universe (Science), SciAm, Space.com, FAQ by Steinhardt

David B. Ellis said...


If you've studied this at all, you know that the dominant view is that all physical reality began with the Big Bang, along with time and space.


In fact, most astronomers would admit that the above is simply an assumption unwarranted by the evidence. All OBSERVABLE space and time emerged from the big bang (its pretty hard to see beyond a singularity). Look at the dates on your quotes, 1976 and 1983, and even in those days those conclusions were not based on any actual evidence.

The simple fact is: we don't know what came before or caused the Big Bang (yet!).

At this point the matter is entirely speculative.

But back to the issue of suffering. We would expect a loving person to not stand by and allow horrendous and needless suffering when they are able to come to a persons aid. We, obviously would not expect a universe ruled by mindless physical forces to care about or even by aware of suffering.

Obviously, a world with terrible suffering is more consistent with naturalism than with the usual variety of theism.

It is also consistent with a universe with 2 equally or near equally powerful deities, one good and one evil. Its consistent with a wide variety of supernatural belief systems....but for a belief system that claims that is an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent being.....yeah, that's a major problem. Nothing you have yet said does anything to alleviate that problem.

David B. Ellis said...

to point out more specifically the flawed nature of your attempt to reconcile the christian God with the suffering observed in this world:


Seventh, would I expect God to intervene whenever something goes wrong? No, I wouldn’t. Since the free beings had rejected a world in which God takes care of everything, I have no reason to think that God would overrule their rejection every time they get into trouble.





Infants who die slowly of birth defects did not disobey or reject any God and yet, if he exists, he stands by and lets they die in slow agony.

We're walking well tromped ground here. The theodicy you present is nothing new. Its flaws have been pointed out a thousand times before.

John W. Loftus said...

David, my answer was that I should expect nothing to exist (nothing), as in no God, no world, no universe at all. Why is there something, anything, rather than nothing at all?

Now it's true you can believe in God based on Bayesian background factors like the design argument. And it's true you and I can debate the design argument. But I'm already granting you, for the sake of argument, that your God exists. I'm granting, hypothetically anyway, that an omni-God exists, okay? My challenge to you is to attempt to explain why this God, if he exists, created this particular world (not a different one).

So, you can continue arguing that there is a designer God if you want to do so. But that's not what you'd have to defend in any dissertation on the problem of evil that I would oversee, if it were me.

Besides, your claim is that the design argument trumps (or defeats) the problem of evil. Does it? How? The problem of evil is also a problem for the intelligence of the designer. Since I'm arguing against the existence of your faith in the Omni-God, then this universe was designed by either an incompetent, uncaring, or mentally challenged Deity.

I might even grant for the sake of argument that you see a designer God behind this universe. If so, what kind of designer is he? Is he truly the Omni-God you wish to defend? If this universe is designed, then you need to explain not just the eye, but also the creation of the Brown Recluse Spider, the Yew plant, parasites, hurricanes, and tsunami's, not to mention why this God gave us free will (later). If it's designed, then explain these things. Are they designed too? For what purpose? What is the greater good?

steve said...

Hi David,

I see you're using the freewill defense. That's a standard theodicy. No surprise there.

As a Calvinist, I'm not a big fan of the FWD.

However, that's beside the point since you're debating Loftus rather than me.

With that in mind, I'd like to make a few points if I might:

1. A cornerstone of Loftus' atheology is his assumption that Christians are, in principle, able to override their (religious) social conditioning.

That's one reason he writes and blogs and debates in favor of atheism.

Although he doesn't think he can dissuade every Christian, he believes it's possible to convince some Christians that Christianity is false.

The question this poses for him is whether it commits him to some version of (libertarian?) freewill.

Are we ever free to override our social conditioning, including our religious conditioning?

If not, then who is his audience? What is he trying to accomplish?

If need be, this could also be expanded to the question of biological or genetic determinism. From his viewpoint, we are strictly biochemical organisms.

So, if you combine physical determinism with social conditioning, it's hard to see where there's room to break our religious programming, for those of us who have been conditioned (on his view) to be Christian.

2. BTW, it's not clear to me whether he's attempting to mount an internal or external argument from evil in his debate with you.

That needs to be clarified, for it affects the burden of proof. If he is covertly operating with an external argument from evil, then the onus is on him to establish some version of secular ethics which will underwrite his paradigm-cases of evil.

3. On a related note, he would also need to establish some version of secular anthropology which makes room for pain and suffering, pace eliminative materialism.

I don't think he has any good answers to these questions, which is why he invariably dodges that challenge.

4. Yet another problem is that, even if he's mounting a consistently internal critique, unless he's a moral realist, who cares where the truth lies?

In other words, it's only (morally) wrong to be (factually) wrong if there's such a thing as right and wrong.

If you deny the distinction between right and wrong, then the distinction between truth and falsehood is trivialized.

For even if I'm mistaken, why should I care unless I'm under some moral obligation to hold true beliefs?

While it's logically possible to be both an ethical antirealist and an alethic realist, ethical antirealism detroys the logical incentive to be a truth-seeker.

David Wood said...

First, science.

You've illustrated quite well the most common atheist tactic in responding to the problem of origins. Talk about a bunch of scientific theories, whether or not they address the problem, and hope that your reader will assume that you answered the problem.

So let me get this straight. God is not an explanation. But an infinite series of unseen, undetectable universes IS an explanation? Based on everything we know, time and space originated in the Big Bang, yet it's an "explanation" for you to say, "Well, maybe there were tons of other universes out there."

You note that the cyclic universe is reviving among cosmologists. Do you know why? It's because they're recognizing the absurdity (as I think you do) of a universe beginning from nothing, by nothing. This forces them to think of some way that things could be eternal, whether the evidence supports their view or not.

An oscillating universe??!! This doesn't help you. Our current universe is expanding, and it will never contract. What does this mean? Well, it won't oscillate any more. Now follow this through to its logical conclusion. You need something infinite, which means that you must agree that we have already passed an infinite number of past universes. But we know, based on our current universe, that one of the possible configurations of universes is one which will never contract (an "open universe"). But surely in the infinite past configurations of universes, one of the configurations would have been an open universe, which would have stopped the process. Since this isn't the case, there couldn't have been an infinite number of past universes. This means that you need a finite number of past universes, and you still arrive at a universe with a beginning. It is therefore pointless to appeal to other universes to get you away from the problem of origins.

Notice that I asked you for your best theory, and your best theory is completely flawed. Notice also that you're being incredibly inconsistent. You're saying, "Well, we just don't know enough about things to say what is the case. Our knowledge is limited." Yet you turn to the theist and say, "Explain all this evil! Completely!" Why can't a theist respond, "Well, we just don't know enough about things to say what is the case" (as you respond when you can't answer a question)?

What I'm seeing is this. If you don't have a complete explanation, it's okay to appeal to ignorance. If theists don't have a complete explanation, it's because theism is false. Beyond this, I'd say that theists do have explanations for suffering, so we're already in a better boat than atheists.

As for Christians making an argument from ignorance, this is simply false. Based on everything we can gather from science, whatever begins to exist must have a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe must have a cause. Now we simply need to find a cause that adequately accounts for the universe. Does the oscillating universe do this? No. Does multiverse theory do it? No. Does God do it? Yes. Thus, out of all the candidates before us, God is the only causally adequate explanation.

And, I should add, God explains far more. At best, if atheists some day come up with an explanation of how the universe could be eternal, this will only account for the existence of our universe. It wouldn't account for anything else (fine-tuning, life, consciousness, the moral law, miracles, etc.).

Now is the fine-tuning argument an argument from ignorance? Your response is that the proper ratio of constants could allow for other possibilities. But still, even if there were a large number of "perfect ratios" (which, you admit, is pure speculation), a universe without these perfect ratios would be far more probable than a universe with constants set perfectly for life.

Theists look at this and they realize that this sort of fine-tuning is what we expect from design, not from chance. And when we add in all the other evidence for design, and a number of other factors, we just find it intolerable to say, "Well, we don't know. Maybe there's an explanation that accounts for all of this, even though we just can't think of one."

You can say you don't like theism, but to suggest that your constant appeals to ignorance are somehow superior to the theist's appeal to something that would actually account for our observations only reveals your bias.

David B. Ellis said...


The question this poses for him is whether it commits him to some version of (libertarian?) freewill.


The answer is: no.

Free will does not have to exist for one to be able to come to disagree with opinions they were brought up in. That should be obvious. Only an absurdly naive view of human psychology could claim otherwise.

Of course, one is also not committed by being an atheist to the position that free will cannot exist. Naturalism does not necessitate the absence of free will.

Personally, I see only one way to put the issue of free will/determinism to the test:

if we could create a complete and perfect computer model of the functioning of a person's brain and, using it, accurately predict their behavior with complete (or at least near total) accuracy, then I would think that weigh so heavily against free will as to make it disconfirmed beyond reasonable doubt.

Of course, we don't currently have the technological means to perform such an experiment. And since I have heard no other way to test either hypothesis the only sensible position, I think, is to admit one does not know whether free will exists or not.


That needs to be clarified, for it affects the burden of proof. If he is covertly operating with an external argument from evil, then the onus is on him to establish some version of secular ethics which will underwrite his paradigm-cases of evil.


A secular ethic is no problem. But it isn't necessary to the argument from evil (so I won't go into my own meta-ethical views here). The argument from evil depends on the contradiction between calling a person loving and saying they would not help someone in dire need.

It does not require any moral judgement as to whether they SHOULD help someone in need.


On a related note, he would also need to establish some version of secular anthropology which makes room for pain and suffering, pace eliminative materialism.


Please clarify. I'm not sure what you are saying here.


In other words, it's only (morally) wrong to be (factually) wrong if there's such a thing as right and wrong.

If you deny the distinction between right and wrong, then the distinction between truth and falsehood is trivialized.

For even if I'm mistaken, why should I care unless I'm under some moral obligation to hold true beliefs?


To be moral, fundamentally, is simply to be concerned for the well-being of others. To love.



Love needs no external sanction. Divine or otherwise. It is of value in and of itself and, therefore, the basis of morality poses no difficultly for either I, an atheist, nor you, a theist.


If you are going to argue that the nontheist has no basis for morality then you cannot, as I do, consider love of intrinsic value---for you it can only draw its worth from an external source.

Surely that is not a position you are comfortable taking.

David B. Ellis said...


You've illustrated quite well the most common atheist tactic in responding to the problem of origins. Talk about a bunch of scientific theories, whether or not they address the problem, and hope that your reader will assume that you answered the problem.


The simple fact is, there are many possible answers to the question:

What caused the big bang?

And we currently simply don't know which hypothesis is correct. Or even whether anyone has yet thought up the hypothesis which will turn out to be correct.

Give us a testable version of the Divine Creation model of the cause of the big bang which makes confirmable mathematically precise predictions and we will take it as a scientifically confirmed theory.

That is what a naturalistic model of the cause of the Big Bang must do to be taken as correct. Should the theistic hypothesis be held to a lesser standard?

