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An Inept Attempt to Defang the Problem of Evil

The pale figure of Death rides a pale horse and holds a scytheIn an article titled “Turn an Atheist Objection to an Opportunity,” apologist Greg Kokul attempts to turn the Problem of Evil, often admitted by Christians as their biggest challenge, into a selling point for Christianity.

The Problem of Evil is this: how can a good and loving God allow all the bad that happens in the world?  The simplistic answers fail to explain the woman who dies leaving young children motherless, the child that dies a lingering death from leukemia, or the Holocaust.

Kokul begins by saying that he’s found a debating technique that turns this problem into a benefit.  Instead of being solely a problem for the Christian, he turns the tables on the atheist.

Evidence of egregious evil abounds.  How do I account for such depravity?

But, I am quick to add—and here is the strategic move—I am not alone.  As a theist, I am not the only one saddled with this challenge.  Evil is a problem for everyone.  Every person, regardless of religion or worldview, must answer this objection.

Even the atheist.

Of course evil is a problem for everyone, but that’s not what we’re talking about.  Kokul made clear that we’re talking about the Problem of Evil.  We’re talking about how a good and loving God can allow all the bad that happens in the world.

What if someone is assaulted by personal tragedy, distressed by world events, victimized by religious corruption or abuse, and then responds by rejecting God and becoming an atheist (as many have done)?  Notice that he has not solved the problem of evil.

The atheist hasn’t solved the Problem of Evil; he’s eliminated it.  A God who loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves and who stands idly by as rapists or murderers do their work is no dilemma for the atheist.  But, of course, the problem still remains for the apologist.  Kokul can’t simply redefine the problem away.

The atheist cannot raise the issue, turn on his heel, and smugly walk away.  His objection is that evil actually exists, objectively, as a real feature of the world.

Where did objective morality come from??  That’s certainly not something that I would argue for.  Are some moral truths objectively right or wrong?  If so, show us.

The atheist still has to answer the question, “How do I explain evil now, as an atheist?  How do I answer the problem of evil from a materialistic worldview?”

Why—is this difficult?

Richard Dawkins observed, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”  The atheist embraces the obvious explanation for evil, that in a natural world bad stuff happens.  It’s just that the Christian doesn’t always like that explanation.

There is only one solution for him.  The atheist must play the relativism card.  Morality is either the product of a social contract or a trick of evolution.  That is the best materialism can do.  His own answer to the problem of evil, then, is that there is no problem of evil.  Morality is an illusion.  Whatever is, is right.

Ah, it’s our old straw man friend, moral relativism.  This is the idea that (1) you decide what’s moral for you and I decide what’s moral for me and (2) I have no right to object to your morals.  I’ve never met anyone who accepts point 2, which means that I’ve never met such a moral relativist.

One explanation for morality is that there are absolute or transcendental or supernaturally grounded morals.  This kind of grounding is what Kokul claims.

But take away divinely grounded morality, and you still have morals that come from humans’ shared moral instinct and the moral customs of each culture.  Kokul imagines that this is an illusion?

Here’s some homework, Greg: look up the word morality in the dictionary and show us where it says that morality must be grounded in something absolute, transcendental, or supernatural.

The great 20th century atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell wondered how anyone could talk of God when kneeling at the bed of a dying child.  His challenge has powerful rhetorical force.  How can anyone cling to the hope of a benevolent, powerful sovereign in the face of such tragedy?

Okay—this is an example of the injustice that prompts the Problem of Evil.

Then Christian philosopher William Lane Craig offered this response: “What is the atheist Bertrand Russell going to say when kneeling at the bed of a dying child?  ‘Too bad’?  ‘Tough luck’?  ‘That’s the way it goes’?”  No happy ending?  No silver lining?  Nothing but devastating, senseless evil?

Whaaa … ?  “No happy ending”??  The child is dying!  No, there’s no happy ending, you insensitive idiot!

And you imagine the atheist has nothing to say?  Maybe you mean that the atheist has no happy but groundless stories to weave.  That’s true.  Atheists won’t tell as true the afterlife stories from the Egyptian Book of the Dead or the Greek myth of Hades or the Hindu idea of reincarnation.  Atheists won’t tell the afterlife story of whatever religion happens to be dominant in their culture.

But anyone in this situation with any rudimentary compassion would offer sympathy and try to make the child feel better.  They’d read books or tell jokes or weave stories or sing songs or reminisce about happier times or play games with the child.  Isn’t that what you’d do, Greg?

They cannot speak of the patience and mercy of God.  They cannot mention the future perfection that awaits all who trust in Christ.  They cannot offer the comfort that a redemptive God is working to cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  They have no “good news” of hope for a broken world.  Their worldview denies them these luxuries.

Yeah, let’s think about that.  Christians could say, “You’re going to heaven,” but is that grounded on anything more substantial than that it’s the predominant myth in our culture?  Or do you recommend just lying to make people feel better?

They could say, “Your death is part of God’s plan,” but what kind of comfort is this?  And what kind of SOB deity would kill a child, especially an omniscient deity who could surely find a workaround?  What kind of savage religion must you invent to support this platitude?

Atheists don’t speak of “the patience and mercy of God” just like they don’t speak of the patience and mercy of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Atheists usually prefer the truth, and they tend to believe only things well-grounded in evidence.  And this approach has benefits.  As George Bernard Shaw observed, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  People seeing things for what they really are gave us the medical and technological progress we see in society today.

Which brings me to the most important question to ask of the problem of evil: Which worldview has the best resources to make sense of this challenge?

Do we take the approach that Ricky Gervais’s character did in the film The Invention of Lying?  We just tell people stuff that will make them feel better?

