- Response to John Loftus on the Problem of Evil Part 1 of 7: A Brief Review
- Response to John Loftus on the Problem of Evil Part 2 of 7: Loftus’ Argument from Evil in Why I Became an Atheist Part 1
- Response to John Loftus on the Problem of Evil Part 3 of 7: Loftus’ Argument from Evil in Why I Became an Atheist Part 2
- Response to John Loftus on the Problem of Evil Part 4 of 7: Loftus’ Argument from Evil in Why I Became an Atheist Part 3
- Response to John Loftus on the Problem of Evil Part 5 of 7: Concluding Review of Loftus’ Argument from Evil in Why I Became an Atheist
- Response to John Loftus on the Problem of Evil Part 6 of 7: Loftus’ “Atheistic Ethic”
- Response to John Loftus on the Problem of Evil Part 7 of 7: Concluding Remarks
Loftus also refers to what he calls, “The Ignorance Defense”. He argues that the Christian will finally “punt to mystery” (p. 256). He makes a similar argument here. Basically, the Christian argues that, since God is all-wise and powerful and good, He has a good reason for whatever happens, even if we can’t see it. The problem with this kind of reasoning, according to Loftus, is that it “presupposes what needs to be shown.”
This is a bold claim. He’s arguing that when Christians explain that God is all-wise and in control and that He has only told us parts of His reasons for doing what He does, that we are presupposing things, such as God’s existence and the existence of heaven and hell. If Loftus really understood what an internal argument is (really sorry about this repetition), he’d know that he can’t use this charge in one. An internal argument assumes the truth of the worldview, position, or argument in question in order to derive a contradiction from that assumption. Loftus is completely incapable of supporting the above quote with anything other than either (1) evidence of evil that is external, or (2) some other evidence against God that is unrelated to the problem of evil. If Loftus chooses option (1), then he must account for that evidence on his own worldview. If he chooses option (2), then he’s making a tacit admission that his position is weak (see his comment to David Wood above). The point is, explanation of how the Christian worldview accounts for certain facts is not in any way “presupposing” what one is trying to prove. If it is, then Loftus is guilty of the same thing every time he explains some feature of his worldview in order to defend it.
Loftus then argues against hell, attempting again to do it internally. His basic argument is that the “punishments don’t fit the crimes”. (p. 256, or same argument here) He also says that the reality of the majority of people suffering in hell is “incompatible with the theistic conception of a good God.” (p. 256)
I had to read that statement a couple times. The Christian theistic conception of God holds that He does condemn some people to hell. What “theistic conception of a good God” is Loftus talking about here? It’s not the Christian one. If the Christian conception of a good God conflicts with Loftus’ conception of a good God, or anyone else’s for that matter, so what? I know he’s trying to make it an internal argument by claiming there’s an incompatibility, but he keeps jumping outside the Christian worldview when he says things like, “the punishment doesn’t fit the crimes.” I have to ask, “by what standard?” Not the Christian one, so which one? And why is that standard true?
Loftus later attempts to address Plantinga’s argument about inscrutable evils. His only response?
I’ve already argued that God could’ve easily done differently. p. 257
I’ve already shown that, just because Loftus can think of situations that he thinks would involve less suffering, it doesn’t do anything to address the defenses of the Christian who appeals to an all-wise God. If God has a purpose for a given suffering, then He will not prevent it. Loftus’ fantastic stories of flying, water-breathing people are completely irrelevant to this argument. Those stories only work if Loftus knows better how to make a good world than God could know.
Loftus then tries to address Stephen Wykstra’s CORNEA defense, which is just a more technical way of arguing that God has a good reason for every event. It focuses on arguing that, given God’s omniscience and the nature of His reasons, we shouldn’t expect to know what they all are. Loftus’ response is telling. I’ll take most of these numbered responses in turn.
Even if this CORNEA defense works, it must additionally be shown that the theistic God exists, who knows the reason why there are such evils. p. 257
Loftus has said this before, but has not argued for it. It seems that when he can’t offer any actual rebuttal of a Christian defense, he retreats to demanding that the Christian prove God exists on some other grounds. He leaves the realm of the problem of evil entirely. As we’ve seen already, he’s offered his own response to that type of argumentation in his talk with David Wood when he said, “That just tells me that you can’t defend the problem of evil in and of itself.”
