November 11, 2015

Original title (posted 10-12-06): Alvin Plantinga’s Decisive Refutation of the Atheist Use of the Problem of Evil as a Disproof of God’s Existence, Goodness, or Omnipotence

LeninStalin

Lenin and Stalin: two of the most evil people who ever lived. Is God to be blamed for their wicked antics? [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Alvin Plantinga (who was born in 1932 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and started his teaching career at my alma mater, Wayne State University, in Detroit. He is considered (by his Christian or theist admirers and atheists alike) to be the greatest living Christian philosopher and philosopher of religion. He wrote a very influential book in 1974, called God, Freedom, and Evil  (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans / New York: Harper & Row), which is now widely regarded as the best (and indeed, a decisive) refutation of the atheist use of the classic Problem of Evil in order to disprove God’s existence, or His character as all-good and all-powerful, or to claim that Christian belief involves an inherent contradiction therein.

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Plantinga wrote around 2000, in his essay, Christian Philosophy At The End Of The 20th Century:

[T]here has been a good deal of work on the argument from evil, and in fact it is now, as opposed to 40 years ago, rather rare for an atheologian to claim that there is a contradiction between the claim that there is a wholly good, all powerful, all knowing God, on the one hand, and the existence of evil on the other. This is due in large part to the efforts of Christian philosophers. Those atheologians who now press the argument from evil must turn instead to the probabilistic argument from evil: given all the evil the world contains, it is unlikely, improbable that there is a wholly good, all powerful and all knowing God. This argument is much messier, much more complicated, and much less satisfactory from the point of view of the objector. In other ways, however, this probabilistic argument is more realistic and perhaps more disturbing. Christian philosophers–William Alston and Peter van Inwagen, for example–have done good work here, but much remains to be done.

Read my original long paper, including extensive citation from Plantinga’s  God, Freedom, and Evil. If you aren’t acquainted with at least a little philosophy, this post is not for you. It’s very heavy (but filled with intellectually stimulating material from Plantinga). If you’re looking for the very best — the cutting edge — of Christian responses to the problem of evil, then you’ve found the right place.

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October 28, 2015

Original title: 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?

MassacreKatyn

One of mass graves at Katyn (Russia), 1943, where the NKVD (Soviet secret police) in 1940 massacred some of the estimated 22,000 Polish officers, policemen, intellectuals and civilian prisoners of war [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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This is a somewhat abridged version (minus only lengthy quotations from Augustine and Aquinas) of chapter 4 of my book, Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism (2002).

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I. THE NATURE OF FREE WILL AND THE FREE WILL DEFENSE

Having a free choice to potentially, or to be able, to choose evil does not mean that one will indeed choose it. One is free (by definition, it seems to me) to never choose it, as is the case with God. But God is different in that He not only does not choose evil, but cannot ever possibly choose evil, either, because this violates His very nature. That would be like water ceasing to be wet, or a tiger ceasing to be a carnivore, or 2 + 2 suddenly adding up to 5 instead of 4, etc.

Besides, the Christian defines evil as rebellion against, or separation from, God and His will (as the “embodiment” of the Moral Law). So how can God separate from Himself? That’s not only “morally impossible,” but also logically impossible, it seems to me, if indeed God is omni-benevolent and omnipotent, pure being, and entirely self-sufficient, as orthodox Christians believe.

But free will itself does not explain the rise of evil. Christians believe the initial cause of evil is self-autonomy, or the desire to “go it alone” without God, or rebellion. Free will led to the ability to choose self over against God (radical, disobedient autonomy vs. obedient child of God), which in turn led to the Fall, which in turn can explain the rest of human sin and evil. So free will can still be said to be the “cause” (in a secondary, pre-conditional sense) of all this (a necessary condition) but not a sufficient condition in and of itself.

This initial cosmic rebellion (which Christians call the Fall) was the cause of original sin and its primary component concupiscence (i.e., a marked propensity for, or tendency or desire towards, sin). This is an efficient condition and cause of sin, not free will itself, because mankind could have potentially chosen to always be good (as opposed to a robot which must be good and can’t possibly do otherwise). This is true, for example, of the non-fallen angels (also creatures), who chose to be obedient and never to rebel.

Free will means making choices freely; with full consent of the will and the mind, as opposed to some sort of mechanical, automatic choice. The original choice towards evil was simply a choice between oneself and God, rather like a severely disobedient child. It’s a sort of primeval jealousy as well: “God is in control; I want to be in control like God is; therefore I will cast Him off and be my own god” – an attempt to mirror God’s attributes “psychologically.” But this cannot occur in fact (ontologically), for a creature can never rise to equality with or superiority to, its Creator and Source.

The problem is that – given free will – free agents will likely choose to sin. That being the case, God nevertheless chooses the best of all possible worlds to create, and does create, knowing that some will choose evil as a result of possessing the free will — which is the necessary condition for that choice, making it (tragically but necessarily) possible. God chose to let man rebel (nothing catches an omniscient Being by surprise). If He had prohibited that from happening, that would have been a mitigation of free will, it seems clear to me. Free will is (surprise!) really free!

So – to summarize – “free will” in Christian theology doesn’t mean a necessary inclusion of evil and rebellion, but rather, a true choice of the will as opposed to automaton-like behavior (i.e., lacking a will altogether) that couldn’t possibly have been otherwise. One can simply choose to always be good.

The highly-respected Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, in his book, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper & Row, 1974, p. 28), points out that Free Will Theodicy (FWT) is an argument attempting to demonstrate and elucidate what God’s reason for permitting evil (in general) “really is,” whereas the much more modest goal of the Free Will Defense (FWD) is to demonstrate that it is logically and morally possible that God either has a good reason – or, minimally, not an inconsistent reason – for allowing evil (sufficient to overcome the Problem of Evil in its classic Humean formulation), whether known or not.

In other words, it is the difference between outright assertion (FWT) and (merely) allowance of or speculation about any number of logical or theoretical possibilities that defeat alleged disproofs (FWD). Plantinga himself opts for FWD. I also favor FWD in my own apologetics and philosophical theology, yet I sometimes cross over into FWT insofar as I mention or allude to (usually in passing, as a sort of “footnote”) theological answers or speculations that have been given for the existence of evil.

Methodologically and strategically it makes much more sense to stick to a purely philosophical and logical FWD, while on the other hand, I would never deny the validity of serious attempts at FWT, as long as it is permissible to “allow” theology and revelation into the discussion (though always admitting our lack of ultimate explanations and the unavoidable presence of mystery to some degree).

In my comments on natural evil below, I concentrate on inconsistencies in the atheist critique of FWD (in the context of the larger atheological polemic) and recourse to analogy, in an attempt to demonstrate that atheists too often arbitrarily apply different principles to the laws of nature, according to what they are arguing at the moment. This is a sort of “turning the tables” rather than a direct defense of FWD per se. One in effect, however, defends one’s own position in overturning critiques of it, by means of demonstration of radical inconsistency or impossibility of consistent non-absurd application (in this instance, with regard to the laws of nature).

Both FWD and FWT assume that free will makes rebellion possible, which is the direct cause of evil. Free will opens up the possibility of evil, so is necessary for its existence, even though it doesn’t strictly cause it or make it a certainty. And free will resides in man, and is able to bring about evil, insofar as it is used for ends apart from God’s will.

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.

We don’t have all the answers as to why He did what he did. He also could have made a world where atheists would see the clear evidence for His existence, and never resist it. But He didn’t. That’s because He values human choice and free will more than even obedience to Himself, even when He knows that being children of God is the best and most fulfilling choice for human beings. He doesn’t want coerced slaves; He wants children. And, for our part, we would much rather be sons and daughters of a loving Father than slaves of a wicked Master.

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 everytime 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 against 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.

In any event, the world as He created it did not originally involve suffering (nor will it in the future, for the redeemed). Man could have chosen to live in such a world, just as the unfallen angels did. They chose never to rebel. But man did, and having done so, now he wants to blame God for everything for which the blame in actuality lies squarely upon his own shoulders.

The natural world can’t modify itself everytime 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.

III. GOD’S OMNISCIENCE AND PROVIDENCE: MUST HE EXPLAIN EVERYTHING TO US?

Critics of Christianity argue that there is so much evil; that its degree, severity and the unfathomable amount of pain resulting therefrom, is not consistent with either a good God, or an all-powerful God Who could conceivably do something to prevent or mitigate all this misery in His own creation.

But the purpose of FWD is not to explain and “reveal” all the deepest mysteries of God’s Providence and omniscience (Christians never pretend to be able to figure everything out, as some atheist philosophers seem to foolishly think they can do). Its purpose is merely to place the origin of evil in man (and fallen angels, which actually preceded man), as a function of his free will and free choice; thereby removing the objection of God’s supposed evil (or weakened) character, due to the existence of evil.

Or it is claimed that God’s foreknowledge is inconsistent with our free will. If we have no free will, then obviously FWD is fallacious and must be discarded. This is based on the fallacious equation of foreknowledge with absolute predestination. The former is merely knowledge without causation; the latter is both. I have “foreknowledge” that the sun will come up tomorrow, and that there will be a time exactly 24 hours from now, when the hands of my clock will be in the same place they are now. Likewise, God knows what I will say and do tomorrow (which is all “now” to Him). But I still have free choice to do and say what I do.

In one sense, God causes everything, for He created everything and enabled everything that exists to possess certain potentialities and actualities. In another (but also equally real) sense, there is secondary, lesser causation, from creatures and immaterial matter. The two do not contradict. God’s ultimate causation of everything is a function of His being Creator, not a function of His omnipotence, and desire to control absolutely everything, down to the smallest detail.

Atheists and agnostics often complain that God hasn’t told us why there is so much suffering. But He certainly has (to some extent, anyway). The answer lies in the Fall and original sin, and (more deeply) the purpose of suffering in God’s redemptive plan; how God uses it for good ends, in His Providence (as He did, e.g., in the death of Jesus). But that’s revelation, and so-called “rationalists” resist that, too, with all their might. Such people cut off their chance of hearing the answer by confining all knowledge to the philosophical realm. One can’t discuss Christian answers and explanations with someone who disallows (as legitimate fields of knowledge) revelation and theology from the outset.

Nor is comfort and solace lacking for people who are suffering. God certainly comforts (or potentially does, depending on our response), but again, that involves becoming a disciple of Jesus, the One who gives peace in the midst of all trials. Since many refuse to do that, they are left with this agonizing quandary as to why God doesn’t seem to “care.” Having refused the cure, or even the possibility of it, they want to now complain that it doesn’t exist.

We learn about reasons for all the suffering we see in the Bible (specifically the book of Job), and in the deep, profound tradition of Christian spirituality. The great theologians, saints, mystics, and martyrs of history have pondered and written about these great mysteries in the most profound depth of insight and wisdom. But non-Christian critics often have so little respect for Christian theology and spirituality that they would refuse to even respectfully consider such explanations. A truly inquisitive, fair-minded person would be open to all explanations, not simply some supposedly “airtight” philosophical argument.

Christians simply acknowledge that we can’t figure everything out (in this case, we can comprehend the broad outlines, but not every jot and tittle of God’s purposes). I should think that would be a rather obvious truth for any philosophically oriented person, whose quest is ostensibly a continual yearning after truth. The very seeking and pursuit presupposes that no one has attained to complete or exhaustive knowledge, as of yet.

Nevertheless, many critics and skeptics appear to demand this of theism and Christianity before they will consider it at all, and make unreasonable and outrageous demands of the position; requiring it to explain absolutely everything, even the deepest mysteries of existence. Of course they don’t apply such a strict criteria to their own beliefs. They can always hide behind the rationale and modus operandi of all skeptics: that there isn’t enough evidence to believe so-and-so, and that atheism, on the other hand, is purely a “negative” phenomenon, and thus worthy of allegiance.

In my opinion, excessive skepticism, which causes one to reject virtually everything as unworthy of belief, is (at bottom) an intellectual cop-out. It is a sort of intellectual pessimism or cynicism. It assumes that the mind is unable to figure out or understand or assent to very much. I do think, however, that a limited degree of skepticism and “hard-nosed” empirical approach is completely warranted. Compared to God’s knowledge, we are indeed relatively very limited in our comprehension. Human beings simply don’t have enough information to be able to say (authoritatively), “I can conceive of a better world than God supposedly made.”

In the Argument From Evil, atheists and other skeptics are attacking the cogency and internal consistency of a Christian argument. Christian arguments presuppose certain characteristics of God. One such characteristic is omniscience. That being the case, it is altogether conceivable that God sees any number of benefits and superiorities to the present world, over against alternate “creative plans” – things we cannot comprehend. Our mental and intellectual inferiority to the Christian God, as Christians understand Him, is self-evident.

Christians, in this instance, are defending an inherently Christian argument, from within our own premises. Whether God exists is another discussion. But if He is indeed as we think He is, then His possession of extraordinary, fathomless knowledge (from the human perspective) clearly follows. That is why FWD is self-consistent and coherent. It works within the Christian paradigm.

To acknowledge a current lack of knowledge is not identical to some sort of “anti-scientific” and “intellectually pessimistic” mentality of “quitting” or claiming we will never know (though it may indeed be the case that we will never know some things). That God’s ways and thoughts are far above our own is a statement of straightforward fact, under Christian assumptions of God’s omniscience. The wise person (e.g., Socrates) instantly recognizes that he knows little (but can potentially learn much).

One atheist argued that God could have done various things to prevent Adolf Hitler’s rise and all the evil and suffering which resulted therefrom: he could have died from a God-induced heart attack in 1929 (sort of like Herod being struck and eaten by worms, in the Bible); he could have had a religious experience and become benevolent and loving, renouncing his anti-Semitism. He could have been created with genes that predisposed him to peaceable behavior, or he could have not been born at all.

God could have done many things. He could have prevented Englishmen from becoming socialist, occultist pacifists with their heads in the sand in the 1920s and 30s. That would, I suppose, have enabled them to hear and act upon Winston Churchill’s warnings for years about the German build-up and obvious intention to resume military, imperialistic activities. They would have seen Neville Chamberlain for who and what he was (an appeasing weakling). The whole thing was easily prevented, as we now know.

