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Problem of evil - "no-see-um" response

Eric said in a comment on God Delusion chpt 3 below:

It's obvious and observable that people suffer, but it's neither obvious nor observable that the suffering in the world is 'pointless.' Alvin Plantinga has pointed out a flaw in this reasoning with a fun thought experiment: suppose I ask you too look in a tent and tell me if there's a saint bernard inside. In this case, I have every reason to trust what you say, since a saint bernard is just the sort of thing I would expect you to be able to observe inside a tent. But suppose I ask you to look inside and tell me if there are any 'no-see-ums' inside the tent (apparently, a no-see-um is gnat with a big bite that is small enough to pass through the netting of a tent, and so is too small to see). Now, I have no reason to trust your answer in this case, since you can't see no-see-ums. Here's the problem: you're assuming that if there's a reason for our suffering, it's more like a saint bernard than it is like a no-see-um. This, however, is simply assumed; it's not argued for. It is certainly at least possible that we suffer for a reason, but that that reason is not something we can easily detect.

Thought this deserved a fuller response here.

First off, yes it is “at least possible that we suffer for a reason, but that that reason is not something we can easily detect”. “Possible” being the key word. Possible, but not remotely probable, I'd suggest.

After all, it’s also possible this world is the creation of an all-powerful all-evil God, and that there is a reason for the good stuff we find in it – it's just a reason we cannot easily detect. But how probable is that, given the amount of good we find in the world? Highly improbable, of course!

I am running not the logical problem of evil, remember, but the evidential problem (see here). I suspect Plantinga is here responding to the logical problem (is he?).

I certainly don’t think this is a good response to the evidential problem.

Here’s another thought experiment. Suppose we see an adult slowly torturing children to death. We would immediately conclude the adult was not at all good. And for very good reason.

But now suppose we find out that the adult is vastly more intelligent and knowledgeable than us - an alien super-being. Surely, that would not lead us to revise our initial opinion very much.

Yes, perhaps there is some reason why torturing these kids to death is ultimately all for the best, and this being can see that, while we cannot. But that remains highly improbable, surely. The most reasonable conclusion to draw remains that the torturer is not particularly benevolent.

Pointing out the mere possibility that there is some good reason for the torture that we can’t see (not being as intelligent or knowledgeable as the torturer) does very little to weaken the evidence that whatever the torturer is, he ain't entirely loving and benevolent.

Ditto, say, our creator unleashing literally unimaginable quantities of suffering on sentient creatures over hundreds of millions of years.

Perhaps there’s some good reason for it. But the fact remains, the sheer quantity of suffering is still very good evidence that the creator, if he exists, is not supremely benevolent. In which case he is not the Christan god.

Of course, we can and should acknowledge that if there is a limitlessly wise and all-knowing God (whether good or evil), then very probably some of what he does will be mysterious to us.

But that doesn't mean that nothing can count as evidence against his goodness or badness, does it? It doesn't mean that, however heavenly or hellish the world happened to be, it would still not provide us with good evidence for/against the creator's goodness/badness.

If vast quantities of good are excellent evidence he is not all evil - and they surely are - then vast quantities of evil are excellent evidence that he's not all good.

[incidentally, if there is a good reason for the suffering, why could not God explain it? If I inflict pain on my child for good reason - at the dentist, say - I explain why I do so. Failure to explain would be particularly cruel. If there is a good reason for e.g. burying thousands of children alive in Pakistan, why doesn't God explain?]


Anonymous said…

As far as I can see, Plantinga is here responding to the evidential PoE. His tactic seems pretty similar to the one Stephen Wykstra uses in his paper "the Humean obstacle to evidential arguments from suffering" (Int J Phil Rel 16 (1984)). For my part, I think it's a fair answer.
"Suppose we see an adult slowly torturing children to death. We would immediately conclude the adult was not at all good. And for very good reason." I agree (and I tend to agree with the whole of your post) but do you still claim that this is an empirical assessment?
Stephen Law said…
Why is it a fair answer? If it's a patently silly answer when given in response to the problem of good (for the evil God hypothesis)?
Geert A. said…
I don't see the point from Eric's post.
So, if I read correctly what Stephen says, my first reaction would be the same.
Because might be a "no-see-um" terribly improbable "good" reason that small children have to die in terrible pain from smallpox, I'd see as a big hint that there is a "no-see-um" terribly improbable all-good God.
Now, religions like Christianity and Islam claims that their truths are plain and easily recognizable. Eric in fact proves quite the opposite.
Anonymous said…
Hi Stephen,

You seem to be saying that although God (if he exists) may allow suffering he clearly wouldn't allow the amount that we actually see around us, so there is very good evidence that he does not exist.

I think if you concede that there could be good reason for God to allow some suffering then there is a response to this sort of objection.

God may have a reason to allow suffering, but not for each case of suffering. This does not mean that those cases are gratuitous, it is just because of vagueness.

Just as we cannot draw a line between short and tall, it does not mean that those terms are meaningless.

Here is an example:

Principle 1 (P1): It is wrong to lock someone up for any period of time for no reason.

P1 looks very reasonable. I think most people would agree with it. It is ok to lock up people who have committed crimes, but not indefinitely.

There may be a variety of reasons why we lock up criminals: to deter people from commiting crimes, to punish etc...

Now suppose that Bob robs a bank and is given a sentence of 10 years. This does not break P1 because there is a good reason to lock up Bob.

However, Bob could say that his sentence is unjust because a jail sentence of 9 years and 364 days would be an equal deterterent to others and punish him just as much. (I think would be unlikely to see a change in crime figures if all jail sentences were altered by a single day).

It would therefore seem to go against P1 to keep Bob in for that last day. There is no reason for him to be there on that last day, it doesn't acheive anything. However, if we allow this sort of appeal against jail sentences, where would it stop? Once Bob got his jail sentence reduced by a day, he could apply for it to be reduced again and again using the same argument. There is no obvious place for it to end.

Likewise, you can complain that you think on a local level that a certain event of suffering is not acheiving anything, but that does not mean that there is no global reason for suffering, it is just because (like with the jail sentence) the line has to be drawn somewhere.

Maybe, however, you are sitting there thinking that the only reason that we think certain things are vague is because of our limited understanding of the terms we use, and there really is a sharp line between short and tall; and God would know exactly how much suffering is required.

In that case, the amount of suffering in the world is exactly right because God does know the level needed. Just because you can't tell that it is right level does disprove that because, after all, you wouldn't know what height 'only just tall' was even if you'd seen it.

My point is, either there is no 'the right amount of suffering' or if there was, it wouldn't look like the right amount anyway.
Larry Hamelin said…
Let's take a step back.

We want to explain all suffering. We ask: why is there any suffering at all?

Some suffering is easy to explain. Some doof... er... philosopher rides his bike down a mountain, falls off and breaks his clavicle. That's gotta hurt! He's clearly suffering. But he's a smart guy, he knew the risks, and the pleasure he obtained from riding down the mountain outweighed the risk of injury.