By Loftus’ own standards, he is admitting that he can’t defend his position on the problem of evil in itself. This actually comes as no surprise. I’ve mentioned Loftus’ sloppiness several times, and this is just another example. When faced with a Christian defense on the problem of evil, he responds that a Christian has to prove God exists before he can defend against the problem of evil. Imagine if I told him that he must show that there’s no God before he’s allowed to address the moral or transcendental argument for God’s existence. The standards that he demands of his opponents are actually too high for he himself to meet.
On the whole internal/external issue, it should be noted that even if an external argument is leveled at a position, it is never logically necessary to require the defender of that position to prove that his whole position is true before he can defend against the current argument. The reason Loftus has not given an argument to support his requirement is that it is a requirement that he has made up. There just is no reason why anyone should have to abide by it. Besides, if I actually tried to defend against the problem of evil by arguing for God’s existence, Loftus would accuse me of “resorting” to my worldview and then, according to him, I would be unable to defend against the problem “in and of itself”.
If it works, it merely argues that it’s possible there’s a reason for pointless suffering. But we’re talking about probabilities here. In Dr. Weisberger’s words, there are “many improbably possibilities.” It’s possible there are Martians who live beneath the surface of Mars. It’s possible that I am dreaming right now. But what we’re talking about is plausibility not possibility. p. 257
Loftus’ argumentation often moves into this realm of talking about what’s plausible vs. what’s possible. While there’s nothing wrong with this if we’re attempting to look at evidence objectively and then ask which worldview best fits the evidence, an internal critique must assume one worldview at the outset for the sake of argument. Because Loftus keeps trying to make both arguments at once, it’s hard to tell what he means here. We’ll address these issues more comprehensively at the end of these articles.
Statement (3) is essentially a restatement of (2), and so the same concerns apply. Also, it is the same basic argument he makes here:
If we cannot understand God’s ways, then there is no reason to think God’s ways are good, either. And since that’s true, their whole position is also unfalsifiable, because the only way we can empirically test whether or not God is good is by looking at the evidence in the world.
As for which way the weight of evidence points, I just disagree with Loftus about where that evidence points. Notice, though, that Loftus is again leaving the realm of the problem of evil to make his point. He’s talking about the majority of evidence now in a general sense when he says that this defense could be used if “the majority of evidence” (p. 257) pointed away from God. It’s no longer the question of the amount of suffering and how the Christian explains it. Why does he feel he needs to do this, if the problem of evil is such a strong case?
The truth is that it seems very likely that we should see God’s reasons for allowing suffering since theists also claim God wants us to believe in him. This is Theodore Drange’s argument. p. 257
The truth is that it seems very likely that we should see God’s reasons for allowing suffering since theists also claim God wants us to believe in him. See Theodore Drange’s work on this. (from comment thread at (http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/10/emotional-problem-of-evil_28.html)
I’ve dealt with this before. I believe, actually, that, generally, the evidence is compelling for God’s existence. I also believe that those who do not believe are actively suppressing the knowledge of God, inventing mental ways around the evidence. (Rom. 1) Also, this particular point is not relevant to my worldview, or any other Calvinist or Reformed Christian, because we do not believe that God merely “wants” us to believe in Him and that he’s just trying to make the best case He can. He saves perfectly everyone He intends to save.
Finally, the theistic response here cuts both ways. We’re told God is so omniscient that we can’t understand his good purposes, and this is true; we can’t begin to grasp why there is so much evil in the present world if a good God exists. But if God is omniscient as claimed, then he should know how to create a better world, especially since we do have a good idea how god could’ve created differently. pp. 257-258
Finally, this cuts both ways. We’re told God is so omniscient that we can’t understand his purposes, and this is true, we can’t begin to grasp why there is so much evil in the world, if God exists. But if God is as omniscient as claimed, then he should know how to create a better world too, especially since we do have a good idea how he could’ve created differently. (from comment thread at http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/10/emotional-problem-of-evil_28.html)
We’ve seen this argument before, and Loftus has to assume some pretty incredible things in order to know for sure that his own “better” world would actually be better, both in terms of the affects of his changes on other aspects of the world and the long-term effects. God sees the whole picture, and He knows why this course of history is best suited to His purposes.
