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Why the Problem of Evil Makes God Unlikely

Evil

Editor's Note: There has been rising interest in the "problem of evil" in our comment boxes, and many atheist commenters requested a stronger engagement with the so-called "evidential" version of that argument. So today, atheist commenter Brian Green Adams offers a defense of that version. On Friday, Catholic writer Trent Horn will offer a critique.

 

Among the most popular reasons cited for atheism is the “Problem of Evil”. Like most positive atheist arguments it is not a complete argument for believing there are no gods. Rather, it is an argument against the essential attributes of some definition of a god. The problem of evil argues that there are inherent contradictions between the attributes of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and the evil and or suffering we seem to observe. Christians typically believe God possesses these attributes, so if he could not, then the God they believe in could not exist. Another kind of god might, but it could not be all-good AND all-powerful.

In its basic, strong and logical form it goes like this:

1) if a god exists, it would be all-good, and would want to stop any unnecessary suffering or evil he could

2) if a god exists he would be powerful enough to stop all unnecessary evil and suffering

3) there is unnecessary evil and suffering

5) therefore no such God exists

There are only a few counters to this argument, the strongest being the skeptical theist response that all the suffering and evil observed is necessary in some way. In others words, god has perfectly good reasons for not stopping evil and suffering from occurring.

For example, a theist might argue that much evil and suffering are due to our own immoral and sinful conduct- wars, crimes, torture, and so on. That allowing humans the freedom to act this way and for the consequences to really manifest, is a greater good than preventing the evil, since it allows for a sensible moral creation with humans having to make meaningful moral choices. I don’t agree with this, but let us grant it for the sake of argument.

This is only a partial response , since not all human suffering is due to human actions. Disease and natural disaster are responsible for a great part, if not the majority of human suffering. Our free will is irrelevant to whether these events occur. So what reason could a god have for not intervening to prevent this suffering? Why do the prayers of most of the parents with children dying of disease go unheeded? I cannot imagine any legitimate reason.

The best reason for theists to propose is “I don’t know, but that doesn’t mean the reasons aren’t there.” This may be true, but it seems out of keeping with the idea that we are born equipped, even partially equipped, to understand and apply objective morality. It would seem to mean that we are ignorant of many important moral facts about the cosmos, in fact we would be ignorant as to why or how some of the worst and seemingly gratuitous suffering is not stopped by one who can stop it, and does not want us to suffer. We should be able to speculate somehow as to why god might not intervene, if indeed there are perfectly good and intelligible reasons not to. This might even result in moral paralysis. Should we intervene to prevent or alleviate suffering? How could we know if doing so prevents this mysterious greater good?

After this analysis the argument survives quite well in its weaker form:

1) if god exists he would be powerful enough to eliminate all evil and suffering.

2) if god exists he would eliminate all evil and suffering unless there were moral reasons not to. Or, if god exists the would be no gratuitous suffering or evil.

3) much suffering and evil appears gratuitous. We can not imagine any reason why god would not intervene to eliminate it.

4) so much suffering and evil seems gratuitous because at least some of it is. If we are created by God with a divinely instituted moral sensibility, we should be able to come up with reasons why God would not intervene even if we can’t verify them.

5) therefore it is unlikely that god exists.

There are a few other, less persuasive counters, such as the speculation that all suffering, even disease and natural disasters, are caused by human sin. This seems to be an incredibly unfair and torturous cosmos, where young children are somehow responsible for their cancer, or worse, they suffer and die because of the wrongs of their ancestors.

Another weak response, in my view, is that the reason god doesn’t intervene is that he doesn’t want to deprive us of the opportunity to do good works of charity and healing in the face of disease and disaster. I don’t think the opportunity for good here outweighs the harm caused by natural disasters like the Haitian earthquake, or the Indonesian Tsunami. Even so, there are plenty of wars and human caused disasters for us to rally together and express these good intentions of relief and healing. We don’t need Altzheimer’s disease to have the opportunity to be good.
 
 
(Image credit: Skeptical OB)

Brian Green Adams

Written by

Brian Green Adams (pseudonym), is a labour and human rights lawyer living in Toronto. Brian has a Bachelors of Fine Arts in theatre from York University and is the author of three plays. He has a Bachelor of Law from the University of Ottawa and has been an active litigator for the last ten years. Brian blogs about freedom of religion and religious apologetics, and co-hosts the atheist podcast "A Salmon of Doubt." He is co-founder of the Atheist Community of Toronto. Brian enjoys gardening, woodworking and listening to records, in addition to discussing and debating life, the universe, and everything.

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  • Rob Abney

    It seems to me that an important part of the argument is the definition of evil and unnecessary suffering. Why didn't Adams define it?

    • "Evil" is a value judgment, but you could easily call this "the problem of suffering" if you feel humans are somehow incapable of defining evil. Calling it "the problem of evil" is just to tie it in to the classic arguments in the same genre.

      Here's a good definition- "An instance of suffering is gratuitous if and only if it could have been prevented without thereby losing out on some greater good or permitting some suffering equally bad or worse"

      From this video:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwqGE4ZVVUc

    • Doug Shaver

      Why didn't Adams define it?

      What would be the point, unless some theists wish to deny the existence of evil or deny that some suffering is unnecessary?

    • I would define suffering here as any for of physical or psychological pain or anguish.

      I personally would not apply the term evil, but this is the traditional label for these arguments. What I'm really discussing would be the problem of suffering.

      • Rob Abney

        Thanks. Now can you define degrees or gradations of suffering? Since you described "unnecessary"suffering as the problem, what level of suffering would qualify as necessary or at least not unnecessary?

        • Define degrees of suffering? Well, suffering is rather subjective, I would say the more painful, the more one suffers.

          On theism I don't see why any suffering would be necessary, I don't actually accept any of the theodicies, but some are granted for the sake of argument here, such as all injury and pain caused on other humans is justified in order to not interfere with free will, which it is argued is more valuable than preventing the suffering.

          • Rob Abney

            But I am curious as to how your argument can stand if there is subjectiveness in suffering. Do the people with a high pain tolerance have a better chance to believe in God?
            And what about the suffering that is beneficial to us such as when we discover that excessive heat should not be handled/touched? That seems like necessary suffering, why would you say that you can't see that any suffering is necessary?

          • Degrees of suffering are not relevant to the argument. The existence of any suffering that is not absolutely necessary, means the god connot exists, or cannot exist as omnipotent or omnibenovolent.

            I grant in this article, for the sake of argument, that human caused suffering such as touching something hot and learning, could be necessary for some greater good.

          • "Well, suffering is rather subjective..."

            If that is the case, then the whole "problem of evil" dissolves! Your definition of suffering defeats your own argument.

            If suffering is subjective, then what counts as pain and suffering for you may not be problematic for others. The "problem of evil" thus becomes no longer an objective challenge against God but an expression of your personal feelings.

          • That could be the case, for example if no one claimed they suffered by means of disease or disaster. This would mean that there was no suffering. But even as a subjective experience, we have excellent evidence that virtually all humans do experience pain and suffering. Billions of people throughout history do complain of intense excruciating and prolonged suffering, and much, if not most of this is attributable to causes that are irrelevant to human activity. I would have thought these facts are not in dispute.

            The fact that one person might find getting a tattoo pleasurable, while others consider it excruciating, I do not think dissolves the position that there is endemic suffering from disease and disaster in the world.

          • Mike

            precisely!

        • "An instance of suffering is gratuitous if and only if it could have been prevented without thereby losing out on some greater good or permitting some suffering equally bad or worse"

      • LaDolceVipera

        Isn't suffering the individual experience of pain and loss and as such a particular consequence of evil?

        • what do you mean by "evil"

          • LaDolceVipera

            Contrary to the opinion of some Christian commentors on this forum I do not believe in evil as a privatio boni/privation of good. Evil is something very real. I am not saying that I believe in Manicheism but I believe that evil has an ontological status as a quality. In my opinion "evil" denotes profound immorality. It is an act by a moral subject with the intention to cause as much harm as possible to another person and to take pleasure from it. Only the very worst criminal offences are called "evil": genocide, child abuse, torture, etc. Many kinds of unnecessary suffering are a consequence of moral evil.

  • Nothing within our experience is God. No argument about the existence of God, pro or con, can be initiated with a concept of God. Like so many other essays, this is an analysis of logic and grammar, irrelevant to existence.

    • Raymond

      I agree generally with your sentiment. However, this site seems devoted to just such analysis of logic and grammar, usually on the side of theists and/or apologists, and in this case on the side of skeptics/atheists. The participants see value in having these discussions, not the least in the encouragement of discussions between people of good will with opposing views. So in a way, your comment is irrelevant to the existence of this site.

    • Aquinasbot

      Doesn't this presume that you already know what an experience of God is?

      • Beings, of which we humans have immediate human experience and whose natures we thereby know, are material entities. The concept of God, prior to a proof of the existence of a being beyond human experience, can only be a logical concept, namely ‘a being beyond human experience . . .’. We cannot analyze this logical concept to determine if there exists an entity corresponding to it. This does not presume that one already knows what an experience of God is. It presumes the opposite, that God, if there were such an entity, cannot be ‘humanly’ experienced.

        Human knowledge of the existence of things is a posteriori. The initial question is not, ‘Is there a being beyond human experience?’ The initial question is, “What is the explanation of the existence of the mutable beings within our experience?’

        • JohnD

          Bob, you said, "Nothing within our experience is God." This is question-begging against all of those who claim to experience God.

          Also, you said, "We cannot analyze this logical concept to determine if there exists an entity corresponding to it." Why not? Can't we analyze whether the existence of an entity corresponding to the concept is compatible with other experiences? The article purports to demonstrate that the existence of God is incompatible with other facts about the world, and therefore the entity cannot exist. What's wrong with doing that?

          • The Judeo-Christian revelation, which was completed in Christ, was accompanied by extraordinary physical signs as authentication. However, the format of its content is indistinguishable from other modes of human thought. One of its tenets is that no one can experience God and continue to live in this life (Ex 33: 18-23).

            Concepts are either by definition in logic or by definition through experience. You and I know the nature of a dog from experience. No human will ever know the nature of a dog fully because (1) humans learn the natures of things through experience and (2) fully knowing the nature of a dog would be knowing it in every detail. No one by innovative thought can originate the nature of a possible entity. A unicorn, e.g. is not a biological entity, but a cut and paste logical image. It is only logical concepts, not entities, which we can claim to understand fully. No one will ever understand sand fully. We fully understand counting to ten to the base ten.

            A good example of a logical and therefore invalid proof of the existence of God is that by Hahn and Wiker, who start with the definition of God as an eternal and necessary being
            (“Answering the New Atheism”, p 14). I know what necessity means. Flour to bake a cake. Wheels to build a wagon. Sunshine to grow crops. Symbols to discuss mathematics. In contrast, I do not know from experience what necessity of being means. Hahn and Wiker subvert their argument by identifying it not as ontological, but as a concept from logic, necessity by definition. In arguing against Richard Dawkins, the philosopher of probability https://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/dawkins-philosophy-of-probability-a-pro-view/, Hahn and Wiker chose to contrast necessity with probability, but misunderstand both.

            With regard to the OP, I do not know from immediate experience what all good means. However, if I were
            to conclude from the existence of the mutable entities within my experience, that there must exist a being beyond my experience whose nature is identical to its existence, then the characteristics of eternity, necessity of being and
            all-good follow.

            One of the most fundamental conclusions of philosophy is that the true, the good and the existent are only logically distinct. Evil does not exist. It is the non-existence of good, whose existence we would prefer. Admittedly that is not emotionally satisfying.

        • Aquinasbot

          Beings, of which we humans have immediate human experience and whose natures we thereby know, are material entities

          I agree that we are material beings, I disagree that this is all we are. Nor do I think you can demonstrate with any logical clarity that it is possible that we are only material beings.

          The concept of God, prior to a proof of the existence of a being beyond human experience, can only be a logical concept, namely ‘a being beyond human experience

          Logical concepts are not beyond human experience, they are part of human experience.

          It presumes the opposite, that God, if there were such an entity, cannot be ‘humanly’ experienced.

          Yet you would have to demonstrate exactly what you mean by experience in order to say it cannot be humanly experienced. Mathematically truths are experienced by humans when we work with them to develop things that depend on exact calculations, but according to you pure logic (of which math is) cannot be experienced by humans, which is demonstrably false.
          ".

          • Skeptical Calvanist

            Logical concepts are not beyond human experience, they are part of human experience.

            You misunderstand his sentence here.

            He is saying that God and similar things that are beyond human comprehension by definition are held as logical concepts only, not that logical concepts themselves are beyond our understanding. At best we can hope to find some indirect evidence that the concept exists in reality (personal experience might be such indirect evidence for God, much like the bending of light is indirect evidence for dark matter). He clarifies this in a subsequent post below.

          • Aquinasbot

            I guess I don't follow. This presupposes that logical truths about a things have no reference to reality, which is obviously not the case. That I arrive at a first cause and that the cause must necessarily have certain things about it like immaterial, timeless, omniscience, etc. is referencing something real even it is not within the scope of our immediate physical experience.

            All that has been established on your part so far is that you presuppose the only sort of reality that can exist is material and that if we have no immediate material experience of it then it must not exist within the scope of our comprehension. I reject that. While logical truths do not necessarily give us the full experience of a thing, it tells us something true about it.

            For example, it is true

          • Skeptical Calvanist

            First, I was referring to what I understand Bob was saying, not necessarily if his argument is coherent or correct.

            Second, I don't think that it presupposes that logical concepts have no reference to reality so much as it presupposes that logical concepts don't have to have a reference in reality. I can imagine things that don't exist.

            That I arrive at a first cause and that the cause must necessarily have certain things about it like immaterial, timeless, omniscience, etc. is referencing something real even it is not within the scope of our immediate physical experience.

            Supposing that the first cause is actually logically necessary, then yes, that first cause with those properties must necessarily exist. However, it's important to remember that these properties are just description of behavior from our perspective rather than an actualization of that property, as you allude to in your next paragraph.

            The problem with incomprehensible beings outside of our universe is they may only appear to be logically necessary given what we experience within our realm of experience. You may think that omniscience is required for example, when in reality something completely foreign to our experience makes it appear like something is logically required when it is not.

            Consider looking at a 2d plane on the edge of a pool table. You would see occasional flashes of color but wouldn't have any good idea why. So you deduce that there is a logically necessary cause with some number of properties that fit your experience and understanding. Later, your able to see in 3d and learn that these properties in fact completely misrepresented reality because the flashes were just pool balls bouncing off the edges of the table. However, since this was beyond your understanding when looking at the 2d plane, you to described a cause with properties it didn't need, even though you concluded they were logically necessary. It's really hard to know what is logically necessary when we don't know what is logically possible.

            The same thing could be true with a first cause. It may seem that something appears to require a logically necessary first cause with logically necessary properties within the realm of our experience, but if we were to actually observe our universe from the outside, it may be that these properties do not even remotely reflect what is to us an incomprehensible reality.

            I haven't been following to closely, so what I'm talking about may be completely unrelated to the actual discussion, but that's my take on logically necessary properties of logically necessary causes. My reason for responding to you was that from my perspective you misunderstood the part of Bob's comment you quoted.

          • I think what I wrote is concise, such as ‘beings (as objects of) immediate human experience’, and does not imply what you infer.

          • JohnD

            Bob,

            I may have missed the point, but where did you answer my last question. I quoted you saying, "We cannot analyze this logical concept to determine if there exists an entity corresponding to it."

            And then I said: Why not? Can't we analyze whether the existence of an entity corresponding to the concept is compatible with other experiences? The article purports to demonstrate that the existence of God is incompatible with other facts about the world, and therefore the entity cannot exist. What's wrong with doing that?

          • Hi John,
            I can't find in this thread your original comment, nor my reply to you. It was rather lengthy and round about. Fortunately, I kept a copy of your original comment and my reply.

            In my reply, I wrote, "With regard to the OP, I do not know from immediate experience what all good means".

            An undefined concept cannot be analyzed to see if it is characteristic of any entity. It is only once we were to come to the conclusion that there must exist a being whose nature and existence are identical, that we realize that in the context of that existing entity, all good becomes defined.

    • David Nickol

      No argument about the existence of God, pro or con, can be initiated with a concept of God. Like so many other essays, this is an analysis of logic and grammar, irrelevant to existence.

      This makes no sense to me. The concept of God here and in almost all arguments about the problem of evil is the Christian concept of an infinitely perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent creator.
      to argue about the Christian God is "relevant to existence" even if such a God does not exist.

  • ClayJames

    Hi Brian, I told you I would wait to read your full piece before continuing with this conversation. Here are my thoughts:

    It seems like your argument boils down to two points.

    1. The existence of suffering not due to human actions.

    2. Epistemic warrant to judge moral choices.

    About the first point, similarly to my previous response to you, I would
    give several reasons for allowing natural evil in this world that could lead
    to some ultimate good, primarily being morally responsible for the well being
    of our fellow man and ultimately, to give us the opportunity to share in god´s
    presence for eternity based on our actions. These are a couple of the many
    possible reasons for allowing natural evil. Even though it is not necessary, I
    would also add that any relatively temporary form of suffering on this planet
    pales in comparison to spending eternity with god and therefore, any worldly
    evil that leads to us freely making that happen cannot be seen as gratuitous no
    matter how horrific the suffering.

    The second point is more important. You seem to believe that we have the
    same epistemic warrant as god that would allow us to judge his actions but this couldn´t be more false. We are ignorant about many moral
    facts about the cosmos and we are ignorant about why some evil takes place.
    This is not a theological difference, it is a difference that stems from the
    different characteristics between us and god. It is a difference between our
    attributes compared to His, between a limited creature and an allpowerful one. It makes no sense to define god as allpowerful and allknowing and at the same time say that it is not the case that ¨we are ignorant of many important moral
    facts about the cosmos, in fact we would be ignorant as to why or how
    some of the worst and seemingly gratuitous suffering is not stopped by
    one who can stop it¨ On the contrary, your above quote follows directly from the definitions you are using.

    It also completely misses the point to say that this can lead to moral
    paralysis since we have no epistemic warrant to be paralyzed. This would be
    similar to say that a 4 year old child has the same epistemic warrant to make
    moral choices as a smart adult and therefore the 4 year old child would be paralized because he does not have all the information that the adult has. Clearly this is not the case. The 4 year child makes moral choices based on the moral information that they have.

    Finally, I also don´t see a difference between the logical problem of
    evil and the weaker form that you are presenting. The premises that there is
    gratuitous evil and that there appears to be gratuitous evil are both defeated
    by one possible reason. The ideas that a glass of water is empty and that the
    glass of water appears to be empty are both false with a single drop.

    • I don't see why suffering from natural causes would be necessary for humans to be morally responsible. The elimination of such suffering would still allow for moral choices and consequences from human action. The same with respect to having an opportunity to share in God's presence, why would suffering from disease and disaster be necessar for that? Are you suggesting that someone who died without experiencing natural suffering would be denied the opportunity to share in God's presence for eternity?

      Moral paralysis would stem from a skeptical theist response, which you are not taking so we can leave that.

      • ClayJames

        No, I am not saying that we need to suffer to share in God´s presence. I am saying that we need to act against suffering in order to share in God´s presence.

        • Okay, but again nothing you are saying even suggests that suffering from disaster and disease is necessary on theism, rather, just that there be some suffering to act against.

          But I am curious, if someone fails to act against any suffering, say a child dies as a baby, would you say that she cannot share in God's presence?

          • ClayJames

            Brian, you do understand that this issue is not central to your point right? I gave a possible reason why natural evil exists and I may be wrong and that still does not make your argument valid. For me to claim that I know the reason is to make the same mistake you are making in claiming that we have the same epistemic warrant as God to make moral choices and to judge his moral decisions. And once agan, the difference in epistemic warrant is taken directly from the definition of God that you are trying to argue against. The best answer that can be given to your question is not just ¨I don´t know¨ but also ¨I can´t know¨. However, for your argument to be valid, you have to know and you cannot show that.

            You call your argument an evidential problem of evil but it is just the logical problem of evil with the word ¨appear¨ instead of ¨is¨ but the same refutation still applies.

          • I don't think you have presented a reason for natural evil to exist. Unless it is that it would be immoral for God to eliminate all suffering from disease and disaster, because this would remove one of the options available to enter the presence of God? To me that would not be a moral position. I do not agree that having this option is worth all of that suffering and death.

            You have gotten the distinctions between the two forms of the argument correct, the labels don't matter.

          • ClayJames

            You do agree that I don´t have to present a reason for natural evil to exist since the burden of proof to show that evil and an omnibenevolent and omnipotent god are inconsistent is on you, right?

            Do you agree with me that it is incorrect to assume that we have the same espistemic warrant as an allpowerful and allknowing god?

          • Well I have presented the fact of all disease and disaster, for which I cannot conceive of any reason why it would be permitted if there did exist an omnipotent and omnibenovolent deity. I think this does make a prima facie case that the suffering seems gratuitous. I think this does place the theist in the position of providing a theodicy that makes this suffering no longer seem gratuitous. Otherwise, all you can say, I think, is that there could be a theodicy, but we cannot guess what it might be. You can do this, but it has implications with respect to how much you can trust your intuition with respect to the moral implications of your actions.

          • ClayJames

            The moral implications to my actions have nothing to do with me being able to guess the moral implications of god´s actions. This just doesn´t follow.

            You also cannot start with an argument assuming an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God and claim that finite humans are in an epistemic position to determine the morality God´s actions. Evil seeming gratuitous is not a problem, the problem is when you make the jump from it seeming gratuitous to it being gratuitous:

            so much suffering and evil seems gratuitous because at least some of it is.

            You can´t make that jump taking into account the definition of God you are using.

            Could you also explain the implications that you are alluding to in your last sentence?

          • ""so much suffering and evil seems gratuitous because at least some of it is."

            You can´t make that jump taking into account the definition of God you are using."

            This jump has nothing to do with a definition of God, it is simply the inductive inference. We do it with every conclusion we reach based on observation.

            The implications of skeptical theism, the position that there are perfectly moral reasons God does not intervene to prevent suffering, but we just can't guess at what they are, implies that there are effects of human suffering which are vitally important and good, and which outweigh all suffering from disease and disaster, but about which we are utterly ignorant. This means if we intervene to say, cure a disease, we might think we have performed something good. However, if we had not, then the person would have suffered, and God would not have intervened because if He did, it would have prevented this unknown perfect moral good. So what are we to do when presented with the option of acting to end or alleviate suffering? Because we are ignorant of the ultimate moral implications of our actions, and the defence of skeptical theism contends that allowing some of the worst suffering imaginable is necessary for greater perfectly moral goods, we have no good basis to act one way or the other. We are morally paralyzed.

          • ClayJames

            This jump has nothing to do with a definition of God, it is simply the
            inductive inference. We do it with every conclusion we reach based on
            observation.

            No, it is not inductive. An inductive inference would be to say a specific event is gratuitous because it is similar to events X, Y and Z that are also gratuitous. You have yet to show that one single evil act is gratuitous and therefore are not making an inference at all. Saying that an evil event seems gratuitous says nothing because based on the definitions you gave, you do not have the epistemic warrant to say that it is actually gratuitous.

            The implications of skeptical theism, the position that there are
            perfectly moral reasons God does not intervene to prevent suffering, but
            we just can't guess at what they are, implies that there are effects of
            human suffering which are vitally important and good, and which
            outweigh all suffering from disease and disaster, but about which we are
            utterly ignorant.

            Exactly.

            This means if we intervene to say, cure a disease, we might think we
            have performed something good. However, if we had not, then the person
            would have suffered, and God would not have intervened because if He
            did, it would have prevented this unknown perfect moral good. So what
            are we to do when presented with the option of acting to end or
            alleviate suffering?

            Your idea of morality is completly skewed (at least as it is seen by Christians), maybe this is where your confusion lies. The ultimate implications of our actions are completly irrelevant and we make moral decisions based on the information that we have. If I give money to a homeless person and he uses that money to feed his family, I did a morally good deed. If I give money to a homeless person and he uses that money to poison his family, I did a morally good deed. If we are presented with the option to end or alleviate suffering, then we should try to do that. It seems like this would be a problem for a consequentalist, but I don´t think many here share that view.

          • The inference works this way- if it seems that many, many acts are gratuitously evil, it's probable that at least one is. It's the kind of inference we draw all the time

          • I think it is inductive. For example, if we take an example of a parent who deprives their child of nourishment and medical care and the child suffers and dies, even though the parent had the means to provide these things and no identifiable reason not to, we would conclude the child's suffering was gratuitous. Now we don't know with certainty that they were, there could be perfectly moral reasons for the parent not to. But if we cannot even think of any, and the parent provides none I think we are warranted to conclude that the reason the child's suffering seemed gratuitous, was that it was.

          • ClayJames

            We conclude that because we are on the same epistemic footing as that parent. In other words, we assume that what they know and what they can know is the same as what we know. If that parent was omniscient, then we could not make the conclusion. How can we possibly say that the omniscient parent does not know that some ultimate net good will come out of something evil.

          • Raymond

            I guess you can take up the premise that if the parent was omniscient that he could have a good reason for allowing the child to die. But if we take up the premise that if the child had a hump like a dromedary, maybe the child wouldn't have starved or died of thirst. You can take up any outlandish premise that you like, but they don't help your argument. We are on the same epistemic footing as the parent, and wishing it otherwise doesn't improve your position.

          • ClayJames

            You have this completly wrong as I am not taking any premise at all. I am saying, like you seem to agree, that we are on the same epistemic footing as the parent, which is definetly not the case when talking about God based on Brian´s definition of God. Also, I am not assuming that if the parent, like God, was omniscient that he could have a good reason for allowing that child to die. Hell, god could be omniscient and have no good reason for allowing the child to die. The problem is that Brian´s argument is that an omniscient god HAS NO good reason for allowing this evil and he cannot come to this conclusion because we are not, by definition, on the same epistemic footing as god and therefore, there is no contradiction between the existence of evil and an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god.

            But no, I am not assuming any of the things you are attributing to my view.

          • Raymond

            I certainly didn't state that very well, I agree.

            Reducing the discussion to "God is a mystery and we have no way to knowing or understanding His ways" does not advance the conversation. We have to deal with this world and the good and evil we perceive here, and shrugging and saying "God only knows" isn't sufficient or persuasive.

          • ClayJames

            I am not reducing the conversation to that either.

            Brian first assumed an omnisciente, omnipotent and omnibenevolent god and tried to show that gratuitous evil exists, which is inconsistent with that conception of god. I am simply using the same assumption he did, and showing that it makes no sense for a limited mind to claim that an omniscient mind has no reason for allowing a specific evil. I am just using the definition of the adjectives Brian used in order to show that his premise (that gratuitous evil exists) is invalid.

            In no way am I saying ¨God is a mystery therefore we can´t understand his ways¨. This is just not a solid argument. Like I said before, my problem with this argument is not theological, it is definitional.

          • Raymond

            Actually, I think that IS what you are saying. If the premise that gratuitous evil exists is invalid, then the omnibenevolent mind must be generating apparent evil, which would be impossible on the surface, but you are implying some sort of mysterious unfathomable-to-anyone-but-the-mind reason for the apparent evil.

          • ClayJames

            No, the premise that gratuitous evil exists can be invalid and gratuitous evil still exist. I am not making the argument, Brian is and I am simply asserting that his premise is invalid. I don´t have to say ¨God must have a reason for allowing evil¨ for the premise to be invalidated, it is invalid because he can not show it to be true or probable. The burden on proof is on the one making the argument and you are trying to shift the burden of proof to me.

    • David Hardy

      The second point is more important. You seem to believe that we have the same
      epistemic warrant as god that would allow us to judge his actions but
      this couldn´t be more false.

      If we have no ability to judge God's moral conduct, then we have no right to claim God is moral, either. This is the point. In defending the morality of God, you are invaliding any moral judgment of God, not demonstrating Him to be moral, should He exist.

      • ClayJames

        Right, the argument God is moral because I think his actions are moral is not an argument for God being moral. Who is making that argument? I am responding to the argument that the existance of evil in this world contradicts god´s moral nature.

        • David Hardy

          Right, the argument God is moral because I think his actions are moral is not an argument for God being moral.

          Is that your argument? If so, what specific examples do you have to support it? Any example from the world immediately brings in the same challenges that are used to challenge the problem of evil. Again, the point is that the challenges to the problem of evil only work until you apply them equally to supporting the morality of God.

          • ClayJames

            You misread what I wrote.

            I said that the argument that God is moral because I think his actions are moral is NOT an argument for God being moral. So no, this is not my argument. I am actually not making any arguments. And I did apply those challenges equally, that is exactly what I did and you quoted.

          • David Hardy

            I did not misread, but I did misinterpret. Based on this misunderstanding, is it then your position that God is not moral?

          • ClayJames

            No, my position is that God IS moral, but this is not because I think he does moral things, it has to do with his properties. This is a conversation that could be had but I feel it would derail from this argument against god and somewhat irrelevant since Brian is assuming omnibenevolence in order to show a contradiction.

          • David Hardy

            No, my position is that God IS moral, but this is not because I think he does moral things, it has to do with his properties.

            Morality is judged through action. A moral person is someone who engages in moral activity and refrains from immoral activity. If you say that something is moral without requiring any action proving this to be the case, you have invalidated the standard by which we can judge morality. All that remains is the assertion that God is moral, without offering any proof that He is, should He exist. This is what every defense of the morality of God does, because if you apply it to what actually happens in the world, there are many examples of God, a supposed Father, failing to fulfill basic ethical duties that apply to all fathers.

            This is a conversation that could be had but I feel it would derail from
            this argument against god and somewhat irrelevant since Brian is
            assuming omnibenevolence in order to show a contradiction.

            The conversation could be had, it is up to you if you have any interest in having it. My position is that omnibenevolence is too vague to be useful. Claiming God to be perfectly moral provides far more specific standards.

          • ClayJames

            My position is that omnibenevolence is too vague to be useful. Claiming
            God to be perfectly moral provides far more specific standards.

            Even if that is the case, that is what Brian is assuming and this is the definition that I am using to refute his argument:

            The problem of evil argues that there are inherent contradictions
            between the attributes of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and the evil and
            or suffering we seem to observe. Christians typically believe God
            possesses these attributes, so if he could not, then the God they
            believe in could not exist.

            I also disagree with most of what you say in your first paragraph. I do not think that I need to see god being all moral in order to claim that he is allmoral just like I do not need to see that he is all powerful to claim he is allpowerful. Actually, this is impossible. You can come to these conclusions through other ways and many much more brilliant men than me have done so in the past. I do think that this is irrelevent but hopefully we can discuss it in another post regarding this issue.

          • David Hardy

            I do not think that I need to see god being all moral in order to claim
            that he is allmoral just like I do not need to see that he is all
            powerful to claim he is allpowerful.

            I would agree to these points. However, having made the claim, one can then look to see if it seems to be supported. One needs only to find a single example of evil where a person with significant knowledge of the evil and power to stop it would have a moral duty to do so. After that point, to defend the position of God's moral character, one must invalidate the moral standard that would demand He act.