We're hypothesizing a lot of "no-see-ums", i.e. unseen things: the guy's smartness, his knowledge, his pleasure, his apprehension of risk. What makes this explanation work is not that our hypotheses are "observable" (i.e. that they're St. Bernards, not no-see-ums) but rather that the explanation is falsifiable, simple and coherent.

The explanation is falsifiable because if we saw something other than what we did see, we would conclude the falsity of one or more of the hypotheses. For example, if

The explanation is simple and consistent because it employs the exact same theories of motivation (and physics) that we apply to bazillion events of everyday life. Beyond the prosaic understanding that individuals have individual specific motivations, we don't need to add any ad hoc hypotheses to talk about this particular event

The God hypothesis, though, fails on all these points. It's not a failed explanation, it's no explanation at all.

"An omnibenevolent god has a justification -- sometimes indiscernable -- for all suffering," is not falsifiable. Nothing we could observe, neither orders of magnitude more or less suffering, universal suffering or no suffering at all, could falsify this hypothesis. No kind of suffering could falsify this hypothesis. (In contrast: if our philosopher developed cancer, we would not consider the cancer to be justified by the pleasure of riding a bike down a mountain).

It's not simple or coherent. This non-explanation doesn't fit in at all with our ordinary understanding of everyday events. We rarely observe events that resist causal explanation, especially on detailed examination. Such inexplicable events are so rare that it's simpler to believe we have lost ordinary information (which fits right in with our prosaic knowledge about time and entropy).

The God hypothesis means that for any observed suffering without a good natural explanation, we must posit a new ad hoc "indiscernible justification".

Furthermore, there is a real logical reason to doubt this explanation of the problem of evil.

All observed suffering, even naturally justified suffering, takes as a fundamental premise our imperfections, ignorance and physical limitations. Riding a bike down a mountain is pleasurable precisely because we are physically limited; it's fun because we're pushing those limits... which requires acknowledging the existence of those limits. The pain of going to the dentist is justified in part because we simply don't know how to do completely painless dentistry. If we did know, we would, of course, do it.

But in what sense can we employ imperfection, ignorance and limitation to God? Whether or not there's some indiscernible justification for some suffering, we must say that god could not achieve the same purpose without suffering. How is such a god "omnipotent" in any sense? This is a god, remember, for whom physical law is not a set of rules but -- like the Pirates' code -- more like a set of guidelines.

If suffering builds character, then why can't a supposedly omnipotent god build character without suffering?

Eve if free will, the ability to make choices, is good, then we're still left with the question: why can't we have free will and no suffering? I can still choose vanilla over chocolate, computer programming over philosophy, working hard and making money over lazing about and having free time, without causing anyone -- myself included -- any suffering at all.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

-- Epicurus
Eli said…
Plantinga himself doesn't really accept this objection, and it should be easy to see why: it can apply to any argument. Let's take his epistemological argument from evolution against naturalism for an example. He assumes (really without anything like the necessary supporting argumentation) that there's no guarantee that evolution supports reliable belief-producing mechanisms. But we can just pull out the no-see-ems response now and say that there might be such a guarantee, just outside of our ability to detect it. Or how about the Kalam cosmological argument? It assumes that nothing exists uncaused, but maybe all the uncaused existences simply happen outside of our sight. This is simply not a rational response to any argument - it's on the level of continuing to ask, in the manner of a two-year-old, "But are you sure?"
Anonymous said…
"This is a god, remember, for whom physical law is not a set of rules but -- like the Pirates' code -- more like a set of guidelines."

Well there is on possibility here - a lot of people, Christians included, will happily allow that God can do anything which is logically possible. So no four sided triangles, married bachelors etc. Ok what if (at least some) physical law stems from logic. Well certainly some of it seems as if it might. Look at all the conservation laws that abound in physics. Mass/energy
angular momentum etc. We don't seem surprised when we can do elementary arithmetic with physical objects, say apples. One apple plus one apple gives you two apples. No surprises at that level, so why not at a more fundamental level? Theoreticians are making some headway here with models of incredibly primitive mathematical objects which give rise to behaviours analogous to certain properties of the physical world. So what if the physical world is build on a set of logical rules? If conservation of mass/energy was logically enforced then something like turning water into an equivalent wine would probably require huge amounts of energy. Certainly enough to lay waste to the immediate area.

It may mean that, sadly for the logical Christians, God is in fact logically powerless to intervene in a useful way, if at all.
Anonymous said…
Hi Stephen,

I only have a moment, so I have to be very brief, but I want to address what seems to me to be a misunderstanding. I don't think Plantinga is presenting this as a 'response' to the problem of evil, but as a response to those who assume without argument that the suffering we experience is 'obviously' pointless. It is certainly true that if there is a point to our suffering, it's not obvious; but it in no way follows that therefore it's obvious that there's no point. It seems to me that this is the essence of Plantinga's response. If this is so, it isn't the case that he's playing the 'mystery' card (though it's hard to deny that there are genuine mysteries, however you view the world). Rather, he's pointing out the fact that the evidential problem of evil rests on a premise that's not usually defended, and that's not very easy to defend.
Anonymous said…
BB "If suffering builds character, then why can't a supposedly omnipotent god build character without suffering?"

I tried something like this once before:

Take the example of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens' story. His character was changed through suffering which occurred in a dream. There were several sorts of suffering involved and Scrooge had his character improved by observing both the effects of his past and probable future actions on others and his own ghastly fate as a result. Scrooge himself suffered mental anguish at the thought of what befell Tiny Tim.

Firstly, the dream shows that suffering is not necessary to benefit other people's character. Some have argued that suffering allows others to show charity,empathy etc which is good for them. Not directly the point but worth disposing of along the way.

Now one can argue that Scrooge did in fact suffer in the dream and this was character building. Note that his improved disposition carried through to the waking world and his subsequent life was presumably much better. The suffering in dream form seems to be at least as good as the real thing in this regard provided the dreamer does not realize what's going on. It may even do the trick regardless. Scrooge was after all aware that he was being shown a possible future.

Moral improvement through dreams has the advantage that it does not have detrimental physical after-effects unlike broken bones, cancer, earthquakes and various other forms of painful death. Surely an improved, able bodied individual is better for themselves and society than a noble corpse? At the very least if a vision of some grisly end fails in its intended inspirational effect on one occasion there will be other nights. Not so for being eaten by a crocodile in real life.

(i) why doesn't all moral tutelage through suffering, if it is needed, happen in dreams?
(ii) If we can show a single instance of suffering which could have occurred in a dream to achieve the same character building effect, wouldn't we seem to have shown that character building is not a valid justification in the logical problem of evil?
Isn't the possibility of a purpose to suffering sort of a thin thread to be doing one's metaphysical tightrope walking on? Only in theology is the possibility of something proof positive of its certainty.
Jac said…

Another question: why wouldn't the god create humans with built-in character? Why all the need for character building?
Larry Hamelin said…
kyle s: The evidentiary argument is not that the justification of some suffering is vague, the argument is that there's no discernable justification at all.