Notice that Kokul has made no attempt to argue that the Christian view (including any rationalization to explain the Problem of Evil) should be accepted because it’s true.  I don’t want to mischaracterize his conclusion, but it appears like he argues that it’s preferable simply because it’s nicer.  How can any thoughtful, rational adult promote this route to truth?

Let’s recap and see how Kokul did in turning the Problem of Evil into a tool against the atheist:

  • Kokul claimed that objective morality exists, but he provided no evidence.
  • He imagines that without objective morality there is no morality, despite what the dictionary says to the contrary.
  • He imagines that explaining the existence of evil is impossible for the atheist (apparently meaning that it’s impossible to explain in a pleasing way).  In fact, atheists do just fine at explaining reality, and whether it’s pleasant or not isn’t the issue.
  • He advocates telling the nice story rather than the accurate story.
  • And he tried, unsuccessfully, to slide away from the Problem of Evil by redefining it.

The Problem of Evil stands.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RandomFunction2

    Hi Bob,

    Yes, yours is a powerful reply. Evil is not a theoretical problem for atheists: it’s a practical problem, that is to be answered by love guided by knowledge.

    However, believers believe that life goes on after bodily death, so that what we experience in this decaying world is not all the story. Yes, from our standpoint, life is meaningless, but if there is a better life after death, then perhaps meaning is to be found there.

    I mean, suppose that an owner takes his cat to the vet. For the cat, this experience is meaningless and distressing, but if the cat were more intelligent, she would understand that the owner loves her and cares about her. And back to home, the cat reaps the benefits of her stay at the vet.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      I understand your cat/vet analogy, and if God exists then I see (somewhat) how it applies. But why should we think that it applies?

      • RandomFunction2

        Hi Bob,

        The human heart is made for God. Some would say that it is made for happiness, but it amounts to the same thing, because God is the one that can give us enduring happiness. From there, you have a choice: either you say that life is meaningless and that a natural desire of the heart is pointless, or you hold that life is basically meaningful, in spite of its dark spots, so that the most basic of human desires cannot be pointless. In this life, there are both experiences of meaningfulness (friendship, love, truth, freedom, art, etc.) and experiences of meaninglessness (a dying child, etc.), so the odds are somewhat balanced.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        Your first sentence assumes the big issue that we’re debating. As you can imagine, I find no argument here that this assumption is valid.

        Life is indeed meaningless on a transcendent or supernatural level–or at least we have no meaningful evidence to think otherwise. But of course that doesn’t mean that we can’t find/invent our own meaning.

  • John

    Hi Bob,

    You wrote…

    “The atheist embraces the obvious explanation for evil, that in a natural world bad stuff happens. It’s just that the Christian doesn’t always like that explanation.”

    I am a Christian and I don’t like your explanation for evil, not because I’m a Christian, but because it’s not an explanation! “BAD stuff happens” is an observation. There is a difference!

    I enjoyed reading your critique of Koukl’s article. Do you have an explanation for the problem of evil from the atheist’s perspective? Or can you link to an explanation that you find compelling?

    JW

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      I am a Christian and I don’t like your explanation for evil, not because I’m a Christian, but because it’s not an explanation! “BAD stuff happens” is an observation. There is a difference!

      Yes, that’s a useful distinction. The atheist observation is that there is no intelligent cause behind natural bad things. They can be explained, of course–we know quite a lot about why earthquakes, tornadoes, and drought happen, for example. Those are explanations, and I imagine that we’re both on the same page there, but they seem to be beside the point.

      But I’m not sure this answers your challenge. Thoughts?

      • John

        Hi Bob,

        You wrote:

        “The atheist observation is that there is no intelligent cause behind natural bad things.”

        What do you mean by “bad”?

        1. Are you indicating preference?
        2. Or are you un-intentionally using moral language to convey a moral meaning?

        I have no problem understanding the first if that’s what you mean. And I agree… I would say it is “bad” when natural disasters befall mankind and take life and property.

        However, when I use the word, I also mean that something actually “bad” happened! Because to me is it obvious that there is an objective standard of good that exists apart from the subjective observer of the events. The absence of this quality in observed events we have agreed to simply call “‘evil” (or “bad” if you like.)

        Human life is good. All human life is valuable. When it is cut short by the violent forces of nature, you and I may have the same reaction…”This is “BAD”!…. meaning we’d prefer it be otherwise in a subjective sense.

        Whatever your feelings or preferences are about the loss of human life, when you are saying it is “bad”, you can’t mean the same thing as 99% of the human race is saying when they use moral language. Context is key.

        When you observe that “bad” things happen….what do you mean?

        Thanks!
        John

        Please notice that although we

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        (John: Did your post get truncated?)

        to me is it obvious that there is an objective standard of good that exists apart from the subjective observer of the events.

        I disagree. I think that there’s a shared standard of good. “Objective” can mean that. I could say that it’s an objective truth that my car is yellow, because I can provide enough evidence to convince any rational person that this is the case. But “objective” in the Kokul sense means more—he’s referring to a truth grounded in something bigger, something transcendental or supernatural. And this is what I see no evidence for.

        When you observe that “bad” things happen….what do you mean?

        When I say “The Banda Ache tsunami was bad,” I mean that, from my perspective, it was bad. Nothing more. I can’t speak from your perspective or anyone else’s. But, of course, we’re all the same species and we have similar reactions to things. I’m confident that my moral instinct on this matter is shared by the vast majority of the humans who know about the disaster.

        My pronouncements about what’s good and bad might sound bizarre to the rest of society if I were an alien. But we’re all the same species, and it’s easy to glide from “I think that X is bad” to “It is the case that X is bad” since few will disagree.

  • Bob Calvan

    Actually in the Christian worldview there is no problem for evil.

    Your premise how can an all loving God allow evil… Is flawed!

