Dr. Andrea Weisberger recently commented on my first debate with John Loftus. Her article isn’t a review, however. After discussing some introductory points, she outlines Loftus’s case, then spends the rest of the article critiquing the arguments I presented in my opening statement. She doesn’t comment on the rebuttals or the crossfire, so we may think of her analysis as what she would have said in response to my opening remarks had she been my opponent that evening.
Since Dr. Weisberger has written a book on the Problem of Evil (Suffering Belief: Evil and the Anglo-American Defense of Theism), in addition to contributing the “Argument from Evil” chapter to the Cambridge Companion to Atheism, I was excited to see what insights she would bring to the discussion. I was a little apprehensive, however, for I assumed that her arguments would be far more rigorous than those I have been dealing with. If we imagine a hierarchy of atheist apologists writing on the Problem of Evil, we might put people like Richard Carrier and members of the “Rational” Response Squad at the bottom, someone like Loftus or Jeff Lowder in the middle, and skeptics such as Weisberger and Michael Martin at the top. We might also think that the arguments get better as one moves up the ladder. Nevertheless, after reading Dr. Weisberger’s comments, I have concluded that the Argument from Evil doesn’t really get stronger as we move on to more prominent proponents of the argument. Instead, the argument gets less and less childish. That is, Carrier argues that God should put force fields around churches, create glow-in-the-dark Bibles, and turn all guns into flowers. Those are pretty childish suggestions. Loftus, of course, says that God should have created us with wings and gills, in case we need to fly or swim underwater, and this seems just as childish as Carrier’s demands. However, in between the odd suggestions, one can discern in Loftus’s complaints a more compelling critique than that found in Carrier’s writings. Finally, when we read Weisberger or Martin, the childishness has disappeared, and all that remains are claims and arguments.
Reading Dr. Weisberger’s comments, however, far from undermining my allegiance to God, has instead filled me with confidence that atheists really don’t have a strong case here. I had planned on sparring with people like Loftus until I had spent a fair amount of time carefully studying the arguments, in order to prepare myself to confront the claims of more scholarly critics. I now realize that the scholarly critics are saying the same thing as Loftus. They’re just saying it in a more sophisticated manner. Indeed, nearly every point made by Dr. Weisberger has already been made by Loftus and his comrades; hence, I’ve already responded to just about everything she said. Nevertheless, in order to show that her points don’t really stand, I will carefully analyze Dr. Weisberger’s points, one or two at a time, on this blog.
I therefore invite adherents of both theistic and atheistic faiths to read and comment as I go through Dr. Weisberger’s response, point by point, noting several blatant errors in her remarks, as well as inconsistencies, assumptions, and so on. I’ll be doing a post every day or two, so stay tuned.
Here I will make three remarks. First, Dr. Weisberger believes that, given the abundance of suffering in our world, theists are simply irrational. I say this to distinguish her from skeptics like William Rowe, who believe that theists are wrong, but not necessarily irrational.
Second, Dr. Weisberger sets the bar quite high:
Contrary to what Wood believes—that the burden is on the atheist to show how the suffering outweighs the happiness, the burden is on the theist to show why this particular worldly configuration, one in which gratuitous suffering seems to exist, is the best of all possible worlds.
Notice what she demands here. The theist must show that our world is the best of all possible worlds. This is quite interesting, since most philosophers believe that the idea of a best possible world is incoherent. The reason is that, once we determine which features make a world good, we could increase these features indefinitely. Hence, Dr. Weisberger asks, quite literally, for the impossible. And if the theist can’t do the impossible, according to Dr. Weisberger, theism must false.
Finally, I’d like to point out something that seems quite insignificant, but which may help us better understand Dr. Weisberger’s arguments. After saying at the beginning of her article that she will call God “it” but not “he,” she goes on to say that she will not honor God with a capital letter:
[T]he term ‘god’ is frequently capitalized as if it is a proper name. Being a non-theist (and here I lay my cards on the table), I lack faith in the existence of such a being, let alone such a being with a proper name. As a result, I find that the capitalization of ‘God’ begs the question for the theistic hypothesis, and prefer the more neutral reference to deity: god.
Notice what she says here. Since she doesn’t believe God exists, she will not use a capital letter. Now compare these claims:
I do not believe in the existence of huckleberry finn, so I will not write his name with capital letters.
I do not believe in zeus or poseidon, so I will not write their names with capital letters.
I wonder whether Dr. Weisberger applies her standard consistently, and refuses to honor any fictional character with a proper name, or whether the God of traditional theism (as is the case with many atheists) is for some reason the only “fictional” being worthy of such a dishonor. If she does not apply this rule consistently, it appears that God is not merely a fictional character, but a fictional character who, for some reason, deserves special contempt.
Of course, this could just be a tactic to annoy theists. But whatever the case, we should already be noticing a certain degree of bias and hostility. Theists are irrational. They must do what is widely held to be metaphysically impossible. God, who doesn’t exist, nevertheless deserves special reproach. We would do well to keep these things in mind, for, when we consider them along with certain obvious flaws in Dr. Weisberger’s arguments, we have to wonder why a PhD philosopher is making such claims. In the end, we will see that she is hardly objective in her analysis. (But I’m happy that she responded all the same, and I’ll be sure to read her book carefully as soon as I get the chance.)