An Inept Attempt to Dismiss the Problem of Evil

In an article titled “Everybody’s Got the Same Problem,” apologist Greg Koukl 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.

Koukl 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. Koukl 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. Koukl 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 (I explore that more here). 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 Koukl 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. Koukl 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? (And Christians wonder why atheists get annoyed with their religion.)

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 Koukl 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. Are we children here? How can any thoughtful, rational adult promote this route to truth?

Let’s recap and see how Koukl did with his stated goal, turning the Problem of Evil into a tool against the atheist:

  • Koukl 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, untouched by this clumsy attempt to dismiss what may be Christianity’s toughest problem.

If you want to assert a truth,
first make sure it’s not just an opinion
that you desperately want to be true.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 11/9/11.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    I take exception to one of Koukl’s throwaway lines as well: “evil actually exists, objectively, as a real feature of the world.”

    No it doesn’t. Earlier, more primitive cultures tried to personify evil in the form of Satan; that has no more basis in reality than trying to personify good in the form of God. Both are wild-eyed departures from reality.

    Evil is an adjective, an opinion, a value judgment, a term applied to some tangible object or visible action. It is not itself tangible; it is not itself visible; it is not itself a noun, let alone a person. It has no objective reality, in diametric contrast to Koukl’s bizarre (and evidence-free) characterization of it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Evil as an adjective vs. evil as a noun. Interesting distinction.

      • Castilliano

        I completely agree with everything you say except evil not being a noun. Just like ‘things’ don’t need to exist or be material to be ‘things’, nouns do not need to be tangible, nor objective, i.e. fairness or justice or logic or patriotism. Like them, ‘evil’ (the noun) is a construct connected to the human condition (and with a variety of personal interpretations).

        I agree saying ‘evil exists’ is an error, but a philosophical not a grammatical one, and because it implies objective existence.
        I would say ‘evil happens’, just like ‘fairness happens’, while ‘fairness exists’ sounds awkward at best. ‘Evil exists’, and similar sentiments, should be neutralized except in the most poetic of contexts, but aren’t grammatically verboten.

        Evil has no substance, but it is a concept, and a useful one.


        • MNb

          “‘evil exists’ is an error”

          Depends on what you mean with ‘exist’. If evil doesn’t exist than neither do evolution and gravity. They are concepts too.

        • badgerchild

          “Exists” is not a word with just one meaning. A quantity of food “exists” as an object. Its quality of “sweet taste” exists as an attribute of the object. You can say a bit of food is less sweet or more sweet, insufficiently or overly sweet, but you cannot in any way think of “sweet taste” as an object, only as an attribute.

          The same is true with “evil”. Evil is an attribute of evil intent, or, by analogy, certain actions, happenstances, or objects that are purported to arise from evil intent. Gravity and evolution are things in and of themselves, not attributes. Gravitation IS a force and evolution IS a process, but evil is not itself an intent; it’s just an attribute of an intent.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I don’t think this is an especially interesting question, but just for the fun of it, I’ll argue against your position. I agree that “evil” could be an abstract noun, like “courage” or “thoughtfulness.” But sometimes this is in error. “Cold,” for example, isn’t actually a noun, though of course we know what someone means if they were to say, “There’s too much cold in here.” I’m happy to use the dictionary (I haven’t bothered) to see how “cold” as a noun is defined, but arguing that it should be an adjective only isn’t crazy, IMO, especially when Christians define “evil” as a lack of something, just like cold.

    • Grotoff

      If evil doesn’t exist, doesn’t that remove the problem of evil? Can’t a relativist Christian just define away the problem evil, aka all apparent evil is just the mysterious working of God with an eye toward ultimate good?

      Evil does certainly exist in the world, as a function of the existence of sapient beings. Evil is causing the suffering and unwellness of sapient beings. In relation to the objective existence of sapience, evil likewise exists.

      • RichardSRussell

        To repeat, evil acts surely exist, and those cannot be reconciled with the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent being. Merely recognizing that evil is not incarnate doesn’t resolve the problem of evil, it simply assigns it to the correct part of speech.

