- 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”.
11 thoughts on “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”
I’ll have to admit you’re tenacious, something that’s both annoying and at the same time rewarding. It’s annoying that I have written so much about the internal/external problem without any success with you. It’s rewarding because it forces me to go deeper and deeper with you.>>Here’s the problem Drew.>>My particular argument in chapter 12 is not directed at the Calvinistic conception of God, per se. As I’ve already admitted, I dismiss such a Calvinistic conception of God. And it’s not supposed to be a defeater of the whole Christian worldview, since my case is a cumulative case, even if I say it’s an “empirical refutation” of such a God (which is rhetoric, although I believe it). Nor is it a logical disproof of the theistic God, although it is a logical argument. Therefore the charge of sloppiness does not apply, because your criticisms of my arguments are not aimed properly against that which I am arguing against. In that sense there should be several occasions where you would be found saying, “yes, John is absolutely correct, given the nature of that which he’s arguing against.” The fact that you don’t say this from time to time, given my aim, I find sloppy, very much so.>>Even at that, I take a swipe at your conception of God when I shared John Beversluis’s argument: “If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.”>>As I said, there is no sharp distinction between an internal and external criticism given that you believe all truth is God’s, for you must still account for the external evidence of intense suffering in this world. Besides, in any deductive argument ABOUT THE WORLD (in contrast with abstract entities) there is always an appeal to induction from the evidence found in the world, while in any inductive argument there is always some deduction that must be concluded from the evidence.>>The nature of <>reductio ad absurdum<> arguments can either be to show what you believe is logically impossible or to show that your beliefs commit you an improbabilites. I’m saying something like this, “Let’s suppose you are right. If so, these are the absurd consequences. My argument is that your beliefs commit you to accept improbably absurd consequences. I’m not arguing that your beliefs are internally contradictory. Now let’s say you deny or reject the consequences that I point out. Okay. Fine. That does not mean I haven’t used a <>reductio ad absurdum<> argument. It’s clear that I have. But in order to reject my arguments you must retreat into other background beliefs to do so, and that’s when I say “the more you retreat into background beliefs the less likely your faith is true.” When it comes to the problem of intense suffering I maintain this is just another example of you retreating to these background beliefs. Once I make this point let’s move on to the next chapter, and the next and the next, until I make my whole case that you have no probable background beliefs from which to fall back on.>>And so I find it completely ignorant for you to still maintain that the force of a particular argument depends on the beliefs of the one making it. Just show me one other argument that depends on the beliefs of the one making it. There is a widely accepted strategy called “the Devil’s Advocate” in which the arguer merely argues for the sake of seeing how someone responds. It would do absolutely no good once it’s realized that someone was playing the devil’s advocate to dismiss his objections at that point, for his arguments must still be met and dealt with.>>Finally, as I have said, no single argument can debunk a whole Christian worldview. Yet you claim that “an internal critique must assume one’s worldview at the outset for the sake of argument.” The argument I’m making in my chapters about suffering is narrowed to this problem alone. I am not taking on your whole worldview at this point. Given the nature of worldviews I can’t do that…no one can. I’m dealing strictly with one aspect of your worldview. Other chapters, such as the arguments for the existence of God, are dealt with elsewhere. If I had to abide by your rule and assume your whole worldview with everything in it, then you have given me an impossible task when dealing with any single belief in your worldview. >>Worldviews, anyway, are almost but not quite incommensurable, if you know what I mean. They are elusive to an outsider’s criticisms. They account for nearly everything within it as insiders. That’s why I also argue for the “Outsider Test for Faith.” To use the insider language of a whole worldview would make it near impossible to offer any outsider criticisms of that worldview. Have you ever tried to critique pantheism as an insider? Try it. In the meantime read what Christian philosopher James Sire said about it in his book <>The Universe Next Door<>. Here’s a snippet: “What can Westerners say? If they point to its irrationality, the Easterner rejects reason as a category. If they point to the disappearance of morality, the Easterner scorns the duality that is required for the distinction. If they point to the inconsistency between Easterner’s moral action and amoral theory, the Easterner says, ‘Well, consistency is not virtue except by reason, which I’ve already rejected.’