The Problem of Evil revisited by Lotharson

The Problem of Evil revisited by Lotharson 

Image

The question of why God or god(s) would allow evil to exist has been a very perplexing and troubling one for every believer attaching to them qualities such as goodness and benevolence ever since the time the Old Testament and parallel near-eastern myths were written.

Recently, British philosopher Jonathan Pierce, Counter-Apologist John and Justin Schieber from Reasonable Doubt, a podcast aiming at challenging the Reasonable Faith ministry of William Lane Craig and promoting “Godlessness”, have had a very interesting conversation about the problem posed by evil for theism before a virtual (white Belgian?) beer.   

Unlike many people deeply involved in the culture war raging between secularism and fundamentalism, the three intellectuals have a very respectful tone towards their opponents and develop pretty challenging arguments worthy of the consideration and attention of every thoroughly thinking religious person.

They should be really applauded for that approach and not resorting to the favorite techniques of village antitheists such as the heavy use of emotional bullying and ridiculing everyone not agreeing with their materialist worldview.

My agnostic Christianity

Before going into objections to the different arguments they presented I feel obliged to indicate where I’m coming from.  

I am an agnostic Christian, in the way Thom Stark uses this term, that is in the absence of good reasons to believe that theism or atheism is true I choose to hope there is a God.

I view the books contained within the Bible as being inspired in the same way books outside the Canon such as those of the Church fathers, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Wesley and C.S. Lewis are inspired: they depict us, to use Thom Stark’s wonderful expression, “human faces of God” that is man’s thoughts about and experiences with the divine. I don’t base my theology on allegedly inerrant Holy Scriptures but on the very idea that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God.

 

During this discussion of approximately 90 minutes, the three godless apologists do cover a lot of ground and raise many interesting questions which cannot be addressed within a single blog post.

I don’t agree with their objective Bayesian approach but also think that the evidential arguments for theism fall short of showing there is a God, tough I do believe they pose serious challenges for many popular forms of atheism out there, but these will be the topics of future discussions.

 Moral intuitions and God’s goodness as a heavenly father

They seem to rely on the belief that

1) Our moral intuitions are largely correct and

2) They can be applied to God who is supposed to be a heavenly Father far better any earthly father could ever be.

 

While I strongly doubt that step 1) can be taken by naturalists, this is certainly a key-element of the theology of Jesus and Paul and many writers of the Old Testament. But I think then that all our moral intuitions should be taken into consideration and not only those related to pleasure and pain as evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt discovered liberals typically do.

Step 2) is extremely important to prevent us from developing abhorrent theologies, like God issuing arbitrary commands about homosexuality even if it is neither harmful for the individual nor for society.

I utterly reject theistic voluntarism, the idea that whatever God wills is good, for this can lead and indeed leads to many absurd and atrocious beliefs such as God predetermining the largest part of mankind to eternally burn in Hell.

Interestingly at one point the three atheists seem to recognize that the problem of evil could be greatly diminished if the doctrine of hell is given up and they jokingly told each other that it would be already a victory in and of itself if they could push Christians to let go of „abhorrent“ teachings. Actually, it is clearly one of the main purposes of my blog to make other Christians deeply think about the implications of noxious doctrines, so we seem to have at least one goal in common.

 

That said, I do believe it is crucial to take into account the particularities of God’s position and the perspective of eternity before drawing any analogy with an earthly father.

 Free will, soul making, Skeptical theism

I believe that the problem of evil is extremely diverse and that the various theistic responses (such as the soul-making defense, the free-will defense and Skeptical theism) are all valid in their own rights and complement each other.

Generally I consider it extremely likely that God does have good reasons to limit Himself and not only allow free will in His creation but also randomness as philosophers Peter Van Inwagen described, in the same way I find computer simulations with random numbers far more interesting than deterministic ones. Such a position is compatible with Open Theism and some forms of divine omniscience.

And if this is true, the question is no longer “why did God allow such and such specific evils?” but “why did God choose to create a universe with such properties and features in spite of all the bad consequences?”

 Justin Schieber and the divine lies argument

 This is certainly no easy question and it would be completely foolish for me to come up with more than modest indications about possible solutions. This leads us to the question of Skeptical Theism (ST), according to which there are at least some evils humans are in no position to explain or reconcile with the infinite goodness of God.

Unlike Jon Pierce, Justin Schieber does believe that if theism is true ST is very likely and complained about the horrible ordeal inflicted on him to have to defend a position apparently friendly to theism against the objections of Pierce.

But he then mentioned his interesting Divine Lie Argument (DLA) according to which ST entails the clear possibility that God might be lying to us within Scripture for unknown reasons.

I certainly believe this undermines the Evangelical belief we need an inerrant Bible from God to know how He is and how we should behave.