        • Grotoff

          Which Christian believes in the literal embodiment of evil? Satan is not the embodiment of evil, in Christian mythology, but the original corrupted angel. Christians frequently deny that evil exists, using Lewis’ conception of it as darkness. That darkness does not exist independently, but is merely the absence of light. Christians thus define evil as the absence of goodness, or God.

          This is wrong because suffering not merely the absence of pleasure, and much evil is done outside of human agency. But I don’t see how discussing evil’s “embodiment” has anything to do with the point.

        • RichardSRussell

          Anyone who refers to evil as if it is a thing — whether embodied or not — is assigning material specificity to a concept which is merely a value judgment — a human value judgment. As soon as you start discussing whether “evil exists”, you’re referring to it as a noun, which it’s not, and I’m trying to clarify the discussion.

        • Grotoff

          I’m confused. Christians specifically reject the material specificity of evil, which helps them fumble around the problem of evil.

          Saying “evil exists” does not require one to assume that it has some sort of existence independent from other phenomena. Such as saying “darkness exists”, when what you mean is that the absence of light exists.

          Given that evil is a function of the existence of human sapience, and sapience exists, then evil exists.

        • RichardSRussell

          Well, maybe my quibble should be more with the word exist than the word evil. For instance, I don’t think the “absence of light” exists, either. Things exist; matter and energy exist; space exists. Conditions do not exist; events do not exist; patterns do not exist; ideas do not exist; opinions do not exist.

          Since, in this formulation, evil is an opinion, an idea, it does not exist in the same sense as, say, your keyboard, or the light waves entering your eyes from this message.

          I suspect that a good deal of the confusion surrounding the problem of evil is the failure of the participants in discussions about it to be clear about their terminology.

        • Grotoff

          So by “exist”, you mean has a physical component in the universe? All ideas, and opinions, have corresponding electrical impulse combinations within the brain. Given that those impulses exist, why don’t ideas exist?

        • RichardSRussell

          Given that 52 cards have actual physical existence in the deck you’re holding, why doesn’t a particular bridge hand exist? There’s a difference between patterns (such as ideas or bridge hands) and the actual physical things they’re made of; the things have existence, the patterns do not, tho you may perceive them that way.

        • Grotoff

          Given that those cards have physical existence, and actual physical differences, then bridge hands DO exist.

          Would you say that sound does not exist because it is merely the interpretation of a pattern of matter compression? If so, then we simply disagree as to what “exist” means.

        • RichardSRussell

          You have made a persuasive case. I will have to go back and rethink the nature of the distinction I am trying to make here. I hope you will agree, however, that the nature of the existence of a pattern of cards differs from the nature of the existence of the cards themselves.

        • Grotoff

          Certainly. It is a second order existence; an existence that proceeds from, and is dependent on, a previous existence.

        • RichardSRussell

          Thanks. Is that a formal term that I could throw into other discussions like this and expect to be understood, or is it your own coinage?

        • Grotoff

          It’s a formal math term for use in calculus equations that I sometimes adopt for use in discussions like this. I’m uncertain if it has a wider parlance.

      • Kodie

        Things that feel bad to humans = does exist.
        Evil? No.

  • http://vegantrav.tumblr.com/ Travis Voth

    Koukl states: “His objection is that evil actually exists, objectively, as a real feature of the world.”

    No, that’s not what the atheist is arguing at all: the atheist is simply assuming, for the sake of argument, the truth of Christian claims about God and the world: it is the Christian who admits that objective good and evil exist and the Christian who also maintains that God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient. Then, the atheist points out the logical incompatibility of these Christian beliefs. It is simply a reductio ad absurdum argument, and it’s amazing that Koukl fails to recognize that this is the strategy that the atheist is using.

    The atheist is not committed to any metaethical position in posing the argument from evil. The atheist is simply showing that the Christian claims about the existence of a good God and of evil are inconsistent.

    • Rain

      Yeah it’s totally a theological “problem”. He wants it to be everyone’s problem. No thanks, theology can keep its own problems, thank you very much.

  • Rain

    “That is the best materialism can do.”

    He forgot to say “Ergo Jesus”. Everybody’s got the same problem… ergo Jesus.

