Friday, March 09, 2007

A Reply to Andrea Weisberger, Part One: Prefatory Remarks

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.)

29 comments:

steve said...

In fact, Andrea is raising objections which you have repeatedly addressed and refuted on this very blog. She's way behind the curve.

David Wood said...

"She's way behind the curve."

I don't think I'd hold it against a scholar for not keeping up with my blog. But you're right to note that most of this will be review.

John W. Loftus said...

Another scholar weighs in on our debate.

John W. Loftus said...

I have already told you about William Rowe's argument in his book Can God Be Free? Maybe she is speaking as if this is once again "on the boards"? Why do you assume she isn't?

From the editorial review: "Given his necessary perfections, if there is a best world for God to create he would have no choice other than to create it. For, as Leibniz tells us, 'to do less good than one could is to be lacking in wisdom or in goodness'. But if God could not do otherwise than create the best world, he created the world of necessity, not freely. And, if that is so, it may be argued that we have no reason to be thankful to God for creating us, since, as parts of the best possible world, God was simply unable to do anything other than create us---he created us of necessity, not freely. Moreover, we are confronted with the difficulty of having to believe that this world, with its Holocaust, and innumerable other evils, is the best that an infinitely powerful, infinitely good being could do in creating a world. Neither of these conclusions, taken by itself, seems at all plausible."

------------
To be truthful with you David, when it comes to the hierarchy of Christian defenders against the POE, you are presently on the lower tier.

David Wood said...

"Another scholar weighs in on our debate."

Cool. This one looks short.

"Maybe she is speaking as if this is once again "on the boards"? Why do you assume she isn't?"

Read what she says, John. She says that the theist has to show that this is the best of all possible worlds. And most philosophers believe that this is an incoherent concept. Hence, she's demanding the impossible.

"To be truthful with you David, when it comes to the hierarchy of Christian defenders against the POE, you are presently on the lower tier."

Excellent! Then if I refute Andrea Weisberger's claims (and I certainly will), then the worst defender of theism can refute the best defenders of atheism on this issue! That says quite a bit about the Argument from Evil!

But here I think you're just trying to be insulting, which is usually your fallback point when you start getting worried. As soon as you start losing an argument, you begin calling everyone "moron" and "idiot" and everything else you can think of, mostly because you know that people are usually too civilized to return the childish gesture. Keep it up, John. I'm rooting for you to become the champion of atheism, because you say what other atheists are thinking, but scared to say.

John W. Loftus said...

No, David. There have been several problems with how you argue. From memory: You argued I can't complain about evil in the world if I enjoy my life; you argued that I can't press this argument if I don't have an absolute moral standard to do so; you argued that in the debate I had to nearly prove my side of the debate question based upon the wording of the debate; you argued that giving a razor blade to a child is non-analogous to God giving us free will even though we equally abuse that gift so badly; you continue to argue that the design argument is an answer to the problem of evil, even though the debate assumes the existence of your omni-God and asks you to explain evil if he exists; you continually claim that existing is "better" than non-existing when we're talking about humans in this world of suffering, without offering an argument; you argue that free will is an inherently good thing without an analysis of what free will is, and without acknowledging that none of us have this kind of abstract free will in the first place; and you have said you were not concerned that much with animal suffering.

Christian defenders that I have read don't make these same mistakes.

No, you're not a moron. And no, I do not call people names when I think I'm losing an argument. To say I do is, well, here we go again, stupid. ;-)

Otherwise, my friend, the warmest of regards to you.

Sophia De Morgan said...

John, this editorial review is exactly the kind of thing David is addressing when he argues that the idea of a “best world” is incoherent. This isn’t the best possible world, so there’s no reason to think that God was compelled to create, but rather He did so freely. There is no problem here. So stop being so ungrateful!

Wow, John. You keep looking for atheist scholars to write reviews to back you up, I guess you’re realizing that you can’t take David on your own.

Sophia De Morgan said...

John, why do you keep complaining that David's arguments (or the above caricatures of them) are so awful? Do something novel and try to refute them instead.