Why is it that we must blame God for not preventing it when men easily could have? Could it not be said that God was speaking through Winston Churchill? For if his words had been heeded, then this goal of preventing Hitler’s horrors would have been achieved. Why cannot this working through wise humans be God’s way of achieving His ends, despite human pride, ignorance, and free will? God used prophets to speak His truth to men, and to try to prevent catastrophes, but they wouldn’t listen. Is that God’s fault? Likewise, He can speak truth through individuals today, even if they are not prophets, and He is always speaking in His revelation, the Bible. But men don’t want to hear.

 

IV. WHAT CAUSED THE FALLEN ANGELS AND THE FIRST HUMAN BEINGS TO REBEL AGAINST GOD (AND WHY COULDN’T GOD PREVENT IT)?

I suppose this question might be expressed in the following terms:

1. Evil in the world casts doubt upon either God’s goodness or His omnipotence.

2. Evil results from man’s free choices and free will, thus – for the moment – separating the origin of evil from God.

3. But why would God create a man who would even have that potentiality in the first place? Does that not still place responsibility for evil on God, and cast doubt on His goodness (perhaps even His omniscience – knowing what would happen), as He could have created otherwise, being omnipotent?

Protestant philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) answered this worthy and important question in the following fashion:

The question is asked first of all, whence does evil come? . . . we, who derive all being from God, where shall we find the source of evil? The answer is, that it must be sought in the ideal nature of the creature, in so far as this nature is contained in the eternal verities which are in the understanding of God, independently of his will. For we must consider that there is an original imperfection in the creature before sin, because the creature is limited in its essence; whence ensues that it cannot know all, and that it can deceive itself and commit other errors . . .

. . . properly speaking, the formal character of evil has no efficient cause, for it consists in privation, as we shall see, namely, in that which the efficient cause does not bring about. That is why the Schoolmen are wont to call the cause of evil deficient.

(Theodicy, 1710, translated by E.M. Haggard, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1952, 135-136)

Frederick Copleston, the noted Jesuit historian of philosophy, wrote of Leibniz’ free will theodicy, and the above citation:

Metaphysical evil is imperfection: and this is the imperfection involved in finite being as such. Created being is necessarily finite, and finite being is necessarily imperfect; and this imperfection is the root of the possibility of error and evil . . .

The ultimate origin of evil is thus metaphysical, and the question arises, how God is not responsible for evil by the mere fact that He created the world, thus giving existence to limited and imperfect things. Leibniz’ answer is that existence is better than non-existence . . . since the imperfection of the creature does not depend on the divine choice but on the ideal essence of the creature, God could not choose to create without choosing to create imperfect beings. He chose, however, to create the best possible world. Considered simply in itself the divine will wills simply the good, but ‘consequently’, that is, once given the divine decision to create, it wills the best possible. ‘God wills antecedently the good and consequently the best’ [Leibniz]. But He could not will ‘the best’ without willing the existence of imperfect things. Even in the best of all possible worlds creatures must be imperfect.

(A History of Philosophy, vol. 4: Modern Philosophy: Descartes to Leibniz, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1960, 330-331)

Belief in God’s goodness rests on many other grounds, so that the Christian is not overcome by the difficulties presented by the Problem of Evil. Does that require faith? It certainly does. In any event, I don’t see that the Problem of Evil disproves God’s goodness or that it presents any insuperable problems for Christianity.

Human beings are finite creatures, much more limited in knowledge than the angels, and unimaginably less knowledgeable than God. So their free will cannot possibly act in the same fashion (i.e., knowing all contingencies and consequences) as God’s free will. Human beings are not the very ground or essence of love, or Good, as God is. Therefore, the possibility always exists for them – being free – to sin and choose the Wrong and the unloving course of action.

To serve and be unified with God is a free act of the will. A will which is free can also choose to not serve and love God. And that very act is the very definition of evil or sin: separation from God and His will, in which reside the essence of love and Good. This was Leibniz’ argument: that creatures are finite, so that their free will is far more likely to produce sin.

The inherent limitation in the human psyche, intellect, and will brought about rebellion. Human beings are far less intelligent than the angels. The majority of angels were sharp enough to realize that it was of no benefit, and great harm, to rebel against God their Creator. They immediately realized the sheer futility and foolishness of such a drastic move.

Other angels, somehow having obtained pridefulness and self-centeredness and a sort of jealousy or envy of God, did conceive in their wills the idiotic notion that they would be better off opposing God, than being on His side. That was made possible by their free will. God gave them free will, which was such that it included the potentiality for self-centeredness, self-autonomy (with no “need” for God as the Sovereign) and hence, rebellion.

In other words, there must be some logical impossibility for even God to create free creatures who can never and will never sin, without some additional “help” from God (supernatural grace). Human beings before the Fall could have chosen to not sin. But they chose to rebel and reject God’s authority. Atheists naturally deny the profundity and great depth of the hold which sin has on human beings. I don’t know how or why that is.

Human history indisputably reveals that man has been abundantly evil and wicked. Who could fail to see that? But the secular mentality simply locates the causation for that in the environment or God, rather than the individual person – or some constitutional shortcoming in human beings.

To summarize, then, the finite nature of creatures (both before and especially after, the Fall) is such that they are unable or exceedingly unlikely to make perfect choices and to never sin. The problem resides in the creature, as a result of his inherent limitations of intelligence and various weaknesses that a Being perfect in essence does not possess. God can’t make another God. He is by nature one: uncreated and self-existent and perfect; therefore He can’t create another like Himself; ergo: creatures will be intrinsically – logically — limited in some sense.

And this means that (quite conceivably) it is logically impossible for God to create (in any possible world) creatures with free will who will definitely never sin, as a free choice, or literally not be able to sin and still somehow be “free.”

This scenario is no more implausible than the normal atheist habit of placing all blame on this theoretical God they don’t believe in, while winking at and constantly minimizing man’s responsibility for the mess that we find ourselves in. The Christian exercises faith. He sees a God who was willing to take horrible suffering upon Himself and come and die on a cross for us, so that we can one day be totally freed from sin and its horrible consequences. We see a God who loved us so much that He was willing to undergo the sufferings that we have to endure. He didn’t excuse Himself from all of the pain and suffering. He didn’t take a pass.

That may mean nothing to an atheist or other skeptics of Christianity, but we Christians see the boundless love and mercy of God and believe in faith that there is some higher purpose, ultimately beyond our understanding, making all the evil explicable in the end. We know for sure that out of evil much good comes (in terms of people’s reaction to it), and that can become a whole mini-apologetic for FWD in and of itself.

Christians believe this is (though quite difficult to conceive for us, I freely admit) the best of all possible worlds; that evil and sin are such profoundly disruptive and serious entities that they can cause all of what we see, in terms of man against man, and would have in any world in which man was truly free. This is what freedom entailed. To eliminate the possibility of all the suffering would be to jettison free will itself.

But a world where such evil is allowed to occur as a “necessary evil” (no pun intended) also can produce amazing examples of grace and lovingkindness, as we see in the saints. I can easily understand the evil in the world (apart from natural disasters, which I have already addressed) as a rebellion against God, and the fruit of self-centered pride and folly. To me that is not something difficult to conceptualize or comprehend (even though the “best possible world” scenario is difficult to grasp or accept).

What is truly noteworthy and astonishing is how much good and goodness can occur in the world as we know it, given the manifest serious weaknesses of human nature. The fact of such sanctity alongside such vile evil is the remarkable and unexpected thing, and the sign of God’s grace at work amongst us.

For every evil despot in the annals of world history, there can be found a St. Francis of Assisi or a St. Vincent de Paul. For every smug, power-hungry, materialistic selfish person, there is a selfless Mother Teresa or a John Wesley. For every thoughtless, feeble-minded, weak-willed person there is a St. Therese of Lisieux or a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or those like them, on a lesser scale. The evil persons are easily explained, by the ubiquitous characteristics of human nature. The saints and saintly persons are not. To explain them it is necessary to have recourse to God’s grace and love shed in their hearts.

The great Catholic philosopher, scientist, and genius Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote:

Talk about humility gives occasion for pride to the proud and humility to the humble. Similarly, sceptical arguments allow the positive to be positive. Few speak humbly of humility, chastely of chastity, dubiously of scepticism. We are nothing but lies, duplicity, contradiction, and we hide and disguise ourselves from ourselves.

(Pensees, #655; translated by A.J. Krailsheimer, New York: Penguin Books, 1966, 240)

Man is neither angel nor beast, and it is unfortunately the case that anyone trying to act the angel acts the beast.

(Pensees, #678)

Original sin is folly in the eyes of men, but it is put forward as such. You should therefore not reproach me for the unreasonable nature of this doctrine, because I put it forward as being unreasonable. But this folly is wiser than all man’s wisdom . . . How could he have become aware of it through his reason, seeing that it is something contrary to reason and that his reason, far from discovering it by its own methods, draws away when presented with it?

(#695)

. . . if man had never been corrupted, he would, in his innocence, confidently enjoy both truth and felicity, and, if man had never been anything but corrupt, he would have no idea either of truth or bliss . . . we have an idea of happiness but we cannot attain it. We perceive an image of the truth and possess nothing but falsehood, being equally incapable of absolute ignorance and certain knowledge; so obvious is it that we once enjoyed a degree of perfection from which we have unhappily fallen.

Let us then conceive that man’s condition is dual. Let us conceive that man infinitely transcends man, and without the aid of faith he would remain inconceivable to himself.

(#131)

These are some of the Christian answers to the Problem of Evil, accepted by faith, with a recognition of man’s and reason’s limitations, and the presence of unfathomable mystery at a certain point, yet not contrary to reason, and part of a coherent and consistent Christian worldview.

V. THE FALL OF MAN AND THE INTRODUCTION OF EVIL INTO HUMAN EXISTENCE / FREE WILL IN HEAVEN

Atheists critique the traditional Christian understanding of the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man by asserting that God simply could have not put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil there in the first place. “No tree, no fall,” as one atheist put it. God knew what was going to happen, so it is even more outrageous, unjust, and unfair to humanity for Him to let it happen, so the argument goes.

But anyone who reasons in this fashion is missing the whole point of the story (i.e., from within the Christian paradigm and presuppositional framework), which is simply that God told them to obey Him and not to do thus-and-so. What the particular command was is not the crucial thing, but rather, it is the obedience of the creature to its Creator, because that is the reality of “superior-subordinate,” just as a 3-year-old child is subordinate to its parents and no one would think of suggesting otherwise, as if the child can rationally choose to disobey the parent (in normal circumstances) and be better off. Imagine, for instance, a child who decides to no longer eat, or to drive a car, or to do income taxes . . .

The biblical account of Adam and Eve (which is historical and actual) is a morality-tale of obedience vs. disobedience, of union with God vs. unnatural human autonomy. God can’t change the fact of man’s rebellion simply by not putting the tree there so it (supposedly) couldn’t have happened. Why? Because rebellion is an inner condition in the first place. God could have said “don’t stick your tongue out” or “don’t go swimming in the lake with the island in the middle of it.” The particulars don’t matter all that much. Obedience is key, and the acknowledgement of the Creator-creature order of nature or ontological reality.

It has been suggested that God could have created us all in heaven, and thus forego the test that we failed (and which He knew we would fail), to “save a lot of trouble.” But this gets back to the issue of free will and what it means. It happened this way so that we can freely choose God, so that we can attain eternal bliss in heaven, having made a meaningful choice, not because God wound us up like a toy soldier and we followed, not being able to do otherwise.

I am merely speculating now, but I would say that we are rewarded in heaven (as opposed to simply being created there without any “challenge”) because of our free choice. God then empowers us by His grace to live beyond sin. But that wouldn’t eliminate the necessity or near-necessity of evil, because that possibility was opened up in order to have the free will that enabled us to freely choose God and allow His grace to save us so that we can get to heaven.

VI. SUMMARY STATEMENT

It is logically impossible for God to create men with free will and at the same time exclude the possibility of them rebelling and introducing sin and evil into the equation.

God can’t sin because He can’t contradict His own essence, which is pure Good or Love or Holiness. He isn’t schizophrenic. The angels could have rebelled and sinned, and some did (but others didn’t). Mankind could have chosen not to sin, too, but they didn’t take that course. One must take into account the qualitative difference between the free will of God, that of angels (who are far more intelligent than man) and that of man. Free will in the latter is far more likely to result in sin, perhaps almost inevitably so.

Why are human beings essentially imperfect “ontologically” (as created)? They are because it is logically impossible not to be. Creatures by definition are limited and imperfect, because they aren’t self-existent and they aren’t omniscient. God can’t create another God. Only God knows absolutely everything, so that He knows good and evil completely, in all their aspects, contingencies, consequences, what-have-you, and all that is true and false.

The very fact that creatures are not God and neither self-existent nor “pure being” is the problem. Because of that, and given their free will, they can choose to rebel against God their Creator and seek to be autonomous (which is precisely the point where evil is introduced and defined), as if such a thing makes any sense at all and is something other than sheer folly and futility.

Is it possible for God to create human beings free and to create them in such a way that they will always freely choose good? It is possible for those creatures who actually choose to always be good. But God can’t logically eliminate the possibility for others to choose evil without prohibiting free will in the first place. Consequently, some angels chose to never rebel, while others did. So sinlessness is possible, but sinfulness cannot be rendered impossible by God, if free will is to exist.

God offers all men a plan of grace whereby they can be largely – even (theoretically) totally – free from sin. This is what the gospel, justification, sacramentalism, sanctification, regeneration, reconciliation, propitiation, redemption, and related theological concepts in soteriology (salvation theology) are all about.

But this doesn’t preclude the possibility of men spurning God and His plan and continuing on in sin, rebellion, and alleged self-autonomy. They even go to the extent of asserting the historical ludicrosity that Jesus didn’t exist. That’s how far men will go to avoid God and reject Him. God grants the possibility of salvation and sanctification (to be totally perfected after death) for all who will repent of their rebellion, be obedient to His will and become His disciple. That is quite enough.