          • ClayJames

            You are absolutely right. If you can find a single example of God allowing gratuitous evil, then he is not omnibenevolent. This is the question at hand and saying, ¨I don´t see why God would allow this evil, seems gratuitous to me¨, is not an example of God allowing gratuitous evil.

            It is impossible for someone with limited knowledge to say that an omniscient being does not have a possible reason for allowing a certain event. This follows directly from the definition of God that Brian is trying to refute.

          • David Hardy

            It is impossible for someone with limited knowledge to say that an
            omniscient being does not have a possible reason for allowing a certain
            event.

            This is another example of invalidating the ethical standard. There are many examples that appear to any ethical observer to be gratuitous evil, and where such a person, if they had knowledge of the event and power to stop it, would do so. You are saying that these situation might not be examples of gratuitous evil, because it is possible an omniscient being has a good reason for allowing them, and therefore we can assume that God does have a good reason for allowing them. We have no reason to make such an assumption, however, unless we presume God to be good, because of we see many cases where the ethical thing to do is to intervene, without any evidence of intervention. God is simply presented as good by definition, and all evidence challenging this is treated as invalid.

          • ClayJames

            You are saying that these situation might not be examples of gratuitous
            evil, because it is possible an omniscient being has a good reason for
            allowing them, and therefore we can assume that God does have a good
            reason for allowing them.

            Like I said before, I am not making such an assumption because to make such an assumption is to commit the same mistake that you are committing, which is to think that I can determine, in my limited capacity, an omniscient being´s motivations. Brian asserts that there appears to be gratuitous evil and my answer to that, based on the difference in epistemic footing, is that that assertion is false. This is where I stop, I do not have to assume that God has good reason for allowing evil in order to show that the inconsistency between evil and an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent god has not been demonstrated.

          • David Hardy

            Like I said before, I am not making such an assumption because to make such an assumption is to commit the same mistake that you are committing, which is to think that I can determine, in my limited capacity, an omniscient being´s motivations.

            I view the problem of evil as an argument against religions that do assume a perfectly moral/omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent God, like Christianity. If you do not assume this, then you are not taking a position that is impacted by the problem of evil. This post was written on a Christian forum, and aimed at those who do hold this assumption. I agree it is a poor argument against any form of theism.

            This is where I stop, I do not have to assume that God has good reason for allowing evil in order to show that the inconsistency between evil and an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent god has not been demonstrated.

            If intervening to stop the torture and murder of the innocent, such as infants and children, cannot be taken as a clear moral imperative, or allowing it can be taken as a possible sign of benevolence, especially on the scale upon which it can occur, then we have very different ideas of what it means to be moral or benevolent. I will also add that, in the strictest sense, one can argue pretty much anything is possible by pointing to the fact that we have limited knowledge of what may be possible, making this position useless in discriminating what position one should hold, since it applies equally to all. At some point, I move to what appears plausible, given the limited knowledge I have. I look at the amount of evil in which any ethical and benevolent person I know would intervene if possible, and the idea that there is some supremely ethical and benevolent being who is able to intervene is, in my (limited) experience, highly dubious at best.

          • ClayJames

            I view the problem of evil as an argument against religions that do assume a perfectly moral/omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent God, like Christianity. If you do not assume this, then you are not taking a position that is impacted by the problem of evil.

            Everything I have said is consistent with the Christian concept of god. I don't know why you are implying that it is not.

            If intervening to stop the torture and murder of the innocent, such as infants and children, cannot be taken as a clear moral imperative, or allowing it can be taken as a possible sign of benevolence, especially on the scale upon which it can occur, then we have very different ideas of what it means to be moral or benevolent.

            The problem here is an epistemic one. To say that gratuitous evil probably exist, one must have a finite set of outcomes in order to determine the probability of any one outcome or a group of possible outcomes (in this case, those that are gratuitous). It makes no sense for a limited mind to come to a conclusion about the probable motivations of an omniscient being. This argument is assuming an omniscient mind and therefore, it makes it impossible for a limited mind to make the probability calculation that you are talking about.

            I will also add that, in the strictest sense, one can argue pretty much anything is possible by pointing to the fact that we have limited knowledge of what may be possible, making this position useless in discriminating what position one should hold, since it applies equally to all.

            You are taking a completly skeptical position when that is in no way what the response against the evidential problem of evil is trying to do. We are not saying that you shouldn´t believe that there is gratuitous evil because we are not omniscient and can´t have certainty of anything. We are saying that you shouldn´t believe there is a gratuitous evil because it makes no sense for a limited person to come to a probabilistic conclusion about the intentions of an omniscient mind.

            At some point, I move to what appears plausible, given the limited knowledge I have. I look at the amount of evil in which any ethical and benevolent person I know would intervene if possible

            And if the problem of evil was trying to show that a limited person is probably allowing gratuitous evil, then the argument might be valid. But this is not what the argument is trying to do. It starts by assuming an omniscient being and then has a non-omniscient mind making a probabilistic claim about the motivations. To make a probabilistic argument one must have a finite set of outcomes. How can a limited being determine the possible outcomes of a omniscient mind? It makes no sense.

          • David Hardy

            Everything I have said is consistent with the Christian concept of god. I don't know why you are implying that it is not.

            You said...

            Like I said before, I am not making such an assumption because to make
            such an assumption is to commit the same mistake that you are
            committing, which is to think that I can determine, in my limited
            capacity, an omniscient being´s motivations.

            In Christianity, God's motivations are spelled out in the bible. God is loving, patient, just, kind, steadfast, sent Jesus for the reason of saving us from sin, and he hates evil. All of these speak to God as being moral and benevolent. If you do not take a position about God's motivations, and think it is a mistake to try, then you are not accepting these positions, which are essential to all forms of Christianity with which I am familiar.

            I am going to set aside the rest of what you are saying, because you are taking a soft position that is so fuzzy it is all but immune from criticism. Your argument boils down to "unless you can prove it is impossible that an omniscient being could have a good reason for allowing evil, my position is plausible. The evidence of evil where a lack of intervention by anyone who know about it and could stop it runs against every observable standard of morality and benevolence is meaningless, because it is conceivable there might be a good reason for it on some scale we are not able to observe."

          • ClayJames

            You are misunderstanding what I wrote. I said that it makes no sense to say that an omniscient god is omnibenevolent because it appears to me he is omnibenevolent since I have not epistemic warrant to make that claim. This is the inverse of the crucial premise in the problem of evil and it is invalid for the same reason. I can still believe god is omnibenevolent based on revelation or other reasons, but not because it seems like he is to me.

            You can say that it is fuzzy all you want, but that doesnt change the fact that it is invalid. I am not making an argument, you are. You are assuming an omniscient god, the ignoring his omniscience in order to conclude that evil is probably gratuitous based on limited minds and then claiming that this evil is inconsistent with an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent god.

            Explain the math to me. How can you (a limited mind) claim to know the entire subset of possible reasons for allowing evil, in order to claim it is probably gratuitous to god (an omniscient mind)?

          • David Hardy

            I can still believe god is omnibenevolent based on revelation or other reasons, but not because it seems like he is to me.

            If you choose to believe your intuitive revelations, or those of others, over what is observable, that is your choice. I find intuition a poor substitute for observation, although it can be useful in interpretation of what is observed.

            You are assuming an omniscient god, the ignoring his omniscience in
            order to conclude that evil is probably gratuitous based on limited
            minds and then claiming that this evil is inconsistent with an
            omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent god.

            I am an atheist. I do not assume an omniscient God. I grant it for the sake of argument, then explore the logical conclusions.

            Explain the math to me. How can you (a limited mind) claim to know the
            entire subset of possible reasons for allowing evil, in order to claim
            it is probably gratuitous to god (an omniscient mind)?

            I do not, I question Christians who claim to know that the entire subset of God's reasons to allow all of the forms of evil must come from morality/benevolence. I see no evidence that this claim is true or likely.

          • ClayJames

            David, we keep talking past each other. I am talking about Brian Green Adam´s argument from evil and why it is invalid and for some reason, you keep wanting me to show that God must have a moral reason for allowing evil, which is not something I need to do in order to invalidate Brian´s argument.

            I will answer your objections in both of your posts, here.

            How can you (a limited mind) claim to know the

            entire subset of possible reasons for allowing evil, in order to claim

            it is probably gratuitous to god (an omniscient mind)?

            I do not, I question Christians who claim to know that the entire subset of God's reasons to allow all of the forms of evil must come from morality/benevolence. I see no evidence that this claim is true or likely.

            Then that´s it, Brian´s argument is invalid. If you do not accept that a limited mind can know the entire subset of possible reasons for allowing evil, in order to claim that it is probably gratuitous to god, then the argument is invalid. This is where I stop. I dont need to show, like you are implying, that God must have a benevolent reason for allowing evil in order to show that this argument is invalid.

            If you choose to believe your intuitive revelations, or those of others, over what is observable, that is your choice. I find intuition a poor substitute for observation, although it can be useful in interpretation of what is observed.

            You keep repeating this when it is not what I am saying. You can believe what you observe, that is not the problem. The problem is a limited mind making a conclusion about what an omniscient mind´s probable motivations are based on what that limited mind observes. The limited mind has no epistemic warrant to do so, which you seem to agree with.

            I am an atheist. I do not assume an omniscient God. I grant it for the sake of argument, then explore the logical conclusions.

            Right, you assume an omniscient God for the sake of the argument. This is what I meant since I have just been talking about the argument.

            That is to say, that there is no God, and all religions and religious experience arises from aspects of human Psychology, including revelation and supposed holy books. Assuming this is the case, what would demonstrate no God intervenes in evil because there is no God?

            I dont know if I understand your question. Are you asking that if we assume no God, how can we show that has no reason for intervening in Evil?

            You have discounted observation, indicating the no external experience would convince you, and you refer to revelation as a guiding reason, which is not an argument but an internal experience, indicating that arguments would also not persuade you. It seems as though you have discounted anything that might falsify your position, and I would like for you to provide some things that would falsify your position before continuing, to better understand if there is any point in doing so.

            I am not discounting observation, I hope it is clear above why this is the case. I am also not holding a position to falsify. Once again, I am talking about why Brian´s argument is invalid and don´t need to show that God must have a benevolent reason for allowing evil in order to show that this argument is invalid.

          • David Hardy

            David, we keep talking past each other.

            It is because I am interested in engaging your position, and you are choosing not to expand upon it, but rather continue to come back to Brian's position, rather than mine. I am using Brian's position as a springboard to discuss the problem of evil. If you are not interested in discussing the problem of evil beyond how it was presented by Brian, nor in providing any counter-position and just want to criticize his argument, then there is no point in continuing. If you do not address my point at the end, highlighted in bold, I will be ending my side of this conversation.

            I am also not holding a position to falsify.

            From previous, with a statement that indicates your position...

            I can still believe god is omnibenevolent based on revelation or other reasons, but not because it seems like he is to me.

            If you are Christian, you do hold a position regarding God's motivations. If you defend against the problem of evil by claiming we cannot know God's motivations, you have not only thrown out the problem of evil, but also any Christian claim regarding God's motivations. You are simply choosing not to state whatever position you hold. It does not mean you do not have a position. It just means you are choosing not to talk about it. In debate, what you are doing is sometimes called taking a "soft" position. By not saying what you believe, you prevent any challenges to your belief, and can focus entirely on dismantling the claims of others. It does nothing to prove your position is better than that of the person you are criticizing. I believe your argument against the problem of evil is equally challenging to the Christian position, and you have done nothing to dispute this. That is why I am asking for you to state your position on how God relates to the existence of evil and show that this is not the case (there is a possible way to falsify or at least challenge it). You have avoided addressing this point.

          • ClayJames

            I had no idea we weren´t addressing Brian´s argument anymore since I made it clear time and time again that is what I was doing. I have no problem moving beyond it as long as we are both on the same page.

            I believe your argument against the problem of evil is equally challenging to the Christian position, and you have done nothing to dispute this. That is why I am asking for you to state your position on how God relates to the existence of evil and show that this is not the case (there is a possible way to falsify or at least challenge it).

            Christians believe that god is omnibenevolent, so that any evil permitted is not gratuitous. This characteristic does not come from observation (like Brian´s argument tends to do) but from his intrinsic properties. So an uncaused, self-sustaining, perfect being must by definition also be omnibenevelont because if we could imagine of a being with greater goodness than god, then there would be some contingency between god´s traits.

            We can also come to this conclusion through revelation as the Bible is filled with instances where God is refered to as the ultimate good or all good.

            The way to falsify this is to invalidate one of god´s traits (such as omniscience or omnipotence) or invalidate the veracity of Biblical revelation. There are thousands of arguments by atheists that try to do these things so it is definetly possible to challenge the point.

            If you defend against the problem of evil by claiming we cannot know God's motivations, you have not only thrown out the problem of evil, but also any Christian claim regarding God's motivations.

            Notice, that I am not making a similar mistake when trying to validate god´s omniscience that the problem of evil does. I am not saying that god is omnibenevolent because I think I can figure out his motivations. So I disagree with you on this point that the reason why the problem of evil is invalid creates a problem for Christians.

          • David Hardy

            Thank you for the detail of your position. Hopefully I will be able to present my aims clearly from my side. From what I understand, you seem to be making two claims. I will make sure I understand your claims before I proceed further.

            First, you are equating moral goodness (omni-benevolence) to being non-contingent. Therefore, if a non-contingent creator exists, this could be said to being equivalent to saying an omni-benevolent creator exists, and vice versa. Further, if an omni-benevolent, all-powerful, all-knowing God exists, then by definition no evil can be gratuitous. Is this accurate?

            Second, you are saying that this conclusion is based on the fact that the bible has written records that are presented as revelations, which refer to God as the ultimate good. Many of the prophecies in the bible are also written to have come to pass in later books of the bible, supporting that they are valid. Is this a fair assessment of what you mean by viewing the bible as a valid reference for determining God's traits?

            Therefore, unless one can demonstrate that one of the proposed traits of God could not be true (All-knowing, all-powerful, or all-good), or prove the bible's claims of revelation false, an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God must exist, and all apparently gratuitous evil must in fact not be gratuitous. Is this a fair summary of your position?

          • David Hardy

            On further thought, if we are to proceed, I would like for you to answer something. I have granted the existence of God for the sake of argument. I would now ask that you grant the non-existence of God for the sake of argument. That is to say, that there is no God, and all religions and religious experience arises from aspects of human Psychology, including revelation and supposed holy books. Assuming this is the case, what would demonstrate no God intervenes in evil because there is no God? You have discounted observation, indicating the no external experience would convince you, and you refer to revelation as a guiding reason, which is not an argument but an internal experience, indicating that arguments would also not persuade you. It seems as though you have discounted anything that might falsify your position, and I would like for you to provide some things that would falsify your position before continuing, to better understand if there is any point in doing so.

      • "If we have no ability to judge God's moral conduct, then we have no right to claim God is moral, either."

        Correct. But Christians don't claim this. We don't say, "God is moral", as if to judge God by some moral standard outside of himself, but that "God is goodness itself." In other words, God's nature just is the Good. He is the locus for all moral values and duties.

        • VicqRuiz

          Doesn't this just lead us back to the second option of Euthypro? We determine whether something is good or not by observing whether God does it??

        • David Hardy

          Christians also claim that God knows everything we do and has the power to intervene. To say God is goodness, rather than morally good, is a shift in wording, not meaning. A being of pure good will be incapable of doing anything but good, and will do good as a natural expression of its nature. Morality involves those actions that are ethically good. If a proposed all knowing and all powerful being does not act according to what ethics would require, then that being is not acting in an ethically good way. If it is not acting in an ethically good way, then I wonder by what right one would call it "good", let alone "goodness itself." Again, this is just an invalidation of the standard that would justify applying the term "good" in this sense. What you seem to be saying is that God is good because God has been predefined as good, and evidence of whether the universe operates as though it is ultimately controlled (as would be the outcome of omniscience and omnipotence) by "goodness itself" is irrelevant.

  • David Hardy

    Like most positive atheist arguments it is not a complete argument for believing there are no gods.

    I find the problem of evil to be a challenge against certain theistic positions, not theism in general. Most polytheistic faiths, for example, propose gods that are not all-good, all-powerful or all-knowing, and this is not a problem to those belief systems.

    The problem of evil argues that there are inherent contradictions
    between the attributes of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and the evil and
    or suffering we seem to observe.

    Personally, I would add omniscient, although I think this is implied, and expand omnibenevolent to include morally perfect. Minor points, but I feel they are important to the argument.

    To me, the biggest element of the problem of evil is that morality includes positive moral duties. It is not just the duty to avoid evil acts, but also to promote good and prevent evil if possible. I find that the Christian God involves the admirable effort to raise morality to a universal principle - the supreme being is moral, and judges us according to our morality. The problem of evil arises when we try to measure the world according to the idea that morality is a universal principle, because it simply doesn't appear to be the case. No divine force intervenes to protect the innocent in many cases, there are many examples of evil people prospering, and natural disasters inflict suffering indiscriminately.

    The metaphor I find most helpful is to imagine a father living in a house full of children. Some are good, while others are torturing and killing each other. If the father gave any of the reasons used to defend the morality of God, this would not satisfy us. Free will does not absolve the father of the responsibility to intervene and correct, for example, nor does testing or building the character of his children make allowing torture morally acceptable. The reason for this is because morality always falls most on those with the most power. By virtue of having knowledge of evil and the power to stop it, morality demands a person to act. With supreme knowledge and power in a situation, comes supreme moral accountability for that situation.

    Ultimately, all defenses to the problem of evil that I have heard ultimately throw out the "all-good" portion of the premise all powerful, all knowing and all good. They do it implicitly, by invalidating the application of our moral standard to God. Either it is our fault and God bears no moral responsibility (free will, original sin, etc), or we do not have the understanding or right to judge God (life is a test, bringing about a greater good, who are we to judge God, etc). Either way, if we cannot use our standard to judge that an all-powerful and all-knowing God appears to be failing in the positive moral duty to defend his children, that we cannot use that standard to judge that He is moral, either.

    Of course, as I said, this only points out a contradiction in those theistic positions that accept an all-knowing, all-powerful, morally perfect God. It is not a strong argument for atheism, in my view. However, it can lead to a stronger argument, as the lack of morality in how the universe operates can lead to a realization that the universe does not appear to operate with sentience or sapience, either.

  • GCBill

    5) therefore no such God exists

    There four? Where four? Wherefore omitest thou a four?

    "The best reason for theists to propose is “I don’t know, but that
    doesn’t mean the reasons aren’t there.” This may be true, but it seems
    out of keeping with the idea that we are born equipped, even partially
    equipped, to understand and apply objective morality. It would seem to
    mean that we are ignorant of many important moral facts about the
    cosmos, in fact we would be ignorant as to why or how some of the worst
    and seemingly gratuitous suffering is not stopped by one who can stop
    it, and does not want us to suffer."

    This is an interesting point that has not occurred to me before. I would also add that so long as we're stipulating that there are reasons for God's actions that humans cannot possibly fathom, we are equally unjustified in asserting that there couldn't be hidden reasons for God to prevent suffering. Skeptical theism is asymmetrically skeptical.

  • melanie statom

    Does the problem of evil make love "unlikely"? Is love a self-constructed fabrication, a fictional story we invent? If the Christian proclaimation in John's Gospel " God is love" is true, and if love is a reality that can never be imposed or forced, then the reality of the God Christ reveals in human fleshy translation, will necessarily be vulnerable to rejection...crucifixions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in section 302 includes this statement: " There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not inpart an answer to the question of evil." Wrestling with this question for years, has lead me further into faith, not away from it, much to my surprise...These words form the appendix of Teilhard de Chardin's " The Phenomenon of Man have been clarifying. " Suffering and failure, tears and blood: so many by-products...begotten by a nooisphere on its way. This, in final analysis, is what the spectacle of the world in movement reveals to our observation and reflection at first stage. But is that really all? Is there nothing else to see? In other words, is it really sure that, for an eye trained and sensitised by light other than that of pure science, the quantity and the mailce of evil hic et nunc, spread throughout the world, does not betray a certain excess, inexplicable to our reason, if to the normal effect of evolution is not added the extraordianry effect of some castastrophe or primordial deviation?....In one manner or other it still remains true, even in the view of the mere biologist, the human epic resembles so much as a way of the Cross. " The evils that befall us are contrary to Christ, contrary to love...contrary to "God's " will " which cannot, for the Christian, be anything other than Christ himself who reveals to us definitively a God, a Love suffering in this world. He reveals a God who has gone right into into the heart of our darkness... will use even that terrible darkness, contrary to his love, to bring humanity back to the love, in who's image and likeness we were made in, from the beginning. It's a mouthful to swallow, but there lies the radical call of Divine Love and transfiguration of all things in, with and through the paschal mystery of Christ., crucifed, died and resurrected.

  • CWJ

    I have always thought the Problem of Evil is better approached as the Problem of Heaven. The question then becomes " If God is loving and all powerful, why are we all not in heaven now?"

  • Kevin Reiner

    If we are deserving the good that we always debate about, then why do we murder the owner of that good, defame Him throughout the ages, bending ways to him, denying His existence, and calls everyone to do the same*? Every single one of it is another hammer's strike to the nails of his Holy hand.

    * : The list is not exhaustive.

  • Mike Morris

    "There are a few other, less persuasive counters, such as the speculation that all suffering, even disease and natural disasters, are caused by human sin. This seems to be an incredibly unfair and torturous cosmos, where young children are somehow responsible for their cancer, or worse, they suffer and die because of the wrongs of their ancestors."

    Wouldn't it be fair to suggest that given what science has revealed in the past thirty years that man's illicit relationship to the environment does have a great effect on a lot of the disease and natural disasters that we are faced with today?

    Would it also be fair to consider if, in a parallel universe, there was a planet where the greatest amount of suffering was stubbing ones toe on a coffee table, would there still not be a group of people demanding even less suffering from their creator?

    Also, in context to the Christian God, considering the life and death of Jesus, could it be that there is a redemptive nature impregnated within the mystery of suffering? Every man's experience, particularly in relation to pain and suffering, is ultimately his to interpret but I have found in my own life that at my weakest is where I have found my greatest strength.

    Either thank you for your post. I enjoyed reading it.

    • I think in your second paragraph that you suggest that much of disease is human caused? I don't think thisnisnthe case at all, there are many genetic diseases, or some that we are powerless to prevent. Consider Alzheimer's alone, or encephalopathy, there are these tiny molecules, prions, that are virtually undetectable, if one gets into your brain it will slowly turn into mush, a slow painful death. Consider skin cancers from simply exposing skin to the sun, malaria from Mosquitos.

      On your second paragraph, sure, maybe. But that isn't what we observe.

      Yes, I could accept that there could be some redemptive nature in suffering. In which case, it would be immoral for us to try to prevent or avoid it. Is that how it seems to you? It doesn't to me, to me an intuitive moral duty is to prevent as much suffering as I can. Indeed, this pro suffering theology seems to have been Mother Teresa's theology, which was highly criticized by Hitchens. It also seems to have been quite common among Catholics, e.g. Hair shirts, self flagellation, saints who tortured themselves. To me this idea that suffering is good seems incredibly immoral.

      • Mike Morris

        There are indeed disease we are powerless to prevent. And I tow the line of sanity, as a believer, suggesting anyone who has ever suffered should buck up because God still loves them. Ultimately, it is on each individual to understand. I know from my experience the revelatory nature of my own suffering, and where it has ultimately led me. Mother Theresa's theology is Catholic theology that Hitchen's was critical of, but strangely many of Hitchens last quotes could be mistaken for a Mother Theresa or some other Catholic theologian. It was also Mother Theresa who went to her grave with serious doubt about the point of existence, though it didn't change her day to day life. These thoughts are very reminiscent of the Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross. You are also correct to suggest that to believe suffering is necessarily good is immoral. Once again, that's why a figure such as Mother Theresa, tirelessly fought poverty in the streets of Calcutta. She understood suffering is bad but it doesn't mean we have been forgotten by our Creator because ultimately the Christian message on suffering isn't the guarantee we won't, but the promise that we will not go through it alone.

        Catholic theology on self denial is most easily digested when you consider the physical process of exercise. By exercising we are hurting our body in the short term to strengthen it in the long term. Basically not all discomfort is bad, but I won't venture past fasting and general self denial as I think it's unquestionable some of those medieval practices of self flagellation etc. can venture towards masochism.

        • Mother Teresa "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to
          share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much
          helped by the suffering of the poor people."

          This is not the statement of someone who was interested in alleviating and fighting poverty, but in celebrating it.

          I still don't see any convincing theodicy in your comments.

          • Mike Morris

            As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. And I'd say her actions suggested that maybe her words are being misunderstood or maybe she understood what she was saying on a different level than either of us can comprehend.

            My point is, I don't understand the true nature of suffering in relation to God, but that doesn't mean I throw the Deity out with the bath water. My tradition suggests I approach all metaphysical questions with humility in light of the Cross. The Cross says really shitty things happen to really fantastic people. Besides, wasn't your point in writing to convince me that God does not exist because of suffering?

            It would be naive for me to assume I'd change your mind just like that, and you'd throw out however many years of crafting your epistemology because you saw the light (Hank Williams style). All I ask is, given the message of the Christian Gospel, is it really unreasonable to believe a God can exist despite the suffering of the world?

          • I am not saying that it is impossible that the suffering we see and which seems gratuitous, is necessarily gratuitous. The argument works only if you accept that it seems gratuitous.

            The response from you that we have been discussing is, more or less skeptical theism. You seem to be saying that not only could this suffering be necessary, perhaps the suffering itself is the the good, we just don't realize it. I don't see what in any message in the Bible suggests that or why that would be the case. Wasn't Jesus' suffering and death the price for sin? Did he not pay it? If so, why do we also need to keep paying it?

            But if you are correct, then what do we make of our intuition that suffering is bad, failing to prevent it is immoral? Would it not be immoral then to do anything to stop suffering?

            I am not saying this state of affairs is impossible, but it seems unlikely to me. I think a better explanation is that there is no God, suffering happens due to the way the universe is and human activity. It is bad and immoral because what morality is, is the kind of behaviour that avoids suffering and promotes flourishing. We have intuitions about this because we evolved as social animals, we have an interest in staying healthy and out of pain and ensuring our protective group does too. But I digress!

          • Mike Morris

            Any way you slice it, I've enjoyed this discussion and thank you for engaging me.

            Jesus implores us to pick up our cross and follow him. That seems pretty clear to me that He did not see his death and resurrection as a once and for all proposition. His Disciples did not either as they each one by one followed in similar excruciating deaths.

            The book of Job and Psalms both suggest an understanding that to exist comes with baggage at the least. But I don't think suffering is inherently good. That's why you fight it. But I think people are transformed by their suffering all the time. The world as well can be transformed by one man's suffering. My personal experience with suffering has always eventually galvanised my belief. So I mainly speak from my own experience.

          • Thank you as well, no doubt suffering is informative and transformative. The question is, is it worth it? Is the experience of watching your child die of a disease worth the transformation? I would say no. I would say the same for pretty much all significant suffering.

          • Mike Morris

            Nor could I blame you for your reasons. I have fortunately never had to grapple with the actual death of one of my children (and I pray that doesn't change) so it's really hard to put myself in that situation and know the outcome. I do know people have lost children and it was not cause to lose faith as I'm sure the opposite holds true as well.

            The Christian message says to me, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Expect bad things to happen to you from time to time as well as good things; do your best to alleviate the difficulties of those around you; approach it all in humility and grace will follow. For me, that's an easy message to accept.

            It's been a pleasure.

          • Keep in mind that there is no problem of evil or suffering for atheists. We do indeed expect bad things to happen to good and bad people. We simply can accept that gratuitous suffering happens. People suffer and die for disease and disaster because these things are bound to occur in a naturalistic cosmos.

            One of the benefits to not believing in any Gods is that when bad things happen you are not plagued with questions of "why?".

          • Robert Macri

            On the contrary, it is the atheist who is not plagued with questions of "why?" because he denies that there is any answer at all.

            It is the theist who struggles often to understand an answer to that question, in the quest to understand something about God.

          • "On the contrary, it is the atheist who is not plagued with questions of
            "why?" because he denies that there is any answer at all."

            That is not "on the contrary", it is my point. Other than, for example, that earthquake happened and killed all those people because or plate tectonics and so on.

          • Robert Macri

            Earthquakes and tectonic shifts supply the "how" of an answer, not the "why". "Why" implies meaning and purpose (at least the way I use the word).

            I don't intend to argue semantics; I just want to point out that theists are not trying to avoid the hard questions... they are in fact positing explanations. You may not agree with the explanation, but you can't say that one wasn't offered.

            Perhaps you meant to imply that faith was a mere balm to avoid facing the horror associated with certain tragedies? That it's an easy out, or the comfort of false hope? The example of saintly people speaks otherwise. Faith puts them "down in the trenches", sharing the suffering of others (consider Mother Teresa). Not that atheists can't or don't do such things. I'm just pointing out that faith is not an easy escape, and those who embrace it most often seem to "escape" the least. And as for me, I have often asked God the question "why?". My quest to understand doesn't force me to deny that he has an answer, or that he even exists.

          • "Earthquakes and tectonic shifts supply the "how" of an answer, not the
            "why". "Why" implies meaning and purpose (at least the way I use the
            word)."

            I'm fine with that.

            But theists aren't offering an explanation, they are saying they don't know why either, but they believe there is a why anyway.

            I can offer any number of thousands of explanations, especially if I accept theism. E.g. god is evil. God doesn't care that much about us. God lies. These are much more compelling theistic explanations than God thinks watching your baby die builds character.

            "Perhaps you meant to imply that faith was a mere balm to avoid facing the horror associated with certain tragedies"

            No I am not. In fact, when these things happen, it seems to me that there is no balm for theists, no comfort from any God, things just go on as if there was no God. I don't really know, I've never believed, or experienced severe suffering. Maybe some theists feel comforted by believing there must be some purpose that the God that loves them will not save them or their loved ones.

            Mother Teresa is probably a bad example. But I certainly grant that many theists of all religions and non-theists get "down in the trenches" and confront evil and suffering.

            Have you seriously considered whether the answer to "why" is "no reason, just the way things are?"

          • Robert Macri

            Oh yes, naturally I have considered the "no reason" explanation. Who hasn't?

            But that explanation is at severe odds with what we observe in nature: cause leads to effect, potency to actuality, potential energy to kinetic. Contingent objects receive their attributes from beyond themselves (heat from contact with something hot; change in motion from some impact or interaction...) Why do we expect the happenings within the universe to be explainable, but not the universe itself? Or sensibility itself? How are we to be content with the belief that the universe is intelligible (so that we can do science) but that this intelligibility itself exists without reason?

            The impressive success of science gives us so much confidence in the intelligibility of things that we sometimes forget how astonishing it is that the universe is intelligible at all. (It if is the result of random chaos, it almost certainly would NOT be sensible.) We expect there to be answers, even if we are not ready to understand them. If we did not, there would be no curiosity, no science.