Alethes Ginosko said...

First, I want to point out some specifics about myself so you know that context of the following words. I am a Christian that works in molecular biology and I dabble in philosophy. The main reason I wrote this is b/c iron sharpens iron.


First, God could either create a world or not create a world. Since I think it’s better to be creative, I would expect God to create a world. (We’ve now got a world, so we’re already beyond what atheism can achieve.)


I think this one’s kind of up in the air, but if God creates simply b/c creating is good, then why would He stop? Wouldn’t God be constantly creating? Why rest on the 7th day?


Second, God could either put living beings in this world, or leave it lifeless. I believe that life is better than non-life, so I would expect God to add some living beings. (Now we’re way beyond atheism.)


This all seems kind of circular to me. He is expected to create life b/c life is good? Why is life good? I’m God, being God is perfectly fine on His own.


Third, God could either populate this world with free beings (morally free, volitionally free, etc.), or he could create only beings that lack true freedom. I think freedom is extremely important, so I would expect God to create free beings.


Again, why is freedom important? B/c God gave it to us? B/c if we weren’t free, then we would be God’s puppets? He’s God He can do what He wants, why give us freedom?


Fourth, these beings will either obey God or disobey God. Based on what I know of every free being I’ve ever met (and here I’m appealing mildly to experience), it wouldn’t surprise me to find that these free beings will disobey God.
Why does it make so much sense that they would disobey?


Other than the fact that we already know that we disobey. If a God creates these beings and it’s given that He creates them free, what reason do we have to expect the created beings to abuse that freedom by disobeying?


Fifth, God could either remain with these disobedient beings, giving them a perfect world, or he could separate himself from them. Since I believe that God’s goodness implies holiness and justice, I would expect God to separate himself from these creatures (to some extent).
To what extent?


Would He completely separate Himself from them? Why does this make sense? In referring to holiness and justice it would seem that God would indeed remove Himself completely or He could destroy us and start over from scratch and create new beings.


Sixth, if God separates himself from our world, would I expect a perfect world of complete pleasure, or a world with both pain and pleasure? To be honest, I would expect a world of both pain and pleasure. Indeed, I would be absolutely shocked if God gave a perfect world to a bunch of rebellious creatures.


If God separated Himself wholly I would expect a world of darkness and disorder and pain. If God removed Himself only in part then yes, I’d expect a balance between pain and pleasure.


Seventh, would I expect God to intervene whenever something goes wrong? No, I wouldn’t. Since the free beings had rejected a world in which God takes care of everything, I have no reason to think that God would overrule their rejection every time they get into trouble.


I wouldn’t expect God to intervene at all if He is holy and just. As stated before He could just leave us to our own devices. Where does justice end and compassion begin? When does He leave us to suffer and when does He heal us? God is the only one that can make these distinctions.

David B. Ellis said...


On a related note, he would also need to establish some version of secular anthropology which makes room for pain and suffering, pace eliminative materialism.



So far as I can recall, John never claimed to be an eliminative materialist, nor is that position the only or the the dominant position, among athiests. So why would he need to explain suffering in terms of it?

David Wood said...

Alethes,

Keep in mind, the question was whether "I" would expect suffering. And I've said that a lot of my reason for answering "yes" comes from certain values I have.

Yes, I believe it's good to create--a universe, life, etc. You seem to agree with John that since God doesn't need anything, God has no reason to create. So would you say that, since I don't need a child, I have no reason to have one? Is it really so odd to think that there's something good about bringing life into the world, or making a world for life?

As for freedom, without it there would be no genuine love, and no one freely choosing to serve God. I would say that we all understand the significance of free will. Watch the Stepford Wives. Does anyone think that a perfect robot wife is better than a flawed real wife (i.e. one who isn't programmed to love you)?

As for rebellion, I said that I'm basing this to some extent on my knowledge of people. Every person I've ever known or heard of (with one exception) rebelled against God in some way, even those who were wholeheartedly dedicated to God. It seems, then, that we have a tendency to rebel.

God didn't completely separate from us (since we still exist, and God sustains us in being). The point is that he separated himself from us to some extent. He isn't walking in the garden anymore. I'm glad you agree that a partial separation (which, I think, is the biblical view) would result in a world of both pain and pleasure.

David Wood said...

Mr. Ellis,

You said that there are many possible answers to the question "What caused the Big Bang?" Well, I'm only asking for one--one that isn't filled with problems. You offered the oscillating universe model, and it just doesn't work. In fact, none of the models work. Again, a bunch of bad theories don't add up to a good one. And until you have some theory that works, theists are in a better spot than you. (Indeed, even if you come up with a theory that works in this one area, you'll never have a theory with the explanatory power of theism. There are simply too many holes in atheism.)

steve said...

david b. ellis said...

"Free will does not have to exist for one to be able to come to disagree with opinions they were brought up in. That should be obvious. Only an absurdly naive view of human psychology could claim otherwise."

You seem to be parachuting into this discussion without knowing much about Loftus' position. In his "Outsider Test," which he trots out ad nauseum, Loftus argues that religious beliefs are socially conditioned.

Therefore, the question of whether we are ever free to override our socially-conditioned beliefs (be they religious or irreligious) is directly relevant to his own position.

I'd add that his position on social conditioning logically commits him to cultural relativism, which—in turn—logically commits him to moral relativism. In that event he could never mount an external argument from evil, but, at best, an internal argument from evil.

"A secular ethic is no problem."

Surely you jest. There are many obstacles to secular ethics. Indeed, a number of secular philosophers subscribe to some version of moral relativism as a logical entailment of their secular outlook. For examples of both, see:

http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=6383

http://www.qsmithwmu.com/moral_realism_and_infinte_spacetime_imply_moral_nihilism_by_quentin_smith.htm

http://www.believermag.com/issues/200307/?read=interview_ruse

http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/evol-eth.htm

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-cognitivism/

http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p20.htm

"But it isn't necessary to the argument from evil (so I won't go into my own meta-ethical views here). The argument from evil depends on the contradiction between calling a person loving and saying they would not help someone in dire need."

This is a straw man argument. What position are you opposing? Judeo-Christian theism? If so, such a simplistic formulation of the "contradiction" will hardly do. There's more at issue than a loving God and a person in need.

There is also the issue of how a *just* God should treat a *sinner*.

There are times when it would be immoral to help a person in dire need. If Joseph Stalin is in dire need of a heart transplant, and I'm a heart surgeon, should I supply his need? Hardly. He's a mass murderer. The longer his lives, the more innocent victims he murders.

"Please clarify. I'm not sure what you are saying here."

Eliminative materialism relegates pain and suffering to folk psychology. Eliminativism denies such mental states as pain and suffering.

"To be moral, fundamentally, is simply to be concerned for the well-being of others. To love."

That's all assertion and no argument.

"Love needs no external sanction. Divine or otherwise. It is of value in and of itself and, therefore, the basis of morality poses no difficultly for either I, an atheist, nor you, a theist."

That's another assertion absent an argument. You are *reducing* morality to love, and then *stipulating* that love is an intrinsic value.

How does a secular worldview underwrite your value system? How do you avoid the naturalistic fallacy or the is-ought fallacy?

"If you are going to argue that the nontheist has no basis for morality then you cannot, as I do, consider love of intrinsic value---for you it can only draw its worth from an external source. Surely that is not a position you are comfortable taking."

1. To begin with, I don't reduce the sum total of morality to love.

2. An external source can be quite germane to grounding morality. In Christian ethics, God endowed human beings with a certain nature. We are a specific *kind* of creature. Hence, what is licit or illicit conduct is in some measure indexed to our natural constitution. To the way in which we were designed to function.

"So far as I can recall, John never claimed to be an eliminative materialist, nor is that position the only or the the dominant position, among athiests. So why would he need to explain suffering in terms of it?"

If his argument from evil is, in part, an external argument, then he needs to establish that biochemical organisms like men and other animals are capable of pain and suffering. For if they are incapable of suffering, then they are incapable of *gratuitous* suffering—and the argument from evil turns on the alleged existence of gratuitous suffering.

Eliminativism is arguably the most consistent form of naturalized epistemology. A secularist is committed to a program of naturalized epistemology.

Yes, there are well-known critics of eliminativism like Nagel and Searle. And eliminativism is easy to critique on its own grounds.

But it's not so easy to critique of you share the operating assumptions of the eliminative materialist. The Churchlands argue that if you're a committed physicalist, then that, in turn, commits you to eliminative materialism.

Nagel and Searle don't attack it on that basis. They attack it on its own grounds.

But that doesn't relieve the dilemma. The relation between physicalism and eliminativism. They don't explain how physicalism fails to implicate eliminativism.

David B. Ellis said...


Well, I'm only asking for one--one that isn't filled with problems. You offered the oscillating universe model, and it just doesn't work.


You are confusing me with another poster. I never mentioned the oscillating universe model.

Personally I find other hypotheses more promising---but currently we simply have no real clue what hypothesis is correct or even whether the correct hypothesis has yet been proposed.


Again, a bunch of bad theories don't add up to a good one. And until you have some theory that works, theists are in a better spot than you.


Divine creation is as much a scientific hypothesis as any other.....and equally without any evidence in its favor.

The fact that something is currently unknown doesn't make "God did it" the default explanation. That's God of the Gaps reasoning at it "finest".


never have a theory with the explanatory power of theism. There are simply too many holes in atheism.


Such as?


You seem to be parachuting into this discussion without knowing much about Loftus' position. In his "Outsider Test," which he trots out ad nauseum, Loftus argues that religious beliefs are socially conditioned.

Therefore, the question of whether we are ever free to override our socially-conditioned beliefs (be they religious or irreligious) is directly relevant to his own position.


I am well aware of the "outsider test". I've been a regular visitor to Loftus' blog for some time.

And I still contend that its quite obvious that, even if free will does not exist, that social conditioning is not necessarily absolute or inescapable. If you think otherwise please present an actual argument or evidence for this claim.

One example: our social conditioning can include religious indoctrination. But it can also include the introduction to scientific reasoning, critical thinking and skepticism. The conflict between these two sets of cultural influences are often what leads a person to deconvert from their religion. The working out of this conflict in favor of abandoning religious beliefs is just as compatible with determinism as with free will.


This is a straw man argument. What position are you opposing? Judeo-Christian theism? If so, such a simplistic formulation of the "contradiction" will hardly do. There's more at issue than a loving God and a person in need.

There is also the issue of how a *just* God should treat a *sinner*.


ReallY? Like an newborn slowly and agonizingly dying of a congenital defect?

What is a just God's response to this newborn "sinner".


"To be moral, fundamentally, is simply to be concerned for the well-being of others. To love."

That's all assertion and no argument.


Its my understanding of how the concept of being moral is generally used (as in the Golden Rule).


Eliminativism is arguably the most consistent form of naturalized epistemology.


According to you.....not according to any atheist posting in these comments.



But it's not so easy to critique of you share the operating assumptions of the eliminative materialist. The Churchlands argue that if you're a committed physicalist, then that, in turn, commits you to eliminative materialism.



