Seidensticker Folly #78: “Natural Evil” & Uniformitarianism

Seidensticker Folly #78: “Natural Evil” & Uniformitarianism January 27, 2022

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.”

For over three years, we have had (shall we say) rather difficult relations, with mutual bannings (while I have replied to his posts 77 times: all as of yet unanswered), but when Bob moved to his new location online at the OnlySky super-site, he (surprisingly to me) decided to allow me to comment. As a conciliatory gesture in return, I removed his ban on my blog.  He even stated on 1-21-22 in the same combox thread, replying to me: “There are a few new posts here. (Or, if you haven’t been to my blog for a while, lots of new posts here.) Have at ’em. Let me know what you think.”

Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

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I am responding to specific portions of two of Bob’s posts entitled, “Problem of Evil: the Free Will defense” (1-24-22) and “Problem of Evil: the Soul-Making defense” (1-26-22). I will also include a few of the related combox comments.

I am unable to post a comment on Bob’s site, due to technical problems with the ridiculously inadequate and frustrating comments-system, called Viafoura. Everyone’s complaining about it and it’s a huge mess. I wrote for assistance and they still haven’t resolved the problem after a day-and-a-half. I have given up. Even if I could comment again, there are so many limitations and un-user-friendly features that it’s far more trouble than it’s worth.

I will continue to reply to Bob as necessary with blog articles: to defend Christianity and the Bible, when he attacks and misrepresents either or both. He can see what I write, and he’s not banned on my blog anymore, so he can counter-reply there or on his blog, as he wishes. But of course, thus far, he has universally not “wished” not to respond at all. Go figure . . .

I dealt with the evil that human beings commit against each other and with the issue of free will in my previous reply to Bob. Here I am dealing strictly with what is called “natural evil”: all the calamities that come about via nature, whether hurricanes or droughts or plagues or volcanoes and earthquakes, etc. Is it reasonable to posit that God could have made a world without such things, or that He should massively intervene so that no one is hurt by them?

Millions are sick or hungry, and the world is a carousel that spins from one natural disaster to another—hurricanes, drought, wildfires, and of course pandemics like covid. But on the other hand, how can a loving and omnipotent God have created such an inept rough draft? . . . 

If Creation is screwed up, blame the Creator who created it. 

And in comments (for the article dated 1-24-22):

Smallpox wasn’t [created in a lab like COVID]. The Black Death wasn’t. God’s fault. . . . And natural disasters give plenty of examples where God did it.

I posted in reply a portion of an old article that I will reproduce below. It was removed: either by Bob or the hapless Viafour folks. In his second article cited above, Bob seemed to reply to my now-deleted reply (or — as so often in his pathetic polemics — at least a straw man version of it):

But first, a palate cleanser. Here are two final points made to support the free-will defense, which says that God allows free will so that we can freely love him, despite the bad that free will brings with it. (The Christian argument is in italics below.)

God’s creation needs to be regular so we can depend on it, good or bad. A hot stove will burn you, without exception. A boulder falling down a mountain will hurt you if you’re in its path, without exception. God capriciously nudging boulders out of the way (but only sometimes) creates a world we can’t depend on.

So your argument is that if we had lots of miracles, the world would be confusing and undependable, so God does pretty much no miracles. Yeah, I’m sure the rape victim would’ve hated to have been confused, so I guess that’s a net good.

But it still seems that a god who is omniscient could’ve created a pain-free world.

This “response” was then elaborated upon by two commenters:

ericc: Problem 1: this argument is inconsistent with any standard reading of either the OT or NT. One can’t consistently argue that (a) the world NEEDs to be perfectly regular, and (b) the Bible portrays a world that ISN’T perfectly regular, and (c) the Bible is accurate. A, B, and C form a contradictory set.

Problem 2: once again, Christians seem not to grasp the implications of total omnipotence. Saying God needed the place to be regular for us implies that God was impotent to create beings who could grow and prosper under inconsistency.

larry parker: According to the bible, God often is “capriciously nudging boulders”. So much for the first assertion (“creation needs to be regular”).

Although I should be used to it by now, it still amazes me that religious apologists can contradict themselves in such a short paragraph.