            Now, as I see it, there is only one way one could posit the explanation, "no reason, just the way things are": creation itself would have to be eternal and infinite. (Basically, "god" without any self-awareness or personality.)

            Why? Well, it would have to be infinite in order for randomness to give rise to the semblance of sensibility we observe. This is why there are so many popular dreams of "multiverses" and extra-dimensional manifolds these days.... because the extreme fine tuning of physical law observed in our universe would require either 1) design, or 2) an infinite number of random instances just to get the conditions right for life to exist and observe anything at all. (It seems to me that Occam's razor would shave away #2. Are you really prepared to believe in infinitely many universes just to deny one infinite God?)

            And creation would have to be eternal to avoid having a first cause (unconditioned cause). Yes, I am aware that Stephen Hawking and others trumpet the possibility that the universe need have no "beginning", but this is a mathematical shell game. Essentially, they're trying to say that the universe is a perpetual motion machine. (And even in their concept, certain physical laws have to pre-exist to give rise to the universe. They don't attempt to say what gives rise to those laws... I guess it's supposed to be infinitely many random universes.)

            So, yes. I've considered the "no reason" angle. It just has way too much baggage.

            By the way, there is no evidence for multiple universes. Such notions, while possible, are purely theoretical.

          • But the atheist perspective on does not say that suffering is uncaused. We can easily identify material causes for suffering.

            But really you are advancing Aquinas as a reason for the existence of a cause for material reality. This argument from suffering is by no means evidence against that, but rather against an omnibenovolent omnipotent god.

            You can read my responses to first cause, contingency and cosmological arguments for the existence of gods in the many posts on this site advancing these arguments.

          • Michael Murray

            So someone with alzheimers deteriorates slowly over a decade or so. They gain nothing, they lose everything but slowly. They die. What did they learn ? Perhaps it was all for their relatives so they could learn ? What a kind god that gives us such caring lessons.

            Or perhaps the universe is purposeless, indifferent to us and our self-awareness and suffering ?

            I know which theory attracts me more. I'm just glad it's the one that the evidence supports.

          • Mike Morris

            I have little to contribute to the effects of Alzheimer's on the individual. My minimal experience of dementia involved my great grandma in her mid-nineties, and I was probably a young teenager at the time. Despite that, I don't think it changes anything in regards to the Christian message on suffering. I did find an article from a Catholic website that deals directly in interviews with fellow Catholics and their dealings with their loved one's who had Alzheimer's. I've included the link.

            http://m.ncregister.com/site/article/caring-for-loved-ones-with-alzheimers#.VeBpz_co7qB

            The article does seem to be getting at the same point I'm trying to make. I have no reason to believe otherwise. It also mentions a Catholic neurologist who has painstakingly attempted to bring the conversation to the forefront about Alzheimer's and general maintenance a person can do to lower their risks of it later in life. Here's a link to his website:

            http://www.healthybrainmd.com/doctors/dr-vincent-fortanasce-md/

            My question for you would be, since you have the evidence on your side, who gets credit when a devout Catholic Doctor is the one feeding you that information, science or religion? I, for one, have little interest in putting myself such a box that only allows me to consider one dimension of human experience when it comes to my life. But, by all means this is America, please live your life where probability fuels your decisions, and I'll live where cumulative experience guides mine.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't live in America.

          • Michael Murray

            Jesus implores us to pick up our cross and follow him.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lN4TSslz-0

          • Mike Morris

            That's one of my favorite movies!

    • It's a little strange that stubbing your toe hurts at all, on theism. Evolution explains why that might be the case, but it's a stretch on theism, as stubbing your toe holds no moral significance. It seems physical pain and pleasure are directly related to biological concerns, without moral significance. God could have made sex outside marriage feel really painful, for example, if that was what he really wanted one to avoid.

      • Mike Morris

        Well it kind of was pre sexual revolution to the female. And STD's, I've heard are uncomfortable. My main point about stubbing your toe is at what point do you draw the line on the trade off for autonomy vs. the experience of evil in the world, and at what point would an atheist finally agree that's the perfect balance?

        • With a tri-omni god at the controls, it's simply any suffering, at all, that doesn't lead to a greater good or prevent more suffering.

        • Addressing your first sentences-

          If you're referring to childbirth- if having children is a moral good, again it seems that god could have arranged it so that it was a safe, pleasurable experience. Instead, in humans, it's painful and dangerous because of our proportionately enormous heads, explained by our recent evolutionary heritage.

          STD's could be an interesting case, except diseases can be transmitted any number of ways, and much more deadly and painful diseases seems to strike indiscriminately- cancer, ms, md, alzheimers, parkinsons, lupus, etc. Who are those punishing? If disease is a moral motivating tool at god's disposal, that would require explanation.

          More examples of this disconnect- murder, adultery, worshiping false idols and gods, disobeying your parents, stealing, coveting your neighbors wife- none of these things cause physical pain. Masturbation, adultery, drunkenness, illicit drug use, gluttony- all of these things can provide some measure of physical pleasure(short term on the last 3 no doubt)

          None of this says there isn't a god of course; just that if there is a god who is interested in our moral lives, he didn't use these powerful tools to motivate us, and I find that to be powerful evidence that such a god doesn't exist.

          • Mike Morris

            I agree that such a god doesn't exist. I'd quote Jesus in saying, " Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." And I understand that to mean that God isn't as interested in our moral character as these moral truths help guide us towards union. If you read much of the mystics you know that they believed the moral life was more geared for first half of life believers. The true mystic moved beyond the need for moral code and moved toward the law of Love. Basically, that is to say some of us need the motivation of the police to prevent from committing crimes less than others. Some of us don't kill, not because we expect the heavens to rain chocolate for our decision but because we see the inherent dignity and the common goodness in our brother. Some of us don't have sex with our neighbor's wife for the same reasons.

            My point is, maybe we are just beloved despite our flaws and God only cares in our moral conduct to the point of our own realization that we are loved. And our guilt for committing any of the plethora of misdeeds that you quoted is in itself a realization of our own un-worthiness.

  • bdlaacmm

    I still maintain that the wrong defendant is in the dock here. Christianity has an explanation for the so-called "Problem of Evil". You may not like the explanation, and may of course not believe it, but you cannot deny that an explanation exists.

    The atheist, on the other hand, has no explanation at all for why evil exists in the world. None. If this natural world were All There Was, then everything should be exactly as it ought to be. There is no mechanism for anything to go awry. A rock has no choice but to fall if you let go of it. But more importantly, the rock (were it a sentient being) would have no reason to complain about its falling because that's what it's supposed to do. It can envision no alternative.

    In that same atheistic universe, we ought to be as comfortable and adjusted to whatever happens to us as that rock. Whatever occurs is what had to happen. There was no "better" alternative to even consider. The fact that we can imagine a better world than the one we see around us is all by itself proof that the natural world is not all there is.

    • What is this explanation?

      You are right, atheists nor atheism has an explanation for "evil", but that word can mean many things. But the existence of evil or suffering, specifically gratuitous evil and suffering, are not inconsistent with atheism in any way. They are inconsistent with the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity.

      The existence of suffering however does have a very good explanation on naturalism, the capacity to suffer evolved as an incentive to avoid unhealthy and harmful events and, for social animals, to protect and value the members of the group. So we feel bad when they are harmed or killed.

      • bdlaacmm

        "What is this explanation?"

        Sin.

        Remember that I wrote, "You may not like the explanation, and may of course not believe it, but you cannot deny that an explanation exists.."

        • Why does the word "Sin" explain the existence of suffering from disaster and disease?

          • bdlaacmm

            Because God gave us a perfect world, and we ruined it.

            "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God ... We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in travail together until now" (Romans 8:19,22)

            Note, I'm not asking you to accept this explanation, but simply to acknowledge it exists.

          • David Nickol

            Because God gave us a perfect world, and we ruined it.

            But we know the world wasn't perfect well before "we" came on the scene—"nature red in tooth and claw."

            Also, it was not mankind who decided what penalty the human race should pay for sin. It was God.

      • Mike

        Why would the world or "evolution" or anything for that matter have the "goal" that we "avoid harm"?

        Seems like you are pre-supposing intention in inanimate matter.

        • I wouldn't use the word "goal" for evolution. But the reason species would evolve a sense of pain, would be because those that did not would be less likely to survive and reproduce. I would have thought this obvious.

          • Mike

            why is "survival" and reproduction "important" or "a thing" for animals if there is no goal?

            you seem to believe that animals have some innate reason to avoid not-reproducing and yet you don't believe that the innate reason is a goal...how can those 2 positions be compatible?

          • I don't know how to explain it any better, it is basic natural selection. Animals and plants that do not survive or do not reproduce cease to exist.

            Not only animals but all life reproduces. Those who develop traits that are contrary to reproduction will be less likely to compete well with those who have better traits in this regard.

            Ascribing a goal to this is like saying a river has a goal of reaching the sea. Call it a goal if you like.

            The point is whether there are naturalistic reasons why life forms would have a sensation of pain and suffering. There are obvious evolutionary reasons why they would.

          • Mike

            fascinating; so you don't deny that "nature" has a goal of adapting creatures to survive to thrive; it is "pointed" towards Life and more and more life.

            do you ever wonder why purposeless matter in a purposeless universe might have such a strange and yet obvious "direction"?

            Seems to me like either it doesn't have a direction or that there really is purpose in nature.

            Thx. for the xchange again.

          • It depends what you mean by those terms. I see absolutely no consciousness or intention behind natural selection, so if those are required by "goal" then yes I do deny that.

            No I don't wonder that because natural selection explains why matter evolve in such a way without a purpose or goal of survival or anything else.

            Species that are better are surviving to reproduce survive as an effect of natural, unconscious, puposeless forces.

          • Mike

            i think you are contradicting yourself, but alas you don't think you are ; ok take care.

    • Doug Shaver

      If this natural world were All There Was, then everything should be exactly as it ought to be.

      No. You cannot infer "should be X" from "is X."

    • Michael Murray

      In that same atheistic universe, we ought to be as comfortable and adjusted to whatever happens to us as that rock.

      Why ? I would have thought exactly the opposite. The message of natural selection is that those animals that want things they can't get compete harder and their genes increase in frequency. The end result of that is us driven by instincts we can't satisfy. Then you add developing self awareness and just increase the dissatisfaction.

    • Mike

      very nicely put i think:

      "The fact that we can imagine a better world than the one we see around us is all by itself proof that the natural world is not all there is."

      BINGO!

  • Francisco Sandoval

    This particular argument falls if we accept the principles of Free Will and Psychosomatic Unity (speaking for humanity as opposed to a single person). If there is such thing as the original sin, we can surmise that the effects cannot be only spiritual but physical (in line with Psychosomatic unity). And the fact that both the sin and its consequences are a result of Free Will, we can most definitely say that it is humanities sins in general what permit the existence of natural evil. Not of any particular individual. And as long as there is Free Will, bad things will happen to bad and good people. And Free Will will be respected by God because that is the way He chose it. Otherwise, our belief and good behavior would not be voluntary but compelled.

    To me this is very clear, although I admit I lack the necessary language to make it more understandable to others.

    • David Nickol

      And the fact that both the sin and its consequences are a result of Free Will, we can most definitely say that it is humanities sins in general what permit the existence of natural evil.

      The problem with blaming natural evil on original sin is that natural evil (floods, hurricanes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, cancer, bacterial and viral diseases) were all in existence before there were human beings to commit original sin or any other sin.

      And in the story of Adam and Eve, certain evils were not so much "consequences" of sin but punishments invented by God for sin.

  • David Nickol

    I think one of the principal Christian beliefs that makes the problem of evil more difficult to explain away is that God sometimes intervenes to prevent or mitigate evil, but the rest of the time he does not. As I have noted before, you can often hear Christians being interviewed on the news after some mishap or disaster claiming they were guided and spared by "the Good Lord," and they seem to see no problem that others, presumably equally deserving, were left to some horrible fate by "the Good Lord."

    Many Christians seem to believe "the Good Lord" is constantly intervening in their lives to do them trivial little favors like help them find their car keys, when the only possible conclusion is that when something terrible happens to someone, God chose not to intervene.

    It is, in many ways, more comforting to believe that God (if he exists) never intervenes than to believe that he intervenes in trivial matters but chooses not to in matters of great consequence.

    • Galorgan

      Of course then you'd be in the situation of him not intervening with Abraham, Moses, etc., which would be somewhat problematic for Christians.

    • Rob Abney

      David, I'm curious to know your understanding of catholic teaching on divine intervention

      • David Nickol

        I should make it clear that I am talking about God intervening "in history." I would say off the top of my head that it would be against Catholic teaching to say that God never intervenes, otherwise one of the main forms of prayer would not be prayers of petition. However, I would suspect there is wide latitude among theologians (and others who ponder these things) as to whether God intervenes very rarely or whether he is daily directing minor events in the lives of pious Christians.

        I remember (no doubt with less than perfect clarity) an incident on Star Trek when there were serious problems with the transporter, and Spock had a very tense few moments trying to get Captain Kirk back in one piece. When he finally succeeded, Dr. McCoy said, "Thank heavens!" Spock raised his eyebrow and said, "No deity was involved. It was my switching the circuits from A to B that brought him back." This is quite similar to an old family story about relatives too distant for me to even remember, in which a husband and wife had come some distance to visit others in the family. They had gotten temporarily lost on the way, but finally made it. When the wife was recounting the trip, she told the family that they had been lost but "the Good Lord" had brought them through safely, whereupon the husband said, "The Good Lord %$&#!%! I drove you here myself!"

        During those moments when I am a believer, I think it is quite unlikely that God intervenes in the minutia of everyday life.

        I would be fascinated if someone has truly "official" Church teaching on the matter. Should you pray to God (or St. Anthony) when you can't find your car keys? One of the things we were taught in elementary school is that you may have a picnic planned and consequently pray for a sunny day, whereas the farmer may be praying for desperately needed rain for his crops. I find it difficult to imagine God has to decide which prayers he must answer when picnickers and farmers are in conflict in their prayers.

        • Michael Murray

          Assuming that nobody is picnicing in the actual fields where the crops are you would have thought any half decent deity could make it rain just precisely on the crops thereby answering everybody's prayers.

        • Rob Abney

          God is involved in the minutiae, he sustains all and keeps all creation from being annihilated.

          • David Nickol

            God is involved in the minutiae, he sustains all and keeps all creation from being annihilated.

            The concept of God as not merely the creator of all things, but the sustainer, has nothing to do with whether, how, and how often God intervenes in history. Your pious dodge not only fails, but highlights the problem. While the torture victim suffers in agony, God sustains the torturer and the instruments of torture in existence. Still, that is not an instance of God intervening in history.

          • Rob Abney

            You are right, I thought my answer was too religious. But, I was curious about your Catholic understanding, since I've read your comments often and seem to recall that you have a Catholic education. So my answer that God sustains everything at all times was not meant to be flippant but to say that the Catholic understanding is that God is constantly intervening. As a Catholic I would see Mr. Spock and your other examples as being ungrateful since they only acknowledge God's apparent help not his constant help, and Spock doesn't even acknowledge that he (spock) was cooperating with Him.
            So, my question should have been, if the Catholic teaching is that God constantly intervenes then what is the basis of the argument that he intervenes only occasionally?

          • David Nickol

            So, my question should have been, if the Catholic teaching is that God constantly intervenes then what is the basis of the argument that he intervenes only occasionally?

            Please demonstrate to me that it is Catholic teaching that God constantly intervenes. I do not think it is. The Catholic belief that God must continuously "sustain" the universe—and everything in it—in existence is quite a different matter than the belief that God intervenes in history. Perhaps you don't understand what is meant by God "intervening in history." I would love to discuss this further, but right now I have to make a house call to take care of a friend's sick computer. More later.

          • Rob Abney

            You're right, that wasn't a good choice of phrase; by saying that God constantly intervenes sounds as if he directs everything, but I meant only that he constantly sustains.
            I hope that you have success in your venture as He sustains you and your friend and the computer, as you cooperate with Him to repair it. Is that the Catholic view?

          • Rob Abney

            David, What do you think about this interpretation from Thomas Aquinas?

            God has created a universe, not a number of isolated beings. Whence it follows, according to St. Thomas, that natural operations tend to what is better for the whole, but not necessarily what is better for each part except in relation to the whole. Sin and suffering are evils because they are contrary to the good of the individual and to God's original purpose in regard to the individual, but they are not contrary to the good of the universe, and this good will ultimately be realized by the omnipotent Providence of God.
            (from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12510a.htm)

  • David Nickol

    For those who think suffering is somehow necessary, for example so people can do the good deed of working to relieve suffering, the question in my mind is why human suffering is permitted to be so extreme. You can do good deeds by comforting people with bad colds or the flu, so why do we need rabies, Alzheimer's, and the bubonic plague?

    One might imagine that God could have created a world in which people still experienced suffering but in which extreme torture for weeks on months was impossible. Could God not have limited the amount and extent of the suffering by creating a world in which extreme suffering was impossible and yet in which people still had free will?

    • GCBill

      Good point. I think small evils are fairly easy for theists to explain in terms of "greater goods." It's just that that same approach strains credibility when applied to the greatest evils.

    • I'm not sure that objection would work- Anticipated theist response: Perhaps the world we live in has some much worse suffering withheld by god? (See comment by Mike Morris about toe stubbing elsewhere in this comment section)

      • Michael Murray

        The problem is their answer works for anything. "God might have had reasons." Sure. "The beer I left in the fridge overnight might have been stolen by the cat who left the empty bottle in my kids bedroom". Sure. On the other hand if you want a plausible answer ....

      • David Nickol

        Anticipated theist response: Perhaps the world we live in has some much worse suffering withheld by god?

        I don't think that would be much of an argument. It's like the argument that your prayers worked when you prayed before the hurricane and the Good Lord allegedly saved two of your six children and the cat. Think how much worse it would have been had you not prayed!

        I think we can make a reasonable judgment about what is tolerable suffering and what is "too much." If 8 on the scale is intolerable, then there is no reason to be grateful to God for sparing us 9 or 10.

        • joey_in_NC

          I think we can make a reasonable judgment about what is tolerable suffering and what is "too much."

          Can we, really? Would you consider the death of one's own child "too much" suffering?

          • Skeptical Calvanist

            Did the child go to heaven or hell? If he/she goes to hell, I cannot see any good that could not have been achieved without this, so I would say that is too much suffering. A lot of the power of the problem of evil is related to the problem of hell. If you don't believe in hell, then the problem is much weaker than if you do.

            Beyond this, assuming hell does not exist, then I don't think that any single instance is sufficient. The bigger issue is that when you take all the instances of the last 100 million years or so that you get an awful lot of evil for ends that it seems could have been achieved without it or with less of it by the God of classical theism.

            However, accepting that God exists for the sake of argument, I accept the skeptical theist's response to the problem, and all the consequences of that. As such I agree that because God is beyond our understanding we cannot expect to know just how much evil God would allow. As a result, i also reject the idea that direct revelation should be accepted without corresponding evidence/argument. I think that a case for the existence of God or the truth of a religion should be able to be built if God exists without requiring direct revelation, while still accounting for divine revelation.

            I think a Theists best response to the problem of evil is to say that yes, there is apparently gratuitous evil, and yes it seems to reduce the probability that God exists all else being equal; but all else is not equal. The theist could say, "I think God exists for good reasons x, y, z, and that this has been further confirmed by religious experience, apparent miracles, etc, and this means that even though I cannot understand why this evil occurs and I wish it were eliminated, I nevertheless trust that God exists and is good."

          • David Nickol

            Can we, really?

            Yes.

            Would you consider the death of one's own child "too much" suffering?

            No, birth and death are part of human existence. One of the things we all must come to grips with is that everybody, sooner or later, will die. There may, of course, be cases in which loss of a loved one comes with unbearable suffering. But I would not say that God can be "criticized" for creating a world in which everybody dies and in which parents sometimes lose children.

          • joey_in_NC

            No, birth and death are part of human existence. One of the things we all must come to grips with is that everybody, sooner or later, will die. There may, of course, be cases in which loss of a loved one comes with unbearable suffering.

            You gave a conflicting answer. You say no, followed by saying that there could be causes where death comes with unbearable suffering.

            The point is what we consider "unbearable suffering" is almost entirely subjective.

          • David Nickol

            Perhaps I can say it a little more clearly. The fact that people die does not, in and of itself, strike me as an argument against an all-good God. The fact that parents sometimes lose children does not, in and of itself, strike me as an argument against an all-good God. However, there may be individual cases in which a parent losing a child (or any loved one losing another loved one) does indeed involve "too much" suffering. For example, suppose a child is abducted, tortured, and murdered, and the child's mother, already struggling with depression for other reasons, falls into a deep and treatment-resistant depression and commits suicide.

            I think in many (but not all) cases of suicide, there has been "too much" suffering. The Catholic Church seems to recognize this in modern times by allowing those who have committed suicide to have funeral masses. While it may be a "sin" for some people to commit suicide, it seems to me clear that some people are "driven" by suffering that is beyond their ability to endure.

    • Mike

      natural evils are bad but i suspect that 99% of the issue are moral evils: have you ever read the chapter called "rebellion" in the Brothers Karamoz? The things that Ivan describes happening are morally so evil that no explanation other than a divine one will suffice imho.

      Real ultimate evil the kind that would cause you and me to go insane and commit suicide can only be accounted for if there is a God.

  • Robert Macri

    This argument is not compelling for three reasons:

    1) It hinges upon our ignorance of the reasons for certain instances of suffering (as well as the potential unknowable benefits which can come about as a result of them). By such reasoning, Ralph Macchio's character in "the Karate Kid" might have concluded that Mr. Miyagi was a cheat or sadist when Miyagi instructed him to wash and wax his fleet of cars to no apparent purpose (wax on, wax off). "Daniel-san" could not yet see that Mr. Miyagi was training his muscle memory, perseverance, and faith in his instructor simultaneously.

    Lack of understanding is proof of nothing. Nor is it a reliable measure of unreasonableness. An omniscient and omnipotent God would (by definition) be able to bring good (as HE sees it, not as we assume it) out of any calamity,whatever the source of the misfortune--moral or natural evil.

    2) It assumes that the measure of the value or purpose in suffering (if any) is found within the confines of this life alone. But if indeed there is an afterlife, whatever happens there will profoundly affect our calculus concerning the reason or necessity of suffering here, even that due to natural evils. If my existence were to come to a painful end in the dentist's chair, I would rather not suffer his needle and drill in the first place; but if I enjoy a long life with healthy teeth afterwards I will count the experience as gain, even if I never come to understand exactly what it was that my dentist did, or why.

    3) It ascribes to man the privilege of defining morality. But if God exists (in the Judeo-Christian sense of God) that is his exclusive prerogative. Indeed, he DEFINES what is moral; not arbitrarily or in cruelty, but rather in keeping with his own perfections.

    Furthermore, certain actions may be morally wrong for us (because of our misuse or abuse) but not so with God. For instance, it is unlawful and morally repugnant for me to kidnap, enslave, or deny the freedoms of another, but a police officer may ethically and lawfully do all of those things when in the course of his duties he places someone under arrest. He is authorized to do this by virtue of his office and does so for the good of all (including the criminal, who is living a life unto ruin). How much more authority, then, has God?

    That God permits evil to befall us (whether at the hands of wicked men, or of natural disaster and disease) cannot be shown to violate his moral perfection for the simple reason that our understanding is finite. The fact that we cannot state with certainty his reasons does not imply that no such reasons exist.

    Arguments from the problem of evil may be effective an emotional level, but they assume to much to be logically sound.

    • joey_in_NC

      Great post. I was going to reply something that resembled your point #2, but you worded it much better than I could have.

    • Doug Shaver

      Arguments from the problem of evil may be effective an emotional level, but they assume to much to be logically sound.

      Yes, if they are offered as a conclusive proof of God's nonexistence. But let's take a closer look at the logic.

      The basic claim is that if God is omnipotent etc., then we should reasonably expect there to be no evil, or at least a lot less evil than we observe. Symbolized for sentential logic, we have G => ~E. The key phrase is "reasonably expect." Most philosophically literate atheists nowadays concede that there is no logical contradiction between God's existence and the existence of any amount of evil. But it does not follow that we are wrong to think they are probably inconsistent. They are intuitively inconsistent, and many Christians, going back to some of the church fathers, have admitted as much. That is why the problem of evil has gotten so much attention. It isn't just atheists who consider it a real problem.

      The apologist response has been to add some assumptions about the situation. This post mentions three: There are morally sufficient reasons for suffering that we don't know about and perhaps cannot know about; the payback of eternal life will more than compensate for all suffering in this life; and the human mind is not competent to render any judgment in this matter. Let A be the proposition that one or more of these propositions are true. Then the apologetic counterargument is: (G + A) => E.

      Very well, but if I have no good reason to believe A, then I remain justified in following my intuition that G => ~E. And I don't have a good reason to believe A. Knowing the mere hypothetical possibility of a morally sufficient reason for the suffering I observe does not oblige me at all to believe that such a reason actually exists. Knowing that there could possibly be an afterlife does not justify my believing that there will be one. And, I have no reason to suspect that my moral intuitions are so defective as to render me unfit to even have an opinion about whether gratuitous suffering is an occurrence of evil.

      • ClayJames

        I do not think that your apologist response is the main problem with the argument. I reject the premise that if god is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, that we should reasonably expect there to be no evil, or less evil than we observe. Forget about A, it is not even necessary since you do not have the epistemic footing to conclude the above statement. You are trying to shift the burden of proof to the apologist to prove that god does have a reason for allowing evil without being able to validate your own premise.

        In essence, what you are saying is that if a limited human cannot figure out a good reason for event X, then it is reasonable to expect that an omniscient god probably does not have a good reason for event X. This statement is factually false, not just in a logical and definitional sense, but also in a probabilistic sense since the difference in epistemic footing renders any probability claim meaningless.

        • Doug Shaver

          the difference in epistemic footing renders any probability claim meaningless.

          Any claim at all? Not just some claims?

          • ClayJames

            Any probability claim regarding an omniscient being´s motivations. I can say that a limited human´s decision to allow evil is probability gratuitous because we are on the same espitemic footing and therefore, it is possible to make some assumptions as to be able to say that this conclusion is more probable than not. However, it makes no sense to say that we can determing what an omniscient being´s probable motivations are.

            From this, an atheist can then say that we have no business in determining ANY motivations of an omniscient being. This would be correct if all we were assuming is an omniscient and omnipotent being (which is what Brian is assuming for his argument), but then again, this is not what most theists believe in. Most Christians believe in a personal god that has revealed himself to us and is present in our daily lives.

          • Doug Shaver

            Most Christians believe in a personal god that has revealed himself to us

            How do you know that this revelation was intended for your benefit?

          • ClayJames

            How do you know that what you perceive is the world as it really exists? We are warranted to believe in the validity of our experiences unless we have a reason not to. Atheists will disagree with this regarding god's revelation, but not because we have no epistemic warrant to do so, but because they believe there are reasons to doubt that experience.

            This is completely different from the problem of evil where it makes no sense to say that a limited mind can make a probabilistic argument about the intentions of a of an omniscient being. How can one possibly have a possible set of outcomes in order to conclude that one outcome is more probable than another? It makes no sense.

          • Doug Shaver

            How do you know that what you perceive is the world as it really exists?

            It's an assumption I make, and I allow for exceptions in certain situations. That is to say, I assume that my perceptions are reliable in a general way, but I don't assume that they are infallible.

            Now that I have answered your question, will you answer mine?

          • ClayJames

            The answer is the same one you gave. I have epistemic warrant to assume that my perceptions are reliable and I also don't assume they are infallible. I don't assume that revelation has to benefit me. If I believe that it does, it is because it is a conclusion made from that revelation.

          • Doug Shaver

            The answer is the same one you gave. I have epistemic warrant to assume that my perceptions are reliable and I also don't assume they are infallible.

            And you include God's revelation to you among your perceptions?

          • ClayJames

            I do.

          • Doug Shaver

            You also said:

            I don't assume that revelation has to benefit me. If I believe that it does, it is because it is a conclusion made from that revelation.

            Whether you can reach that conclusion depends on whether the revelation is truthful. Are you assuming that if God were lying to you, you'd know it?

          • ClayJames

            That is why I asked you how you attest the validity of your percepcions since I think the same thing applies. God could be lying to me and I would not know it, but I have no reason to believe that he is.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK. I'm assuming the truth of a proposition, W: The world around me is, to some approximation, more or less as it appears to me. You're assuming the truth of a proposition, R: God is revealing his existence and certain other things about himself to you. The epistemological equivalence of these two propositions is not apparent to me. Neither can be inferred from the other, but practically all human beings, probably including you, assume W. That makes the conjunction of W and R less parsimonious than W alone. It isn't wrong just on that account, but on that account they don't have quite the same epistemological status.

            Furthermore, I can, in particular instances, revise the confidence I place in my perceptions. I know that a stick immersed in water is not bent even though it appears bent. I know, when driving on a hot day, that the water I see on the road ahead of me is not really there.

            Let us return to the comment of yours that got us off on this tangent:

            Any probability claim regarding an omniscient being´s motivations. I can say that a limited human´s decision to allow evil is probability gratuitous because we are on the same espitemic footing and therefore, it is possible to make some assumptions as to be able to say that this conclusion is more probable than not. However, it makes no sense to say that we can determing what an omniscient being´s probable motivations are.

            From this, an atheist can then say that we have no business in determining ANY motivations of an omniscient being. This would be correct if all we were assuming is an omniscient and omnipotent being (which is what Brian is assuming for his argument), but then again, this is not what most theists believe in. Most Christians believe in a personal god that has revealed himself to us and is present in our daily lives.

            You may assume that your revelation entitles you to believe that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing whatever evil we see in this world. I can stipulate that for the sake of discussion. It does not follow, however, that I am in any epistemic hot water if I don't believe that God has revealed anything to anybody. I could even stipulate that God has revealed something about himself to somebody in this world while rejecting your particular claim to have gotten the true revelation. In short, the mere fact that you are possibly right does not imply that I am certainly wrong.

          • ClayJames

            About your first point, I have no problem conceding that revelation is a different type of warranted belief as observation. However, as you admit, that doesn´t mean it is unwarranted.

            About your second point, let me break it down into 2 different points so we don´t talk past each other.

            1. Regarding Brian´s argument, I don´t have to assume that god has sufficient reason for allowing evil because the burden of proof is on the person making the argument and Brian´s premise assumes that a limited mind can make a probabilistic argument about the intentions of an omniscient mind, which makes no mathematical sense. A limited mind cannot have the entire set of possible reason for allowing evil in order to claim that evil is probably gratuitous.

            2. Moving away from Brian´s argument, I do believe that theists have epistemic warrant to believe god has a good reason for allowing evil based on his revelation. I agree with you that you are not in epistemic hot water if you don´t believe that God has revelead anything to anybody. Your claim that God has revealed something to somebody else while rejecting my revelation is not false for any epistemic reason, the content of the claims must be examined and compared within a theological context. Do you think I have said anything to the contrary of what I am writing in this point?