I, for one, take no position on the ultimate substance(s) of which reality is composed. Dualism. Monism. Materialism. Idealism. All these metaphysical concepts are speculative and, so far as I can tell, neither confirmable nor falsifiable.

And, therefore, of no concern to me.

We've certainly gotten far removed from the problem of evil.

David Wood said...

We must examine explanations in terms of causal adequacy, explanatory scope, etc. Atheist explanations are causally inadequate (i.e. even if the cause was there, it wouldn't produce the effect). And each explanation is very limited in scope. The theistic explanation, by contrast, is certainly adequate to produce the effects in question, and theism is quite broad in explanatory scope (i.e. it accounts for many things, not one thing).

As for the God of the gaps, theism (as I'm using it in this exchange) is an inference to the best explanation. Given a fine-tuned world, or amazing biological complexity, or evidence for a miracle, we seek an explanation. And if only God accounts for our observations, we're not appealing to a God of the Gaps. We're appealing to the best explanation.

Moreover, this is another inconsistency of the atheist camp. Atheists point to evil and claim that they've found a gap in what can be explained by the theist. And, as you know, they fill this gap with atheism. For Victor Reppert's take on this:

Atheism of the Gaps

steve said...

david b. ellis said...

"And I still contend that its quite obvious that, even if free will does not exist, that social conditioning is not necessarily absolute or inescapable. If you think otherwise please present an actual argument or evidence for this claim."

You're missing the point. This isn't *my* argument. This is Loftus' argument. I am merely pointing out a tension between his appeal to social conditioning in the Outsider Test, and his attempt to persuade readers of the moral and intellectual superiority of atheism.

He using social conditioning to discredit Christian faith, but he acts as if the secular humanist is exempt from social conditioning.

"The working out of this conflict in favor of abandoning religious beliefs is just as compatible with determinism as with free will."

Remember that my objections weren't originally directed at your position, whatever that is, but against Loftus' position.

Are you presuming to speak for him, or to speak for yourself?

"ReallY? Like an newborn slowly and agonizingly dying of a congenital defect? What is a just God's response to this newborn 'sinner'."

Once again, what position do you think you're opposing? Christian theology? According to Christian theology, why do some people die in infancy? Due to original sin.

If you don't like that rationale, you can attack it, but you can only do so by shifting from an internal critique, based on the allegation of inner tensions in Christian theology, to an external critique, in which you criticize original sin according to some principle of secular ethics.

"Its my understanding of how the concept of being moral is generally used (as in the Golden Rule)."

You're isolating the Golden Rule from the totality of Biblical ethics. The God of the Bible is the judge of mankind. He's a God who punishes sinners with historical as well as eternal penalties. He is a divine warrior as well as a redeemer.

If you're going to mount an internal critique of Christian theism, then you don't get to be arbitrarily selective and lopsided about the revealed character of God.

Thus far you're attacking a caricature of Christian theism. So your objections miss the target.

"According to you.....not according to any atheist posting in these comments."

The fact that the atheist commenters on this blog haven't throughout through their position is irrelevant to the inner logic of physicalism.

"We've certainly gotten far removed from the problem of evil."

No, eliminative materialism is not far removed from the problem of evil. Nothing could be more salient to the issue at hand.

An atheist can either try to mount an internal argument from evil or else an external argument from evil.

To do the latter, he must, among other things, show that, despite physicalism, biochemical organisms are capable of pain and suffering.

If he can't do that, then he's left with an internal critique.

steve said...

I'd add that over at my blog, Loftus has commented favorably on Francis Crick and Daniel Dennett. That would point him in the direction of eliminative materialism.

David B. Ellis said...


As for the God of the gaps, theism (as I'm using it in this exchange) is an inference to the best explanation. Given a fine-tuned world, or amazing biological complexity, or evidence for a miracle, we seek an explanation. And if only God accounts for our observations, we're not appealing to a God of the Gaps. We're appealing to the best explanation.


Yes, IF God were the only plausible explanation that would be the case. However, there is very little credible evidence of any miraculous event. There is no reason to think biological complexity of the sort we see cannot arise by natural evolution and fine-tuning can be account for equally well by several naturalistic hypotheses as by the theistic hypothesis.

But none of this is actually relevent to the topic of the problem of evil.


Moreover, this is another inconsistency of the atheist camp. Atheists point to evil and claim that they've found a gap in what can be explained by the theist. And, as you know, they fill this gap with atheism.


The above wording is an attempt to invent an "atheism of the gaps" corresponding to the "God of the gaps" fallacy.

However, its a bit of a strained effort. The God of the gaps fallacy refers to the attempt to explain a phenomena which isnt understood with a simple supernatural gloss (God did it; end of story).

But the problem of evil does not refer to a phenomena which isn't understood and an effort to explain how it works. It refers to a very well, even intimately, understood phenomena---extreme suffering---and why a caring omnipotent being would stand by doing nothing while it went on. It involve the effort to reconcile an inconsistency between to proposed fact....not to an effort to explain causally how a particular phenomena works.

There is not a "gap" in knowledge to be filled by atheism. Atheism is simply not inconsistent with the phenomena under discussion while theism is.

David B. Ellis said...


Once again, what position do you think you're opposing? Christian theology? According to Christian theology, why do some people die in infancy? Due to original sin.



So this is your explanation for a loving God's inaction to aid an infant in terrible pain?

The infant is tainted with original sin and that makes inaction A-OK.


If you don't like that rationale, you can attack it, but you can only do so by shifting from an internal critique, based on the allegation of inner tensions in Christian theology, to an external critique, in which you criticize original sin according to some principle of secular ethics.


Its perfectly subject to both critiques---inconsistent internally and, in terms of an external critique of the values expressed, it leads (as in your excuse for inaction in response to a suffering infant) to blatantly cruel moral principles.



No, eliminative materialism is not far removed from the problem of evil. Nothing could be more salient to the issue at hand.


I, and so far as I can tell, no other atheist posting here, is an eliminative materialist. You can attempt to paint us with that brush all you like but you will only be attacking a strawman if you do.


To do the latter, he must, among other things, show that, despite physicalism, biochemical organisms are capable of pain and suffering.

If he can't do that, then he's left with an internal critique.


I'm not a physicalism (as I said before). And, even if I were, eliminative physicalism is a minority position among atheists.

We all know pain and suffering exists because we've all experienced it. Any claim that they don't is simply too absurd to take seriously.

Why is it the theist posters are all attempting to divert the discussion from the problem of evil. It is, after all, the chosen topic of this blog. But every time we begin to discuss it someone want to divert the issue to some supposed problem they see with atheism.

You can discuss that if you like, of course, but the evasiveness is telling all the same.

David Wood said...

You're saying that the God-of-the-Gaps argument is different from the atheism-of-the-gaps argument? If there is a difference, it's because the reasons for putting God in the equation are much better.

Let's review how the "God-of-the-Gaps" argument works. The theist says, "You've got a naturalistic account of the universe. But there's something your worldview can't account for, namely, a universe, fine-tuning, biological complexity, etc. Theism accounts for these things, so theism is a better explanation."

The "Atheism-of-the-Gaps" argument proceeds similarly. The atheist says, "You've got a theistic account of the universe. But there's something your worldview can't account for, namely, suffering. Atheism accounts for this, so atheism is a better explanation."

You said that biological complexity can be explained by evolution. The problems are (1) that the more we learn about biology, the more mind-numbing the odds become, and (2) evolution only works when you already have extremely complex organisms. In other words, evolution can't even get started until you have self-replicating life, and anything that fits this description is going to be exceedingly complex. Here you have to appeal to chance as your explanation.

You would also have to appeal to chance to account for fine-tuning, though the odds are overwhelmingly opposed to you here as well. My question for you would be, "When does chance cease to be a good explanation? Based on what I see from the atheist camp, the answer is "Never." No matter how complex life is, no matter how finely-tuned the universe is, the atheist is happy to say, "Chance can do it." But if chance can do all that, you might want to start praying to chance. After all, chance seems omnipotent in your worldview.

David B. Ellis said...

Again, you are doing everything you can to divert the discussion from the supposed topic of this blog.

If you want to start a blog on PROBLEMS WITH ATHEISM, feel free to and I'll be glad to discuss those topics there. But I feel that you are just sidestepping the topic of the problem of evil since it presents so many problems for theism so I'm not going to take the bait.

David Wood said...

Mr. Ellis,

I think you can hardly accuse me of trying to duck the problem of evil, since I just started a blog on this very topic. And I tried to bring the discussion back to the problem of evil by doing a post on Elie Wiesel.

But you still wanted to discuss whether atheists are being inconsistent in their methodology. Like it or not, this is relevant to the problem of evil. If atheists are making an argument against theism, and they're being inconsistent in their methodology (as evidenced by their treatment of other arguments), then it's relevant to point out the inconsistency.

It's also relevant to discuss other issues because the conclusion of the argument from evil is not, "Well, theists have something to think about." Rather, the conclusion is "God does not exist." Hence, in pointing out difficulties with the argument from evil, it is quite relevant to say, "But the argument can't do what you're saying, because it's only one piece of evidence, and we're trying to account for everything, not for one fact."

To put it differently, if I argued, on a different blog dedicated to intelligent design, that design points to a designer, it wouldn't be quite relevant to bring up the problem of evil. But if I argued that design proves the existence of God, you would be quite justified in saying "What about evil?" because this bears on my conclusion. Likewise, if atheists are saying that they have an argument that proves the non-existence of God, theists are justified in pointing to other evidence.

The point isn't to dodge suffering. Instead, we're trying to point out limitations in the argument. At best, the argument from evil would be some evidence against God's existence. It can never, all by itself, disprove God's existence. Many atheists don't understand this, so I'm inclined to point it out. (And, as you will see in the future, I'll point it out dozens of times, and many atheists still won't get it.)

David B. Ellis said...

Personally, I don't claim the problem of evil disproves God (it played practically no part in my own deconversion--I was more concerned with the simple lack of plausible evidence for theism or supernaturalism). Only that it makes the existence of God, as typically defined in western religion, implausible in the extreme.

And now, to get back to the topic of the problem of evil:

Suppose we knew beyond a reasonable doubt that the universe were created by an intelligence (a big if). What reason would we have to think that being benevolent?

David Wood said...

Well, the fact that the universe is fine-tuned for our existence would be at least some evidence that this being is concerned about us.

In my first post, I mentioned several "extras" that are not necessary for our existence, but which we find in our world. Extras are a gift.

Above all, I would appeal to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We know, historically, that Jesus was known as a miracle worker. We know that he died. And we know that his followers were convinced that he had risen from the dead. We know some other things as well. When we put the evidence together, we find that the only explanation that fits all the evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead. This lends quite a bit of credibility to the Christian message, which includes the idea that God loved us so much that he died for us.

I doubt you want to discuss the resurrection. But keep in mind, the argument from evil is directed at theistic belief. So we can at least say that Christians have a reason for believing that God is benevolent, whether or not atheists agree with the reason.

steve said...

david b. ellis said...