    • Rain

      I was kinda half joking there, but now that I look at his article he seems much simpler than what I had presumed, judging from his final paragraph in the article…

      The answer is not atheism. The answer to evil is God, in Jesus, on a cross, at Calvary. The particulars still need to be developed. But I start with the strategic issue first. That sets the stage. Only afterward do I get into details.

      Gotta love the cool “calculating” plan of strategy. You can almost hear the “mwa ha ha” as he wrings his hands together, lol.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Yeah. Not that he was endearing before, but this analytical approach to winning arguments isn’t flattering.

        He doesn’t want the burden of proof almost as if defending Jesus were, y’know, a burden.

  • Malcolm McLean

    I agree. it’s easy to give a weak argument for a strong position. Evil is a problem if you have a theology that says that God is both omnipotent anf good, not if you believe in two fighting deities, one good, or pro-American, ying, or whatever, the other bad, Commie, yang, or otherwise opposed.

    Evil is a problem for the materialist because good and evil is inherently not a property of material systems. A millions of year old comet crashes into Jupiter, it’s identity is lost, its intricate structure of ice and dust layers destroyed. But no-one would see that as evil. Similarly when a tree falls, or a tiger dies, or a child is destroyed. But it sort of comes bundled with the problem of consciousness.

    Then evil is an issue for the atheist if the atheist himself is evil. Where did that evil come from? Why does it exist?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Where did the evil come from? From God, of course. He made everything.

      “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

      “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3:38)

      “When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” (Amos 3:6)

      • Malcolm McLean

        I’m talking about evil atheists, not unfortunate natural events, which could be God punishing the city for the sins of its inhabitants.

        If an atheist is an evil person, where did that evil come from? That’s a real question for atheists.

        • Makoto

          Yes, because it’s so just to hurt or murder the neighbors of sinners.. right? An eye for an eye.. or the eye of your neighbor or an entire town or something?

          But I’m curious – are “natural events” god’s punishment for something someone did, or .. er.. natural events? Or are they both and we have to somehow divine which they were meant to be?

          If a churchgoer is an evil person, that evil comes from them. Same with an atheist. Evil is what we call it, it’s not some supernatural force or anything.

        • kraut2

          “If an atheist is an evil person, where did that evil come from? That’s a real question for atheists.”

          Do you really think that evil is something disassociated from the person, that evil exists as an entity or a quality removed from the person that does evil things? Evil is not a thing in itself, evil is a quality of a person that does things considered evil.

          In order to assess that an action is evil, we have to define in the context of a societies morals what that evil action is.

          Can we say that no matter what, there exists a “universal” evil? An action that is universally by all societies deemed to be evil?

          What if that supposed evil action – from our point of view – like the abandonment of the elderly and unfit by Inuit societies (is that real or a myth?) actually benefits the chances of survival for the tribe. What if an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was actually not evil but necessary in a society that had no court of law or a legal framework, and thus this easy rule helped to further the functioning of a pre civilization society?

          Evil is a concept to describe actions that are contrary to the ethical and moral framework of a society, it is an action and not a state of being. I firmly believe – because of evidence – that no person is wholly evil or wholly good.

          There are shades and gradations, and also evil is done by a person (i.e. Hitler, the representative of evil incarnate), very often there is in the mind of the perpetrator a justification, the actions in their mind are not evil, they serve a higher purpose, and the evil done to a minority is necessary to achieve that purpose.

          Evil as a concept disembodied from a person, an evil as almost an entity is a theological concept to remove the responsibility for that evil from the god person (who after all is responsible for its creation) and blame it on an adversary that falls foul of the god persons commands.

          It is a useless concept for polite and rational society, and no problem for an atheist who knows that people can act “evil”, whatever that definition might be.

          Consider Mr. Craig’s eagerness to defend the god persons command for genocidal actions. Just because the god person commanded (who heard this command, by the way?) this genocide was a “good” action and not evil?

        • AramMcLean

          Perhaps it came from a throwback to when being a psychopath was useful in staying alive (think cavemen)? Perhaps it came about because of a chemical imbalance in our organic chemistry bodies? Perhaps it came from a shitty childhood being raised by soul-destroying fundy types? So many reasons that exclude God and his cousin Lucy.
          C’mon Malcolm, you’re giving us McLean’s a bad name here.