I reject those assumptions and take the view we can objectively recognize goodness (albeit in an imperfect way) and know that God has to be good by His very nature as a perfect being. I don’t believe God speaks to us through the books of the Biblical canon more than he speaks to us through the books of C.S. Lewis or Ellen White and believe, like the apostle Paul expressed it in Athens, that even pagan authors can get quite a few things right about God.

Eternal happiness in heaven

I think that the perspective of eternity certainly changes the extent of the problem of evil in a radical way. For example let us consider the following scenarios:

Image

A. there is no afterlife. Leon is a small Tutsi boy living in Rwanda in 1994. In May his village gets attacked, his family is captured and he dies under an atrocious pain after having seen his parents being tortured and passing away in a very gruesome way. He ceases to exist.
God could have created the universe in a different manner to avoid this but He didn’t.

 

B. there is a blissful afterlife offered to everyone. Leon is a small Tutsi boy living in Rwanda in 1994. In May his village gets attacked, his family is captured and he dies under an atrocious pain after having seen his parents being tortured and passing away in a very gruesome way. He ushers into the presence of God. He quickly recovers from his pain and live happily with his parents in the presence of God during 100, 1000, 1000000, 100000000000, 10000000000000000000000000… years.
God could have created the universe in a different manner to avoid this but He didn’t.

  

Clearly, both scenarios should be troubling for every theist. But the assertion that they are almost equally problematic for the goodness of God is an extraordinary claim.

 

Utilitarianism is a moral theory very popular among atheists according to which the good is ultimately reducible to what increases the pleasure and reduce the pain of the greatest number of persons.

Every moral value which cannot be deduced from this basic principle is rejected as being illusory.

The extent of the evil of a free agent is identical to the extent of his failure to respect this rule. But if God is going to offer eternal life to everyone having suffered between one and hundred years, his moral culpability equals zero since this is the clear result of dividing a finite number by infinity.

So our three atheist apologists need to argue against utilitarianism and show why we ought to reject this theory before saying that the problem of evil is a death blow for every form of theism.

Given all the facts I’ve mentionned, I think we’ve good grounds for thinking there really are not-implausible ways for God to be morally perfect why allowing evils we cannot comprehend.

Of course, I do struggle emotionally a lot with some horrible and apparently absurd things our world contains and it would be a lie to say I don’t seriously call into question either the existence or the goodness of God, like countless characters of the Bible have done.

   Materialism, qualia, moral naturalism

Finally I cannot help but notice that the most popular (and perhaps the only plausible) form of naturalism, namely Reductive Materialism (RM) provides us with a terrible foundation for real objective moral values.

Jonathan Pierce mentioned the possibility that God would create philosophical zombies, that is beings acting exactly like humans but lacking any subjective experience, to be bad people and fill out the entire hell. Fair enough, especially if one believes in divine determinism. But this thought experience shows us a huge (and probably insurmountable) difficulty for Reductive Materialism: making sense of the moral evilness of pain.

According to RM, pain is identical to chemical and physical reactions and processes taking place in a brain-like structure. But why should thoseparticular processes have a greater moral significance than the movements of electrons within my computer?

Since in a materialist framework, pain is defined as being these particular processes, saying they are morally significant because they are painful is akin to saying that these particular processes are a moral concern because they are these particular processes.

But I believe that moral naturalism faces a much greater challenge, namely the identification of moral values with material objects.

Saying that the moral truth “A man should never rape a woman“ is identical to a bunch of elementary particles sounds utterly absurd to me.

To conclude I cannot let unmentioned the hugest and most scandalous mistake they did at the very beginning of the video. They dared tell us that God smoking weed could be an explanation for all the mess we see around us.

That’s bullshit.
I and many fellow French citizens have smoked Cannabis as we were teenagers and most of us were quite capable of performing well in many respects while being really high. 

If this post were to attain one thing, this should be leading them to give up their prejudices concerning pot. I do hope that in their next shows and videos they will cease smearing the goddess Marihuana and say instead “God is probably an abuser of LSD“, “God drinks one bottle of Vodka a day“ or „God cannot think clearly, because due to His omniscience He has no other choice than hearing every day George W. Bush, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, Dick Cheney, William Demski (and me for that matter) speaking and thinking during hours.“

Image

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

5 thoughts on “The Problem of Evil revisited by Lotharson

  1. Hi Lothars Sohn (did I get that right?), I followed this link from the Counter Apologist’s comments section.

    I see many problems in your response, but for now sticking to the argument regarding utilitarianism:

    Your calculation of God’s moral culpability misrepresents utilitarianism. But for a moment, let’s stick with how you did your calculation, in which you say essentially “Ok, even if we adopt utilitarianism, then by my calculations God still comes out smelling like flowers.” Except you can’t for-sake-of-argument adopt utilitarianism and ignore the wider consequences of your calculation. If against eternity the evil in this world calculates into zero, that is insignificance, then the same would go for any “good” done in this life: the significance of any act we would have thought of as “good” for it’s effect on “increasing pleasure,” calculated against an eternal afterlife, would have to amount to “zero” as well. Hence you would have reduced the significance (morally speaking anyway) of this world to nothing. But this would seem absurd. First, why would God bother to create a realm like this world that has no significance? (At least, moral significance, for ostensibly moral agents like us)?

