- 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
Conclusion and a Challenge
At this point, having addressed Loftus’ various arguments on the problem of evil, I want to finish these articles with a more pointed examination of Loftus’ position, going beyond a response to his arguments and challenging his position on the issues of morality, suffering, and the appropriateness of the problem of evil as a weapon in the atheist arsenal. In some ways this will be repetitive, because I will ask some of the same questions. But my purpose here is to dig deeper, beyond the three questions and whether they’ve been answered. I want to look at Loftus’ own moral judgments and put to rest the nagging questions that the reader may have about how Loftus would answer the three questions, if he were to actually, candidly answer them. Finally, I will put the atheistic formulation of the problem of evil into the clearest, plainest language I know, and ask that Loftus, (or any other atheist who thinks that the problem of evil is a good argument against the existence of God) answer where he stands, without dodging or sending me to yet another article he’s written (I do hope that he’s presented his best case in his book).
The Three Questions
Does John Loftus believe in objective morality? He’s never answered the question directly. When asked, he’s misunderstood the question to merely be a Christian defense mechanism against the problem of evil. He has skirted the issue, merely pointing out the impropriety of such a defense, should it stand alone. He has not seen that it is a question related to the Moral Argument, a positive argument for God’s existence that Loftus did not address in his book, and to my knowledge, has not dealt with. He has, instead, skirted that issue and said that the Christian has a problem with evil that must be dealt with, a tactic that Loftus himself condemns.
I believe that Loftus does believe in objective morality. The first reason is the one pointed out before, from his ethical system. He attempts to ground morality in rationality and happiness. If someone does not believe in objective morality, then he will not feel the need to justify moral judgments. He won’t need to justify judgments he doesn’t make. Whether anyone can consistently live without morality is debatable, but not relevant here, since it’s not the position Loftus takes.
The second reason I believe that Loftus holds to objective morality is that he makes absolute moral judgments. Here are just a couple:
There is theological determinism, where God decrees everything that happens for his glory (or hyper-Calvinism). According to Clark Pinnock, ‘One need not wonder why people become atheists when faced with such a theology. A God like that has a great deal for which to answer. p. 232
If there’s no moral standard to keep, then there’s nothing to answer for.
For instance, it is ethically wrong for anyone, including God, to sadistically kill, maim, or torture innocent people, period. To someone who claims God can do this to any human being because we are all guilty and deserve this kind of treatment, I simply say, as I’ve already said, that the punishments do not fit the crimes. What they’re describing here isn’t a higher morality, but a different morality. It’s such a different morality that if we treated people like God does in this world through nature, we would be locked up in prison. p. 258 (emphasis mine)
Add to this his many lists of atrocities, and only one conclusion fits. Loftus believes in objective morality. He never says so in as many words, but he can’t honestly make the judgments he makes unless he believes that there’s some objective standard to base them on.
All of his bluster about the impropriety of Christians calling him to account for his morality, is, therefore, without merit. Loftus has an objective standard, and so the Christian challenge, concurrent with the moral argument for the existence of God, is fully appropriate…and stands.
It seems that Loftus knows the necessity of his accounting for his morality because he attempts to do so with his ethic. But it also seems that he knows his ethic does not really answer the challenge. If it did, he’d have a different answer to the challenge to defend his belief in objective morality. He’d say that he can ground morality atheistically, and he’d proudly demonstrate it. His accusations against the Christian when challenged on this issue speak volumes.
Loftus believes in objective morality. The evidence speaks for itself. So my second question needs an answer. How does Loftus account for objective good and evil? So far, as we’ve seen, no satisfactory answer has been given.
We’ve seen that, if Loftus did not believe in objective morality, then He could only offer an internal, reductio style critique. This is, indeed, what he claims to be doing with the problem of evil. The above quotes, however, show that he doesn’t actually present an internal critique. His actual argument is consistent with his belief in objective morality, if not with his stated goal.
The Atheist Problem of Evil: A Challenge
The atheist problem of evil is really just the consequence of the soundness of the moral argument for the existence of God. The moral argument states as a premise that objective moral truths require a perfectly moral God to account for their existence. I’ve already gone into detail earlier of how this works out in terms of God’s nature and his commands, so I won’t repeat that here. It has been my argument–and Loftus’ arguments offer no challenge to it–that an atheistic universe could not contain objective moral truths.