We're not talking about how much pain one must suffer for a toothache, we're talking about how there's no discernable reason whatsoever that anyone should suffer at all in many circumstances -- such as a child having some excruciating and inevitably fatal cancer.

We're not asking how much child cancer is too much, we're asking for what conceivable reason there should be child cancer at all.

In that case, the amount of suffering in the world is exactly right because God does know the level needed.

First of all, you can justify any degree of suffering of any kind with this argument. It's not an explanation at all, it's an excuse. We want to know why the amount of suffering is as it is, and not somehow different.

Why should an omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity need any suffering at all, even "justified" suffering (which is, of course, fundamentally justified only by our imperfection and ignorance)? Why should there be any correct level?
Rayndeon said…

Plantinga intended those response towards the *evidential* problem of evil. The idea that Daniel Howard-Snyder, Stephen Wykstra, William Alston, Michael Bergmann, Michael Rea, Alvin Plantinga, and many, many other theistic philosophers have is that we should not expect to know God's reasons for apparently gratuitous evil under theism. This is the thesis of skeptical theism of course. The idea is that "God's ways are higher than our ways" so since we should not expect to find out God's reasons for allowing evil, the existence of evil does not provide probabilistic confirmation of the nonexistence of God. The ways of formulating differ, but the basic idea remains the same.

I think this is all wildly flawed (I personally think skeptical theism straightforwardly leads to global skepticism for instance and I find Wykstra's CORNEA to be massively flawed) and I think your basic intuition *is* right - it just needs to be spelled out a bit more than what you did here, IMO.



P.S. Incidentally, I think the logical problem of evil is a good one too!
Paul P. Mealing said…
Look at literature, biographies, any storytelling; they all involve a character, or protagonist, overcoming adversity - it's a universal theme. No one would read a book, or watch a movie, that didn't involve someone dealing with adversity or conflict.

Everyone is shaped by how they respond to obstacles in their life, as Viktor Frankl pointed out in his book, 'Man's Search for Meaning'. This is not an apology for evil, far from it, it's simply a fact of life. The reason we get wiser as we get older, is not because we learn more about the world so much as we learn more about ourselves, and we only do that by facing our fears and our failures.

Regards, Paul.
Spherical said…
Long story short...

29 reindeer were released on St. Matthew Island. There were no predators or disease, they were expected to flourish and did for a while. The herd grew to over 6,000 from 1944 to 1964. By 1966, there were only 42 left. With no "evil problems," these animals had in a rather short time grew to such a level that the island could not longer support themselves, and within 2 years they had eaten themselves out of existence.

Just because we do not see the reason behind all suffering, even the "millions of years" of animal suffering, doesn't mean that it is without reason. And maybe it's not so much a matter of not seeing the reason for suffering as it is a matter of not wanting to see it.

For the longer version:
Jac said…

That seems like the long way of saying that suffering is there for character building. If an omnibenevolent god wanted us to have character, why not create us with character instead of making us suffer?
Paul P. Mealing said…
Hi Jackie,

I don't defend an omnibenevolent god - god is a projection in my view, as Ludwig Feuerbach (19th Century) once said.

All I am saying is that this is life. If you go through life's journey without learning something about yourself, then you've wasted it. And all stories deal with this theme one way or another, though, obviously, some better than others.

Regards, Paul.
Spherical said…

Just a thought: What if perhaps had we all been created with character, we would then be asking the question, Why don't I have a choice?
This comment has been removed by the author.
Spherical, interesting response.

I suppose your argument would be refuted if we could only think of an entity in the universe that is both powerful and benevolent and simultaneously got that way without any character building experiences. Any coming to mind for you?
Geert A. said…

Why did "the benevolent God" not "design" nature in such way that suffering is not needed to keep animal populations in check? Because you describe perfectly how nature regulates itself without God.

So, in other words, we know why there is 'evil' in nature, why did God "design" it that way?

Note that if nature isn't designed, all this 'evil' is all too logical. It's the cold, hard battle for resources.

And about 'character building' argument: what character was built in a child when it dies from Polio of small pox? Or are you going to call the parent's trauma "character building"? Or a test of faith?
Anonymous said…
jackie - Well I agree that creation with added character would seem sensible but it has been argued that the only way to get the result is to have gone through the process - as a logical requirement.

This puts a limitation on Gods powers but as I have said many Christians at least are OK with that. It seems rather weak in view of the observation that many do not seem to suffer much in their lives. Some of these people exhibit undesirable character, so it cannot be that they would not benefit from improvement. Is is that they are hopeless cases and cannot benefit? If this is the case then that implies that God knows it's a waste of time even trying. Fair enough but it would rather seem to diminish any culpability these people have in regard to their character flaws.

What about the problem of those who die suddenly and painlessly in infancy? They are given no opportunity to exhibit certain character traits nor suffer in a "beneficial" way. Are these hopeless cases too? If so then how early can this defect be spotted? This gets entangled with the strange ideas of ensoulment. If you can spot a person/soul with the "unfixable" flaw early, why stuff it into a body in the first place? If you (logically) need to do so in order to examine it for problems that would appear to set further limits on Gods power both in respect to the created souls and his ability to investigate and manipulate them. Indeed it seems to set limits on his abilities w.r.t the physical world. Why is He unable to run a credible simulation sufficient to test the soul for "fixability"? Perhaps this too is a logical necessity.

It would seem that either God's abilities to act in the Universe both physical and spiritual are rather limited once we start appealing to logical necessity as a justification, or else His nature is capricious, indifferent or simply mindless. Not so much "Mad, Bad or God" but "Mad or Bad God"
Martin Cooke said…
Stephen: "if there is a good reason for the suffering, why could not God explain it? If I inflict pain on my child for good reason - at the dentist, say - I explain why I do so"
Nice point (Rowe says something similar in response to Skeptical Theism), but some things just cannot be explained, though. Suppose you inflict pain on a hoodie-child, to get them to behave. You can tell them that it is a punishment, but you can hardly explain the truth of what you are doing (the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, of course) to them. Hell, you may not even understand all of it yourself.
Or suppose you are getting your kid to play sport (because it is good for her) and she complains about the pain. You do not so much explain why suffering is necessary (you may not know all about that yourself), but you may repeat what you told her earlier, about the value of sport and how much fun it can be. She may be unimpressed by the latter when she is wet and miserable, and she may not have the ability to fully grasp the former. She is only a kid.
So, the question is, how much has God told us. The answer is quite a lot - more than Dawkins seems to realise, and more than anyone who dismisses religion because of the problem of evil will ever realise. So your position begs the question...
anticant said…
As there is no convincing evidence that God exists, he/she/it hasn't told us anything and all the theistic twaddle of people like enigman is meaningless.
Anonymous said…
"Or suppose you are getting your kid to play sport (because it is good for her) and she complains about the pain. "

It's often good advice when you get pain playing sport to stop. (Like when you go mountain biking...). There are plenty of ways of encouraging kids to partake in physical activity if the aim is just fitness. Some of them are even available indoors. No need to be wet and miserable.