“So this is your explanation for a loving God's inaction to aid an infant in terrible pain? The infant is tainted with original sin and that makes inaction A-OK.”

You have a problem keeping track of your own argument. If you are presenting an *internal* critique of Christian theism according to the argument from evil, then you have to define the key terms in light of Christian *theology*.

This really shouldn’t be hard to grasp. What Christian theologians have you read? What Bible commentators have you read?

“Its perfectly subject to both critiques---inconsistent internally and, in terms of an external critique of the values expressed, it leads (as in your excuse for inaction in response to a suffering infant) to blatantly cruel moral principles.”

Internally inconsistent according to what yardstick? According to Biblical descriptions and ascriptions?

In order to substantiate your claim that it’s “blatantly cruel,” you will need to mount several interrelated arguments:

i) You will need to mount a general argument for some version of secular ethics.

ii) You will need to mount a general argument for some version of secular anthropology consistent with the notion of cruelty to biochemical organisms.

iii) You will need to mount a specific argument regarding the cruelty of original sin.

Thus far you are using adjectives to do the work of arguments. Do you have any supporting arguments for your position? Are you capable of making a reasoned case for your belief in the argument from evil? Or will you continually resort to tendentious assertions and question-begging adjectives?

“I, and so far as I can tell, no other atheist posting here, is an eliminative materialist. You can attempt to paint us with that brush all you like but you will only be attacking a strawman if you do.”

The question at issue is not what you *do* believe, but what you *should* believe given your secular precommitments.

If you’re going to shift to an external version of the argument from evil, then you have an intellectual obligation to deal with eliminative materialism since that is a potential secular defeater to your critique.

“I'm not a physicalism (as I said before). And, even if I were, eliminative physicalism is a minority position among atheists.”

i) That’s not a cogent objection.

ii) The leading contemporary critics of Christian theism are card-carrying materialists. And that’s integral to their attack on the faith.

“We all know pain and suffering exists because we've all experienced it. Any claim that they don't is simply too absurd to take seriously.”

I agree with you that eliminative materialism is absurd. But I agree with you on my grounds rather than yours.

While it is, indeed, absurd on its own grounds, it is not absurd in relation to metaphysical naturalism. If it’s absurd, then that represents a reductio ad absurdum of metaphysical naturalism.

“Why is it the theist posters are all attempting to divert the discussion from the problem of evil. It is, after all, the chosen topic of this blog. But every time we begin to discuss it someone want to divert the issue to some supposed problem they see with atheism. You can discuss that if you like, of course, but the evasiveness is telling all the same.”

You seem to lack a certain degree of mental discipline. Try to remember that we are answering you on your own grounds.

Either you are presenting an internal version or an external version of the argument from evil.

If internal, then you need to define the key terms according to Christian theology.

If you claim to be performing an internal critique, but fail to do this, then you are being inconsistent with your own stated agenda.

If external, then you need to do two or more things:

i) Establish a secular version of moral realism;

ii) Establish that biochemical organisms like human beings or higher animals are capable of being wronged and or suffering pain.

And that’s just for starters. Beyond the preliminaries, you would that have to show that:

iii) The evils in question are gratuitous evils.

Thus far you have failed every step of the way by assuming what you need to prove.

If it’s your position that atheism is intellectually superior to Christian theism, then you need to redeem your rationalistic claims with a commensurate level of argumentation.

Are you up to the task you set for yourself? Or is your atheism a blind faith-commitment? Secular fideism.

David B. Ellis said...


Well, the fact that the universe is fine-tuned for our existence would be at least some evidence that this being is concerned about us.


No. Not really. He could have made a universe with life simply to see what would happen....being completely indifferent to any suffering occurring. He might even be a sadist. He might have created it with an interest only in a species of intelligent arachnoids in the Andromeda Galaxy and is completely indifferent to the other life forms which developed.


Above all, I would appeal to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We know, historically, that Jesus was known as a miracle worker. We know that he died. And we know that his followers were convinced that he had risen from the dead.


If such could be could be established beyond reasonable doubt then, of course, we would have good evidence God exists.....I'm not so sure the God depicted qualifies as benevolent. Schizophrenic might be a better word given the way its behavior, as described by the bible, swings between the extremes of cruelty and compassion.

Be that as it may, since we have no good evidence the Gospel story is historically accurate this hardly qualifies as evidence of a benevolent deity (even ignoring the more sadistic aspects of the christianity and the bible).

Anyway, Steve has given his answer to the problem of the infant slowly and agonizingly dying of a congenital defect (since its tainted with original sin, God is, apparently, willing to stand by and watch it suffer).

What's your answer? Hopefully you can come up with something less blatantly cruel.

David B. Ellis said...


You have a problem keeping track of your own argument. If you are presenting an *internal* critique of Christian theism according to the argument from evil, then you have to define the key terms in light of Christian *theology*.


It is your position that it is not inconsistent for the entity you call God to be described as loving and benevolent and yet to do nothing for an infant suffering excruciating pain over the course of days or weeks. You claim that this is so because of original sin.

Please present an argument for this position, if you don't mind.

David Wood said...

I think the resurrection can be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt. (It's a large part of the reason I converted from atheism to Christianity.) Of course, I don't mean "beyond all doubts and wild speculations an atheist can dream up." I've seen the lengths atheists are willing to go to in their attempts to "explain" the data. I used to go to some amazing lengths myself.

No good reason for believing the Gospel accounts? Well, they're early. That's one. There are multiple sources (Mark, Q, M, L, John, and Paul). That's two. Certain portions are extremely early (the 1 Corinthians creed dates to within a few years of Jesus' death). That's three.

What exactly would you be looking for if you went in search of good sources? It seems to me that what atheists are really saying is something like this: "I don't want to accept the Gospels as records, and nothing you can say will change my mind, because I can always doubt everything." If that's your position, evidence doesn't really matter. But this is quite different from saying that there's no reason to accept the Gospels.

As for suffering children, this isn't something I would want to sum up in a few sentences at the end of some comments. If you like, I'll do a post sometime in the next week or two giving this issue a serious treatment.

David B. Ellis said...


I think the resurrection can be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt. (It's a large part of the reason I converted from atheism to Christianity.)


I disagree but I'm not going to go into it here. I visited this blog to discuss the problem of evil rather than the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.


If you like, I'll do a post sometime in the next week or two giving this issue a serious treatment.


That works for me. I look forward to reading it.

steve said...

david b. ellis said...

“Anyway, Steve has given his answer to the problem of the infant slowly and agonizingly dying of a congenital defect (since its tainted with original sin, God is, apparently, willing to stand by and watch it suffer). What's your answer? Hopefully you can come up with something less blatantly cruel.”

i) Once again, Ellis is unable to stick to his own point. He was the one who, along with Loftus, and a number of others, chose to frame the argument from evil as an internal critique of Christian theism.

I am simply answering him according to the terms in which he himself chose to cast the issue. When, however, I answer within his chosen framework, I repeatedly encounter this unresponsive response.

So I guess the question we need to ask at this juncture is if Ellis was being sincere or disingenuous in the way he framed the issue?

Does he believe his own argument or not? If he doesn’t believe his own argument, why should anyone else?

By reiterating the charge of “blatant cruelty,” he has apparently reverted to an external version of the argument. If so, then how does he propose justify his external standard or morality?

The argument from evil is a philosophical argument. It will not do level intellectual objections to the Christian faith, only to resort to anti-intellectual question-begging as soon as someone takes you up on your challenge.

By shifting from an internal to an external argument, he is thereby shifting the burden of proof. The onus is back on him to justify his moral discourse. This is not something which is logically entailed by metaphysical naturalism, even if metaphysical naturalism were true. It isn’t even clear that this is at all consistent with metaphysical naturalism. So he needs to come up with an argument for his own position instead of ducking the burden of proof which he himself has implicitly assumed by switching over to an external version of the argument from evil.

ii) You also caricature the opposing position by saying that, on this view, God is willing to “stand by and watch it suffer,” as if God is indifferent to human suffering. Once again, that hardly constitutes an internal critique of Christian theism.

There is, in Scripture, an overarching rationale for the fall (e.g. Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22).

Has Ellis ever read the Bible? What Christian theologians or Bible commentators has he read, if any?

It should be needless to point out that you can’t very well perform an internal critique of Christian theism in ignorance of Christian theology. Why does Ellis find that such a novel or difficult concept to wrap his mind around?

Could I perform an internal critique of naturalistic evolution without bothering to read the standard evolutionary literature?

“It is your position that it is not inconsistent for the entity you call God to be described as loving and benevolent and yet to do nothing for an infant suffering excruciating pain over the course of days or weeks. You claim that this is so because of original sin.”

It is not inconsistent with the character of God in Scripture that babies sometimes suffer or die. Infant mortality was high in Bible times. Bible writers were certainly aware of infant mortality. More so that we are with the benefit of modern medical science.

The question at issue is whether such suffering is ever gratuitous. Is it unjust? Is it pointless? I’d say no on both counts.

“Please present an argument for this position, if you don't mind.”

An argument for what position? The justice of original sin? The purpose of pain and suffering?

One argument I’d direct you to is Alvin Plantinga’s supralapsarian theodicy:

Perhaps the most intriguing argument of the book is made by Alvin Plantinga in ‘Supralapsarianism, or ‘‘ O felix culpa ’’ ’. First Plantinga offers a careful discussion of a traditional position : The value of the Incarnation is so inestimably great that a world in which sin occurs and the need for atonement arises is a very, very good world. He responds to possible questions. Why suffering ? Some is the result of free creatures choosing evil and causing suffering, and some suffering may be instrumentally valuable, perhaps as a means towards improving our character, and especially as a way of our sharing in the redeeming passion of Christ. Why so much sin and suffering ? Plantinga writes, ‘ it seems to me that we have no way at all of estimating how much suffering the best worlds will contain ’.

journals.cambridge.org/production/ action/cjoGetFulltext?fulltextid=394002

John W. Loftus said...

Steve said: Are we ever free to override our social conditioning, including our religious conditioning? If not, then who is his audience? What is he trying to accomplish?

I am part of the social environment. People exposed to my ideas might think of changing their beliefs. Nothing inconsistent with this.

Steve said:2. BTW, it's not clear to me whether he's attempting to mount an internal or external argument from evil in his debate with you.

That needs to be clarified, for it affects the burden of proof. If he is covertly operating with an external argument from evil, then the onus is on him to establish some version of secular ethics which will underwrite his paradigm-cases of evil.


It’s internal to what David believes.

Steve said: You seem to be parachuting into this discussion without knowing much about Loftus' position. In his "Outsider Test," which he trots out ad nauseum, Loftus argues that religious beliefs are socially conditioned.

I have good initial grounds for claiming this, and social conditions are more prominent when there is a community of faith that disparages doubt and is fearful of coming to a different conclusion based upon an ancient superstitious set of writings, yes.

I just posted the Blog entry I said I was working on earlier.

David B. Ellis said...