My position (which I believe to be the orthodox Christian one) is that it was logically impossible given free will, for reality to have been essentially different. Man’s limitations are such, apparently, that in any world where he was given free will, there would likely have been a rebellion (perhaps different in degree in different possible worlds). If there were a world in which this didn’t occur, God would have created it.

So I conclude that such a world is not logically possible (again, coinciding with true free will; of course it would be if men were programmed robots). The difference between theists and atheists is that we place the blame for all this squarely on man’s shoulders, not on God.

What God does is work around this unfortunate state of affairs (in His Providence) and also allow the possibility for all to be made right eschatologically (in the afterlife), in terms of justice and the happiness of each individual person who will humble themselves before God, acknowledge their rebellion and sin, and consciously try to live by God’s will for all mankind. That’s why this is the best of all worlds, because “all’s well that ends well.”

Evil had to occur but it will be completely defeated in the end and heaven will more than make up for all the miseries and suffering which have occurred on earth. Since heaven continues indefinitely, it is infinitely more important proportionately than what has happened here, bad as that often is. Hence the Apostle Paul can state:

I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

(Romans 8:18)

And James writes:

. . . What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

(James 4:14)

The fact of eternal life in blissful conditions gives an entirely different perspective on this short earthly life: it is merely the blink of an eye compared to everlasting life. This changes everything. To deny this would be like saying that the time one scratched their finger at age four somehow attained a supreme significance with regard to their entire life. That suffering overcame every good thing that happened to them later on, and overwhelmed all. That’s how silly it is to compare the quantity or quality of this life to that of the afterlife (of the saved).

Atheists perhaps agonize more about the world’s suffering in the sense that this life is all they have and it all seems so unjust (but without any ultimate foundation, under atheist assumptions). Yet many of them think nothing of depriving a human child in its mother’s womb from even living and experiencing this life at all. In so doing they deny the fundamental Christian notion that all creation is good (and all human life is sacred), and that it is better to exist than not to.

That is one reason God created, and why it was better for this world and human beings – even with all its suffering – to have been created than to never have existed. One can endure much hardship, knowing what is coming in the end – some great reward. We observe mothers in the travail of childbirth, for example (I’ve seen all four of my children born): all that tremendous physical suffering and trauma, yet it is forgotten the moment they hold their newborn child. That is how it will be to die in God’s graces and enter into God’s presence. And that puts quite a different slant on the Problem of Evil (at least on a practical, individual level).

Of course this viewpoint is often caricatured by atheists as the “pie in the sky” outlook, but it is not. The Christian believes that this life (and how one acts in it) is supremely important, just as the afterlife is. The Christian asserts that if indeed there is an eternal life of bliss awaiting obedient children of God in the future, that this completely changes the perspective of degree and importance of sufferings endured in this life.

The same sufferings would be almost infinitely worse and unjust if this life were all that existed. And in turn, that makes the Problem of Evil a much-lesser objection, within the Christian paradigm. Evil is a far-worse difficulty to work through under atheist assumptions, where it mutates into the “problem of good.” And that will be the subject of our next chapter.

 

 

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.

 

September 22, 2021

Case Study in “Conservative” Catholic Media Bias, Which is Becoming as Problematic as Mainstream Liberal Media Bias

Here we go again. The slant alluded to in my title is (surprise!) a distortion of what the pope said. As a matter concerning media bias, this will provide a helpful example: with different levels of “anti-Francis” bias or lack thereof readily observed, depending on the viewpoint of the commentator.

It’s always good (and the best “policy”) to simply write and print truth, as best we can ascertain it. Let the chips fall where they may. Christianity (above all, Catholicism) was never (or should never be) a popularity contest. But alas, bias often has a deleterious effect on accurate reporting.

First, let’s actually see what the pope said, in context (what a novelty!), from the “official” transcript of a conversation with Slovakian Jesuits (9-12-21):

One of the participants tells the pope about the situation of the Slovak Church and the internal tensions. “Some even see you as heterodox,” he says, “while others idealize you. We Jesuits try to overcome this division.” He asks: “How do you deal with people who look at you with suspicion?”

There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation  in continually speaking ill of the pope. I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.

Yes, there are also clerics who make nasty comments about me. I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it and that’s why I prefer to preach, preach… Some people accuse me of not talking about holiness. They say I always talk about social issues and that I’m a communist. Yet I wrote an entire apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate.

Inaccurate / Unacceptably Biased Reporting

1) Catholic Culture is a site co-run by Phil Lawler, whose bashing of the pope is well-known (and I have dealt with it many times). Anti-Francis bias in this venue comes as no surprise whatever:

Title: Pope rips EWTN ‘work of the devil’ [link]

Article: Pope Francis has lashed out at the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), saying: “They are the work of the devil.”

Any fair-minded reader, attempting to be objective and fair to the pope (whatever they may personally think of him) must surely see how this slant is a gross distortion. The pope specifically said that “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner”: so it follows that he couldn’t possibly have been implying that “the work of the devil” is a thing that he personally deserves. That would make no sense, and would mean that the devil was doing the right, rather than wrong thing.

Obviously, then, in context he is saying that “the Church does not deserve them [i.e., “attacks and insults” from earlier in the sentence] and that these attacks on the Church (not him) — however much they occur — are properly described as “the work of the devil”: which of course they are; he’s the accuser and liar and attacks the Church and the faith and Jesus and the Bible and Christians alike. It’s equally clear that Pope Francis was not equating EWTN [implied] with “the work of the devil”: which description was plainly referring to undeserved attacks on the Church, which may occur at EWTN or elsewhere.

2) The Catholic World Report, edited by Carl E. Olson, has published many articles highly critical of Pope Francis. That (unsurprising) bias certainly shows in this instance:

Title: Pope Francis says “attacks and insults” against him are “work of the devil” [link]

The article doesn’t comment further on the issue at hand. But the title chosen is unarguably a distortion, as shown directly above, by confusing Pope Francis with the Church. It misrepresents (whether deliberately, who knows?) what actually occurred.

3) The American Conservative. Good ol’ former Catholic Rod Dreher (whose questionable shenanigans and rationales I have critiqued) is a regular columnist here. In an article dated 9-21-21 he engages in wholesale distortion of the pope’s words and intent:

Article: Francis also denounced EWTN (though not by name) as doing “the work of the devil.” . . . if he’s going to call out EWTN for its supposedly satanic excesses . . . Despite the accusation that EWTN does the devil’s work . . . [link]

These three sweeping statements are lies insofar as they promote an insinuation that “EWTN = satanic excesses”, etc. That simply is not what the pope stated. He was specifically referring to however many attacks were made on the Church, at EWTN. But it makes for good copy for those eager to gobble up any gossip and slander about Pope Francis, doesn’t it? Dreher knows his audience well.

Dreher in the article frequently notes what he feels is hypocrisy in the pope calling out conservative Catholics but not so much, liberal, dissident Catholics on the left. That’s a legitimate point that I actually agree with to a large extent, but it’s not the topic at hand, which is media bias with regard to these particular remarks he made to the Slovakian Jesuits. One thing at a time.

4) Breitbart: conservative news outlet, joins in the parade of inexcusable journalistic inaccuracy:

Title: Pope Francis: Speaking Ill of the Pope Is ‘the Work of the Devil’ [link]

Article:  Pope Francis had harsh words for those who criticize him, saying such attacks are “the work of the devil,” . . .

5) Michael Matt, radical Catholic reactionary from The Remnant, joins in, in a tweet:

Pope Francis lashes out at the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), saying: “They are the work of the devil.” Good to know, [at] Pontifex , but faithful Catholics still resist you…not EWTN. [link]

6) Taylor Marshall, the extreme and conspiracist radical Catholic reactionary (356,000 subscribers on You Tube) did the inevitable (and utterly predictable) video:

Title: Pope Francis Rebukes EWTN as Work of the Devil: What would Mother Angelica Say? [link]

Slightly Inaccurate and Biased Reporting

1) Crux is a fairly unbiased and helpful, educational Catholic venue, in my opinion. It’s disappointing to see its bias here, but it’s considerably less severe than the three examples above:

Title: Media critical of the pope do ‘the devil’s work,’ Francis says [link]

Article: it doesn’t elaborate on the crucial distinctions I pointed out above, regarding the pope’s remarks, but does report that EWTN ” has consistently aired commentary critical of Pope Francis and his decisions.”

Accurate / Objective Reporting

1) The Washington Times is a politically conservative newspaper. It gets it right in reporting on this incident:

Title: Pope Francis’ remarks seen as rebuke of critical U.S. Catholic media [link]

Article: Pope Francis recently delivered an apparent rebuke to an American Catholic cable-and-satellite network EWTN . . . slamming what he termed attacks on the Roman Catholic Church from such critics as “the work of the devil.” . . .

Rival independent Catholic newspaper National Catholic Reporter said Tuesday that EWTN is one of the pontiff’s most persistent critics. “No other Catholic media conglomerate has regularly featured such open criticism of Francis,” according to Vatican correspondent Christopher White.

Mr. White singled out EWTN personality Raymond Arroyo as hosting a “papal posse” of critics, as well as the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. The reporter reported that current apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre “had expressed displeasure” about the coverage to Michael Warsaw, chief executive at EWTN.

2) Newsweek, the well-known liberal / secular newsmagazine, gets it exactly right in its title:

Title: Pope Says Criticisms of the Church by Some Conservative Catholics is ‘Work of the Devil’ [link]

It’s a sad day when Newsweek, of all media outlets, accurately reports on the words of a pope, whereas two theologically orthodox outlets and two politically conservative ones (all of which would normally be “my guys” / “the good guys”) completely botch their reporting in a way that, if not deliberate, is grossly incompetent, brought on by an excessive hostile bias.

3) The Tablet (“The International Catholic News Weekly”), a British newspaper published since 1840, refreshingly gets it right, too:

Title: Pope condemns critics who are doing ‘work of the devil’ [link]

Article: Pope Francis has condemned those doing the “work of the devil” by whipping up hostility against the Church. . . . EWTN (The Eternal Word Television Network) is a large Catholic television platform that has become a platform for opposition to this pontificate, including broadcasting a Mass where the priest attacked Francis during the homily, and a weekly show presented by Raymond Arroyo which is consistently hostile.

4) The Jerusalem Post, citing Reuters, doesn’t distort the pope’s words, and notes that EWTN has indeed regularly taken shots at the pope:

Article: In recent years, Francis has been the focus of criticism from a small but powerful number of American conservatives unhappy with his stands on various theological issues as well as social matters from immigration to climate change. They are regularly given time on the US-based Catholic television network EWTN. [link]

***

Photo credit: Ron Mader (Jan. 2016) [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

***

Summary: Pope Francis indirectly critiqued what most think was EWTN. Three “conservative” venues incorrectly reported his thought, while four media outlets of various persuasions got it right.

April 9, 2021

BensNewLogin (former adherent of Judaism and for a short time, Christianity) is an atheist who responded to my paper, “Problem of Good: More Difficult than Problem of Evil?” (4-3-21) in the combox underneath. His words will be in blue.

*****

So, you have asked me about the “problem of good“. Now I have some more time to write, but not as much time as I would like.

Thanks for responding and remaining civil, too.

I may not get around to answering your other questions about abortion, but this will do for now.

No need. I made the socratic point I wanted to make with DC Kurtz.

I don’t see that the existence of good is any kind of a problem,

“Good” itself is not a problem. The “problem of good” is in terms of atheism not being able too produce a rationale for why all human beings should be bound to some particular set of ethics, and how any atheist framework for same is inevitably arbitrary.

but then I don’t believe that humankind is inherently corrupt and evil. That would be Christians, and the basis for the Christian religion.

We believe in original sin, but we also believe that the way is open for any human being to be a very good human being, by way of God’s grace. All human beings have the capacity in their free will to be good and to do much good. It’s atheism that can only explain evil by environment, but that is often not nearly as sufficient an explanation as atheists seem to think. Christianity and Judaism before it uniquely explain the curiosity of human beings having the capacity for great good but also of sinking to the most depraved, wicked levels of evil.

As I will discuss later, good is no kind of a problem at all. We are social beings, and we must have morality in order to live together. It’s a simple as that.

No one disagrees with that. It’s not at issue. I presuppose it in my outlook and this current discussion.

For the record, I tried Christianity when I was in my late teens. I read everything I could by CS Lewis. He had a lot to say that was good, and a lot that was absolute nonsense. Eventually, I found I could not buy the Christian story. But it was Christianity itself that convinced me of that.

Or a caricature of it; what you falsely thought it was. No deconversion story I have ever seen lacked massive use of straw men and caricature as the basis for rejecting “Christianity.”

But back to your query. There are three assumptions that your question rests on.

Of course.

The first is that morals somehow exist apart from people. There is practically no evidence that this is so, though there are plenty of assertions that it is so. If there is such a moral principle, I suspect it would be labeled love. I also suspect that you and I would mean very different things by the use of the word. That has been my experience for most of my life: what religion means by love and what the rest of us might mean by love.

I think its objective existence is explained by the fact that all cultures in the world at all times basically agree on fundamental moral precepts. If individuals and circumstances were actually the cause, I don’t believe this would be the case.

The simplest definition of love is “desiring the best for others.”

The second assumption is that there is such a thing as an immutable moral principle. There has never been a moral principle in the history of the world that has been immutable.

Violation in practice (which is what I believe you are implying here) is not proof that the principle itself does not exist.

When we’re discussing the death penalty, we are told that all life is sacred, and killing another person is wrong. If it is immutable, then killing another person is ALWAYS wrong. But of course, there are immediate exceptions always to be made.

It’s the distinction between killing and murder. They are two different things. “Thou shalt not kill” is an unfortunate translation in the KJV, which has confused millions of people for five centuries now. The correct rendering of the Hebrew is “Thou shalt not murder”.