        • Brian Westley

          If an atheist is an evil person, where did that evil come from? That’s a real question for atheists.

          But it has nothing to do with “the problem of evil.”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          How he can not know this or have forgotten is inconceivable. Either he’s playing games, hoping that we don’t see his inept sleight of hand. Or he’s baffled himself. Neither one casts him in a good light.

    • smrnda

      Well, if a natural disaster caused a lot of damage and sensible precautions *could* have been taken and weren’t, we might say that the people in charge of disaster prep are bad for not doing a better job.

      If we ask ‘why are some people evil?’ you can look at the specific evil action and look at the motives and the rationalizations that come along with it.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    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.

    It appears this bozo not only misunderstands the PoE, but he does not understand the word objective.

  • kraut2

    Am I the only one who gets really tired – or alternately pissed off – by the outrageously low quality of the apologists arguments. After about the fourth quote it is still just the same old stupidity that has been dealt with with over and over and over again. It is like apologists really do not listen to atheist arguments, hidden in their shell of make belief.
    Maybe they are just too dense?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I don’t know what to make of it either, and I share that frustration. How insulated are they?

      • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

        I believe he makes it clear that his belief gives him great comfort, so he does not want it disproven. Focusing too hard on all of the atheist counterarguments might risk that, and so instead we have these pat, inane apologetics.

    • MNb

      No, I’m not pissed off or tired. But I can tell you this – since I began to read apologists argument about five years ago my atheism has become more radical. I don’t want to get at a premature conclusion, but it seems to me that a belief system prevents people from thinking properly indeed. And I’m talking about people who are more intelligent and higher educated than I am.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        This is a bit of a tangent, but I wrote an article titled “I used to be an atheist, just like you”. Once you get to a certain point in education as an atheist, there’s no turning back.

  • Mick

    I have the feeling that apologists are deeply embarrassed by the utter stupidity of their beliefs, and articles like this are written, not to educate atheists or Christians, but to help the apologist cope with his/her own cognitive dissonance.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      “Misery loves company”?

  • smrnda

    I’ve often run across Christians who claim that, in light of the existence of evil, that their worldview offers more hope (everything will be prefect in heaven, Jesus will return to earth and set up some utopia) but if I see a doctor because I’m really sick, I’m there to get facts, not a pipe dream. If my health problems aren’t going to be neatly cured by some over the counter meds and a day of bed rest I want to know, even if the truth is bad, because the truth is useful, and a lie is not, no matter how optimistic it sounds. You don’t go with the doctor who makes you feel the most hopeful, you go with the one with the correct diagnosis.

    Some things about life suck, and there’s only so much we can do about them.

  • Greg G.

    From his Wikipedia article:

    Koukl received a M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from Talbot School of Theology, and also a M.A. in Christian apologetics from Simon Greenleaf School of Law. [Now called Trinity Law School]

    Two Masters degrees and he still equivocates the word “problem” in the 2300 year old Problem of Evil.

    Craig received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Wheaton College, Illinois, in 1971 and two summa cum laude master’s degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1975, in philosophy of religion and ecclesiastical history and in the History of Christian Thought. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy under John Hick at the University of Birmingham, England, in 1977 and a D.Theol. under Wolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich in 1984.

    With two masters and two doctorates, William Lane Craig argues that The Problem of Evil doesn’t disprove the existence of God. Of course, it doesn’t. It only disproves a being that is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent – the kind most Christians want to believe in. In that article, he gives us:

    The prominent philosopher Alvin Plantinga has expounded two dozen or so arguments for God’s existence. The cumulative force of these arguments makes it probable that God exists.

    How does two dozen failed arguments for God add up to making God probable? If Plantinga can’t come up with a single argument that actually proves there is a god, the cumulative force of two dozen bad arguments is better evidence of no god.

    When atheists argue against the beliefs of most of Christianity, we get accused of not tackling Sophisticated Theology(tm). But Sophisticated Theology(tm) is just as bad as the theology of the hoi polloi but with more expensive words.