Steve, I think we would all agree that if we were given the ability to make whatever we imagined come true and we saw an infant slowly dying in agony of a congenital defect we would cure it (or for that matter if we simply had a medicine which would cure it we would administer it). We would do so because we love and care for others and wish them well.

But you feel that, although God also loves and cares for us all and wishes us well, he has some intervening valid reason why he refrains from doing what one would naturally expect a caring person to do in this situation.

I am not going to get into an argument with you concerning who knows more about christian theology. I just want an answer to this very important question:

Why does a loving God refrain from coming to the aid of this infant?

steve said...

david b. ellis said...

“Steve, I think we would all agree that if we were given the ability to make whatever we imagined come true and we saw an infant slowly dying in agony of a congenital defect we would cure it (or for that matter if we simply had a medicine which would cure it we would administer it). We would do so because we love and care for others and wish them well.”

1.Before addressing his question, I’d note for the record that Ellis has been running away from the internal version of the argument at every opportunity. He clearly doesn’t want to defend his version of the argument from evil because he cannot.

Instead, he wants to debate my own position on the problem of evil. I’m okay with that, but it represents a complete abdication of his original position. Even though this was his own argument, he has to abandon it.

2.His example also demonstrates the degree to which the persuasive force of the argument hinges on the apt choice a particular illustration.

For Ellis, it’s self-evident that one should help a child in need. But it only takes a little imagination to see how simplistic that is.

Sure, I’ll help a child if I can because all I see is the child. I don’t see his future career.

But if he’s healed, the child will grow up. Suppose I could see him as an adult.

Suppose I’m a Jewish physician. Suppose the child is little Hitler. Suppose I foresee that this child will be the instrument of the holocaust if I save him.

By saving this one child, countless other innocent children will be burned alive in the ovens of Dachau. By saving this child, I condemn my own children to death and destruction.

Suddenly, the moral clarity of Ellis’ illustration loses its moral clarity. Suddenly our moral intuitions become cloudy and conflicted.

I don’t wish everyone well. I don’t wish Bin Laden well. To wish Bin Laden well is to wish his victims ill.

This is one of the problems with Ellis’ myopic analysis. He never attempts to consider the counterexamples.

“But you feel that, although God also loves and cares for us all and wishes us well, he has some intervening valid reason why he refrains from doing what one would naturally expect a caring person to do in this situation.”

i) Actually, I don’t feel that way. I’m a supralapsarian Calvinist. I don’t believe that God loves everyone equally. I don’t believe that God loves the reprobate in the way he loves the elect.

ii) And this goes to another difficulty with the argument from evil. There is no uniform version which will target every theological tradition. You can’t use the same version on me that you can use on David Wood, or vice version.

Likewise, a libertarian will have a different theodicy than a Calvinist or Thomist.

iii) Ellis also operates with a fundamentally unscriptural assumption. From a Biblical standpoint, the real question is not, “Does God love everyone?” but “Does God love anyone?”

God is just, but we are unjust. Therefore, we would expect a just God to condemn everyone if everyone is sinful.

That’s what a just God is supposed to do. Exact judgment on evildoers.

If you’re going to present an internal critique, that’s the sort of consideration you must take into account. But you have the presumption exactly backwards.

BTW, there is a Scriptural solution to the Scriptural conundrum in the cross.

“I am not going to get into an argument with you concerning who knows more about christian theology. I just want an answer to this very important question: Why does a loving God refrain from coming to the aid of this infant?”

Depends on what you mean. A theodicy offers a general answer to the problem of evil. It doesn’t presume to explain how any particular evil fits into the grand scheme of things. Rather, it explains, at a general level, the ulterior rationale for the existence of evil in the plan and purpose of God.

David B. Ellis said...


Suppose I’m a Jewish physician. Suppose the child is little Hitler. Suppose I foresee that this child will be the instrument of the holocaust if I save him.



Interesting response. However, when comforting a friend who has lost a child as an infant I don't recommend explaining to them "God had his reasons, perhaps your child would have been a Hitler, or a serial killer".


Actually, I don’t feel that way. I’m a supralapsarian Calvinist. I don’t believe that God loves everyone equally. I don’t believe that God loves the reprobate in the way he loves the elect.


Does he love all infants? Besides, I didn't say anything about loving us all equally. Only loving us all.


And this goes to another difficulty with the argument from evil. There is no uniform version which will target every theological tradition. You can’t use the same version on me that you can use on David Wood, or vice version.


I am not attempting to refute all theological traditions. I simply find it implausible in the extreme that a loving being would not help an infant in need and want to know what reason you think such a being might have that would explain away the apparent inconsistency between a loving nature and an inaction in helping infants in need.


Ellis also operates with a fundamentally unscriptural assumption. From a Biblical standpoint, the real question is not, “Does God love everyone?” but “Does God love anyone?”

God is just, but we are unjust. Therefore, we would expect a just God to condemn everyone if everyone is sinful.

That’s what a just God is supposed to do. Exact judgment on evildoers.



An infant is an evildoer?

OK, so far your answer for why God doesn't aid the, oh, I suppose it must be millions of infants over the ages who have died slow agonizing deaths is that they might have grown up to be terrible people like Hitler.

Surely you do not consider this the reason for God's inaction in response to ALL those millions. Are there any other explanations you consider plausible?

And one more thing, even in cases were he was letting an infant die because it might grow up to be a vicious person (and he seems to have missed quite a few), why let them die in agony. Would not a quick and painless death accomplish the same end and be more consistent with a loving nature?

John W. Loftus said...

Suppose I’m a Jewish physician. Suppose the child is little Hitler. Suppose I foresee that this child will be the instrument of the holocaust if I save him.

If this is God's excuse for not saving the lives of over 40,000 children who die every day of hunger, then there must be a lot of potential Hitler's out there, and that's news to me. Nonetheless, why did Hitler slip through his fingers? This lacks so much plausibility that it's obvious you are blinded by your faith in your attempt to come up with the wildest possible explanations for why God allows children to die.

Patrick said...

David Ellis said: Interesting response. However, when comforting a friend who has lost a child as an infant I don't recommend explaining to them "God had his reasons, perhaps your child would have been a Hitler, or a serial killer".

Sorry, I've not yet had time to read through the entire thread, but I've bookmarked it for later.

I did, however, catch the above snippet and would like to briefly note: It seems to me Steve's response to Ellis was primarily meant to deal with the philosophical problem of evil. It did not address how Steve would deal with evil on a personal level (such as how he would comfort someone who has lost a loved one). But Ellis seems to take Steve's response as if the two issues were one and the same when they are not. Of course, the two are related to one another. But they are not identical. After all, a fireman does not respond to a question about what chemical reactions result in a fire in the same way he responds to a building on fire.

Just my two cents' worth.

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


It seems to me Steve's response to Ellis was primarily meant to deal with the philosophical problem of evil. It did not address how Steve would deal with evil on a personal level (such as how he would comfort someone who has lost a loved one). But Ellis seems to take Steve's response as if the two issues were one and the same when they are not.


Naturally, I doubt Steve is so insensitive as to make such a comment to grieving parents.

But let us not forget that the personal and the philosophical are not separate matters. Our philosophical views profoundly affect very intimate personal concerns.

And, remember as well, that there may well be people who visit this blog who HAVE experienced the loss of a beloved infant child. Such a comment as Steve made can only serve as salt in an already terrible wound.

It behooves us to remember that this topic touches on the most powerfully poignant topics and we ought to keep this in mind rather than view this subject as some sort of abstract intellectual puzzle.

And that's the reason I made that response to Steve's comment.

Berny said...

Certainly Steve is more than capable of defending himself, however, I thought I'd chime in with an observation of my own.

I don't think Steve was asserting that God ordains infants to death because he foresees hitler-esque destines in their futures. Rather, I think Steve was attempting to give us a little perspective on the matter. We're not good, we're not even neutral, we're sinners in active rebellion against God's commands. This is why an infant is a perfectly placed example. An infant carries the persuasive weight of a thousand tons in a debate like this. It's a quick way to cash in on the emotions involved. It's true that we view them as innocent little angels.

Steve was merely illustrating that the infant eventually grows up. A grown up who is not regenerated by God is an adult in rebellion towards God.

The picture of a shiny little ball of hope becomes that of a depraved sinner once we shift our perspective a bit.

His point was, I think, that we don't see what God sees. We don't always know why God ordains specific cases of evil, but we do know why he ordains evil generally.

John W. Loftus said...

His point was, I think, that we don't see what God sees. We don't always know why God ordains specific cases of evil, but we do know why he ordains evil generally.

So understood. But then let's have Steve give us some realistic examples for why 40,000 children die every single day of hunger while Hitler was allowed to live!

According to Steve these children go to hell. WOW! How he can really worship such a God is beyond me. It's a macabre God he loves. Now let's see, should I believe an ancient set of writings by superstitious people about this God, along with my historically conditioned Calvinistic interpretation of them, or should I trust what I can actually see in this world? Hmmm. Documents over here. World over here. Documents. World. Choices. Choices choices.

David B. Ellis said...


An infant carries the persuasive weight of a thousand tons in a debate like this. It's a quick way to cash in on the emotions involved. It's true that we view them as innocent little angels.


I focus specifically on infants because an infant cannot be, to use Steve's word, an evildoer.

It can sure suffer though.

It would be equally valid to focus on the suffering of animals. A newborn elephant can probably suffer just as much agony as a newborn infant can. Can any of you theists tell me why why a loving God would allow it to suffer agonies for weeks as it slowly dies of a congenital defect?

I presume no one is going to claim it might have grown up to be a Hitler.

Berny said...

John,

Actually, I'm pretty sure Steve doesn't believe that every aborted fetus or dead infant goes to hell.

David,

Everyone dies, correct? Your critique, when pushed to its conclusion, will also object to sickness and disease as an inconsistency.

"Why does your God allow a leper to be sick for all his life only to die at a later point?"

You're raising the question of evil, except you're not asking about evil as an abstract, but about individual cases as particulars.

Consider Jesus, to say he suffered before his eventual death would be an understatement. Could not God have provided an easier way of dying for the sins of the elect than the via dolorosa? Indeed, this very question was asked by Jesus to the Father. But no, an easier way was not available. This was the plan. Some see the cross and view it as gratuitous. But if God planned the death of his Son in a way that was supremely painful and harsh for the end goal of saving his people, then we can safely conclude two things:

1) This God is good. He could've sent us all to hell and would've been vindicated in doing so, instead, at the great cost of his own Son he executed a mission of redemption.

2) Romans 8:28 and Galatians 3:22 become the bedrock of our understanding of the reality of evil.

We don't know how the suffering of an infant, or the pain an animal goes through glorifies God, but the cases we do know about from the Scriptures provide for us a general foundation for the reality of pain and evil as a whole.

To ask why does God allow an infant to go through pain only to let it die is a meaningless question. It betrays a misunderstanding of revelation, mainly, that God doesn't answer every possible question that we have in specific detail.

I'm sure you would all categorize Jesus' death as gratuitously painful, would you not?