None of this gibberish deals with my own particular argument, which (in a nutshell) has to do with the absolute necessity of uniformitarianism: if indeed science is to be possible (and also the corresponding implausibility of God massively doing miraculous acts to help everyone who would be hurt by “natural evil”). First of all, let me present a solid definition of uniformitarianism (a key notion in my argument). Wikipedia does a good job:

Uniformitarianism, also known as the Doctrine of Uniformity or the Uniformitarian Principle, is the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in our present-day scientific observations have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. It refers to invariance in the metaphysical principles underpinning science, such as the constancy of cause and effect throughout space-time, but has also been used to describe spatiotemporal invariance of physical laws. Though an unprovable postulate that cannot be verified using the scientific method, some consider that uniformitarianism should be a required first principle in scientific research.

Here is my argument in a slightly abridged form, from my article, originally titled, “Christian Replies to the Argument From Evil (Free Will Defense): Is God Malevolent, Weak, or Non-Existent Because of the Existence of Evil and Suffering?” It was itself drawn from a chapter of my 2002 book, Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism:

II. NATURAL EVIL AND NATURAL LAWS

Critics object that the free will defense (FWD) doesn’t address natural evils (things such as disease, earthquakes, famine, falling off a mountain, etc.), thus it is insufficient, and fails. This isn’t true at all. FWD doesn’t have to address natural evils because these are a necessary consequence of natural laws themselves. For example:

1. Rocks are hard.

2. Gravity exists.

3. Human faces, after a significant fall due to gravity, do not mix very well with rocks (assuming they happen to sit at the bottom of the fall).

4. The “natural evil” of a crushed skull or broken nose and severe scrapes may, therefore, occur.

Logical conclusion(s):

A. #1-3 are all natural laws (physics, chemistry, and biochemistry).

B. Natural laws are such (by their very nature, and given physical objects) that “injuries” and “annihilations” will inevitably occur.

C. Therefore, “natural evil” (insofar as the term makes any sense at all – it simply reduces to “unfortunate natural events”) is a necessary result of natural laws.

D. Therefore, to eliminate so-called “natural evil” is tantamount to the elimination of natural laws of matter, energy, etc. themselves.

E. Ergo: since elimination of natural laws would produce a chaotic, utterly unpredictable and formless world, this cannot be a possibility in the natural world as we know it; therefore the entire objection to this “absence” in FWD fails utterly.

Natural disasters are a necessary result of natural laws as we currently know them, and this is the real world, not one of the fantasy worlds atheists sometimes invent in order to maintain their rejection of theism, on these grounds. God could have changed these laws and made them operate some other way. But He didn’t.

Unfortunately, natural laws as we know them involve decay and death. Everyone dies; we all get a “disease” in that sense. To have no disease and illness would mean being immortal and never having to age, decay or die. But cells, unfortunately, degenerate. Galaxies, stars, and universes all eventually “die.” So does biological life (much more quickly). That’s just how it is. The universe is winding down, and so is every one of us.

It is said that God could and should have performed many more miracles than Christians say He performs, to alleviate “unnecessary” suffering. But this is precisely what a natural world with laws and a uniformitarian principle precludes from the outset. How is it that the atheist can (in their hypothetical theories and arguments against Christianity) imagine all sorts of miracles and supernatural events that God should have done when it comes to evil and the FWD? “God should do this,” “He should have done that,” “I could have done much better than God did,” . . .

Yet when it comes to natural science (which is precisely what we are talking about, in terms of ”natural evil”), all of a sudden none of this is plausible (barely even possible) at all. Why is that? Legions of materialistic, naturalistic, and/or atheist scientists and their intellectual followers won’t allow the slightest miracle or direct divine intervention (not even in terms of intelligent design within the evolutionary hypothesis) with regard to the origin of life or DNA or mammals, or the human brain or eye, or even unique psychological/mental traits which humans possess.

Why would this be? I submit that it is because they have an extreme reluctance to introduce the miraculous when the natural can conceivably explain anything. They will resist any supernatural intervention into biological processes till their dying breath.

Yet when we switch the conversation over to FWD all of a sudden atheists — almost in spite of themselves – are introducing “superior” supernatural options for God to exercise, right and left. God is supposed to eliminate all disease, even though they are inevitable (even “normative”) according to the laws of biology as we know them. God is supposed to transform the entire structure of the laws of physics, so no one will ever get a scratch on their face. He is supposed to suspend a bullet in mid-air so it won’t kill its intended target, or make a knife turn to liquid before it rips into the flesh of yet another murder victim.

In the world these atheist critics demand of God, if He is to be a “good” God, or to exist at all, according to their exalted criteria, no one should ever have to get a corn on their toe, or a pimple, or have to blow their nose, or have chapped lips. God should turn rocks into Jello every time a child is to fall on one. Cars should turn into silly putty or steam or cellophane when they are about to crash. The sexually promiscuous should have their sexual diseases immediately healed so that no one else will catch them, and so that they can go on their merry way, etc.