As I’ve said before, my purpose is not primarily to show Christianity true and atheism false, but to show the impropriety of the problem of evil as used by an atheist. The moral argument shows this perfectly. An atheist can easily subvert the moral argument by denying the existence of objective moral truths. Indeed, most atheists of the past, such as Nietsche and Sartre, did just this. If there is no morality, then there is no atheist problem of evil. Also, an atheist who denies morality will only use a true internal critique if anything at all with respect to the problem of evil. This is not Loftus’ position, however, so the atheist problem of evil requires an answer.
Loftus argues that the existence of gratuitous evil shows that a good God doesn’t exist. We’ve seen that a Christian who believes that God is all-wise, all-powerful, and perfectly good must, logically, reject the existence of gratuitous evil. Loftus, however, defines evil as “suffering”. Now the question of the moral nature of suffering comes up again. Is suffering a moral issue? If it is nonmoral, Loftus faces one problem, that his argument is invalid. If it is a moral issue, then Loftus faces a different problem, the problem of objective morality in an atheistic universe. I submit, therefore, that there is an argument against each of these positions.
If “gratuitous evil” just means “pointless nonmoral suffering”, then the following is a formulation of Loftus’ argument
1. Gratuitous nonmoral suffering exists.
2. A morally good God would prevent immoral suffering
3. Therefore, a good God doesn’t exist.
This is what Loftus is arguing if he defines gratuitous evil as “suffering”. Remember, he made this move so that he could call evil “undeniable”. There really is suffering, so now it can’t be explained away, right? His problem is that this argument is a non sequitor. It’s invalid. It doesn’t follow. The only thing undeniable about suffering is that it happens. If it is nonmoral, then it is akin to cooking rice. The question of its morality, however, does not have an undeniable answer. Atheists themselves disagree on that answer. The important thing is that, if it is not moral, then it can have absolutely no bearing on the question of whether a good God exists.
If Loftus does think that gratuitous evil really is a moral issue, and that it is actually, morally evil for God to allow it, and if he does not give an account for moral evil atheistically, then the following reductio ad absurdum can be used to disprove the existence of gratuitous evil, logically.
1. Gratuitous evil exists
2. Therefore, a morally good God does not exist (problem of evil)
3. Therefore also, atheism is false. (moral argument)
4. Therefore a morally good God exists. (from 3 and moral argument)
5. A morally good God exists and doesn’t exist. (from 2 and 4)
6. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist. (reductio ad absurdum)
Obviously, Loftus does not think the above is a good argument, but as long as he remains silent on the moral argument, he has not refuted premise 3. Loftus’ use of gratuitous evil, therefore, results in the conclusion that God both does and does not exist! Now, what this shows, really, is that the soundness of the problem of evil and the moral argument are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be right. But unless Loftus or someone else can account for objective morality without God, the moral argument will stand.
Now, Loftus has claimed to be making an internal argument against Christianity. This hasn’t stopped him from arguing from gratuitous evil, though. Because of these facts, another argument can be made to show how his argument doesn’t get the conclusion he wants.
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.
This is the very best conclusion that Loftus can hope to get with an internal critique. Any attempt to argue evidentially for one side of this disjunction over the other takes his argument outside the realm of internal critiques and requires that he account for real, moral evil in an atheistic universe.
As I said at the outset, these articles are not intended to prove God exists, though they do contain an argument for that conclusion. The main point has been to demonstrate that, though the problem of evil is a problem that should be addressed by every Christian, it is not a sufficient reason to reject Christianity. In fact, my contention is that it is not even a good argument for the conclusion that God doesn’t exist. As we’ve seen, that conclusion rests on one of two arguments. The first attempts to show that Christian belief is inconsistent with itself, but fails to do so. The second makes an appeal to evidence in the form of gratuitous evil that could not count as evidence if there were no God. Loftus attempts to bolster his argument by adding the evidence of the second argument to the first, but doesn’t seem to realize that this move logically turns the first argument into the second. When challenged to account for this “evil” on his own worldview, Loftus throws up dust, accusing Christians of skirting the issue. Remember his statement in the very argument where he makes that accusation:
Christians must deal with their internal problem. Atheists must do likewise. I will not skirt my specific problem by claiming Christians have one. I adjure them to do the same. p. 244
I have not skirted my problem by claiming Loftus has one. So far, Loftus has done just what he says I can’t do. When faced with the moral argument, he says, “but you must deal with the problem of evil.” He has a chance now to show us all why the problem of evil is the best, empirical evidence against the existence of God, as he claims. I adjure him to show us how that is the case. I adjure him to show us why he calls anything at all “evil” without logically abandoning his atheism.