David B. Ellis said...


Everyone dies, correct? Your critique, when pushed to its conclusion, will also object to sickness and disease as an inconsistency.


Naturally, a loving person who wishes others well would want to aid a person who is ill. However, I prefer to focus on the most extreme forms of suffering because it is on those sorts that the problem is most perplexing.

As to death, since in the christian worldview it is simply a transition to everlasting life in another form of being, I do not see it as a particular problem.


You're raising the question of evil, except you're not asking about evil as an abstract, but about individual cases as particulars.


Actually I am asking about it in regard to particular classes of cases. Those where the suffering is extreme and the sufferer cannot be claimed to be morally culpable (infants and animals).

As to your comments concerning Jesus, my response must depend on to what degree you consider Jesus a separate entity from God the Father. If you consider The Father to be wholly one with Jesus then it seems a bizarrely masochistic act. If a separate person then it does seem quite cruel.

Regardless, though, the fact that God was willing to inflict terrible pain on either his son or himself or both is hardly indication of a benevolent nature and does nothing to resolve the problem of how a supposedly loving being would not come to the aid of an infant suffering terrible agonies.


To ask why does God allow an infant to go through pain only to let it die is a meaningless question. It betrays a misunderstanding of revelation, mainly, that God doesn't answer every possible question that we have in specific detail.



The issue isn't whether God tells us his reasons but whether its plausible to presume there is a good reason. The bible, after all, does address this issue in the book of Job. But its answer amounted to "who the heck are you to question my motives, you little speck of a worm".

Not exactly the most convincing of theodicies.


I'm sure you would all categorize Jesus' death as gratuitously painful, would you not?


I have heard no reason explanation for why it would be necessary.

steve said...

david b. ellis said...

“Interesting response. However, when comforting a friend who has lost a child as an infant I don't recommend explaining to them ‘God had his reasons, perhaps your child would have been a Hitler, or a serial killer’.”

Now you’re posing a different question. And if you really think that’s a valid objection to my position, then it’s an equally valid objection to metaphysical naturalism.

How would Michael Ruse or Richard Dawkins answer your question? Well, if they were brutally frank, the answer would go something like this:

“Remember that for the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria. You child was just a survival machine—a robotic vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. Sure, you may grieve over his premature demise, but keep in mind that ethics is an illusion put into place by our genes to keep us social. Ultimately there is nothing—moral nihilism, if you wish.”

The problem with unbelievers like Ellis is that while they window-shop for atheism, they refuse to pay the high price for the goods they covet. They pretend that they can continue to retain their common sense morality. They don’t face up to how utterly grim their secular outlook really is.

Now, there are candid writers like Quentin Smith and Michael Ruse who do admit the cost of atheism.

You also have morally and intellectually conflicted unbelievers like Dawkins who are very moralistic even though they also champion a ruthlessly reductionistic view of human nature.

“An infant is an evildoer?”

No, but he would grow into an evildoer.

“OK, so far your answer for why God doesn't aid the, oh, I suppose it must be millions of infants over the ages who have died slow agonizing deaths is that they might have grown up to be terrible people like Hitler.”

No, I didn’t offer that as a comprehensive explanation. I’m merely commenting on the limitations of your chosen illustration. What you ignore or overlook by treating these cases in such a discrete, self-contained, compartmentalized fashion.

“Are there any other explanations you consider plausible?”

I’ve given you two other explanations. Original sin is a general explanation, and that, in turn, figures in a supralapsarian theodicy—which I pointed you to.

john w. loftus said...

“If this is God's excuse for not saving the lives of over 40,000 children who die every day of hunger…”

No, that’s not an all-purpose “excuse.” I’m merely answering Ellis on his own level. He gives an example, and I point out the shortsighted quality of his example.

david b. ellis said...

“And, remember as well, that there may well be people who visit this blog who HAVE experienced the loss of a beloved infant child. Such a comment as Steve made can only serve as salt in an already terrible wound.”

i) If that is his chief concern, then I trust that Mr. Ellis will write to Dawkins, Dennett, Michael Ruse, Peter Singer and the Churchlands to stop publishing books and articles in which they purvey such an utterly bleak outlook on human nature and human existence.

After all, we wouldn’t want grieving parents to stumble across such discouraging literature. If they took it to heart, it would leave them inconsolable.

Come to think of it, I trust that Mr. Ellis will lobby for the removal of naturalistic evolution or atheism generally from the public school and college curriculum since it presents such a depressing view of the human condition.

ii) Speaking of which, naturalistic evolution, unlike Christianity, offers no hope beyond the grave. It’s the counsel of despair.

iii) Oh, and why does Ellis think it’s wrong to hurt the feelings of grieving parents? What is his moral justification for that position? I can give a Christian justification. But what does he offer by way of secular warrant for his scruples?

john w. loftus said...

“So understood. But then let's have Steve give us some realistic examples for why 40,000 children die every single day of hunger while Hitler was allowed to live!”

As usual, Loftus is posing questions I’ve often answered on my blog.

“According to Steve these children go to hell.”

i) Really? Can he quote me on that? Where have I ever said that everyone who dies in infancy goes straight to hell?

All I said here is that infants die as a consequence of original sin.

The same holds true for Christians. Christians die. And they die as a result of original sin (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15).

ii) I’d add that while Loftus indulges in his Ingersoll-style of demagoguery, he has yet to make a case for secular ethics.

david b. ellis said...

“It would be equally valid to focus on the suffering of animals.”

i) Why does a naturalist fret over the suffering of animals? Animal suffering is a natural part of the ecosystem. This is not gratuitous evil. It has a natural function in the survival of the fittest.

Here is yet another example of how an unbeliever cannot bring himself to be true to his secular creed. He measures the natural world by some ideal yardstick. His yardstick is not derived from the natural world itself, for he measures the world by his yardstick.

Why does he, as a secularist, act as if things are not the way they are supposed to be? What’s his standard of comparison? Where does it come from? Isn’t the world all there is?

ii) Do animals suffer? The Churchlands regard that sort of claim as a relic of folk psychology.

iii) He should also read Nagel’s classic essay on what it’s like to be a bat. Nagel is another secularist.

David B. Ellis said...


Ultimately there is nothing—moral nihilism, if you wish.


Naturalism does not entail moral nihilism. I would ask you to present an argument for that claim but it would take us off topic (yet again) and I prefer not to keep getting sidetracked.


“An infant is an evildoer?”

No, but he would grow into an evildoer.



Does that mean its a morally perfect being has no motivation to come to his aid. To, at the very least, ease his pain?

If it does, then being morally perfect sounds remarkably like being evil.


Original sin is a general explanation, and that, in turn, figures in a supralapsarian theodicy—which I pointed you to.


I am looking for YOUR position. Since complex theological concepts are open to multiple interpretations and I dont know what YOUR interpretation is it does little good to simply mention the terms and move on as if you have actually presented a coherent argument.



Why does a naturalist fret over the suffering of animals? Animal suffering is a natural part of the ecosystem. This is not gratuitous evil. It has a natural function in the survival of the fittest.


I do not equate the good with the natural.


Why does he, as a secularist, act as if things are not the way they are supposed to be? What’s his standard of comparison?


I am able to imagine a world where there is no extreme suffering and living beings are able to live richer, more fulfilling lives.

This is a state of affairs which would be intrinsically preferable to the world we observe.



Do animals suffer? The Churchlands regard that sort of claim as a relic of folk psychology.


Are you contending animals cannot suffer?



He should also read Nagel’s classic essay on what it’s like to be a bat. Nagel is another secularist.


I have.

Rather than namedropping, though, I would be more interested in hearing arguments for your position on the problem of evil.

eas239 said...

Steve, just because you don't like the alternative doesn't prove Christianity is right.

steve said...

david b. ellis said...

“Naturalism does not entail moral nihilism. I would ask you to present an argument for that claim but it would take us off topic (yet again) and I prefer not to keep getting sidetracked.”

1.Apparently you think my links are merely cosmetic or decorative. I already gave you what you ask for. If you scoll back up to my very first response to you, I link to a number of secular philosophers who argue for moral relativism. It would expedite the dialogue if you were to acquaint yourself with your own side of the argument.

In my last reply to you I was quoting verbatim from Dawkins and Ruse. For starters, read Ruse’s evolutionary argument for moral nihilism in the above-cited interview.

2.And, once again, you act as if this is a side-issue. To remind you once again of what you shouldn’t need to be reminded of, if the argument from evil amounts to an external argument, then whether an atheist can justify moral absolutes is hardly a side-issue.

Is there some reason you are either unwilling or unable to absorb these basic distinctions, no matter how ever they’re drawn to your attention?

Or are you just being evasive because you are unable to uphold your end of the argument?

“Does that mean its a morally perfect being has no motivation to come to his aid.”

Are you still attempting to deploy an *internal* argument from evil? If so, are you defining “moral perfection” according to Scripture, or your extraneous preconception of moral perfection? If you’re going to present an internal critique, then Christian theology must supply the lexicon.

Thus far you have made no effort to do so. If you don’t take your own argument seriously, why should anyone else?

“If it does, then being morally perfect sounds remarkably like being evil.”

The essence of justice involves a fundamental distinction between guilt and innocence, and the respective response appropriate to each.

If you can’t grasp that distinction, then it’s your position which is indistinguishable from evil.

“I am looking for YOUR position.”

I have stated MY position.

However, the onus hardly lies entirely on me. Each side has its own burden of proof to discharge. I realize that, at this point, you have no recourse but to shift the whole load over to me since you’ve been unable to make good on your original claims.

But I will continue to hold you to the terms in which you chose to frame the argument from evil unless and until you admit that your version of the argument was a failure, and you publicly withdraw that form of the objection. If you think I’m going to let you off the hook, you’re greatly mistaken.

“I do not equate the good with the natural.”

i) That’s an assertion, not an argument. If you think animal suffering is a defeater for Christian theism, then you need to work this up into an actual argument.

ii) And I don’t equate animal suffering with gratuitous suffering since animal suffering serves a natural purpose in the ecological balance. And if it’s purposeful, then—by definition—it isn’t gratuitous.

“I am able to imagine a world where there is no extreme suffering and living beings are able to live richer, more fulfilling lives. This is a state of affairs which would be intrinsically preferable to the world we observe.”

Several problems:

i) Not everything that’s conceivable is possible. You need to present a detailed, working model of your alternative. What are the unspoken or unforeseen trade-offs in your scenario?

ii) You are now appealing to hypotheticals and counterfactuals. What is the ontological status of abstract possibilities in your secular outlook? In what or whom do such possibilities inhere? Does your worldview have the metaphysical machinery to underwrite these modalities?

iii) Why would you, as a secularist, imagine a better world if the actual world is the only world you know? This is not an argument from experience.

iv) How do you get around the naturalistic fallacy and the is-ought problem?

“Are you contending animals cannot suffer?”

i) That’s a red-herring. Suffering, per se, is irrelevant to the argument from evil. The only thing that’s pertinent is the existence (or not) of *gratuitous* evil.