    One of the many attributes of God is that God is loving. Also God is just, and also God is a consuming fire.

    When God created he allowed Adam and Eve to freely choose not to eat of the tree..When they disobeyed they choose from good and evil.. God allowed evil in His creation. That is why fallen man is under the curse of God and there is evil in the world.

    And God has a means to His ends. And all the evil acts of man God uses for good..Yes, we do not see the good most of the time from the evil acts of men.. But lots of time we do.. Gen 50. Isaiah 10. and
    Acts 4…So only the Christian worldview can account for evil.. And there is a purpose for the evil of man, as God uses it for good.

    The Atheist worldview has random, purposeless evil.. There intelligent answer (LOL) is duh, well evil just happens. Which is no answer.

    So in the Christian worldview there is no problem for evil.. As God uses the evil acts of man for His own purpose for good to acquire the means to His ends.

    Where the Atheist can not account for evil.

    And by the way we are time bound creatures, where God is not time bound, and evil has already been destroyed..When the end of the world come and Judgment day comes..Evil and death are all thrown in the lake of eternal fire..
    And there will no longer be evil.

    Of course you will not accept this..But that is irrelevant..The point is The Christian worldview does not have a problem with evil, the atheist does.. Because in the Atheist worldview there is no good and evil..It is all subjective and relative.

    So Bob again I refute the typical sound bite ( nothing new) of the problem of evil..Bob in your entire blog you have come up with no new arguments..Every one you bring has been debated over and over and been refuted.

    The Atheist worldview is bankrupted..It can not account for morality, science, reason, logic, and human ethics.

    By the way Thanksgiving is coming. Do you celebrate it? I can just imagine dinner with Bob and his family. There they are sitting at the table thankful for a chance random world with purposeless evil..How hypocritical for an Atheist to celebrate thanksgiving. LOL

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      When God created he allowed Adam and Eve to freely choose not to eat of the tree..When they disobeyed they choose from good and evil.. God allowed evil in His creation.

      Why was the action of Adam and Eve evil? They hadn’t eaten the fruit yet! They didn’t know.

      And all the evil acts of man God uses for good.

      … according to Bob C., without any evidence.

      So only the Christian worldview can account for evil.. And there is a purpose for the evil of man, as God uses it for good.

      “Uh … God uses evil for good. Yeah, that’s the ticket! God uses evil for good!”

      Nice save. Of course, any religion could make the same claim.

      There intelligent answer (LOL) is duh, well evil just happens. Which is no answer.

      The atheist explains an earthquake with science. Once we have that explanation, no more is required.

      So in the Christian worldview there is no problem for evil.

      Yeah, I understand that the Christian just handwaves it away, but don’t imagine that this is a satisfying resolution of the problem.

      The point is The Christian worldview does not have a problem with evil, the atheist does.

      (1) The Christian has done nothing to resolve the problem; he’s just imagined it away. (2) The Problem of Evil is a Christian-only problem. The atheist has no need to square his good god with the bad we see in the world.

      So Bob again I refute the typical sound bite ( nothing new) of the problem of evil.

      Whoa–I’ve been pwned! Or something!

      Bob in your entire blog you have come up with no new arguments..Every one you bring has been debated over and over and been refuted.

      Cool! Then you’re in a great position to educate us. Bring up one of my arguments and give me reason and evidence against it. (Simply saying, “Oh, that’s been resolved” obviously doesn’t help us.)

      The Atheist worldview is bankrupted..It can not account for morality, science, reason, logic, and human ethics.

      I’m missing the problem. Explain.

      By the way Thanksgiving is coming. Do you celebrate it?

      Of course. Did you think that atheists don’t have family and friends? Or that we’re not appreciative of the good things in life and grateful to everyone who helps make life as good as it is?

      How hypocritical for an Atheist to celebrate thanksgiving. LOL

      … because Jesus is at the center of it or something?

  • Bob Calvan

    By the way Thanksgiving is coming. Do you celebrate it?

    “….Of course. Did you think that atheists don’t have family and friends? Or that we’re not appreciative of the good things in life and grateful to everyone who helps make life as good as it is?

    OK, So at the Thanksgiving table at Bobs house we hear. ” Thank you evolution for the process of micro mutational cells, so I can have this dinner with other bags of random molecules in motion in this chance random world”.

    Ok, thanks for clearing that up for me..ROFL I think you said it all.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Willful ignorance? Or do you actually not get it?

      • Retro

        At my house we say the “Bart Simpson” prayer, it goes like this:

        “God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so… Thanks for nothing!”

      • Retro

        On a more serious note:

        As an atheist, I use the Holidays as an opportunity to thank my family and friends for their love and friendship. I try to take the time to let them know how much I appreciate all the things that they do for me, and how fortunate I feel that they are in my life. To me, the holidays is about friends and family, and not about God.

  • RandomFunction2

    To all,

    The literal reading of the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve is not only unethical for God: it is factually wrong and cannot be ground for solving the problem of evil. But not all Christians believe in it as BobC does.

  • Bob Calvan

    RF2
    There is no problem of evil in the Christian worldview.
    If one does not hold to the literal meaning of Adam and Eve, they are not true Christians. If Adam and Eve did not fall fall..We would not need a redeemer.

  • RandomFunction2

    To BobC,

    Adam and Eve never existed, but who cares? Sin exists all the same, and it is to be expected, evolutionary psychologists say, because morally bad traits are sometimes adaptive. Of course evolutionists don’t claim that people are all evil, as some creationists charge, for good traits are also sometimes adaptive. Look at man’s two closest relatives: the chimpanzee (often violent and even genocidal) and the bonobo (mostly peaceful).