Of course if you want some sort of Soviet era gymnast whose bones crumble in their 30's go right ahead.
Geert A. said…

Putting that some things "cannot be explained" is playing the "mystery card" and frankly, this only proves the irrationality of 'evil'.

If you punish a child and he doesn't understand why, he's simply not learning and punishment is pointless.

Moreover, to use a technique of another theist on this forum:
Prove me that an omnipotent God cannot explain His reasons clearly enough for a sentient being to understand.
Anonymous said…
It seems to me that what the theists are trying to point out is that the 'problem of evil' argument (why would a good God allow evil/suffering, and so much of it, to exist?) as evidence against the existence of God(s) is unsound as it presupposes that we have the ability to understand the workings of God(s). I think this is a valid point. I don't think that the existence of suffering/evil is either good evidence or good argument against the existence of God. If He/Them exists, we may very well be too limited in our capacities to understand.
Anonymous said…
terence - It is evidence against a particular kind of God. If you accept that God is just way beyond human understanding then thats OK as far as it goes but you then cant really support some of the claims for particular attributes of God e.g. "loving" certainly not in the human sense (and lets face it if we cannot recognize it as such it must surly be something else), We cannot support the idea that "we are made in His image" either.
Rayndeon said…
Enigman: So, the question is, how much has God told us. The answer is quite a lot - more than Dawkins seems to realise, and more than anyone who dismisses religion because of the problem of evil will ever realise. So your position begs the question...

While I think there are better responses to skeptical theism, as Daniel Howard-Snyder and others note, this straightforwardly raises the problem of hiddenness for Alston's parent-child analogies. Even though a child may not understand the actions of the parent, the parent is invariably *comforting* to the child through their pain.

I think *this* counter-argument to skeptical theism can be defeated by skeptical theism itself viz. "God's comforting us" would fall under the sorts of things as "Why the heck do you suppose we should get to have this or know this, etc." Of course, it loses the parent analogy.

Admittedly though, I think there are much more serious problems for skeptical theism.
Jac said…

Evil/suffering only requires an explination if you assume the existence omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient god. Since you seemed to be trying to explain suffering, I thought you were trying to defend the existence that god.
Anonymous said…
I have to reiterate what I wrote earlier: this is not an example of playing 'the mystery card.' Rather, it's a challenge to the premise that suffering is obviously and observably pointless. Again, it's certainly true that it's not obvious that there's any point to our suffering, but it doesn't follow that it's obvious there's no point. It seems to me that the evidential problem of evil is weakened when we move from 'obviously pointless suffering' to 'suffering without an obvious point.' I'm not saying that it's no longer a problem; of course it is. I'm just saying that Plantinga's insight weakens the force of the argument noticeably.

I would also like to quickly address the notion of the 'quantity' of suffering. I don't think it's as clear as it prima facie seems. Imagine two worlds: in the first world, every sentient being experiences pain equivalent to, say, a paper cut; in the second world, only one being experiences pain, but it experiences maximal pain. It's not clear that whether, given some 'suffering calculus,' in which world the 'quantity' of pain is greater. Or, imagine that there are 100 billion sentient beings in the first world, all of who experience the paper cut pain, and only one being in the second world, who experiences maximum suffering. Does it matter if we add another 100 billion beings to the first world? Again, it doesn't seem to me to be at all clear in what sense we're to understand the notion of the 'quantity' of suffering. The very idea seems to raise all sorts of puzzles.
If god is beyond our capacity to understand, then what's the point of belief or worship? A god beyond our ken is near-worthless.

What a pernicious concept. A faith so unprovable can be used to justify anything, even pain and suffering. And that faith, since it is so nebulous, is difficult, if not impossible, to kill.

But by being so unprovable, so unfathomable, that faith might as well be nihilism. To claim otherwise is to project one's desires on to that faith; a theist commits the very sin of attempting to comprehend god that they claim the atheist commits. Bah.
Eli said…
eric, what does "obvious" mean for you? Can you give me some obvious truths? But make sure that they're totally and completely invulnerable to this no-see-em tactic, because then I'll just tell you what you've been telling us.
Sally_bm said…
I'm not convinced that the evidential problem, working on the sheer SCALE of evil, is the way forward. It suggests that a little suffering would be OK, because there could be a reward good enough to justify it. Which suggests that MORE suffering could be born if the reward was a bit better. And so on and so forth. And although the worse the suffering, the harder it is to imagine a reward that could justify it, with an all-powerful God handing out the prizes, it seems more like a something we can't imagine than something that can't be the case. I'm really not sure that God's existence IS made significantly unlikely by the need for a great reward from Him.

To me, it all just looks too unjust for this perfect being to be in charge of it all. And I don't see why ANY suffering would need to be born if God really is all-powerful. he's all-powerful: he can give us the reward without the suffering. If not, he's not all-powerful, which contradicts most Christians' beliefs.

Argh, the idea of "all-powerful" makes no sense anyway...
Paul P. Mealing said…
Hi Jackie.

I've written an entire essay on this subject if you're really interested.

My thesis, in a nutshell, is that evil is a psychological/evolutionary problem, not a religious one.

Regards, Paul.
Anonymous said…
Paul, I read your blog and can you tell me if I understand your theory correctly...

1. Evil arises from the fact that we are tribal by nature, so it is a type of defense mechanism for survival.
2. When threatened, this enhances the "evil" within us, brings it out in greater quantities.
3. It is the ability to think that actually makes our actions evil.
4. Evil is a perversion because we can justify it.

On #4, can you explain what evil is a perversion of?

Paul P. Mealing said…
Hi Just Wondering,

One has to define what evil is, and I define it as a human condition specifically, because we can (and do) rationalise it. A spider is not evil because she eats her mate; that's part of her nature.

As Aristotle said, it's our nature to reason and we use reason to justify the evil that we do. And that is what makes it a perversion because the people who commit atrocities always argue that it serves some greater good.

Now the 'good' maybe to enact some revenge or to rid the world of some group who are doing harm, or something similar, but the most common justification is to protect territory or resources or just a cultural identity.

When someone values something that they believe is worth dying for, that means they also believe it's worth killing for, and that's when good can tip over into evil, hence it is always a perversion of good (if that answers your point 4 question).

The evolutionary heritage comes from the fact that many species, especially predatory species, are territorial, which is nature's way of preserving resources. We are one such species, which is why the ingroup-outgroup mentality, essential for evil to become manifest and justifiable, is so easily aroused.

I hope this clarifies my position rather than confuses you.

Regards, Paul.
Geert A. said…

In my posts, I put 'evil' between quotes. That's because 'evil' and 'good' as theists see it, simply does not exist. In ethics, there is morally right and wrong

But 'sin', 'good' and 'evil' in a religion is intended to give our actions some cosmic relevance, a magical degree of divine importance.