There is just one more statement in this chapter that I want to deal with before moving to an earlier section of his book that addresses the problem of evil. It is his final quote from Ivan in The Brothers Karamozov.
“Tell me yourself–I challenge you: Let’s assume that you were called upon to build the edifice of destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquility. If you knew that, in order to attain this, you would have to torture just one single creature, let’s say a little girl who beat her chest so desperately in the outhouse, and that on her unavenged tears you could build that edifice, would you agree to do it? Tell me and don’t lie!” p. 259
Aside from the already-mentioned impropriety of comparing God’s position and rights over us with our position and rights over each other, I find it very interesting that Loftus should use this quote. The similarity to the Gospel story of the death of Jesus is obvious. The little girl is meant to exemplify innocence. Jesus was perfectly innocent. So does the Christian really believe that a situation like the one described is what God has done? Only if all that is considered is the innocence of the one suffering. But what if it’s the decision of the one suffering to do it for everyone else? To this some have argued that no man could possibly know how much suffering would be necessary to take God’s wrath for all mankind. The Christian response is that Jesus is God, and He knew exactly what He was doing when He accepted the whips and the cross.
As to how Dostoyevsky’s scenario relates to all of the other human suffering, I can say that we are not that innocent. It is for God to decide what punishments fit what crimes. We do not see what God sees, and so we are not in a place to judge Him. We do not have “unavenged” tears. We reap what we sow, and if we are enemies of God, then we will reap the consequences of having rebelled against Him. If our suffering is not a direct result of our own sin, then we can trust that God has His reasons, and we may be so lucky as to catch a glimpse of those someday, but, because He is truly good, we know that His reasons are good.
The Question of Moral Superiority
In an earlier section of Why I Became an Atheist, Loftus has some sections devoted to questions of whether Christians have any superior position rationally or morally than others. Loftus correctly identifies the Christian position, that Christianity, as a worldview, accounts for the existence of moral goods and evils, and offers motivation for being morally good. Also, atheism lacks all of these features. There is nothing within atheism to account for the existence of objective moral truths, only patterns of behavior. There is also no motivation within atheism for doing good, other than self-interest. However, under atheism, those goods cannot be considered objectively good in any sense except that they promote one’s self-interest.
Let’s look at his first argument against the Christian position.
Before we move on to the philosophical arguments for this claim, let’s pause and ask first why there is no evidence for what Craig claims. If he is correct, we should see billions of non-Christians acting consistently according to this logic. There should be great mayhem in this world, the likes of which should send the rest of us into the asylum. In other words, why don’t non-Christians act consistently? … Do theists like Craig want to claim that nearly all non-Christians are mentally challenged…that the overwhelming majority of us don’t live consistent lives with what we believe? The evidence is overwhelmingly against this claim. p. 37-38
This argument once again demonstrates Loftus shallowness when dealing with Christian worldview issues. Why, he asks, don’t atheists actually act lawlessly, as Christians say atheism leads to? The reason is simple according to Scripture. Men have the “law written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Rom 2:15) Loftus’ scenario would only be true if atheism itself were true. The point of the moral argument is to say that the evidence of moral truths point to a good Creator, not that atheists all act like animals. Consistent, biblical Christians in fact do believe that the vast majority of people don’t live completely consistent with what they say they believe. Today in America, there are more people than ever denying objective moral values, but at the same time there are more than ever suing each other over their differences. Yes, people are inconsistent all the time. In fact, it is impossible to really consistently act as if there are no moral truths. This is because there are objective moral truths.
Another example of Loftus’ sloppiness can be found in this section when he addresses the basis for Christian ethics. He claims that the only two forms of Christian ethic are the divine command theory and natural law. (p. 38) He then goes on to discredit the divine command theory before pointing out that now, Christians don’t use that theory anymore, but a modified divine command theory, which he then goes on to show is very different from the divine command theory. If it is really so different, which I agree it is, then why not include it in his list of bases for Christian ethics? The answer is simple. Either Loftus is just not careful with his argumentation, or he wants to attribute to Christians a theory that has been largely discredited, even though they don’t believe it. This is straw-man argumentation again.