For example, David gave a great response to your razor blade analogy. Nothing good comes from giving a child a razor blade, something good can come from giving a person free will. (I also find it funny that you refer to a razor blade as a gift...maybe for a pessimist?)

David Wood said...

John Loftus said (today):

No, you're not a moron. And no, I do not call people names when I think I'm losing an argument. To say I do is, well, here we go again, stupid.

John Loftus said (nine days ago):

David, I think Ellis is right about you. I've known people like you before. They are the typical athletic jocks who don't have the intellectual muscle to proverbially punch their way out of a brown paper sack. . . . You, my friend, are a moron. I am wasting my time with you.

Interesting.

Now for a quick response to your comments.

You argued I can't complain about evil in the world if I enjoy my life.

Wrong. I argued that, if you enjoy life, you shouldn't constantly describe the world as if it's nothing but a cesspool of death, disease, and bloodshed. If bad things count as evidence against God's existence, then a world you love should count as evidence for God's existence. (That was the reverse of Jeffrys's claim on your blog.)

you argued that I can't press this argument if I don't have an absolute moral standard to do so

Wrong. I argued that (1) in making this argument, you're appealing to objective moral values, and (2) that objective moral values point to theism, not to atheism. And I even gave you options. Either show that there is a source of objective moral values apart from God, or drop the argument.

you argued that in the debate I had to nearly prove my side of the debate question based upon the wording of the debate

That's just how debate works, John. We have to stick to the proposition. If you recall, you're the one who chose the topic. And all you've done since then is complain that I made you stick to it.

you argued that giving a razor blade to a child is non-analogous to God giving us free will even though we equally abuse that gift so badly

Giving a razor to a child is not analogous to giving humans free will. Nothing good is going to come from giving a razor to a child. But a great deal of good can come from giving humans free will. Further, giving a razor to a child isn't required for anything good, while free will is required for many good things. This is a classic example of a strained analogy, John.

you continue to argue that the design argument is an answer to the problem of evil

Wrong. I'm arguing that if you use a certain principle in the Argument from Evil, I should be allowed to use the same principle in my Argument from Design. This is just a matter of methodological consistency, yet you constantly complain about my demands for consistency.

you continually claim that existing is "better" than non-existing when we're talking about humans in this world of suffering, without offering an argument

Now look at what you just did! I have repeatedly criticized your view that it would be better if the world never existed. And you consistently say that this isn't what you're saying. And here, in your list of complaints, you complain that I haven't argued that our world is better than a non-existent world! You're saying that I have to prove to you that our world is better than no world at all!

you argue that free will is an inherently good thing without an analysis of what free will is, and without acknowledging that none of us have this kind of abstract free will in the first place

I have analyzed free will as a requirement of certain goods, such as love. Without free will we cannot have these goods in any meaningful sense. That's just a fact.

and you have said you were not concerned that much with animal suffering.

Compared to human suffering, I'm not.

Christian defenders that I have read don't make these same mistakes.

What mistakes?

Amy Sayers said...

Regarding John's link to Jeffery's comments on the Loftus-Wood debate:

Jeffery's writes, "Suppose that we observed that the world did *not* contain gratuitous evil (tsunamis killing thousands, leukemia, etc." He goes on to make an argument using this presupposition.

His problem (and the POE's problem in many of its formulations) is the word "gratuitous." Who is he to know what is gratuitous? It seems that deciding whether certain (or any) suffering is gratuitous and not somehow *required* is the very heart of the challenge the POE poses.

He's begging the question.

AS

Stunney said...

Here's a question.

If we polled the entire human population on whether on balance it is better that this world with its natural laws and full array of life-forms exists than it not exist,and a substantial majority said it is better that it exists, what would it even mean to say that they were wrong? I mean, they'd simply be registering a preference.

And if the substantial majority has such a preference, why would it be wrong for God to share that preference?