…If the Westerner says, ‘But if you don’t eat, you’ll die,’ the Easterner responds, ‘So what? Atman is Brahman. Brahman is eternal. A death to be wished.’ It is, I think, no wonder Western missionaries have made so little headway with committed Hindus and Buddhists. They don’t speak the same language, for they hold almost nothing in common.” >>That’s exactly how I feel with you. We live in different worldviews. I cannot critique your whole worldview by criticizing one issue, and we don’t speak the same language. You must simply “See” things differently. If I cannot help you to see things differently then I’ve still done the best I can. But my arguments are not sloppy. They do the best to bridge the worldview gap between us that I think is possible, despite your insistence that my arguments are not consistently internal (or inside) to that which you believe, even if I maintain they are the best that an outsider can do (they are the best I can do). >>And even if my criticisms do not PRESENTLY fall inside that which you believe, since people change their minds, they could be internal to what you believe IN THE FUTURE if you come to see things differently (for instance, if like process theologians this problem causes you to become one). What is internal to that which we believe is always slowly changing by virtue of that which we learn.>>Cheers.
Let me put this into perspective, Drew. You say God is sovereign and can do whatever he wants to with us as human beings because we’re sinners deserving of hell. This does not make him less than perfectly good, you maintain. He’s perfectly good. We deserve what he sends our way as punishment. We have done this to ourselves.>>That, in brief, if I understand it properly, is your position…your theodicy. Granted there is much more to it, okay?>>I have already argued that since we cannot behave differently, or desire to do to differently, or even believe differently than what we do, this defeats the whole notion of the God you believe. But leaving that insurmountable problem to the gerrymanderers, since it seems perfectly clear we do not deserve the treatment God punishes us with, there’s more.>>How then can I make you see the improbability of your beliefs? It reminds me of James Sire’s discussion above with a pantheist. You see the problem now? We see things differently. To assume this whole explanation of yours as a basis for my argument against you when it comes to the problem of intense suffering is to assume too much for one argument. I dispute these other assumptions in other parts of my book. I dispute the existence of God. I dispute the claim that we alone are responsible for our sins granting that God created us. And I dispute the whole notion that our sins deserve punishment in such draconian ways as we experience on earth and later in hell. I dispute the concept of hell. I dispute the concept of Satan. I even argue that you should approach your faith as an outsider.>>All of these arguments converge against you when attempting to dispute my rejection of Christianity, plus more.>>It’s the best anyone can do. It is certainly the best I can do. >>So it’s simply false that I must assume your whole worldview (an impossible task) when disputing any single tenant insider your worldview. Such a task cannot be done when looking at any single tenant inside your worldview. But I have examined each major tenant you believe in the many other chapters in my book, all which converge to make the over-all case that your faith is delusionary.>>As I said, you must continually retreat, over and over, on each and every issue I write about, to background beliefs to defend a weak plank in your worldview. You must do it for each chapter I write about. You’re doing this here on the problem of suffering. You will do it when it comes to the resurrection (since you will say miracles are not impossible if God exists). You will do it when it comes to the existence of God (since I cannot prove God does not exist). You will do it with regard to my chapter on miracles (since if God exists this would not be impossible for him). And so on and so on.>>Have I made my case about the problem of suffering and the existence of God? I think so, as an outsider. But it whether you think so will depend on what you think of my whole over-all case against Christianity. As I said, you must deal with my book as a whole. Maybe you’ll do that, I don’t know. But what I’ll look for is how many times you must retreat to background beliefs to support the issue before you in each and every chapter in my book, beliefs which I debunk in subsequent chapters, one after another. The more you do this then the more circular your approach becomes and the less likely it has explanatory power in defending what you believe.>>Do you understand this?