And funny about that, they are almost always made by people who are deeply religious. I learned this 43 years ago when I formed my initial opposition to the death penalty. Antiabortion people, calling themselves “pro-life”— a sarcasm if there ever was one— were suddenly pro death penalty.

I am against the death penalty. But there is still a great (and indeed, essential) distinction to be made between, say, executing a terrorist who blew up thirty people and torturing and murdering a helpless, innocent child and (in atheism) depriving it of 99.999999% of the only existence he or she would ever have.

They were happy to talk about taking the “innocent life“ of a fetus, but had no problem with the uninnocent life of a criminal.

Precisely because he is “uninnocent.”

I was in a discussion with a very Catholic woman a few weeks ago, who went into some length about the drugs in George Floyd’s system and his criminal history, and how his execution wasn’t really murder, but a consequence of his criminality and drug use. Please. Officer Derek Chauvin had 17 instances of violence against people he was arresting. That didn’t impress her. She wanted to justify Floyd’s death. Right to life, my ass.

That issue will be decided by a jury, which is how our justice system works. I’m all for throwing the book at the guy, myself, but of course, degrees and type of crime may be debated on legal grounds. I don’t know everything about it. This is why we have juries: to weigh the known facts and arrive at a unanimous decision. And the people should accept that and not riot in the streets if they don’t get what they want. I accept the judgment of juries and grand juries and judges, even though there are sometimes miscarriages of justice, as we all know.

I could also discuss here the conservative religious response to the coronavirus pandemic. Right to life Christians are falling over themselves to deny that the mask mandate is a good idea, or that vaccinations are a good idea.

I object to masks because they don’t do what they are purported to do. It’s based on science, not stupidity. I have no problem with anyone wearing a mask, and I do where the law requires it. But science has expressed itself, too. I wrote the post, “Face Masks: Is Scientific Evidence Unanimous?”  In it, I cited far-right, fundamentalist, extremist publications like:

American Journal of Infection Control
Epidemiology and Infection
Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses
CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)
Clinical Infectious Diseases
JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association)
J Evid Based Med
Journal of Virology
BMC Infect Dis
BMC Med
Emerg Infect Dis.
Reviews of Infectious Diseases
Risk Analysis
Nature Medicine
PLoS Pathog
Lancet
BMC Public Health
Food Environ Virol

Vaccinations are a separate issue. I think it is a good thing overall (the polio vaccine being the case of spectacular success), but one can object to vaccinations on various grounds. And no one should be forced to be vaccinated. In any event, my views are not from knee-jerk extremism or even directly from the Bible. I form them based on reason and my own study of science, including a holistic understanding of health issues.

But whaddya know? Here we are yet again talking about Christians, in a thread devoted to a proposed problem of atheism. Happens every time, doesn’t it? If the discussion gets uncomfortable, then immediately obfuscate and switch it over to the reliable old tired saws about Christians and the Bible . . .

I had a conversation last year with a self described, right to life Christian who was for immediately opening up the economy because he had money to make, despite the death toll. He would move mountains to”save” the Fetus borne by a woman he did not know, but anything to protect the lives of others during the pandemic was a bridge too far that he had no desire to cross. He had to earn his living. If other people died because of that, that was their lookout.

The current data shows little correlation between open and closed states and the rate of infection and death. Here are some stats I analyzed, from the end of March:

The CDC reports that Michigan [very strict policy] recorded the most new cases in the past 7 days with 36,100. [10 million population; one new case out of 277 people]

Florida [completely open] was second with 35,357 new cases, over 4,000 more than the previous week. [21.5 million; one new case out of 608 people]
New Jersey [very strict policy] was third with 31,236 new cases, nearly 3,000 more than a week ago. [8.9 million; one in 285 people]
New York [very strict policy] was fourth with 27,068 new cases, over 2,000 more than the previous week. [19.5 million; one in 720]
Texas [completely open] was fifth with 22,672 cases. [29 million; one in 1279 people]

Controlled for population, then, here are the percentage rates (worst to best) for the five states with the most new cases:

1) Michigan [closed]: 1 in 277.
2) New Jersey [closed]: 1 in 285.
3) Florida [open]: 1 in 608.
4) New York [closed]: 1 in 720.
5) Texas [open]: 1 in 1279.

Thus, one is, statistically, 4.6 times more likely to get the virus in closed Michigan than in open Texas, and 2.2 times more likely compared to open Florida.

[My home state of] Michigan had the highest rate of cases with 361 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 7 days.

New Jersey was second with 351 cases per 100,000 residents, followed by Connecticut at 246 per 100,000 residents and New York with 244 per 100,000 residents.

So my state of Michigan is the hot spot in the whole country right now and we have one of the strictest policies. What good has the latter done, when “open” Florida and Texas are doing far better than we are? That is statistics and rational analysis: not mere party politics. All this stuff has done in the long run is put thousands of small businesses out of business (or get thousands of people in nursing homes unnecessarily killed, as in Cuomo’s New York).

And no. I am not exaggerating this. I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count, and read more new stories about pro – life pastors and priests ignoring sound medical science because as far as they were concerned, church was more important than lives. There was a huge story last summer about a wedding in San Francisco, conducted and promoted on the sly by the archdiocese. Seven people, including the bride and the groom, got sick because some woman had to be a princess for a day. I believe there was one death. But I could be wrong about that.

I eagerly await your analysis of the science and CDC statistics that I provided above. You give me the standard liberal talking-points. I provide actual science and facts.

The third assumption is that religion has a thing to do with morality, an exclusive pipeline to morality, a definition of morality, or any particular insight into morality. I understand that that is what the religious press kit says, but there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence for that. In fact, there is a great deal of counter evidence for that, some of which I just cited.

I presuppose that all people have a moral sense. I believe that only religion can ground morality in a way that is sensible, non-arbitrary, and for the best good of all, but that’s a separate issue from the first thing.

Religion has been used to justify every atrocity, every war, every injustice, every meanness, every spitefulness. In fact, small-G god and big-G God are frequently what are used to justify what cannot be justified by any other means.

Any system can have its “dirty laundry” bandied about again and again (with huge distortion of degree and nature), while ignoring the exponentially greater good that it also produced (in the case of Christianity). Many lies are pressed into service for that end, in order to make Christianity and God look as bad and unappealing as possible for possible enquirers and believers. I don’t spend my time lying about and caricaturing atheists and atheism. Rather, I spend much of it defending Christianity and the Bible from the innumerable lies that are spread about them. So, for example:

Refutation of Atheist Paul Carlson’s 51 Bible “Contradictions”

Refuting 59 of Michael Alter’s Resurrection “Contradictions”

Michael Alter himself just wrote to me, questioning one of my 59 refutations. We’ll see how well he can defend his contentions, and how willing he is to do so. The latter thing is always the toughest thing to get atheists to do.

You and your respondents ask if there are immutable moral principles which both the religious and nonreligious can use and agreed upon. I’ve already looked a bit at the question of immutability, but barring immutable moral principles… Of course there are MORAL PRINCIPLES. That’s what enables society to exist, which in itself argues that morality in the most general sense is both a product of natural evolution and social evolution, not a function of which god or gods society happens to be following at the moment. Or not following at all. We are social creatures with personal agency— what you call free will. Morality is what enables us to live together in societies. As at least one other commenter has noted, morality is a shared social agreement.

As I wrote in my paper above this combox:

It can be shown that all societies agree on basic moral principles. C. S. Lewis in fact did this at the end of his book, The Abolition of Man. (what he called the Tao). We would say that is natural law and the human conscience, grounded in God. Commonalities don’t “prove” God’s existence, but this is perfectly consistent with what I wrote above, and what we would fully expect to find if God did exist. All societies, for example, have prohibitions of murder, as inherently wrong. They may differ on the parameters of murder (the definition). But they don’t disagree that there is such a thing as murder: that ought not be done, and for which there are strict penalties.

To answer to the question asked most directly, as to what My moral principles are, is fairly simple. I don’t treat other people in the way that I would not like to be treated myself.

The golden rule, of course. DC Kurtz (diabolically consistent) even attacked that. But you and I can have a rational and productive discussion because we agree on these basic ethical principles. Kurtz has simply lowered himself to the level of the beasts (and, I say, the Nazis).

I try always to understand the difference between what I can change and what I cannot change— and as importantly, whether I SHOULD change it. I tell the truth. I don’t demand dominion— that word is chosen very carefully— over the lives of other people.

All laws do that, so we all do this indirectly, by the people we elect to office.

I keep my hands off of other peoples stuff. I try always to choose kindness. Violence is rarely a solution, because what you put out in to the world is what you get back. I believe that good is better than evil because it’s nicer.

No disagreement here, as far as it goes. I only point out that your problem comes at the level of definition and application to all. I laid out my case in the paper above. Feel free to directly interact with it if you like: to actually respond to what I specifically argued.

You see, I actually believe in free will.

That’s another reason why we can talk. Many atheists I have come across deny this.

Every moment of our lives, we are faced with choices. What we choose determines who we are. Where we put our attention is what we create in our lives. What we put out in the world is what we get back.

Very true. As the Bible says, “what you reap is what you sow.” Or eastern religionists talk about karma.

But the question I actually believe you were asking is this one: where did I get my moral principles, If I didn’t get them from your God or someone else’s God. And that is another way of asking how they could be moral principles or immutable moral principles if the fount of morality didn’t give them to me. Such a statement ignores entirely a great deal of human knowledge: sociology, psychology, social psychology, anthropology, history, literature, socio-biology, evolutionary theory, and a host of other fields.

I got my morals the same way everyone gets their morals: from their parents, families, community, books that are read, churches that are gone to, experiences with other people, lessons that learned, observations that are made, history, culture, art, poetry and on and on and on. I read George Herbert and John Donne when I was a teenager; “no man is an island entire of itself“ still sticks in my mind 50 years later.

Yeah, we are all products of our influences, and we are what we eat. But this doesn’t go deep enough. I don’t believe mere environment and experience can explain the huge commonalities in ethics and morals that almost all human beings share. I think it’s because there really is a God Who embodies Good, and Who put our conscience and moral notions in us. And there is a real thing called evil which results from the deliberate rejection (using this free will you accept) of God and the Good.

I doubt anyone has ever read the Bible and said, “that’s going to be my moral system from now on.” They would have had to have been raised in a vacuum and become Bible believers when they were three years old for that to happen. That is not how anyone reads the Bible or any other religious text. Nobody reads the Bible and says, “I’m going to be that guy.“ They were already that guy, and they read in the Bible to justify that.

I agree that causation is multifaceted and complex.

Above all, as the summation and culmination of these simple principles, I don’t believe in a God, especially a god that tells me I can do whatever I want to do to other people as long as that God gives me his OK, or I believe that he gives me his OK, or an ancient book from thousands of years ago tells me that it’s OK. The history of the world is replete with people who say, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” The history of the Bible is also replete with that.

This is the usual jaded, distorted view of the Bible and God that I deal with in particulars, in replies to atheists.

When I was studying for my bar mitzvah nearly 60 years ago, our teacher in religious school was discussing the plagues of Egypt, and explained how “God hardened pharaoh’s heart“ after each and every plague, apparently so that he could send another plague. There seemed to be no other purpose to it but that. Pharaoh was ready to let the Hebrews go, and each time, God hardened his heart. I raised my hand and said to the teacher: “but that’s not fair.“ Even to 12 year old me, that was obvious. The teacher replied, “we are not to question God.“ The light went on. The principles of fairness were not important. All that did was make me question the teacher, then my cantor, whom I really admired, then my entire faith.

Then (as always in deconversions: from traditional Judaism as well as Christianity) your forsaking your faith was based on an elementary misunderstanding of biblical idiom and thinking. This “hardening” issue comes up quite a bit and I have explained it many times. It’s not rocket science. See: God “Hardening Hearts”: How Do We Interpret That?

Your story here precisely illustrates how people lose their faith and reject God: they pick one thing, twist and distort it and never truly understand even what it is, but nevertheless utilize it for an irrational and emotional rejection of a thing, that isn’t even truly the thing that is purportedly rejected. It’s classic. This is what I always find — without exception — in now about 30 such analyses of deconversion stories.

A few years later, I realized that the murder of all the firstborn sons of Egypt was even more unfair. They weren’t responsible for the enslavement of the Hebrews, especially the little children who couldn’t have enslaved anyone even if they wanted to.

That gets into judgment, which is another huge topic too complex to address here in an already long reply. I’ve addressed that many times, too.

I’m not about to take my moral lessons from the likes of that, much less proclaim it a fount of all morality. I have a lot of other stories and/or lessons that I could explain, but that’s where it all started.

You based it on untruths and distortions of what the Bible and Judaism teach.

There are no cosmic rewards, and there are no cosmic punishments. There are simply consequences. And because my entire life has taught me that what I put out into the universe is what I get back from it— there is an immutable moral principle if ever there was one— I want to put out the good stuff as much as possible, and bad stuff as little as possible.

You get nothing in the end but meaninglessness and despair and annihilation. Life ultimately has no purpose in the atheist view consistently applied. I’m delighted that you don’t consistently follow atheist false premises, as DC Kurtz does. You have to borrow from Judaism and Christianity to even get to the moral point that you have attained. You yourself implicitly agree with this in your point about everyone’s influences.

I don’t want bad consequences in my life, so I make my choices carefully. That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen; absolutely, they do. But I am quite clear about the consequences of MY bad actions.

Good.

But here’s the thing: that point of view requires an ACTIVE moral life, a constant examination of who I am, how I act, and who I am in the world. That is how people grow morally. I’m not the same man I was 20 years ago, when I met my husband. I’m not the same man I was 40 years ago; I’ve learned a lot in that time. I’m certainly not the same person I was 60 years ago. I’ve learned a lot in that time, frequently the hard way. The pretense that anyone lives a “Christian life” based entirely on the Bible, or what the church says, is perhaps the laziest of all of the lazy lies some people tell themselves to simply get through their days.

I see. Not sure what you mean by this, so I’ll let it pass for now.

The Christian God I’ve read about for most of my life would, I think, be offended by the laziness of that lie. Matthew 25:31 onwards is all about that.