          • Doug Shaver

            Regarding Brian´s argument, I don´t have to assume that god has sufficient reason for allowing evil because the burden of proof is on the person making the argument

            As soon as I say something, then I am obliged to prove it, yes, and my interlocutor is not, at that point, obliged to disprove it. However, as soon as my interlocutor says, in reference to anything I have said, "That is not so," then the burden of proof goes over to him.

            Brian´s premise assumes that a limited mind can make a probabilistic argument about the intentions of an omniscient mind, which makes no mathematical sense.

            It has never occurred to me to try to justify it in mathematical terms.

            A limited mind cannot have the entire set of possible reason for allowing evil in order to claim that evil is probably gratuitous.

            My limited mind is the only one I have. If there is an infinite mind responsible for the universe's existence, I have no access to its thinking nor even a compelling reason to believe it exists. I can make no judgments based on information that is unavailable to me. If I see suffering, and if all the facts that I could possibly know say it is gratuitous, then I'm justified in believing that it is gratuitous.

            I do believe that theists have epistemic warrant to believe god has a good reason for allowing evil based on his revelation.

            Fine. You have warrant. But your warrant doesn't work as warrant for me. That means neither of us can accuse the other of being epistemically irresponsible. Of course we can't both be right, but warrant is not a proof. It's just a justification. It's possible for a belief to be justified but wrong.

            Your claim that God has revealed something to somebody else while rejecting my revelation is not false for any epistemic reason, the content of the claims must be examined and compared within a theological context. Do you think I have said anything to the contrary of what I am writing in this point?

            No, I don't, but for the lurkers' benefit, I think it's important to get the point out there whenever somebody appeals to revelation in defense of their beliefs.

            A bit of clarification, though, while I'm at it. My claim was not the God has revealed something to somebody else, but only that for all I know, if he has revealed anything, it could have been to somebody else, specifically, somebody other than the Catholic Church.

          • ClayJames

            As soon as I say something, then I am obliged to prove it, yes, and my
            interlocutor is not, at that point, obliged to disprove it. However, as
            soon as my interlocutor says, in reference to anything I have said,
            "That is not so," then the burden of proof goes over to him.

            And regarding Brian´s argument, I have not said ¨that is not so¨. I am simply saying ¨you have not shown that it is so¨ or more specifically ¨you cannot show that it is so¨.

            It has never occurred to me to try to justify it in mathematical terms.

            Saying that something is probable or likely is a mathematical conclusion. I am not telling you to get out a paper and pencil, but you need a set of possible outcomes in order to conclude that one is more probable than not.

            My limited mind is the only one I have. If there is an infinite mind
            responsible for the universe's existence, I have no access to its
            thinking nor even a compelling reason to believe it exists. I can make
            no judgments based on information that is unavailable to me. If I see
            suffering, and if all the facts that I could possibly know say it is
            gratuitous, then I'm justified in believing that it is gratuitous.

            No, you are not, that does not follow at all. The argument only works if you can conclude that it is probably gratuitous to god and you do not have the epistemic warrant to do so. The fact that it appears gratuitous to you would only work if god has the same information you have but once you assume omniscience, you can´t make the jump you are trying to make. The hidden premise is that if something appears to be gratuitous to a limited mind, then it is therefore probably gratuitous to an omniscient mind. That premise does not follow.

            Fine. You have warrant. But your warrant doesn't work as warrant for me.
            That means neither of us can accuse the other of being epistemically
            irresponsible. Of course we can't both be right, but warrant is not a
            proof. It's just a justification. It's possible for a belief to be
            justified but wrong.

            I have already said that my warrant does not work as warrant for you and I am not accusing you of being epistemic irresponsible for rejecting god´s revelation. I also agree that warrant is not proof.

            A bit of clarification, though, while I'm at it. My claim was not the
            God has revealed something to somebody else, but only that for all I
            know, if he has revealed anything, it could have been to somebody else,
            specifically, somebody other than the Catholic Church.

            Agree, that is certainly possible.

          • Doug Shaver

            Saying that something is probable or likely is a mathematical conclusion. I am not telling you to get out a paper and pencil, but you need a set of possible outcomes in order to conclude that one is more probable than not.

            Probability is a quantification, and as soon as you quantify anything you're using math, yes. But quantification can be the beginning of the math, not necessarily a product of a mathematical process.

            There are at least three current interpretations of probability according to most accounts I've read, and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy counts six. I see no reason to assume that only one of them should be applied to all situations, and in any case, once one interpretation has been picked, the relevant math is the same for all of them.

            You seem to be relying on the frequentist interpretation. I agree that it doesn't work in the situation we're discussing, but there is also an epistemic interpretation, which does work and requires no appeal to possible alternative outcomes.

            If I see suffering, and if all the facts that I could possibly know say it is gratuitous, then I'm justified in believing that it is gratuitous.

            No, you are not, that does not follow at all. The argument only works if you can conclude that it is probably gratuitous to god and you do not have the epistemic warrant to do so.

            I am making no assertions about what God can do or how he can think. You Christians are making those assertions, and until you give me a good reason to agree with them, I'm under no epistemic obligation to take them into consideration, except in one respect. I cannot attack the assumptions you use just on the grounds that they lead to a conclusion with which I disagree. But I don't have to attack them. Without a reason to accept them, I'm free to just ignore them when formulating my own conclusions.

          • ClayJames

            Probability is a quantification, and as soon as you quantify anything
            you're using math, yes. But quantification can be the beginning of the math, not necessarily a product of a mathematical process.

            There are at least three current interpretations of probability according to most accounts I've read, and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophycounts six. I see no reason to assume that only one of them should be applied to all situations, and in any case, once one interpretation has been picked, the relevant math is the same for all of them.

            You seem to be relying on the frequentist interpretation. I agree that it doesn't work in the situation we're discussing, but there is also an epistemic interpretation, which does work and requires no appeal to possible alternative outcomes.

            Didn´t you agree that a limited being cannot be on the same epistemic footing as an omniscient mind? If you agree with this, it invalidates any epistemic probability conclusion you can make. If you don´t, I would be interested to know how this is not the case, in other words, how can a limited mind have the same epistemic footing as an omniscient mind in order to claim that the conclusions of the limited mind apply to the omniscient mind.

            I am making no assertions about what God can do or how he can think.

            If you are following Brian´s argument then you are. Premise 4 says,

            ¨4) so much suffering and evil seems gratuitous because at least some of it is. If we are created by God with a divinely instituted moral sensibility, we should be able to come up with reasons why God would not intervene even if we can’t verify them.¨

            For evil to probably be gratuitous you must say that your limited observations must also apply to God´s observations, which is exactly what premise 4 says. The problem is that there is no reason think this is true because, by definition, each observer is on a different epistemic footing. Simply saying that evil seems gratuitous to you does nothing for this argument unless it is applied to God, which is why Brian´s (unsuccessfully) tries to do in premise 4.

            You Christians are making those assertions, and until you give me a good reason to agree with them, I'm under no epistemic obligation to take them into consideration, except in one respect. I cannot attack the assumptions you use just on the grounds that they lead to a conclusion with which I disagree. But I don't have to attack them. Without a reason to accept them, I'm free to just ignore them when formulating my own conclusions.

            I will once again answer this in two ways. If you are talking about Brian´s argument, I am not making any assertions since the burden on proof is on the person making this argument (the atheist).

            If you are talking about my claim that we can know the intentions of God through revelation, tradition and scripture, then I agree with you that you are under no epistemic obligation to believe it. Where have I said anything to the contrary? I have said the opposite many times:

            I have already said that my warrant does not work as warrant for you and I am not accusing you of being epistemic irresponsible for rejecting god´s revelation.

            I agree with you that you are not in epistemic hot water if you don´t
            believe that God has revelead anything to anybody. Your claim that God
            has revealed something to somebody else while rejecting my revelation
            is not false for any epistemic reason, the content of the claims must be
            examined and compared within a theological context

          • Doug Shaver

            Didn´t you agree that a limited being cannot be on the same epistemic footing as an omniscient mind?

            My epistemic footing is the only footing I have. I can make no use of any knowledge that is unaccessible to my own mind.

            If you agree with this, it invalidates any epistemic probability conclusion you can make.

            If that were so, then all probability conclusions would be invalidated. Probability is all about uncertainties, and uncertainties arise from ignorance. We will be dealing with uncertainties for as long as there are things we do not know.

            If you are talking about Brian´s argument, I am not making any assertions since the burden on proof is on the person making this argument (the atheist).

            Never mind Brian. You are asserting that my argument is unsound.

            If you are talking about my claim that we can know the intentions of God through revelation, tradition and scripture, then I agree with you that you are under no epistemic obligation to believe it.

            In that case, you have yet to demonstrate a flaw in my reasoning.

          • ClayJames

            My epistemic footing is the only footing I have. I can make no use of any knowledge that is unaccessible to my own mind.

            And therefore, since Brian´s argument is assuming an omniscient mind, it does not follow that your limited knowledge can be used to make a probability argument about the intentions of an omniscient mind.

            If that were so, then all probability conclusions would be invalidated. Probability is all about uncertainties, and uncertainties arise from ignorance. We will be dealing with uncertainties for as long as there are things we do not know.

            Not at all. I can make a probability conclusion about minds with similar epistemic footing and knowledge. It is possible to say that a person probably has no moral reason for allowing X because it is possible to assume that we have the same information as that person when he made that decision. This makes no sense when talking about an omniscient mind. The set of possible moral reasons for a limited mind to allow evil can be evaluated in order to make a probability argument. This does not apply to a omniscient mind.

            Never mind Brian. You are asserting that my argument is unsound.

            In that case, you have yet to demonstrate a flaw in my reasoning.

            No Doug. From the very beggining I split up your comment into two different responses so that there is no confusion. One, treating your response as a defense of Brian´s argument and two, treating it as an indepedent thought. In regards to two, I have never said that your are in epistemic hot water if you do not accept my assertions taken from revelation. I have actually agreed with you on this point about 4 different times now. Could you quote where I said that your reasoning was flawed (if we are assuming you are not talking about Brian´s argument)?

          • Doug Shaver

            Could you quote where I said that your reasoning was flawed

            If my reasoning is flawless, then I'm justified in believing its conclusion. Its conclusion is that a benevolent god probably does not exist. Aren't you attempting to show that I am not justified in believing that?

          • ClayJames

            Your reasoning regarding gratuitous evil is flawed. I was talking about the reasoning that you are not in any epistemic hot water if you chose not to accept conclusions from revelation, this is not flawed.

            Once again, your reasoning regarding gratuitous evil probably existing is flawed because a limited mind is in no epistemic position to make a probabilistic conclusion about the intentions of an omniscient mind.

          • Doug Shaver

            We've begun to repeat ourselves. If you have nothing new to say, neither do I.

          • ClayJames

            I am done. Thanks for the conversation.

          • David Hardy

            I thought I might jump in with one thought. As I said before, when we were talking about this, the problem of evil is a problem only for religions that claim an omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God. Any defense to the problem must still preserve these claims as supported, or they do not actually defend against the implication within the problem of evil that these claims should not be held. I will paraphrase what you said in this response, cutting the other way:

            In regards to (God's omnibenevolent nature), I have not said ¨that is not so¨. I am simply saying ¨you have not shown that it is so¨ or more specifically ¨you cannot show that it is so¨.

            Can you challenge this assertion, or do you agree with it?

          • ClayJames

            I would agree with your assertion if we are claiming that God is omnibenevolent from observation (the inverse of Brian´s argument). If I were to say that god is omnibenevolent because it seems to me that all evil acts are probably not gratuitous, then that is also invalid because a limited mind has no epistemic warrant to determine the probable motivations of an omniscient mind.

          • David Hardy

            And I would say that any reason you can provide that God is omnibenevolent, regardless of whether it is from observation, revelation, or some other source, will be open to the same challenge the it cannot support that God is omnibenevolent. By your argument, humans lack the epistemic warrant to determine the motivations of an omniscient mind. This is a claim about humans inherent limitations, and therefore can be applied to any reason humans might use to determine the motivations of God, whether benevolent, indifferent or malicious. In revelation, God is purported to appear to people, and proclaim his goodness. Assume for a moment that we both accept this really happened. The observation of what we think to be God, and God's proclamation, cannot change the fact that we lack the epistemic warrant to judge if this means God is actually good. That would be judging God's motivations for appearing and saying these things, but we lack the epistemic warrant to determine what reasons an omniscient mind has.

            For that matter, as limited minds, we would lack the epistemic warrant to determine if this thing encountered was God. Even if it was not a hallucination, it may be a powerful and expansive being that was, nevertheless, not omnipotent or omniscient, but powerful and knowledgeable enough to appear so relative to us (part of the problem of induction). As limited minds, with limited abilities, we could not say for sure the full nature of the being we encountered, so we could not even say if it was God. The position that we lack epistemic warrant leads to hard agnosticism - we lack the warrant to judge God's nature and, as we cannot judge God's nature, we cannot judge if what we are considering truly possesses the qualities of God.

          • ClayJames

            You could use this argument with any kind of observation. According to this logic, we lack the epistemic warrant to judge that we perceive the world as it truly exists or believe in anything else other than the self. I am not endorsing solipism. I believe that we are justified (or in other words, have the epistemic warrant) to accept what we perceive unless there are reasons not to.

            I am not saying that we can´t make a probablistic conclusion about the intentions of god because we do not know if our senses are deceiving us or if god himself is deceiving us. Another way to say my point is that we just do not have the total available information that god has (by definition, because we are assuming he is omniscient and we are not) in order to claim that god probably has no good reason for allowing evil (a premise in this argument).

            We don´t need to understand all of god´s motivations in order to accept his revelation. God could be trying to fool us, but if we have no reason to believe this is the case, we are warranted in believing in that revelation. In order to conclude that God probably has no good reason for allowing evil, then one does need to understand god´s motivations which is an impossible task for limited minds.

          • David Hardy

            I believe that we are justified (or in other words, have the epistemic
            warrant) to accept what we perceive unless there are reasons not to. . . We don´t need to understand all of god´s motivations in order to accept
            his revelation. God could be trying to fool us, but if we have no reason
            to believe this is the case, we are warranted in believing in that
            revelation.

            You are picking and choosing where you apply your argument. Either we lack the warrant to make the decision of whether there is a good reason to believe or not, or we accept the idea that we can make the judgment of whether there are good reasons to believe . If the former, we are agnostics. If the latter, than we can say that we see evil that we have no good reason to believe is not gratuitous. Therefore, we see evil that we have no good reason to believe would exist if the Christian God exists. You cannot say that we lack the epistemic warrant to make judgments on information that challenges a position, but have the epistemic warrant to make judgments on information that supports it.

          • ClayJames

            I am not picking and chosing, both arguments are very different.
            Your comment about god´s revelation has nothing to do with his omniscience. Forget an omniscient god for a second, if some type of limited supernatural being revealed something to you and you have no reason to doubt its veracity, you are epistemically warranted to believe it. Whether that being is omniscient or not is absolutely irrelevant. A limited being could be fooling you and in the absence of evidence that your experience is not real, you are warranted to believe it.

            The problem with the problem of evil has everything to do with god´s omniscience (as it is assumed in the first premise). It makes no sense for a limited being to make a probabilistic conclusion about the intentions of an omniscient mind. Answer me this question: How can a limited being be privy to the total possible reasons for allowing evil that the omniscient mind is aware of, in order to say that the omniscient mind probably has no reason for allowing evil?

            If there is a satisfactory answer to this question, then my point is invalidated.

          • David Hardy

            I am not picking and chosing, both arguments are very different.

            No, they are two alternate conclusions based on the same arguments and evidence. You are picking and choosing what arguments and evidence you invalidate with a position that could be used to invalidate all of them.

            I repeat what I said previously:

            We can say that we see evil that we have no good reason to believe is not gratuitous.

            I am not judging God, nor God's motives. I am judging your concept of God, and your reasons to believe such a God exists. You have revelation, which is nothing but the claimed experiences of others of having visions of or encounters with God that supports omnibenevolence as a conclusion. If we have epistemic warrant to believe these claimed experiences that an omnibenevolent God exists, then we have at least at much epistemic warrant to believe the direct experiences of evil that appears to have no point challenges this idea. I see no reason to defend or justify all evil that has ever occurred to the point of saying that it is at least defensible or justified enough that God would allow it. I see no reason to say that claimed encounters with God somehow holds more weight in coming to a sound judgment.

            Your position appears to be that claimed revelations are a good reason to believe that an omnibenevolent God exists, while direct experience of evil that appears pointless is not a good reason to disbelieve. You stand behind epistemic warrant when judging the credibility of the latter claim, then say it has no bearing on judging the credibility of the former claim.

            Answer me this question: How can a limited being be privy to the total possible reasons for allowing evil that the omniscient mind is aware of, in order to say that the omniscient mind probably has no reason for allowing evil?

            If there is a satisfactory answer to this question, then my point is invalidated.

            Your point is invalidated because there is no satisfactory answer to this question, therefore both "yes, there are good reasons" (omnibenevolence) and "no, there are not good reasons" (non-omnibenevolence) are equally unsupported. You point constantly to the second, and then brush aside the first. I lean to the second, and leave open the possibility I may be wrong. However, until I see a reason to believe I am wrong, I have the epistemic warrant to judge the evidence for and against an omnibenevolent God, and come to a conclusion based on which seems stronger. I am not judging God, I am judging the assertions regarding God. Could I be wrong? Yes. So could you, due to the same epistemic warrant point you are making to challenge my position.

          • ClayJames

            Your position appears to be that claimed revelations are a good reason to believe that an omnibenevolent God exists, while direct experience of evil that appears pointless is not a good reason to disbelieve. You stand behind epistemic warrant when judging the credibility of the latter claim, then say it has no bearing on judging the credibility of the former claim.

            Because the claims are completely different. To a young child, getting a shot may seem like a necessary evil because the child cannot understand or conceptualize a good reason for receiving a shot. The child would be wrong to assume that this means that getting a shot is gratuitous evil because he does not have, or he doesnt understand, the information that the parent has. In the argument from evil, we are assuming in the first premise that we don't have all the information that god has.

            On the other hand, a child is warranted to believe his parent's claim that the shot he receives is for his own good if he has no viable reason to question this claim. Here, the child is epistemically warranted to believe his source unless he has reason not to. This is completely different than, by definition, lacking the total information necessary in order to make a probabilistic claim about god's intensions based on your observation. In your case, there is no source, just your observation that is, by definition, incomplete. In my case there is a source, which I am warranted to believe unless I have reason to question it. The child does not need to be privy to the same information as the parent in order to believe what the parent is saying, but he does not to know the same information as the parent, in order to conclude that this shot is grauitously evil. You are basically saying that if the child cannot claim that the shot is gratuitous evil, then he should not believe that his parents "revelation" is valid.

            And even though you are denying it, you are judging God's motives because if you are not then the problem from evil falls apart. Your observation that there is gratuitous evil is no different than a child's observation that shots are gratuitous evil and in order to say that this evil is indeed gratuitous (which the argument from evil tries to do), you must claim that God, or the child's parents, have no good reason for allowing this to happen. This is a jump that cannot be made since we are assuming in the first premise that we do not have enough information to make this claim.

          • David Hardy

            On the other hand, a child is warranted to believe his parent's claim that the shot he receives is for his own good if he has no viable reason to question this claim. Here, the child is epistemically warranted to believe his source unless he has reason not to.

            I appreciate the metaphor, as it has helped clarify your position for me. My issue is that your metaphor requires an assumption that God exists. However, the argument from evil is not an argument to prove an existing God is evil. It is an argument that there is no strong reason to believe in the sort of God that Christians propose. This is not God (an adult) telling children (us) he is good. This is a specific set of people (adults) telling other people (adults) that there is a good God. How can we know? There are stories where a God purportedly shows up and says so. The problem of evil contrasts these stories to all of the examples of evil that appears to serve no purpose. People who reject the problem on evil are assessing the stories of God claiming to be good as more certain and reliable than direct observation of evil that no moral person would defend as necessary. For me, the religious stories of one culture does not outweigh direct observation of evil is judging whether an omnibenevolent God exists. To accept the stories as better proof, I would need to assume that every example of evil I have ever encountered might not morally require intervention to stop if possible since, if God exists and is moral, he did not intervene and prevent them. I find this an assumption with no support.

            And even though you are denying it, you are judging God's motives because if you are not then the problem from evil falls apart.

            I am not denying that I am doing this. I am pointing out you are also doing this, and this is the flaw within your argument about epistemic warrant. Do you have the epistemic warrant to say that evil must have a good reason to be allowed? A child may have epistemic warrant to believe his or her parent when that parent says an evil is needed. However, at some point, one needs to grow up and learn to evaluation whether evil is needed for oneself. One of the elements present in all young children is credulity. A young child lacks the ability to evaluate the claims of parents, and so can never have a good reason to not just accept what they are told. To take this mindset as an adult with anything is to say that one is accepting a certain position and cannot evaluate any evidence to the contrary.

          • ClayJames

            David, I find your last two responses to be the weakest of the bunch and I really don't see what else we could both add to this conversation that hasn't already been said. I am also finding a lot of distortion of my points and misunderstandings that I have already tried to clear up many times. The fact that in both cases, we are talking about "epistemic warrant" does not mean that these are similar types of warrants. They are not. In the problem of evil, the problem is the lack of information, that by definition, we have in comparison to God. In accepting revelation, epistemically we are warranted to believe because like all other things we have perceived, we are justified in accepting them as true unless we have no reason to do so. To say that this is similar to the problem of evil completely misses the point because I am accepting that you perceive evil to be warranted, but to say that it is warranted for God, you must have the information that he does and by definition, you don't.

            I also find your interpretation of my metaphor to be ridiculous. In no way was I trying to say that we should not grow up and learn to evaluate what we perceive or that we should have the credulity of a child. The metaphor was simply trying to show that children do not have the information that adults do and therefore, their conclusion that "shots are gratuitous evil" is false for the same reason that your conclusion "X is gratuitous evil" is false.

            My issue is that your metaphor requires an assumption that God exists. However, the argument from evil is not an argument to prove an existing God is evil. It is an argument that there is no strong reason to believe in the sort of God that Christians propose.

            The problem of evil is an argument from internal inconsistency between God's attributes and the existence of gratuitous evil. Therefore, the argument does require the assumption that God exists. It is the very first premise.

            The problem of evil contrasts these stories to all of the examples of evil that appears to serve no purpose. People who reject the problem on evil are assessing the stories of God claiming to be good as more certain and reliable than direct observation of evil that no moral person would defend as necessary..

            No people that reject the problem of evil are simply saying that your observation and perception of evil being gratuitous is based on a limited amount of information and therefore, it can not be applied to an omniscient God. That is all that is required for the argument to be invalidated. I don't then have to prove that God must have a good reason for allowing a certain evil because the burden of proof is on the person making the claim.

            To accept the stories as better proof, I would need to assume that every example of evil I have ever encountered might not morally require intervention to stop if possible since, if God exists and is moral, he did not intervene and prevent them. I find this an assumption with no support.

            And where did I say you must accept this assumption? I don't think I ever made this claim. In your first reply to me, it seemed that your problem was not so much my refutation of the problem of evil but that you were accusing me of not using the same criteria when justifying revelation. As I have explained many times now, the warrant between these two claims is completely different (one has to do with a lack of information, the other with warrant to believe our perceptions). But my task here has not been to prove that God exists, but that the argument from evil is invalid. If you do not want to believe that God exists based on revelation or anything else, then that is fine but this leaves you at agnosticism or weak atheism. I am fine to leave it there. The conclusion that evil is probably gratuitous, justifies the belief in strong atheism, which I hope I have shown is invalid.

            I have already written thousands of words in these comments regarding this issue and would prefer to move on. Thank you for the conversation, have a good weekend.

          • David Hardy

            To avoid going off topic, I will focus on one of your points (If you still want to end and not continue, just go to the last paragraph):

            As I have explained many times now, the warrant between these two claims
            is completely different (one has to do with a lack of information, the
            other with warrant to believe our perceptions).

            I agree that the books of the bible exist and have claim to revelation (warrant to believe perceptions). To accept that it is actual revelation, I must then have the information needed to evaluate whether the claim is true (lack of information). I must have that information to distinguish whether this claim is more credible than, say, claims purportedly of gods of other religions, or claims purportedly of enlightened figures claiming there are no supreme beings, which are often antithetical to each other.

            My position is not disputing the warrant of perception. We could both agree that evil exists that we find no apparent reason for, I hope, and that the bible exists and has claims to revelation. My point is that there is then the question of epistemic warrant for both the claim that evil is definitely gratuitous and the claim that the revelations in the bible are definitely the true revelations when compared to other religions. How can we judge that the revelation in the bible is true any more than judging any other religious work? How can we, limited beings, have the epistemic warrant to evaluate what may be the direct claims and nature of God or gods?

            This is where your epistemic warrant argument fails. You are not recognizing that it is not a choice between claims of God and our opinions about God. It is only our opinions of many claims about God and gods and the universe, many of which do not include the idea that God exists and is omnibenevolent. The argument from evil is saying that some of these other claims seem more credible in light of the evil in the world. To say that the revelation of God in Christianity as existing and being omnibenevolent is more credible, it is not enough to point to a lack of epistemic warrant to be certain it is not true. That is just as true when evaluating whether the nature of God presented in Christianity is more likely than the nature of the divine presented in other religions and worldviews that do not claim the divine is omnibenevolent.

            The conclusion that evil is probably gratuitous, justifies the belief in strong atheism, which I hope I have shown is invalid.

            You have not, because you are not recognizing that your own argument against it cuts just as deep in the direction of Christianity.

            I have already written thousands of words in these comments regarding
            this issue and would prefer to move on. Thank you for the conversation,
            have a good weekend.

            Yes, you have said much. You may, of course, choose to not respond to this post if you wish. I certainly am not offended when people choose to do so. Assuming you choose not to, have a good weekend as well.

          • ClayJames

            My position is not disputing the warrant of perception. We could both agree that evil exists that we find no apparent reason for, I hope, and that the bible exists and has claims to revelation. My point is that there is then the question of epistemic warrant for both the claim that evil is definitely gratuitous and the claim that the revelations in the bible are definitely the true revelations when compared to other religions. How can we judge that the revelation in the bible is true any more than judging any other religious work? How can we, limited beings, have the epistemic warrant to evaluate what may be the direct claims and nature of God or gods?

            Most principles of epistemic warrant do not require that a belief be true. It has to do with whether we are justified to hold a certain belief given our belief forming mechanisms. So it is perfectly warranted for us to believe that we are not in the Matrix, even if we are wrong and our whole world is an illusion, because this belief is consistent with our belief forming mechanisms. So your question about whether these things are definetly the case, misses the point.

            Secondly, did I claim you can believe the revelation in the Bible simply because it is in the Bible without any analysis of justification of this belief? Or that the revelation in the Bible is definetly true as opposed to other revelation simply because they are there? I have never said this. Finally, we evaluate claims about the nature of God or gods the same way we evaluate claims about anything else. My claims about revelation had to do with personal revelation, which like our own perceptions, we are warranted to believe unless we have reasons not to. I have never said that we have epistemic warrant to believe the Bible describes about God simply because it´s there.

            This is where your epistemic warrant argument fails. You are not recognizing that it is not a choice between claims of God and our opinions about God. It is only our opinions of many claims about God and gods and the universe, many of which do not include the idea that God exists and is omnibenevolent. The argument from evil is saying that some of these other claims seem more credible in light of the evil in the world. To say that the revelation of God in Christianity as existing and being omnibenevolent is more credible, it is not enough to point to a lack of epistemic warrant to be certain it is not true. That is just as true when evaluating whether the nature of God presented in Christianity is more likely than the nature of the divine presented in other religions and worldviews that do not claim the divine is omnibenevolent.

            Once again, epistemic warrant has nothing to with with being certain something is or is not true. I wish we could have gotten this confusion out of the way before.

            So in conclusion. You arguing against the claim that we have epistemic warrant to accept in the Christian God written about in the Bible without any anaylisis or justification. I have never made this claim. You are equating epistemic warrant to truth or likelyhood, which are two different things. Finally, all of this does nothing to change the fact that we do not have enough information to say that the evil we perceive is probably gratuitous. Even if I conceed that we are not warrante to believe in the Christian God simply because of our perceptions, it does nothing to help the problem of evil. I could still attempt to arrive at the reality of the Christian God through other means, but for the problem of evil, this is the only game in town.

            I recomend the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy´s entry about transmission of justification to get a better understanding of warrant: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/transmission-justification-warrant.

          • David Hardy

            I am going to be bypass some of what you said, except to say that I am not primarily interested in arguing that your position about epistemic warrant is wrong. I actually agree at a foundational level that it is true. Since you appear to believe that I am confused on the definition of epistemic warrant, I will offer mine here, and you can correct it if you disagree: Epistemic warrant is the degree to which we have the knowledge, or the ability to acquire the knowledge, needed to be justified in coming to a conclusion. However, I am more curious about the implications epistemic warrant has regarding taking a strong religious position. Please see below.

            Finally, we evaluate claims about the nature of God or gods the same way we evaluate claims about anything else.

            How do you evaluate claims about the nature of God, if not by observing if the universe appears to operate according to the claimed nature of God (such as the existence of evil in evaluating the claim that God is supremely moral)? This is really the center of my curiosity for your position. Please give me a way to evaluate the truth or likelihood of the claim "God exists and is omnibenevolent" that you think is valid. Christianity states that we can put faith in the claim that God exists and is omnibenevolent. If you have a means to evaluate this claim outside of observing if the universe appears to operate in a way that indicates guidance from an omnibenevolent God, please provide it.

          • ClayJames

            How do you evaluate claims about the nature of God, if not by observing if the universe appears to operate according to the claimed nature of God (such as the existence of evil in evaluating the claim that God is supremely moral)? This is really the center of my curiosity for your position.

            This is exactly how you evaluate these claims and this is exactly what the problem of evil attempts to show, that our observations are not consistent with the nature of God. If the problem of evil were valid, then it would prove that God cannot possibly be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. The problem is that it is not for the reasons I have already states. So it is wrong to say that our observations about evil in this universe can say anything about the likelyhood of the existence of God.

            Please give me a way to evaluate the truth or likelihood of the claim "God exists and is omnibenevolent" that you think is valid. Christianity states that we can put faith in the claim that God exists and is omnibenevolent. If you have a means to evaluate this claim outside of observing if the universe appears to operate in a way that indicates guidance from an omnibenevolent God, please provide it.

            This evaluation is similar to any other evaluation regarding the likelyhood of any claim. You look at positive reasons for accepting this claim compared to negative reasons for rejecting it. I don´t have any problem with how you are going about doing this. My only problem is that it is invalid to put an illogical argument on the negative side, which is exactly what atheist do when they support the problem of evil. Positive argument for God existing and him being omnibenevolent come in many shapes and sizes, including personal revelation, biblical accounts, logical arguments, etc. In order to tip the scale back to the negative side of the discussion one must show that either these reasons are not valid or that there is some internal inconsistency between God´s attributes (problem of evil). So once again, the way you are going about this is correct, the problem is using the problem of evil as a way to show that this concept of God is less likely than it is without the problem of evil.