There’s no retreat on David’s part here, John. He’s simply exposing how flawed your arguments are – which is to say, deeply. When the best you can do is complain that it’s not fair to point out how the charges you make against Christianity are easily reconciled and answered within the Christian system – which becomes, to you, ‘retreating to background beliefs’ – the game is over.>>Your arguments have failed. And since you clearly can’t shore up those arguments after they’ve been addressed, you’ve failed as well. Then again, that’s been clear for awhile now (particularly when you tried to play the legal card.) Just, instead of the usual rapid and effective dismissal of your book, we’re seeing a long, excruciating, drawn-out autopsy of its corpse.>>It’s fun.
Mr. Loftus,>>I’ll probably post a “philosophical theory” article on this, but I wanted to respond to a couple of your points here.>>You said,><>As I said, there is no sharp distinction between an internal and external criticism given that you believe all truth is God’s, for you must still account for the external evidence of intense suffering in this world. Besides, in any deductive argument ABOUT THE WORLD (in contrast with abstract entities) there is always an appeal to induction from the evidence found in the world, while in any inductive argument there is always some deduction that must be concluded from the evidence.<>>>I don’t dispute that the argument for a specific premise in a deductive argument may be inductive, or that an inductive argument might have points that have logical consequences. I’ve only said that it’s not logically possible to combine them into one argument. Now, I know you’ve said that your argument is a cumulative case, and that the internal/logical problem of evil can be combined with the external/evidential problem as “premises” in a cumulative case. The problem here is that you characterize your <>entire<> argument from evil as “internal” in your book. While you do distinguish between the two types of arguments, your statements about this issue being an internal one for the theist are not found under the heading of the logical argument, but in the introduction to the entire problem and in your “specific case”. You do <>not<> anywhere in your book characterize <>the problem of evil<> as a cumulative case. You do characterize it as an “internal problem”. So when you say that you “can” combine them as a cumulative case, you’re saying something new. I’ve never said that you can’t combine them this way. In fact, I’ve said that anyone can use both arguments from evil, but that they can’t attempt to appeal to data or evidence that the Christian rejects and still call their critique “internal”, as you have.>>In fact, Mr. Loftus, when you say that the distinction between these types of arguments are “blurred”, you’re making an assertion without support which contradicts the clear distinction seen by philosophers. It is not Christians creating a false distinction, but you artificially blurring a real one.>><>“But the argument can be formulated in two very different ways. First, it can be formulated as a purely deductive argument that attempts to show that there are certain facts about the evil in the world that are logically incompatible with the existence of God. One especially ambitious form of this first sort of argument attempts to establish the very strong claim that it is logically impossible for it to be the case both that there is any evil at all, and that God exists. The argument set out in the preceding section is just such an argument.>>Alternatively, rather than being formulated as a deductive argument for the very strong claim that it is logically impossible for both God and evil to exist, (or for God and certain types, or instances, or a certain amount of evil to exist), the argument from evil can instead be formulated as an evidential (or inductive/probabilistic) argument for the more modest claim that there are evils that actually exist in the world that make it unlikely – or perhaps very unlikely – that God exists.”<> -Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy under < HREF="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/#IncForVerIndFor" REL="nofollow">Incompatibility Formulations versus Inductive Formulations<>>>Also, on a different subject, internal critiques are equated with reductios:>><>“The more radical is to see it as a kind of reductio ad absurdum, an internal critique that displays the incoherence of the very notion of objectivity (or the incoherence of striving for objectivity).”<> -Objectivity in Law and Morals p. 103>>Reductios are <>always<> arguments that reveal contradictions/incoherences.>><>“When Socrates uses the elenchus, he gets his opponent to refute himself out of his own mouth. The opponent makes a proposal that is shown to conflict with other claims to which he agrees. To be consistent, the opponent must give up one of these claims, and he usually abandons the original proposal. This is the method of reductio ad absurdum familiar to ancient Greek geometers and modern formal logicians and mathematicians.”<> Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy under < HREF="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-noncontradiction/" REL="nofollow"> Aristotle on non-contradiction<>>>You’ve said that “the nature of reductio ad absurdum arguments can either be to show that what you believe is logically impossible or to show that your beliefs commit you to improbabilities”. Could you find for me a reputable philosophical journal or source that defines a reductio as showing that something is improbable? In every source I’ve found on the problem of evil, one distinction between the logical reductio and the evidential/inductive argument is that the first, if sound, proves God doesn’t exist, while it is second that argues that God is improbable. Never have I seen anyone but you try to argue that a reductio can appeal to evidence that the position under question rejects (such as gratuitous evil), and be used to merely show improbability.>>As I said, I agree that deductive arguments may have premises whose proof depends on an inductive argument. Reductios, however, are not this way. All that is required is that the position being argued against actually holds the premise to be true. Socrates didn’t have to argue inductively when he used his method. He just made sure that a person believed what they were saying.>>Inductive arguments, however, or arguments that depend on induction, require more than considerations internal to a person’s worldview. >>You issued this challenge:><>And so I find it completely ignorant for you to still maintain that the force of a particular argument depends on the beliefs of the one making it. Just show me one other argument that depends on the beliefs of the one making it.<>>>This is easy. I never said that the “argument” depends on the beliefs of the person making it. I said that external/evidential/inductive arguments appeal to facts <>as facts<>, and that, if those facts refute the position of the one making the argument, then it’s not a good argument for that person to make. If a moral relativist puts forward an external/evidential argument from evil, then the affirmation of evil in that argument refutes moral relativism. I could then do a reductio of my own showing that person’s beliefs to be inconsistent. You claim not to be a moral relativist, so I don’t make that argument, per se. I just ask you to tell me how you justify your moral judgments when you point to real gratuitous evil in the world. When you say that you’re only talking about the Christian beliefs, you mislead, because most Christians do not believe in gratuitous evil.>>You asked for an example of this on a different subject. Let’s say a person believes in the steady-state conception of the universe, instead of the big bang. If that person appeals, inductively, to the big bang as evidence for or against anything at all, that person may be making a good argument, but that argument refutes his own position, too. This is what I mean when I refer to the importance of one’s own beliefs with regard to evidential arguments. I don’t mean that the argument <>itself<> is automatically bad. I mean that the <>use<> of that argument is bad with respect to that particular arguer. This is why I’ve said repeatedly that I’m dealing with the problem <>as posed<> by the atheist. I don’t believe that an atheist can make the evidential argument without refuting his own position. The moral argument for the existence of God, which you never address in your book, bears this out.>>Two more points: First, you say that you “take a swipe” at my conception of God with Beversluis’s argument that “good” must mean the same thing with regard to us as with regard to God for us to say that God is good.>>In point of fact, this is not a swipe at my theology, since I don’t believe that there is any great difference between what it means for God to be good and what it means for us to be good. My frequent references to the potter and clay show this. Just as we are free to do what we wish with clay, so God is free to do as He wishes with us as our creator. (Rom. 9) Our obligations toward one another <>as equals<> do not apply to God’s relationship with us. It is you and Beversluis who are applying one narrow concept of “good” to two very different relationships.>>Finally, you say that, “over and over”, I’m retreating to background beliefs. When you first made this kind of charge against David Wood, it was in the context of his appeal to the teleological argument in a discussion of the problem of evil. I have not retreated to anything of the sort. I have not appealed to any Christian beliefs except those that directly bear on the problem of evil. I have defended the biblical Christian beliefs <>about God and evil<> as perfectly coherent and able to account for the actual existence of evil, contra any atheistic worldview.>>Now, will you, clearly and unambiguously, answer my three questions originally given? You’ve said that you think you have, but you haven’t referred me or the reader to the actual statements where you clearly affirm or deny objective moral truth and then answer the relevant follow-up. We’re all still waiting for a simple answer to a simple question. Will we get an answer?