Another complex discussion . . .

That’s all I can write for now. I will try to write more later as I have time.

Thanks for taking all this time to express your views. I appreciate that: even though we disagree on much. We do have some substantial agreements, too.

***

[he wrote the following before I replied above. He had written a comment that was mostly about Christianity (rather than atheism’s “problem of good”), which I felt was off-topic, so I deleted it (the only one I deleted in a very long combox: currently at 77 comments), and wrote: “The topic is the problem of good as a proposed weakness of atheism. If you keep trying to switch the topic, as here, your comment will be deleted.”]

If the topic is the problem of good as a proposed weakness of atheism, then a counter example of the problem of Good as a proposed weakness of theism should be a valid point to make. That was my point, of course. And I have addressed what you claim is the issue in several posts, none of which were responded to.

But actually, my real point was that neither theism nor atheism have any kind of a lock on goodness, or a reason for being good. My point was that goodness has no more to do with god than evil has to do with atheism. I said it quite clearly, in fact. This was the conclusion of the post that you deleted: “Here is the reality of the situation. Moral people act morally. Good people act goodly. Immoral people act immorally. Evil people act evilly. Religion has very little to do with morality, despite its press kit. But here’s a thought for you. If you need religion to tell you that Rape is wrong, murder is wrong, sexual abuse of children is wrong, Then your problem is that you lack empathy, not religion.”

That addresses quite clearly the “problem“ of “good“ in atheism. My point was, and remains, that you were asking the wrong question in favor of your own “partisan” point making. “Atheism=immorality or amorality or morality-on-a-whim. Religion=morality, consistent morality, rock-of-ages solid morality.”

No, it does not.

But, Absolutely you’re right— it’s your blog. And you also also entitled to your own echo chamber. But I will not agree that you are being honest about it by ignoring the point I’m making. Again, I have no interest in claiming that religion is evil. I don’t think that, and I’ve never thought that. I really don’t give a small gosh darn what people believe. We all of us need our metaphors. What I care about is what they do with it. You can go back in my comment history for nearly 20 years. I have never wavered from that.

So, given all that, I think I’ll just make my departure from your blog. You guys can all talk among yourselves, and assure yourselves that you are the holders of morality, and that you have a good reason for being moral, and that we atheists aren’t and don’t.

That doesn’t make it true.

I made a very in-depth reply to your longest reply to me just now. Most of what you have posted here was in dialogue with Jim Dailey, so I was happy to let him have that discussion. He does a fine job on his own. But now you want to depart? That was short-lived. And I thought it was a good discussion, too, and that we had significant areas of agreement, as I noted several times.

I simply deleted one post that went on and on about Christianity, to make the point that this thread is not about that (the “your dad’s uglier than mine” syndrome). Once in the history of the world we will attempt to discuss atheism with no reference (let alone incessant ones) to Christianity. Even so, you couldn’t help yourself bringing up religion again and again in the comment I replied to. I patiently answered your objections.

In any event, I have looked for your comment that I deleted, in order to restore it, but I can’t find it in Disqus or on your own Disqus profile. So, sorry about that. I should have just let it be, despite it straying into Christianity as the topic. If that has made you now want to leave, when we were just starting to have some good dialogue, then it was an unwise move on my part.

It’s pretty rich to accuse us here of being an echo chamber, when every atheist forum known to man is indeed that, and places where Christians and Christianity are constantly insulted and mocked and routinely ganged-up on (often 10- or 15-to-one) as fools and idiots and anti-science, anti-reason, flat-earther troglodytes every minute of the day.

Jim and myself know firsthand of what I speak, believe me. But here you and DC Kurtz have been treated with total courtesy and civility. You don’t see us mocking and insulting you. You haven’t seen anyone say you are automatically going to hell due to homosexuality. We haven’t said atheists aren’t moral, either (I think we’ve both taken the greatest pains to deny that). It’s simply vigorous discussion and honest disagreement about ideas (which are not you).

I sincerely hope you will hang around. I thought it was good discussion and was looking forward to more. It was a most refreshing change from the usual atheist-Christian “discussion” [choke and ha ha]. At least, I hope (if nothing else) you will read my long reply and see if it is a dialogue you think is worth continuing.

Take care.

***

Photo credit: Matryx (4-19-20) [PixabayPixabay License]

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Summary: This enjoyable discussion started out ostensibly about the problem of good in atheism, but inevitably it started wandering into critiques of Christianity and the Bible. Oh well, I tried.

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April 8, 2021

This (socratic) dialogue came about on my blog. Words of agnostic DC Kurtz will be in blue.

*****

What is your own definition of “good” and how do you (philosophically and logically) arrive at it?

Secondly, I propose a test case, in order to challenge your view of ethics and right and wrong. I will state it, ask your opinion, and then follow up with (equally important and necessary ) socratic questioning, in order to bolster my point of view (or modify it, as the case may be).

Do you think that partial-birth abortion is moral and should be protected by law? If so, why? If not, why?

For those who may not know what this is: it is the extraction of a full-term baby up to its neck, out of the womb, for the purpose of sticking scissors into the back of his or her neck, removing the brain, so as to kill [murder] an otherwise perfectly healthy would-be newborn child.

Some may be unaware of the legality of this. Full-term abortion was legal in America (one of very few — less than ten — countries to allow it) since January 22, 1973, based on the second case handed down the same day: Doe v. Bolton.

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 prohibited this diabolical procedure. In 2007 its constitutionality was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Gonzales v. Carhart: a 5-4 decision (Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia). The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Souter, Stevens, and Breyer.

Somehow, despite this decision (I don’t understand how it is legally possible), blue states (such as New York) are still enacting laws upholding the “right” to kill full-term babies, whether or not through this method (there are others as well). Probably at least 80% of the American people oppose such a ghastly, brutal, heartless procedure. But the Supreme Court upheld it from 1973 to 2007, and now many state laws do.

Moreover, many liberals are in favor of the legality of killing a baby that was intended to be aborted, but survived. Such a baby would be struggling to live on a table in some “clinic” and can be killed at will, if the mother assents. This was, in fact, the on-the-record position of all the Democrat nominees for the Presidency (which includes Biden) in the 2020 election, excepting Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Do you agree with that? If so, why? If not, why?

My daughter-in-law gave birth to our second granddaughter early on Easter morning. Her picture was posted above in this combox. If I lived in certain states today, my daughter-in-law could have decided she didn’t want this child, and could have opted for the above procedure. Even the child’s father (our son) would have no say in it at all, Of course we wouldn’t, either, even if we (or anyone whatsoever) agreed to accept the child and raise her. The child would be killed under those laws.

Do you agree with that? If so, why? If not, why?

After you answer, I will assuredly have more questions. And (be forewarned) it’ll be a long process to illustrate why I think Christian morality is the only rational, sensible, and moral course, and why atheist / agnostic moral systems are inevitably relativistic and arbitrary, leading to many moral outrages enshrined in law, including this monstrosity of partial-birth infanticide. These are not simple discussions, They are very complex. So they take time.

We have long since surpassed the Nazis in terms of sheer numbers of murders and heartless, merciless brutality of the most savage kind. We have no business looking down our noses and feeling superior to them, seeing what we allow to take place with the sanction of law at the highest levels.

***

I also wrote on another thread:

Modern, supposedly “enlightened” humanity has the toughest time figuring out the self-evident truth that slaughtering a helpless, defenseless child and ripping him or her from limb to limb or burning him or her to death or removing his or her brain right before delivery (that’s partial-birth “abortion”) is self-evidently wrong and savage and inhumane and barbaric.

Every age has its glaring, incomprehensible moral blind spots. It was slavery in the 19th century in America, racism and anti-Semitism in 20th century America and Germany, genocide in Germany, Russia, China, Turkey, Cambodia, and other places, and abortion in our own time.

***

I believe partial-birth abortion is good because the autonomy of the individual to exercise their will in search of satisfaction of desire is paramount. Abortion, in my view, is an act of self-defense against an unwanted intruder. All romantic notions aside, a fetus is a parasitic organism that only takes from the host mother without giving anything back and with no regard to her consent. It’s existence becomes an assault on the body of the host mother the moment she no longer consents to it. Personhood is irrelevant here- a fetus has no more of a right to a woman’s body than a fully-formed and developed adult human. Indeed, the only justifiable reason for banning abortion is because a non-lethal procedure for removing unwanted fetuses exist. The father and his family do not get to take the physical burden of the fetus and its parasitism, as willing as they may be. The burden lays on the host-mother, so the choice lays with her.

1. You act as if there is no responsibility whatever towards a human being that might be created by engaging in sexual acts: as if people are so ignorant and “animalistic” that they either don’t know that a new life could be created, or if they do know, simply don’t care: up to and including killing this new person that has come about. That’s not ethical. It’s as selfish and non-loving as anything I can imagine. It’s the law of the jungle. It’s on the level — indeed on a lower level — than, say, a mother bear eating her own cub or a male bear stealing another bears’ cubs and eating them. But they are just acting on instinct. Human beings know much better than that. We have to learn to commit and rationalize away such evil as you describe.

2. How do you define a person?

3. How do you define a human being?

4. At what point does a person acquire the right to life? And on what non-arbitrary basis does this right exist?

5. At what point does a human being acquire the right to life? And on what non-arbitrary basis does this right exist?

6. Newborn babies are even more “parasitic” (to use your chilling term) than babies in the womb. He or she “only takes from the host mother without giving anything back and with no regard to her consent.” And he or she does so to the father as well. They are more or less completely helpless and dependent on parents or other caretakers to survive at all. By your reasoning, parents ought to be able to murder their newborn child, too, on the same basis: it only takes and takes and demands. All the more so for a sick child.

7. If sexuality entails no regard or responsibility whatsoever for a new person created by engaging in it and their inherent rights as a human being: up to and including murder of such a child, then on the same “ethical” basis, you have justified all sorts of similar exploitation of other human beings, for the sake of your own demand for absolutely unlimited sexuality and pleasure (in your words: the “paramount” nature of “satisfaction of desire”) without consequence.

Therefore, on the same basis, sexual trafficking and sexual slavery is justified, so is pedophilia, rape, continued sexual abuse of a minor or anyone else. The other person is only good for being exploited for our own selfish ends. And why stop at sexual exploitation? Other human beings can be used for any number of evil ends, up to and including killing them. This is the justification of every genocide that has ever occurred.

8. Such reasoning also utterly obliterates the golden rule (“do to others as you would wish them to do unto you”), which is a bedrock principle of ethics that is held in common by virtually every society and belief-system in the world and the history of the world.

9. Not only does a person who can believe such ghastly, evil things believe she “owns” her child (like a slaveholder owns a slave), but such ownership extends right to the process of being born. The child must be killed, in this “reasoning”. It’s utterly unacceptable for he or she to be born and have a normal human life. He or she cannot and will not be given up for adoption: to the millions of couples who would love to cherish and take care of him or her. That’s unacceptable. Instead, she has to be tortured and murdered, and this is even called “good.” This is as evil and wicked of an act as can be imagined. I can’t think of anything more evil and morally revolting.

10. To top it off, in the atheist worldview, this earthly existence is all a human being has. There is no afterlife. It’s this life and then obliteration and annihilation. So in killing one’s own child, one deprives him or her of their entire earthly life and existence. The child was conceived due to sexual pleasure; the parents take no responsibility for that, and murder their own child and deprive him or her of their entire independent existence. This is using and exploiting another human being to the maximum degree imaginable.

11. How you explain why a full-term baby ought to be murdered (and your calling such a brutal and inhumane, barbaric act “good”) is as illustrative of the logical end-results of atheist ethical reasoning as can be imagined. How you answer these probing questions (that all arise because of the stand you have taken) will be even more so.

1. Before the main crux can be discussed, a distinction first has to be made that a mother bear eating her cubs is unprovoked, but a woman terminating a fetus is in response to the fetus’s unwanted presence in the body.

The woman had sexual intercourse. Anyone with the IQ above that of a pencil eraser knows that the possible result of that is the procreation of another human being (that’s why we refer to “the reproductive system”. What are we reproducing? Human beings . . .). If such a woman doesn’t want a child, then she ought to refrain from doing the thing that is the only way that brings it about.

A bear acts on instinct: having no higher moral compass. A human being knows better than to do such a barbaric, inhumane thing, based on the golden rule. That’s why human beings can potentially be far more good and saintly than the animals, but also far more wicked, as in the present case, because the higher a being is on the moral scale, the lower it can fall and be corrupted.

And I think that issue of parasitism is worth revisiting, because it creates a contradiction: there is nothing conventionally ethical about the existence of a fetus. It exists parasitically, only taking from the host mother and never giving back.

It exists because the mother chose to engage in the act that by its nature and fundamental purpose, brings about the existence of another person in the first place. Once the person exists, quite obviously, he or she is now the responsibility of those who procreated him or her. As I stated, a newborn is even more parasitic than a preborn baby. But you have ignored that: as you have most of my direct questions.

It is by all accounts a thief, taking her vitality without her consent. It is an inherently selfish being.

By all immoral and amoral accounts it is. The selfish being is the mother (with or without the father’s consent) who could torture and murder the person she helped create. You have it exactly backwards. The preborn baby is utterly innocent: having had no say in its own creation. You argue (I must say this) exactly as the Nazis did about the Jews: they were “vermin” and a parasite on superior Aryan society. Therefore, they could be exterminated at will. If one could be, then so could six million. Likewise, if one child can be murdered, so can 60 million plus be murdered, by the acceptance of the ghastly notion of “a life unworthy to be lived” and the utter rejection of any level of sexual responsibility whatsoever.

And so from there, we spiral into what I and others such as Thomas Hobbes feel is the natural state of existence- the stereotypical “law of the jungle”, a state of all against all. But unlike Hobbes, I don’t think authority can cure this condition, nor do I think a cure exists. The state as Hobbes describes it does not alleviate all-against-all, but merely privileges one or more actors over everyone else.

Precisely. This is what atheist / agnostic “morality” boils down to every time. Thanks for making my case for me. You couldn’t be doing a better job at it than you are doing.