    There is a debate going on about whether apologists are dishonest. There has to be some dishonesty going on. If they aren’t dishonest, then how did they have the brains to get the advanced degrees? How can they not comprehend the succinct description put for by Epicurus twenty-three centuries ago? A degree in any field of theology is dishonest as it is based on nothing real. Calling them honest is an insult to their intelligence.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I agree that philosophy is just a smokescreen.

    • smrnda

      Good point. Sophisticated theology just employs a rhetorical smokescreen to make you think you’re hearing something new.

      All said, hats off to Epicurus. In four lines, he said it best.

    • MNb

      I don’t agree that philosophy is just a smokescreen; Herman Philipse’s God in the Age of Science falsifies this afaIc.
      One other problem is the ambiguous meaning of the word proof. Apologists tend to be far less strict when it comes to “proving” the conclusions they accepted at beforehand.

  • avalon

    “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.”

    If apologists had logic and reason on their side there’d be no reason for appealing to emotion. These aren’t luxuries, they’re fantasies.

    • Dave Warnock

      “denies them these luxuries”… Luxury: material object, service, etc., conducive to sumptuous living, usually a delicacy, elegance, or refinement of living rather than a necessity:
      I think dying children and their parents would rather deal in the necessities…just a thought. Fantasies dressed up as luxuries do no one any good

      • smrnda

        Does this Koukl guy even think about how deeply empty most religious platitudes are to suffering people?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Makes you wonder. Grieving is never easy, but I don’t know that treating adults like children helps.

        • MNb

          Speaking for myself: no. When my father was murdered more than five years ago the last thing my son and I needed were religious platitudes.

        • MNb

          This is an answer to Bob’s question.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker


    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      “These aren’t luxuries, they’re fantasies.”

      Nicely put!

  • staircaseghost

    “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.”

    Do you see how this commits the fallacy of equivocation in a very clear and straightforward way? A way which every theistic reader will spot immediately?

    “Koukl imagines that this is an illusion?

    Do you suppose Koukl imagines that moral behaviors don’t exist, or that the referents of moral claims don’t exist (on the nontheistic hypothesis)?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Do you see how this commits the fallacy of equivocation in a very clear and straightforward way?

      No, I don’t. Point it out.

      Do you suppose Koukl imagines that moral behaviors don’t exist, or that the referents of moral claims don’t exist (on the nontheistic hypothesis)?

      Without his worldview, “morality is an illusion.”

      • staircaseghost

        Suppose the apologist were to say, “according to your naturalistic worldview, NDEs and ghost sightings are merely illusions foisted on us by our neurology.”

        Wouldn’t it be rather missing the point to reply, “so you’re saying that neurology is an illusion? That there are no such things as hallucinations?”

        “Without his worldview, ‘morality is an illusion.’”


        You didn’t answer the question. Do you suppose Koukl imagines that self-sacrificing and pro-social behaviors don’t exist, or that the normative claims that you should behave in those ways have no truth value (on the nontheistic hypothesis)?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You didn’t answer the question.

          Give me a question that’s meaningful and I’ll answer it.

          Do you suppose Koukl imagines that self-sacrificing and pro-social behaviors don’t exist, or that the normative claims that you should behave in those ways have no truth value (on the nontheistic hypothesis)?

          You didn’t like my previous answer, so I’m apparently unable to answer it.

        • staircaseghost

          One more time.

          I point out you are equivocating on the term “morality”, using a different sense of the term (prosocial behavior, observed to exist) from Koukl’s sense (objective moral norms — which you seem to agree in your article are an illusion!!!).

          When asked whether your use of the term comports with his, your “answer” simply reasserts the singular term, without qualification or clarification. So you are no closer to defending yourself against the charge of equivocation than at the start.

          This is a shame, really, because Koukl’s attempt really is, as you say, remarkably lame, demanding that the atheist supply an entire metaethical superstructure before he will even entertain the suggestion that childhood leukemia is a bad thing. But instead of engaging you on your other powerful, substantive points, the apologist will seize on this silly and unnecessary equivocation and beat you over the head with it, ignoring everything else you have to say.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I point out you are equivocating on the
          term “morality”, using a different sense of the term (prosocial behavior, observed to exist) from Koukl’s sense (objective moral norms — which you seem to agree in your article are an illusion!!!).