But that does not mean we cannot do the 'Problem of evil', because this problem is just a proof from the contrary: given God is good (deist's definition), how do you account for evil (deist's definition)?
Martin Cooke said…
anticant: As there is no convincing evidence that God exists, he/she/it hasn't told us anything and all the theistic twaddle of people like enigman is meaningless.
That is what I mean by begging the question; that is an example, because just because God has not told you anything that you can (yet) recognise does not even mean that he has not told you anything, but most crucially it does not mean that he has not told us anything, where 'us' refers to the linguistic community within which meaning resides.

geert arys: Prove me that an omnipotent God cannot explain His reasons clearly enough for a sentient being to understand.
There are a range of possibilities, depending upon what those reasons are. I can prove that such could be the case by giving you one example. Such a God could have entered into a covenant with all of us, before our souls were incarnated here. Note that I am not saying that I can prove that we are souls, etc. This is an example. In such a case God would be morally bound by that covenant. And it is quite reasonable to suppose that we are such as would have entered into such a covenant for a good reason (e.g. as sketched here).

rayndean: Even though a child may not understand the actions of the parent, the parent is invariably *comforting* to the child through their pain.
But the complaint was that God had not told us anything about the reasons. Of course God's mere presence would be comforting. And there are a lot of claims by theists that God is indeed so present, even to those who do not recognise him as such. (Sometimes such people have psychological collapses, when something they did not even realise they had goes away - there are physicalistic accounts of such collapses, but they are certainly there.)

And so forth - thanks for your replies to my unworthy comment; I shall look forward to a really difficult one, one day (maybe from Stephen (and thanks for the interesting posts, Stephen))...
Paul P. Mealing said…
To Geert,

I'm not sure I can address your query, as I'm not sure I understand it properly, but I'll try.

In a much earlier post, possibly discussing Dawkins' The God Delusion Ch.2 (or perhaps earlier still), I did postulate an alternative view that resolves the problem of evil 'theistically'.

Instead of God as Creator or progenitor of the universe, God is the end result. It's not a popular idea with theists or atheists, but it provides an answer to your question if I understand it correctly. And it gives it the 'cosmic significance' that you allude to.

However, it doesn't alleviate the problem of evil from humanity, which is the context I was discussing it in.

Regards, Paul.
Anonymous said…
enigman - "just because God has not told you anything that you can (yet) recognise does not even mean that he has not told you anything"

So if I tell you something in a language that I know you do not understand like say "지뢰 지대의 조심하십시오" that still counts as a telling you something does it?

This is not a genuine attempt at communication it is simply giving myself the opportunity to say (with no real conviction), "I told you so." afterwards or to feel smug when you are to exert yourself in getting a translation.

If I wish I can go further and "tell" you things in a private language for which no translation is available or in a communications medium you are unable to perceive such as ultrasonic whistles or emission of pheromones undetectable to humans.

Alternatively I can "tell" you things in an ambiguous way. If only I am privy to the knowledge which allows this to be resolved, I have not told you anything much have I?
Anonymous said…
paul p mealing - Does the "God as a process" idea fall under the banner of deism as it appears to be a time-reversed version of the more conventional variety?

If true, does it have any implications at all for us in the current time. That is to say, can we influence the end point in any way or is it simply inevitable and th only matter up for grabs is how long it will take? A bit like repeatedly shuffling a pack of cards until you deal yourself a perfect hand at which point the game is over.
Paul P. Mealing said…
Hi Wombat,

By the way, are you a marsupial?

I have to admit I've never considered the 'god as process' the way you describe it. I don't know, to be honest. I actually don't think it's important.

The only thing that's important as far as I am concerned is what someone thinks about humanity - what they think about 'god' is ancillary to that, not the other way round.

Regards, Paul.
Anonymous said…

Thanks for the clarification, although it does raise further questions.

If evil is the perversion of good, how does one define good? I am assuming that there is no god of any type in the picture since evil is purely a human condition. And if we were, as you suggest, to view God as an end result rather than the creator, what impact does this have on our understanding of good and evil?

Also, this seems to be a different definition of evil than Stephen holds to. How could millions of years of animal suffering be evil if evil is only a human condition? Or do you still see that as an appropriate argument?
Paul P. Mealing said…
Just Wondering,

I'm not sure where to stop this. On a definition of evil, I can't speak for Stephen. Personally, I see evil as a human condition because it involves morality and I don't think we can impose our moral values on the animal kingdom. What Stephen is talking about, perhaps, is suffering, which is not synonymous with evil in my view.

I don't attempt to reconcile suffering with 'god' because I don't believe in god as 'the Creator'. God is a subjective experience which is open to interpretation to the person who has it, so I think the best description of 'god' is as a projection not unlike Ludwig Feuerbach's quotation: 'God is the outward projection of man's inner nature'.

This is also consistent with the idea of 'god as a process', but I don't claim that this is the 'Truth'; just an alternative way of looking at theism. I don't even claim that there is a 'god' outside the concept that exists in a human mind.

As I've said previously, a belief in God is not something I judge people by.

If you don't understand what I mean by evil being the perversion of good then I'm not sure I can explain it more clearly. It's more that evil is a perversion, because in its grossest form, people justify it as being good. I thought I explained it very well in my blog, to be honest.

Regards, Paul.
Eli said…
enigman, are you not getting the point of Stephen's argument?

"...just because God has not told you anything that you can (yet) recognise does not even mean that he has not told you anything, but most crucially it does not mean that he has not told us anything, where 'us' refers to the linguistic community within which meaning resides."

Likewise, just because Evil God has not told you anything that you can (yet) recognize etc. Are you now convinced that Evil God is just as likely as Good God?

As for your ad-hoc covenant hypothesis - for which there is no evidence and which could not ever be proven - it begs the question. In order for God to enter into any morally binding covenant, it must be the best (or, at least, one of the best) available options for God. In putting forward this hypothesis, you assume that a covenant which interrupts moral perfection could be morally justifiable. That is, you assume that moral variety of the sort we see now (i.e., that includes vast amounts of wrongdoing) is, at worst, morally equivalent to any other of God's options. This is precisely what we have asked you to prove, though! Rather than explaining what reason there could possibly be for allowing moral imperfection, all you've done is constructed an exceedingly complicated story in which, if you can rationalize moral imperfection, everything works out okay for you. Why are we supposed to be convinced by this?
Martin Cooke said…
wombat, your examples do indeed seem to be examples of a failure to communicate; but are you suggesting that there is no way in which I could be communicating with you rather well (or you with me) and yet failing to get my (your) point across, because (for example) of intellectual laziness on your (my) part? (Surely you think this is possible, that I am failing to understand you because of my willful self-delusion, not because your expressive weakness?) I might ask you to try harder to see the other's pov, and you might tell me that I am a rubbish teacher, but surely it is not always a case of the latter, for everyone.