          • David Hardy

            If the problem of evil were valid, then it would prove that God cannot
            possibly be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. . . So it is wrong to
            say that our observations about evil in this universe can say anything
            about the likelyhood of the existence of God.

            You don't see a leap there? You went from "proving God cannot possibly be" to "saying something about the likelihood." If I see a lot of evil that appears gratuitous, that does provide information that is apparently contradictory with the claim that God exists and is omnibenevolent. It does not "prove" God does not exist or is not omnibenevolent. However, information that contradicts what a claim suggests we should see is a challenge to the likelihood of that belief. The claim here is that God knows about evil (omniscience), God can stop evil (omnipotence) and God wants to prevent evil and promote good (omnibenevolence).

            What you have done is said, quite rightly, that we lack the knowledge to prove this is not the case based on evil. Then, you have extended this to try and invalidate the information as a challenge of any sort. Prove is not the same thing as challenge. You have said previously we can accept God's revelation if we do not have a good reason not to do so. But you are saying that all of the apparently pointless evil in the world, from unpunished individual acts that rob people of life, liberty or dignity, to full scale genocides and similar atrocities, are not enough to even pause before accepting the idea that an omnibenevolent God is watching over it all. If that does not stand as a reasonable challenge, I cannot think of anything you or I could observe that would stand as a challenge to this claim. If you can think of something observable that you would accept as a valid challenge to the claim "God exists and is omnibenevolent" under the conditions you have set up, please tell me what it is.

            Positive argument for God existing and him being omnibenevolent come in
            many shapes and sizes, including personal revelation, biblical accounts,
            logical arguments, etc.

            Yes, please provide one regarding omnibenevolence that does not suffer from the epistemic warrant problem (that is to say, requires being able to infer from observed data with any certainty that God exists and His motivations include omnibenevolence). I would also appreciate it if the one provided is not equally true of religions with differing claims about the nature and motivations of the divine (stories of divine beings claiming certain qualities, personal revelations supporting the religion, etc.).

          • ClayJames

            You don't see a leap there? You went from "proving God cannot possibly be" to "saying something about the likelihood."

            I mispoke. If the argument of evil has to do with showing a definite contradition, then it attempts to prove something. If it has to do with likelyhood, then it shows that it is less likely. There are two forms of the argument and Brian tries to prove the second one.

            If I see a lot of evil that appears gratuitous, that does provide information that is apparently contradictory with the claim that God exists and is omnibenevolent. It does not "prove" God does not exist or is not omnibenevolent. However, information that contradicts what a claim suggests we should see is a challenge to the likelihood of that belief. The claim here is that God knows about evil (omniscience), God can stop evil (omnipotence) and God wants to prevent evil and promote good (omnibenevolence).

            What you have done is said, quite rightly, that we lack the knowledge to prove this is not the case based on evil.

            You are trying to turn this into a question about certainty once again. My problem with this argument has nothing to do with certainty or likelyhood. I am not saying, as it seems you are implying, that because you cannot prove it, you cannot claim that it is unlikely. Arguments trying to show that something is unlikely can be completely valid.

            I am simply saying that you have no information that a certain evil is gratuitous or that it is probably or more likely gratuitous. Zero. Nothing. And therefore, whether you are trying to prove it, challenge it or show that it is less likely, all of these fail because you cannot even get off the ground.

            Then, you have extended this to try and invalidate the information as a challenge of any sort. Prove is not the same thing as challenge. You have said previously we can accept God's revelation if we do not have a good reason not to do so. But you are saying that all of the apparently pointless evil in the world, from unpunished individual acts that rob people of life, liberty or dignity, to full scale genocides and similar atrocities, are not enough to even pause before accepting the idea that an omnibenevolent God is watching over it all.

            Yes, because once again, God´s revelation does not require us to be omniscient, whereas saying that X is probably gratuitous does. No one is saying there is not an emotional reaction to these terrible events or that you shouldn´t pause to think about them. My point is that the argument is logically invalid.

            If that does not stand as a reasonable challenge, I cannot think of anything you or I could observe that would stand as a challenge to this claim. If you can think of something observable that you would accept as a valid challenge to the claim "God exists and is omnibenevolent" under the conditions you have set up, please tell me what it is.

            Exactly! When you first assume an omniscient being (in the first premise), you completely give up the ability to determine the omniscient being´s intentions (or their probable intentions) and therefore, cannot say that a certain event is probably gratuitous. It is possible to challenge these traits through other means such as trying to show that there is some internal logical contradiction between god´s principle traits, but it is impossible to do this through observation. This has been my point all along.

            Yes, please provide one regarding omnibenevolence that does not suffer from the epistemic warrant problem (that is to say, requires being able to infer from observed data with any certainty that God exists and His motivations include omnibenevolence). I would also appreciate it if the one provided is not equally true of religions with differing claims about the nature and motivations of the divine (stories of divine beings claiming certain qualities, personal revelations supporting the religion, etc.).

            Sure. God´s omnibenevolence follows directly from his aseity, in that if he were not omnibenevolent, his existence would be contingent and we could conceive of a being of greater benevolence who would in turn, be a greater being than God.

          • David Hardy

            I am not saying, as it seems you are implying, that because you cannot prove it, you cannot claim that it is unlikely.

            Excellent. I am saying an omnibenevolent God is unlikely given the presence of apparently gratuitous evil.

            I am simply saying that you have no information that a certain evil is
            gratuitous or that it is probably or more likely gratuitous.

            Or maybe you are saying that a cannot claim it is unlikely. However, I see crimes for which there is no apparent benefit or value. Lacking any evidence suggesting the opposite, that they have some ultimate benefit or value, I can say it is more likely that they do not have such value given the current information. A reason that could ultimately be wrong is better than a lack of any reason to support the opposite position.

            Exactly! When you first assume an omniscient being (in the first
            premise), you completely give up the ability to determine the omniscient
            being´s intentions (or their probable intentions) and therefore, cannot
            say that a certain event is probably gratuitous.

            What about if you look at the evil in the world and do not judge it assuming an omniscient, being? That is the argument from evil - that the presence of evil should be taken into consideration when evaluating if the assumption of an omniscient, omnibenevolent being is likely. You position is that, assuming that God (omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent) exists, the problem of evil is not actually a problem. I agree. The problem of evil, however, is that the existence of evil challenges the idea that such as God exists. Allow me to reframe the problem of evil.

            1. Specific people, in various formats, claim an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God exists.

            2. If true, all events are known by and in the ultimate control of an omnibenevolent being.

            3. Omnibenevolence is antithetical to evil.

            4. Evil occurs without any apparent benevolent outcomes.

            5. Therefore, events appear to exist that there is no reason to believe would exist if the claim of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God was true.

            I will address your last point separately, as I do not want to muddle this post with a response to the ontological argument as well.

          • ClayJames

            Or maybe you are saying that a cannot claim it is unlikely. However, I see crimes for which there is no apparent benefit or value. Lacking any evidence suggesting the opposite, that they have some ultimate benefit or value, I can say it is more likely that they do not have such value given the current information. A reason that could ultimately be wrong is better than a lack of any reason to support the opposite position.

            To say that something is unlikely, is to say that out of the possible reasons for allowing something to happen, most reasons in that subset are of a certain type, in this case, gratuitous. You can definetly look at a terrible event here on earth and rationalized that from your point of view, the few possible good hypothetical reasons for allowing someting bad to happen are outweighed by the many bad reasons that could be categorized as gratuitous. If we were talking about a limited person, we could definetly come to this conclusion.

            However, explain to me how this math would work out with an omniscient being. How can you, a limited person, be able to know the total possible consequences of allowing a certain evil event in order to say that the gratuitous ones are more likely than the non-gratuitous reasons? For all you know, there are millions and millions of good reasons for allowing these evil events that you, by definition, are not privy to and therefore, it makes any conclusion about what is unlikely, completely invalid. Also keep in mind what the argument is stating. It is not stating that god´s qualities are inconstent with humans thinking evil is gratuitous. It is stating that god´s qualities are inconsistent with him probably having no good reason for allowing evil. And it is impossible to talk about the probable reasons for allowing something if god is omniscient and you are not.

            What about if you look at the evil in the world and do not judge it assuming an omniscient, being? That is the argument from evil - that the presence of evil should be taken into consideration when evaluating if the assumption of an omniscient, omnibenevolent being is likely.

            The problem of evil does assume an omniscient God and then tries to show that gratuitous evil is inconsistent with an omniscient god and therefore, god does not exist. What you claim the argument of evil to be, is no different than assuming an omniscient God. If we cannot claim that it is unlikely for this evil to be gratuitous (for the reasons I explained above) then this information says nothing about whether an omniscient, omnibenevolent god is unlikely.

            1. Specific people, in various formats, claim an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God exists.

            2. If true, all events are known by and in the ultimate control of an omnibenevolent being.

            3. Omnibenevolence is antithetical to evil.

            4. Evil occurs without any apparent benevolent outcomes.

            5. Therefore, events appear to exist that there is no reason to believe would exist if the claim of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God was true.

            From now on we should address your argument in a syllogism since it is a lot easier to follow the logic. Your syllogism is invalid because the conclusion (5) does not follow from the premises. There is a hidden premise, lets call it 4b, that says the following:

            4b. If evil events do not have apparant benevolent outcomes to us, then they probably do not have benevolent outcomes to God.

            Without 4b, your conclusion does not follow and my point through all of this point is that 4b is invalid. If you can show that 4b is true, then I am wrong in my objection.

          • David Hardy

            How can you, a limited person, be able to know the total possible
            consequences of allowing a certain evil event in order to say that the
            gratuitous ones are more likely than the non-gratuitous reasons? For all
            you know, there are millions and millions of good reasons for allowing
            these evil events that you, by definition, are not privy to and
            therefore, it makes any conclusion about what is unlikely, completely
            invalid.

            And for all you know, there are no good reasons. More to the point, you have provided no argument suggesting that there are good reasons, unless you assume that you are right (God exists and is omnibenevolent). I grant that, if you are right, you are right. Lacking any argument or evidence suggesting you are right, however, and all apparent evidence being that you are wrong, I see no reason to not say the weight of available evidence is against you.

            4b. If evil events do not have apparant benevolent outcomes to us, then they probably do not have benevolent outcomes to God.

            No, because I reframed the argument to correct the preconception that I am assuming God exists in the argument. I do not grant that premise. I grant that people claim that God exists. Here would be a better set of hidden premises, if you like:

            4b. In order to make moral judgments, we must be able to judge whether an event is evil and unnecessary based on the information available.

            4c. Within the limits of our ability to make moral judgments, many events occur that our moral judgments tell us should be prevented if possible.

            4d. Therefore, if we can validly make moral judgments, we can say that there are specific instances of evil that morally should be prevented.

            4e. If we cannot validly make moral judgments, we cannot say if it is moral to prevent specific instances of evil.

            4f. We can judge in many situations if intervention is morally warranted.

            Hopefully that helps clarify my position.

          • ClayJames

            Lacking any argument or evidence suggesting you are right, however, and
            all apparent evidence being that you are wrong, I see no reason to not
            say the weight of available evidence is against you.

            Right, and like I have said, it is equally invalid to say that a certain event is not gratuitous simply because it doesnt appear gratuitous to me. Regarding the problem of evil, I am simply trying to argue against the position that god probably doesnt exist. I am not trying to claim that god does exist or that a certain evil event is no gratuitous because it appears to me that it is. If all this leads is to agnosticism, I have achieved my goal regarding the problem of evil.

            No, because I reframed the argument to correct the preconception that I am assuming God exists in the argument. I do not grant that premise. I grant that people claim that God exists.

            My hidden premise also doesn´t assume God exists. I could easily have said:

            4b. If evil events do not have apparent benevolent outcomes to us, then they probably do not have benevolent outcomes to an omniscient, omnipotent being.

            You are fixated on the fact that God is assumed in the problem of evil, when it really doesn´t make much of a difference. At the moment that you bring in omniscience, unless you want to claim that you are also omniscient, then your observations regarding the apparent benevolent outcomes of evil events do not apply to God.

            The other premises you offer do nothing to bridge the gap between your own observations regarding evil and God´s observations. I stand by my previous requirement that 4b be true for your argument to be valid.

          • David Hardy

            If all this leads is to agnosticism, I have achieved my goal regarding the problem of evil.

            It does lead to agnosticism, and agnosticism supports, in practice, atheism. If you have a view that religion requires unjustifiable certainty, then you are not likely to live with certainty according to the principles of the religion.

            4b. If evil events do not have apparent benevolent outcomes to us, then
            they probably do not have benevolent outcomes to an omniscient,
            omnipotent being.

            If you do not like the other set, try this one:

            4b. If we have reasons within our limited awareness to believe an evil act has no benevolent outcomes, and no reasons within our limited awareness to believe an evil act has benevolent outcomes to an omniscient, omnipotent being, we still have more reasons to believe it has no benevolent outcomes than reasons to believe it has benevolent outcomes.

            4c. We have warrant to believe the conclusion with the most reasons supporting it.

          • ClayJames

            4b. If we have reasons within our limited awareness to believe an evil
            act has no benevolent outcomes, and no reasons within our limited
            awareness to believe an evil act has benevolent outcomes to an
            omniscient, omnipotent being, we still have more reasons to believe it
            has no benevolent outcomes than reasons to believe it has benevolent
            outcomes.

            I dont know if you did this on purpose, but in the first part you do not claim we have reasons within our limited awareness to believe an evil act has no benevolent outcomes to an omniscient, omnipotent being (like you did in the part following when talking about having no reasons to believe an act has a benevolent outcome). This is the key. I reject that within our limited awareness we have reasons to believe that an evil act has no benevolent outcomes to an omniscient being. Like I said before, you have zero reason to believe an evil act has no benevolent outcomes to an omniscient being.

          • David Hardy

            I did do it on purpose. Let me try a different way (keep in mind I do not think the problem of evil disproves God).

            In many acts, I identify several negative outcomes, and I identify the act itself as evil. In addition, I identify no positive outcomes.

            In this case, at the scale of my limited awareness, the evidence supports the position that the evil is gratuitous, which is inconsistent with the claim of an omnibenevolent God.

            Now, I try to consider what it would mean to evaluate these acts from the perspective of omniscience. First, I obviously can't do that. No one can. However, I can intellectually grasp what this means by saying that, with all possible information about the act, about past events that influenced it, and about how it will ultimately affect the future in all ways, I might find positive outcomes and becomes aware of ways in which the negative outcomes were not ultimately gratuitous. However, this does not mean that I would find these outcomes, only that I might.

            Therefore, I am left with the following information:

            Position of Nonbelief: In support of taking the position that gratuitous evil occurs and an omnibenevolent God does not exist = events that are apparently evil and gratuitous within the information I have available.

            Position of Uncertainty: In support of taking no position = my limited
            information may be misleading, and a being with access to all of the
            facts may see things differently.

            Position of Belief: In support of taking the position that no gratuitous evil occurs and an omnibenevolent God does exist = nothing that I am aware of.

            However, taking a position of uncertainty is not completely inconsistent with either of the other two positions, because one can take a qualified position. Therefore, to me, the appropriate position becomes:

            1. (from the evidence for the position of nonbelief) Within my limited awareness of the situation, there are acts that appear to be gratuitous evil, indicating that the claim that an omnibenevolent God is false.

            2. (from the evidence from the position of uncertainty) However, I qualify this conclusion with the recognition that, to a being with all possible information, there may be outcomes that make the events that appear gratuitous evil to me not gratuitous evil, and so I could be wrong. Likewise, with access to all possible information, the events may indeed still be gratuitous evil, so I could be right.

            3. (from the lack of evidence for the position of belief) Despite this, I lack any evidence to support the position that I am wrong at this time, and so can reasonably proceed upon the information available, while remaining open to any information that may prove me wrong.
            4. (back to premises) In a situation where no conclusion can be fully supported due to a lack of information, It is reasonable to accept the conclusion with the most support from the information available while recognizing the further evidence may overturn that conclusion.

          • ClayJames

            You are making an argument from ignorance, which is a logical fallacy since you are making a conclusion based on a lack of knowledge. Let me clarify what I am saying here because this is important. I am not saying that your conclusion is false because you do not have all the knowledge in order to prove it. I am saying that your conclusion is false because you are using the lack of knowledge in order to show that it is more likely.

            So for example, the fact that I don´t see aliens is positive evidence for them not existing only if I can show that if they did exist, I should be able to see them (this is not the case).

            The fact that a toddler cannot understand a good reason for getting a shot (and many bad ones) is only evidence that there is probably no good reason only if he can show that if there was a good reason, he should be able to know it and understand it (also not the case).

            Similarly, the claim that you don´t see a moral reason for an omniscient being to allow an evil event is evidence of that being not existing is only the case if you can show that if that being did exist, you should be able to see the moral reasons for allowing such events (you actually admit this is not the case).

            So we are once again back at the gap between your observations applying to an omniscient being, which you have yet to cross .

            The irony here is that I dont know why you are insisting on this argument if you are going to use this falacy. Why not just say, God doesn´t exist because I can´t see him and be done with it?

          • David Hardy

            You are making an argument from ignorance

            Except for the fact that I am not claiming my position is true due to lack of contrary evidence. I am saying that, at present, the available evidence supports my position that some evil is gratuitous.

            The fact that a toddler cannot understand a good reason for getting a
            shot (and many bad ones) is only evidence that there is probably no good
            reason only if he can show that if there was a good reason, he should
            be able to know it and understand it (also not the case).

            And the toddler, wrong though he may be, is still justified in saying that, of the information available to him, there is no good reason, since the evidence he can consider (pain) supports that conclusion. The parent, with more information, is justified in saying that the shot is important. But then, further research may prove that the shot in question actually causes more long term harm than good. That does not mean that the parent is suddenly not justified in the previous conclusion that the shot was good, or that the toddler was suddenly justified in the previous conclusion that the shot was bad because he turned out to be right. We are justified in accepting the conclusion that available information supports, as long as we are open to additional information that may prove us wrong.

            The irony here is that I dont know why you are insisting on this
            argument if you are going to use this falacy. Why not just say, God
            doesn´t exist because I can´t see him and be done with it?

            Because I can appreciate the claim that my sense of sight may not be able to grasp God, as there are many things sight cannot grasp. To say that none of the evil observed is applicable is equivalent to saying that our moral judgments are, at an ultimate level, completely meaningless. I would need to accept that my moral judgments on some evil being gratuitous, and the moral judgments of pretty much everyone I have ever met, are actually completely off base, without any actual reason to do so. You have not provided any, except to point out that it is possible I am wrong.

            Allow me to flip the argument from ignorance upon you:

            You have not disproven my claim that some evil is gratuitous, yet seem to be treating the counterclaim that evil is not gratuitous as true. You are committing the logical fallacy of arguing from ignorance.

            This would be an uncharitable understanding of your position, just as yours in an uncharitable understanding of mine. I have said, repeatedly, that my position is not necessarily true. I have said that I have reasons supporting it, and none challenging it so, while I may be wrong, I have no reason to proceed on the assumption that I am. I suppose that I could simply re-define myself as agnostic, if that helps you, but in practice the two are the same. Atheist = I do not believe in the God you propose due to reasons I believe makes your God unlikely. Agnostic = I do not believe in the God you propose due to lack of any reason to make your God likely. Both cases = I do not believe in the God you propose.

            EDIT: Also, I would add that atheist and some degree of soft agnostic are quite common, and I count myself among them.

          • David Hardy

            (This is a second response, building upon the first, please see my other post to this response first)

            It occurred to me that an example may help you understand my position:

            Every week I go to work. One day, someone tells me that an earthquake has hit my office, and I should not go. I check the news, and find no reports of an earthquake. I note that I did not feel an earthquake hit. I call some other people, and they did not see any evidence of an earthquake. I now have a claim that I cannot be sure is not true (an earthquake still could have hit). However, that claim stands against a number of reasons to believe the claim is not true. Therefore, I am justified in proceeding on the assumption my office is still there, and not a pile of rubble. If I get closer, and find evidence of an earthquake, I can then re-assess the claim as more likely. Yet I am still justified in my initial conclusion in the light of evidence apparently supporting it and an absence of evidence challenging it.

            By comparison, I see a number of evil acts and a history of evil acts where no benevolent outcome has ever been identified, or certainly none strong enough to even come close to equaling the harmful outcomes that have been identified. You claim that there may be benevolent outcomes that only God may know. I reassess the evil acts, and consider the assessments of others, and find no evidence that the benevolent outcomes have in fact occurred, while there is still evidence of the harmful outcomes. I am justified in proceeding on the assumption that your claim does not appear to be not true. If I later find that a number of these evil acts do have benevolent outcomes, I can then re-assess the claim as more likely.

            Absolute certainty of truth is not required when coming to a qualified conclusion, only the weight of evidence supporting one conclusion over all others, which is the case in regards to some evil being gratuitous. I remain open to the possibility I am wrong. I see no evidence to support that possibility, which stands against the evidence that appears to support the belief I hold.

          • ClayJames

            David, I really dont know if we can get more out of this conversation. I find your last two responses to be all over the place.

            Except for the fact that I am not claiming my position is true due to lack of contrary evidence. I am saying that, at present, the available evidence supports my position that some evil is gratuitous.

            And I am saying that you have no available evidence that supports your position. Your observation givesyou as much evidence that evil is gratuitous to god as my observation give me that intelligent life does not exist in the universe. Both are arguments from ignorance.

            I suppose that I could simply re-define myself as agnostic, if that helps you, but in practice the two are the same. Atheist = I do not believe in the God you propose due to reasons I believe makes your God unlikely. Agnostic = I do not believe in the God you propose due to lack of any reason to make your God likely. Both cases = I do not believe in the God you propose.

            I am not making an argument for you to believe in God. This is what I mean by you being all over the place. We are talking about the problem of evil. And yes, I would deine you as an agnostic when considering the problem of evil and therefore, the argument would be invalid. My point about agnosticism had nothing to do with the claim that God exists, it had to do with the claim that evil probably grauitious which you must accept for the argument to be valid.

            You have not disproven my claim that some evil is gratuitous, yet seem to be treating the counterclaim that evil is not gratuitous as true. You are committing the logical fallacy of arguing from ignorance.

            For the fifth time, I am not saying that evil is not gratuitous because my observations tell me that it is not gratuitous. This is what I would have to say in order to commit the same logically fallacy of arguing from ignorance. I have never said this.

            Because I can appreciate the claim that my sense of sight may not be able to grasp God, as there are many things sight cannot grasp.

            And this is exactly the same thing with our observations regarding gratuitous evil! By definition a limited being cannot grasp the consequences of an evil event that an omniscient being can. This is the exact point I have made over and over again and if you still reject it, there is no way that you can accept the above statement.
            It seems like your only problem with applying this to morality is the following:

            To say that none of the evil observed is applicable is equivalent to saying that our moral judgments are, at an ultimate level, completely meaningless. I would need to accept that my moral judgments on some evil being gratuitous, and the moral judgments of pretty much everyone I have ever met, are actually completely off base, without any actual reason to do so.

            This doesnt follow at all. Your moral judgement depends on your observations. If you give money to a homeless person, you have done a moral act even if that person uses it to buys drugs, because you were not privy to this information when you made your decision. Unless you are a consequentalist, this is a non-point. And yet, the argument from evil requires you to claim what God´s observations probably are.

            And the toddler, wrong though he may be, is still justified in saying that, of the information available to him, there is no good reason, since the evidence he can consider (pain) supports that conclusion.

            No, that is not what the toddler is saying. The toddler is saying that mom doesnt have a good reason and he is making an argument from ignorance to make that claim.

            Your whole earthquake example is a non sequitor.

            You claim that there may be benevolent outcomes that only God may know

            For the sixth time, I dont make this claim regarding the problem of evil because I do not have to. I dont know why you keep repeating this.

            I am justified in proceeding on the assumption that your claim does not appear to be not true.

            And yet, this does nothing to help the problem of evil. This leads to agnosticism which invalidates Brian´s argument.

            Absolute certainty of truth is not required when coming to a qualified conclusion, only the weight of evidence supporting one conclusion over all others, which is the case in regards to some evil being gratuitous. I remain open to the possibility I am wrong. I see no evidence to support that possibility, which stands against the evidence that appears to support the belief I hold.

            And once again, this has nothing to do with certainty. I have said this many times now. And in closing, your evidence is a result of an argument from ignorance and is therefore invalid.

            This is it for me as we are just repeating ourselves at this point.

          • David Hardy

            David, I really dont know if we can get more out of this conversation. I find your last two responses to be all over the place.

            I tend to agree. For my part, I have enjoyed the effort to connect our viewpoints, but I believe we start from fundamentally different assumptions about the nature of knowledge, morality, and the degree and type of evidence needed to make provisional conclusions regarding the existence and nature of God. This makes such a connection difficult. That you do not see the connection to my earthquake analogy makes it fairly clear that there is a disconnect despite our best efforts. However, I appreciate your attempts to clarify your position, and I do think that I understand it, although I do not agree. If my responses seem "all over the place", it is probably because I am not directly questioning your position, but the fundamental assumptions that are needed to hold it. Thank you for the interesting conversation, it has certainly been different from most I have regarding the problem of evil.

          • David Hardy

            God´s omnibenevolence follows directly from his aseity, in that if he
            were not omnibenevolent, his existence would be contingent and we could
            conceive of a being of greater benevolence who would in turn, be a
            greater being than God.

            I am going to assume you are making the ontological argument because, if you are not, then saying God is omnibenevolent a priori only proves God is omnibenevolent by definition, not that an omnibenevolent God actually exists. If this is not true, please disregard the rest of this post, but then you have not actually supported that an omnibenevolent God actually exists.

            The ontological argument states, first, that God is the greatest conceivable being. Omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and so forth. This is all sound a priori arguing, and I accept that all of these things are true of God by definition.

            The ontological argument fails on at least three levels, however, when it goes on to say that an existing God is greater than a God only within the mind, and so the concept of God must include that God exists:

            1. A priori reasoning cannot properly prove that something exists. A priori reasoning proves things that are true by definition. Something that is true by definition, however, does not mean that what is being defined actually exists. A priori, unicorns are horses that have a single horn coming out of their forehead. It does not follow that any unicorns actually exist. A priori, God is the greatest conceivable being and, if he exists, is non-contingent. It does not follow that a greatest conceivable being necessarily exists non-contingently. More on this in the third point.

            2. It is doubtful that we can even conceive of God. As you have said, we are limited beings with limited minds. At best, we can create an intellectualized concept of qualities like omniscience and so forth. However, this is not truly conceiving of omniscience. Therefore, the position that we can even conceive of God only in the mind, let alone conceive of a greater existing God, is highly doubtful.

            3. The position that the greatest possible being is one that exists only holds true if one assumes that God exists as a premise of this argument, making it circular. In evaluating reality, the greatest concept is the one that best reflects reality. If I envision my bedroom with everything where I left it, and envision it with everything removed, then go and find everything there, the former idea is greater than the latter. If I find everything removed, then the latter idea is greater. Likewise, if God exists, imagining God existing is greater than imagining God as only existing in the mind. If God does not exist, imagining God existing only in the mind is greater than imagining God existing in reality. Existence does not add to perfection or greatness, it only relates to if the thing in question is real. Ideas about what is real, however, are greater or lesser to the extent that they are accurate.

            I will add that the ontological argument is the only argument for omnibenevolence that I have heard that does not depend on observation and inferring God's motivations based on that observation. Do you have any others?

          • David Hardy

            After a little further thought, I would like to present my issue with one of your positions which has been a center of this discussion. When speaking about accepting revelation, you said the following:

            We don´t need to understand all of god´s motivations in order to accept
            his revelation. God could be trying to fool us, but if we have no reason
            to believe this is the case, we are warranted in believing in that
            revelation.

            I will reframe this for the sake of my response to the following:

            We can accept the revelation that God exists and is omnibenevolent unless we have a good reason to believe this is not actually the case.

            However, people point to apparently unnecessary evil as a reason to believe that either God does not exist, or is not omnibenevolent. At which point, you have said the following:

            How can you (a limited mind) claim to know the
            entire subset of possible reasons for allowing evil, in order to claim
            it is probably gratuitous to god (an omniscient mind)?

            You are not actually doing anything to demonstrate that the evil is not unnecessary or that God would be justified in not intervening. You are saying we have no right to judge if the apparently unnecessary evil we see is actually unnecessary and therefore have no right to judge if it is really a challenge to the idea of God existing and being omnibenevolent.

            To bring it back to the original point, you have said that we have no epistemic warrant to judge whether this reason (apparent gratuitous evil) is a good reason (it might not actually be gratuitous and there is no way to prove it is for certain). This same epistemic warrant position can be used to discredit any apparent reason that indicates there is not an omnibenevolent God. Therefore, your original position can further be restated as follows:

            We must accept the revelation that God exists and is omnibenevolent, because we lack the epistemic warrant to judge whether any reason not to is good.

            This is not a valid argument. This is simply a dismissal of any evidence that might challenge your position by pointing out that any observation may lead to false conclusions due to the limits of our senses and mind. You are not even providing any reason to support that this is the case. You are just saying that it might be (we lack the epistemic warrant to be certain apparently gratuitous evil is gratuitous), and then using this to imply that it is (an omnibenevolent God exists, therefore the evil is not gratuitous).

      • Robert Macri

        My issue is with the assumption "if God is omnipotent etc., then we should reasonably expect there to be no evil".

        Consider my own children. I love them dearly, but I cannot imagine that I would never allow any suffering at all to enter their lives, even if I possessed the power to do so. They might at times doubt my love for them when I correct their behavior or demand that they eat their vegetables or insist that they study a subject they hate. Or if they broke the neighbor's window I would "permit" the unpleasantness that would follow (ie - making them pay for the damages.)

        Even if I were perfect I imagine that my love would sometimes take on a certain toughness. Perhaps especially if I were perfect (omniscient, etc) for then I would know the absolute best path for them and the way to coax them along it in spite of their struggling.

        They might even call their trials "evil" from time to time, and question my benevolence. But would that mean that I do not exist?

        Now, there are things that I as a father would always protect my children from. But how can we know the things that God has protected us from, or say with absolute certainty that He has no good reason for permitting the evils we do suffer? If I, with my finite intellect, can conceive of allowing my children to suffer certain things for their own good, why can I not extend that same understanding to God?

        It does not follow logically that an all-good God MUST prevent all evil. (I could go into the necessity of the possibility of evil for the existence of free will, but that's a tangent which I'm sure you must be well aware of.)

        • Doug Shaver

          My issue is with the assumption "if God is omnipotent etc., then we should reasonably expect there to be no evil".

          Consider my own children.

          I was only briefly involved with the raising of my children, but I got to know what it was like. Yes, we must allow them to have some unpleasant experiences and occasionally inflict those experiences because the consequences of our not doing so would be far worse. But that very choice is forced on us by the evils that already exist in the present world. We must subject our children to painful medical procedures because they are vulnerable to diseases for which no painless treatment exists. We must subject our children to unpleasant discipline because, in a world full of evil, children raised without discipline will suffer greatly and constantly throughout their lives.