    And since sin exists all the same, we still need God’s forgiveness.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Man’s animal relatives are important to consider. A related issue: Christians like to get misty-eyed about Man’s morality, and it is indeed more profound than what we see in other great apes. But that big brain is a double-edged sword. The big brain that gave us that morality also gave us ramped-up negative traits–revenge, grudge-holding, war, genocide, and so on.

  • Bob Calvan

    RF2
    So Adam and Eve never existed? And how do you know this?
    And sin exists? How do you knowe this?

  • avalon

    Both theists and atheists have basic moral intuitions. Koukl has said, “Intuitional knowledge can be rational, but it can also be moral.” and “We know it by intuition. It’s built into the structure of our minds.”
    W.L. Craig has said, “We can recognize objective moral values without God.” and “I think that, in many cases, we would simply say that we intuit morally the intrinsic worth and dignity of human beings…”.
    Craig also said, “A person could accept other sources of knowledge besides science, such as rational intuition, and still be a naturalist.”

    So the difference between a theist and an atheist comes down to the nature of intuition. Craig puts it this way: “So I would say that we have fundamental moral intuitions. In fact, the Bible says that God has planted these on the heart of every human person so that we intuitively recognize objective moral values.” The atheist can agree with the first sentence, but not the second.

    So it all comes down to the source of our intuitions. Did they develop by evolution or did God plant them in our minds?

    avalon

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Other primates have some of the “moral” instincts that we have–compassion, sympathy, a sense of fairness. Humans get our moral instincts from the same source–evolution.

  • John

    Bob,

    I have a question for you regarding your use of the term moral “instinct”.

    What happens when we have (2) diametrically opposed “instincts” at work within us? What then is the arbiter between these two forces? It can’t be an instinct itself because an instinct isn’t a tool of mental analysis or decision making. An instinct simply presents itself as a drive to act or react given certain stimuli. It simply “is”. Therefore it couldn’t possibly inform our choice between two other instincts.

    Maybe you meant to say moral “intuition”? If not please explain what you mean by moral “instinct” and how it differs from common instincts like the instinct to eat, to drink water, to fight for one’s property and life?

    Thanks!
    John

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      What happens when we have (2) diametrically opposed “instincts” at work within us? What then is the arbiter between these two forces?

      Intellectual faculties, I suppose.

      Maybe you meant to say moral “intuition”?

      How do animals know how to hunt? Why do dogs scratch their blankets to make a nest before lying down? Why do birds have mating behavior specific to their species? It’s part of their programming. That also explains why primates show behavior that, in a human, would be called “moral”–compassion, nurturing, a sense of fairness.

      We’re born with much of our morals (the Golden Rule, perhaps?). That’s why I use the word instinct. But perhaps there’s a better word.

      • John

        Bob I’m not suggesting we quibble over the semantics of each others word selection here.

        My point is this; calling something an “intellectual faculty” is again just an observation. What I’m looking for is your ‘explanation’.

        An example may help flush this out a little….

        You are hungry and you are dirt poor. I literally mean you are three days hungry and your only possessions are your clothes and the dirt on them. You walk into a grocery store and notice that you can easily swipe an apple and a package of bread without being noticed by the overworked, tired staff.

        However, your moral instinct against taking something that isn’t yours (stealing) is strong. While you may have had other moral failings in your life, stealing has never been one of them because that “instinct” is so strong.

        Your mind (your “intellectual faculties”, if you will) is now presented with two strong unsolicited instincts and you have to make a choice between them. Do you steal the food and satisfy your instinct to eat and survive?….or do you satisfy your instinct that says you can’t take something that doesn’t belong to you?

        Saying that your “intellectual faculties” makes that decision is only naming the equipment. It says nothing about the actual decision.

        Think about it….What is the arbiter between two instincts? It can’t be another instinct and here’s why this is a substantive difference and not a semantic one. It has to be something above an instinct because it judges or informs our intellect as to the worthiness or value of following either instinct. In being above an instinct this arbiter can not be an instinct itself because we have already observed it must choose between two instincts. This arbiter between two instincts doesn’t function in the same way an instinct does….an instinct just “is”…the arbiter weighs the strengths and the weaknesses and potential outcomes of following either instinct and then informs the intellect to act accordingly.

        Do you see the distinction?… between an instinct and what is commonly called a “moral intuition” that we reference that helps us decided between the two instincts?

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        What is the arbiter between two instincts?

        Doesn’t sound like a big puzzle to me. Your survival instinct says that stealing an apple would be 9 out of 10 good, while your moral instinct says that stealing an apple would be 7 out of 10 bad. You weigh the information (obviously it’s way more fuzzy than simply comparing two numbers) and make the choice.

        I’ve heard CS Lewis give this argument. He seems to imagine an internal conflict as proof of the supernatural. It wasn’t any more convincing when he said it than when you say it.

        Do you see the distinction?… between an instinct and what is commonly called a “moral intuition” that we reference that helps us decided between the two instincts?

        Nope–don’t see the distinction. I do see a distinction between instinct (an evaluation of how good/bad an action is compared to your internal moral compass) and the evaluation between opposing instincts. Seems like the brain handles all this stuff pretty well.

  • Paul

    Hi Bob, the better word you maybe looking for is a “gift” from God.

    Isn’t it interesting that ‘we’ unlike your primates can read, discuss and ponder over words like morality? That’s what I call a gift from you know who as well.

    I was reading about a little squid the other day, that during the day he sleeps, and at night he hunts. Now here is the interesting thing. During the day a bacteria builds up inside two pockets on his underside, these bacteria glow when they reach critical mass. This critical mass is reach at sundown when the little squid comes out at night to hunt. Now here is the really interesting point, he does not use them as a torch but he has an ability to control the amount of light they emit so that he does not cast a shadow from the moon shinning. If a cloud happens to pass over the moon he reduces the amount of light the bacteria emit. These bacteria continue to build and would normally kill the little squid when he returns to the sand during the day. So the little squid ejects most of the bateria before going to bed, but only enough so they will once again reach critical mass at sundown.
    What amazing design, don’t you think Bob!