larryniven, you are not supposed to be convinced, of course; but I was hoping for a motion of a degree of belief somewhere. Regarding the further details you asked for, they are provided in the essay linked to in that comment, and consequently my hypothesis did not beg the apposite question. (That essay is not, of course, supposed to answer everyone's worries by itself, to convince even a reasonable agnostic; but I can of course answer any worries not answered already within it)... Re your "likewise," I fail to see any parity at all. Evil God has no moral obligation to explain as much as he can to his creatures, for example. Furthermore I do think that the fact that I have not been talked to by an evil being who claims to be a God does not make it impossible - or even especially unlikely, by itself - that others have been plagued by demons doing just that; and indeed, nor does it mean that the Devil has not been throwing subliminal temptations at me. But I don't see how that is apposite (would it be too much trouble to explain how it is, if it is?)...

geert, re your If you punish a child and he doesn't understand why, he's simply not learning and punishment is pointless.
Why assume that the suffering of this world is a punishment? I would say that most of it is a side-effect of a situation that we chose to enter into. God does not explain it to us because he respects our decision to be here (and because we can work it out for ourselves if we really want to). But where there is punishment, I'm not sure that you are right anyway. If all punishment is for reform, you are right, and I am attracted to that ideal, but I don't think it is realistic. E.g. you can punish a child to put others off evil-doing, so long as they understand why. The punished child could be criminally insane but charismatic, for example. Or you might punish in such a way retributively, in theory, if the child is old enough to be responsible and if ignorance would be just, e.g. if the crime involved deception. And finally, the child might understand enough but not everything, e.g. that he did something to avoid repeating, and so come to work out what it was over the next few days; or maybe just feel uneasy the next time the opportunity to be similarly bad arises, making the next punishment more effective, etc.
Martin Cooke said…
Sorry for that tangentiality... I just wanted to give a possible reason why God would be morally obliged to say as little as the evidence suggests he has (i.e. next to nothing to most of us directly) about the suffering of the world, in reply to Stephen's parenthetical question, because such a moral obligation could be why God cannot explain the reason for the suffering within his creation.

In brief, such an obligation could follow from God allowing us to enter into a world remote from him in order to facilitate an empirical investigation (i.e. into God's uniqueness, as sketched out in the essay aforelinkedto - basically, by becoming more distant from—while belonging to (since originating in) and hence longing for—what is now transcendent (and heavenly) we expected to become more sensitive to any divinity that exists).

And by allowing us to be in a remote place for a short while (where our minds would be the product of our souls being encumbered by our brains, so that little could be explained for the duration anyway) he has agreed not to intervene very much. The extent to which things could get bad before intervention would have been decided by our souls before incarnation. God agreeing to our request binds him morally not to intervene until such a point is reached. He could pop in and tell us everything we could grasp through a lesser-dimensional sketch of himself within his creation, but if he did that he might as well just destroy the world and take us all to Heaven, since that would ruin the remoteness that we requested.
Anonymous said…

Thanks again for your response. I think I understand your definition of evil, especially as it relates to the idea of being a perversion of good. I guess my question was, how do we define good then. You said, that evil in its grossest form is justified by being called good.

So in a situation where this happens, say the 9/11 attacks, I am sure those flying the planes justified their deeds in such a manner, therefore saying they had done a good thing. Others viewed it as evil. Of course, some view America as the land of opportunity, others as the great Satan (land of evil). It appears that your interpretation of good or evil acts may come down to which side of the water you live on. In some ways it would appear that evil and good could then be the same thing. Do you think this a possibility?
Eli said…
"Regarding the further details you asked for, they are provided in the essay linked to in that comment"

If you can find them there, more power to you - I read it and didn't see any. I think, provisionally, that you're just saying this to get me off your case. It's yet another unproven apologetic conceit that "distance" in some sense from God makes for sin, but again you have failed to provide a reason why that's true, why we should consider our increased appreciation of God's divinity (which, incidentally, most of us don't even have) as morally outweighing the contract itself (or even as being morally good), why we should expect such a vast amount of wrongdoing, and so on. This kind of explanation simply does not sufficiently establish its premises: eventually, you must assume outright that it's better to have the evil we have (or something that entails it) than it would be not to have the evil we have. Let's try this: can you construct a general morality in which this proposed covenant is acceptable? A series of moral equations, so to speak, for which this covenant is a solution? You haven't done it yet, your article hasn't done it yet - in fact, nobody in the history of Christianity has done it yet.

"Evil God has no moral obligation to explain as much as he can to his creatures, for example."

Ah - so you think Evil God is more likely, therefore, than Good God? Because, as you so rightly point out, Evil God need not justify itself, so there are more prima facie reasons to doubt Good God. Do try to keep the comparison in mind, though: do your defenses of Good God work also for Evil God? So far, they do.
Anonymous said…
enigman - Re "...examples of a failure to communicate..."

Several points really here.

Firstly, if there is no common language available is there any point in you trying to "tell" someone anything? Surely there must at least be the possibility of successful communication. If not, you are just making a noise/doodling/emitting random scents.

Secondly at what point does the activity complete? If I type into this PC to tell you something, when have I told you it? Is it when I finish typing the text, when I press the submit button, when you read the text on your screen or when you understand the words? Until I get some acknowledgment from you I can't really know if I have told you anything. The best I can say is that once I have hit the submit button I am in the process of "trying to tell you".

Quite rightly you point to the possibility that I might not understand what you have attempted to communicate even if I am in principle capable of doing so either because I am a poor student or the massage was (obviously) insufficiently clear. Most people in this situation would ask for further clarification I expect, but you could at least get an acknowledgment of the fact that I had received your message, that it was presented in an intelligible form and that I recognized it as a message.

Take the example of an adult(A) telling a small child(C) something important.

A - "Remember- belladonna is toxic"

C - simply looks baffled.

A - "You are not to eat the dark purple berries because they are poisonous"

C - "OK"

A - "OK What?"

C - "What you just said"

A - "...and that was?"

C - "not to eat the purple berries because they are poisonous"

A - "And do you know what poisonous means?"

C - "If you eat it you get sick."

A - "OK now run along...."

At what point in this dialogue would you consider that the child has been "told"? The adult realises that it is not enough to have simply said the words, it is also necessary that they have been heard and understood.

In the examples earlier I assumed that the receiver of the message would act in good faith and at least try to understand.

In the usual run of things I might well allow that in a tutorial situation there might well be a failure to educate either because of my inadequacy or laziness as a student or the shortcoming of the tutor but even in this situation I would realize that I had been spoken to in my own language using words that I recognised. However in the man/God case I would have thought it safe to assume that God was a fairly compelling speaker and took some care to understand His audience. Better yet He has the opportunity and means to equip them with sufficient brainpower and a good nights sleep beforehand, make sure the all the visual aids work correctly and get the handouts back from the printers on time.
Anonymous said…
enigman - re "distance from" and "covenant" etc. You seem to be on the lines of "The Matrix as Metaphysics" here. God is running the simulation and has agreed not to break in until our game is over. Its a totally awesome simulation so we don't spot pixels missing and so on. Totally life like and realistic. The difference I think you are claiming between us and most of the Matrix inhabitants in the film is that we volunteered. Possibly even paid for it - how can we tell?