          But how can we know the things that God has protected us from, or say with absolute certainty that He has no good reason for permitting the evils we do suffer?

          I stipulated that we cannot know that. Did you read what I actually wrote? I don't need to know whether this world would have been even worse if God had done anything different. My skepticism is justified if theists have no clear evidence that it would have been.

          It does not follow logically that an all-good God MUST prevent all evil.

          Again, did you pay attention to what I wrote? I explicitly denied offering any such argument.

          I could go into the necessity of the possibility of evil for the existence of free will, but that's a tangent which I'm sure you must be well aware of.

          I certainly am. I'm not new to this.

          • Robert Macri

            My humble apologies. I was rushing off yesterday and tried to get one last post in, so I did not read your post as carefully as I should have and my reply was sadly misdirected.

            But I have read your post carefully now.

            I agree with your sentiment that the acceptance of the proposition (G + A) -> E hinges on the acceptance of A (where G=existence of God, A = sum of potential reasons for allowing E, evil), so I understand how your skepticism would remain if you reject A. (That is only sensible, but of course it still doesn't prove E -> ~G , which, I understand, is why you express your "reasonable expectation" that it is true)

            But the point at hand from the original post on the problem of evil was more akin to (E + ~A) -> ~G . Since I reject of the claim ~A, I cannot conclude ~G. In this sense I suppose that we are just on different sides of the same logical boat.

            Now, instead of arguing A vs ~A, I ask the following question: "For what possible B does B -> E "?

            The nihilistic-like claim ~B -> ~E is most unsatisfactory. (If nothing matters or has meaning, why debate it?) What candidate would you suggest other than B=G+A? I am not suggesting that a lack of an alternative candidate logically proves B=G+A, but rather that it lends credence to it, in the same spirit of "reasonable expectation" given by the original argument.

            By the way, concerning your point that our own tolerance of certain suffering is at least partially a response to evils already in existence: I suggest that even if we were given a clean-slate sort of life (no suffering) that our free will could lead to the emergence of suffering as a corrective for harmful behaviors. It's not all inherited.

          • Doug Shaver

            I was rushing off yesterday and tried to get one last post in, so I did not read your post as carefully as I should have and my reply was sadly misdirected.

            Been there, done that. Think no more on it.

            I'm still working on a response to the rest of your post.

          • Doug Shaver

            Now, instead of arguing A vs ~A, I ask the following question: "For what possible B does B -> E "?

            In formal logic, it's true for arbitrary B. A material implication with an assumed consequent is true for any antecedent and regardless of whether the antecedent is true or false. The only false implication is one having a true antecedent and a false consequent. Since nobody in this room is disputing the existence of evil, we must stipulate B -> E for arbitrary B.

            I suggest that even if we were given a clean-slate sort of life (no suffering) that our free will could lead to the emergence of suffering as a corrective for harmful behaviors. It's not all inherited.

            You mean, if we could get back to the Garden of Eden, we'd be sure to mess it up again?

            I have a problem accepting the story even as allegory because I can't believe the world was ever like that, even metaphorically. I believe there is no sense in which human existence, or any human activity, made the world overall a worse place than it was before we got here.

            But obviously, there does exist some evil for which we are to blame, and we are morally obligated to take whatever correction action we can. And I think we've made significant progress in that direction -- not nearly enough, obviously, but more than a great many people are willing to admit.

            What if, in some way, we could start over? I think it's lot like our personal histories. I'm 69 years old. If I could be 20 again, would I make all the same mistakes I've made over the past 5 decades? Most likely, yes -- unless I already knew everything I have learned since I actually was just 20 years old.

            I don't know if the real Socrates really said it, but in one of Plato's dialogues he says, "No man knowingly does evil." His interlocutor thought it was nonsense, and I suspect most people still think so. But I think it's a pretty important insight into the relationship between ethics and epistemology. It's truth, of course, depends on how we're defining "evil." It does seem to me, though, that if you can say, "There are times when the smart thing to do is not the right thing to do," then there is something wrong with either your definition of "smart" or your definition of "right."

          • Robert Macri

            "In formal logic, it's true for arbitrary B. A material implication with an assumed consequent is true for any antecedent and regardless of whether the antecedent is true or false. The only false implication is one having a true antecedent and a false consequent. Since nobody in this room is disputing the existence of evil, we must stipulate B -> E for arbitrary B."

            If E is true for all B, then yes, B is arbitrary, but unless we posit that evil must exist in all sets of possible worlds, with all sets of conditions, then E is not universally true. We cannot conclude that because we observe E, that all possible worlds would include E.
            Suppose that a professor has a problem with students cheating on his exams, and he wonders about the conditions which make cheating possible in his classroom. He cannot declare "the problem of cheating exists, therefore it would exist for any arbitrary conditions" unless all professors everywhere have the same problem regardless of how they administer exams.

            The intent of my original question was to provoke thought about the origins of evil in a universe where God is assumed not to exist, but if you assert that E exists independently of any cause then naturally you would also deny the need to supply a reason. For me, such an assertion (that evil exists necessarily) is wholly unsatisfactory, because it seems to imply either that evil is an un-caused cause (evil causes suffering, but nothing causes evil) or that evil is just a meaningless term we apply to things we do not like. Neither of those cases, in my mind, satisfactorily addresses any of the grand existential or ontological questions.

            "You mean, if we could get back to the Garden of Eden, we'd be sure to mess it up again?"

            I wouldn't say that we'd be sure to mess it up again, but we cannot be certain enough of success to justify placing all the blame for our woes on the condition of inherited evil. (I'm not saying that you implied that as I've stated it here.)

            "I believe there is no sense in which human existence, or any human activity, made the world overall a worse place than it was before we got here."

            Well, in that case I can certainly see why you would conclude that E is true for arbitrary B. I suppose our points of view are separated by a serious gestalt switch. I would say that moral evil exists only in a world with free and rational agents.

            I wonder whether you are conflating the notion of "evil" with some lack of observable perfection in the universe?

            "But obviously, there does exist some evil for which we are to blame, and we are morally obligated to take whatever correction action we can. And I think we've made significant progress in that direction -- not nearly enough, obviously, but more than a great many people are willing to admit."

            It is difficult for me to agree to that when hundreds of millions of people were slaughtered over the course of the last century alone. We have indeed made progress in avoiding the effects of certain natural "evils" (through medicine, etc) but I cannot agree that moral evil is in any kind of decline at all.

            "What if, in some way, we could start over? {...} would I make all the same mistakes I've made over the past 5 decades?"

            Very interesting question. For me, I am certain I would again make mistakes, but whether or not they would be the same mistakes is another matter. I do not believe in natural determinism (and not just based on an assertion of free-will... quantum mechanics also makes an exact replaying of history infinitely improbable even if we lacked free will) so the answer to that is not clear to me.

            "I don't know if the real Socrates really said it, but in one of Plato's dialogues he says, "No man knowingly does evil." "

            Such a statement implies to me a relativistic stance on evil. (e.g. : The "good" that I want to achieve justifies the so-called evil that I will do.) If we have such a definition of evil, then we have no definition at all.

            "It does seem to me, though, that if you can say, "There are times when the smart thing to do is not the right thing to do," then there is something wrong with either your definition of "smart" or your definition of "right."

            Or both! But then, is it right to put oneself in danger to aid another? Is it smart?

          • Doug Shaver

            Sorry about the holdup. My response is taking much longer than I expected because of competition from other demands for my attention. But I'm still working on it as time permits.

          • Robert Macri

            Not a problem! I'm having the same time issues myself, and am only today ready to reply to another of your comments. Please take your time. I enjoy your thoughts and the careful consideration you give them.

          • Doug Shaver

            Thank you.

          • Doug Shaver

            . . . when hundreds of millions of people were slaughtered over the course of the last century alone . . . I cannot agree that moral evil is in any kind of decline at all.

            I have no idea how you're quantifying it. It's obviously bad when 100 million people die violently, but how bad might depend on whether the initial population to which they belonged numbered 200 million or 2 billion. As a percentage of the world's total population, the casualty rate throughout the 20th century was less than that of many previous centuries.

            I'm still working on a response to the rest of your post.

          • Robert Macri

            As a percentage of the world's total population, the casualty rate
            throughout the 20th century was less than that of many previous
            centuries.

            I don't think that's right, because you have to take into account how many people lived and died over the entire time frame in question.

            Out of curiosity, I got data estimates for world population here:

            http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/worldpop/table_history.php
            and here:
            http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/worldpop/graph_population.php

            and integrated over the ranges from 0 AD to 1900 AD and from 1900 AD to 2000 AD to find out how many "people years" were lived in each time frame. (To keep things simple I'll give the results in terms of people-years, PY, rather than figure out the total number of people who lived. I'll divide the PY out in the end anyway.)

            From 0 to 1900 AD I get 737901 MPY.
            From 1900 AD to 2000 AD I get 316680 MPY

            Now, I'm just going from memory here (I can look up the #s later), but I think that the number of people who died in secular war, genocide, and purging (ie, Soviet Union, China, etc) during the 20th century is about 300 million. And I think that the number of people who died in all combined wars throughout the history of Christendom up to 1900 was less than 3 million.

            Now dividing the number of people killed per PY in those two periods I get:

            4e-6 deaths per PY for 0 to 1900 AD

            and

            9.4e-4 deaths per PY for 1900 to 2000 AD

            Dividing that out, we see that the death rate per PY in war etc is about 240 times greater for the last century than for the preceding 1900 years combined.

            Now, you might object that it's not quite fair to compare one century to a span of nineteen centuries, but remember that if we take one-nineteenth of the deaths in the 0-1900 frame and divide by one-nineteenth of the PY we will get exactly the same result for a hypothetical average single century in that time frame. Of course, the actual century-to-century numbers will fluctuate about the average, but I cannot in any way see how the fluctuations would be so great to make up a 240x difference in a given century.

            Now, part of that is our technological ability to kill so "efficiently", but I do not think you can discount the effect of the human resolve to actually do so. The secular leaders of the last century certainly seemed to have reveled in it in a way that undermines secular criticism of, say, the crusades.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think that the number of people who died in all combined wars throughout the history of Christendom up to 1900 was less than 3 million.

            Why do you think that? Can you tell me your data source?

  • Although I think the problem of evil is by far the most serious challenge to the Christian faith--on both a personal and an intellectual level--I don't think this is a very convincing form of the argument.

    For one thing, the way the argument is phrased seems to suppose that there is a genus or kind (gods) of which there may or may not be a member (the Christian God). The distinguishing feature of monotheism is that God, by virtue of what he is, is not a member of a genus or kind. Atheists may think this is incoherent. But the argument seems to suppose Christians thing about divinity the way polytheists do (as members of a kind with distinguishing features). Christians, as monotheists, don't.

    Even if the argument could be rephrased, it still suffers from problems. For one thing, the weaker form of the argument is incoherent. Premise 2 contains two statements that are not necessarily equivalent.

    In any case, if God permits suffering and evil so that the world has its own autonomy (i.e., it is not merely a temporal expression of God's will), and permits moral evil so as not to abolish genuine personhood (free choice being a necessary constituent thereof), then evil would not pose an insuperable obstacle to the Christian theological vision. Particularly when the entire narrative of Christian theology is the restoration of the world and the abolition of suffering--which seems an odd omission.

    • Doug Shaver

      the entire narrative of Christian theology is the restoration of the world and the abolition of suffering

      When the abolition of suffering has been accomplished, will genuine personhood still exist?

      • Paul F

        Yes it will. Salvation is happening the way it is for this very purpose. It is the reason for a benevolent God to forgo the instantaneous elimination of evil from the universe.

        • Doug Shaver

          When the abolition of suffering has been accomplished, will genuine personhood still exist?

          Yes it will.

          Then there can be no contradiction between free will and the nonexistence of suffering.

          Salvation is happening the way it is for this very purpose.

          To what purpose are you referring? If we did not suffer, we would not need salvation in the first place. There would be nothing from which we needed saving.

          It is the reason for a benevolent God to forgo the instantaneous elimination of evil from the universe.

          You've lost me there. I can't parse the logic of that statement.

          • Paul F

            These are several points I have been arguing for:
            1. There is no contradiction between free will and the non existence of suffering. Sin causes suffering, not free will.
            2. There is no contradiction between the existence of evil and a benevolent God.
            God could eliminate suffering instantaneously but chooses not to because He would rather save us. He chooses to eliminate only evil and preserve the good. This is the purpose I refer to. Personhood is the good God is saving. Sin and evil are what He is eliminating.

          • Doug Shaver

            Sin causes suffering, not free will.

            If there was no way to prevent our sinning without violating our free will, then there is a contradiction between free will and absence of any consequence of sin.

            God could eliminate suffering instantaneously but chooses not to because He would rather save us.

            That sounds like saying that you can't rescue a drowning man without first throwing him into the water. I suppose that's true in a way, but it sorta misses the point.

          • Paul F

            The way to prevent a person of free will from sinning is to give them a conscience and ask them not to sin. These steps were taken; the rest is on us.

            The drowning man is already in the water. He jumped in. This metaphor falls short of explaining the situation in that the man loses nothing by being pulled out of the water. Humanity loses much if we are forced into obedience. Sin is a form of mental and emotional slavery. One way to rescue us would be to make us slaves to God instead. So, if there is a God, this is clearly not His way.

            Sin, fundamentally, is believing a lie and acting on that belief. People do not sin because they openly choose a worse state than status quo. They choose to sin because they believe their state will be improved. So rescuing people from sin involves changing what they believe from a lie to the truth.

            To understand Christian philosophy, one must at some point ask oneself: "How would a god set people free from a lie they believe without abusing the freedom he has given them?" It is only in this light that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus makes any sense. I have been a Christian for many years and the more I consider it, the more wisdom and brilliance and love I see in the life of Jesus as understood by Christians. The more I try to think of other ways to save humanity from lies that they believe, the more I am in awe of the Christian story.

          • Doug Shaver

            The drowning man is already in the water. He jumped in.

            I haven't seen anyone jump in. For all I can tell, they were pushed in. Or they could have been tricked into jumping in. The last is the only way for me to make sense of the Genesis story.

          • Paul F

            We get the doctrine of original sin from the story of the garden. Yes Adam and Eve were tricked, but they knew full well that they were doing what they were told not to do. They believed the lie and they jumped in. Everyone since was born in the water.

          • Doug Shaver

            they knew full well that they were doing what they were told not to do.

            But did they know it was wrong to do what they had been told not to do?

            They believed the lie

            What lie? What did the serpent say that wasn't true?

          • Paul F

            It is known from the story that is was wrong because God said not to do it. God is understood to define right and wrong, so don't get hung up on the details. In the ancient's mind, what God says is wrong is wrong.

            The serpent told them they surely would not die; God had told them they would die. God told the truth but the serpent deceived them.

          • David Nickol

            The serpent told them they surely would not die; God had told them they would die. God told the truth but the serpent deceived them.

            It seems to me everything the serpent says turns out to be true. I posted Genesis 2:16-17 from the Revised Standard Version, the NIV, and The Jewish Study Bible (with emphasis added) about a week ago, and here the three translations are again, with most of my week-old comments:

            And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

            And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

            And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die."

            If you check the interlinear Hebrew translation online, you will see that the key phrase literally translated is, "in the day that you eat thereof surely you will die."

            It does not sound to me as if the meaning should be understood to be, "As soon as you eat from it, you will lose your current preternatural gift of immortality, and consequently some day in the future you will die." It seems clear to me that the threat is of immediate death, not loss of immortality. The NAB, in a note, suggests that what God said must have meant loss of immortality, because Adam and Eve did not immediately die when they ate the fruit. I am not at all convinced.

            The NAB concludes that since Adam and Eve did not die immediately, God must have meant they would die eventually (become mortal). But there is no evidence in the text that they were created immortal.

            I think it is important to remember, in interpreting this story, that even the Catechism doesn't take it to be literally true. So while we can argue that God cannot lie, we have to remember that it is not God himself speaking in Genesis. There was no tree of knowledge of good and evil, so it makes no sense to claim God himself spoke about it. It is no more God himself speaking the words attributed to him in the story of Adam and Eve as it is God creating the Earth in six days and resting on the seventh.

          • Paul F

            They apparently did not die that day. What I know as a Catholic is that sin is that which disrupts my relationship with God; and mortal sin severs my relationship with God. The sin of Adam and Eve was a mortal sin and they immediately died a spiritual death; physical death was to come years later. All of the Bible shows God offering the choice between life and death, asking His people to choose life. It began in the garden.

          • David Nickol

            It is known from the story that is was wrong because God said not to do it. God is understood to define right and wrong, so don't get hung up on the details. In the ancient's mind, what God says is wrong is wrong.

            But the story forces us to ask what "wrong" meant for Adam and Eve. God does not speak to them as moral agents. He speaks to them as children. And if "knowledge of good and evil" means knowledge of what is right and wrong, then they obviously did not have such knowledge. They seem to have the kind of knowledge small children have—not that something prohibited is morally wrong, but that if they do what is prohibited, they will suffer consequences.

            God doesn't tell them that if they eat the forbidden fruit, they will be doing something wrong, or that they will be disobedient and will offend him. He tells them if they eat the fruit, they will die. But what happens? They don't die. Their eyes are opened and they know good and evil, just like God. God himself confirms word-for-word that what the snake said was true: "Then the LORD God said: See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life, and eats of it and lives forever?"

          • Paul F

            Adam and Eve lose their innocence in the story and are placed under the law. Before they were sinless, so there was no need for them to have rules to follow. Rules are for people with a propensity for bad acting. St. Paul speaks of this when he talks about living in the spirit and not being subject to the law. So knowing good from evil is to know rules that have to be followed. God and the angels had already seen Lucifer "fall like lightning from the sky," so they knew what evil looked like. Heaven had already lost its innocence, and now humans had too.

            If Adam and Eve had been destined to live forever on earth, they lost that as well. They died that day spiritually, and began the slow process of dying physically. Sin had caused their death in every way.

          • David Nickol

            Before they were sinless, so there was no need for them to have rules to follow.

            But they did have rules, or at least one rule, to follow. And in spite of being such "angelic" creatures, they did break the rule.

            God and the angels had already seen Lucifer "fall like lightning from the sky," so they knew what evil looked like.

            If you are referring to Isaiah 14:12, see these notes from the NAB:

            * [14:4–21] This taunt-song, a satirical funeral lament, is a beautiful example of classical Hebrew poetry. According to the prose introduction and the prosaic conclusion (vv. 22–23), it is directed against the king of Babylon, though Babylon is mentioned nowhere in the song itself. If the reference to Babylon is accurate, the piece was composed long after the time of Isaiah, for Babylon was not a threat to Judah in the eighth century. Some have argued that Isaiah wrote it at the death of an Assyrian king and the references to Babylon were made by a later editor, but this is far from certain.

            * [14:12] Morning Star: term addressed to the king of Babylon. The Vulgate translates as “Lucifer,” a name applied by the church Fathers to Satan. Son of the dawn: Heb., ben shahar, may reflect the name of a pagan deity.

            If you are referring to Luke 10:18, the NAB has the following note:

            * [10:18] I have observed Satan fall like lightning: the effect of the mission of the seventy-two is characterized by the Lucan Jesus as a symbolic fall of Satan. As the kingdom of God is gradually being established, evil in all its forms is being defeated; the dominion of Satan over humanity is at an end.

            So Isaiah is not referring to the fall of the angels, and neither is Luke. The New Testament ideas about Satan are not to be found in the Old Testament. Using the name Lucifer for Satan is a result of misreading Isaiah.

          • Paul F

            I used the words of Jesus, but I was referencing the tradition of the fall of Lucifer from Heaven. This extra-biblical tradition says that Lucifer was the greatest angel in Heaven. He rebelled over God's treatment of humans, specifically giving us a second chance and saving us when we deserved death. This is a Christian tradition but the obscure conversations in the creation story make sense in light of it. Lucifer, who has already died, tricks them because he thinks they deserve death. God, who knows the consequences of sin are death, has already devised a plan to save them. His plan began with the curse.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is known from the story that is was wrong because God said not to do it.

            That tells me how we know it was wrong, but that wasn't my question. I asked whether they knew it was wrong.

            God had told them they would die.

            In most of the translations I have seen, he was more specific than that. He said they would die on the same day they ate the fruit. Is that what happened?

          • Paul F

            Yes, the author is letting us know that they knew it was wrong by telling us God said it. That is how they would have taken it.

            Death in the bible and in Catholic tradition is often used to describe what occurs when a human sins. Sin is a break in the relationship with God, which is a real death. It is not taken as a metaphor, because a spiritual death is worse than physical death. Spiritual death is eternal, physical death has been overcome in Jesus. Lucifer died this eternal death when he fell from heaven, and he hates humans so much because God is continually giving them second chances. This is exactly what Lucifer hates: that humans sin and apparently do not die, even though they deserve it.

            But what God is saying is that Adam and Eve did indeed die that day. In heaven this would have been eternal; on earth we have time, and God came to save us in Jesus.

            I'm trying (and failing) not to sound too churchy in this explanation, but this is the context in which the story of the fall of man makes sense.

          • Doug Shaver

            That is how they would have taken it.

            Why should I believe that? According to the story, it was the eating of the fruit that gave them knowledge of good and evil. Before they ate it, how could they have had any notion that disobedience was a bad thing?

            Death in the bible and in Catholic tradition is often used to describe what occurs when a human sins.

            It may be Catholic tradition. All I see in the Bible is that a few of its authors thought death was a consequence of sin, i.e. we all, sooner or later, die because we all sin.

            a break in the relationship with God . . . is a real death.

            So says your dogma. The author of Genesis does not say so. Neither, as best I recall, does any other biblical author, but feel free to correct me on that point.

            But what God is saying is that Adam and Eve did indeed die that day.

            Where does he say that? Show me the quotation, please. You may infer that since he said it was going to happen, then it must have actually happened, but that isn't the same as God himself saying, "They did die on that day."

            I'm trying (and failing) not to sound too churchy in this explanation, but this is the context in which the story of the fall of man makes sense.

            You can sound as churchy as you need to to make your point, but all you're telling me so far is that if you presuppose that it's a true story, you can reconcile any apparent inconsistencies by piling up enough assumptions about what the author meant to say but for some reason didn't bother actually saying.

          • Paul F

            When I say that is how they would have taken it, I don't mean just Adam and Eve, but any ancient person. In the prevailing worldview of the day, God's commands created morality. So what God says not to do, it is morally wrong to do.

            You can check out Romans chapter 6 to see Paul writing about sin and death. Paul clearly saw being in a state of sin as being dead, and being in a state of grace as having new life. It can sound metaphorical, but he meant it literally and spiritually.

            I understand why my answers sound trite, but knowing anything takes context. I have learned from my faith tradition a lot of context in which the Genesis story makes sense. Outside of that context I can't make much sense of it, nor would I spend the time on it.

            There was a time that I felt the same way you do about Catholic theology. In studying theology (of which I've done enough to be dangerous) I had an Aha! moment where the big picture started to make sense. I am answering your questions as best I can with my meager education, but your questions are detailed to the point that the proper context is necessary to properly answer them.

            I know it seems like I am arbitrarily piling up assumptions, but these come from our tradition. And in order to study theology, one would have to at least proceed as if the story might be true, if not presume that it is. Without this, one will never be adequately immersed in the context necessary to make sense of it all.

          • Doug Shaver

            I asked, "Why should I believe that?" Your response boils down to: "Because Catholic theology and Catholic tradition say so."

          • Paul F

            I think I answered that in my last paragraph. If you want to understand theology you have to give it a more thorough hearing, which requires a certain level of engagement. It's a catch 22: if you approach theology as if it is untrue myth, then you will never understand what you are rejecting.

          • Doug Shaver

            if you approach theology as if it is untrue myth, then you will never understand what you are rejecting.

            A real understanding of anything controversial requires that one study it with an open mind, but I'm not taking your word for it that disbelief is proof of a closed mind.

          • Paul F

            I don't think "inadequately immersed in the context" and "close minded" are the same thing.

            You asked why should you believe and I basically answered "so you can understand." Your original question was concerning my statement about how ancients would have interpreted God's command in the story. This is based on what I learned from scholars who have done very detailed studies of artifacts and texts from the time. I have more common sense than scholarly sense, but I bought what they taught because it made sense to me.

            As far as belief in God, many brilliant people have come to believe in God, but not one of them ever proved that He existed. If you wish to find God, you must seek where He is. It makes sense to me that He will never be the subject of any empirical study or scientific inquiry. That is our way of knowing things in the world. If you want to know what is not in the world, you must have another way of seeking it.

          • Doug Shaver

            You mean I can't understand without first believing?

          • Paul F

            Have you ever met a theologian who didn't believe in God? Of course it's not impossible. But it ain't likely.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you mean people with postgraduate degrees in theology, I'm not personally acquainted with any, as far as I know. And I would expect few atheists to want to invest the time and other resources necessary to get such a degree.

            But I'm not sure that addresses the issue. I cannot offhand recall hearing an expert on any other subject claiming that it cannot be learned except by those who believe in it. It's certainly not the case in any area of philosophy that I know about. In none of my classes did the professor say at the beginning of the course, "You won't understand the material we're about to cover unless you believe it."

          • Paul F

            Well, you don't seem to understand much theology; and I surmise it's because you don't believe in God. Just a guess, I don't know. But I'm not trying to debunk atheist philosophy that I don't understand because I have no interest in it. For instance, I started reading once about intrinsic value as a reason for morality in the absence of the divine. I thought it was poppycock, so I put the book down and thought no more of it. I didn't go find people on the internet who believe in it and try to convince them to believe what I do.

            I have not been speaking absolutely, but you have been questioning me as if I am. One exception does refute an absolute, but it does not refute common sense entirely. And I haven't taken any surveys but I still think that most people, like me, who have no interest in something do not spend their time studying it and lack a thorough understanding of it.

          • Michael Murray

            I didn't go find people on the internet who believe in it and try to convince them to believe what I do.

            The situation for atheists posting on Strange Notions is not like that. It was set up to engage atheists and they are here by invitation. No-one ever told us we had pass an examination in Catholic theology before we could post. Indeed it seems to me that many people got banned for knowing too much about Catholic theology. Like some of these:

            Andre B, Andrew G, Argon, Articulett, Ben Posin, BenS, Danny Getchell, Epeeist, felixcox, Geena Safire, Gwen, Ignorant Amos, Jonathan West, josh, MichaelNewsham, Mike A, Noah Luck, M. Solange O'Brien, Papalinton, Paul Boillot, picklefactory, Pofarmer, Ray Vorkin, Renard Wolfe, Rob Tisinai, Stjepan Marusic, Susan, Zen Druid.

          • Paul F

            He's asking me about theology. I didn't start this line of conversation. I'm glad to explain anything about what I believe to anyone who asks; or not if they don't. There is no exam to it. I would also be glad to hear what he believes; but I wouldn't expect it to make sense to me out of context, so I wouldn't argue on that level. That's all I've been trying to explain.

          • Doug Shaver

            Well, you don't seem to understand much theology

            When people tell me I should believe God exists, all I need to understand is whatever those people say. If some of them cannot make themselves understood except to people who already share their beliefs, then that is their problem, not mine.

          • Phil Rimmer

            The classic model of free will beloved of many religious folk, disables and isolates individuals. In fact, without the compulsion of experience, rational or revelatory, there is no motor for change.

            Accept, Jesus, to learn to accept Jesus is compelling only to the already needy.

            C.S. Lewis, at least, was naked in his methods suggesting the curious "act out the religious life" until they wake up one morning and discover they are religious.

            A reverse Pinocchio...

          • Michael Murray
          • Michael Murray

            Catholic atheism is a belief in which the culture, traditions, rituals, and norms of Catholicism are accepted, but the existence of God is rejected. It is illustrated in Miguel de Unamuno's novel San Manuel Bueno, Mártir (1930). According to research in 2007, only 27% of Catholics in the Netherlands considered themselves theist, while 55% were ietsist or agnostic deist, and 17% were agnostic or atheist. Many Dutch people still affiliate with the term "Catholic", and use it within certain traditions as a basis of their cultural identity, rather than as a religious identity. The vast majority of the Catholic population in the Netherlands is now largely irreligious in practice.[6]

          • Paul F

            I've heard a lot about the secularization of Europe, but I've never heard of any of it being caused by theology. It seems to always be about scandal or ennui or a misunderstanding of theology. I'm sure it happens, but I never hear about someone understanding Catholic theology, objecting intellectually, and leaving the church on those grounds.

          • Michael Murray

            The problem with that argument is that anyone who claims they have done that just gets told they didn't "really" understand. Because if they did understand they wouldn't have left the Church.

          • Paul F

            Here is an example of the kind of stuff I read about people leaving the church in Europe:

            http://europe.newsweek.com/217716-leave-german-catholic-church-330612

            If anybody ever told me they left the church for some theological reason I would try to understand it. But I always here things like "I'm disillusioned with the church" or "my priest is a jerk" or things like that.

          • Michael Murray

            Interesting article. Mostly about Germans who don't believe leaving the Church to avoid paying their Church tax it seems.

            I agree that "my priest is a jerk" is no reason to stop believing in God. But perhaps these people also made the mistake prior to that of thinking "my priest is really cool therefore God exists" ?

            I suspect though that things like "my priest is a jerk" and the child abuse scandals will start people thinking about their faith and perhaps they will find that it's not really there. I walked away from the Catholic Church as a teenager because I could find no persuasive reason to think there was a God at that time. I've not found any persuasive reason in the subsequent 40 years either. Is that a theological reason ?

          • Paul F

            It's always a good thing for people to start thinking about their faith. I think I would classify your reason as a philosophical reason. I think philosophy of God is prior to theology when you think seriously about faith. I mean, if there is no God, there is no theology.

            Although the two are intertwined. Theology can very much enhance the understanding of philosophy of God. And when there is consisitency between God's nature and what He does it really solidifies a foundation for faith.

          • Paul F

            'How to Think About God' by Mortimer Adler is a great exposition of philosophy of God.

          • Robert Macri

            When the abolition of suffering has been accomplished, will genuine personhood still exist?

            Yes it will.

            Then there can be no contradiction between free will and the nonexistence of suffering.

            But it does not follow that because a final state can be attained in which there will be no contradiction between the two, that therefore no such contradiction existed initially.

            A sword-smith hammers and heats a blade to shape and strengthen it. When the blade is complete it requires no more strengthening. There is a contradiction between the absence of heat and the forging process, but there is no contradiction between the absence of heat and a fully-formed sword.

            My personal attempt to understand the problem of suffering is that it forms the necessary experiential basis by which a free will can become capable of making an eternal decision: either remaining eternally faithful or eternally disobedient. Once the "work" of forming the will is accomplished the will can remain free even though it never again chooses disobedience. A toddler who disregards his mother's command not to eat mud pies may yet grow into an adult who never again does such things (hopefully!); but even though the adult will never again do so, he remains free to do it.