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Isn’t it interesting that ‘we’ unlike your primates …

      (We are primates.)

      …can read, discuss and ponder over words like morality? That’s what I call a gift from you know who as well.

      And antelope can run faster than humans, and gorillas are stronger. So what? Some animal will have the biggest intellect (and fly fastest and run fastest and have the biggest bite strength, and so on). What do we say about the animal that’s #1 in any of these categories?

      Not much, it seems to me. Certainly no reason to posit a god who gave us this ability (or the antelope his speed, or the gorilla his strength).

      What amazing design, don’t you think Bob!

      That story about the squid is indeed cool.

      Here’s another cool animal story from Charles Darwin: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.”

      You may not be aware of the Ichneumonidae family of wasps. They lay eggs on living caterpillars. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow inside the caterpillar and eat it alive.

      Isn’t God’s world marvelous?

      If you pick only good things, you can piece together a world in which you can imagine an omnibenevolent Designer. Or, you can piece together a world that looks like it was done by a sadistic bully. Christians often wrestle with these dilemmas, but dilemmas like this don’t enter the atheist’s world.

      • Paul

        Yeah Bob, but you don’t see the caterpillar starting up a Union meeting, or crying out for equal rights.
        That’s just they way they were made and they don’t have a problem with it. I havn’t seen any caterpillar riots of late Bob.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        I’m missing your point.

        I was simply saying that your “What an amazing design!” comment is the result of picking and choosing. Choose differently and you can come to a different conclusion.

        Or, follow the facts where they lead without bias and you conclude that there’s no evidence for the supernatural.

  • John

    Bob wrote….”I think that there’s a shared standard of good. “Objective” can mean that.”

    I don’t think equivocating “shared” and “objective” would be helpful to the conversation. And it has nothing to do with a transcendental or supernatural explanation. You and I can share a subjective preference for chocolate ice cream, but I would not say you were objectively wrong if you woke up tomorrow and liked vanilla more.

    Bob wrote: “I could say that it’s an objective truth that my car is yellow, because I can provide enough evidence to convince any rational person that this is the case.”

    And the person would be considered irrational if presented with sufficient evidence that your car is yellow and still denied it exactly because he would be objectively wrong. Notice in your example that we find no problem in making a value judgement about the observer’s mental faculties based on what?…objective things….like facts.

    My point is this… moral intuition is similar to math and other factual things like color, and size. While moral and mathematical principles are not physical things, they are of the kind of thing that does not change because the subjective observer desires it to be so. These principles are discovered and not invented. This presents a curious problem for an atheistic worldview, but fits perfectly with a Christian understanding of reality.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      And the person would be considered irrational if presented with sufficient evidence that your car is yellow and still denied it exactly because he would be objectively wrong.

      Fair enough. But let’s be clear on the definition of “objective” that we’re using here. There’s absolutely nothing transcendental or supernatural here. The truth of the statement is not grounded in something beyond our world.

      This presents a curious problem for an atheistic worldview, but fits perfectly with a Christian understanding of reality.

      I’m missing the problem. If we’re limited to the domain of our world, that’s precisely where atheists live. I’ve seen no need to ground anything in the supernatural.

      • John

        There is nothing supernatural about objective moral principles in that you don’t have to hold a belief in the existence of the supernatural to recognize that they are objective.

        If by the use of the the word “natural” you intend to refer to something that corresponds to reality, then the existence of the supernatural is a logical necessity. In other words, the natural is sufficient evidence of the supernatural.

        If you are simply using the word “natural” to describe your current, perceived paradigm of the world and everything in it, then I am sure you are correct because by definition you are correct. It’s like drawing the bulls-eye around the bullet holes after they’ve been shot into the tree and calling yourself a marksman.

        That we find ourselves in a natural universe with objective mathematical principles may just be a curious fixture of reality. That we find ourselves in a natural universe with objective moral principles, should at least make us a little bit curious as to why? If we come from an impersonal beginning, then why are real moral obligations to personal beings a fixture of that impersonal reality?

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        There is nothing supernatural about objective moral principles in that you don’t have to hold a belief in the existence of the supernatural to recognize that they are objective.

        It’s easy to waste lots of time arguing about how words should be defined, so I won’t spend much time there. But are you saying that there is no supernatural grounding in “objective moral principles”? Obviously, I see no supernatural anything.

        If by the use of the the word “natural” you intend to refer to something that corresponds to reality, then the existence of the supernatural is a logical necessity. In other words, the natural is sufficient evidence of the supernatural.

        Huh?

        If you are simply using the word “natural” to describe your current, perceived paradigm of the world and everything in it, then I am sure you are correct because by definition you are correct. It’s like drawing the bulls-eye around the bullet holes after they’ve been shot into the tree and calling yourself a marksman.

        I’m familiar with the fallacy but don’t see how that applies. I’m saying that I recognize the natural and prefer the natural explanation to the supernatural. Further, I see no evidence of anything supernatural.

        That we find ourselves in a natural universe with objective mathematical principles may just be a curious fixture of reality.

        Objectively-true mathematical axioms are uninteresting. What’s interesting is the claim of objectively-true moral principles. That needs proving.

  • John

    Bob wrote….”I’ve heard CS Lewis give this argument. He seems to imagine an internal conflict as proof of the supernatural. It wasn’t any more convincing when he said it than when you say it.”

    I don’t think that was the point of Lewis’ argument (I could be wrong), but in any event it isn’t mine.