Leave aside for the moment that there is a conspicuous absence of suitably coloured pills or special phone boxes and no-one would ever go in for this sort of thing willingly unless there was a get out option. Consider instead the information flow between the sim and the real world (whatever that looks like). When we enter the sim we are effectively mind-wiped. Can you remember life outside. Signing up? Paying the beardy guy before he put the goggles on and fitted the electrodes? No? I can't. So amnesia it is. Presumably this will enhance the experience as we'll find it all the more believable.

OK what about when we leave the sim?
Do we remember anything? If we don't then its all been a complete waste so why would we sign up? Of course we must remember. Even the suffering. Sure maybe at least some of us are thrill junkies like the guys that play games that give you electric shocks or out and out S&M fans who like that sort of thing and ticked those options on the order form. Ok that handles the natural evil. Any suffering due to earthquakes plague etc. is part of the script and what we wanted. Even though our minds have been blanked so that we cant even remember how much we enjoyed that sort of stuff? Hmm... What about the man made evil then. Other players can do stuff to us that we don't want. Even the people who didn't tick the "I like pain" box can be made to suffer. Totally realistic pain and suffering. Real to them at the time it happens and which they get to remember in the "real world". They are not going to be pleased. What about those poor players who get subjected to so much pain they lose it totally. Everything from post traumatic stress to drooling insanity. They're going to remember that too.

Would you sanction such a simulation?
Would you want to belong to a world where people are queuing up for a go on this simulator?
Paul P. Mealing said…
Hello Just Wondering.

The whole point to my thesis that I wrote on my blog: my starting point and end point; is that any one of us can commit evil given the right circumstances. And it starts with identity: the ingroup-outgroup mentality. As a previous Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, once commented in a television interview, evil always starts by assigning all of a society’s ills to a specific group of people.

In regard to 9/11, the main difference between Islamic fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists is geography. After the attacks, there were Christian fundamentalists who actually agreed with the terrorists (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson come to mind) by saying that the attacks were ‘God’s punishment’ on an evil American society.

I was in America at the time of the attacks, and I remember reading a commentary in USA Today, by a fundamentalist preacher, that the new Harry Potter film (just released immediately after) was a symptom of the ills that caused the 9/11 catastrophe. As the Americans themselves say: 'Go figure.'

American fundamentalists will tell you that homosexuality is evil, so it’s a word or label that can easily justify prejudice. The biblical ‘God’ commits genocide yet few people attempt to reconcile that with the ‘problem of evil’. In fact, that very statement will have me labelled as a bigot by some people.

‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are not tangible attributes yet we all think we know what they are. But when the President of the United States can justify breaking the Geneva Convention you have to wonder.

Regards, Paul.
anticant said…

"The communication is the message received.

"I know you believe you understand what you think I said,

"But I'm not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant."
Spherical said…

I think that there is a lot more truth in that than most people realize.
Geert A. said…

About your "covenant", I do not see how this "covenant" could be anything else but imposed by God. We're speaking here about a 'contract' between all-mighty all-knowingness and in comparison petty, insignificant and especially unknowing (and thus innocent) souls.

One might imagine a comity of the best lawyers in the world making a contract with a 2 your old.

So, this only shifts the problem in: why would God impose on us a cruel contract?
Anonymous said…
larryniven, the thing is, I don't have to explain everything in my essay, no more than Dawkins has to explain the details of how matter gives rise to consciousness before he puts forward his theory. I took that to be obvious.

wombat, I don't saction anything!
Eli said…
No, you don't have to answer every question in your initial essay - that would require your essay to be infinitely long and I don't really have the time to read an infinitely long essay. But if I ask you questions about it, you do have to (if you want to be taken seriously) address them. Dawkins - or any competent proponent of evolution - will do this, even if it means saying that he doesn't yet know. You, though, don't seem to want to do that; rather, you prefer to do the minimum amount of work necessary to deflect the initial argument and then declare victory. But that's not philosophy, it's sophistry. I reiterate: find me an argument that I couldn't pull that same trick with.
Anonymous said…
larryniven, answers to such questions take time (of course). I can ask you similar questions that you cannot answer. How can awareness arise from any degree of complexity of material particles interacting according to the known laws of physics? Prima facie it cannot - and while you can say that evolved apes would not be expected to understand such things, theists have a similar response, in that we are souls operating within the confines of brains, or that we are fallen creatures operating in depraved ways. If you then ask about how depravity (or distance etc.) could lead to operational malfunctioning, you are missing the point (which is quite general, and applies to science as much as to theology). Answers to questions take time. The history of science is a long history, that has answered only a few questions to date. Now, there is an interesting question about what counts as an explanation (which arose on Ch4 comments). When has someone (who cannot give all the answers) explained something? The short answer is, never, but that is also the wrong answer. I show there is a way in which God's obscurity could be morally justified. What you have failed to do - as yet - is show that there is even a way in which material complexity could give rise to awareness (Pots and Kettles :-)
Anonymous said…
larryniven - but also, I don't want to be taken seriously by you. You are a bit lazy (and rude) when you call me lazy. I wanted to answer Stephen's question, that is all. There are then further questions, answers to which I shall publish as and when I think of them. They may be no good, but the immediate question is whether the answer I gave to Stephen's question is any good as such - as an answer to that question (not to the further ones). Maybe it is not; but maybe it is. You just raised a fog of irrelevancies, and that is pure sophistry!

You don't let the fact that there is no evolutionary explanation (at all) of animals who are awake, who are aware, put you off your belief that evolution explains life on Earth, do you? And people like Dawkins play such things down as much as possible, whilst playing up evil. (That is pure sophistry!) But I am not sophisticated. And I like the theory of evolution as far as it goes. I think it is a scientific explanation of many things. But therefore I did not (and still do not) see why I have to address the fact that there are lots of questions that I am not addressing when I put forward an explanation of anything.

Do some real science yourself, and then call me lazy.
Eli said…
"I can ask you similar questions that you cannot answer. How can awareness arise from any degree of complexity of material particles interacting according to the known laws of physics? Prima facie it cannot - and while you can say that evolved apes would not be expected to understand such things"

Except for, I can answer that question, at least as soon as you understand what you mean by awareness. It'd be nice if you were more specific, but for the time being, I'll just give you the cliff notes version of the whole thing: the basic forces of the universe are such that atoms (statistically?) must form large objects, like stars and planets. Once that happens, the preconditions for life are satisfied. Given the huge (seriously, huge) number of planets, it's really quite likely that life would arise from non-life just by chance. Once that happens, awareness has basically been satisfied, depending (again) on your definition of the term - sentience is just a better kind of this awareness, not something in another category. But which part of this do you not get? What, specifically, is your objection? How do you mean that prima facie this is impossible - prima facie it has happened. Also, please note the difference between what I said I would say if I could not answer your question ("I don't know") and what you're saying I must say ("I cannot know"). The disanalogy here is exactly the one I pointed out: you don't care to know and you're using that as a shield. The name for that, once again, is sophistry.