It seems to me that the POE proponents are in the positions of holding that both this hypothetical majority and God are mistaken (a stronger claim by far than merely not sharing the preference). But how can it be shown that the hypothetical majority and God are both mistaken? It doesn't seem to me that it's possible (or even intelligible) to demonstrate such a conclusion. It would be like saying most people are mistaken in preferring, oh, shoes to going barefoot.

And the thing is, the hypothetical majority is plausibly a real and genuine majority.

Imagine parents who lose a child in a tragic accident. How typical is it for such parents to prefer that their child had never lived?

John W. Loftus said...

David, Logical Gerrymandering. That's what you do. You do it to win an argument. You do it to defend your faith. So many people have told me I'm wasting my time on you that I now believe it.

Twist and turn all you want to do, if you think that's what you need to do. But in my opinion it places you at the bottom third tier of those who defend Christianity from the problem of evil.

I do not need to rehash all of these arguments. People can read them if they click on "John's Key Posts" on my Blog and read what you and I have been arguing about.

I have repeatedly asked you to state my argument in your own words, and the two times you actually did so you failed miserably.

You can try again, if you'd like to, but if you cannot even understand my argument then you cannot effectively deal with it.

You can start by telling us what I meant about giving a razor blade to a child as analogous to what you believe God did when he gave humans free will. Only if you state it properly can you effectively argue against it.

And as far as who won the debate goes, I honestly believe I smashed you badly, but I don't care if I did, and no one who sees the debate cares either. For debates are merely entertaining and educational. They don't accomplish much beyond that. They raise issues. They educate. People who watch a debate do so to learn, and that's usually it. I've told you this before, now you forced me to say what I think, and I do think so.

David Wood said...

I'm noticing a pattern, John.

Step One: You raise some issue or accusation.

Step Two: I refute it, usually quite easily.

Step Three: Instead of actually responding to my claims, you say what a lousy opponent I am.

Step Four: We start over.

Keep it up, John. I want the whole world to see the difference between evidence and nonsense.

David Wood said...

John Loftus said:

And as far as who won the debate goes, I honestly believe I smashed you badly

If by "I smashed you badly" you mean "I asked 'why this?' and 'why that?' for twenty minutes without making a serious argument, never proving anything, constantly appealing to audience emotion, and applying all of my methods inconsistently, ignoring just about everything David argued," then I agree completely.

But I've invited you to ask your technically-minded friend to post the debate on You Tube, so people can see for themselves.

Amy Sayers said...

On the subject of "logical gerrymandering" and the often-surfacing question of burden of proof in the Loftus-Wood debate:

Calling David's approach "logical gerrymandering" is a fancy way to cry "foul." We've seen now at least 3 scholars call this foul. And if this *were* simply a matter of rhetorical device, I would take their point: the POE is not about who can be the most clever in a debate. As John points out, who cares a whole lot about the rhetorical out-flanking of an opponent beyond its entertainment value?

But David's distinguishing between the issue Loftus was trying to argue and the question they had come to debate is not just a rhetorical move.

There's a huge difference between asking, "Does extreme suffering make the existence of God improbable?" and asking, "Is the omni-BOP God incompatible with suffering?"

The first question must consider all the evidence for God in order to determine the improbability of God's existence. (This was, of coruse, a big part of David's argument, and I've yet to see the skeptic response to it aside from saying, "It's just a rhetorical move to avoid the issue.")

The second question, if answered affirmatively, would pre-empt all other evidence for God. This is the question Loftus argued in the first debate and the radio debate. It's the question Jeffreys was commenting on. It's the question Weisberger argued as well.

And I'll admit it's a scarier question. If answered convincingly in the affirmative, it calls for abandoning faith. But that first question, if answered convincingly in the negative, draws the curtain on the skeptic's wizzard of Oz.

So what about that first question? Do skeptics acknowledge that the POE can't bear this burden?

Sophia De Morgan said...

John have you ever studied logic? If so, have you ever studied what makes a good argument from analogy? I'm just wondering b/c an argument from analogy is the simplest, least sophisticated form of argumentation and is best used as an illustration for the layperson rather than as a real contender in a philosophical arena.