    Saying we ought to do any “good” acts makes no sense if they have a significance of “zero” and this would render any moral advice or command God gives us for actions in THIS LIFE to be nonsensical and insignificant. So I don’t think you can adopt utilitarianism for the moment to show God would still be “good” given suffering in this world, without noting the other potent consequences to our actions in this world, and God’s action in creating a world that, by such calculations, has a significance of “zero.”

    But, anyway, the real point is that utilitarianism (which I’m sure you know has many forms) doesn’t, by and large, work the way you used it for your calculation. The way you calculated things, it assumes if you simply take one instance of suffering that is small or short, and simply compare it to a larger instance of pleasure, then the shorter instance is justified. But that’s not now utilitarian moral theory works.

    Take a version of act utilitarianism where the goodness of an action is evaluated on a person’s attempt to maximize well being. The concept of “MAXIMIZING” well being (or pleasure, happiness, or whatever) entails a rejection of unnecessary/gratuitous suffering. If an action results in some unnecessary/gratuitous suffering, you have NOT taken the action that maximizes well being.

    To take a crudely put, act-utilitarian example: If the ONLY WAY to save 1000 people’s lives was to allow 1 person to die, then allowing the 1 person to die is the right thing to do. In other words, it must be NECESSARY for the sacrifice of that one person’s well-being, for the 1,000 people to be saved for it to be a justified action. The death of that one person can’t be just gratuitous. It does not apply to a scenario like “John has the power to save all 1,001 people from a terrible death. John decides to save 1,000 people but let 1 person die. And not saving that last person was the right thing to do because, well, John saved a lot more people, right?” No. That’s not how it works. Similarly, if you say “I’m going to torture this child for just a few hours, but after that I’ll treat this child lovingly for the rest of her life” is that a utilitarian-ethics excuse for the portion of time you torture the child? No, of course not, because torturing the child was unnecessary, a gratuitous act of moral evil or negligence. That person’s actions have failed to maximize the well being of that child; not torturing the child at all would have been the action that maximized her well-being.

    And this is the problem you’d be left with concerning our suffering on earth. The goodness of an act isn’t measured simply by comparing two different durations or the mere numbers of good consequences as your calculation implies; it’s evaluated on whether the act was necessary for maximizing the greater well-being. God can’t be like the person who says “It’s ok that I’m torturing this child for now, as I’m going to be really, really nice to the child for a long time afterword.” No, God would have to explain how his mistreatment, or apparent moral negligence in allowing so much suffering and evil is NECESSARY to maximize the good.

    So, even on Utilitarianism, you are right back to the problem theism always faces: having to come up with some justification for how the suffering in this world wouldn’t be gratuitous/unnecessary.

    Cheers,

    Vaal

  2. Hello Vaal, thanks for your challenging comment! Since I am a Skeptical Theist, I had no intention to present a solution to the problem of evil, just to show some clues and why eternal life DIMINISHES its extent.

    “Your calculation of God’s moral culpability misrepresents utilitarianism. But for a moment, let’s stick with how you did your calculation, in which you say essentially “Ok, even if we adopt utilitarianism, then by my calculations God still comes out smelling like flowers.” Except you can’t for-sake-of-argument adopt utilitarianism and ignore the wider consequences of your calculation. If against eternity the evil in this world calculates into zero, that is insignificance, then the same would go for any “good” done in this life: the significance of any act we would have thought of as “good” for it’s effect on “increasing pleasure,” calculated against an eternal afterlife, would have to amount to “zero” as well. Hence you would have reduced the significance (morally speaking anyway) of this world to nothing. But this would seem absurd. First, why would God bother to create a realm like this world that has no significance? (At least, moral significance, for ostensibly moral agents like us)?”

    There are different forms of utilitarianism out there, my form is one among others. You are right that in this case temporary good and evil lose their moral significance but as a consequence God can no longer be qualified as being evil.
    And His goal might very well have been to create a springboard where people have the choice between good and evil and ought to increasingly become better persons.

    “d this is the problem you’d be left with concerning our suffering on earth. The goodness of an act isn’t measured simply by comparing two different durations or the mere numbers of good consequences as your calculation implies; it’s evaluated on whether the act was necessary for maximizing the greater well-being. God can’t be like the person who says “It’s ok that I’m torturing this child for now, as I’m going to be really, really nice to the child for a long time afterword.” No, God would have to explain how his mistreatment, or apparent moral negligence in allowing so much suffering and evil is NECESSARY to maximize the good.

