Monday, July 23, 2007

Rev Sam on evil

I think Rev Sam's post gives an interesting glimpse into his thinking, and the thinking of many theists. I know his thing was not meant to be academically rigorous, but even so I would remind Sam:

(i) that the problem of evil he says he "prefers" is the logical problem, not the evidential problem. I am not suprised he prefers that version, as it is much, much easier to deal with. See my entry on Augustine, Sam , for more on this. It's not so hard to explain why God had to put some suffering in the world. The hard thing to do (impossible, I'd say) as show that there is not, and has never been, even one ounce of unecessary suffering. Ever. Sam, we atheists generally use the evidential problem as an argument against belief in God (certainly it's the one I use), so make sure that's the one you discuss, not the much easier logical problem (which I am sure you'd prefer to discuss).

(ii) "As I see it the problem of evil is much more about how to live in the face of suffering." We all face the problem of how to deal with suffering. Call that a "problem of evil" if you like. But it's not the problem we are discussing - the one which, I think, is actually fatal to your belief system because it is overwhelming evidence against it. Again, I am not surprised you prefer to discuss an entirely different problem.

Whether or not belief in God helps us cope is irrelevant to the question of whether or not it is true. The evidential problem of evil establishes, pretty conclusively, that it is not true. By talking about the problem of coping you are, as has already been pointed out, simply changing the subject.

(iii) In a comment, though, you make a different move: suggesting "good" is used differently re God (presumably, a way in which giving babies cancer, burying thousands of children alive, causing unimaginable horror and suffering on a regular basis counts as "good").

Well, we can do the God of Eth switcherooo on that too. Imagine someone defending belief in an evil God (see The God of Eth, left) against the problem of good by saying, 'Well as applied to evil God, "evil" means something different (indeed, his making love and laughter and rainbows all comes out as "evil").

You'd laugh, right?

12 comments:

Rev Sam said...

Hi Stephen,
on (i) I was combining both; I don't think restricting the discussion to what you call the evidentiary problem makes the slightest difference to the point I was trying to make. You're assuming that I'm trying to give a philosophical answer, which I'm not - that's the whole point;
on (ii) my post was written wholly independently of "the problem we are discussing" so it's a bit rich to suggest I wasn't addressing it! But in any case, it is precisely 'changing the subject' which I think is the important move; that is, I think it is fruitful to 'change the aspect' under which the problem is seen (however you want to define the problem, and I would reiterate that the post was not meant to be an academic piece!);
on (iii) I was merely pointing out a theological axiom which you may or may not see as relevant to the discussion. Our language of 'good' doesn't transfer directly onto God, nor does our language of evil, nor does our language of power (omnipotence) space (omnipresence) knowledge (omniscience) etc. This is discussed in great depth in the literature - in much greater depth, and with much greater academic expertise than I can bring to the table!

I think the biggest difference in our perspectives is that I don't believe that our worldviews are founded on rationality, and whilst I think the pursuit of rational reconciliation of intellectual problems is good, and can sometimes help our lives, it's not the highest good. Sometimes it's better to live with unanswered questions, and trust that we can 'grow' into a deeper understanding. Which does, of course, happen all the time (in an exactly parallel way to how science develops, for example). Put differently, I think a religious faith is built 'from the bottom up', ie this is how we live, this is the language we use which shapes our habits (and which we find meaningful). Academic discussions are 'top down', and don't really impact all that severely unless they start to engage with the issues on the ground. It's very rare to reason someone out of a religious perspective. Reason comes a long way after the deed.

PS you shouldn't assume that I'm a 'theist' - I'm not convinced that that is an accurate description of Christian belief: "considering the execution of an innocent man is a more promising starting point for sustaining Christian theology than proving that God exists" (Fergus Kerr)

or

"Life can educate one to a belief in God. And experiences too are what bring this about; but I don't mean visions and other forms of sense experience which show us the 'existence of this being', but, e.g., sufferings of various sorts. These neither show us God in the way a sense impression shows us an object, nor do they give rise to conjectures about him. Experiences, thoughts, - life can force this concept on us. So perhaps it is similar to the concept of 'object'." (Wittgenstein, 1950)

david ellis said...