Do you think you can get away with dropping key features of the argument from evil and I won’t notice?

ii) BTW, are you still attempting to deploy the *internal* version of the argument from evil? If so, how is animal suffering incompatible with Christian theology? Does the Bible have a doctrine of animal rights? Did Peter Singer write a book of the Bible?

“I have.”

If you’ve read Nagel’s essay, then how does your ascription of animal suffering avoid the charge of anthropomorphism?

“Rather than namedropping, though, I would be more interested in hearing arguments for your position on the problem of evil.”

That’s a very vague request. And I’ve already spoken to that issue several times now.

eas239 said...

“Steve, just because you don't like the alternative doesn't prove Christianity is right.”

True, but irrelevant to the issue at hand. The argument from evil levels a moralistic objection to the Christian faith. Hence, the question of whether secularism devolves into moral nihilism is quite germane to the debate.

If the alternative is amoral, and if the argument from evil collapses into an external objection, then the argument from evil collapses of its own dead weight.

David B. Ellis said...


Apparently you think my links are merely cosmetic or decorative. I already gave you what you ask for. If you scoll back up to my very first response to you, I link to a number of secular philosophers who argue for moral relativism. It would expedite the dialogue if you were to acquaint yourself with your own side of the argument.




I am well aware there are naturalists who believe in moral relativism (as there are also naturalists arguing for practically every possible metaethical position). That no more necessitates that I agree with them than you are required to agree with a christian holding theological opinions contrary to your own.


And, once again, you act as if this is a side-issue. To remind you once again of what you shouldn’t need to be reminded of, if the argument from evil amounts to an external argument, then whether an atheist can justify moral absolutes is hardly a side-issue.


Whether there are moral absolutes is relevent to those versions of the problem of evil that say "If God exists but stands by and does nothing while infants suffer then he is almost certainly evil".

The other form of the problem avoids debate on meta-ethics and is for that reason simpler and preferable. That version claims not that God would be evil for his inaction but simply that it is entirely implausible to that a loving person would not act to come to the aid of a suffering infant. It does not make a moral judgement. It simply observes that such inaction is inconsistent with the character of a caring person.

And, therefore, one is not required to endorse a secular system of object moral truths to consider the problem of evil valid. Even the moral relativist and moral nihilist can consistently employ this argument.


I do not equate the good with the natural.”

i) That’s an assertion, not an argument. If you think animal suffering is a defeater for Christian theism, then you need to work this up into an actual argument.


It is you that claims a secularist should consider what is natural some sort of moral standard. You have given no argument for this claim. I will be glad to present my refutation if you present an actual argument for this (absurd, in my opinion) position. But I am not required to present counter-argument to simple assertions.


And I don’t equate animal suffering with gratuitous suffering since animal suffering serves a natural purpose in the ecological balance. And if it’s purposeful, then—by definition—it isn’t gratuitous.


Since an omnipotent being is able to order the world in ways that do not require animals to suffer it is, in fact, gratuitous. A deity is not limited to a natural order that requires animal suffering. If he is he's a rather pathetically weak god.


For omnipotent beings this would be achievable. And they certainly could improve on this world.


What is the ontological status of abstract possibilities in your secular outlook? In what or whom do such possibilities inhere? Does your worldview have the metaphysical machinery to underwrite these modalities?


Another effort to send the discussion into abstract metaphysical sidealleys.

Sorry, but I'm not going to take the bait.


iv) How do you get around the naturalistic fallacy and the is-ought problem?


Irrelevent, since, as I stated above even the moral nihilist can employ the form of the problem of evil I described.


BTW, are you still attempting to deploy the *internal* version of the argument from evil? If so, how is animal suffering incompatible with Christian theology?


Do you think God cares whether animals suffer?

Do you think God has the power to aid a baby elephant suffering horrible prolonged pain as it dies of a congenital defect?

Do you think he is able to do this in such a way that doesn't cause greater suffering to others?

If you answer yes to all three then why does he not act?

If you answer no to any then explain why?


If you’ve read Nagel’s essay, then how does your ascription of animal suffering avoid the charge of anthropomorphism?



Since I do not think you honestly believe animals are incapable of pain I am not going to waste my time on the above nonsense.


“Rather than namedropping, though, I would be more interested in hearing arguments for your position on the problem of evil.”

That’s a very vague request. And I’ve already spoken to that issue several times now.



Ok, I will repeat a request for a specific argument in regard to a specific claim you made. You claimed that original sin is the reason it is not inconsistent with God's caring nature for him to not come to the aid of a suffering infant. Please present an actual argument for why this is so.


“Steve, just because you don't like the alternative doesn't prove Christianity is right.”

True, but irrelevant to the issue at hand. The argument from evil levels a moralistic objection to the Christian faith.


As stated earlier, that is not necessary to the problem of evil. It is not dependent on a moral judgement but on an inconsistency between the stated disposition of God (being loving and caring) and the observed behavior (inaction in regard to extreme prolonged suffering of infants).

The issue is whether there is some special reason why a loving being would not intervene.

One obvious possibility is that the being does not intervene because the being in question is fictional.

If the theist can come up with no more plausible alternative then the problem of evil must be said to weigh strongly against God's existence.

You have proposed the concept of original sin as this intervening reason. Elaborate please. This concept is open to a variety of interpretations and I would like a fuller understanding of your position as to what it is and why it explains a loving deities inaction.

David B. Ellis said...

I would suggest, if you are interested in responding to my previous comments that we continue the discuss in the comments under the latest posting (stepford wives) since this one is getting so packed that it takes a while to load.

Or, even better that we carry it over to an actual discussion board. I can recommend on or you can pick one. It doesn't matter to me. That sort of venue seems better suited to the sort of lengthy discussions going on here.

steve said...

david b. ellis said...

“I am well aware there are naturalists who believe in moral relativism (as there are also naturalists arguing for practically every possible metaethical position). That no more necessitates that I agree with them than you are required to agree with a christian holding theological opinions contrary to your own.”

i) To begin with, I’m debating positions, not people. The fact that you choose to turn a blind eye to basic problems with metaphysical naturalism makes it easier for you to foster the illusion that you have a strong case against Christian theism—when, in fact, you’ve dealt yourself a losing hand.

I don’t limit myself to your arbitrarily restrictive and intellectually evasive version of metaphysical naturalism as it bears on the argument from evil.

I reserve the right to quote other representatives of atheism who don’t duck the hard questions the way you do.

You are not the only spokesman for the position you represent, and thus far, you are a very selective representative.

ii) The question is not whether Ruse et al. have a different *opinion* on the subject. Rather, the question is what supporting arguments they present for their opinions. Ruse has *argued* for moral nihilism on the basis of naturalistic evolution. So have others whom I cite.

So, yes, you, as a secular humanist or whatever you call yourself, are responsible for defending your version of atheism over against rival versions.

They have made a case for their position. You have offered no counterargument.

And if you are unable or unprepared to shoulder the intellectual responsibilities, that will not hinder me from citing other spokesmen who are either more candid or more thoughtful that you are.

iii) Oh, and incidentally, I spend a lot of time defending my theological position in relation to rival theological traditions.

“The other form of the problem avoids debate on meta-ethics and is for that reason simpler and preferable. That version claims not that God would be evil for his inaction but simply that it is entirely implausible to that a loving person would not act to come to the aid of a suffering infant.”

“Implausible” on what grounds? Internal or external?

“It does not make a moral judgment.”

i) Of course it makes a moral judgment. It makes a moral judgment about what constitutes a “loving” or “caring” person, and it makes another moral judgment about what constitutes an “unloving” or “uncaring” action. You are blind to your own, unconscious assumptions.

So you are knee-deep in moral judgments in order to leverage your version of the argument from evil.

ii) But even though the question of plausibility is irrelevant to the internal argument from evil, let’s say a couple of things about it anyway:

a) As David Wood rightly points out, when you start talking about whether a Christian theodicy is plausible or not, you cannot isolate the question of plausibility from your larger body of beliefs. What is plausible (or not) is plausible in relation, not only to the immediate issue at hand, but to what other evidence you have that bears on the existence of God.

b) Ironically, the argument from evil is only plausible if you believe in God. For if there is no God, there is no evil.

An atheologian must affirm in the premise what he denies in the conclusion. Without the existence of God feeding into the premise to underwrite moral absolutes, the argument from evil is a racecar with square wheels.

iii) Hence, nothing could be more implausible than the argument from evil. Its plausibility derives from our instinctual belief in evil, a belief which secularism falsifies. Put another way, evil falsifies secularism.

“And, therefore, one is not required to endorse a secular system of object moral truths to consider the problem of evil valid. Even the moral relativist and moral nihilist can consistently employ this argument.”

Even if this were true, which, as I just pointed out, it is not, who cares? If there is no right or wrong, then why should your or I care whether or not people are loving or caring?

If there is notright or wrong, then why should you or I care whether Christianity is true or false?

If it’s not morally wrong to be factually wrong, then what difference does it make whether I was right and you were wrong, or vice versa?

If moral antirealism is true, then there’s no duty to be truthful.

Like a lot of unbelievers, you blink in the face of the secular abyss. You refuse to consider the radical consequences of a consistently secular outlook.

“It is you that claims a secularist should consider what is natural some sort of moral standard.”

Since, for a secularist, nature is all there is, the only moral standard could be a naturalistic standard. A standard which in some sense derives from the natural world.

“Since an omnipotent being is able to order the world in ways that do not require animals to suffer it is, in fact, gratuitous.”

Now you’re redefining the terms of the argument from evil. The fact that there might be an alternative state of affairs doesn’t render the actual state of affairs gratuitous as long as the actual state of affairs is purposeful or functional in the sense that everything happens for a reason.

What you are trying to do is shift the debate from gratuitous evil to greater or lesser evils, or greater or lesser goods. Comparative goods and evils. That’s a completely different argument.

“A deity is not limited to a natural order that requires animal suffering. If he is he's a rather pathetically weak god.”

Which is not the issue. The issue is the gratuity (or not) of evil.

You would have to argue (i) that a world without animal suffering is a better world over all than a world with animal suffering, and furthermore, (ii) that God is obligated to choose between the greater of two alternative goods.

That’s a very different argument. And you have yet to offer such an argument. All you do is to verbally hypothesize about a better world without presenting a working model of what such a world would look like through-and-through.

“For omnipotent beings this would be achievable. And they certainly could improve on this world. “

i) When you say that God could improve on this world, is that an internal or external value-judgment?

ii) Christian theology doesn’t maintain that the present state of the world represents the best-case scenario. This is a fallen world. But you have left eschatology out of your evaluation.

iii) You *say* God could improve on it, but you fail to *show* how he could. You are only making verbal noises without *illustrating* your assertions in any detail.

It’s one thing to *talk* about a better world, quite another thing to *lay it out*.

It’s easy to postulate what seem to be discrete, self-contained improvements while freezing everything else in place. Quite another to integrate those hypothetical improvements into a fully-furnished world.