    So, even on Utilitarianism, you are right back to the problem theism always faces: having to come up with some justification for how the suffering in this world wouldn’t be gratuitous/unnecessary.”

    So torturing a child and letting him vanish and torturing a child and offering him eternal happiness is morally the same thing?

    According to virtue ethics and Kantian ethics God would also have been guilty in the second case.
    But even if according to your act utilitarianism. God remains culpable, I fail to see why his evilness (amount of guilt) won’t become smaller and smaller as time goes by.

    In the end I would not view Him as a moral monsters but as suffering under temporary psychotic delusions.

    Or would you say that, according to your moral theory, it is not possible to quantify the moral goodness or evilness of a person?

    Notice that I don’t hold to utilitarianism, but just find certain aspects of it attractive.

    Finally, can you prove to a moral skeptic (someone denying the existence of moral facts) that morality is objective and that your moral theory is the right one?

    My intuition is that God, as a heavenly father, has a MORAL DUTY to care for the eternal well-being of every of his spiritual creature. But he is entirely free to use humans during this lifetime as instruments as long as He going to reward them eternally.
    I often feel a strong empathy for the victims of tragedies. But if they suffered during hours and experience bliss during 10000000000000000000000… years I won’t feel sad very long.

    I cannot prove that my intuition is true, but if someone wants me to give up this idea, he or she has the burden to proof to show me why I am wrong.

    Of course I don’t believe that torturing a child is something He could ever do because this is utterly unnecessary, this makes absolutely no sense.

    But given eternity, a good God can use people in a way he couldn’t if after their death everything were over.

    Lovely greetings from Germany and France.

    • Lothars Sohn,


      “So torturing a child and letting him vanish and torturing a child and offering him eternal happiness is morally the same thing?”

      Essentially, yes. Torturing the child in each instance is morally wrong: the desire to torture a child is not a good desire, and not what we’d expect of a “Good” being, let alone an All Good being (who would never exhibit immoral desires).

      “Finally, can you prove to a moral skeptic (someone denying the existence of moral facts) that morality is objective and that your moral theory is the right one?”

      “Prove” is a strong word, and also nobody can force you mentally to accept an argument of course.

      But I do happen to be a moral realist. However, I think that gets into a whole other realm itself – justifying moral theories. Here we are starting on some agreed grounds that something like “torturing a child” is evil and that
      the horrendous suffering from things like disease are “bad” at least from our perspective.

      “My intuition is that God, as a heavenly father, has a MORAL DUTY to care for the eternal well-being of every of his spiritual creature. But he is entirely free to use humans during this lifetime as instruments as long as He going to reward them eternally.
      …….”I cannot prove that my intuition is true, but if someone wants me to give up this idea, he or she has the burden to proof to show me why I am wrong.”

      Well, I’d point out that you would be resorting to special pleading. Your working principle in the case of God seems to be that “Ill-treating someone for a short time is made ok by treating them well for a much longer time afterward.” But, you are making up a principle for God that you nor I would not accept anywhere else in our moral experience. If “John” told you he was going to torture a young girl that day, you’d no doubt say “no, don’t, that is wrong/evil.” But if he then added “but after I torture her today, I’m going to treat her really well for the next ten years…or the rest of her life” would you think that treating her well for a long time afterward makes the torturing ok?
      As in “Oh, then torturing her today is GOOD…go for it!” Of course you wouldn’t accept this. No morally normal person would.
      But this is essentially the reasoning you apply to God – God can do any damned thing we wants to us, or allow us to suffer every horror that has ever befallen someone…but that’s suddenly made GOOD by His treating us well afterward.

      So, if you care about having good reasons for what you believe, you will not allow yourself to special plead like this.


      “Of course I don’t believe that torturing a child is something He could ever do because this is utterly unnecessary, this makes absolutely no sense.”

      But then, how is this any different from God’s culpability in creating a world with so many horrible afflictions – earthquakes, tsunamis, drought, famine, disease, plagues that have caused billions to suffer and die in a form of torture as bad as any inflicted by a madman, while just sitting back and watching the suffering he has unleashed upon us? How would God not be morally culpable for this just as He would in torturing a child? And how would this be any more “necessary” than trotting the child? You aren’t really making sense here or being consistent.

      “But given eternity, a good God can use people in a way he couldn’t if after their death everything were over.”

      Again, you are special pleading. God’s “use” of human beings has entailed every single horror humanity has ever suffered – an unimaginable volume of suffering, pain and terror. Yet you employ a principle “but this is GOOD (or acceptable) if God treats us well forever afterward.” I do not see you have any actual consistent principle on which this is based.

      Cheers,

      Vaal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s