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Drew: <>I’ve said that anyone can use both arguments from evil, but that they can’t attempt to appeal to data or evidence that the Christian rejects and still call their critique “internal”, as you have.<>>>Do you reject the fact that there are a great many instances of intense suffering in the world? If not, then based upon this admission you have an internal problem in believing as you do, that there is a good omnipotent omniscient Supreme Being, as I’ve argued. I just don’t know how many times I must say it for it to sink in with you because you have read some ignorant authorities on the matter and because you will not accept ANYTHING I say simply because I say it. You need to find an intelligent Christian thinker that you trust on this issue. Do you trust process theologians? They will say the same thing as I do. It is an internal problem with the set of beliefs that you have. You must try to reconcile what you believe regardless of whether anyone…anyone…ever makes the arguments that I do. Let’s suppose you are an intelligent Christian and you yourself (with no help from anyone else) come up with the strongest arguments with regard to your faith and intense suffering in the world. Let’s say you don’t need my help on coming up with the arguments I make, okay? Let’s say you do this yourself, because you want to make sure your faith is reasonable and can withstand the strongest objections possible, okay? Then you don’t need me at all. At that point you cannot say it’s an atheist argument. At that point you are playing the “devil’s advocate” with what you believe. You’re doing this because it’s right to do. You do this because you do not want to be a fideist, which is noble of you. At that point you must simply answer these objections and arguments. It’s that simple. The fact that I make these arguments merely means you couldn’t think of them yourself, so in that sense I am only helping you reconcile the things you believe with arguments that if you were more intelligent or more educated could think up on your own. If you can answer them sufficiently to yourself then fine, and you claim that you can. Okay then. Answer them. But you cannot go around repeating the completely asinine things you do about these arguments that they depend on what I believe. And you cannot say of my arguments that they are not internal to what you believe, which is what you claim, simply because I cannot convince you of them, no more than you can fault these arguments if you came up with them on your own. You know they are difficulties that are internal to the things you believe even if you don’t think they are convincing. So stop the gerrymandering. Stop the pretending. Stop the red herrings. These things add nothing to your case against my arguments. They only show me you are ignorant, sorry.>>Drew: <>In fact, Mr. Loftus, when you say that the distinction between these types of arguments are “blurred”, you’re making an assertion without support which contradicts the clear distinction seen by philosophers. It is not Christians creating a false distinction, but you artificially blurring a real one.<>>>I could educate you about deductive and inductive arguments. The difference is that a deductive argument has a certain form. If the premises are all true the conclusion follows logically. An inductive argument starts with facts which are probable which leads to a conclusion that is only as probable as the force of the combined probability of the facts. I could give you a deductive argument that proves the moon is made of green cheese if you must grant me my premises. Whether you accept my premises depends upon inductive arguments whenever those premises are about the world (in contrast to when they are about abstract objects and/or ideas). Tooley would not disagree with me about this. Even when it comes to deductive arguments the premises can be stated probabilistically. One could say, for instance: >>If it is probably the case that P, then it is probably the case that Q. >P>Therefore Q>>Q follows logically from this argument, but this conclusion is still only as probable as the probability of P combined with the probability that Q follows logically from P.>>I maintain that whether or not someone uses the phrase “it is probably the case” in all forms of deductive reasoning about the world, it is still implicit is all such deductive reasoning even if not stated, for someone still must argue that P is true, and that Q follows from P, since other people will disagree with it. And never forget that one’s modus ponens is another person’s modus tollens.>>So while it’s true there are distinctively deductive and inductive arguments, the line between them is blurred in the sense I just elaborated. Tooley would not disagree with this, either, and he certainly would not disagree with my claim that some deductive arguments lead to logical impossibilities while others lead to mere improbabilities. The only thing we can say about deductive reasoning is that if it is sound the conclusion follows with logical necessity, and it does. But the question of whether or not such deductive reasoning is sound (i.e., having true premises) along with the correct form, depends on probability factors due to induction whenever these arguments are about the world (as opposed to abstract entities or ideas). I think you need more than just an undergraduate class in logic.