          I see no evidence for Koukl’s objective moral truth, and yet
          the word “morality” still has a definition for me. I’m missing the equivocation.

  • King Dave @ Newsvine

    Great article Bob:

    There is no True right or wrong, the golden rule does not account for masochists, and eye for an eye allows for murder.

    Saving a child from certain death seems moral, but what if that child was Hitler?

    • badgerchild

      Children aren’t Hitler, and neither you nor anyone else is clairvoyant.

      • King Dave

        There is no argument to have left Hitler unmolested, unless we don’t care about 100 million lives.
        Another reason why there is no true right or wrong action is because it is impossible to know the consequences in advance.

        Morality is preservation of the self.

        The rest is commentary.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Channeling Hillel? Maybe we should call you “Rabbi Dave”!

        • King Rabbi Dave

          Just don’t call me late for dinner.

        • badgerchild

          I’m guessing you’re assuming that you can tell a given child will grow up to be Hitler/Hitler-like. I know it’s a thought experiment, indeed I do, but the plain fact is that we can’t possibly know that, therefore we can’t possibly justify a given child-murder based on the spittle-flecked assertion “but he was going to grow up to be Hitler”. I don’t like thought experiments that let people justify horrendous things. (Before anyone asks, no, this is not a legitimate argument against abortion, for numerous reasons I’m not going derail the thread with.)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I wouldn’t mind apologists pointing to “objective morality” so often if they would just have some sort of plausible explanation for it. How they can not see this as a gaping problem at the foundation of their morality arguments, I can’t see.

  • Y. A. Warren

    The issue seems to be what we define as evil. When we take physical life and death out of the cycle of eternal life, which includes the earthly manifestations of our sacredness, and dependent on all eternal earthly manifestations of The Sacred Spirit, we create a culture of fear.

    When I thought my daughter was dying all I wanted to do was live as close to the aura of her spirit as I possible could so that I could carry her Sacred Spirit forward in myself.

  • Brian Pansky

    “What is the atheist Bertrand Russell going to say when kneeling at the bed of a dying child?”

    haha, so the logic here is that we have to lie to children to make them feel better, therefore a god truly does exist and is definitely a loving god, how dare we question that!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      How they can not appreciate that their argument devolves into “My story is nicer, so you should believe it,” I don’t know.

  • SaraiEnRose

    When I started reading this, I was almost immediately struck with what seems to be an obvious question…I read most of it, but stopped when I was satisfied that no party was aware enough to even ask the question much less answer it…perhaps one of you all can find an answer: “how can a good and loving God allow all the bad that happens in the world?” Here is the issue, I am not sure what this question is asking. What do the words “bad” and “good” mean, I am not familiar with them.

    • Ron

      Perhaps you should have finished reading to the end — because the intended meaning of that question was articulated via specific example. Apart from that, the meanings to unfamiliar words can be gleaned from books designed for that very purpose. They’re called dictionaries.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        And that’s one of the most important points: that “purpose” or “morality” are often imagined by Christians to have an absolute or objective element to them. Trouble is, that’s not supported in the dictionary.

      • SaraiEnRose

        Fair enough. I have consulted Webster. I will replace the words with their meanings and will give my opinion of the answer. How can a God, having the qualities required for a particular role and an intense feeling of deep affection.allow for all that of poor quality; inferior or defective.to happen in the world?”…Well, a couple of obvious things stick out right away and I will not look deeper than those two….It seems fairly affectionate to allow for the inferior or “defective” people to exist…you would expect he smite them? haha :) Also, by definition, he can do it…are you ready for this one? He can do it because “he” “is having the qualities required for a particular role.” so, by definition he takes the appropriate action. Not my definition, I Googled those…probably lied about Webster, I can’t be sure but I didn’t hunt those down as some obscure definition, I just grabbed the most reputable looking dictionary…I understood your implication to be that there was only one definition per word, though there were a few for each word so I’m not really sure how consulting the dictionary was really going to answer my question for me…but, I suppose you did tell me where to get my answer: in the bottom part of the article that I skipped. :)