2. Personhood I think is defined by a current or former conscious mind, the ability to experience consciousness and actively respond to it.

We don’t apply this criterion when we determine that a person has died. It’s simply heartbeat and brain waves. Your definition would deny the personhood of comatose people. But seeing how you have argued about babies, it’s likely that you would have no problem knocking off comatose people as “selfish” and “parasites” as well. On what objective basis is even your woefully inadequate definition established?

3. Humanity is simply being an organism that is a past, present, or future member of homo sapiens.

This includes preborn children, who possess every essential attribute of born people, and only require nutrition and time to become what you and I are.

4-5. At no point does an inherent right to life actually exist. The state can, will, and does kill on a whim.

Yes they do. This was the mentality of Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and every other tyranny and oppressive state that ever existed. It’s easy for you to sit there and casually say such bone-chilling things, since you’re not residing in a Gulag or a concentration camp, or sitting under a guillotine, waiting for the “reasoned” and godless almighty state to do you in.

Even in scripture, God has no hesitation at deploying lethal force if he desires to.

God as Creator has the prerogative to judge (and He judges justly and fairly). He’s not in the same category as we are, and we’re not perfectly good, like He is.

There is no fundamental, inherent guarantee against a premature end.

Based on what?

6. The mother has an option not to feed a fully-formed and birthed child. She has non- directly lethal alternatives to acquiescing to the child’s desires.

Yes. She can enlist a liberal blue state to kill her child after it has been born, so she is free from the outrageous burden of taking care of it. Or she can be a moral, compassionate human being and give her child to one of millions of couples who would be all too happy to care for him or her.

In the case of abortion, there is no non-lethal method of terminating a fetus. We cannot safely extract a fetus from the womb and allow it to grow to term externally of its host mother. There are non-lethal options to end parenthood, but no “clean” way out exists for pregnancy itself.

No choice but murder. What a wonderfully “enlightened” and progressive moral system . . .

7. Correct, this is the unsettling reality as unearthed by Gilles Deluze and Felix Guattari with their conception of desiring-production, and taken to the horrifying conclusions by Nick Land and subconsciously explored by Cormac Mccarthy in Blood Meridian. We are irrational creatures primarily governed by a complex system of desires which in turn produce more desires, compiling onto each other. Human existence is inherently disordered because existence itself is disordered. This is the overarching problem I posed then- how do people with two diametrically different views of the way of the world debate ethics?

I can’t sensibly debate ethics with a person who thinks exactly like a Nazi or Stalin or an ISIS terrorist does (as you do). All I can do is expose the self-evident wickedness of such thinking: to people who haven’t deliberately obliterated the image of God inside of them and their own consciences.

8. The “golden rule” is primarily a system of deterrence above all else. It’s a flawed method which has been demonstrated time and time again not to actually work, in part because of the inherent power imbalances created by states and other practical attempts at solving the human condition.

Right. Somehow I expected that you would somehow find a way to resist as fundamental and universally agreed-to moral precept as this. I do credit you for at least taking atheist moral thinking to its logical conclusion: the murder of hundreds of millions perfectly justified and considered “normal.” You make Aztec human sacrifice rituals look like a kindergarten picnic.

9. You keep jumping straight from conception to birth and overlooking the nine months in between, wherein the host mother is effectively bound and constrained by the living thing inside of them, eating away with no option for relief save termination. The value of abortion lies in the fact that it is the only way out of an unwanted pregnancy.

10. At no point is the fetus (while still human, a fetus is not yet a child) actually used. Nothing of value is derived from its existence by the host mother.

This simply repeats the same atrocious thinking you have already chillingly expressed. Mengele and Eichmann would be mightily impressed.

11. I think your understanding of ethics is rooted in the idea of a fundamentally ordered and rational world. You start with a basic understanding of a universal order and build from there. But on the other hand, my conceptualization of ethics begins with the opposite, the recognition that existence is disordered and irrational. You start at 1, I start at 0. If the outside world is irrational, illogical, and fundamentally insane, what ethical sensibility can be derived from it? There is nothing, of course. It exists as philosophical white noise. All that remains is the self, the singular essence unique to one’s own consciousness. If there is nothing sane, coherent or just about the world around us, we must instead look inward. And when we look inward what we see is desire, the driving force behind all else. Our feelings and thoughts are products of our desires. Even our reasoning is derived from our desire. Ergo, in constructing my personal ethical model, I start with my own personal desires.

This is as perfect of an explanation of atheist nihilism and despair as I have ever seen. Thank you at least for making it so clear to my readers that this is what we are dealing with today.

You ignore direct reply to many of my socratic questions, which is not unexpected, because it’s always that way, and is ultimately why Socrates himself was killed. He had to be shut up at all costs.

***

Clarifying note (I must add this because it comes up every time): I am not contending any of the following:

1) that atheists are always immoral,

2) that atheism always leads in fact to an immoral, wicked system akin to the Nazis, etc.,

3) that individual atheists are invariably always more wicked in behavior than individual Christians,

4) that atheists as a class care nothing for ethics and morality,

5) That all atheists are moral relativists.

One can see this in my response to an atheist on the thread, BensNewLogin. My initial challenge at the top was directed to him as well. But he responded very differently, He stated: “I agree with SCOTUS; viability is a good test. . . . I am no fan of abortion. I would like to see it, as Bill Clinton put it, safe, legal, and rare.” This is a vastly different outlook than that of DC Kurtz. So I replied to him in an entirely different manner:

You agree that partial-birth abortion is wrong. Glad to hear that. Because of that, you wouldn’t have to answer most of my questions that I asked DC Kurtz in my large-scale reductio ad absurdum / socratic inquiry. The burden is on him to defend it as “good” (his own description) and justified based on “satisfaction of desire” which he considers more “paramount” than the value of each human life.

DC Kurtz, on the other hand, defends even partial-birth abortion asgood” and ghoulishly describes an unwanted preborn child as “a parasitic organism that only takes from the host mother without giving anything back” and as  a “thief” and (with the utmost unawareness of the supreme and sickening irony) an “inherently selfish being.”

BensNewLogin is far more humane and compassionate, while DC Kurtz literally argues like a Nazi, in effect defending their monstrous crimes and evil (since his own “moral” positions are indistinguishable from their own). BensNewLogin is, I would argue, less logically consistent, while DC Kurtz is consistent according to what I call “diabolical logic” while being wickedly immoral. He consistently follows his premise to their logical and evil end-result. G. K. Chesterton once noted that the madman is not illogical; to the contrary, he is one who thinks that logic is all there is.

And that gets back to my clarification. I don’t maintain (here or anywhere) that all atheists are wicked or that they all (or many of them) come to the chilling conclusions that DC Kurtz arrives at. That’s just stupid. What I say is that nihilism, despair, and (in practice) widespread abortion and genocide are the logical end-result of atheist relativist moral thinking. I don’t say all atheists and agnostics are relativistic (#5 above), but that system of thought is the logical end of how most atheists or agnostics think about morality and ethics. And what it logically, consistently (not necessarily actually) leads to is a Nazi-like outlook of genocide and partial-birth infanticide.

***

Related Reading:

The “Problem of Good”: Great Dialogue with an Atheist (vs. Mike Hardie) (+ Part Two) [this is my favorite debate ever, with anyone] [6-5-01]

Dialogue w Agnostic/Deist on the “Problem of Good” [7-18-18]

The “Problem of Good”: Dialogue w Atheist Academic [9-11-19]

Problem of Good: More Difficult than Problem of Evil? [4-3-21]

Problem of Good: Further Discussions with Atheists [4-5-21]

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Photo credit: my second granddaughter (born on Easter Sunday 2021) at two or three days old. According to most Democrat politicians in the US today, including all but one of the Democrat candidates for President in 2020 (Tulsi Gabbard), and the law in many blue states right now, she could have been murdered at this age (or right before birth, by having her brain removed after being delivered up to the neck), if only she survived a botched abortion because her mother didn’t want her, and refused to give her up for adoption. This is how low we have sunk. We’re far worse than the Nazis were, because we know better. And God won’t allow such heartless, utterly cruel barbarity to continue forever before He judges it. If He incinerated the United States to ashes like Sodom and Gomorrah tomorrow, no one would have the slightest grounds to disagree with His justification for doing so.

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Summary: I contend that (as part of the “problem of good”) nihilism, despair, and (in practice) widespread abortion and genocide are the logical end-results of atheist relativist moral thinking. 

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April 5, 2021

This is a follow-up to my article, Problem of Good: More Difficult than Problem of Evil? (4-3-21). The discussions took place in a long thread (currently 895 comments) on atheist Jonathan MS Pearce’s blog, A Tippling Philosopher. Words of my four dialogue opponents will be in various colors.

*****

Geoff BensonI’ve read your article but it takes me back to my early days discussing the philosophy of religion, and addresses issues we’ve covered so many times. I’m not trying to be ‘anti Dave Armstrong’, but I really am not convinced by anything in this article.

Essentially it boils down to the idea that atheists may actually be good and decent people but that, ultimately, there’s no underlying foundation as to why they should be this way, whilst believers (and I concede that you are careful not to confine it to Christianity) have the ultimate foundation in god. Atheism gave rise to Hitler and Stalin, with regimes that we all agree were horrific beyond description. Under Dave’s belief system both of these genocidal dictators get to suffer, whilst atheism accepts they simply die, end of story. Without god atheists can’t really be sure what is meant by good, and so find it difficult to discuss evil in a meaningful way.

Where does one begin? Well for starters, the fact that Hitler and Stalin escape eternal punishment is simply a fact, if atheism is valid. Wishing it were otherwise (and this point alone is capable of lengthy analysis) doesn’t make it so. Life, the universe, and everything need not be fair under nature. In any event, Hitler, Stalin, and other dictators don’t demonstrate the dangers of atheism, they demonstrate the dangers of totalitarianism, combined with other incendiary features. Many of the worst genocidal dictators have been devoutly religious, Franco actually carrying out many of his policies in the name of his beloved Catholic Church, whilst the African genocides that are still being perpetrated for some reason go under the radar, and religious superstition is a major factor in these atrocities.

No heed is paid to the reality of what it means to have morality based on god. Where does this morality come from? Is it put into human natures, such that everybody has it? This doesn’t explain why it varies so much between people, seemingly absent in many, and also means that it would be imbued in atheists, which this article implies doesn’t happen. So it must actually be delivered by some sort of divine instruction, and the bible appears to be the only text which might be considered relevant in this respect (with all due lack of respect to Mormons). The problem is with any form of divine instruction that it must be clear, and it’s incredibly not clear! There are many hundreds of commandments littered throughout, especially the OT, and they are either obvious (thou shalt not kill, really!), or particular to the time they were written, or just plain silly. More especially, however, and I think this is the gotcha point, the recipient must make a conscious decision to accept the instruction, and that is subjective. Suppose god had said it’s actually okay to kill people, would it then be okay? Of course not. So everyone, you included, must make the, albeit unconscious, decision that a particular type of behaviour is consistent with your own standards of morality, but you then attribute it to god.

Morality is something that is slowly learned over time by cultures that exist in different circumstances, with different rules and religions, yet all seem to acquire similar principles. The argument that if atheism is valid then people are free to rape and murder as they please is so much nonsense, on every level. As Matt Dillahunty says, “I do rape and murder all I want, and that’s exactly nil”. Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, argues convincingly that morality has improved throughout western society as religious belief has waned and secularism has become the norm. That’s my position. Religion is an obstacle to morality.

Finally, and on the same theme, your comment “The atheist is simply living off the cultural (and internal spiritual) “capital” of Christianity, whether he or she realizes it or not.” Oh no you don’t Dave, quite the reverse. To quote Jerry Coyne “Secular values brought about morality, and religion tried to take the credit”.

You make an interesting reply, and I appreciate it (as I do your usual amiability), but somehow you never got to my topic: the Problem of Good. Instead, it’s the same old tired atheist tactic of switching the topic over to Christianity. The Problem of Good is not about Christianity. It’s about atheism. It’s your problem, just as the Problem of Evil is ours to grapple with and explain. You have done exactly nothing to ameliorate it, because you haven’t discussed it. You’re certainly more than capable of it. You have a head on your shoulders. But you chose diversion.

Your task is to explain how a binding, objective moral system, applying to all (which is presupposed by all laws and justice systems, which enforce laws by punishing offenders), is constructed under atheist premises. And you need to explain how and why evil systems which expressly claim to be atheist or at least non-religious, such as Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China, do not fall under “atheist consequences”; i.e., on what basis are they “out of the fold”?

I think I do address the point, though I did overlook your assertion that god instils goodness in everyone which helps offset any tendency to evil. Your article actually finds itself constantly constrained to talk about evil, whilst ostensibly stressing that it’s the existence of good that sinks the atheist argument. I thought I’d addressed every point in your final paragraph, but if there’s something on which I wasn’t clear then tell me.

It depends on what one thinks dialogue is. I think (if one is really serious and has the time and desire) it deals point-by-point with the opponent’s argument. It’s about actual interaction: not just “person A makes argument X” followed by “person B makes conflicting argument Y as opposed to a direct counter-reply to X.”

My challenge to you and all atheists here is to make a reply to the Problem of Good objection without ever mentioning Christianity or God and not resorting to the “your dad’s uglier than mine” topic-diverting mentality.

The reply concerning every difficulty in atheism raised by theists and Christians is not “But Christianity . . . ” or “But God . . . ” or “But the Bible . . . ”

You guys come off constantly looking like you’re obsessed with us and about a God you don’t even believe exists, rather than confident in your own position and ready to defend it against all critiques.

***

Carstonio: Ridiculous to try to prove the existence of a being through logical argument instead of consideration of evidence. There’s no way to know if any deities exist, and presupposing a deity creates the problem of evil, not the other way around. Better to take the concept of deity off the table entirely and address good and evil on their own.

And that’s what my present argument does. When I mentioned God and Christianity it was only as “diversions” in reply to my atheist debate opponents. They are not required to make the critique, since it’s a critique of the internal incoherence and arbitrariness of atheism with regard to ethics and morality.