    The internal conflict may be proof of the supernatural, but I don’t easily see why anyone would draw that conclusion from the mere observation of internal conflict. My point is we decide between competing instincts by referencing what??? Another instinct? Of course not! So what is it (if it’s not a moral intuition) that informs our intellect to choose between two instincts and act accordingly?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      My point is we decide between competing instincts by referencing what??? Another instinct? Of course not! So what is it (if it’s not a moral intuition) that informs our intellect to choose between two instincts and act accordingly?

      Yet again, I’m not seeing the big puzzle. If the answer is in neurobiology, I’m not the guy to answer your question. If you’re saying that this points to the supernatural, make that claim.

      The brain is a computer. It weighs decisions all the time. For example: Should I have that donut or stick to my diet? However you figure that dilemma is resolved is the same way that “Should I steal that apple (because I’m starving) or not (because it’s wrong)?” is resolved.

      • John

        I’m not saying it points to the supernatural. I’m saying the arbiter between two instincts is not an instinct. It is an intuition.

        That we find ourselves in a natural universe with objective moral principles, and moral intuitions tuned to perceive those principles, are observations that suggest to you atheism?

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        I’m not saying it points to the supernatural. I’m saying the arbiter between two instincts is not an instinct. It is an intuition.

        OK. If we’re not talking about an argument for the supernatural, I’m not sure what we’re doing. “Instinct” vs. “intuition” is a subtle point that I don’t much care about.

        That we find ourselves in a natural universe with objective moral principles, and moral intuitions tuned to perceive those principles, are observations that suggest to you atheism?

        I do indeed conclude atheism, and part of the reason is that I don’t see objective moral truths. But we could be defining things differently. What does “objective” mean in this context?

  • RandomFunction2

    Bob the atheist is becoming quite popular.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Hard to imagine, given that I’m writing snarky posts like this. Must be an act of God! :-)

  • John

    Bob wrote….”.. I see no evidence of anything supernatural.”

    The natural is evidence of the supernatural. The existence of the natural logically demands the existence of the supernatural. To deny this is to deny logic and rationality. If something came from nothing we could never know it, because that would be irrational.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      The natural is evidence of the supernatural. The existence of the natural logically demands the existence of the supernatural.

      So it’s impossible for there to not be a supernatural? How do you figure this?

      Are we tripping over definitions again? I’ll grant that, before they’re understood, some things could be called “supernatural.” Example: seeing through solid objects was beyond science until 1896 when Roentgen discovered x-rays. Is this where you’re going? Obviously, the “supernatural” that I reject is the one populated by beings.

      To deny this is to deny logic and rationality. If something came from nothing we could never know it, because that would be irrational.

      I’m not following.

      • John

        Your example of something supernatural is really just unexplained phenomena.

        There are only four possible explanations for observed nature.

        1. Nature always existed.
        2. Nature (something) came from nothing
        3. Nature (something) doesn’t really exist.
        4. Nature was caused by Something that existed prior to nature coming into existence. If something or someone existed prior to the existence of nature, it is supernatural.

        #4 is the only coherent, logical answer to our shared observation.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        John:

        4. Nature was caused by Something that existed prior to nature coming into existence. If something or someone existed prior to the existence of nature, it is supernatural.

        Granted. But why is this compelling? If you’re forced to #4 because of the absurdity that Nature always existed, how can you be satisfied with God always having existed?

        Science hasn’t answered the question about what came before the Big Bang (or what caused it). Science (without shame!) says, “I don’t know.” Are you trying to maneuver this into “God exists”?

  • John

    Bob wrote: “What’s interesting is the claim of objectively-true moral principles. That needs proving.”

    Bob – that’s a record. I’ve never seen anyone change their mind that fast. Moral principles went from being objective to apparently not being objective in less then 2 posts.

    Where do you suggest we go from here? Am I missing something? I must be the joke because I don’t get it! Is this something like the old Phil Henry radio show Bob?

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      Moral principles went from being objective to apparently not being objective in less then 2 posts.

      Objective can mean supernatural/absolute or not. The former I reject; the latter I don’t.

      Not really that confusing.

      • John

        You are extremely confusing!!

        I agree that the word “objective” can mean many different things to many different people. But when you clarify YOUR meaning of the word a few posts back and then retreat to some imagined position of ambiguity when the word is forced to actually do some work then it is extremely confusing!

        • Paul

          This all sounds very philosophical to me. You can argue over words till the cows come home.

          Philosophy can be dangerous in that people debate with out getting anywhere as in drawing a conclusion. Bob is good at this. As he doesn’t believe in a truth on any subject. Therefore does not have to face reality.

          For example I once spoke to a man that argued that atoms were made up of mostly space and as we are made from atoms we are in turn mostly space and we seeing something that is not really there. So I offered to punch him in the face, after all it wouldn’t matter as he is not really there. He declined my offer of course as the truth is he is “really there”.

          So you see we can argue aboout ‘morality’ for as long as we like. But the ‘truth’ is we have it and logic and evidence tells us so. The question is, how do we come to have it? We were either given it as a gift to set us apart from the animal world (one I favour) or we deveoped it over millions of years from some slim! Bob would have us believe the later. The truth is so simple if you care to look even God calls people who can’t see it as “superciliousness”.

        • John

          Paul wrote….”you can argue over words till the cows come home.”

          At this point the argument is internal Paul as Bob has stated that morals principles are both objective and not objective.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        John:

        I’m missing the definitional change. If your point is that I have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s fine, but I don’t have any interest in arguing this. If you actually don’t know what my position is, give me the two definitions and I’ll clarify.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        Paul:

        [Bob] doesn’t believe in a truth on any subject. Therefore does not have to face reality.

        News to me. Please explain.