What you mean by your razor blade analogy is blatantly obvious to everyone. Whenever a person examines an argument from analogy, she looks for strains, i.e. differences between the two cases and then she examines whether or not the differences break down the case. Let's look at your razor blade analogy:

John: God giving free will to human beings is like giving a razor blade to a toddler because the toddler will almost definitely wound herself or others, and cause all sorts of damage. Since a parent who would do this would be a bad parent, God is bad, too.

David: Free will is different from razor blades because something good can come from giving humans free will, like the chance for genuine love, whereas nothing good will come from giving a razor blade to a child.

This difference David points out between razor blades and free will is crucial to the whole conclusion of whether or not God is good. Therefore your argument is a strained analogy. The fact that you can't understand this when it's been pointed out to you repeatedly just reveals that you have no respect for (or comprehension of) logic.

And why do you keep pestering David to state your arguments for you? If they're such knock-outs, why hide them? Or are you just hoping someone will restate them better?

John W. Loftus said...

I'm wasting my time here.

David Wood said...

John Loftus said:

"I'm wasting my time here."

Translation: "Now you guys are talking about logic and stuff, and about examining arguments carefully. That always makes me nervous. I've got to go."

steve said...

John, Illogical Gerrymandering. That's what you do. You do it to win a losing argument. You do it to defend your secular fideism.

Twist and turn all you want to do, if you think that's what you need to do. But in my opinion it places you at the bottom third tier of those who defend infidelity by the argument from of evil.

I do not need to rehash all of your failed arguments, John. People can read them if they click on "John's Key Posts" over at his Blog.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"I'm wasting my time here."

No worse than wasting your time over at DC.

David, with opponents like these, who needs supporters?

Dan Barkman said...

"To be truthful with you David, when it comes to the hierarchy of Christian defenders against the POE, you are presently on the lower tier."

John,

Just out of curiosity, who would you put in the top tier of Christian defenders?

Stunney said...

Well, no-one seems interested in commenting on my thoughts on a hypothetical global poll.

Perhaps the POE proponents would insist that the poll be restricted to 'ideal observers' and should not be undertaken with the human population as it stands, with its biases, inadeqauate information, and its sundry irrational thought processes (among which the skeptics would presumably include religious beliefs). But then, assuming God's existence for a moment, isn't God the ideal observer par excellence? And isn't God's vote already known?

Let me try a different tack, however.

What is the Kantian account of why murder is wrong? It is roughly that one cannot consistently will the non-existence of another (innocent) person to be a universal action-guiding law, for if it were, one own's existence, and thus one's own murderous willing, and one's general capacity to will, would be threatened by such a law. (We can bracket the question of immortality for now.)

From this, it seems that willing the non-existence of every human being would be seriously immoral at least on a Kantian account of morality. (It might well also be immoral on a Utilitarian view too, of course).

But willing the non-existence of every human person is, apparently, what the proponent of the POE argument believes God morally ought to have willed (or ought to atemporally will). At least, that's the case for those atheists who believe that God is not justified, or is wrong, in choosing to create this world rather than not to create at all. Which seems to be most POE-oriented atheists, if not all of them.

But this means that on the POE-oriented atheist view, God morally ought to will something which no human being morally ought to will. And on the Kantian view of morality (which governs the willing of all possible rational beings), such a conclusion is at the very least decidedly odd.

At this point the atheist may reply, I can consistently will to be a universal law the non-existence of any person (and animal) whose level of misery exceeds a certain level, call it E. But the problem that immediately arises is that actual judgements about what the appropriate level E is are likely to be varied, to involve incommensurable components, and to be irreconcilable. Some choose to cling to life despite apparently atrocious pain. Others choose to commit suicide over unrequited teenage love.

A fair way of proceeding, then, may be the hypothetical global poll previously mentioned. But such a poll does not look likely to favor the atheist point of view either, imo.

Nor, I think, would an animal poll.

Amy Sayers said...