***

im-skeptical: Well, I took a quick look at it. His argument assumes up-front that God is what creates goodness and meaning. He makes no allowance for human-derived conceptions of those things. Without the assumption of God, the whole thing has no basis. This is the kind of circular reasoning that typifies so many theistic arguments.

That’s my Christian assumption, yes, but it has no direct relation to my critique of the atheist problem of good. The two things are conceptually and logically distinct. If you took more than a “quick look” at my post you would realize that (whether you admitted it here in front of your echo chamber buddies or not).

The critique can be made with no reference to the Christian position at all. But in a very long dialogue, I did mention (as a separate sub-discussion) the Christian view as a superior and more plausible one, when confronted by my dialogue opponent. It doesn’t mean that I base my critique on that; let alone that I engaged in circular reasoning. I absolutely did not.

Christians take the problem of evil seriously. Atheists (as you did here) very often try to pretend that you have no similar problem according to your own presuppositions. This won’t do. It’s not serious thinking. We grapple with serious objections (that all belief-systems contain). You guys mostly ignore serious objections to your own outlook. And that doesn’t give anyone on the fence confidence that you have a more plausible or appealing case, or more truth than we do.

The only reason you suppose atheists have a “problem of good” is you think there is no way to explain it without resorting to God. A naturalist has no problem explaining human behavior as a product of evolution. And if you think there’s a problem with that, it’s only because you don’t understand how evolution could bring this about. It is your presuppositions, not mine, that prevent you from understanding.

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Anri: With a possible difference being that atheists attribute their belief systems, irrational or not, to fallible humans rather than a perfect god.

Presumably, symmetrical issues should not be a problem when one side is being backed by the most powerful being possible. The explanation “Well, you have problem, too!” get kind of weak when one considers the presumed sources of the solutions – or lack thereof.

I’m not saying it’s not serious. I’m saying limited being should expect serious issues with what their moral systems. All-powerful beings, not so much. I’m not dismissing the issue, I’m pointing out the issues inherent with assuming symmetry.

It’s symmetrical only in the following sense:

1) The atheist assumes a good, all-powerful Christian God for the sake of argument and then proceeds to raise what are regarded as extreme or even fatal difficulties for Christians, that come about because of the existence (and ultimate basis or grounding) of evil.

2) The theist assumes the absence of a good, all-powerful Christian God for the sake of argument and then proceeds to raise what are regarded as extreme or even fatal difficulties for atheists, that come about because of the existence (and ultimate basis or grounding) of good.

In other words, the symmetry and analogy is between evil in relation to a posited God, and good in relation to a posited non-existence of God and therefore the necessity of human beings as the basis of good and determination of necessary ethical absolutes; rather than God vs. no God.

It’s a very serious and troubling internal difficulty in your position, just as you argue that the problem of evil is a very serious and troubling internal difficulty in ours. Both arguments have to do with morality and ethics and how we build such systems to be able to live in a (hopefully) good world. Both arguments presuppose that there is such a thing as “good” and it’s opposite: evil or (if one prefers) the lack of good, and that “good” is exponentially more preferable and desirable.

One argument assumes we can, and indeed, must, define good for ourselves, whereas the other presumes good is a quality handed down perfectly by a perfect being, who only fails at the hurdle of making it intelligible to us.

As an atheist, I don’t have to assume some Platonic ideal of good – a universal code of good goodness that supersedes all possible questioning and argument. I could, and some do, but it’s not needed.

I am willing to accept a flawed, entirely imperfect, in-process, in-progress, probably-never-to-be-perfected concept of good – so long as the premise of the argument does not require one. This concept only gains force when someone insists on it as a premise of their argument.

I’m entirely willing to abandon the concept of a perfect good to explain imperfect good in the world.

Are you?

If not, the premises of our arguments are not the same, so different results are only to be expected.

You assume that there is some semblance or actuality of absolute good (and the lack of it: “evil” or “bad” or “immoral” or “unethical”) in order to make the problem of evil in the first place (one of my arguments in my post).

You can believe whatever you wish. But if you deny any sense of an objective good, it seems to me that it follows that you can make no “problem of evil” argument against God and theism, because you have to presuppose it for the argument to get off the ground.

Thus, atheists presuppose in their endless problem of evil soliloquies that the Holocaust and child molestation and rape and murder and economic exploitation and slavery and racism and sexism and on and on, are objective evils that God is supposedly accountable for. If they weren’t, then the argument would instantly collapse.

As a Christian, I can’t not accept a perfect good, since in our view, that notion is grounded in God and His character and nature and essence. To do so would be to instantly cease being a Christian.

I was under the impression most Christians consider god to be the source of, and an example of, perfect good. If you think this is not, or should not be the case, I’ll be happy to refer any Christian saying such a thing to you for correction.

In making a ‘problem of evil’ argument, I am just accepting the Christian premise that god exists, and is perfectly good. Again, if you think this is a bad premise for Christians to accept, I’ll make sure to let everyone know if they ever go so.

If your argument is that the Christian god sanctioned the Holocaust due to him not having a basis for considering it evil, I’ll be sure to let folks know about that, too. Is that your argument? I don’t want to mischaracterize you.

How can good be “grounded in God and His character and nature and essence” [my words] and yet God is somehow NOT the source and example of it? What am I missing? Yeah, “[G]od exists, and is perfectly good.” What in the world would give you the notion that I would deny that? It’s hopelessly confused.

The last paragraph is so outrageous and absurd that it deserves no reply.

If you want to deal with my argument, then address it itself. These “meta” discussions (talking about things and “skating along the edges” rather than discussing the thing itself) get old very quick.

As it is, here we are (as always) discussing God and the Christian view, when my critique is of the atheist view. It’s the oldest atheist game in the book to always switch the conversation over to Christianity, so that they never have to have their own views scrutinized. It just makes you guys look intellectually lightweight.

So, if we accept that one side of the argument presupposes a universal perfect grounding for a universal good, and the other does not… good and evil are going to play out very differently in these worldviews, and thus they should not be presumed to be mirror images of one another.

But if you deny any sense of an objective good, it seems to me that it follows that you can make no “problem of evil” argument against God and theism, because you have to presuppose it for the argument to get off the ground.

But in arguments about the problem of evil, an accepted premise of the argument is that god exists, and is the source of perfect good. That’s why arguments along these lines are an issue for Christians – who (presumably) accept this premise, but not for atheists, who need not.

The atheist difficulty is that good exists at all. You have at least as much of a problem in defining and establishing that as we do in establishing the existence of God.

As I explicitly said, I am willing to accept the concept of good as something people agree upon, rather than something foisted upon us externally. In that respect, there’s no more of an issue for an atheist saying good exists than there is saying blue exists.

What I don’t require is that there is a single, all-encompassing, eternal, perfect code of good that humans must cleave to to correctly use the term.

I’m not saying objective, universal good is impossible – and there are atheists who argue for it – but I do not have to accept that it exists, or that we have or will ever have access to it if it does exist to use the term.

Do I have a rigorous definition of “good”? No, I don’t. I don’t know that one exists. But a broad, flawed, imperfect, lots-of-grey-area-type agreement can be made on at least some aspects of it.

And that’s exactly the same situation with religion. The difference being, an atheist doesn’t have to explain away a perfect god mucking up the delivery of it so terribly badly.

If you don’t have a definition of good, then you don’t have a problem, do you? You have made the problem vanish (or so you think) by your refusal to define. And you will be unable to condemn many evils concerning which virtually everyone agrees, if you have no definition of good.

If you don’t have a definition of good…

And this is the biggest issue with my own worldview. I don’t so much lack a definition of good (I would tentatively define it as a hypothetical balance point between respecting the greater good and respecting individual rights of self and freedom – all of which are themselves fraught terms, of course…) it’s that the definition isn’t exact or rigorous.

This is a problem, at least philosophically. One I don’t have a ready answer to.

And, yes, there is no way to identify things which are accepted as moral now which might be demonstrated as immoral at some future point.

The advantage (if it is one) is that I understand this – I am certain, entirely certain, that there are things I consider moral which will be viewed as immoral by a more enlightened future society, possibly even by a more enlightened, future me. And I don’t know what these are.

But my overall point is that unless theists can make an airtight case for god’s existence, and his essential goodness, they are in the same boat morally, except that they don’t admit it. They have the same problems of following a human-given set of laws, but they believe that these have come from somewhere else, somewhere better. If the specific god they believe in doesn’t exist, or isn’t as they imagined… they haven’t.

And the fact that the religious have participated in horrors and immorality – as often as not in the name of their god’s morality – leads me to believe that none of us have even partial access to some perfect moral source.

That’s why I think the comparison is not apt – one side claims a perfect source as a premise of the argument, the other does not.

I’m very impressed that you (alone in this forum so far) admit that this is a “problem” and an “issue” in your worldview. Likewise, we Christians acknowledge the problem of evil as our biggest difficulty. Obviously, neither of us consider these problems fatal to our views or we wouldn’t still hold them.

You have to determine what “enlightened” means, and who determines what is “enlightened” and what isn’t.

I think we need to distinguish between epistemology and internal coherence and consistency. The two problems are suggested as difficulties within particular systems. Our system includes many things that yours does not: God, revelation, the supernatural, faith; as well as things we hold in common (love of reason and science and philosophy).

Part of our system is the knowledge of what Jesus, the God-Man did for us. He chose to die one of the most horrible deaths imaginable for our sake. That shows us how much God loves us, and also (importantly) that He is also willing to suffer (as an incarnate man; God the Father actually can’t suffer). He didn’t separate Himself from all our sufferings. And so we believe He is loving based on that and how He revealed Himself in the Bible, and many of our experiences as Christians (of joy, peace, strength, and so forth).

That’s why we believe He is good, even though there are many things in this life very difficult to understand. And His Resurrection, that we will celebrate today, shows us that He is omnipotent and that He has conquered death. It’s one basis for believing in an afterlife: which itself makes sense, per the arguments I have already made about “cosmic justice.” There is much more than just this life. We all will live eternally: not just 70-80-odd years and then nothing whatsoever . . .

Why we believe all these things is, of course, a much more involved and complex discussion. I’m simply describing how the system works and is, we believe, coherent, with regard to this difficulty of evil: no matter how much we may not understand. That’s part of belief in God, too: there is a Supreme Being, of infinite intelligence and knowledge, Who understands things that we never could understand, without His help. That’s our system: believe it or not.

The main defense against the problem of evil objection is the free will defense: to which atheists respond by denying free will. So that’s another big discussion (but, alas, one that bores me). I see human free will and free choices as self-evidently true. If everything we do is determined, then it’s senseless to even have these conversations.

These are my thoughts for now. Thanks again for your openness and transparency and willingness to engage. I admire that.

I wanted to make a quick reply – nothing novel, of course – to a few things you said. If this thread is becoming cumbersome or tiresome, we can just use these two posts as kind of ‘policy positions’ and not get into point-by-point if you’d prefer.

A quick-and-dirty definition of ‘enlightened’ might be “more knowledgeable and understanding about the world”.

See, for myself, I assume a system in which someone has to suffer – when the person setting the rules can set literally any rules, including the rule “no-one has to suffer” already has missed a major point of ‘good’. I am in no way suggesting god is obligated to remove suffering, just that a system with less suffering is superior to a system that involves suffering, when there are no restrictions on the way the system is built.

The problem, for me, with merely invoking god’s mystery as an explanation for why human understanding falls short is that there’s no reason not to apply that to any aspect of god – that any and all attempts to understand any part of god’s will, or message, or anything, is essentially wrong-headed. Otherwise, you’re claiming at least a partial understanding of god.

If god is beyond human comprehension, than any statement attributing any coherence of god’s actions is automatically suspect. This includes what god ‘says’ directly through scripture – honestly might very well mean something very different to god than it does to us.

If the answer to this, in turn, is that that’s was faith is for, then the issue becomes that all faith positions about god become equally valid, as there’s no intelligible way to determine between them.

As far as free will goes, some atheists deny free will, some do not (you’ll find many argument to that effect on this blog, all between atheists). Personally, I believe in free will, but I suspect that’s an irrational belief. I comfort myself with the notion that if I am right, I’m right, and if I’m wrong, I lack the free will to change my mind.

But if free will exists in heaven, evil and sin and suffering can be entirely separated from it and thus it does not offer a way out of the problem of evil. And if free will does not exist in heaven, god does not respect it as much as many seem to say he does.

This got quite long, and I apologize for that. There’s a lot to unpack in what you said, and as I don’t use philosophical shorthand jargon – as I don’t know it – I often take quite a while explaining what I am trying to say using more common language. Hence my verbosity.

Most of this is about the problem of evil, which is off-topic. So is the nature of Christian faith, mysteries about God, and free will. I appreciate your comment, but I’m very strict about staying right on-topic.

I am developing my case further in the combox of my related article on my own blog, by suggesting a test case, with a prerogative to ask many more necessary socratic questions, which will clarify my case and also make clear my objections to the atheist position(s) on morality and right and wrong.

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Photo credit: Tumisu (12-2-17) [PixabayPixabay License]

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Summary: The problem of good, which is a Christian “turning the tables” counter-reply to the problem of evil, is discussed in-depth with four atheists: one of whom admitted it was a problem.

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November 25, 2020

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.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . 

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But b10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 64 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 10-17-20: “Every engagement with him [yours truly] devolves into pointlessness. I don’t believe I’ve ever learned anything from him. But if you find a compelling argument of his, summarize it for us.” And again the next day: “He has certainly not earned a spot in my heart, so I will pass on funding his evidence-free project. Like you, I also find that he’s frustrating to talk with. Again, I evaluate such conversations as useful if I can learn something–find a mistake in my argument, uncover an error I made in Christians’ worldview, and so on. Dave is good at bluster, and that’s about it.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blueTo find these posts, follow this link: Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

Today’s critique is a case study in a person who is utterly unwilling to be instructed (certainly not by one of us lowly, ignorant Christians!). I observed Bob railing about supposed unresolvable contradictions in Ten Commandments accounts in the Bible, in one of his comboxes. In this instance, a Christian (“Scooter”) was there trying to talk sense into Bob, who would have none of it. Undaunted, he simply kept up his pitiable anti-Bible polemics and rhetoric:

Read Exodus 34. This is Moses getting the second set of tablets (remember that he smashed the first set).