        So you see we can argue aboout ‘morality’ for as long as we like.

        Arguments about morality can go on and on, which is why I’m eager to have anyone who argues that absolutely-, transcendentally-, or supernaturally-grounded morality give evidence to support such a claim. I get the claim; now I want evidence.

        The question is, how do we come to have it?

        From evolution. Or is this insufficient?

        We were either given it as a gift to set us apart from the animal world (one I favour) …

        We see morality in the animal world–why imagine that only humans have it? I’ll grant you that human morality is much more developed (in both good and bad ways!) than what we see with chimpanzees, for example, but so what? Can we say that the animal with the most of a certain trait must have been given its #1 position by God?

  • RandomFunction2

    To John,

    Why can’t nature have always existed? If by nature we include universes beyond our own, beyond the big bang?

  • Bob Calvan

    Well that was a good lesson on how Bob the Athiest contradicts himself. As Dr Greg Bahnsen says ( the late Dr.Bahnsen) the athesist is a walking contradiction.. And the reason is; to reason he must jump into the Christian worldview to argue against the Christian worldview. Because only the Chrsitian worldview can account for logic and morality..As John so wonderfully pointed out.

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      I missed the lesson. Explain the contradiction.

      The atheist must use the Christian worldview? And the Buddhist and the Hindu? I don’t have much use for the Christian worldview, thanks. If this leads to yet more contradictions or problems, point them out for me.

  • Bob Calvan

    Bob has stated that morals principles are both objective and not objective…”

    Yes as I have seen Bob is a moral relativist…So I guess in Bob’s worldview morality can be objective and not objective..It is all relative to ones instincts? Total arbitrariness.
    As Dr. James White says. ” An inconsistent argument is a failed argument”. And that is what we just saw from John and Bob..Jonn was consistent and Bob inconsistent.

  • avalon

    What is it that we refer to when we say something is morally good or bad? Isn’t it the actions of persons in certain situations? Persons and situations are necessary ingredients of any moral judgement.
    To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. This removes an essential ingredient, people, from the moral equation. This is incorrect. Morals are the interactions between the objective, the personal, and the circumstantial. The objective is a moral code of general principles, not absolute rules. The personal refers to the competence, experience, history, and personality of the persons involved. The circumstantial refers to the unique situation the persons find themselves in. All three of these are necessary to form a moral judgment of value.
    The general principles of our shared moral code are:

    Not harming others
    Being fair
    Being loyal to a group
    Respect for legitimate authority
    Exalting what’s pure, clean, and holy

    All of these principles are rooted in our emotions and are therefore not separate from our minds. Not causing harm to others and helping when we can are the natural result of the joy we feel when aiding others, and the empathy and sympathy we feel for each other. Fairness comes from the anger of wanting liars, cheaters, theives, traitors, etc. to get what’s coming to them. Moral intuitions are rooted in our deepest emotions. And they are as universal as our emotions. Those who argue in favor of objective morals rely on our universal emotional reactions to support their argument. William Lane Craig asks, “Are the values we hold dear …mere social conventions akin to driving on the left versus right side of the road or mere expressions of personal preference akin to having a taste for certain foods or not?”. The fact that morals are things “we hold dear” indicates the emotional basis of these values. Lane continues: “Or are they valid independently of our apprehension of them,…?”. The examples Lane uses of moral wrongs shows they are not “independent of our apprehension of them”: Nazi Holocaust, incest, child rape, child abuse, and torture. We all experience a negative emotional response to these acts that tell us they are wrong. They just “feel” wrong and cannot be independent of how we feel about them.
    What differs from one culture or society to another or one person to another is how these five principles are ranked in importance. Religious extremism may rank respect for religious authority as the most important. This allows followers to set aside their natural inclination not to harm others and ignore their own ideas of fairness. “Goodness” is following the rules of that authority without thought or question. Obedience becomes a higher law than conscience. This is the danger of an objective morality that is independent of what anyone (even you) thinks or feels about it. By subduing his natural emotional attachment to his child Abraham becomes “good” because of his willingness to obey when asked to sacrifice him.
    Religion is not alone in it’s extremism. Loyalty to a group can lead to racism, sexism, etc… Extreme pacifists can make decisions which seem contrary to common sense. Any time these general principles are construed as absolute rules, with an absolute order of importance, morality suffers. Realizing that there are no sets of rules which cover all the unique individuals and situations we may encounter in life doesn’t mean we’re accepting a form of situational ethics where everything is subjective and relative. It simply means we see the need for a situational conscience that looks for a healthy balance in our universal principles applied to the personalities and circumstances involved in each individual situation. Our priorities for those principles may change in each situation as well. Thankfully, our shared emotional responses give us a vast area of agreement about what is right and what is wrong.

    avalon

    • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

      What is it that we refer to when we say something is morally good or bad?

      Either (1) moral instincts or (2) cultural moral norms.

      To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so.

      OK. Does this definition imply some repository or grounding that is supernatural? If so, that’s the part for which I see no evidence.

      William Lane Craig asks, “Are the values we hold dear …mere social conventions akin to driving on the left versus right side of the road or mere expressions of personal preference akin to having a taste for certain foods or not?”.

      Morals can be social conventions (point #2 above). But the deeply felt ones are in category 1—moral instincts.

      Lane continues: “Or are they valid independently of our apprehension of them, …?”.

      And this is the false dichotomy. He dismisses moral instincts.

      Nazi Holocaust, incest, child rape, child abuse, and torture. We all experience a negative emotional response to these acts that tell us they are wrong. They just “feel” wrong and cannot be independent of how we feel about them.

      Yes, this is just about the depth of WLC’s evidence for objective moral values—we just feel that they’re correct. Again, he ignores all the options. This feeling could be for exactly the reason he gives—that these are universal moral truths. But they could also be universally-held moral instincts. And this is what explains things much better for me.