I'm certainly not the arbiter of civility nor is my intention behind the following to censor:

The tone here has become decidedly mean and beyond the mark of pointed banter. I'm interested in the discussion that skeptics bring to this table. Shouldn't we theists be able to offer our comments without resorting to nastiness?

Amy Sayers said...

Sophia De Morgan wrote, "And why do you keep pestering David to state your arguments for you? If they're such knock-outs, why hide them? Or are you just hoping someone will restate them better?"

I don't know the full breadth of the discussion David and John have had, nor what efforts have been made in public or private exchange to re-state John's arguments.

But John's request is a fair one. It's a pretty practical way to check whether these two are talking about the same problem. John seems to think they are not, or that there's something David's not understanding. In which case, I'd like to know what John thinks that is.

Now, whether David has "tried and failed miserably" as John alleges, I don't know. But let's not get petty with John over his making a reasonable request.

Stunney said...

The tone here has become decidedly mean and beyond the mark of pointed banter.

Are you mounting a problem of evil-style argument against the existence of David Wood where 'David Wood' is defined as a being who is omnibenevolent, all-wise, and all-powerful, on the ground that no such being would have created this blog given its liability to being used to express meaness?

Stunney said...

First, Dr. Weisberger believes that, given the abundance of suffering in our world, theists are simply irrational.

http://telicthoughts.com/religion-irrational-ask-a-preeminent-logician/

and its accompanying comments provide some prima facie reason for being skeptical of this claim in pretty short order.

A different, and in my opinion much more telling response against theism, is that of Ivan Karamazov.

I'm currently reading (for the second time, and nearing the end of) Joseph Frank's superb 5-volume literary biography of Dostoevsky, and am at the point of Frank's discussion of the famous novel.

Ivan Karamazov's position is, for me, much more telling than mere atheism. It's a refusal to be reconciled to God's world, not a denial that it is God's world.

I recently also read and was impressed by David Hart's powerful book, The Doors of the Sea (inspired by the Asian tsunami disaster). In it, Hart rejects theodicy (the attempt to 'justify' human suffering) and does so on Christian, scriptural grounds. He cites this as evidence of the genius of Dostoevsky's insight in The Brothers Karamazov, that if it's terrible that humanity suffers greatly, it would be even more terrible if this suffering served God's inscrutable purposes and was thus 'justified'. It is theodicy as such which Ivan rejects, not as something unbelievable, but as something that he simply refuses to be reconciled to.

Hart's very intriguing view is that the Christian God, like Ivan Karamazov also refuses to be reconciled to suffering, and is not at all the God of the various theodicies. The Christian God passionately opposes human misery, and is set on defeating, overcoming, and destroying it.

See his writing on this theme here

http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110006097

and here:

http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=166

I find the second piece especially extraordinarily compelling, but also philosophically challenging. By the latter term I mean that intellectually I find it difficult to come to terms with Hart's undeniably Biblically Christian view that creation as such is 'fallen', that physical nature is itself caught up in God's war against evil spiritual powers.

Hart writes:

As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy. It is not a faith that would necessarily satisfy Ivan Karamazov, but neither is it one that his arguments can defeat: for it has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead. We can rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes—and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”

My mental difficulty with this undeniably stirring picture is that I don't understand how sin can plausibly affect inanimate nature as a whole, nor why God would ever have allowed the forces of spiritual darkness any sway over God's good creation, to the detriment of God's sentient creatures.

Of course I see how sins committed by free-willed creatures can affect living bodies, the environment, the climate and so on. But I find it, well, weird to imagine that evil demons are at work in nature or the cosmos more generally. That's not a good argument against the idea, of course.

Franks' biography stresses the tremendous value Dostoevsky placed on free moral agency. Certainly when we look at the terrible things people do, as Dostoevsky did, there is no reason to be sanguine about the possible scope of evil which such agency may perpetrate. I suppose Hart's point is that the Christian God isn't sanguine about it either.

Which brings me to my conclusion, which is really a question. If Hart's God is the one we should be talking about, is it irrational to believe in such a God?