But apparently discrete changes may entail far-ranging adjustments or tradeoffs between one good and another good.

So show us your blueprint for a better world.

“Another effort to send the discussion into abstract metaphysical sidealleys. Sorry, but I'm not going to take the bait.”

i) I appreciate your felt need to argue on the cheap and limit exposure to your vulnerable outpost. But you don’t enjoy that luxury.

The argument from evil involves possible worlds semantics. Could God come up with a better world than the actual world? Is this the kind of world we would expect from him?

By definition, possible worlds involve global, maximal scenarios rather than localized tinkering, as if you can propose airtight changes that have no larger ramifications. But that’s not how possible worlds hang together.

ii) Much as you would rather not expose your soft underbelly to rational prodding, you don’t have the intellectual right to make convenient assumptions that have no place in a secular worldview.

You’re the one who’s floating hypotheticals and counterfactuals. Fine. You have to pay for merchandise on the way out door. No intellectual shoplifting or freeloading allowed.

I realize that, for tactical reasons, you’d like nothing better than to artificially and duplicitously restrict the range of issues by, on the one hand, helping yourself to cost-free assumptions while, on the other hand, debarring your opponent from charging you for the merchandise.

Either you argue from your worldview or mine. If from yours, then you will have to articulate a coherent worldview whenever you make claims that carry a metaphysical surcharge.

Unbelievers get away with a lot by taking many things for granted that are implicitly rescinded by their unbelieving viewpoint.

“Do you think God cares whether animals suffer?”

i) I can’t speak for God since God has never spoken to that issue.

ii) According to Scripture, animal suffering would not be on a par with human suffering. Animals are amoral. They are essentially mortal, disposable creatures.

iii) Ironically, I have a more pragmatic and hardnosed attitude towards the animal kingdom than the average unbeliever, who claims to be a naturalist and card-carrying Darwinian, but entertains a very teary-eyed view of the animal kingdom.

iv) From a Biblical standpoint, there’s a basic difference between Eden and the wilderness. The wilderness isn’t meant to be Edenic. It’s harsh and inhospitable. That’s one reason the expulsion from Eden was punitive.

A wilderness can be cultivated. Wild animals can be tamed. It can be turned into Eden. But that is part of the cultural mandate.

v) I don’t take the argument from animal suffering seriously. It’s an argument that’s appealing to decadent, pampered urbanites who like dogs, cats, and whales better than children.

Ranchers, farmers, and hunters aren’t so sentimental.

“Since I do not think you honestly believe animals are incapable of pain I am not going to waste my time on the above nonsense.”

You think that Thomas Nagel’s tightly-reasoned essay is nonsense?

Notice how frequently Ellis must retreat into anti-intellectual evasions and dismissals to salvage his secular outlook.

“You claimed that original sin is the reason it is not inconsistent with God's caring nature for him to not come to the aid of a suffering infant.”

i) No, I never made that claim. Observe the way in which Ellis builds his own question-begging assumptions into his mischaracterization of my claim.

Let’s step back a few paces and set the record straight. I have never bought into his tendentious talk about God’s “loving” or “caring” nature, because these are cipher terms which he chooses to define without recourse to Scripture or Christian theology.

ii) Incidentally, Ellis happen to believe that Peter Singer is a loving and caring person when he proposes to euthanize infants instead of intervening to save them?

iii) The internal argument from evil purports to generate a logical and theological dilemma for the Christian, thereby forcing the Christian to relinquish at least one of the key premises, and thereby forfeiting Christian theism.

I simply pointed out that, according to Scripture, human beings die as a consequence of original sin, including the death of infants or young children.

So infant morality doesn’t generate a logical or theological dilemma among the set of doctrines comprehending the Christian belief-system.

There is no even prima facie contradiction.

iv) The atheologian generates a false dilemma by presenting a severely stripped down version of the relevant data.

To begin with, there is more to the Christian faith than Christian theism. There is also Christian theology, which is inclusive of, but broader than, Christian theism. There is much more to the theological status of evil than the doctrine of God alone.

v) For purposes of rebutting the internal argument from evil, I don’t even need to demonstrate that original sin or a supralapsarian theodicy is *true*, but only that the problem of evil is *consistent* with Christian theology.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...
I would suggest, if you are interested in responding to my previous comments that we continue the discuss in the comments under the latest posting (stepford wives) since this one is getting so packed that it takes a while to load.

Or, even better that we carry it over to an actual discussion board. I can recommend on or you can pick one. It doesn't matter to me. That sort of venue seems better suited to the sort of lengthy discussions going on here.

***************************

No, I have other priorities. I only posted my original comment at David's request--an invitation which I suspect he has regretted ever since! :-)

David B. Ellis said...


Of course it makes a moral judgment. It makes a moral judgment about what constitutes a “loving” or “caring” person, and it makes another moral judgment about what constitutes an “unloving” or “uncaring” action. You are blind to your own, unconscious assumptions.


Loving and caring are terms that describe an emotional and psychological disposition. They are not, in and of themselves, moral judgements. A person could (though rarely does) consider love, compassion and empathy to be moral flaws.

Let us consider an illustration to make the point. Imagine that Hannibal Lector (the fictional serial killer) decided to join Doctors Without Borders and devoted his life to helping people in wartorn countries at great risk to himself.

If Lector is described as a sociopath who enjoys harming and killing others and is also described as someone who devotes their life to helping others and harms no one then this contradiction between disposition and behavior would be something needing explanation.

Observe that no moral judgement is involved in the pointing out the problem above---it is an inconsistency that is at issue not a moral judgement.


Ironically, the argument from evil is only plausible if you believe in God. For if there is no God, there is no evil.


Remember that in the problem of evil the word evil is used to mean something that causes extreme suffering. Not in the more common usage today of malevolence.

That's why I generally refer to the problem of evil as the problem of unnecessary suffering. It creates less confusion to refer to it that way.

I won't comment on all of your post, at least right now, since its very long and is, frankly, growing tedious.

If you wish to actually present your argument as to how original sin explains a loving Gods inaction in regard to the suffering of infants I'll be glad to respond to that though.

So far you have consistently ducked that question. So I see little point in covering all the side issues you keep bringing up when you continue trying to avoid addressing the central topic.

Daniel said...

David,

I'm sorry I didn't notice your response to my critique of your argument from the Anthropic Principle until just now. It is apparent, though, that you rushed into a response without even checking out the sources I linked to. It seems a little arrogant of you to dismiss the oscillating universe with a flippant wave of the hand, when they expressly dealt with your rejection:
An oscillating universe??!! This doesn't help you. Our current universe is expanding, and it will never contract.

This was the exact beauty of their proposal -- no one can explain the energy density of our universe -- that is why "dark energy" was invented. Their theory has explanatory power because it accounts for these sorts of discrepancies in the Standard Model (or BB). And, they expressly address the question of how the Big Crunch begins: after the universe has completely diluted itself!

Anyway, if you're seriously interested in that, I would recommend reading that FAQ:
here

Based on everything we can gather from science, whatever begins to exist must have a cause.

This is a fallacy of composition and begs the question.

1) Everything we see within the universe is networked by a chain of causation. However, things don't "begin to exist". Matter is never created, nor destroyed. It changes forms. Which lends credence to the idea that...matter was never created.
2) This directly leads to the assumption you try to package in here -- the universe is the set of all things that exist. If you assume that it "began to exist", you are assuming that everything that exists (now and in the past) was suddenly "created", or whatever you want to call it. The Standard Model in no wise supports this idea. The energy and matter that erupted from the singularity were not ex nihilo, but come from some proximate cause in the past into which we cannot peer due to the limits of our current math and science.

But time will cure that ignorance.

Time never has, nor will, cure religious ignorance.

And, I should add, God explains far more. At best, if atheists some day come up with an explanation of how the universe could be eternal, this will only account for the existence of our universe. It wouldn't account for anything else (fine-tuning, life, consciousness, the moral law, miracles, etc.).

You really seem to love red herrings. Every time you present an argument, you leave off with the makings of three more.

But still, even if there were a large number of "perfect ratios" (which, you admit, is pure speculation), a universe without these perfect ratios would be far more probable than a universe with constants set perfectly for life.

That would require empirical validation, Dave. Life as we know it may be constrained by a small set of ratios. But life is possible beyond that which we know. And a viable universe, yet devoid of life, is still a defeater for the idea that ours is "special" or required tinkering.

You can say you don't like theism, but to suggest that your constant appeals to ignorance are somehow superior to the theist's appeal to something that would actually account for our observations only reveals your bias.

You are making an argument -- one in which you claim a basis for knowledge. If you found your basis for knowledge upon a state of ignorance, then your argument is flawed. I am not just pointing that out, although it would be sufficient to do so.

I am going further and presenting a rational alternative -- by maintaining fidelity to philosophical economy, aka "Ockham's Razor". We all know that the universe exists. We all know that matter and energy do not come from nothing. Those two facts are more reliable than the mathematical modelling that fails (admittedly) in the primordial part of our current universe's configuration and history. I am quite rational in having "faith" that there will be a natural explanation for the NON-origins of the universe, just as there have always been for things that theists used as "god of the gaps" arguments, just as you've done here.

Best,
D

David Wood said...

Daniel,

As long as you admit that your belief is based on faith (and you have), I have no objections.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...

"If you wish to actually present your argument as to how original sin explains a loving Gods inaction in regard to the suffering of infants I'll be glad to respond to that though. So far you have consistently ducked that question."

You seem to be constitutionally unable to get inside a position you disagree with to attack it on its own grounds. Yet that is the essence of an internal critique.

As I said at the very outset of this thread, the question at issue is not how a *loving* God deals with people qua people, but how a *just* God deals with fallen creatures.

You invariably strip away the theological presuppositions which condition a Christian answer to the problem of evil.

Your mental block prevents you from ever mounting an internal argument from evil.

search4db said...

Lots of good stuff here, thanks for the food for thought.

I'm certainly out of my depth discussing philosophy/theology with you, but here's what it came down to for me.

Given that:
Our world is a place full of diverse species which must compete to kill and eat each other in order to survive.

These were my two options:
1) Believe that the cause of the world is an omni loving being who wants a relationship with us
2) Don't believe that

Choice #1 just seems 180 degrees off to me. The world is inherently savage, and I've personally seen no sign of any divine relationship being offered.

The question then becomes: what should I believe instead? I don't know, can't explain it. But as with any problem, you don't have to have the right answer before you can rule out wrong answers. I haven't felt any reason to commit to any theistic explanations, so I'm an atheist.

But of course atheists have posed alternate answers as already mentioned, and they're currently just as unprovable as theistic explanations. But I really find this to be "theology at the edges". We're not omniscient beings, so there's always a border on the scope of our knowledge. Theologians have and will always be there at the border offering supernatural explanations. These supernatural explanations first took their stand right on our own turf, and have since been pushed largely to the edges of the universe. It seems intuitive that the trend should only continue. At a minimum, I find the concept of a loving/relational/involved creator to be no longer tenable. If a different type of creator exists, I don't think it cares what we believe.