      By subduing his natural emotional attachment to his child Abraham becomes “good” because of his willingness to obey when asked to sacrifice him.

      Now that sounds weird! When weighing (1) love and caring for your child and (2) obedience to authority, #1 always wins. God saying, “Abram, I want you to sacrifice Ivan … I mean Isaac!” is a morality test, and the correct answer was, “Forget it!”

      Realizing that there are no sets of rules which cover all the unique individuals and situations we may encounter in life doesn’t mean we’re accepting a form of situational ethics where everything is subjective and relative.

      We live in the same society, and we know how laws (formal rules) and conventions (informal rules) are formed. It’s a messy business, but we know that we struggle to find the best path, often being forced choosing between several non-optimal options. We must agree on much of this; do you think there is a point of disagreement here?

      • avalon

        “We must agree on much of this; do you think there is a point of disagreement here?”

        No, just a lack of understanding. Here’s my points:
        Morality is both objective-seeming and subjective. Theists define morality as good and evil but that’s only part of the story (the objective-seeming part). In regard to general moral principles all rational people share the same moral intuitions with strong emotional bonds and for that reason they seem objective. For example, ‘Is it good to protect your innocent child?’ Intuitively we all agree the answer is “yes”. ‘Is it good to obey legitimate authority?’ Again, “yes”.
        But what happens when God asks Abraham to kill his own son? BOTH choices are intuitively good moral actions. This is where morality becomes subjective. Abe now has to assign a value to each good moral action in order to choose the best one. That assigned value is subjective to each individual. There is no choice between good and evil, Would the theist call Abe “evil” if he had told God, “No, I won’t do it. Kill me if you want, but I won’t kill my son.”?
        The same is true of almost all moral dilemmas and this weighing of assigned values is what the theists fail to acknowledge as subjective.

        avalon

        • Paul

          In the case of Abraham, the Bible explains his actions as an act of faith, knowing that God had the power to ressurect his son if he did obey his command. We know that the God of the Bible Jehovah hated child sacrifice as he spoke against it when dealing with Abrahams decendants. So he never intended Abraham to carry out his command and in fact stopped him. Jehovah showed in an illustrative way what he was going to do for mankind by offering his own son Jesus thus providing a ransom for mankind to get life. So the moral choice Abraham had was to obey God or not. Which all christians today should do as an act of faith and knowing Jehovah knows best as our creator and will never do anything to harm us.

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        In regard to general moral principles all rational people share the same moral intuitions with strong emotional bonds and for that reason they seem objective.

        Sounds like we agree!

        But what happens when God asks Abraham to kill his own son? BOTH choices are intuitively good moral actions.

        If you label moral actions as seemingly objective, I’m surprised that you back off here. That not killing your child seems more important than obeying authority certainly seems to me to be the obviously correct choice. Here, again, IMO this seems to be so fundamental as to be objective (though I avoid that word).

      • http://galileounchained.com Bob Seidensticker

        Paul:

        In the case of Abraham, the Bible explains his actions as an act of faith, knowing that God had the power to ressurect his son if he did obey his command.

        I’d never seen it this way–as God implicitly saying, “Abraham, I want you to sacrifice your son–as in permanently [wink!] dead, if you know what I mean.” This practical joke possibility of the request to reduce the implicit damage God was demanding doesn’t work for me.

        We know that the God of the Bible Jehovah hated child sacrifice as he spoke against it when dealing with Abrahams decendants.

        Do we? We know that it was frowned upon more over time, but there is evidence that it wasn’t that big a deal in that culture in the earliest parts of the story.

        So he never intended Abraham to carry out his command and in fact stopped him.

        But the story loses all meaning if you just assume that God would never have gone through with it. Abraham would’ve known in that case. You have two options: God not being a complete SOB (this possibility) or Abraham making a tremendous sacrifice (the traditional reading). You can’t have both.

        Jehovah showed in an illustrative way what he was going to do for mankind by offering his own son Jesus thus providing a ransom for mankind to get life.

        In the first place, this wasn’t available to Abraham. In the second, Jesus “dying” wasn’t a sacrifice, since he popped back into existence at the end of the weekend.

        So the moral choice Abraham had was to obey God or not. Which all christians today should do as an act of faith and knowing Jehovah knows best as our creator and will never do anything to harm us.

        All Christians must just take “God’s word” on faith? Then you eliminate the possibility that this guy who vaguely gives you signals about what you should do is anything but the omniscient creator of the universe. You reject out of hand the possibility that this is Satan or (much more likely) your own mind playing tricks on you. For example, Andrea Yates drowned her children, and Christian influence played a role here.

  • avalon

    Bob,
    You asked,
    If you label moral actions as seemingly objective, I’m surprised that you back off here. That not killing your child seems more important than obeying authority certainly seems to me to be the obviously correct choice. Here, again, IMO this seems to be so fundamental as to be objective (though I avoid that word).
    The IS NO OBJECTIVE WAY to assign value to our basic moral principles. Do you agree it is good to obey legitimate authority? We couldn’t form civil societies without this moral intuition. Are there times when civil disobedience is called for? Of course. But people will disagree over when it’s necessary based on their subjective views. Same with Abraham. You agree we should obey authority but you value God’s authority much lower than a theist. I merely acknowledge that they subjectively value it more and rationalize their reasons (as illustrated here).
    The same is true of all moral choices. Take war, for example. We all agree on two principles: not killing people and protecting our group (country). Which is more important? It’s a subjective choice. Take abortion: birth of a child or bodily autonomy? Death penalty: not killing vs justice.
    All the basic intuitions of what is good come into conflict in real life and have to be assigned a value.

    avalon

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