Ex. 34:28 says: “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.”

After you’ve done that, tell us what you’ve found. (11-20-20)

ScooterI note that quite often your responses suffer from the “I’ve got my mind made up, don’t confuse me with the facts” syndrome. So I encourage you to read Deuteronomy 5 again that debunks the idea that there were 2 different sets of Commandments. (11-21-20)

As Greg noted, don’t whine to us about who has his mind made up.

Ex. 20 and 34 have two very different sets of 10 Commandments. Or is God’s holy word something that you don’t bother reading or understanding?

The Documentary Hypothesis very neatly explains this and other conflations of two stories in the Bible (Flood, Creation, and others). (11-21-20)

ScooterThe Documentary Hypothesis and the arguments that support it have been effectively demolished by scholars from many different theological perspectives and areas of expertise. Read Ex.34 verse one very carefully. (11-21-20)

[W]hen you read the 10 Cs in Ex. 34 and compare that with “the words that were on the first tables” in Ex. 20, you find two very different sets of commandments. (11-21-20)

Since you refuse to address my point about the 2 incompatible versions of the 10 Commandments in the same book of the Bible, I’ll assume that you agree that it’s a problem.

As for the Documentary Hypothesis, it has been tweaked, but the core idea is unchanged: the Pentateuch that we have is the mixing of a number of different traditions. If you want to attack this, give me a reference. (11-22-20)

Happy to oblige:

Documentary Theory of Biblical Authorship (JEPD): Dialogue [2-12-04]

Silent Night: A “Progressive” and “Enlightened” Reinterpretation [12-10-04; additionally edited for publication at National Catholic Register: 12-21-17]

Documentary Theory (Pentateuch): Critical Articles [6-21-10]

“Higher” Hapless Haranguing of Hypothetical Hittites (19th C.) [10-21-11; abridged 7-7-20]

C. S. Lewis Roundly Mocked the Documentary Hypothesis [10-6-19]

The Bible states:

Proverbs 1:22 (RSV) How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

Proverbs 13:16 In everything a prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.

Proverbs 15:14 The mind of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

Proverbs 26:11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool that repeats his folly.

Sirach 21:18 Like a house that has vanished, so is wisdom to a fool; and the knowledge of the ignorant is unexamined talk.

2 Timothy 3:7 who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

This is Bob’s problem. He won’t accept any instruction or even clarification from Christians. He knows all. He knows better than Christians (even scholars) who have devoted their lives to studying and understanding the Bible. He thinks that he’s virtually infallible (judging by his constant words and actions), when it comes to the Bible and Christian theology, even though he himself at least honestly admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” How impressive . . . 

I thoroughly refuted his “two contradictory sets of Ten Commandments” schtick over two years ago: Seidensticker Folly #16: Two Sets of Ten Commandments? A person who was confident of his positions and interested in open-minded, interactive dialogue would have welcomed such an opportunity.

But because Bob refuses to learn anything about the Bible (or read or respond to any of my 65 critiques), he simply repeats his same old stupid errors. He has no interest whatsoever in constructive dialogue. This is (to put it very mildly) not an impressive or constructive intellectual “place” to be. The true thinker is always willing to dialogue, be corrected, and learn. It’s the blind leading the blind. Bob offers up yet more slop on almost a daily basis, and his sycophants and cheerleaders sop it up, no matter how noxious or toxic his “stew” is.

All we Christian apologists can do is offer reasonable counter-explanations and refutations and shake our heads at the silliness and sheer impervious irrationality of what goes on on a regular basis at Cross Examined and many other anti-theist “bubble” venues like it (such as John Loftus’ Debunking Christianity site).

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Photo credit: paulbr75 (8-30-18) [PixabayPixabay License]

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August 16, 2020

This is a portion of a 2002 article that was included (with additional Augustine and Aquinas quotations) in my book, Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism (see the entire article). It deals with the problem of evil, which I, and I think, most Christian apologists and philosophers of religion, regard as the most serious objection to Christianity and God’s existence.

*****

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.

We don’t have all the answers as to why He did what he did. He also could have made a world where atheists would see the clear evidence for His existence, and never resist it. But He didn’t. That’s because He values human choice and free will more than even obedience to Himself, even when He knows that being children of God is the best and most fulfilling choice for human beings. He doesn’t want coerced slaves; He wants children. And, for our part, we would much rather be sons and daughters of a loving Father than slaves of a wicked Master.

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 against 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.

In any event, the world as He created it did not originally involve suffering (nor will it in the future, for the redeemed). Man could have chosen to live in such a world, just as the unfallen angels did. They chose never to rebel. But man did, and having done so, now he wants to blame God for everything for which the blame in actuality lies squarely upon his own shoulders.

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.

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Photo credit: Thue (5-24-05). A car crash on Jagtvej, a road in Copenhagen, Denmark. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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June 17, 2020

On my Romantic and Imaginative Theology web page I have many Harry Potter links. The articles / books / audio files are from all perspectives: some favor the series, some oppose it, and some offer both sides, or ambiguous or uncertain or neutral opinion. Almost all of the links are from a Christian perspective (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox alike; for example, John Granger: a leading proponent, is Orthodox).

Ultimately, then, I am not “against” Harry Potter, yet I would strongly urge a sharp watchful eye for potential spiritual danger, due to the nature of the subject matter, in proportion to the extent that one is prone to following non-Christian modes of thought and behavior, contra proper Christian boundaries and mature spiritual discernment. This was the position I laid out in detail in my article, Harry Potter: Literary Magic or Magical Mystery Sewer? [7-19-05 and 10-28-10].

Here are further reflections of mine and of some friends of mine from an extremely lengthy thread dated February 2018. The whole thing remains online for masochists and “completists.” But if you’re interested in our take as huge fantasy and romanticism fans, this can be your “Cliff Notes version.”

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Is God against fairy tales and The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and all the superhero comics and movies, and The Wizard of Oz, too? People read the Bible and need exorcisms because they read it wrongly. I’ve been through those arguments a hundred times. I want a simple answer to my question. All of these movies have spells or other occultic / sorcerer-type elements in them.

There are spells in Lord of the Rings [link one / link two], and in The Chronicles of Narnia and in fairy tales.

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So you conceded that these other works also contain descriptions of witchcraft / spells? But somehow they are okay and Harry Potter ain’t? Or have you ditched them all now, too?

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I warn against it, too, if one doesn’t know their Christian theology. My argument remains somewhat of a middle position (as is often the case with me) inasmuch as I warn folks to avoid it if they aren’t confident in their Christian positions. So I don’t deny that there is possible danger.

But I am not totally against it, because danger is present in everything, even totally good things like the Bible. Nothing has been more abused and distorted than Scripture: from the heretics who try to enlist it for their cause.

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There are reasoned arguments to be made against Harry Potter. I’ve collected the links. I thoroughly disagree with them, but they are respectable efforts, and of course in good faith with good intentions.

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I would tend to listen to an exorcist, too, but just being an exorcist doesn’t make them all-knowing and infallible. They need to make the arguments just like anyone else.

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Patrick Palmer Hmm … it certainly is a topic of controversy in the Christian world … fierce arguments pro and con. I consider myself pro Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling said in an interview (held at an early stage of writing the series) that she was reluctant to talk about her own religious viewpoint, lest the intelligent reader guesses how the series will end. Certainly by the last book, her Christian viewpoint became obvious — I believe that an author’s religious viewpoint cannot help coming out in his/her work.

I would go so far to say, at least, it’s miles better than Philip Pullman (an atheist who made no secret of his hatred of Narnia) or the House of Night series (I do not know what the authors’ religious viewpoint would be, but there is a strong scent of Wicca therein.)

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Paul Hoffer The “magic” that is used in Harry Potter series does not rely upon invocations to Satan, demons, gods or things like that. Their powers are basically like powers that one sees in comics about superheroes. They are inherent to the person. Rowling dress up her characters in the trappings of magic to distinguish her from a superman or an X-man.

And I provided documentation that a woman did not burn her house down using a spell, that the “names” of demons supposedly in HP are not, and that Rowling criticized Wiccans stating that the magic depicted in HP is not based on their kind of magic.

I do have a problem about quoting “former” witches. They all cite that HP, LOTR, are Satanic and most of them also claim the Catholic Church is Satanic as well.

Given Ms. Guerra prior experiences with the occult, I can understand why she would urge people to stay away from the Harry Potter books. Discernment about any fantasy book is a parental obligation and educating one’s children so they do not explore or become interested in the occult requires us to take an active interest in our children’s lives.

One quibble about the article you cite to referencing CCC 2117. It does not state that reading about magic is wrong. It is the practice of magic that goes against the virtue of religion. It is the taming of occult powers, putting them at one’s service, AND having supernatural power over others that is wrong. Thus, it is intent, an act of will, coupled with an overt action that is wrong. Reading a story as a work of fiction or as an entertainment is not contrary to faith, but if I were reading the book so I could learn how to be a real witch or wizard or to become adept in the occult would be a bit more problematic.

Personally, I don’t regard the stuff in the books to be “satanic” anymore than Narnia, LOTR, comic books, stories about Greek gods or Norse legends, etc. Some might see something wrong about them, others might not. The essential thing to each of us discernment. If a person finds something in a piece of literature that is objectionable or dangerous to their faith, then they shouldn’t read it nor should we force someone to.

Other than being mildly entertaining children’s literature that contains big plot holes, contrived scenarios and obvious endings (for example: Harry Potter should have married Luna, not Ginerva), Harry Potter has not tempted me to invoke Cthulu, Satan, demon spirits, put a curse on anyone, attempt to turn my pots and pans into gold or even divine the next weeks Mega-million numbers. Reading them has made me a bit of a critic, not a sorcerer. As with other literature that my children read, I made sure to read it first before they did to make sure I could answer questions about magic, what is proper and improper, and making sure they didn’t go down the path that you indicate that others have and explore the occult. As I said, it is a matter of discernment or an exercise of prudential judgment. Just because I do not believe that Harry Potter books reflect a Satanic or improper form of magic does not mean that I did not first discern that before I allowed my children to read them.

The names of “Nicholas Flamel,” “Azkaban”, “Circe”, “Draco”, “Erised”, “Hermes”, and “Slytherin that are mentioned in the book are all characters taken from other pieces of literature. For the most part, they are not the names of actual demons. Nicholas Flamel was actually a famous Medieval French Catholic author in the early 15th century who later writers in the 18th and 19th century attributed to him demonic and alchemy powers. Of course, this is utter nonsense as he had inscribed on his house this prayer: “We, ploughmen and women living at the porch of this house, built in 1407, are requested to say every day an ‘Our Father’ and an ‘Ave Maria’ praying God that His grace forgive poor and dead sinners.” Circe, of course, was a Greek witch in Homer’s Odyssey. Azkaban is a combination of Alcatraz and Abaddon (who is a real demon in the Bible) but literally a pit or depths of hell which is pretty descriptive of the kind of place it was in the books. Draco is a constellation and also Latin for dragon. Draco was also a mythic Athenian bad-boy who made up very strict laws, hence Draconian. Hermes is the Greek Messenger God, Erised is desire spelled backwards. I could find nothing on Slytherin as any kind of name. I suspect that it comes from slither, which is what snakes do. Now, the Serpent, is another name for Satan, so I suppose one could argue that it where she got it from. She does borrow heavily from Greek, Scottish and Irish mythology for her characters and critters found in the books. .

Father seems to dismiss Ms. Rowling’s assertions that she is a Christian, but she has never claimed to be anything but a Christian. In fact, she has specifically criticized Wiccans for trying to say Harry Potter is a Druid or a Wiccan claiming that the magic practiced by the characters in her books is very different sort of magic from the kind they practice.

The bottom line is discernment and making sure you know what your kids are reading so you can address potential issues and problematic themes. St. Benedict in his rule says much the same thing by forbidding monks from reading certain books in the Bible until they are better formed spiritually.

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Judith McRae Good heavens. There are no actual spells in “Harry Potter”; it’s all just dog Latin. If an exorcist is actually saying there are spells (rather than perhaps saying “IF there are spells …” ) then I’d want to examine his credentials – he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. There is no way anyone burned down their house by adding a Latin ending to an English word. Someone is playing a joke on you.

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Mark Wilson It’s fine if you don’t think the books are good spiritually, but when you say that the books model real life spells that is simply not true. I’ve posted actual evidence of where she has gotten her sources.

If a person can misunderstand the word of God, a secular book can be easily misunderstood as well. That is the point.

It seems as if all talking points about the dangers of witchcraft and magic are always against Harry Potter and nothing else.

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Rosemarie Scott Indeed, how many cults have begun because someone decided to “read the Bible for himself” and ended up coming up with a loopy personal interpretation of it? We’ve also seen quite a few failed “end of the world” date-settings based on that practice, from William Miller to Harold Camping.

The Bible isn’t to blame for people twisting it. We’re just pointing out that even something as good and holy as Sacred Scripture can be misused, leading to error. That’s how we got Adventism, the Watchtower and many other cults – by people reading the Bible without the guidance of Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. If even Scripture can be misused to ones own destruction, then it should not surprise us that ordinary books can also be misused the same way. That doesn’t make those books evil, though.

Harry Potter is a work of fiction. It’s intended for entertainment. If someone reads it and says, “Hey, I think I’ll create my own personal spirituality centered on this book series! Lemme try one of the spells to see if it works….” – that’s a misunderstanding and misuse of the books. If anyone misses the Christian themes in the story, that’s a misunderstanding of the book. Same as when people say that they became neo-pagans after reading Lord of the Rings. They’ve missed the point.

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Photo credit: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Fan art by Reilly Brown (2009) [WikipediaCreative Commons Genérica de Atribución/Compartir-Igual 3.0]

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