            I sometimes wonder why God wouldn't just reveal himself to us and let us choose for or against him and be done with it, but then it occurs to me that we don't yet fully understand what it is that we are choosing, what the full, eternal meaning of fidelity or disobedience requires. We must earn an understanding of what our "yes" or "no" means before it can truly be said to be a full and free decision.

            My kids want a dog. No matter how many times I try to explain to them all the responsibilities that go along with that (feeding, grooming, handling of excrement...) they respond with the same refrain: "Yes, yes! We will take care of everything. Just let us have a dog!"

            Perhaps I should take in a foster animal; let the kids care for it for awhile, develop a real experiential understanding of what it means to care for a dog (and obey their parents' rules in that regard). if after a suitable testing period they still want a dog, then I can be confident that, yes, they truly want one, with all that ownership entails, and, yes, they will be faithful to their promises.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is a contradiction between the absence of heat and the forging process, but there is no contradiction between the absence of heat and a fully-formed sword.

            I fail to see how personhood is relevantly analogous a metal blade.

            Besides, an omnipotent blacksmith certainly could make a sword without having to use a forge.

          • Robert Macri

            I fail to see how personhood is relevantly analogous a metal blade.

            Perhaps, but I cannot think of anything which is, strictly speaking, "relevantly analogous" to personhood (unless the analogous thing itself possesses personhood). Thus, I instead offer the example as a simile. (Besides, it was the experience of person and blade that I intended to be analogous, not the form or essence of the two.)

            Besides, an omnipotent blacksmith certainly could make a sword without having to use a forge.

            Certainly, but an omnipotent blacksmith would not be forced to do so. If he chose to apply certain constraints (say, to fashion a sentient "sword" which possessed the ability to shape itself to a certain extent, within the flow of time*) something like a forge might well be a necessary component of the process, consistent with the blacksmith's goal.

            *I add this qualification because it is not obvious to me how free will could exist without a flow of time in which to exhibit change (not until some final, unalterable, and freely-chosen state is realized)

            I do not see how even an omnipotent creator could fashion "free" beings in a perfectly irrevocable state of innocence any more than he could fashion a square circle, or any other logical inconsistency. The closest he could come to that would be to create only those people who he knew (in view of his omniscience) would ultimately choose him, and in so doing fashion them in their final, exalted state; but then the "choice" of those individuals would be an illusion: a default position which none of them ever actually made.

            What freedom can there be without choices? What choices without change? What change without a temporal process to support it? And what merit without any of these?

          • Doug Shaver

            Besides, it was the experience of person and blade that I intended to be analogous, not the form or essence of the two.

            Good. I don't believe in forms or essences.

            And I don't don't expect any analogy to be exact. When I said "relevantly analogous," that was shorthand for "similar in a relevant way," i.e. relevant to the asserted analogy. An analogy says, "A and B are both X, and so we should expect them both also to be Y." For such an argument to work, there must be some reason to think that whatever is X is likely also to be Y. That reason would establish the relevance to the analogy of their similarity with respect to X.

            I do not see how even an omnipotent creator could fashion "free" beings in a perfectly irrevocable state of innocence any more than he could fashion a square circle, or any other logical inconsistency.

            OK, but I don't see the logical inconsistency. Until you can show it to me, we're at an impasse.

            What freedom can there be without choices?

            Must there be an infinite number of choices? Is Baskin-Robbins restricting my free will by offering only 31 flavors of ice cream?

          • Robert Macri

            Must there be an infinite number of choices? Is Baskin-Robbins restricting my free will by offering only 31 flavors of ice cream?

            I don't follow. Who said anything about an infinite number of choices? I merely say that the actual possibility of choice itself must exist for the will to be free.

            I suppose that you are suggesting that an omniscient, benevolent creator could have restricted our choices to good things alone?

            Well, to expand your Baskin-Robbins analogy, remember that the choice of flavor is not the only choice a customer has. He or she also chooses whether or not to eat ice cream at all.

            The theology of the fall should not be taken to mean that God presented our first parents with a bunch of choices, at least one of which was bad (one of the ice cream flavors was made with curdled milk, so to speak). Rather, he extended his hand full of gifts, but he would not force them to accept any of them.

            If I march you into a Baskin-Robbins at gunpoint you are certainly not free even if they do have infinitely many flavors, all of them among your favorites!

          • Doug Shaver

            Who said anything about an infinite number of choices? I merely say that the actual possibility of choice itself must exist for the will to be free.

            So, as long as I can choose either X or Y, then my will is free, no matter what X and Y are? I don't need to be offered a third choice?

            If I march you into a Baskin-Robbins at gunpoint you are certainly not free even if they do have infinitely many flavors, all of them among your favorites!

            If eating ice cream happens to be what I want to do at that moment, then I don't care about your threats. You're not restricting my freedom until the moment I decide I'd rather do something else and you prevent me.

          • Robert Macri

            So, as long as I can choose either X or Y, then my will is free, no matter what X and Y are? I don't need to be offered a third choice?

            The type and number of choices are determined by the reality at hand. A basketball player is free to do whatever he wishes within his physical ability and the rules of the game (if he deviates from those rules he is not playing proper basketball). The existence of a set of rules does not eliminate his freedom of will by lack of choices; it makes it possible for there to be a thing such as basketball in the first place.

            But if he is forced to play basketball against his will, then no number of options to dribble or pass or shoot will restore his freedom, even if those choices be infinite in number.

            Thus, his will can only be called "free" if it is possible for him to reject the game and opt for the bleachers, however unpleasant that might be,

            Now, we might say: "Why do the bleachers have to be unpleasant? Why can't we choose something we like better than 'basketball'?"

            Because of the nature of the choice. (We are not, in fact, talking about something as mundane as basketball!)

            In the drama of salvation (from the Christian perspective) we're not talking about any finite good. We're talking about accepting or rejecting the ultimate good itself, which is God (I use here St. Anselm's definition of God: that than which nothing greater can be conceived.)

            Let's suppose that such a God exists. Being the greatest good, he would be the source of perfect joy and absolute freedom from suffering. (I realize that people often argue about what the "greatest good" even means, but for the sake of discussion I will speak of such things as joy and freedom from suffering.)

            Rejecting him, then, would amount to a rejection of perfect joy and absolute freedom from suffering. To do so would necessarily be to choose something lesser... to "opt for the bleachers".

            Now, suppose I did reject the ultimate good. Even if God then permitted me any other life and pleasure that my finite mind could conceive, it would by definition fall short of "that that which nothing greater can be conceived", which is precisely what I rejected. I would suffer the lesser, having cast off the greater. There could be no alternative that could compare, no satisfactory "consolation prize".

            But if I was not at least given the opportunity to reject him, then my freedom would be an illusion, in which case we could not even speak of accepting or rejecting. We would have either a god who gives us bliss but does not think enough of us to make us free, or a cruel tyrant god who casts us into suffering without any choice in the matter. What we would not have is Anselm's God.

            (And if I rejected him but did not, in fact, suffer, then the thing I cast away could not have been "perfect joy and absence of suffering". )

            You're not restricting my freedom until the moment I decide I'd rather do something else and you prevent me.

            If a terrorist blows up your local Baskin-Robbins today he certainly restricts your possible future choices, whether or not you have a craving for BR ice cream today.

            And now that I have blathered on about my take on all of this, I ask: do you believe that free will actually exists, and, if so, how is that consistent with naturalism? If not, are all rational discussions pointless, as we are just "reading from a script written by no one"?

          • Doug Shaver

            And now that I have blathered on about my take on all of this, I ask: do you believe that free will actually exists, and, if so, how is that consistent with naturalism?

            Naturalism is just the position that there are no causes other than natural causes. I don't see why naturalism could not admit the possibility that some events are uncaused. And as I understand free will in common usage -- sometimes called "libertarian free will" -- it asserts that our choices are essentially uncaused events. I don't believe we have that kind of free will.

            Whether there is any other kind of free will that we should be satisfied to have seems to raise all manner of semantic arguments. Obviously, the laws of nature, if nothing else, prevent us from doing a great many things we want to do. To that extent, some choices are just not available to us. But that leaves lots of available choices. It seems to me that, given some set of available choices, and given that my wanting one of them is a sufficient condition for me to have it, then my will is as free as I need it to be -- unless, and only unless, some conscious agent other than myself is making me want it.

          • Robert Macri

            I don't see why naturalism could not admit the possibility that some events are uncaused.

            There is a lot of faith inherent in such a statement. Science is built upon the study of "what is" (physically speaking), namely the "caused" (for we have never empirically observed any uncaused thing). We can build models based on observation of what is (among caused things) and extrapolate backwards to what was (among caused things), but we would have no justification other than our belief or fancy to posit that any scientific model could extrapolate backwards from the caused to the uncaused. And if it we attempted to construct such a "scientific" model of things, we would be left with two very severe problems.

            First, we would have a tremendous burden of proof. Science is only as good as the testability of its predictions. Until we identify an uncaused thing that we can measure in some way, any model of such things would be science fiction, not science.

            Second, because a "uncaused thing" by its very nature does not proceed from anything else it cannot be predicted by any scientific model, but only posited axiomatically (not proven). We would have to "take it for granted". How is that different from the theist position (except in the details of what the uncaused thing is like)?

            That is, to say that "at least one uncaused thing exists (or existed) within a purely naturalistic framework" is no more scientifically verifiable than to say that "at least one uncaused thing exists (or existed) within a theistic framework".

            You said:

            "libertarian free will" -- it asserts that our choices are essentially
            uncaused events. I don't believe we have that kind of free will.

            and:

            my will is as free as I need it to be -- unless, and only unless, some conscious agent other than myself is making me want it

            Does that mean that you believe in determinism with regard to human will, but that the thing determining your choices is not itself a conscious agent? That is, you are a machine, created by another machine, and programmed with the illusion of free will?

            To clarify, when I speak of "free will" I am not saying that there are no constraints (physical law, my finite powers, etc), but rather that we are not pre-programmed to select one or another choice from a set of options which are available to us, as a classical machine would be.

            I also do not mean this in the sense that, say, a photon is not pre-programmed to either reflect or transmit through a sheet of glass (because quantum physics gives us no way, even in principle, to know what the photon will do in any particular measurement, even though it is by no means consciously "choosing" one action or another).

            In my usage, "free will" is a faculty of the rational human soul (call it the "mind", if you like) which is (1) utterly different than anything else we observe in nature because it is not predetermined from natural law, and (2) something real (that is, it can no more be considered an illusion than can conscious thought itself).

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't see why naturalism could not admit the possibility that some events are uncaused.

            There is a lot of faith inherent in such a statement.

            I might or might not agree, depending on what you mean by "faith." I've seen Christians define that word in so many ways, I no longer assume that I know what they're talking about when they use it.

            Science is built upon the study of "what is" (physically speaking), namely the "caused" (for we have never empirically observed any uncaused thing).

            That could be a true statement about conventional science, but naturalism is not identical with science, conventional or otherwise. Conventional science may presuppose naturalism, but naturalism need not presuppose science. Furthermore, the claim that no uncaused event has ever been observed is not consistent with the current state of quantum science as I understand it.

            First, we would have a tremendous burden of proof. Science is only as good as the testability of its predictions. Until we identify an uncaused thing that we can measure in some way, any model of such things would be science fiction, not science.

            Scientific proof is never conclusive, especially when the thing to be proved is the nonexistence of something. If we were to say that some event has no cause, the most we could mean is that we have ruled out, as a possible cause, everything we can think of that could have been the cause. Even in that case, I would think it be philosophically prudent to say merely, "We have no idea what the cause is," rather than "This event has no cause."

            But we should never forget the distinction between what we can reasonably believe and what reality could actually be like. Given an event that we know has occurred, it is reasonable to believe that something caused it even if our attempts to identify the cause, no matter how apparently exhaustive, have consistently failed, but that doesn't make an actual cause logically necessary.

            That is, to say that "at least one uncaused thing exists (or existed) within a purely naturalistic framework" is no more scientifically verifiable than to say that "at least one uncaused thing exists (or existed) within a theistic framework".

            Naturalism is not science. A statement does not have to be scientifically verifiable to be consistent with naturalism.

            Does that mean that you believe in determinism with regard to human will, but that the thing determining your choices is not itself a conscious agent?

            Close enough.

            That is, you are a machine, created by another machine, and programmed with the illusion of free will?

            That sounds just terrible, doesn't it? Trouble is, reality just doesn't care one little bit whether we like the sound of anything.

            when I speak of "free will" I am not saying that there are no constraints (physical law, my finite powers, etc), but rather that we are not pre-programmed to select one or another choice from a set of options which are available to us, as a classical machine would be.

            I'm not sure what you mean by classical in this context. I think the brain is actually an organic computer, and I don’t regard even inorganic computers as classical machines. I think there is a fundamental difference between data processing and the kinds of work that all other machines have been made to do.

            In my usage, "free will" is a faculty of the rational human soul (call it the "mind", if you like) which is (1) utterly different than anything else we observe in nature because it is not predetermined from natural law, and (2) something real (that is, it can no more be considered an illusion than can conscious thought itself).

            That sounds about like what I understand libertarian free will to be.

            Whether I call it the soul or the mind is not a matter of what I like. It's a matter of what I mean. I believe the mind exists. I do not believe that it is, in any useful sense, the same thing that Christians call the soul. I do not believe that any mind exists independently of the brain that produces it. This is not to say that every brain produces a mind. Insects have brains, but I don’t think they have minds. But wherever there is a mind, there is a functioning brain, and it is a physical brain.

          • Robert Macri

            That could be a true statement about conventional science, but naturalism is not identical with science, conventional or otherwise. Conventional science may presuppose naturalism, but naturalism need not presuppose science.

            In that case, the naturalist position cannot be underpinned by the findings or authority of science. It is, then, merely a belief. Such a belief may be shaped by one's experience of the natural world, but it does not flow from it as a logical necessity. And as such, it should be met with the same skepticism that its adherents hold against theistic beliefs.

            Furthermore, the claim that no uncaused event has ever been observed is not consistent with the current state of quantum science as I understand it.

            I apologize in advance for the length of the following, but I think this is an important point and I want to be as clear as possible. (And as Mark Twain once reportedly wrote, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”)

            Quantum Mechanics (QM) – and more generally, the various modes of quantum field theory – by their very construction are entirely consistent with causation. Indeed, causality is a fundamental assumption of all science.

            QM, like all physics, is an attempt to model the observed happenings of nature in a theoretical framework capable of making observable predictions. If the predictions of any such model agree with experiment then we say it is a good model; otherwise the model fails.

            Now, a natural phenomenon which is not caused can by definition not be predicted. So it would be absurd to say, in any sense, that QM predicts that any uncaused thing will happen. And I assure you that QM does no such thing. But rather than just state that, I’ll try to explain a little more in just a moment.

            But first, in case your comment meant not that QM has predicted an uncaused event but rather that one or more have been observed that are uncaused, then I ask: Which natural event is it exactly which has been observed but has not been caused? If you give me an example I’m sure that I can explain how causality is in fact preserved.

            Now, I suspect the reasons why some people might mistakenly believe that QM defies causality may be due to (1) QM “spooky action at a distance”, (2) reports of so called faster than light (FTL) travel, or (3) vacuum fluctuations.

            The last is easiest to deal with, so I’ll tackle that one first.

            (3) People may sometimes think that the creation of particles from the vacuum implies “something from nothing”, or, an “uncaused” appearance of matter. But this is not the case. The vacuum is far from “nothing”. Quantum Field Theory tells us that even in “empty space” there are fields, the various wave behavior of which produce the particles we observe. Furthermore, the lowest possible energy state of the vacuum in QFT is non-zero (so there is never “nothing”, in the sense of no matter or energy at all), and there is always a seething mass of virtual particles ready to become real particles by borrowing energy from somewhere else (or even from the vacuum itself, as long as the energy is “paid back” quickly enough that the Heisenberg uncertainty relations are not violated). None of this violates causality or implies “something from nothing”, precisely because we are not starting with “nothing” when we speak of the vacuum.

            (1) “Spooky action at a distance” refers to the instantaneous collapse of a quantum mechanical wave function to select one state out of a superposition of states. Einstein (along with two colleagues) offered a gedanken experiment to illustrate the absurdity of this aspect of QM (Einstein never liked QM) called the Einstein-Podolski-Rosen (EPR) paradox.

            It goes something like this: suppose a spin zero particle decays into two particles with non-zero spin (We don’t have to pick those spins, in particular). To conserve angular momentum, if one spin is oriented in a particular direction the other must be oriented in the opposite direction, and to conserve momentum the particles must fly off in opposite directions. Now, QM gives us no way to determine the direction along which the spins are aligned, but bizarrely states that the wave function of the system is in a quantum superposition of all possible states (think Schrodinger’s cat) until the moment a measurement forces the wave function to collapse to a specific eigenstate.

            Now, if two astronauts position themselves far apart (say, on opposite sides of the galaxy) and each have a detector to measure the spin of the particle that comes their way, then when Astronaut A measures the spin of his particle along a certain direction the wave function must instantly collapse to such a state that Astronaut B’s measurement will yield precisely the opposite result if Astronaut B measures along the same direction. But since nothing can travel faster than light, this instantaneous collapse would appear to violate causation, or so Einstein argued.

            But here’s the rub: nature is arranged such that even though the wave function collapses everywhere instantaneously, no information can be exchanged between the astronauts by this process. (And it is FTL information exchange which would give us causation paradoxes. If we could send information FTL then we could construct a device which would allow us to send information into the past.)

            This post is already getting too long for me to explain how QM does not permit FTL information exchange, but I’m sure you can find many explanations online. And if anyone is interested I would be happy to attempt an explanation later. (Part of the explanation is that one cannot simply measure the spin of a particle absolutely, but only the spin along a particular arbitrary direction, and the result, regardless of direction, must be either “up” or “down”. It’s just one of the strange features of QM.)

            (2) FTL travel: Every once in a while you may read a news article about an experiment which produced or observed something (most commonly, light) which moved faster than light. These kinds of reports are unfortunately highly sensationalized and many people may fail to understand the significant point that no information is transmitted at FTL speed, and causality is therefore not violated.

            So what are those articles talking about? In QM we describe particles in terms of wave functions, which behave much like classical waves. As such, if we imagine a little wavy packet of “matter” moving through space we can talk about the group velocity of the wave (ie – how fast the packet moves from point A to point B, carrying information by way of interaction) and also the phase velocity (how the tiny wavy ripples continually move from one side of the packet to the other (look at Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase_velocity for more info on this). The phase velocity can indeed move FTL, but not the group velocity, and thus no information can be exchanged at FTL speed.

            I can't resist a quick analogy: If I am swimming back and forth in a cruise-ship swimming pool, I will not get from London to New York any faster even if I swim laps at or above the speed of light. (In this example, the swimmer represents the phase velocity while the ship represents group velocity, which can never be FTL.)

            When you hear of experiments in which something moves faster than light, just remember that FTL phase velocities and QM “spooky action at a distance” cannot transmit information, and thus causality is preserved.

            (Other times they are simply saying that something moved faster than light in some medium, but not that it moved faster than light in a vacuum, which is the important speed limit for causality. Cerenkov radiation, for instance, is cause by electrons moving faster than light moves in some medium (e.g. water), but they do not move faster than light in vacuo.)

            Just for fun, here’s another quick classical gedanken experiment: if you shine a laser pointer at the moon and whip your hand such that the dot (if you could see it) flies from one side of the moon to the other in about 6 thousandths of a second (easy to do- you only have to move your outstretched hand at about 3.5 mph) then the dot would travel across the lunar surface at faster than the speed of light. But two astronauts on opposite sides of the moon could not use the dot to communicate with one another in any way. They couldn’t tag it somehow, or force it to carry something, and if they tried to get you to modulate the dot somehow they would have to communicate with you first, using means which are not FTL. So it doesn’t matter how fast the dot moves; it cannot violate causality.

            Anyway, I hope that helps to clarify that no observation of science or valid scientific model has ever demonstrated or posited causality. And again, sorry for the length.

          • Doug Shaver

            In that case, the naturalist position cannot be underpinned by the findings or authority of science.

            Agreed.

            It is, then, merely a belief.

            Yeah, in the sense that any axiom is merely a belief.

            Such a belief may be shaped by one's experience of the natural world, but it does not flow from it as a logical necessity.

            I've never treated naturalism as a logical necessity. I treat it as a reasonable assumption.

            And as such, it should be met with the same skepticism that its adherents hold against theistic beliefs.

            That depends on what you're calling skepticism. It's not the same thing as disbelief. Granted, in common usage, the statement "I'm skeptical about X" means "I suspect that X isn't true." In philosophical discourse, though, I understand modern skepticism (as opposed to the ancient Pyrrhonic variety) to be just a willingness to question anything, especially but not only things that are popularly taken for granted or believed on inadequate epistemological grounds. The fact that I believe something doesn't mean I've never questioned it. It often means that my questioning failed to turn up any good reason for doubt.

            Of course I don't have the time or other resources to question every last belief I hold. As a skeptic, I'm willing to question everything. But as a mortal human being, I just can't actually do that, no matter how willing I am. So, when someone tells me I ought to be questioning something, I may ask them to suggest a reason for me to make that effort.

            I have been questioning naturalism for about as long as I have been questioning theism. So far, naturalism has withstood all the challenges that I've become aware of. Theism has not.

            Indeed, causality is a fundamental assumption of all science.

            I'm not so sure that's true. But if it is, then I have no problem saying that, on that particular point, I disagree with science.

            Now, a natural phenomenon which is not caused can by definition not be predicted.

            Radioactive decay is a natural phenomenon. We can predict that half the atoms in a sample of radioactive material will decay within a certain length of time. We cannot predict, with respect to any particular atom, whether it will be among the ones that decay or among the ones that don't decay. So, if the atom decays at a particular time, either the decay at that time was uncaused, or it had a cause of which we have no knowledge yet. And if I correctly understand everything I've read so far on the subject, the current scientific consensus leans toward there being no cause.

            Now, I suspect the reasons why some people might mistakenly believe that QM defies causality may be due to (1) QM “spooky action at a distance”, (2) reports of so called faster than light (FTL) travel, or (3) vacuum fluctuations.

            Other people's mistakes are not my problem.

            (3) People may sometimes think that the creation of particles from the vacuum implies “something from nothing”, or, an “uncaused” appearance of matter. But this is not the case. The vacuum is far from “nothing”. Quantum Field Theory tells us that even in “empty space” there are fields, the various wave behavior of which produce the particles we observe. Furthermore, the lowest possible energy state of the vacuum in QFT is non-zero (so there is never “nothing”, in the sense of no matter or energy at all)

            I'm aware of all that.

            But here’s the rub: nature is arranged such that even though the wave function collapses everywhere instantaneously, no information can be exchanged between the astronauts by this process.

            Yes, I know. But I'm not conflating acausality with information exchange.

            (And it is FTL information exchange which would give us causation paradoxes.

            Paradoxes are beside the point. I'm aware of no reason to suppose that lack of cause per se would either constitute or create any paradox.

            Every once in a while you may read a news article about an experiment which produced or observed something (most commonly, light) which moved faster than light.

            I used to be a news reporter. I know better than to trust articles of that sort.

          • Doug Shaver

            In that case, the naturalist position cannot be underpinned by the findings or authority of science.

            Agreed.

            It is, then, merely a belief.

            Yeah, in the sense that any axiom is merely a belief.

            Such a belief may be shaped by one's experience of the natural world, but it does not flow from it as a logical necessity.

            I've never treated naturalism as a logical necessity. I treat it as a reasonable assumption.

            And as such, it should be met with the same skepticism that its adherents hold against theistic beliefs.

            That depends on what you're calling skepticism. It's not the same thing as disbelief. Granted, in common usage, the statement "I'm skeptical about X" means "I suspect that X isn't true." In philosophical discourse, though, I understand modern skepticism (as opposed to the ancient Pyrrhonic variety) to be just a willingness to question anything, especially but not only things that are popularly taken for granted or believed on inadequate epistemological grounds. The fact that I believe something doesn't mean I've never questioned it. It often means that my questioning failed to turn up any good reason for doubt.

            Of course I don't have the time or other resources to question every last belief I hold. As a skeptic, I'm willing to question everything. But as a mortal human being, I just can't actually do that, no matter how willing I am. So, when someone tells me I ought to be questioning something, I may ask them to suggest a reason for me to make that effort.

            I have been questioning naturalism for about as long as I have been questioning theism. So far, naturalism has withstood all the challenges that I've become aware of. Theism has not.

            Indeed, causality is a fundamental assumption of all science.

            I'm not so sure that's true. But if it is, then I have no problem saying that, on that particular point, I disagree with science.

            Now, a natural phenomenon which is not caused can by definition not be predicted.

            Radioactive decay is a natural phenomenon. We can predict that half the atoms in a sample of radioactive material will decay within a certain length of time. We cannot predict, with respect to any particular atom, whether it will be among the ones that decay or among the ones that don't decay. So, if the atom decays at a particular time, either the decay at that time was uncaused, or it had a cause of which we have no knowledge yet. And if I correctly understand everything I've read so far on the subject, the current scientific consensus leans toward there being no cause.

            Now, I suspect the reasons why some people might mistakenly believe that QM defies causality may be due to (1) QM “spooky action at a distance”, (2) reports of so called faster than light (FTL) travel, or (3) vacuum fluctuations.

            Other people's mistakes are not my problem.

            (3) People may sometimes think that the creation of particles from the vacuum implies “something from nothing”, or, an “uncaused” appearance of matter. But this is not the case. The vacuum is far from “nothing”. Quantum Field Theory tells us that even in “empty space” there are fields, the various wave behavior of which produce the particles we observe. Furthermore, the lowest possible energy state of the vacuum in QFT is non-zero (so there is never “nothing”, in the sense of no matter or energy at all)

            I'm aware of all that.

            But here’s the rub: nature is arranged such that even though the wave function collapses everywhere instantaneously, no information can be exchanged between the astronauts by this process.

            Yes, I know. But I'm not conflating acausality with information exchange.

            (And it is FTL information exchange which would give us causation paradoxes.

            Paradoxes are beside the point. I'm aware of no reason to suppose that lack of cause per se would either constitute or create any paradox.

            Every once in a while you may read a news article about an experiment which produced or observed something (most commonly, light) which moved faster than light.

            I used to be a news reporter. I know better than to trust articles of that sort.

            Anyway, I hope that helps to clarify that no observation of science or valid scientific model has ever demonstrated or posited causality.

            Is there a typo there? Considering the context, it seems like you must have meant "demonstrated or posited acausality."

          • Robert Macri

            Scientific proof is never conclusive, especially when the thing to be proved is the nonexistence of something.

            I agree completely. And I am happy that you do not claim (as some do) that science proves the nonexistence of God.

            Even in that case, I would think it be philosophically prudent to say merely, "We have no idea what the cause is," rather than "This event has no cause."

            I agree with that as well, which is why I point to a first cause in creation rather than an uncaused creation. As for "what the cause is", I would say that is partly in the realm of metaphysics, not physics, and mostly in the realm of theology. (While philosophy can help here I don't think we get very far without revelation.)

            Given an event that we know has occurred, it is reasonable to believe that something caused it even if our attempts to identify the cause, no matter how apparently exhaustive, have consistently failed,

            So far we're on the same page here, but your ultimate cause is natural while mine is God. I do not believe that a natural first cause suffices.

            but that doesn't make an actual cause logically necessary.

            Well, that depends. If the observed event is a contingent thing then by definition it does make an actual cause logically necessary.

            But if instead we are talking about something that is not contingent, then we must be talking about something "eternal", and such things are beyond science. (As I said in another reply, science fundamentally assumes causality.)

            Now, you make a distinction between science and naturalism, no doubt for the very purpose of admitting the possibility of an uncaused cause without resorting to God. But making such a statement from naturalism is no more rationally demonstrable than my statements about God. It's just that we have different "gods". Mine is a person who thinks and plans; yours, it would seem to me, is a mindless mechanism.

            But here's a big difference: I claim that God gives us revelation, and that is the only way to know certain things about him. (And if I'm right, then taking the time to respond to that revelation should lead me to deeper knowledge through relationship with God. That is, responding to him opens me up to receive his verification of his own claims, on his terms. And I think it has, though not in a way that I can easily communicate.)

            But if a naturalistic uncaused cause exists then how can you come to know more about it? What form does that "revelation" take? If it is not science, as you seemed to suggest before, than I submit that it is nothing at all, and therefore any claims about such a cause cannot be supported.

            That is, at least theism offers a possible way to gain more knowledge of the uncaused cause. I do not think that naturalism offers any such possibility.

            After all, there are two ways to gain knowledge or truth: 1) investigation aided by reason, and 2) testimony. Even in mathematics we see there are truths which cannot be proven from within any given system (I refer here to Godel's proof), so we must logically conceded the possibility of truth that can only come by way of revelation. (More than possibility. In mathematics, at least, and in all logical systems which can be mathematically mapped, such as formal logic, it is proven.)

            In a way, we're both left to arrive at a belief, not a conclusion based purely on natural observation. But it seems to me that the naturalist position is one that cannot grow in knowledge; not if it claims to be greater than science while still not admitting any possibility of revelation.

          • Doug Shaver

            Given an event that we know has occurred, it is reasonable to believe that something caused it even if our attempts to identify the cause, no matter how apparently exhaustive, have consistently failed,

            So far we're on the same page here, but your ultimate cause is natural while mine is God. I do not believe that a natural first cause suffices.

            I didn't say anything about an ultimate cause, and I'm not sure what an ultimate cause is supposed to be. If all you mean is first cause, I don't agree that there has to be one.

            but that doesn't make an actual cause logically necessary.

            Well, that depends. If the observed event is a contingent thing then by definition it does make an actual cause logically necessary.

            By whose definition? I don't define contingency in terms of causation.

            But if instead we are talking about something that is not contingent, then we must be talking about something "eternal", and such things are beyond science

            If something does not exist contingently, then it exists necessarily. I see no reason to believe anything exists necessarily.

            Now, you make a distinction between science and naturalism, no doubt for the very purpose of admitting the possibility of an uncaused cause without resorting to God

            You can refuse to doubt it if you wish, but that is not my purpose in making the distinction. I have read extensively about both science and naturalism, enough to know the differences between them.

            But making such a statement from naturalism is no more rationally demonstrable than my statements about God. It's just that we have different "gods". Mine is a person who thinks and plans; yours, it would seem to me, is a mindless mechanism.

            I am not reasoning "from naturalism" when I distinguish it from science. I am reasoning from observation. Words are defined by usage. I see people talking about naturalism, and I see people talking about science, and I observe that they are not invariably talking about the same thing.

            And I don't have a god. You are of course free to pick anything I believe in and call it a god, but your calling it a god doesn't make it a god.

            But if a naturalistic uncaused cause exists then how can you come to know more about it?

            I have not said that an uncaused cause exists. When I do, I will tell you how I found out about it and how I expect to find out more about it.

            After all, there are two ways to gain knowledge or truth: 1) investigation aided by reason, and 2) testimony.