"I show there is a way in which God's obscurity could be morally justified."

No you haven't? You suggested a sketch as to a way that it could be justified, only that sketch only makes sense locally. View it in a broader context and it immediately fails to make sense.

"What you have failed to do - as yet - is show that there is even a way in which material complexity could give rise to awareness"

You hadn't even asked me yet, you twit! This is hardly a fair criticism or comparison. It is, however, perfect sophistry.

"also, I don't want to be taken seriously by you."

Then congratulations!

"There are then further questions, answers to which I shall publish as and when I think of them. They may be no good, but the immediate question is whether the answer I gave to Stephen's question is any good as such - as an answer to that question (not to the further ones)."

Then admit for the time being that you don't know! That's all I ask, but you don't seem to want to do it. Again, these other questions I've asked are not really different from Stephen's initial question: they're simply more specific versions aimed at your specific attempt at an answer. I repeat, in order for God to morally accept an agreement like the one you propose, there must already be a reason for God to allow evil - in other words, your solution doesn't answer the exact question it's supposed to. Your proposed bargain does absolutely no work in your proof. As this is a logical fallacy, I thought it might be wise for you to at least try it again - but you haven't! Instead, you've referred me to a non-existent explanation in that article and then tried to change the subject:

"You don't let the fact that there is no evolutionary explanation (at all) of animals who are awake, who are aware"

This is simply false! Moreover, you don't have an argument to the contrary - you only have questions. This is equivalent to the two-year-old method of argumentation, wherein I construct an argument and you go, "But why?" This is substantively different than what I'm doing with yours, which is pointing out that it fails as a logically valid argument that establishes your desired conclusion. If you can ask me a specific question to which I don't know the answer, again, I'll admit I don't know - it's that simple! I will not tell you human brains are incapable of understanding, I will not try to deflect from my lack of knowledge (I am, after all, not an evolutionary biologist - you are, notably, at least an amateur theologian), and I certainly won't try to change the subject. Why can't you manage to do the same?
Spherical said…

About your "covenant", I do not see how this "covenant" could be anything else but imposed by God.

I agree. Any covenant has to come from God. The lesser has no right to force itself upon the greater.

We're speaking here about a 'contract' between all-mighty all-knowingness and in comparison petty, insignificant and especially unknowing (and thus innocent) souls.

I am not sure I agree with this part of the analogy. Perhaps in a pure comparison adult/child to God/adult that is true, but it does not make sense for God to even enter into a contract with an insignificant. Why would He? In order to enter into a contract, we must have some significance to him. And as for the age thing, perhaps in comparision we are only a 2 year old (in think that is being generous, I would go younger), the truth is we are far from innocent.

One might imagine a comity of the best lawyers in the world making a contract with a 2 your old.

Again, why would they want to? What do they have to gain from such a contract, besides a pacifier, blanket, and dirty diaper.

So, this only shifts the problem in: why would God impose on us a cruel contract?

Under whose definition is this contract cruel? God offers forgiveness. Is that cruel?
Geert A. said…

(I said) About your "covenant", I do not see how this "covenant" could be anything else but imposed by God.

(You replied) I agree. Any covenant has to come from God. The lesser has no right to force itself upon the greater.

Well, yes, but not because of the "law of the strongest", but more because if might implies responsibility, then allmight implies omni-responsibility.

The consequence is, on my question for you to prove why an almighty God is unable to explain the reason of evil to us, that the answer 'because he's morally bound to a contract' is void because you're just telling me "He does not want to" (it's entirely HIS contract). And if 'He' doesn't want to, my parallel of a bad parent punishing his children without telling why stands.

And so stands the contradiction of a good God causing pointless evil.

Under whose definition is this contract cruel? God offers forgiveness. Is that cruel?

Humanity has common virtues beyond Abraham's myths. By that standard I'm forwarding that infanticide is cruel.

So, yes, a small child dying of smallpox is cruel, because, IF the virus has been made by an intelligent being it is infanticide.

Further, It's slightly absurd that a God which cannot possibly be wronged (almighty, remember), has any cause to forgive. Furthermore, there's nothing to forgive my mother, the good woman never did anything wrong.

I hope I've shown you clearly the contradictions of the good God theory.
Spherical said…
Have you convinced me? No. I do not accept the reasoning that just because there is evil there cannot be a God. Can I prove you wrong? No.

Question: Do you have children, and if you do, did you have them full well knowing that there would be times in their lives that they would have to suffer "pointless evil?" If so, what kind of parent does that make you? Granted, you can argue that you did not cause the evil, but does not life tell you that we all suffer pointless evil at one time or another? And since you did have a choice in bringing a child into the world, does that not hold you to blame?

Or you can argue that you are not omni-potent, therefore your evil is acceptable. I suppose that holds some water, but perhaps you still should have known better.

Perhaps you could argue that you would love the child. That in spite of evil, that child would have the opportunity to experience many good and wonderful things as well. But would they experience more good than evil? Reality teaches that we have no control over such things. But you can hope. I do. I believe God does.
Anonymous said…
Why would an omnipotent, omniscient being have hope?
Anonymous said…
But that doesn't mean that nothing can count as evidence against his goodness or badness, does it?

Well, supposing it does. Under those circumstances, you *definitely* can't assert that God is good.
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(Published in Faith and Philosophy 2011. Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2011. Stephen Law. Pages 129-151) EVIDENCE, MIRACLES AND THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS Stephen Law Abstract The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of indepen

Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism refuted

Here's my central criticism of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). It's novel and was published in Analysis last year. Here's the gist. Plantinga argues that if naturalism and evolution are true, then semantic epiphenomenalism is very probably true - that's to say, the content of our beliefs does not causally impinge on our behaviour. And if semantic properties such as having such-and-such content or being true cannot causally impinge on behaviour, then they cannot be selected for by unguided evolution. Plantinga's argument requires, crucially, that there be no conceptual links between belief content and behaviour of a sort that it's actually very plausible to suppose exist (note that to suppose there are such conceptual links is not necessarily to suppose that content can be exhaustively captured in terms of behaviour or functional role, etc. in the way logical behaviourists or functionalists suppose). It turns o

Why do atheists think Christians believe unreasonably, if they don't?

How reasonable is it for the religious to believe the central tenets of their respective religions? According to many atheists: not very. Many atheists suppose it is in each case unreasonable for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Bahá’ís, Quakers, Mormons, Scientologists, and so on to believe what they do. The religious person usually takes a different view of at least their own religious belief. They suppose science and reason do not significantly undermine, and may indeed support, the core tenets of their own faith. The same is true of non-religious theists. They consider their brand of theism is reasonably, or at least not unreasonably, held even if no particular religion is. Indeed, many theists consider atheism unreasonable. Even when participants in discussions between atheists on the one hand and defenders of some variety of religious or theistic belief on the other include intelligent, philosophically sophisticated and well-informed people striving to think carefully and objec