So, just to make some important distinctions clear, we’ll look at the divine command theory and exactly how Christian ethics are different from it. Loftus, like most people who address this issue, traces this theory back to the Euthyphro, a dialogue written by Plato in which Socrates is asking, “What is piety?” The answer he gets is, “fidelity to the gods”. In other words, we are pious, or good, when we do what the gods command. Socrates then asks, “Are those things pious because the gods command them, or do the gods command them because they are pious?” How this is answered has great ramifications. Socrates argues that it must be the latter because of some of the attributes of the gods. They are fickle, changing their minds. They disagree with one another. They do things constantly that people consider immoral. Only their power keeps them from being brought to justice. Loftus argues that if we say that something is right because God commands it, then right and wrong are arbitrary. (p. 38-39) Loftus asks the Euthyphro question by considering whether something “is right because God commands it”, concluding that if it is, then it makes God’s commands “arbitrary”, saying that horrible evils could be declared “good” by such a God.
There are two mistakes Loftus makes here, if he thinks that his argument in any way applies to Christianity. First he fails to note the distinction between why a command is moral and what we are commanded to do. Christians, as I’ve said and as Loftus will admit when he addresses the modified divine command theory, do not say that an action is right merely because God commanded it. We say that it is right because it conforms to the perfectly good moral nature of God. We are, however, obligated to do what God directly commands. His moral nature does not consist of His commands. His commands flow from and are consistent with His nature. There is an important difference. This is why Loftus’ charge of arbitrariness in God’s commands must logically be directed at something other than Christianity. So why is this relevant? God’s commands are not arbitrary. They conform to His nature. This is also why Loftus’ strange statement about God “creating” morality like he created the universe is false. God didn’t create morality. He commands it in conformity with His nature.
So, it’s true that our “moral duties are determined by God’s commands” as Loftus quotes William Lane Craig. (p. 39) But that is different than saying that our moral duties are grounded in, or are derived from those commands. Those commands are not the starting point for morality, but their starting point–God’s nature and His status as our Creator–make them binding on us.
Loftus argues that the modified command theory is actually no different than a “secular ethic” (p. 40), and that:
It’s at this point where both the modified divine command ethic and a secular ethic share the exact same grounding. Why? Because then with Pojman, we must ask what difference it makes whether or not the same ethical principles came from “a special personal authority (God) or from the authority of reason?” p. 40 also verbatim here
I must say that I’m at a loss as to how Loftus (or Pojman) comes to this conclusion. Is Loftus seriously saying that Christians who ground their ethic in the nature of God are grounding it in the same thing as secularists? It seems that they think that grounding ethics in anything other than the commands of God constitutes some kind of admission of defeat for the theist. Loftus doesn’t offer any argumentation to support this claim, other than the statement that those who accept the modified divine command theory have to reject the original divine command theory. He doesn’t even begin to show why it is that this somehow puts the Christian on equal footing with the atheist. He just asserts that they are now somehow the same.
I would submit that Loftus doesn’t understand the difference between an ethical system and how one grounds an ethical system. One could say that an ethical system is a list of moral imperatives. It answers the question, “What shall we do?” The justification, or grounds, of an ethical system answers a different question. It gives an answer to, “Why is this list the right one?” Loftus shows his ignorance of this issue when he lists out some of the different systems that have been devised.
Besides, there are several ethical systems of thought that do not require a prior belief in God, like social contract theories, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, Kantianism, and John Rawls’s theory of justice. p. 40 also verbatim here
I’ve examined these issues in more detail before, but I’ll just say here that the choice between one ethical theory and another, without some objective moral standard, can only be arbitrary. What moral reason can be given for accepting utilitarianism over Kantianism? People who decide, for example, that utilitarianism is more moral will almost certainly appeal to some utilitarian principle in doing so. Without something objective to ground morality in, a person has nothing but personal preference to tell him which ethic to adopt.
Loftus does not succeed in showing any weakness in the Christian ethic in this portion of his book. In fact, he rarely argues for any of the assertions he makes, some of which are surely false. With thoughts of ethics and morality fresh in our minds, we will close Loftus’ book, and turn our attention next time to our final section of Loftus’ thoughts on this subject: his series of blog articles called “An Atheistic Ethic”.