Obviously it is if not being a materialist is irrational. But it's far from obvious that it's irrational to not be a materialist.
Still, is the worldview of Hart, which sees creation in highly spiritual terms, something which it is irrational to hold? Here Ivan Karamazov may supply the right answer. Ivan would say, I think, it's not necessarily irrational to hold it, but he reserves the right not to be reconciled to such a cosmic spiritual drama, and to regret it definitively, as it were.

I think this allows both sides to retain their rationality for a while, though ultimately Ivan can't maintain his.

David Wood said...

Amy said:

"Now, whether David has "tried and failed miserably" as John alleges, I don't know. But let's not get petty with John over his making a reasonable request."

John has two speeds--nice and nasty. When he starts losing a point, he takes one of two routes, depending on which gear he's in. If he's in "nasty" mode, he starts calling everyone a moron and an idiot (plenty of examples available on request). If he's in "nice" mode, he says, "Well, what's my argument. Go ahead. Say it if you dare" (in order to change the course of the discussion he is losing).

The difficulty with restating John's argument is that most of what he says isn't even an argument. Instead, he presents a series of "Why this?" and "Why that?" questions. But this isn't an argument. So, when he asks me to restate his argument, I put something like this:

(1) If God exists, surely he would do things the way I would do them.
(2) God doesn't do things the way I would do them.
(3) Therefore, God doesn't exist.

This seems accurate to me. But John rejects it, because he thinks that, somewhere in the course of his questions and complaints, a serious, well-reasoned argument has emerged. But that's simply not the case.

So we should clarify. It's reasonable for a person to ask whether everyone understands his argument. But until Loftus actually (1) formulates an argument and (2) quits throwing temper tantrums whenever he loses a point, I'm not sure why theists should be so concerned about meeting every demand he puts on the table.

As theists, I think we're obligated to try to answer questions of people who are actually interested in answers. But as far as people who just like to argue, complain, and insult everyone who disagrees with them, we should be careful when we say that we are obligated to take their objections seriously.

Sophia De Morgan said...

Stunney,

I agree with your points about Weisberger. It is hard to take a person seriously, who says something irrational as all theists are irrational! That claim itself seems more emotional than rational.

Eventually, we'll have to center a discussion on Dostoevsky's insights into the PoE in The Brothers Karamazov. On a previous thread, Loftus recited some of Ivan's famous quotes, and I pointed out to him that in focusing on Ivan's point, he misses the point about Ivan-- Even though Ivan accepts that God may exist, he refuses the "ticket" and in fact, actively opposes God by preaching not only atheism to people like Smerdyakov, but also moral relativism...and of course, we see the disastrous results as the story unfolds.
John denied this similarity between him and Ivan, saying that he can't be rebelling against a God he doesn't believe in. But perhaps this is only another parallel in that Ivan also doesn't necessarily understand the full implications of his own actions until Smerdyakov's confession and the visits from the devil. (I also think John and some others are a bit like Smerdyakov with regard to his treatment of Grigory and Grigory's firm though unreasoned faith).

As a side note, I'm not focusing on John to be petty or mean, his comments are just readily at hand.

If rational people disagree on an issue, it may be the case that there's more than pure reason involved in holding to each position. So I think it's important to look at these issues, which are beyond reason, as well.

Stunney said...

I was reading Frank's interpretation of the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor last night, and couldn't help thinking that John Loftus and the Grand Inquisitor share basically the same values--a disdain for moral freedom and a belief that Christ should not have resisted the Temptations by the Devil in the Desert.

In their opinion, moral freedom is too heavy a burden to place on weak human shoulders, and Christ should have turned stones into bread, should have openly displayed his divinity by spectacular feats, and should have taken up Satan's offer that he be given worldly power over all the kingdoms of the earth.

I would urge John Loftus to read the relevant chapters in Frank's book to see what I'm talking about, and how forcefully Dostoevsky rejects his viewpoint, and why. I think it would be very enlightening for Mr Loftus.