>>And you are certainly wrong to argue that “Reductios are always arguments that reveal contradictions/incoherences.” Not at all. Take for example this reducio: “If you believe X then it is probable you believe Y. But Y is probably absurd, or incoherent or probably false.” Again, you need to go much deeper in your understanding of logic. At a higher level of discussion these types of things are debated by logicians. Just take a good look at the <>Journal of Symbolic Logic<> to see for yourself. Just like there are debates in science, philosophy and religion there are debates about logic, and deeper levels of understanding what logic can or cannot do for us.>>Drew: <>Could you find for me a reputable philosophical journal or source that defines a reductio as showing that something is improbable?<> >>So, you won’t believe me based upon my reasoning, eh? You need an appeal to authority? And I’m supposed to do your work for you? What you may need to do is to re-read the sources you already have. Look for something like this: “it involves showing that a claim <>implies a false<>, absurd, or contradictory result.” Moore and Parker, <>Critical Thinking<>, (p. 464). Notice the phrase “implies a false.” There is always the implied phrase mentioned above, that “it is probably the case.”>>Actually, in my specific case, if you accept my premises then the conclusion follows, so it is a logical argument from intense suffering that if accepted leads to the denial of your God. That’s why it’s my specific case. Since these types of arguments are blurred (in the sense I described above), my specific case includes both type of arguments. >>I think I’d said all that’s need to be said about the other things you wrote. I tire of repeating myself.
<>And one’s modus ponens is still another person’s modus tollens.<>>>P1 If the Christian God exists, then gratuitous evil doesn’t exist.>P2 The Christian God exists>C1 Therefore, gratuitous evil doesn’t exist>>P3 If the Christian God exists, then gratuitous evil doesn’t exist.>P4 Gratuitous evil exists>C2 Therefore, the Christian God doesn’t exist>>But I like the way Drew formulated it best:>>1. Either gratuitous evil exists or it doesn’t>2. If Christianity is true, then gratuitous evil does not exist.>3. Therefore, either Christianity is false, or gratuitous evil does not exist.>>Notice that the one making the modus tollens must start by denying the consequent of the conditional premise. Even if the Christian himself put accepted the modus tollens and then became an atheist…they were just experiencing tension <>between<> their worldview and other things outside it, <>not<> within it. Gratuitous evil is not an internal problem for the Christian, but it does <>seem<> to be a problem which everyone who denies its existence must deal with.>>>As for the amount of suffering, since no response was offered as to what amount of evil would render God’s existence probable, I think it stands as an arbitrary, subjective, and unsupported assertion. Prove me wrong John, but no ad hominems ok? 😉
david said…<>Gratuitous evil is not an internal problem for the Christian…<>>>Mere assertion. See how easy that was? Sheesh. Since we’re merely asserting things let me try one, okay? The moon is made of green cheese. >>david, again…<>As for the amount of suffering, since no response was offered as to what amount of evil would render God’s existence probable, I think it stands as an arbitrary, subjective, and unsupported assertion. Prove me wrong John, but no ad hominems ok? 😉<>>>So, let me understand this. If I fail to respond to each and every argument offered that means I cannot do it? Really? Is that what you mean? Why must I do so? Can’t you think for yourself on this? Why do you continually need me to state the obvious? >>I maintain the amount of suffering in THIS world is very strong empirical evidence against the Christian God–an empirical refutation if there ever was one. This is the only world we’re dealing with, okay? My arguments depend on the amount of suffering in this world, not on the amount conceived of in a different one. Such a demand merely tells me you are trying to escape the problem as we find it. >>Let me say that I have experienced some pain and suffering in my life. But life has been good to me. If what I have personally experienced is all that anyone ever experienced then this amount of suffering would not count as much evidence against the Christian God, if we grant the unreasonable belief that God needed or wanted to create a fleshly world in the first place (although, about this I think David Hume is probably right that we could be motivated just as much by the lack of pleasure). I would be quite content in a fleshly world if everyone only had this amount of suffering to struggle with. You would not get an argument from me concerning the evil. >>So, if this is good enough for God to test my soul then why isn’t it good enough for God to test everyone’s souls? Why do so many many millions of other people and animals suffer so intensively?>>Caution: Do not become stupid here like David Wood did. Simply because life has been good for me personally has nothing at all to do with the force of my argument. The fact that I’m not personally “complaining” doesn’t mean I cannot “complain” on behalf of others. My experience is merely antecdotal.