            I don't give testimony that kind of special treatment. Investigation is just the acquisition and analysis of evidence. Testimony is one kind of evidence, nothing more.

            Even in mathematics we see there are truths which cannot be proven from within any given system (I refer here to Godel's proof), so we must logically conceded the possibility of truth that can only come by way of revelation.

            I have never denied the possibility of revelation, so I didn't need Godel to convince me.

            But, do you believe that whatever is possibly true is actually true, without exception?

            But it seems to me that the naturalist position is one that cannot grow in knowledge;

            Eppur si muove.

            not if it claims to be greater than science

            It doesn't.

            while still not admitting any possibility of revelation.

            Well, it's not a natural occurrence, is it? Anyway, naturalism as I understand it does not say that supernatural events cannot happen. All it says is that we have no good reason to think they do happen.

          • Robert Macri

            I'm not sure what you mean by classical in this context. I think the
            brain is actually an organic computer, and I don’t regard even inorganic
            computers as classical machines. I think there is a fundamental
            difference between data processing and the kinds of work that all other
            machines have been made to do.

            I meant classical as in "not quantum". That is, I did not mean "mechanical".

            There are a couple of fascinating books by the distinguished mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose ("The Emporer's New Mind" and "Shadows of the Mind") in which he argues (convincingly, to my mind) that the human brain is not a computer running algorithms, but something much more. He offers arguments that there are things that the human mind can do which no algorithmic computer could do, even in principle.

            As a very simple example, we can by induction know that there are infinitely many counting numbers, but there is no possible algorithm that could arrive at that conclusion. (A computer would simply have to count to see if it ever arrived at a final number.) The human mind,then, is not proceeding according to algorithms when it arrives at such truths.

            Whether I call it the soul or the mind is not a matter of what I like.
            It's a matter of what I mean. I believe the mind exists. I do not
            believe that it is, in any useful sense, the same thing that Christians
            call the soul

            The rational human soul (as distinguished from an animal or plant soul in the Aristotelian sense) is that which posses the faculties of reason, imagination, and will. That is why I equate it with "mind" here. Except for possible quibbles about what is meant by "will", I assume that you mean something quite similar when you refer to a "mind".

            I do not believe that any mind exists independently of the brain that produces it.

            But wherever there is a mind, there is a functioning brain, and it is a physical brain.

            If artificial intelligence is ever created, we could perhaps conceive of a computer which could run subprograms within itself that were themselves freely thinking entities, though they would not possess any computer architecture of their own but would depend wholly on the larger program that created them. That is, the first computer would not necessarily have to build little circuit boards for the offspring AIs to use; they could exists within the first AI's thoughts.

            Similarly, if God exists then he is capable of imagining us into existence with or
            without a body. Even if our body dies, our mind could subsist within the
            mind of God.

            Admittedly, in my AI example the first AI depends on some physical construct, while God does not, and the offspring AI thus at least depend on a physical construct in a derivative way. But I am not attempting at the moment to prove that God exists, but only to demonstrate the plausibility that if he does exist we would not require physical structures in order for our minds to exist and operate.

          • Doug Shaver

            There are a couple of fascinating books by the distinguished mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose ("The Emporer's New Mind" and "Shadows of the Mind") in which he argues (convincingly, to my mind) that the human brain is not a computer running algorithms, but something much more. He offers arguments that there are things that the human mind can do which no algorithmic computer could do, even in principle.

            I've read The Emperor's New Mind, and some parts of it twice. As far as I know, his arguments are convincing only to those readers who are antecedently convinced that the conclusions are true. The book strikes me as an extended argument from ignorance: We don't know how a computer could be programmed to do this; therefore, no computer can ever be programmed to do this.

            we can by induction know that there are infinitely many counting numbers,

            That infinity is implied by the Peano axioms, which include the justification for mathematical induction. Include those axioms in a sufficiently sophisticated AI program, and it will tell you that there are infinitely many natural numbers.

            but there is no possible algorithm that could arrive at that conclusion.

            How do you know that? Because Penrose says so?

            (A computer would simply have to count to see if it ever arrived at a final number.)

            I know of no reason why a computer could not possibly do it any other way.

            The rational human soul (as distinguished from an animal or plant soul in the Aristotelian sense) is that which posses the faculties of reason, imagination, and will. That is why I equate it with "mind" here.

            OK, so you agree with Aristotle. I don't.

            Except for possible quibbles about what is meant by "will", I assume that you mean something quite similar when you refer to a "mind".

            The brain does lots of things that we're not aware of. It also does a few things that we are aware of. Those things that we're aware of are, I believe, collectively what we call the mind.

            if God exists then he is capable of imagining us into existence with or without a body.

            Sure. But whenever I agree with "If A then B," I'm not committing myself to the truth of A. In fact, I could agree without reservation and at the same time reject A out of hand.

            I don't believe in disembodied minds. Obviously, if God exists, then at least one disembodied mind exists. But then, there are lots of other things I could be wrong about, too, if God exists.

            But I am not attempting at the moment to prove that God exists, but only to demonstrate the plausibility that if he does exist we would not require physical structures in order for our minds to exist and operate.

            I get it that if God exists, then all things are possible.

      • Yes

        • Doug Shaver

          But didn't you also say that genuine personhood cannot exist unless moral evil is permitted?

          • Not exactly. The conditions necessary for genuine personhood also enable moral evil. That is not to say moral evil is a necessary consequence of human freedom or that moral evil, once introduced, will always persist.

          • Doug Shaver

            But didn't you also say that genuine personhood cannot exist unless moral evil is permitted?

            Not exactly. The conditions necessary for genuine personhood also enable moral evil.

            So, moral evil has to be possible, but it doesn't have to be permitted?

  • Michael Murray

    Can someone explain the correct Catholic theological resolution of the timing issue that David Nickol has highlighted a number of times? This is the problem that The Fall happened a couple of hundred thousand years ago but the suffering of living things began when living things began which was some billions of years ago. The only resolution I have seen is the assumption that until The Fall no living things had souls and thereby couldn't really suffer. This involves a redefinition of suffering to mean that you need an immaterial soul to suffer.

    If you want to also argue that earthquakes, hurricanes etc were caused by The Fall then the timing issue goes even further back as they have been intrinsic to the geology of the planet from the moment it formed a mantle and atmosphere I would think.

    I'm not expecting an answer that convinces me of anything I was just interested to see what the answer is.

    • Rob Abney

      Have you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Start with paragraph 385.

      • Michael Murray

        Thanks.

        Perhaps I am conflating two things "The Fall of the Angels" and "The Sin of Adam (and Eve)". Am I supposed to regard these are being separated in time possibly by billions of years? But then what do I make of

        390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.264 Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.265

        This seems to use "the fall" to refer to the sin of Adam and Eve.

        There is also the question of the separation in time between humans being ensouled and the sin of Adam and Eve but presumably both those events occur in the lifetime of Adam and Eve as Adam and Eve were the first human homo-sapiens in the sense of the first homo-sapiens with souls.

        • Rob Abney

          I think you are applying suffering to all living things. I think the Catholic view is that a rational soul is required for suffering.

          • George

            okay, so what's the catholic view on kicking a dog? does the dog have a rational soul? does an elephant have a rational soul?

          • Rob Abney

            I shouldn't speak for the church! But the distinction I would make is that suffering requires some abstract thinking about the future. Kicking a dog or elephant would be inflicting pain as distinct from suffering. The Catholic view is that Man inflicting pain on Animals for no reason is wrong.

          • Michael Murray

            So the suffering of very young babies is not suffering ?

          • Rob Abney

            The definition that I am using is that suffering requires a recall of the past and an anticipation of the future. The recall reminds a person how much pain was inflicted and the anticipation of the future causes him to dread more of the same.
            A baby and an animal may associate someone or something with past pain but I see that as different than memory and anticipation.
            You may be using a definition that says suffering is incurring pain but I would consider that as something occurring right now and maybe over and over.

          • Michael Murray

            That's my point. The Catholic position on why God created a universe with suffering appears to be to redefine suffering. It's a politician's manoeuvre. Too much unemployment ? Let's redefine what unemployment means. Then you can issue a press release: "Oh look the unemployment statistics have dropped. What a great job my government is doing."

          • Rob Abney

            I don't think I'm redefining, the original article never defined it. I'm trying to make a distinction between pain and suffering.

          • Michael Murray

            By a strange coincidence our cat was sick tonight. Twice he made the most pitiful whining noises and heaved until he vomited. Luckily I was able to reassure the family that he was not suffering.

          • Rob Abney

            posted twice,sorry

          • Rob Abney

            Sorry about your cat. I wonder if he ate something that was bad for him, if so vomiting may have been required to feel better. Or maybe it was just a random bacteria or virus.
            Will you give a definition of suffering that is unacceptable in the problem of evil? Or are you of the opinion that no amount of pain and/or suffering should be present if there is a omnipotent God?

          • Michael Murray

            I think it is clear that the amount of pain and suffering in the world is unacceptable if there is an omnipotent God otherwise why would we even be arguing about this? If the amount was acceptable then the only necessary theodicy would be "oh please what are you fussing about that little scratch for".

          • Rob Abney

            I suppose, that to be consistent, if you think suffering disproves God then there is no acceptable amount. For if there is no suffering then that little scratch will be a significant discomfort even.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't think it disproves God. I don't think anything disproves God. I just look at the universe around me, at the suffering, at the obvious indifference it has to human concerns, at the lack of any purpose, at how at the most fundamental levels like relativity and quantum theory reality is so hard for our little primate minds to grasp and what do I see. A universe that doesn't have any gods, a universe in which humans are an accident. The simplest explanation in this case I think is the right one. There are no gods.

          • Rob Abney

            Ok, it sounds like your mind is made up already.

          • Michael Murray

            Until I see some evidence to the contrary that's my position. A site for dialogue with atheists needs some atheists surely ? Although it has in the past tried hard to ban them all.

          • Michael Murray

            I wonder if he ate something that was bad for him, if so vomiting may have been required to feel better.

            But why would he need to feel better if he wasn't suffering. You told me he wasn't suffering ? Right ?

          • Rob Abney

            Actually I was trying to engage in dialogue with you, and it seemed like we have different definitions for suffering. You don't have to define it if you can't/won't.

          • Michael Murray

            My definition would include both physical pain and the mental anguish that more sentient animals like us feel.

          • Michael Murray

            The Catholic view is that Man inflicting pain on Animals for no reason is wrong.

            Because the animal feels pain or because Man shouldn't do it ? I'm trying to work out why God decided to create all the wonders of nature using natural selection to which animal pain and (what I would define as) suffering is an intrinsic part.

            This comes back to my original question as I see many people claim that nature "red in tooth and claw" is a result of The Fall so hence the question about the time of it.

          • Rob Abney

            Man shouldn't do it because the animal feels pain, and because Man is endowed with rational thought to know not to inflict unjust pain.

          • Michael Murray

            How does justice come into our treatment of animals ? Is it just that we will and eat them ?

          • Rob Abney

            Are you saying that before the fall there was no suffering and that man and animals and nature coexisted without death?

          • Michael Murray

            No because I don't believe in the fall. But I often see that argument presented here. I'm trying to sort out of that is an official position of the Catholic Church on the matter. We get a range of people commenting here Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seven Day Adventists etc. It's not clear sometimes which particular theological position is being argued.

          • neil_pogi

            there is a concept or doctrine about 'conditional immortality'.. biblically, after the creation of all things, God has set His laws. one of these laws is 'conditional immortality'.

            i would say that animals and plants will enjoy eternal life because they were created 'with appearance of age' (means that they never evolve from infancy period to adulthood).

            when man is created, he was the most intelligent among them. God has set laws for him (moral) and the laws governing good and evil, laws governing the 'knowing of good and evil', laws on eternal life, pain and suffering, and death. (entropy)

            but when man disobeyed God, all the laws have been unleashed to the universe. that's why we have diseases, disorders, and death. if man just obeyed Him, he will enjoy eternal life

          • Michael Murray

            but when man disobeyed God, all the laws have been unleashed to the universe. that's why we have diseases, disorders, and death.

            So are you saying that there was no disease and disorder in the universe before a few 100,000 years ago ?

          • neil_pogi

            i'm referring 'man' here as the first man (adam), that's why after him, diseases, disorders and death followed its course.

          • Michael Murray

            Did you miss the bit where God said

            "Thou shalt start every sentence with a capital letter or lo there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth" ?

          • neil_pogi

            mockers can not enter....

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks. Yes I know I alluded to that in my first post. I was hoping I missed something better than that. It raises more questions for me.

            (1) It is solving the problem of suffering and pain by redefining suffering. Clearly animals suffer.

            (2) When did humans get their rational soul ? Is it the same as their immortal spiritual soul that goes to heaven ? If by the rational soul is meant the ability to have abstract thought then, contrary to the continual claims I see here, we know this can evolve and animals can share aspects of it so it isn't exclusive to humans and it didn't evolve suddenly with one pair of humans.

  • Peter

    The above argument may be handy for an anti-Christian who wants to demonstrate that a Christian God is unlikely, but for a genuine atheist who lacks belief in all Gods this argument is useless. The philosophical and scientific grounds for the existence of a Creator are independent of whether such a Creator allows suffering or not.

    It may even be argued that without suffering there would be no creation and therefore no Creator. If there were no suffering there would be no death, no death of life, of planets, of stars, of time itself. Everything would remain transfixed in an eternal present, with no past and no future. Time would stand still and nothing would happen. And if nothing happens, nothings exists. Without suffering there would be no existence and therefore no need for a Creator.

    If things do not change and die, this would mean that there is no entropy, and if there is no entropy there is no universe and therefore no need for it to have been created.

    • Skeptical Calvanist

      I don't think your second point works. I can see no reason why suffering is required for death. Why do you think that this is the case?

      • Peter

        It is our propensity to die which makes us vulnerable to suffering.

        • Skeptical Calvanist

          If by this you mean that Death + our desire to live and reproduce = explanation for the origins of pain given evolution, then I agree. If not, please elaborate more.

          How does it follow from that that suffering must exist in order for death to exist? If your flash frozen, you probably don't suffer, yet you still die. If you die when you are unconscious, you don't suffer, yet you die.

          • Peter

            It's not that suffering is required for death, but that death - our nature to die - is required for suffering.

          • Skeptical Calvanist

            Sure, but your comment says:

            Second, if there were no suffering there would be no death.

            Where P = Suffering and Q = death

            This pretty much says that !P implies !Q

            It's not that suffering is required for death, but that death - our nature to die - is required for suffering.

            then says that Q implies P
            and that P does not imply Q

            How do you go from Q (death) allows P (suffering) to !P (no suffering) results in !Q (no death)?

            I don't think it follows.

          • Peter

            If death is required for suffering to exist, the absence of suffering in the world would mean that there is no death in the world.

          • Skeptical Calvanist

            No, it doesn't. It would just mean that if suffering does not exist death does not involve suffering. Death would make it possible that suffering could exist, since on your view suffering depends on death, but this does not require that suffering does exist.

            Your saying that death depends on suffering and suffering depends on death. Which one is it?

            I think it's trivially proven false by counter example. Unconscious creatures do not feel pain. Fetuses aborted (whether natural or caused by human intervention is irrelevant here) within the first trimester are not conscious and do not and never have experienced pain, but nevertheless die. Therefore, suffering is not required for death.

          • Peter

            Again, I agree that suffering is not necessarily required for dying, but death- our natural propensity to die - is an essential prerequisite if we are to be capable of suffering.

            Built into our propensity to die are natural weaknesses which in different ways can lead to death. These same weaknesses also make us capable of experiencing suffering.

            If we had no propensity to die, we would have no natural weaknesses which lead to death and we would have no capacity to experience suffering.

            There can be no suffering without death, and a world without suffering would be a world without death.

    • Michael Murray

      The above argument may be handy for an anti-Christian who wants to demonstrate that a Christian God is unlikely, but for a genuine atheist who lacks belief in all Gods this argument is useless.

      Surely it suffices for us to disprove the Christian God. Then we can just use the arguments that the Christians use to disprove the rest of them. No point in repeating work others have covered.

      • Peter

        The are no arguments that Christians use to disprove the existence of a Creator.

        • Michael Murray

          Perhaps reread the bit of your own post I quoted.

          The above argument may be handy for an anti-Christian who wants to demonstrate that a Christian God is unlikely, but for a genuine atheist who lacks belief in all Gods this argument is useless.

          You were talking about Gods so I replied talking about Gods.

          Are you telling me now that Christians believe in all the other religions Gods ?

          • Peter

            Play with words if you like, but you are just wasting time.

            By atheists lacking belief in all Gods, what is meant is that they lack belief in any God as an explanation of reality, preferring to adopt the default position that reality occurs naturally.

            Therefore atheists lack belief in a Creator. The only way that atheists would advance their cause is by demonstrating that a Creator of reality is unlikely. But I have seen little evidence of that.

          • Michael Murray

            I'm not playing with words I'm just telling you what you said.

            By atheists lacking belief in all Gods, what is meant is that they lack belief in any God as an explanation of reality.

            So why not say what you mean next time.

          • Peter

            What's the point of lacking belief in a God if that God does not explain reality?

            Theism is belief in a God who explains reality; atheism is an absence of that belief. Theism is not belief in a god who hurls thunderbolts and does nothing more, therefore atheism cannot be a lack of belief in such a god.

            Atheism cannot be a lack of belief in gods that do not explain reality. I assumed this was understood by atheists themselves.

          • Doug Shaver

            Theism is belief in a God who explains reality

            Theism is belief in at least one god, period. It doesn't matter what, if anything, that god is supposed to explain.

          • Peter

            Again, it would seem absurd for rational people who call themselves atheists to disprove something which doesn't explain anything.

          • Doug Shaver

            Rational people understand when they need to prove something and when they don't.

          • Doug Shaver

            The only way that atheists would advance their cause is by demonstrating that a Creator of reality is unlikely.

            I don't see why. If a creator is just unnecessary, then I'm justified in not believing that there is one.

          • Peter

            It would seem absurd for rational people to call themselves atheists because they can disprove something which isn't necessary.

          • Doug Shaver

            I said nothing about disproving anything. If you say I should believe that something is necessary, the burden of proof is on you, not me.

    • Doug Shaver

      The above argument may be handy for an anti-Christian who wants to demonstrate that a Christian God is unlikely

      This is a Catholic forum, and Catholics are Christians.

      • Peter

        Is the author not an avowed atheist?

        • Doug Shaver

          Is the author not an avowed atheist?

          You mean Harris? Of course he is. So what? Does that make his argument irrelevant to Christians?

          • Peter

            No, the author of the above, Brian Green Adams.

            The argument may be relevant to Christians but it ought to be irrelevant to those who consider themselves to be true atheists.

          • Doug Shaver

            Anyone who does not believe that any god exists is a true atheist. It makes no difference why they don't believe. Whether they have a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason, they are neither more nor less a true atheist.

  • hugh

    Good and evil are only meaningful terms within the framework of a theistic reference. Pure materialism is neither, it just is. Any interpretation of an evil act, such as killing a child, turns out to be nothing more than chemical processes of physical stimuli to a physical brain, if there is no mind, no soul, they are ultimately meaningless. Society has become sick and violent based on the promulgation by atheists that there is no soul, no consequence, and no purpose. Why would be expect a collection of molecules to act in any particular "moral" way?

    • Doug Shaver

      Society has become sick and violent

      You mean society used to be healthy and peaceful? I haven't seen that in any history book I've ever read.

    • George

      society was so much better when heretics could be burned at the stake for not believing in the divinity of jesus, and the church could just wash their hands and move on. women weren't considered property back then, people had privacy and weren't compelled to go to church, etc.

  • joey_in_NC

    3) much suffering and evil appears gratuitous. We can not imagine any reason why god would not intervene to eliminate it.

    How is this any different from saying that we cannot imagine any reason why God would not intervene and have all of us experience the greatest drug high a human brain could ever experience 3 times a day (provided these highs make us happier)? Why would God deprive us of such pleasure that would increase our happiness? Doesn't God want all of us to be happy?

    Those two thoughts are not all that dissimilar. Actually, they are fundamentally the same thought, differing only in the degree of happiness we should be experiencing.

    Taking this to its logical extreme, one can also similarly say that we cannot imagine any reason why God would not beam all of us into heaven to enjoy eternal life with Him in perfect happiness right now. Isn't this what the problem of evil/suffering essentially boils down to?

    • Doug Shaver

      one can also similarly say that we cannot imagine any reason why God would not beam all of us into heaven to enjoy eternal life with Him in perfect happiness right now.

      Yes, we can. Why don't we?

      • joey_in_NC

        Why don't we?

        Yes, why don't we? Do you have an answer?

        The point is, even if we lived in a universe where there is no suffering or evil ("gratuitous" or not), one can still question why God doesn't make all of us happier. It's fundamentally the same problem, only differing in degree. So this "problem" is fundamental to our imperfect existence, no matter how good or bad we think we have it.

        • Doug Shaver

          Do you have an answer?

          If I believed in God, I'd be trying really hard to find one.

          • joey_in_NC

            Sorry, I misunderstood what you meant when you said "Why can't we?" I took it to mean, "Why don't we ask that question?"

          • Doug Shaver

            That is what I meant, but the question was rhetorical. I suspect that believers aren't asking the question because either (a) they suspect it's unanswerable and would rather not admit it or (b) they're very afraid of what the answer could be.

  • Do you believe it is possible for there to be a world where human beings have both free will and there not be unnecessary suffering? It appears to me that if God gives people the choice to do good and bad things, then a natural consequence of this is quite naturally going to be unnecessary suffering.

    • Doug Shaver

      Do you believe it is possible for there to be a world where human beings have both free will and there not be unnecessary suffering?

      No one has shown me a good reason to think it is not possible. If you think you know one, let me see it.

      • How would such a world work? Are you saying that God should let us do whatever we want and then He would step in to stop all bad consequences or are you suggesting something else?

        • Doug Shaver

          How would such a world work?

          I don't have to know that. You're saying it can't work. It's up to you to show me why I should believe it can't work.

          • Why do I need to prove it? I don't see a sufficient reason to believe it would exist and I haven't been given a reason to believe that it would. I think the person who has to create a hypothetical universe that we don't actually exist in has a larger burden of proof than someone who doesn't believe in said hypothetical universe. If you believe that such a universe could exist, then please give me a reason to believe that it actually could.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't see a sufficient reason to believe it would exist

            And I don't see a sufficient reason to believe it cannot exist. It looks to me like we're at an impasse. You believe what you believe, and I believe what I believe . . . and neither one of us can demonstrate how there is anything wrong with what the other believes.

    • neil_pogi

      since evil causes many unpleasant sensations or experiences that atheists hate, God can wipe evil by eliminating pain receptors in our body, so that killing can be done 'painlessly'..

      • Michael Murray

        Why doesn't God make pain receptors under conscious control ? I can turn my fire alarm off when it misfires or while I'm waiting for the fire brigade to arrive. What is the point of my finger continuing to hurt after I've treated the injury the pain has warned me about ? God's design is just rubbish.

        • neil_pogi

          brain is conscious 24 hours a day, and since it is conscious, it can detect any stimuli our body receives. even in sleep, you suddenly wake up to empty your bladder!

          if the nerve endings are damage after surgery, the pain still lingers until the wounds are dry or healed. it takes time.

          so you are accusing God's design is just rubbish.. then what's your proposal? all you have is complain.

          atheists say that the human body's design is just 'apparent' and yet you failed to explain in detail, why?

    • Michael Murray

      But I thought God gave people the choice to good and bad things starting a few hundred thousand years ago with Adam and Eve ? Are you saying there was no unnecessary suffering before then ?

      I've also never understood how free well connects to tsunami's and earthquakes. Were there none of them before Adam and Eve ?

      • Are you speaking about things like dinosaurs and other creatures? Animals and other creatures do have the choice to do certain things and some do need to kill animals to survive... Is this what you are speaking about? I'm not quite sure.

        My guess would be that there were tsunamis, earthquakes, and the like before human beings walked the earth.

        Regardless, considering the theological views of the Roman Catholic Church in regards to time (e.g., One day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day and the general view that God is not bound by time) I'm not sure what relevance suffering before humans walked the earth has.

        In todays world many natural disasters can be linked to human behavior such as the effects of global warming, depletion of natural resources, etc.

        Beyond that, even if there is some degree of suffering that is not necessarily known in this world, I don't find it to be a particularly convincing for God's nonexistence. Especially when one considers that in places in the world where there is some of the greatest suffering, you find some of the highest belief in God, and in some of the most stable places of the world you find the least belief in the existence of God. I find it unusual. People from high end society look at many other areas of the world that are suffering and say "If there was a God there wouldn't be this suffering," and the people who are actually suffering in those parts of the world frequently don't find their suffering to be a reason there couldn't be a God.

        In fact, research shows that after natural disasters, people are more likely to convert: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0049648

        This goes with the religious comfort hypothesis, which I don't agree with because it simply links religious belief to psychological well being, but the study does prove that people who have gone through a natural disaster are more likely to convert. If suffering in general creates the statistical provable net effect that people are more likely to believe in God, then people suffering whether we can draw a provable reason for the suffering isn't really a big rational of the nonexistence of God.

  • neil_pogi

    our human body is the most complex and complicated system in all organism.

    the liver's function: 1.process drugs 2.process hormones 3. hematopoiesis.
    the small intestine's function: 1. digestion and absorption of food

    the ear's function: 1. receive sound 2. balance

    if God is all-powerful and all-good, then why He created the human body very complex and complicated? why not just simpler?

    it's because the laws of nature is assigned to maintain and sustain it. (complex is somewhat a form of 'evil')

    oh wait.. amoebas and singe-celled organism are simple organism.. but God is a designer, He doesn't want his design to be just a simple one, but should have many vibrant colors

  • Darren

    Nicely done, Brian Green Adams. As I am rather late to the party, I shall post this to the root thread.

    I assume you are familiar, but if not, be sure not to miss J. L. Mackie's formulation of the Problem of Evil here. It covers much the same ground, and counters many of the objections raised in the comments:

    Evil and Omnipotence

  • Mike

    Well personally i think that logically we can't even begin to talk about "suffering" without a god or God or some other "level of reality" as otherwise imho what we label as "suffering" is merely subjective projection whereas in reality it is only carbon atoms that are re-arranged in ways that end the "life" of the "being" or whatever - some kind of sub optimal arrangement.

    We can only put a moral judgement on something as WRONG or EVIL if there is some kind of Moral Law that cries out for justice...without that it's all just mechanical bone crunching without purpose of any sort - a bad dream of sorts.

  • Jonathan Brumley

    Disease and natural disaster are responsible for a great part, if not the majority of human suffering. Our free will is irrelevant to whether these events occur.

    This argument assumes no Garden of Eden and no original sin, so it begs the question in regards to the Judeo-Christian God.

    • Doug Shaver

      This argument assumes no Garden of Eden and no original sin

      To reject an assumption is not to assume its contrary. You beg the question if you assume those stories are true. I beg the question if I assume they are false. But I don't beg the question if I assume nothing either way.

      • Jonathan Brumley

        It is textbook "begging the question" because the author provides no argument for the contentious premise "free will is irrelevant to whether these events occur"

        • Doug Shaver

          the author provides no argument for the contentious premise "free will is irrelevant to whether these events occur"

          That is not what it means to beg the question.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            Maybe we're using different definitions. Here's the one I'm using:

            'The fallacy of petitio principii, or “begging the question” is committed when someone attempts to prove a proposition based on a premise that itself requires proof'

          • Doug Shaver

            And here's the definition I'm using:

            "To beg a question means to assume the conclusion of an argument—a type of circular reasoning. This is an informal fallacy, in which an arguer includes the conclusion to be proven within a premise of the argument, often in an indirect way such that its presence within a premise is hidden or at least not easily apparent."

            Does it look familiar? It should, considering where you probably copied yours from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beg_a_question

            When someone you think is an authority gives you inconsistent advice, it's usually a sign that you need to find some more authorities.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            I was not aware there are multiple definitions until this conversation. The other definition you are giving I would have called a "circular argument". However, perhaps that is the more common definition. Doug Walton describes some of these different definitions in this paper:
            http://dougwalton.ca/papers%20in%20pdf/94begging.pdf

            Whatever you want to call the fallacy - the fact is that the writer has presented an argument based on multiple premises which are not accepted by the target audience.

          • Doug Shaver

            Whatever you want to call the fallacy - the fact is that the writer has presented an argument based on multiple premises which are not accepted by the target audience.

            That doesn't make it a fallacy of any kind. A fallacy is failure of validity, and validity is not defined so as to require any premise to be either true or provable. An argument must be valid to be a good argument, but not every bad argument is an invalid argument.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            A fallacy is failure of validity.

            A "formal" fallacy is a failure of validity. But there is at least one informal fallacy - "begging the question" - which refers to the acceptability of a premise.

          • Doug Shaver

            The acceptability of any premise is irrelevant to an argument's validity. If you cannot deny the conclusion without denying at least one premise, then the argument is valid, regardless of any premise's acceptability.

            Acceptability of premises goes to an argument's soundness. A sound argument is any valid argument with true premises. If you can demonstrate that you are not obliged to believe a particular premise, then you can justify rejecting the conclusion without any concern for the argument's validity. An argument with an unproven premise, no matter how valid, does not prove its conclusion.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            Agreed. However, I did not intend to discuss the validity of the argument. I am trying to discuss the premises and the statements which support those premises.

          • Doug Shaver

            In future debates, confronted with similar arguments, you might consider saying "you haven't proved that" instead of "you're begging the question." Just a suggestion.

  • Jonathan Brumley

    if a god exists, it would be all-good, and would want to stop any unnecessary suffering or evil he could

    This premise assumes that a created world which is perfectly good throughout is superior to a world which has goodness in all possible measures.

    The premise also assumes that a created world which is eternally perfect is superior to a created world which starts with a seed of goodness and is transformed into a world which is perfectly good.

    Both assumptions beg the question against the Judeo-Christian God.

  • I do think the argument depends entirely on sloppy definitions. They admit the more precise form of this argument fails. So the attempt is to replace it with a fuzzy argument. It is more of an appeal to emotion than logic. Atheists should at least admit that. That they are not making an appeal based on reason but one based on sentimentalism. People experience intense suffering. It does make it hard to believe in a good God. We need struggle to see past our pain and hold onto the good in the world.

    Take the example of a child dying of cancer. If I was talking to the parents I would struggle with what to say. It has to hurt so much. Is it gratuitous? What does that mean? You could mean a few things:

    1. Why does any person ever die?
    2. Why is death so random with no age group immune?
    3. Why is MY child the one who dies?

    All these questions have different answers. The answer to #1 is about sin. The answer to #2 is more about consistent physical laws. Do we really expect children to be impossible to kill? The answer to #3 is more emotional than logical. The truth is Jesus does transform deep suffering into great good. He started with His own pain on the cross and can transform ours as well.

    You can see that if you conflate all these questions into some vague reference to some unspecified suffering then you make the question hard to answer. It is not because the argument is strong but because it is muddled.