I think the biggest difference in our perspectives is that I don't believe that our worldviews are founded on rationality


Of course they aren't (at least not perfectly or anything close to it).

Human beings are not naturally all that rational. But that doesn't mean we can't analyze worldviews (our own and those of others) to try to find out if we have valid reasons for thinking a think likely to be true. It doesn't mean we can't struggle to make ourselves and our opinions as rational as possible.



It's very rare to reason someone out of a religious perspective.


Its not frequent. But also not as rare as you might think. Most deconverts from christianity to skepticism (like myself) did so because they saw intellectual problems with their beliefs that they weren't willing to ignore.

And most of us did not find life a bit less meaningful after giving up our belief in supernaturalism.

To use your top down/bottom up comment in a different way, most atheist find that meaning comes from the bottom up, from the intrinsic nature of the experience of life and not imposed from on high.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Rev Sam: We are not interpreting your work in an academic context. We're not nitpicking your terminology, verifying your sources, checking your footnotes, nor are we criticizing the fine details of your supporting arguments.

A non-academic context does not, however, shield you entirely from criticism, especially as you are simply wrong on a number of points and do not engage in anything more than bloviating bullshit to avoid even addressing other points. (And I'm glad you're at least starting to back off on your assertion that atheists are generally more overwhelmed by tragedy and suffering.)

There's value to rigorous academic investigation, but academic expertise is not at all necessary to think and speak clearly, logically, sensibly and without bullshit.

The assertion that our notions of "good" do not apply to God is not an "axiom" in any sense: It is the lack of an axiom. It is, essentially, the dropping of not only omnibenevolence but any sort of benevolence as a characterization of God. But as I mention: Why is a being who is not benevolent deserving of worship? In fact, you drop all characterizations of God.

What then are you arguing for? It's plausible to conclude that you are arguing directly for the value of comforting bullshit. Comforting bullshit might be fine for five-year-olds, but it's an infantile, puerile stance for adults.

You're profoundly mistaken about metaphysics. Rationality is a metaphysical system, a "worldview". Rationality is rationality, it is not based on rationality. You might eschew rationality, but we do not.

Why is it good to live with unanswered questions? How do we "grow" into understanding in some method other than rational reconciliation of intellectual problems? Does this happen by magic?

Your notion that this sort of magical understanding by the toleration of ignorance and the deprecation of intellectual investigation is not in the least parallel with science; I suspect you are profoundly ignorant about the intellectual process of science. The lab coats are not there to enable the priests of science to ritually commune with reality and magically obtain revealed wisdom.

"PS you shouldn't assume that I'm a 'theist' - I'm not convinced that that is an accurate description of Christian belief."

To be honest, I have to agree with you. I don't think you're a theist. I think, based on the arguments you've given that you're nothing but a bullshit artist, and you've successfully conned yourself.

The Barefoot Bum said...

And I frankly don't know why Rev Sam would prefer the logical problem of evil: It forces one, as Rev Sam has shown us, to define one's "god" into pure vacuity and embrace "mystery" (a.k.a. ignorance) as a positive virtue.

James said...

Perhaps its more like this:

P1: God is omniscient
P2: God is omnipotent
P3: God does not concern itself with suffering.
P4: There is suffering

david ellis said...

That isnt an argument. Simply four premises with no conclusion.

James said...

david ellis said...

"That isnt an argument. Simply four premises with no conclusion."

Whatever.

Maybe that's how it is. God could be omniscient, and omnipotent and not involved in human events such as suffering.

david ellis said...

Sure he could.

So far we are agreed that such a deity is logically possible.....

of course, that isn't a very high bar to hurdle.

Stephen Law said...

Let's cut out the insults BB. We're giving Sam a hard enough time as it is...

John W. Loftus said...

I related your discussion of the God of Eth to Hume's Hypothesis of Indifference, here.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Stephen: My sincere apologies. It won't happen again.

Rev Sam said...

A bit more bull, if you're interested.