Look, you’ll have to pardon me. I truly think the assertion that the argument from intense suffering is not an internal one to the Christian faith is probably the most asinine Christian argument I’ve ever heard. And I see several other types of arguments I find stupider than a box or rocks. It’s hard for me to be patient when these select few arguments nauseate me.>>Just deal with the problem, okay? Then I will respect with you. No more gerrymandering. No more red herrings. No more skirting the issue. It makes me think you don’t want to deal head on with the problem.
John said “Just like there are debates in science, philosophy and religion there are debates about logic, and deeper levels of understanding what logic can or cannot do for us.”>>Now come on John religion and logic ???.>>Only when it suits to fit .Such as “treat people like you would wish to be treated yourself”>>If a supposedly good god decides for some reason that innocent people should suffer then logic is all of a sudden to be thrown out the window and replaced by blind faith.>>Learn to keep to the rules of the game please.
david said…<>Gratuitous evil is not an internal problem for the Christian…<>>>John said: <>Mere assertion. See how easy that was? Sheesh. Since we’re merely asserting things let me try one, okay? The moon is made of green cheese. <>>>John, my apologies I assumed that since you were a pastor I would not need to explain or defend the Christian belief in the sovereignty of God. A God who claims to number the hairs on our head and sees the sparrows fall is antithetical to the existence of purposeless suffering. Do I really need to defend this or does that satisfy you? Surely I will if you actually think the Bible doesn’t affirm this. >>John said: <>So, let me understand this. If I fail to respond to each and every argument offered that means I cannot do it? Really? Is that what you mean? Why must I do so? Can’t you think for yourself on this? Why do you continually need me to state the obvious? <>>>I’m saying you haven’t validated your own argument’s premise. Why “you must do so” is up to you: do you want to convince me that this premise is true? Otherwise, your “internal” argument is only valid for Christians that affirm gratuitous evil (I don’t), and is only sound for Christians who have reason to believe that we should expect less suffering given the Christian God (I don’t, and the Bible never gives any reason to expect a wonderful world..sort of the whole point of the eschaton right?). >>John said:<>I maintain the amount of suffering in THIS world is very strong empirical evidence against the Christian God–an empirical refutation if there ever was one. This is the only world we’re dealing with, okay? My arguments depend on the amount of suffering in this world, not on the amount conceived of in a different one. Such a demand merely tells me you are trying to escape the problem as we find it. <>>>I’m not trying to escape anything, but you seem to think I am. I am talking about this world. You can’t merely point out suffering and say it is evidence against God. If the <>amount <>of suffering is causing the problem, then I am asking you to clarify the standard for measuring suffering and the resulting probability of the Christian God. Surely you don’t expect me to just accept that the suffering in this world is “too much” without any argument for “how much” is “too much.” How much suffering needs to be eliminated before you think God is probable? All I’m saying here is the argument is vague, and seems to rely on subjective feelings about how suffering affects the probability of God’s existence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a powerful emotional argument but logically I can’t reconstruct it and be very convinced given the way you have formulated it. Your book doesn’t help much, so I’m just asking you to clarify.
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