Craig’s Dismissive Attitude Towards Arguments from Evil

Craig’s Dismissive Attitude Towards Arguments from Evil July 21, 2021

On Twitter, user @BissetteHunter tweeted this fifteen second video clip of William Lane Craig discussing arguments from evil:

In the case the link doesn’t work, here is the transcript:

“Therefore, this problem of evil, I think, though emotionally powerful–I grant it is emotionally powerful–philosophically it is very difficult to  run any kind of successful argument against God based on the evil and suffering in the world.

Commenting on this clip, user @ChristourLord1 tweeted the following:

There are several points I want to make regarding the statements from both Craig and @ChristourLord1.

(1) Craig’s statement is pure bluster. Consider: what does it mean for an argument–any argument–to be successful?

(a) Coerciveness. Well, one standard might be coerciveness. One might say that an argument is coercive if anyone who understands the argument believes the conclusion to be true. While a coercive argument would indeed seem to qualify as a “successful” argument, the standard of coercion seems much too high; we need a more modest standard.

(b) Soundness. Another standard might be soundness. A deductive argument is valid if the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises; a sound argument is a valid argument in which all of the premises are true. While soundness might be sufficient to render an argument “successful,” it is hardly necessary. There are many inductive argument patterns regarded as successful, but which are invalid. So soundness cannot be the only way for an argument to achieve “success.”

(c) Strength. Another standard might be strength. An inductive argument is strong if the premises are true and the premises make it probable (but not certain) that the conclusion is true. Inductively strong arguments are successful.

I don’t claim the above three standards constitute an exhaustive list; there may very well be other standards of argument “success” besides those I’ve listed here. But even if that is the case, it would still be true that soundness is a sufficient condition for a successful deductive argument and strength is a sufficient condition for a successful inductive argument.

But are any arguments from evil or suffering successful in either sense?

Consider Paul Draper’s evidential argument from pain and pleasure.

(1) E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.

(2) T is not intrinsically much more probable than N, i.e., Pr(|T|) is not much greater than Pr(|N|).

(3) E is much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(EN & B) >> Pr(E | T & B).

(4) Other evidence held equal, T is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | B & E) < 0.5.

Although classified as an “evidential” argument (for reasons which are not important here), Draper’s argument is a deductive argument and thus should be assessed using the soundness standard described above. So… is Draper’s argument sound? It is clearly valid: (4) follows from (1), (2), and (3) based on the pattern of probability relations specified by Bayes’s theorem. And, contrary to Craig’s attempts to suggest otherwise, the premises are true. It follows that Draper’s argument is sound, which, in turn, entails that it is a “successful” argument in that sense.

(2) References to ‘the problem of evil’ obscure the fact that there is a robust family of arguments against theism based on known facts about evil, suffering, and imperfection. In my experience, when theistic apologists refer to ‘the problem of evil,’ they almost always proceed to divide the problem into (at least) two types: the so-called “emotional” or “pastoral” problem of evil and the “intellectual problem of evil,” which is a kind of umbrella category for all philosophical arguments against theism based on evil and suffering. @ChristourLord1, however, takes this tendency to the next level. He denies that there is an intellectual problem of evil at all. He accomplishes this amazing philosophical feat–why didn’t any theistic philosopher in the last 4000 years think of it?–by collapsing ‘the intellectual problem of evil’ into ‘the emotional problem of evil.’ Here, again, is the tweet:

What @ChristourLord1 claims is not only nonsense, but dismissive nonsense. It is one thing to claim, as Craig incorrectly does, that there is no successful argument from evil and suffering against God. It is entirely another thing to claim, as @ChristourLord1 does, that there are no “intellectual” arguments from evil and suffering against God. In order to get the point across to ignorant theists like @ChristourLord1, I am half-tempted to propose that atheists stop dignifying theistic arguments as “arguments” and instead refer to them as “problems” and specifically as “emotional problems.” For example: instead of the “moral argument,” we have the “emotional problem of morality without God.” We then declare, by fiat, that there is no intellectual problem of morality without God, only an emotional problem, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise.

When theists understand why that is is a ludicrous reason to dismiss moral arguments for theism, they will understand why it is equally ludicrous to dismiss arguments against theism from evil, suffering, and imperfection as mere “emotional problems.”

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