Clearly, these sorts of critics find “plausible” whatever opposes theism and Christianity, no matter what the subject is; no matter how contradictory and far-fetched such arguments are, compared to their attacks against other portions of the Christian apologetic or theistic philosophical defenses. Otherwise, they would argue consistently and accept the natural world as it is, rather than adopting a desperate, glaring logical double standard.

In effect, then, if we follow their reasoning, the entire universe becomes an Alice in Wonderland fantasy-land where man is at the center. This is the Anthropic Principle! Atheists then in effect demand from God the very things they claim to loathe when they are arguing against theism on other grounds. Man must be at the center of the universe and suffer no harm, in order for theism to be true. Miracles must take place here, there, and everywhere, if theism is to be accepted as a plausible or superior alternative to atheism.

The same atheists will argue till they’re blue in the face against demonstrable miracles such as Jesus’ Resurrection. What they demand in order to accept Christianity they are never willing to accept when in fact it occurs to any degree (say, e.g., the healings performed by Jesus). God is not bound by human whims and fancies and demands. The proofs and evidences He has already provided are summarily rejected by atheists, one-by-one, as never “good enough.”

Atheists and other skeptics seem to want to go to any lengths of intellectual inconsistency and hostility in order to preserve their skepticism. They refuse to bow down to God unless He creates an entirely different world, in order to conform to their ultimately illogical imaginings and excessive, absurd requests for what He should have done. They’re consistent in their inconsistency.

By definition, the natural world entails suffering. One doesn’t eliminate that “difficulty” simply by resorting to a hypothetical fantasy-world where God eliminates every suffering by recourse to miracle and suspension of the natural laws He put into place.

The natural world can’t modify itself every time someone stubs their toe or gets a sunburn. That would require infinitely more miracles than any Christian claims have occurred. With a natural world and natural laws, any number of diseases are bound to occur. One could stay out in the cold too long and get pneumonia. Oh, so atheists want God – if He exists – to immediately cure every disease that comes about?

Again, the miraculous, by definition, is not the normative. It is the extraordinary, rare event. I might stay underwater too long, swallow water, and damage my lungs. I could fall while ice skating, bump my head severely and damage my brain. I might eat a poisonous mushroom, or get stung by a poisonous snake, etc., etc. That’s how the world works. It is not God’s fault; it is the nature of things, and the things of nature.

In an orderly, uniformitarian, largely predictable natural world which makes any sense at all, there will be diseases, torn ligaments, colds, and so forth. The question then becomes: “how much is too much suffering?” or “how many miracles is God required to perform to be a good and just God?” At that point the atheist can, of course, give no substantive, non-arbitrary answer, and his outlook is reduced to wishful thinking and pipe dreams.

Materialistic evolutionists resist miraculous creation at all costs precisely because they think miracles are exceedingly rare. Christians apply the same outlook to reality-at-large. We say that miracles will be very infrequent, by their very nature (“SUPERnatural”). And that must be the case so that the world is orderly and predictable enough to comfortably live in, in the first place.

The many atheists with whom I discussed this subject (I was on a list with some 40-60 atheists or agnostics) didn’t really deal at all with the difficulties inherent in making a world where there is not even any “natural evil.” All they did was imagine a world in which there was no suffering (which is easy enough for anyone to do, but extremely simplistic and not exactly a rigorously philosophical approach). They did not ponder all the logical – even physical – conundrums such a world would entail.

A small child could opine that the world ought not to have any suffering whatever. But an adult has the responsibility to properly think through all the ramifications of that. He no longer has the luxury of the child, to create fairy-tales at his whim and fancy, about reality.

[end of article]

Bottom line: if science, which has brought about tremendous benefits for mankind, is to be possible in the first place, one must adopt the notion of uniformitarianism. But once one does that, then the argument within the problem of evil question that demands God alleviate all suffering and every individual instance of it (lest He be either weak or non-loving) falls flat.

Put another way: if we want science, we have to have a predictable, uniformitarian natural world. And if we have that, it’s virtually impossible to imagine that all the suffering brought about by “natural evil” can be eliminated by massive, constant miracles brought about by God.

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Photo credit: aebopleidingen (11-11-15) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: Atheists argue that God should eliminate all suffering: even that caused by natural laws & events. But the principle of uniformitarianism makes this implausible.

 

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